Zack Snyder’s Justice League
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Written by: Chris Terrio
Starring: Henry Cavill, Ben Afflec, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Jared Leto, Amber Heard, Amy Adams, Ciaran Hinds, Connie Nielsen, Diane Lane
As a child, my parents would occasionally bring me to record stores. There, I would often find myself perusing the heavy metal section just to stare at the album covers. They depicted mysterious alien worlds, violent combat, and gods of immense strength. At the time, I was awe-inspired. As I grew older, I came to see these album covers as hokey and melodramatic. But I still find myself endeared to the artistry involved. Whatever I thought about heavy metal album covers, I had to admire the dedication involved in creating them.
Viewing a Zack Snyder film often leaves me with the same mixed feelings. Certain viewers were put off by Man of Steel, Snyder’s grounded reboot of Superman. That film’s world and its Superman couldn’t be any further from the Superman seen in the Christopher Reeve films or in the DC Animated Universe. This was a Superman who engaged in a violent conflict with the film’s lead villain, General Zod, that left half of Metropolis destroyed. Most controversial was the choice to have Superman kill Zod at the end of the film. For a character nicknamed “the Big Blue Boy Scout,” this choice was tonally at odds with who the character is meant to be.
I could see why some filmgoers were put off by this depiction of the character, but I found myself endeared to it. Was this film melodramatic and hokey? Sure. And the film would have greatly benefitted from a gentler, subtler touch. But Man of Steel’s earnestness kept me compelled all the same.
It’s for this same reason that I found myself compelled by Zack Snyder’s Justice League. It has many of the same flaws as Snyder’s other films. The action sequences, while well-choreographed, are more violent than necessary. One particularly egregious scene focuses on the villain Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) and his attempt to steal one of the powerful Mother Boxes from Themyscira. The Amazons put up a heroic effort against him, while Steppenwolf cuts a bloody swath through their ranks. It’s a good indicator of both Steppenwolf’s power and the lengths to which the Amazons are willing to go to protect the Mother Box. That said, I couldn’t help but feel that the level of brutality in such a sequence was at odds with the otherwise lighter tone that Snyder was striving for.
Furthermore, trimming down the film by even an hour would work wonders. HBO Max originally planned to release the film as a four-part miniseries, now opting instead to release it as a single four-hour film. Having seen the final product, viewing it this way would still be my recommendation.
Finally, while I understood his reasoning for doing so, it was still disappointing to see Henry Cavill have so little screentime as Superman. He gave a compelling performance in Man of Steel, which makes it all the more unfortunate to see how little he’s been utilized since then.
That said, it also contains many of the elements from Snyder’s films that I find charming. For starters: his unique casting choices. Ben Affleck as Batman was one of the few aspects of Batman v Superman that was almost universally praised, and it’s a pleasure to see him here again. His portrayal as Batman reflects the overall lighter tone Justice League has gone for since Batman v Superman. Here is a Bruce Wayne who makes jokes, smiles, and remains fiercely loyal to his team. A special notice also goes to Jason Momoa as Aquaman and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, whose rapport serves as one of the film’s highlights. At its best, their banter reminded me of the relationship between Legolas and Gimli. If there’s a weak link in the League, it’s Ezra Miller as the Flash. Miller is a charming actor, but his portrayal of Barry Allen (here positioned as the comic relief character) often proved to be more groan-inducing than humorous.
Most notable of the additions was the expansion of Cyborg. All but a background character in the theatrical cut, the Cyborg of Zack Snyder’s Justice League is here the film’s most human character. After a car crash nearly leaves him dead, Victor Stone finds himself transformed into the titular superhero by his father. As Cyborg comes into his own in attempting to reckon with his new powers, Fisher gives a compelling performance. He finds himself scared and self-loathing, but also begins finding genuine wonderment in his powers. If there is one noticeable improvement between the theatrical cut and Snyder’s version, it’s there.
That’s not to say it’s enough for me to forget the film’s flaws. It’s overlong and often is more violent than necessary. To be blunt, Zack Snyder’s Justice League won’t do anything to win over new fans for Snyder, and folks will find plenty to snark about. But for those who are fans of Snyder or even casually admire his work, it’s enough to recommend.
Despite its uneven tone and lengthy running time, I enjoyed Zack Snyder’s Justice League overall. Its charismatic cast and passionate direction overcame whatever flaws it had to deliver an experience that should prove satisfying to those looking to pay another visit to Zack Snyder’s depiction of the DC Universe.