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Zack Snyder’s “Justice League” Review: The version we should have gotten

“Zack Snyder’s Justice League” released on Mar. 18 on HBO Max. (The Verge)
“Zack Snyder’s Justice League” released on Mar. 18 on HBO Max. (The Verge)

This review will contain spoilers for the film. 

Zack Snyder’s “Justice League” has finally arrived. 

That is a sentence I never thought I would say. I knew some scenes director Zack Snyder had shot were locked away on a hard drive in some studio executive’s basement, but I never believed the studio would ever release that version. 

However, after years of fans clamoring for the cut of the film and petitioning Warner Brothers to allow Snyder to fulfill his vision, the four-hour-long superhero epic debuted on HBO Max.

This film has taken a long road to the screen. Snyder left the project in May 2017 to deal with the tragic death of his daughter. Fellow comic book film director Joss Whedon stepped into the role, finishing the film. Whedon’s cut of the movie kept to its intended release date, despite extensive reshoots. 

Hitting theaters in November 2017, critics met Whedon’s “Justice League” with a mediocre response, earning a 40% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. That is not a score you want when launching your massive superhero team-up flick. 

Unsatisfied with the film, fans took to Twitter with #ReleasetheSnyderCut. They grew bolder, purchasing a billboard in Times Square and hiring a plane to fly around San Diego Comic-Con with a banner asking Warner Brothers to release the film.

The movement grew into a phenomenon that gained the attention of the studio’s executives. Last May, Snyder answered the fanboys’ pleas with the announcement of his version of “Justice League” coming to HBO Max in 2021.

Years of memes and speculation surrounded this film. The fans had hyped up all the possibilities that could occur in this new version. Snyder’s quest for a second chance intrigued me, and I was pleasantly surprised. His version told a more coherent story and gave some much-needed development to some of its characters. 

In the wake of Superman’s death, the film follows Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) as they recruit super-powered individuals, known as Metahumans, to fight an invading alien force led by the villainous Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds).

As a character, Steppenwolf benefited the most from the recut of the film. His presence is far more intimidating, and the 2017 version looks like a Fisher-Price toy in comparison to Snyder’s iteration. The man is a tank, but you also get more development with him story-wise. 

He is a disgraced commander for Darkseid, DC’s big bad, and longs to prove his worth to his master. That small bit of development was all you needed to turn Steppenwolf into an actual character and not another CGI thing for the actors to yell at on a green screen.

Cyborg (Ray Fisher) had enough material cut for his own movie, but Snyder allows him to shine here. Some of the movie’s most emotional moments involve his story. Back in 2017, he came across as a two-dimensional special effect. Now, he is a fully formed character with a satisfying arc. 

The Flash (Ezra Miller) gets one of the coolest moments to cap off his arc of growth as a hero. Flash, being one of the younger team members, has a lot placed on his shoulders when Steppenwolf wins at the end. Yes, for a brief second the bad guys win. However, Flash taps into his powers to run so fast, he turns back time and saves everyone as Junkie XL’s score plays beautifully in the background.

Moments like these are baffling. Why would Whedon and the studio decide to cut great scenes from the 2017 version in favor of cheesy jokes that do not really land, or decide to spend time with side plots that do not pay off?

The film does have some small flaws, though. While the four-hour runtime does not feel overly long throughout most of the movie, Snyder’s overuse of slow-motion shots bogs down certain areas. Roughly 10% of the film is slow-motion and cutting down on some of those scenes would have made this less of a time commitment. 

This was Snyder’s love letter to fans, so he kept everything in there, and I mean everything. He tacks on several scenes at the end that go on and on, but instead of wrapping up story beats, he sets up future plot points that Warner Bros. CEO Ann Sarnoff said herself they do not plan to explore. There were cool concepts presented, but the teased concepts will never come to fruition and just added to the runtime. 

Zack Snyder’s “Justice League” was better than what I was expecting by a long shot. It told an epic story with a hint of earnestness and heart that took the time it needed to flesh out its characters. It is unfortunate that we will not see where Snyder wanted to take this story, but served well as his final gift to the fans.

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