Zack Snyder's Justice League Review: Overly Long, An Improved 3rd Act
Zack Snyder's Justice League is painfully overlong at just over four hours which is only made worse by the terrible pacing. While the third act is much better than the theatrical version, it's still just as forgettable and, in a particular, more mean-spirited than any other DC property so far.
Director: Zack Snyder
Summary: Zack Snyder's definitive director's cut of Justice League. Determined to ensure Superman's ultimate sacrifice was not in vain, Bruce Wayne aligns forces with Diana Prince with plans to recruit a team of metahumans to protect the world from an approaching threat of catastrophic proportions.
There will be those who will say that critics are not to judge Zack Snyder's fanbase's actions against the final product that is launching on HBO Max later this week. However, separating the two is utterly impossible because one would not exist without the other. Snyder would not have the money or freedom to make this movie were it not for the fans, so to examine the movie means to examine the fanbase, the good and the bad. We'll get to that later. There are very few movies that justify an over three-hour run time, and, unfortunately, Zack Snyder's Justice League is not one of them. For the first two hours, there were scenes that you could point out and say, "cut that, that adds nothing, that breaks the flow," and it's rather unfortunate that most of those scenes feature Lois Lane. Much like the previous DC Extended Universe movies, Zack Snyder's Justice League cannot figure out what they want to do with Lois Lane. The rumored romance with Batman would have at least given her something to do besides move from location to location, not doing much of anything.
While the scenes that could be cut got harder to pick out once Superman comes back to life, the movie is more than halfway over by then. There were still a few moments that could have been cut to trim the movie down to three hours or maybe even two and a half if you really worked hard. There is a reason that assembly cuts don't usually make it to the big screen; Snyder is like any other creative in that he needs an editor to knock his hand away. However, there didn't appear to be anyone telling Snyder that certain scenes went on too long or didn't need to be there at all. The most obvious one that comes to mind features a group of women singing at Aquaman once he goes back into the water. The scene is just as awkward as any of the other cringe-worthy moments in the original theatrical cut. It was mostly little things that could have made Zack Snyder's Justice League much shorter and made it feel like the flow wasn't being interrupted by Icelantic singing or Cyborg cyberstalking some random woman. The moments with Aquaman are so muted and devoid of life and color that it's almost laughable after how vibrant and joyous Aquaman was.
The jokes that everyone complained about in the theatrical cut are still there, and while they made it so Flash does not sexually harass Wonder Woman, he does act really weird around her and comment on dating her. It's not cute or endearing, it's just weird, and there had to be better ways to show that Flash is awkward around other people than this. While the extra Cyborg scenes make him a more relatable character, they are also rather dull at times, and they could have been trimmed down without being cut entirely. The best scenes in the movie, at least pre-Superman coming back to life, are when the movie leans into its mythology. Of all of the added scenes in the first half of the movie, those are the ones that should be kept because they really help you understand what the stakes are for not only the heroes but the villains as well. While that might mean that Aquaman, Flash, and Cyborg get a little less character development, they have [or had in the case of Cyborg] solo movies coming out where that could have been handled. This is why character development is best left to the solo movies. Team films need to spend time on team dynamics and the villain.
While the first half is extremely rough, things do turn around when we get to the second half of the second act and into the third [but not the epilogue, that is for later]. This is where the most obvious differences are in terms of Zack Snyder's Justice League and the theatrical cut. The motivation of the villain and the heroes has changed over the course of the movie, and it does help make things more interesting. The ending feels a bit more deserved, and the action is much better shot and edited in this version than the theatrical. The theatrical had this ugly red haze over everything; Snyder keeps everything on the darker side, and while that means it can be hard to see everything all the time, you more or less can follow the action. The scene in Russia ends with the entire team posing, and it's good, it's all right to see, but then the movie keeps going. And to get into what happens after the bad guys are defeated, we need to get into minor spoilers. That being said, most of this is obvious through context cues in trailers, but it is a massive problem and explains why the epilogue came across as mean-spirited. The spoilers will be between two images from the movie, so scroll past the next two images to get to the last part of the review if you don't want to read them at this time.
We already knew that this movie ended on a "massive cliffhanger" because Snyder told us it did. While I won't spoil the entire details of the cliffhanger, what I will say is that if they had left it to a single line of dialogue, it would have been annoying but excusable. That is not what Snyder and company did, though. Over the course of this production, we found out that Snyder only shot a few new scenes, and one of those scenes involved Jared Leto as the Joker. The epilogue at first is just the heroes going about their days after the fight; we see Batman and Wonder Woman picking a spot for the Hall of Justice, all of it. The cinematography switches to that same Mad Max aesthetic that the first Knightmare in Batman v Superman was shot in. There is a lot of massive plot information dumped into this scene, it's the only scene that Joker is in, and it is all set up for a sequel that no one has any intention of making.
That is not me being a pessimist; multiple people have stated that no one seems to have any real interest in making another movie. So the fact that the only new scenes that Snyder shot for Zack Snyder's Justice League are a tease for a movie that might not ever happen is such a manipulative and mean-spirited kick in the balls to the fans. These fans are why Snyder got $70 million and all of this freedom to make this movie. The fans are the reason this thing exists in any form, and as a reward for that, Snyder teases them with not only a cliffhanger but the only new scenes were teases for a movie no one is planning on making. This is not like Marvel teasing Thanos at the end of the Avengers and Sinestro picking up the Yellow Lantern ring at the end of Green Lantern. The former was already more or less guaranteed to happen, and the latter was planned to happen until the movie bombed. This is a tease that no one has even indicated is a possibility could happen.
Snyder had an opportunity here that very few directors in the blockbuster scene get; the chance to go out on his own terms. Blockbuster movies are so mandated by committee that teases for sequels are baked into the DNA, but Snyder didn't need to do that. He could have left the single line in there, which left it open-ended but not in an extreme way. There is just something so incredibly manipulative of the audience and the passion of the fanbase to do this. Snyder could have neatly closed the door on this and given the fans who made this possible the closure they deserved since it seems the DC universe is heading in a different direction. But he didn't. This is just going to whip the fandom into a frenzy again.
There is no separating the art from the artist when it comes to Zack Snyder's Justice League. There is no way for "death of the author" to work in this context because of how this movie was made. When you make something for the fans, you cannot absolve the fandom from criticism. It took some time, but Snyder eventually admitted that some people in this fandom took it too far. They have done a lot of good, and they really supported the Snyder family at the worst time in their lives. However, this movie was made for the fans, it was willed into existence by fandom, and the fandom itself is part of the story that must be told while critiquing this movie. For all of the good the fandom has done, there are people out there sliding into critic's DMs to harass and threaten them. The comment section of this very post will likely be filled with people angry at me for not enjoying the movie. It might be a vocal minority, but that minority is part of the group that willed this into being the same as the thousands of other people who just posted calm tweets and donated to charity. It exists, and there is no getting around the connection these two things ultimately hold. A critique of Zack Snyder's Justice League must also explore what happens when fandom controls the narrative. It didn't work for Star Wars [twice], and it didn't work for DC here as well.
Zack Snyder's Justice League is self-indulgence on the part of Zack Snyder to the tune of $70 million. Is it bad? Not really; it's just as forgettable as the first one. There is very little to hate here because there is so little to latch onto. It's better than the theatrical cut, and if the first half wasn't so slow, the second half could have been a triumph. Instead, there is a solid three-hour movie lost in the haze of a four-hour bloated mess. As for the fans, I really hope they enjoy it, and that it's everything they hoped for. As for Zack Snyder? You better be campaigning twice as hard for a sequel as you did for this one. After the cliffhanger you left your fans on, they deserve that much, and they deserve better than the current open ending you gave them.