The unsullied vision of Zack Snyder is finally here, all four hours of it, and it’s everything Zack Snyder promised Justice League superfans it would be: meaty with back story, more narratively coherent than Joss Whedon’s messy theatrical cut, newly re-scored (Junkie XL’s bombastic original score replaces Danny Elfman’s jauntier stand-in) and stocked up with fresh needle drops (hello, um, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds). It also ratchets up supervillainy, with DC’s answer to Thanos, Darkseid, restored and given a chunky role.
As expected, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is moodier, more violent and more faithful to the comic books. But is it better? Not really. Given the opportunity afforded by two extra hours’ runtime, most filmmakers worth their salt could patch up a few narrative holes and beef up a sprawling ensemble of characters. The trick is to do it in a way that doesn’t sacrifice energy and zip, and both are seriously lacking in Snyder’s elephantine assembly of Mother Boxes, alien superbads, slo-mo-heavy VFX battles, yakky bits, and subsea shots of octopuses going about their business.
It’s all a bit #ReleaseThe DeletedScenes – at least, until a reimagined final show-down that marks the film’s biggest departure from the theatrical cut. As a fringe benefit, there’s plenty of time for newbies to catch up in a meandering opening half. Snyder divides the film into six discrete chapters and an epilogue that add to the sense that you’re watching a massively expensive TV show rather than a movie. It’s probably best watched that way, too: an hour-long chapter at a time.
The bones of the plot remain largely the same as the one Whedon partly rewrote and reworked when personal tragedy forced Snyder off the film. Steppenwolf (a mo-capped Ciarán Hinds beneath the shapeshifting CG armour) arrives on Earth with an army of flying robot bugs to find three Mother Boxes, unite them and lay waste to the planet. Naturally, Batman (Ben Affleck) wants to stop him. He heads off via Bat-horse to find Aquaman (Jason Momoa) in a remote fishing village and start putting a team together that will also involve Cyborg (Ray Fisher), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), the Flash (Ezra Miller) and at some point – spoiler warning – a not-as-dead-as-we-thought Superman (Henry Cavill).
These first half scenes are mostly about as exciting as watching a LinkedIn network take shape. Cyborg is the main beneficiary, thanks to an extensive dip into his tragic backstory, although Aquaman gets a lot more screen time too (the trident is explained this time). Momoa is a highpoint, a salty antidote to Affleck’s moroseness, and one of the few characters to benefit from the extra scenes.
Cyborg remains one-note and the Flash’s offbeat one-liners, a rare highlight in the Whedon version, are ill-served by editing that leaves so much fat in. Scenes like the one in which Alfred butler-splains Wonder Woman in the art of making tea, presumably intended to add levity and warmth, only reminds you how much more naturally this stuff comes in the Marvelverse.
And did it need two extra villains? It’s a lot of management layers even with four hours to play with, and a fair number of scenes involve a kind of evil performance review as Steppenwolf reports on his progress to Darkseid and his gopher/torturer DeSaad.
DC stans will probably love it, and for anyone steeped in the comic-book lore, Synder has created a version of the Justice League that’s at least more recognisable that the one that flunked so badly at the cinema. But as Warner Bros. has already stressed, it’s ‘a street that leads nowhere’: A $70 million exercise in fan service that doesn’t tie in with anything to come and yet is still breadcrumbed with sequel-baiting moments. If you’re not a #ReleasetheSnyderCut signee, you’re still better off watching the original, patchy as it is. At least it’s short.
Released on HBO Max in the US and on Sky Cinema and NOW TV in the UK Mar 18.