Monday 22 March 2021

Film Review: Zack Snyder's Justice League

Four years, $70 million dollars and one ardent fan campaign after its theatrical release, the Justice League has reformed for a four-hour odyssey in Zack Snyder's sprawling director's cut. But was it worth the extra time and attention? 

Once upon a time, the fabled director's cut of 2017's Justice League movie – dubbed 'The Snyder Cut' by the filmmaker's cult-like followers on the internet – was little more than a whisper on the wind. The truth is, fans of the franchise were left disappointed by the theatrical film – and were clinging to the hope of something better hidden away in the Warner Brothers lot. 

After Snyder chose to leave halfway through production following a personal loss, Warner Brothers drafted Joss Whedon – who, don't forget, has form when it comes to superhero ensemble films – to finish the job. What happened, however, was a hatchet job. 

Whedon's tonal sensibilities conflicted with Snyder's original vision. The finished theatrical version was a mess; part grandiose opera about gods among men, part slapstick screwball action with goofy gags. It didn't mesh at all and the film limped home to little more than $650 million worldwide – well below what the studio wanted or even needed to break even.

So, four years later, Snyder has returned to finish the job – and while the Snyder Cut is a definite improvement, it isn't without its issues. 

For starters, let's take a look at what's new and what's different. Visually, the Snyder Cut is in keeping with the director's earlier DC films (Batman V Superman, Man of Steel), in that it is drained of colour and has a moody look and feel. Even when the colour palette is at odds with other films in the series (for example, Atlantis pops with colour in James Wan's Aquaman, but is drab and murky here), Snyder sticks to his guns and follows through on his vision for this universe. 

The aspect ratio has shifted too; the film is now presented in 4:3 rather than the traditional 1.85:1 widescreen – this wouldn't normally be an issue, for a blockbuster film screening in IMAX, but since the Snyder Cut is making its debut at home, it does feel like an odd choice. What audiences are faced with is an (almost) square film that is framed by two black strips on either side of their widescreen TVs. 

The Snyder Cut's lengthier runtime means more room for subplots for Ezra Miller's Flash and Ray Fisher's Cyborg. In the former, we meet Barry Allen's dad and girlfriend Iris (played by Billy Crudup and Kiersey Clemons); in the latter, Snyder explores Cyborg's tragic origin story and paternal relationship. Both are welcome additions, but it's Cyborg's backstory that adds the most emotional depth to the film. 

Also padding out the runtime are extended sequences in Themyscira, Atlantis, Star Labs and off-world, on whatever cursed planet Darkseid is lurking on. Not all the quote/unquote new stuff is worth the wait, but on the whole I think the longer runtime makes this a more complete and satisfying experience.

Snyder has also done away with all of the scenes that were filmed after his departure; the weird flirty dynamic shared by Bruce (Ben Affleck) and Diana (Gal Gadot) in the theatrical cut is pared back to little more than a moment, while the final fight between the Justice League and Steppenwolf is drastically different. 

At its core, Zack Snyder's Justice League is still plagued by the same plotting problems as its predecessor; namely, the interweaving MacGuffins that drive the story forward. There's the three all-powerful Mother Boxes that Steppenwolf and Darkseid seek to unite, something called the Anti-Life Equation and visions of a dystopian future – all which might bore casual viewers, but are great for fans. When viewed alongside Snyder's other DCEU films, the true scope and ambition of Justice League takes shape – and you have to admire it for what it is.

If you can stomach the thought of a four-hour film that teases a sequel that will likely never come, definitely give Zack Snyder's Justice League a look. It's pompous, grandiose and self-important, but that's what sets this apart from Marvel's more jovial take on the interconnected superhero universe formula.

Overlong, shapeless, indulgent; Zack Snyder's Justice League is all of those things. But it's also a triumphant and textured blockbuster film that leaves it all on the field. If this is to be the parting shot for Snyder's take on the DC universe, then what a way to round things out.

The Verdict: 8.5/10

Long story short, was the Snyder Cut worth the wait? Yes, if only to see the filmmaker's original vision for these characters and this film in full flight, finally. It's 100 per cent unfiltered Zack Snyder – which means will earn the adulation of fans and continue to give ammunition to the detractors, in equal measure.

Zack Snyder's Justice League is available to stream now via Foxtel Now and Binge. 

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