The ‘Snyder Cut’ of Justice League is a four-hour slogfest, with improved characters and a more consistent tone compared to its theatrical counterpart, but with very little depth or appeal. It is, however, exactly the film that #releasethesnydercut campaigners were hoping for.
Well, it’s finally here. Zack Snyder’s Justice League. All it took was a three-year online campaign, allegations of abusive work environments, a global pandemic, and HBO Max not gaining as many subscribers as AT&T had hoped for. Having been vaguely aware of the internet discourse surrounding the alleged project, I’ll admit, I’ve had mixed feelings about the release ever since it was announced. On the one hand, it gives validation to a movement that, at its worst, took part in harassing critics and dissenting voices and shows that movie studios can be bullied into action. On the other hand, though, it’s clearly been a passion project from a director who forewent a fee in order to see it properly done. So, perhaps there is some justice.
The story of Zack Snyder’s Justice League is likely to be remembered for the tumultuous behind-the-scenes events more so than any actual version of the film itself, however. The ‘Snyder Cut’, after years of anticipation, ultimately fails to deliver a rewarding viewing experience, either emotionally or thematically. It’s definitely more competently made than its 2017 counterpart, with a more consistent tone, developed characters, and an absence of cringy attempts at humour. But the drab and dreary colour pallet, slow pacing, and uninspired narrative and character dynamics do not make the four hours it takes to watch the film worthwhile.
The broad plot of Zack Snyder’s Justice League remains the same as the original. Batman (Ben Affleck) attempts to recruit super-powered individuals in the wake of Superman’s (Henry Cavill) death in order to defeat an upcoming invasion from an alien army led by disgraced general Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds). The extended run time of the film is used to develop the characters and backstories of the new characters, as well as to give extended sequences of scenes that were only implied in the original cut, along with moments (including a whole new epilogue) that tease future projects that are never likely to be made.
The runtime does allow the characters to be more fleshed out and developed. Ray Fisher’s Victor Stone (Cyborg) gets the most additional screen time, developing his relationship with his father as a proxy to his relationship with his powers. His performance shines through as a highlight of the film. Similarly, Ezra Miller’s Flash changes from poor-comic relief to someone struggling with his own feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness. Even Steppenwolf is allowed a backstory of attempting to redeem his status in light of a recent betrayal. It doesn’t make him that much more interesting, though, as he still ends the movie as an ideology-lacking CGI punching bag. Not all the characters are served much better by this run time, as neither Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman nor Jason Momoa’s Aquaman get much to do other than spouting exposition.
The most striking aspect of this version is how different it feels from the original. Dark and gritty are the adjectives most ascribed to Zack Snyder’s approach to superhero movies, but his Justice League seems more sombre and grounded. Decisions and sacrifices create emotional fallouts that the film is willing to stop in its tracks to acknowledge. The addition of an R-rating allows for gruesome-looking injuries to be given actual weight (this is most notable in a Flash scene close to the end).
However, all this emotional weight doesn’t save this film from being dull and an unappealing viewing experience. The main issue seems to be dynamics. None of the characters have any unique interactions, relationships, or meanings to one another, they all speak to each other in the same monotonous voice and don’t get to build any memorable connections throughout. The result is more tedious than epic; nothing in this ensemble team-up generates interest or memorability unless you have background knowledge in DC lore to fill in the gaps. The film lacks an emotional or thematic core to make the viewing experience engaging, and subsequently, the four hours leave a very little real impact.
This isn’t helped by the film trying to look and sound as dull as possible. For his vision, Snyder decided to use a 4:3 ratio as opposed to a more cinematic 16:9 used by most big-screen features. This works when individual characters are focused on, either in a montage or conversation, as it centres them and makes them larger than life. However, anytime multiple people appear or the film is trying to show the scale of an event or location, it just looks cluttered and quite literally boxed in. Simultaneously, the colour scheme seems to be made up of entirely metallic greys and muted blues, giving very little on-screen to draw the eye to or be visually appealing. Apparently, there’s a planned release of an entirely B&W version of the film, but I’m not sure you could really tell the difference.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League isn’t perhaps the best use of four hours of your life. It’s a competent film with improved characterisation and a more consistent and consequential tone, but this cannot make it an engaging film on its own. Its lack of interesting ideas and memorable relationships, in addition to a wearisome visual palette, makes the film a laborious viewing experience. Unless you’re actively invested in the Snyder vision of DC, or are so engaged in the lore that you know what an Anti-Life Equation is, there’s not much here that’ll do anything for you.
Words by Mischa Alexander
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