Let me preface this review by informing you, reader, that I haven't seen Joss Whedon's 2017 Justice League. It may have been because Batman vs. Superman was entirely confusing, or that Suicide Squad was a real effort to sit through. Either way, I have never read comics within the DC or Marvel Universes. I have also been put off superhero films because of the abundance of 'episodes' focussing on single character origin stories that ultimately feel derivative of one another.
This review, therefore, is objective to the point of having not seen the prior cut or most of the standalone films. My boyfriend, a comic book nerd by reputation, was so excited for the Snyder cut that we commenced the film early the same morning it was released. From the moment it started, I was captivated, exhilarated, and four hours later, I was a fan.
The action sequences are expertly choreographed but also surprising in execution. Zack Snyder's Justice League feels like a triumph each step of the way, and while I don't have context for the 2017 version, the hours flew by in this cut. I also have little knowledge of most of the characters, particularly Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman. Yet this film has an incredible amount of detail about each character, enabling a structure that allows for character development that enables complete immersion into the story. With beautiful scenes shot by cinematographer Fabian Wagner effortlessly staging affecting character moments or intense battle sequences, I can truthfully say that I cannot wait to watch this film again.
The story focuses on Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) aligning a team of heroes to protect the world from a catastrophic threat. A superhuman villain, Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), wants to conquer the earth and needs to combine three magic boxes to exact complete power. Many years prior, the three boxes were distributed amongst three different tribes of people after Steppenwolf and his leader Darkseid failed to overtake the planet. One box went to (forgive me comic book lovers for any incorrect terminology) the Atlantis community, another to the Amazonian women, and the last to the world of Man.
In the present day, it seems the threat has returned when the Amazonians see that their box has awakened. Batman, experiencing prophetic dreams, decides the danger is immediate enough to call upon the metahumans capable of defending the earth. The crew includes Aquaman (Jason Mamoa), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), Flash (Ezra Miller), and, assuming Batman can undo his past errors, Superman (Henry Cavill). Together they must stop Steppenwolf and his army of flying insects from retrieving all three boxes and destroying Earth.
Firstly, this is the best Wonder Woman I've ever seen. At one point early in the film, she tries to save a group of school children from a maniac with a machine gun, running across the line of kids shielding each bullet with the metal on her wrists at lightning speed. It is so frickin cool.
Each hero in this film is given enough breathing room to have full character development. We learn about The Flash's parents and his yearning for any company. He only wants to help the Justice League, but his immaturity and age help contextualize his journey. Similarly, we learn how Cyborg came to be and how he manages to regain his humanity in his grief and confusion at his robotic body. Further, I don't know much about Aquaman, but all I needed to see was him chugging a whiskey bottle while walking toward the ocean as waves crashed against the rocks, enveloping him into the water. It's truly a masterful sight!
Compared to the slog that I associate with Marvel's Avengers films, I found it remarkable that Zack Snyder's Justice League isn't concerned with the division within the team, but more so with unity. The group doesn't snide at each other but instead tries to fit the puzzle pieces together. There aren't moments of uninteresting banter or needless exposition; Zack Snyder's Justice League wants the audience to be another accepted team member, and therefore allows the Justice League to form, combine, and listen to each other. Most importantly, the film contextualizes Steppenwolf's need to find these magic boxes, enabling the villain to have thoughtful dimensions. The scenes with Steppenwolf are predominately in CGI, but incredibly, we feel his need to fulfill Darkseid's wishes and to be able to return home.
It's exciting to watch a film that fans determinedly campaigned for, and the result is so appealing to someone, like me, who is a more passive DC comic film viewer. This film entices with slow-motion sequences against dramatic tunes that are incredibly stunning to experience. While it's clear why some will find the four hours arduous, the film is split into chapters so that you can stop where you like and continue later. The accessibility of this film is its pacing, which ably juggles storylines, character development, and tone. It's an incredible feat and a cinematic experience I haven't encountered in a while.
Finally, it must be mentioned that there is a big problem with studio films and the final edit that viewers get to see. If this is the cut Zack Snyder intended, then who were the people responsible for the previous version, or for that matter, countless other films that have maintained a brand but lacked originality. Indeed, it begs the question of what Patty Jenkin's Wonder Woman would be like if she had the final say over the edit.
That Zack Snyder's Justice League could instigate a discourse in creativity, originality, and investing in a director's vision and not just their name may perhaps become a catalyst that creates entertainment that can amaze, surprise, and inspire us.
Now available to stream on HBO Max.