Zack Snyder’s Justice League

A rare mulligan with merit

Directed by Zack Snyder
(US, 2021)

Review by Sean Keating

 

Life rarely gives you second chances, especially when it comes to making good on $300-million box-office bombs. But thanks to a global pandemic, Hollywood’s thirst for new revenue streams and a persistent (and occasionally toxic) fan base, director Zack Snyder was given a rare mulligan to lay out his singular artistic vision for the DC Cinematic Universe.

The result is Zack Snyder’s Justice League, a sprawling, four-hour redo of 2017’s lacklustre Justice League. The original (which Snyder left mid-production after the death of his daughter) was ultimately the type of bland, non-offensive product one would expect when you have reshoots, studio interference and replacement director Joss Whedon insisting that Batman tell dad jokes. Conversely, Snyder’s recut is the closest thing to a director-driven artistic endeavor that one can expect from the modern studio industrial complex. The result is a bad movie, but at least it’s an interesting bad movie.

As with the original cut, the movie follows the efforts of Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) to assemble a team of heroes strong enough to keep three McGuffins (dubbed “Mother Boxes”) out of the hands of a big, pointy, angry alien called Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hines) who is bent on harnessing their power and destroying Earth. In short order, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Flash (Ezra Miller), Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and – he’s on the poster so this isn’t a spoiler – a resurrected, Goth-looking Superman (Henry Cavill) come together in a last-ditch attempt to save humanity.

Make no mistake, Snyder’s expanded cut is better than the execrable 2017 version. Each character gets their due in terms of screen time and backstory, with Fisher’s Cyborg arc the centerpiece of the more comprehensible plot. Steppenwolf’s nefarious motivations are explained in more detail. And set pieces are made more visceral and energetic thanks to the extra $70 million that Warner Bros. threw at their sunk cost production.

But Snyder’s style is polarizing for a reason. The director has no peer when is comes to crafting on-screen action sequences that make human actors look like gods (an early reworked scene with Wonder Woman being a prime example), but he’s never shown an ability or willingness to acknowledge when enough is enough. All of Snyder’s worst artistic qualities are on display here – farcical over-reliance on slow motion, clumsy religious symbolism, saturated colour palettes and stiff, sometimes laughable, dialogue delivered by Oscar-calibre actors who should frankly know better.

Fatally, Snyder’s take on DC’s stable of beloved characters is fundamentally out of step with why they became so beloved in the first place, be it his Batman who is totally cool with guns and working with a bunch of gods he can’t control, his Wonder Woman who thinks nothing of using overwhelming force on human targets or his Superman who just seems annoyed to be there.

But hey, it’s a pandemic, and there are worse things we can do than spend four hours watching superheroes kick some butt. Just maybe spread this monstrosity over a few nights.

Available in Canada on Crave
Running time: 242 minutes

Sean Keating lives in the Glebe with his wife and son. He is desperately waiting for the day when he can step into a movie theatre again.

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