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Review: ‘Zack Snyder’s Justice League’ is better, but still far from great

Empty calories might taste good, but they leave much to be desired. (HBO Max)

In April of 2016, Zack Snyder began principal photography on his “Justice League movie.” The shoot wrapped that December and various cuts of the film were made, yet none of these were satisfactory for the big guys at Warner Brothers. Because of this, “The Avengers” filmmaker Joss Whedon was brought in to help with re-writes and essentially transform the film into a version that WB was comfortable throwing its support behind.

It was during this time that Snyder’s daughter tragically died, and while the director tried to stay on, he eventually decided to step down, allowing Whedon to take over the film completely. The result was nearly 80 new pages of script, a fired composer, and the meeting of the studio-mandated runtime. In November of 2017, “Justice League” was released theatrically and the reviews were straight-up bad to mediocre at best. Once again the DCEU had struck out, and the future of the franchise seemed to be a giant closing door.

Enter, the fandom.

Ray Fisher as Cyborg, Ezra Miller as The Flash, Ben Affleck as Batman, Henry Cavill as Superman, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman and Jason Momoa as Aquaman in “Zack Snyder’s Justice League.” (HBO Max)

Unable to accept the idea that the movie was just plain bad, die-hard DC fans clamored for a “director’s cut” of the film – and quickly the “Snyder Cut” was born. Falling somewhere between urban legend and reality, for years it was unclear whether the mythical cut truly existed, but relentless campaigning on social media and across the internet got the attention of Warner Bros., HBO Max and even the director himself, as Snyder consistently fanned the flames. Eventually, it was revealed that yes, “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” does exist – and it’s coming to HBO Max.

Another $70 million of visual effects and re-shoots later, the monster that the fans have created in “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is alive, and fans can soon experience the “Snyder Cut” in all of its four-hour glory. But just how different is this new version of the film?

Ben Affleck as Batman, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman and and director Zack Snyder on the set of “Zack Snyder’s Justice League.” (HBO Max)

One of the many issues that plagued the theatrical version in 2017 was an incoherent story and undercooked characters. The main villain of the story had unclear motives and previously un-introduced heroes were having existential crises. This time around, those issues – as well as others– are for the most part cleared up. But, having cut off one head of the beast, three more have grown in its place. Let’s talk about overproduction and voracity. 

 Within the first hour of the film, I was completely “in.” The tone was somber and dark, the action was intense and that score was epic. The visual effects were engaging and not distracting, and Wonder Woman delivers what very well may be the best action sequence in any DC property yet. But, I must remind myself that more does not necessarily equal better. Yes, the world loves Batman and Wonder Woman, but just because they have more screen time does not automatically make this a good movie. 

Ray Fisher as Cyborg in “Zack Snyder’s Justice League.” (HBO Max)

One of the benefits of a 240-minute runtime is getting a fully fleshed-out story. In “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” there is no questioning of the villain’s motives, and the hero’s journey is explained and explored… a lot. Ray Fisher as Cyborg becomes a central protagonist instead of his afterthought of a character from the theatrical release. The unified story is brought together with some truly striking cinematography and lighting, which help contribute to one of the more engaging aspects of Snyder’s cut: an overall “epic” feel, brought together by the score and the visuals. 

After about an hour and a half, the new-car smell fades away, though, and we are left dealing with the psychological torture of knowing there are still nearly three hours left. The middle two hours are bogged down by story elements that are simply not necessary. If it is truly necessary for your film to be four hours long, make it into a limited series – an option that was reportedly considered by Warner Bros. and HBO Max. Small character moments and scenes become excruciatingly boring as they drag along. I know it’s sacrilege and probably a bit eye-rolling, but a tighter edit would do wonders for this film and make it more palatable. The last hour is exciting – there are new villains and bigger fights, but at this point, everything just seems to be excessive and showy. There is a 10-minute prologue that is very titillating, but again, it feels almost insulting how much pandering is occurring.

There will be fans and apologists that will swear up and down that this film is the best movie in the DCEU and it will at long last get the universe back on track. But that is the rhetoric of a bunch of whipped-up fanboys too busy looking at all the pretty colors to see that they are being fooled. Empty calories might taste good, but they leave much to be desired. 

Star Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

“Zack Snyder’s Justice League” premieres Thursday, March 18 on HBO Max.

Joel Winstead View All

Film critic and member of the NCFCA and SEFCA

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