I mean, it is better, I guess…
Zack Snyder’s best movie ever is arguably Watchmen, the 2009 adaptation of Alan Moore’s revolutionary, classic graphic novel. Zack Snyder’s worst movie ever is arguably Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, his overwrought, downright messy 2016 sequel to Man of Steel that turns on an unintended laugh when the two main characters learn their mothers share a first name.
It’s curious then, that there has been so much clamoring for “the Snyder Cut,” a fully realized version of Justice League the way it’s original director intended. It’s not Ridley Scott’s true Bladerunner. It’s not Spielberg completing an unfinished Stanley Kubrick film. It’s the guy who made Sucker Punch. I mean that was OK, I guess.
That’s Snyder’s career in a nutshell so far. Watchmen was a very good movie. Not a great one. Batman v. Superman, while often stupid, wasn’t the worst movie ever made. Both films fall on either end of the ‘OK’ scale. An upbeat “Hmm, it was OK!” Or a half-hearted “eh, it was OK.” And the rest of his movies fall somewhere in-between.
I’ll admit to going into this film with preconceived notions. I didn’t expect Snyder to out-do himself in either direction. But there is another, very important criteria with which to judge this film. Is it better than the original?
As Zack Snyder was closing in on post-production for Justice League, he and his family suffered a terrible personal tragedy that forced him to leave the film. Naturally, Warner Brothers would hire Avengers director Joss Whedon to finish the film. And more. Doubtless under instruction to make this movie more like a Marvel movie, Whedon re-wrote, re-shot, repurposed and mercilessly cut 70-80% of Zack Snyder’s material. When the movie hit theaters in the fall of 2017, it was largely unrecognizable as a Snyder film. It had become a Whedon film and had 80% less black character development.
The Justice League Whedon brought to the theaters was a broken one, with misplaced humor, uneven tone and bad CGI. It bombed at the box office, disappointed critics and fans alike and, amid accusations that Whedon had displayed unprofessional and abusive behavior on set, it caused many to wonder: Would Snyder’s have been better?
So? Is it better? The answer is yeah, mostly.
The broad strokes of the plot remain the same. Steppenwolf, a thousands year old being from Apokolips Darkseids home world, descends upon Earth, intent on finding and uniting the Mother Boxes, 3 devices that will give Steppenwolf the power to destroy the world (cough cough Infinity Stones). Bruce Wayne realizes an imminent threat is approaching due to the death of Superman, He then attempts to find and unite a group of powered heroes to defend the planet. Bruce faces some challenges at first. (They don’t wanna go. They’re hard to find. One of them is dead.) But he eventually gets the gang together for the big fight to come.
But there are significant and swathing changes as well. First the length of this film is more than twice the theatrical cut. At 4 hours and 2 min, even with 15 minutes of credits at the end, it’s far longer than Avengers: Endgame, The Dark Knight, The Godfather part II and Watchmen.
Snyder uses that time to show us more of what Ezra Miller’s flash can do. He also presents a whole new story for Ray Fisher’s Cyborg. We get to see how the half man-half robot was created and learn more of his backstory, his relationship with his dad and see him in full control of his powers. If the movie has a lead actor, it’s Ray Fisher by a long shot. Snyder also for the first time on the big screen presents one of the best villains DC has ever produced, the villain named Darkseid (insert ominous music).
But Snyder’s film trades one set of problems for another. He gets rid a lot of the silliness from Whedon’s cut like Parademons who can smell fear. He fixes Henry Cavill’s rubber upper lip.
(He sported a mustache for Mission Impossible 6 that had to be digitally removed for Whedon’s reshoots.) Snyder also gives Cyborg and Steppenwolf more weight. But Batman, Superman, Aquaman, Wonder Women all get short shrift here. Some developing moments and plot points for these characters are gone. So is much of the humor. And believe it or not, some of the logic. Snyder doesn’t mind adding characters or scenes but he’s more concerned with making them longer and grander than he is with making the players in this story deeper.
One reason for this could be that his movie was never meant to be a standalone. And all the characters that are lacking here have or would’ve gotten their own movies. And in this cut of Justice League, Snyder leaves a lot of loose threads and hints for a series of sequels that now, may never come to be.
That still remains a problem for this movie. It can be a bit frustrating that with 2 extra hours of film, Zack Snyder really only covers the same ground as Whedon did. They both get to the same place. But Zack took (to borrow a line from a friend who watched this with me) the scenic route.
Still, with a far more cohesive tone, better special effects, and more character developing moments (for some) Zack Snyder’s Justice League delivers a much more enjoyable experience than the Theatrical Cut did. So it’s better than the original.
But is it good? Well, good enough. It can’t escape the ‘OK’ scale. But this movie is much closer to Watchmen than it is to Batman v. Superman. And that’s enough to warrant a pretty upbeat “Hmm! That was OK!”
Three out of five stars for Zack Snyder’s movie that’s bigger and longer than Whedon's movie.
Written by Chris Terrio, Zack Snyder and Will Beall and directed by Zack Snyder (as the official title implies) Zack Snyder’s Justice League stars Ray Fisher, Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Henry Cavill, Jason Mamoa, Ezra Miller and Joe Morton. It runs (an insane) 242 minutes and is rated ‘R’ for violence, gore and some language. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is available to stream exclusively on HBO Max right now.
Written by our movie nerd Addison "Average Joe" Lee