Zac Snyder’s Justice League is a long movie, but you know that. It clocks in at 4 hours and two minutes but here’s where you should really be concerned: is it any good? What matters is that a movie this long isn’t just good but is among the best comic book films ever made. It’s not just big but sprawling and mythic. Here is the first Snyder film I’ve loved and look forward to re-watching soon.
Most know the story but here’s an abbreviated take: A rotten creature named Steppenwolf is traveling to various worlds, trying to obtain every “motherbox,” in order to gain control and bring destruction. Thankfully, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) know the only way to stop him is by assembling a team of superheroes, though they’re still mourning the loss of Superman (Henry Cavill).
The story that’s probably more important than the plot is this: the 2017 version that was released in theaters was a botched, truncated and artistic compromise from Snyder’s replacement, Joss Whedon, and the suits at Warner Brothers, who wanted their equivalent of Marvel’s The Avengers and wound up with another Batman & Robin, only worse. Now, after years of fan petitions, an unveiled original cut of Snyder’s film was unveiled. Seventy- million worth of re-shoots, added scenes and completed f/x later, we have this new and vast improvement.
This is not a series of deleted scenes or a mere extended cut but a total restoration. Snyder has given us a master class of how editing can give shape and life to a film- the 2017 version is an illustration of how a film, in the wrong hands, be castrated of purpose and feeling.
Snyder’s over-use of slow motion feels reigned in here, particularly in a great sequence early on where Wonder Woman must save a room full of children during a hostage crisis- note how the slowing down of the action demonstrates the remarkable way she’s able to save those kids and simply makes the action more coherent (rather than how, in the past, Snyder would have so much slow-motion, his movies seemed to be taking place underwater).
By the fourth chapter (roughly hour two), fatigue started to set in, only because I dislike Henry Cavill’s take on Superman and was unhappy to see him reenter the narrative. Earlier scenes of Metropolis citizens (namely Lois Lane) mourning his loss have no register for me, as Cavill’s charmless performance has never made me feel anything but displeasure over how miscast he is. The actor has a big moment in the climax, with a one liner that is clearly supposed to register as big as the “Avengers, assemble” bit, but Cavill isn’t the man for the job. When Superman is absent from this film, he isn’t missed.
A few holdover subplots, namely the status of Martha Kent’s real estate, still feels unnecessary. Great actors are sometimes left on the sidelines, like quarterbacks standing by who never get to play in the big game. It’s strange that I kept forgetting J.K. Simmons and Amy Adams are in this. Also, the word “motherbox” is uttered so often, it goes from being irritating to downright surreal.
There are chemistry issues in the central ensemble but individually, the main cast has enough charisma to drive this. Because so many scenes that were clipped before now have a greater purpose, Ben Affleck’s performance as Bruce Wayne/ Batman (which seemed so disengaged in the 2017 version) now has the enthusiasm and gusto he displayed in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Gal Gadot, free of the terrible mess what was WW84, shines brightly here. Jason Momoa smolders like the 100% proof movie star he now is. Ezra Miller’s comic relief is hit or miss (and he smiles way too much for someone in a Snyder film) but he has some of the film’s sharpest moments.
Steppenwolf seemed silly in the original and I was indifferent to him then but here, he’s positively loathsome and better developed. Likewise, the introduction of Darkseid is stunning. Ray Fisher’s much publicized struggles behind the scenes are made clear here- with so much of his gutted performance now back in the film, we see how essential he was as a part of the film. The character is icy, to say the least, but the actor acquits himself well.
The very-extended epilogue concludes with a killer dream sequence that I adored, with an actor who clearly relishes the opportunity to give a return performance. Much earlier, there are stand-alone sequences (like The Flash’s intro and a thrilling chase among the Amazon warriors) that play like perfect mini-movies. Also, the violence and profanity are now-R-rated, which makes this edgier and far more satisfying (Affleck’s dropping an F-bomb in the second-to-last scene is especially merited).
On the surface, this is fun and captivating, a worthy effort in bringing together all the elements of the previously established DC Cinematic Universe. As a nearly unheard-of rescue of a film that was doomed and discarded, it’s a monumental achievement. The editors, David Brenner, Carlos M. Castillon and Dody Dorn, have taken a 2-hour mess and given it a new pace and carefully measured momentum. The contemplative early scenes and middle act, which emphasize atmosphere, character development and Greek mythology-level storytelling, are the best. When we finally get down to the climactic battle, it can be a bit numbing, though the best scenes (like the surprise intervention from The Flash and the overall fate of Steppenwolf) provide a big TKO. So does the movie overall.
When it was over, I was grateful that I was able to get lost in the collection of great scenes that played longer than expected. This feels less like a long sit and more like binge watching a great season of television, though most series lack the kind of cast, budget and scope this offers. The last DC Comics adaptation I loved this much was the recent Watchmen HBO series, which is also lengthy but essential.
I’m glad this exists, because it’s a tremendous time at the movies and my favorite of the recent Batman/Superman entries. Zac Snyder’s Justice League is also a quirky and personal work, as well as a monumental improvement on something that completely failed the first time.