Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021) Review

Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021) Director: Zack Snyder

Rating: 3 out of 5.

A deep dive through the Batman movies has led me to the drab, gloomy world of Zack Snyder’s vision for what the DC cinematic universe might have looked like. Unfortunately, the whole multi-film ended up being more or less chaos behind the scenes. Justice League. Was intended to be a piece of the broader puzzle which began with Man of Steel (2013) and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), however the latter was a long, droning, funerary film that received mostly critical rebuke. On the surface Justice League is a clear attempt to rival Marvel’s expansive cinematic universe, and redeem some of the flaws of previous films, but on another level, it shows how little cohesive direction was put into the DC universe. Unlike Marvel, Snyder’s hope for DC was for it to be a darker, bleaker, more serious and adult superhero franchise. However, the lackluster response to Batman v Superman led Warner Bros to reconsider the direction and push for a more light-hearted picture.

The original Justice League was released in 2017, but it was decidedly not the movie that was initially planned film for release. Tragedy had struck during production when director Zack Snyder’s daughter sadly and unexpectedly committed suicide, leading him and his wife to understandably step away from the project while stand-in director Joss Whedon was brought in finish up the project. Whedon was previously known for his work on the Avengers movies as well as a writer for things like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. However, at the studio’s direction, Whedon significantly changed course for Justice League –editing, reshooting, and slicing down the film by at least two hours. He added in the infamous CGI face of Henry Cavill who had already grown a mustache for another film, and the reshoots gave Justice League a notably more comedic tone, which echoed Marvel but gave DC a starkly different feel from Snyder’s earlier productions. In other words, Justice League was a mess. Rumors began to air about constant rewrites to the script while in the midst of production, and Ben Affleck apparently expressed desire to be released from his role of Batman (during reshoots, he was said to have gained weight and seemed to be entirely uninterested in the role), and other lead actors like Henry Cavill soon followed suit. In some ways, Justice League represented both the culmination of the DCEU as well as its precipitous decline before it could even take off. 2017’s Justice League has sometimes been derisively referred to as the “Josstice League” in honor of Joss Whedon directorial efforts. Since then, numerous accusations have surfaced against Whedon, many of the cast of Justice League accused him of being a “tyrant,” and this was joined by a chorus of other actors and staff from past projects. After an internal investigation, Whedon was quietly let go from the series he was working on (The Nevers) and has not made anything since (as of 2022). It’s tough to say how much of this was true, however it did not bode well for the DC universe.

After Justice League became a critical and commercial failure, the future of DC was uncertain. Plans for a vast cinematic universe a la Marvel were quickly scrapped and DC released several stand-alone films like Aquaman (2018) and Shazam! (2019) which were already in production. Warner Bros bounced between ideas for the future while cycling through various franchise producers –ideas included female-centric recreations of classic characters like Batgirl, a film which was entirely complete and in post-production when Warner Bros abruptly canceled the whole project, and other ideas involved various new spin-offs, miniserieses, and reboots, Needless to say, the direction of DC was in a bit of a tailspin. Despite owning valuable IPs like Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, and others, Warner Bros was seemingly unable to carve out a path for success. Meanwhile, internet rumors had swirled for years about the existence of Zack Snyder’s initial cut of Justice League and a growing movement of fans began demanding the release of the director’s cut. Finally, after garnering the hype Warner Bros so desired, the “Snyder Cut” was released in 2021 on HBO Max.    

After watching it, I can safely say the “Snyder Cut” is heavy, long, epic, dark, and yet an impressive undertaking. Clocking in at over four hours, the “Snyder Cut” picks up where Batman v Superman left off –the death of superman has spawned three ancient super weapons on earth known as “mother boxes.” They are being hunted by a hammer-headed godlike alien named Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) who has fallen out of favor with his overlord, Darkseid (Ray Porter). Each of the three mother boxes have been concealed on earth for thousands of years –one with the sea peoples of Atlantis, one with the Amazonian women, and the other with humans. While searching for each box, Steppenwolf discovers that earth is actually the world that carries the secret anti-life equation which once defeated Darkseid thousands of years ago (apparently Darkseid forgot about earth?). I guess Superman had served as protector of earth since then, but with him out of the way, Darkseid is free to conquer earth once again.

Meanwhile, Batman (Ben Affleck) has been tracking down an elite cohort of superheroes to fight back against Steppenwolf. He unites the “Justice League” which consists of: Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher), Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller). There are also numerous other notable cameos in the film: Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Willem Dafoe as Aquaman’s mentor, Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor, Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth, Diane Lane as Martha Kent, Connie Nelson as Queen of the Amazons, J.K. Simmons as Commissioner Gordon, Amber Heard as Mera, Jared Leto as the Joker, and so on. At any rate, the Justice League decides to use one of the mother boxes to reanimate Superman (Henry Cavill) to help fight against Steppenwolf. However, the newly reborn Superman is not exactly the same and requires time to rediscover his identity. Naturally, this leads to a grand battle royal between the heroes and Steppenwolf and leaves open the door that Darkseid will invade earth in the future. Will this plot ever be revisited again in the future? It’s anyone’s guess.

Needless to say, there is quite a bit of complexity in this immense film. While I am no great fan of epic world-threatening superhero movies like this, the sheer complexity of the “Snyder Cut” is deserving of praise in its own right, it is sure to find praise among the right audiences. Each character is given a layered background buried in hours of endless story-telling. With that being said, I prefer the stand-alone DC films like The Batman. At this point, I have not seen the Whedon cut of Justice League and have no real desire to do so.

1 thought on “Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021) Review

  1. Personally I prefer the one-superhero classics nowadays. As fun as films like Justice League can be, certainly thanks to Zack Snyder, whose work I respect thanks to Dawn Of The Dead, I can’t help but find it all too overwhelming. But thank you for your review.

    Liked by 2 people

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