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Zack Snyder’s Justice League: Old Bones, New Skin

Zack Snyder’s Justice League, while similar to its predecessor, strikes a bold, visionary tone that makes it stand out from most comic films.

A Review of Zack Snyder’s Justice League

The story of the DCEU has been one of strife and struggle. Began by many creative minds after the success of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy on the one hand and Joss Whedon and Kevin Feige’s MCU on the other, the culmination of this creative endeavor was Justice League in 2017. It was a film doomed before it even came to theatres, a movie divided against itself.

Colored by the DCEU’s ambitions for Marveldom and a horrific tragedy that forced Snyder to step down from his duties, Justice League fell to Joss Whedon and a desperate alliance of WB/DC power-movers who wanted a hit that would rival the MCU’s The Avengers. It made for a movie that was trying to be everything to everyone and, as such, ended up pleasing no one.

The story that followed, a tale that included a hashtag war on social media to save the original vision of the film and a gamble by HBO Max to see that vision realized, is the culmination of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, a film that follows its forebear through 4 years of creative clashes, behind-the-scenes arrangements, and passionate fandom.

Image Credit: HBO Max

And now it’s here. So how is it? Well, that depends on what you wanted from this project. If you wanted the DCEU to fall in line and create a more Avengers-style brand, then this movie is not going to make you any happier with Snyder’s vision of the DCEU. That’s a non-starter for people who absolutely hated Man of Steel and vehemently abhorred Batman v. Superman. Hell, that divide has been years in the making and, if anything, Zack Snyder’s Justice League will only drive that wedge further.

It certainly strikes a tone very different from DCEU films like Aqua Man, Shazam!, and Wonder Woman 1984, which have come since. It’s essentially the first full realization of Snyder’s vision of this world, and whether you can enjoy that at all is indicative of whether you enjoyed the films that came before this.

With all of that out of the way, let’s focus on the product at hand: Zack Snyder’s Justice League. In a bit of irony, like Joss Whedon’s own Serenity, a movie that only exists because of fan demand, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a response to an outcry that something is allowed to exist as it was meant to be, without the interference of bottom-lining producers and taste-making, zeitgeist-chasing critics.

Image Credit: HBO Max

Okay, right, let’s back up a smidge. Following the ending of Batman v. Superman, Zack Snyder’s Justice League sees a world without Superman struggling to come to terms with itself. Into that world comes two disparate forces: Batman and Steppenwolf.

Both inspired by the impressive examples of their betters, Batman seeks to redeem himself by building an alliance that can rival the powers of Superman. At the same time, Steppenwolf wishes to offer enough worship to Darkseid to be worthy of his favor once again. If this all sounds like gibberish to you, then I sympathize, but welcome to comics fandom. It’s a world that has existed for a long time, and even the most audience-friendly affairs are filled with their share of deep cuts.

Essentially an auteur vision of the DC comic world, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is even more indentured to its past than other comic adaptation efforts, based, as it is, in a particular creative realization of the DCEU. Further, how much you will enjoy it will also be colored by whether you’ve seen the Joss Whedon-Zack Snyder cross-production of Justice League as it originally arrived in theaters in 2017.

Zack Snyder's Justice League
Image Credit: HBO Max

Roughly 40% of this film is seen in that original picture, colored as it is by the creative visions of a much different creator and a studio that desires something very different. It’s a film that, despite this borderline egregious subtext, I’m actually delighted to discuss. It’s just that there was a lot we had to talk about before we could, ahem, talk about it.

Anyway, with all of that settled, let’s get to it. Zack Snyder’s Justice League focuses on many goals in its 4-hour runtime, not the least of which is setting up the biggest villain in DC history for future films. Though it appears unlikely at the moment that these movies will come, the goal of setting up Darkseid remains an important part of this film. His presence is felt throughout the movie, even if he’s rarely on-screen.

Of course, another goal of Justice League is far more clear: setting up the titular team. This was one of the most significant problems with Whedon’s take. With so many new characters to set up, introduce, and create a compelling arc for, the original film was simply too short to accomplish this task. Though a 4-hour runtime may seem bloated to some, the truth is that length is arguably the greatest strength of the film.

Zack Snyder's Justice League
Image Credit: HBO Max

With room for its main characters and side characters to live, breathe and exist in a world without Superman, Zack Snyder’s Justice League sets a compelling stage for its story, a story with room to grow. Alfred, for example, gets a lot to do here, and Jeremy Irons’ stellar portrayal of him is one of the best reasons to watch. Always handy with a sarcastic quip, Alfred will literally make you laugh out loud at least once here.

Speaking of quips, one of the biggest surprises here is how many were actually in Snyder’s original film. Granted, most of them come from Ezra Miller’s Flash, a character who is noteworthy for his snappy wit and light nature in the comics. Nonetheless, it’s shocking when you consider that this type of dialogue is a staple for which Whedon has always been known.

Luckily, the biggest clunkers, like Batman awkwardly stuttering: “I don’t not like you.” to Superman, have been left on the cutting room floor. Snyder’s stated categorically that we wouldn’t use a single shot or line created for the Whedon version of the film, which seems to hold true here. In fact, part of the film’s fun is finding out which seemingly Whedon stuff is actually Snyder stuff, and vice-versa. If you’ve seen both films, you’ll no doubt find yourself keeping tabs on this sort of thing as you watch.

Zack Snyder's Justice League
Image Credit: HBO Max

Another major improvement in Zack Snyder’s Justice League is the look and feel of the action sequences. Though Whedon is no slouch at directing action, Snyder’s entire career has been virtually constructed on his ability to make complex, compelling, and stylistic action. Even the film-makers’ most ardent critics would have to concede that the man can shoot a great action scene, and that skill is well on display here. A late-game scene that sees The Flash in a desperate run against time and space itself is a showstopper that will be talked about for years.

Finally, Junkie XL’s score, a major improvement over the Hans Zimmer score for the 2017 film, is a feather in the cap of Zack Snyder’s vision here. Best known for his incredible Mad Max: Fury Road score, Junkie XL provides action movies with a flavor that is totally unique and his nearly 4-hour score means that not a single track is repeated in the entire movie.

Overall, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is undeniably a superior version to the original cut. With a consistent vision, tons of fanservice, and a mind-blowing cliffhanger of an ending, the movie is sure to please Snyderverse stalwarts while making even Snyder’s most vocal critics give him a bit more credit.

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