I’d just like to start by saying that I am incredibly happy that Zack Snyder got the support to actually have his full vision of Justice League released. I’ve never really seen many films that have multiple cuts and didn’t think that this would turn out to be as different as it was. With that said, the Snyder Cut is by far the more coherent and entertaining film, but it’s still full of both many pros and cons. But fuck it, this movie was entertaining as hell and while it’s far from perfect, I’ll defend the hell out of this thing out of my new found respect for Zack Snyder.
NOTE: I will not be spoiling any specific plot details about either versions of this film but rather discuss the differences in their creative choices and their filmmaking techniques used. If you want to watch either of these fresh, feel free to do so before reading my review, but I assure you that what I’m talking about isn’t already in either trailer.
I’ve kept mild interest in the DCEU movies over the years. Having seen Man of Steel, Batman V Superman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman, I’m well versed on the DCEU. However, most of their films to me have been rather mediocre and done little to spark my excitement when a new entry is released.
Despite the increased buzz and excitement for the release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, I can’t say I reciprocated that feeling. Still, something felt different about this when it came out. Maybe it was how inspiring the grassroots campaign that green-lit this project was, but it got me off my ass to watch this thing (not in a literal sense since who watches a movie standing up?).
I specifically watched Snyder’s cut prior to the theatrical version because I wanted to ensure that I judge my opinion first off of this movie alone. I did not want to bring the contrast effect into this (yes I googled the official term), in order to see how this film stood on its own without any biases.
All you need to know about my opinion on the 2017 theatrical version of this film is that it is not very good and extremely forgettable. It essentially crams and truncates the Snyder cut to the point where the film has almost no characterization, and a very minimal understanding of the main conflict. In case you didn’t already know, those are kind of two major ingredients in the recipe for good movies.
So how about Zack Snyder’s Justice League? Is it better? Infinitely. Does that mean it’s a masterpiece? Not one bit. First, let’s talk about the pros.
I want to stress that the differences I want to highlight aren’t for the sake of shaming Whedon’s cut, but to credit Snyder’s vision for making the film much more compelling to me.
The tone is by far the biggest difference between these. One of my favourite scenes from the movie is actually the opening scene and the tone is DRASTICALLY different. It not only establishes a dark tone from the opening sequence — with a pretty awesome slow-mo (more on that), but it also creatively and effectively gives the audience information about the plot almost immediately without a single word being said.
Snyder’s darker tone isn’t just conveyed well in the opening scene though. He does this in several ways including the lighting & colour correction, the score, and with less humour. Many shots in this film are footage used in the 2017 version, but aren’t colour corrected like Whedon’s cut as seen below.
This makes his shots darker with more shadows which align better with his tone. In addition to this, the score is far more active in action and dramatic scenes. Why not? It’s pretty decent. With the score having a bigger presence, it especially elevates the movie’s emotional story beats. Lastly, the humour. Snyder’s cut still has some jokes here and there and to be honest, not many of them still land for me. However, they are kept to a minimum in order to maintain his more dark and serious tone.
Another strong positive from the Snyder Cut is its characterization. Even years ago when I saw the theatrical trailer, I could just tell that characters like Cyborg and Flash were just going to be thrown into the movie and the audience was just expected to like them with hardly any context about their origins. To save you the trouble, I wasn’t far from the truth. However, in Snyder’s cut, Cyborg’s character development is vital to the story. There were even times where I thought even this 4-hour movie was just going to stop developing him and say, “Ok, that’s enough for now.” But they just kept going.
Cyborg’s character may be the biggest improvement but ALL characters in the band of heroes receive much more cohesive individual arcs and it’s one of, if not the main reason why the movie sticks the landing for me. Not only are they cohesive, but each arc provides far more heart into the film and is effective at getting you to root for each of them both as individuals and as a team. You can tell when a movie has properly fleshed out its characters when you get a certain level of excitement seeing them unite and triumph as a team. This movie gave me that feeling.
Even with all the improvements that Snyder’s vision makes, there are still some issues I have with this movie, and it’s something that I think need to be addressed since many opinions I’ve seen online are calling this film a “masterpiece” (see contrast effect above).
Steppenwolf — the main villain of both films, is more present with a lot of added screen time in the Snyder cut — and even gets a much-needed makeover, but his fundamental character has some issues. He comes across as a knockoff Thanos — especially given his objective of acquisition, but without any rational explanation for his motives. He really just seems like a guy who wants absolute power, which is totally fine, it just doesn’t make him a strong layered villain which I think is important for the best superhero films have.
This may be a small complaint, but Snyder seems to have a bit of a hard-on for slow-motion sequences. While there are a few cool examples of it in the film that make sense, there are some instances where it feels overdone. This is especially the case when one of your main characters is really fast. Of course it makes sense to have a lot of Barry Allen slow-mo sequences since it’s essentially how he sees the world. However, there are a lot of them, so any time it’s used for other characters, it begins to feel repetitive.
Also, while I’m totally okay with watching a 4-hour movie (side note, if you’re complaining about it being that long, it is told in chapters/parts, making it friendly to take breaks while watching it), there are definitely a few scenes from this movie that could be cut. One in particular that I really wasn’t a fan of was actually the ending. The first fifteen minutes of the epilogue chapter to me perfectly wrap up the movie. Instead, the epilogue is dragged out in ways I can’t say I was hoping for.
That being said, seeing the final shot of the film having imagery to tribute Snyder’s late daughter, almost made me cry it was so sweet.
Overall, watching Zack Snyder’s Justice League was a memorable experience and to me, it’s DC’s finest superhero epic. It makes for a very interesting case study for students of film when analyzing the differences between the two cuts and it really just goes to show just how different the same film can be when you have two different people sitting in the director’s chair. Again, while I think it’s nowhere near perfect, I thoroughly enjoyed it and would definitely watch it again.