It’s no secret that the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) has struggled to get off the blocks with it’s various attempts at cross-over films. First there was Batman Vs Superman, heavily criticised for its dour and sullen portrayal of the two flagship DC characters. Then came Suicide Squad, ambitious and fun at times but dives off a cliff at the halfway mark. So, unsurprisingly, The Justice League was, to say the least, weak sauce. It was messy, full of holes and, worst of all, downright dull! A less than compelling villain with what looked like unfinished CGI, characters without context and a Superman storyline that made so little sense I thought I’d missed a significant plot point… I hadn’t.
However, unlike it’s predecessors, TJL was hit hard by production complications when Zack Snyder had a sudden, family tragedy and had to leave the film, with Joss Wheadon taking his place. The resulting cut was one where the tone shifts so severely from scene to scene, it feels two different films spliced together, because that’s essentially what it was. Much of Snyder’s original work was still present and Wheadon had come on board to just ‘fill in the gaps’, but the two directors’ styles are so vastly different, it was never going to feel like a cohesive film. It looked like this spelled the end for the Synderverse (Snyder’s vision of a dark, grimy telling of the DC catalogue) but the fans cried out for recompense and demanded Warner Bros ‘Release The Snyder Cut’. Now, without getting too political, this wasn’t an innocuous online revolt, such things rarely are, and the toxicity surrounding this hashtag was fierce, with female execs at WB taking the brunt of the anger. So this ‘fan movement’ was a tarnished one from the jump and when WB finally announced Snyder was getting his own cut, I was worried. This sets an unsettling precedent. Since when could fans just kick and scream until they get their own way? Are we now going to have a new edit of Star Wars Episode 9? Or Game of Thrones Season 8? This has to be an exception because of exceptional circumstances. Otherwise we open the door the vocal minority dictating the future of fanbase franchises, and no one wants to give these guys that kind of power.
On to the film then. First things first, let’s talk length because a 4 hour run-time is many things – Unnecessary? Indulgent? Overly ambitious? You’d think after everything, Snyder would want to streamline things, shirk the criticisms of messy storytelling in favour of interconnectivity and construct something simpler, more elegant. Nope. He goes hard in the other direction. He was afforded a freedom not many directors ever get in terms of run-time and he took advantage of every drop resulting in something that, on the whole, works. This films moves along with purpose and rarely sags where shorter films often do. The extension of Cyborg’s (Ray Fisher) origins and his familial relationships uplifts the character and gives him greater heft in terms of his abilities and how essential he is to the team. The same goes for The Flash (Ezra Miller), a particular slo-motion scene centering a flying hotdog was heaps of fun but also his inflated screen time and more detailed dynamic with his father helps him feel like a more rounded character. The extended length also allows time to contextualise the Villain, Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds), a serious weak point of the theatrical cut. Here we develop a deeper understanding of his motivations, why he is so eager to destroy the Earth and his connection to the big bad – Darkseid. A few additional action sequences are dotted throughout as well as extensions of scenes from the theatrical cut, all contributing to a fast-paced, enjoyably kinetic final product. It’s an impressive feat to remain entertaining for such an extended period of time and Snyder just about pulls it off. Had he been limited to 2.5 hours like most comic book blockbusters however, I’m sure we would’ve seen the return of many of the plot holes and much of the messiness that plagued the theatrical cut’s reviews.
The general aesthetic of the film is signature Snyder. From the frequently deployed (sometimes overindulgent) speed ramping and slo-mo, to the grimy colour palette, to the powerhouse action sequences. He’s made no mistake about making this his film not Wheadon’s, and its all the better for it. Steppenwolf’s ‘new look’ is an immense improvement on the painful-to-look-at version from 2017. His fluttering metallic armour, dancing and rippling as he moves, catching the light in interesting ways and generally pleases the eye. It’s a beautifully creative way to re-brand a villain that has gone down as one of the worst looking CG characters of all time. Some aesthetics I’m not as excited about are Steppenwolf’s minions and lair. It all feels a little too high-fantasy for me and the location of the final battle is too heavily saturated with black and orange CG. Snyder’s choice of aspect ratio is also a questionable one. The almost-square framing is jarring at first and definitely takes some getting used to. Once the movie kicks into gear though and our god-like characters are running around beating up bad guys, it soon becomes forgotten. In the end, it’s not problem as such, it just seems rather unnecessary where a familiar, widescreen format would’ve been just fine.
As a fan of Batfleck it was good to see him back. He’s had a raw deal when it’s come to superhero movies so thankfully he’s had a chance to shine here. Snyder posits him as the weakest of the heroes but also the leader, the man-with-a-plan, the one who brings them together in the first place. This gives him a usefulness among his demi-god allies. Unfortunately his action is some of the poorest. Where Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman engages her super-speed and super-strength in dynamic and spectacular fashion (that electric cello riff driving along as she does), Batman tends to just swing around with his grappling hook and occasionally throw a kick or two. For the most part he is either in vehicles shooting things or, in the 3rd act, running around with an alien gun, shooting things. I was expecting some hand-to-hand combat reminiscent of that in Batman V Superman during the Martha Kent rescue sequence. Combat like that would’ve help demonstrate his power and brutality and shown us that even though he’s human, he’s still incredibly lethal. We also see Cavill reprise his role in what could be his final outing as Superman. A little more context for his anger when he first wakes up was a nice addition and no spoilers but… that new look! His hero moments in the final battle are my highlights of the film. Aquaman’s action is arguably the weakest. Though he’s incredibly strong, even on land, we never get a true sense of that. He’s often getting tossed around by Steppenwolf and doesn’t get his moment in the sun like the others do. But if you want plenty of Aquaman fun, check out the stand-alone film. Trust me, its worth it.
Ruling – And then there’s the epilogue. Probably the single most pointless part of the film considering it’s never going to amount to anything. Here Snyder sets up what he would’ve gone on to do had the DCEU continued under his leadership with characters from various films making an appearance and teasing future plot-lines. Unsurprisingly, the fan-boys are now calling for a restoration of the Snyderverse but from what WB have said, it looks like this is the end for this short but sweet iteration of the Justice League. At least it ends on a stronger note than 2017’s theatrical edition.