The first viewing of Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a dreamlike experience. A film that was once a myth conjured up by fans has become a reality, released as a 242-minute director’s cut that corrects the atrocities of the disastrous 2017 theatrical release. The “Snyder Cut” is an entirely different film than the original, which was finished by Joss Wheadon after Snyder stepped away from production following a family tragedy. It isn’t the best superhero film of all-time, but it provides a refreshingly grim turn on the often upbeat genre.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League’s runtime is mind-boggling; it’s two hours longer than the original. But because it’s streamed exclusively on HBO Max and divided into six chapters, it allows for a trackable story. Scenes no longer feel rushed—many drag on—but the plot has become untangled. Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman’s (Gal Gadot) recruitment of Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and Flash (Ezra Miller) to the Justice League takes nearly two hours, but these members are given the proper screen time for their stories to unfold. The biggest benefactor of the bloated runtime is Cyborg, whose story arc was removed from the theatrical release. In the “Snyder Cut,” he’s given an emotional backstory of loss and resentment, serving as the film’s central character in a standout performance from Fisher.
Snyder completely flips the tone in his cut. It comes with an R-rating, which permits bitter, bloodier violence and Batman saying “fuck.” While there are jokes—particularly from Flash—they mostly fall flat, making the film rather joyless. The film’s colors are significantly darker, making every scene feel brooding and sinister—and it’s the correct choice. The Justice League are attempting to defeat Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds), an otherworldly villain hellbent on removing free will from Earth and destroying it. A joyous romp with Batman cracking one-liners wouldn’t match Snyder’s story, and his direction keeps the tone intact. Batfleck chain-smoking in the Batmobile would’ve really cemented the energy of the film. The film takes itself very seriously, which is occasionally a pitfall. Snyder is notorious for his extensive use of slow-motion, and while it’s effective when Flash is running at the speed of light, it often becomes humorous, which likely isn’t the intention. Although the film is unrelenting in its cynicism, it sticks to it, which the original failed at as it became a convoluted mess of terrible jokes and abhorrent CGI.
The “Snyder Cut” is likely the final iteration in the DC “Snyderverse,” but it offers fulfilling fan service by dropping hints of what future films would’ve been during the epilogue. This opens the door to cameos from Deathstroke (Joe Manganiello), who was set to be the villain in Affleck’s canceled Batman solo film, and Jared Leto reprising his role as the Joker from Suicide Squad. Leto’s appearance was highly anticipated, as it serves as the first Batman-Joker interaction in Snyder’s films. Despite the excitement, the cameo is a letdown. Leto is not a convincing Joker at all. The “Snyder Cut” Joker abandons the stupid “gangster” look from Suicide Squad, but Leto tries too hard. His performance is campy and fails to meet the standard set by Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix. His monologue is bewildered and rambly, and at one point the Joker asks Batman who will “give him a reach-around” if he kills him. It was necessary to conclude Affleck’s run as Batman; it’s just disappointing.
For fans of superhero films and DC’s IP, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a worthwhile watch, especially because it can be broken into “episodes.” Viewers will surely be disappointed at the lack of screen time given to Batman and Superman (Henry Cavill), but Synder’s dedicated direction and strong supporting characters keep the interest maintained. While we may never witness another fan campaign as dedicated and successful as the one that made the film possible, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a fitting conclusion to a storied saga that transcends the film itself.