September 4, 2021

JUSTICE LEAGUE and the Cult of Snyder

2021 / 242 min


Review by Tiger the Terrible😽


I'll be upfront and state I’m not a big Zack Snyder fan. I thought differently once, back when his remake of Dawn of the Dead was far better than it had a right to be, and 300 displayed a visual flair faithful to its comic source material. Beyond that, it’s as though he graduated from Michael Bay University at the top of his class.

I truly hated Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman. Granted, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy was always gonna be a tough act to follow, but I’m pretty certain Synder felt up to the challenge, perhaps saying, “You call that dark & gritty? Hold my beer.” However, Synder’s pair of films weren’t just dark...they were brooding, ugly, joyless and inexcusably long. Some directors have an inherent narrative or aesthetic knack for keeping epic-length movies interesting. So far, Zack ain’t one of ‘em. 

Still, a lot of fans really connected with Snyder’s somber approach to superheroes, to the point there was considerable vitriol hurled at Justice League, the next film in the franchise which Snyder started but Joss Wheldon finished (and had the unthinkable audacity to inject some welcome bits of levity and humor). Hell hath no fury like a fanboy scorned. But what surprised me were the sheer number of disciples in the Cult of Snyder, all of them clamoring for his original vision for Justice League.

Lo and behold, Warner Bros actually listened, giving Zack the time and resources to revise, recut and expand the film as he envisioned (even the music score is different). Considering the theatrical version flopped and this new cut runs a butt-numbing four hours, the smartest move they made was delivering it to our living rooms - first on HBO Max, now on disc. As someone who isn’t enamored with everything Snyder touches, these are my initial takeaways after taking-in all of Zack Snyder’s Justice League in one sitting:

1) First and foremost, the film preaches to the converted. Those who loved the look, pace and tone of Snyder’s other two DC epics will be in hog heaven, probably even during the laggier moments, of which there are many. Speaking of which…

2) The film has no business being this long, especially when you consider it features a 30-minute epilogue introducing new characters (including Jared Leto’s Joker) and setting-up storylines that will never be revisited (it’s already been announced that the “Snyder Cut” is a one-off). Elsewhere, Snyder still doesn’t justify dragging things out for as long as he does, as demonstrated by several pointlessly expanded scenes. On the other hand...

3) The considerable number of previously deleted scenes alter the plot somewhat. The overall story remains the same, but the most significant change involves the antagonists and their motives. Here, Steppenwolf’s appearance and story are different. Now he’s a subservient henchman for Darkseid, the real threat to humanity who did not show up in the theatrical film. Fans of the comics should be thrilled by his appearance (narratively and aesthetically). On a related note...

4) Even more-so than the theatrical cut, this version operates under the presumption that everyone’s familiar with these characters and all that’s previously transpired. With a few notable exceptions, there’s the expectation that we should already know what makes them tick (whether they had their own movie or not). There are numerous instances that will undoubtedly have newcomers going, “Huh? What?,” while longtime DC fans - and the Cult of Snyder - will find themselves nodding in approval. However...

Darkseid's happy place.
5) Considerable care is given to providing better introductions for Justice League recruits. Granted, if DC wasn’t so hellbent on playing catch-up with the MCU, Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman would have gotten their own movies before throwing them all together, but at-least this one provides more thorough, interesting back-stories. In fact, the affable, charming introduction to Barry Allen (Flash) and his unique abilities is one of the film’s highlights. Speaking of which…

6) Aside from some amusing quips and wisecracks here & there - most provided by Flash - the overall tone is dead serious, to the point where the aforementioned Barry Allen backstory almost feels like it belongs in another movie. Again, this is great news to anyone who resented the comparative jokiness of the theatrical cut. Speaking of serious...

7) The film earns its R-rating with some f-bombs and blood-spurting violence. Sure, some fanboys probably feel these gratuities are necessary for comic book movies to be taken seriously as “adult” entertainment, but a few really old-school superhero fans might be put-off by the sight of Wonder Woman beheading someone (even if he is trying to take over the world).

8) Perhaps most importantly, the film is highly likely to elicit interesting conversions among those who’ve seen both versions. In fact, my wife and I discussed and debated its comparative merits for nearly an hour afterwards...and a little more the next day. Whether one likes it or not (she didn’t, but I thought it was slightly better than Dawn of Justice), any movie that inspires such intense scrutiny can’t be entirely dismissed.

Like the theatrical cut, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is ultimately a mixed bag, though perhaps for different reasons. The film certainly has issues of its own, most notably the extreme length and the director’s increasing reluctance to trim the fat. And more than ever, those not completely up-to-speed on the DCEU will feel they’re attending a party they weren’t invited to. Others might consider those liabilities to be virtues and a major part of what makes the film his crowning achievement. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine the Cult of Snyder not loving all 242 minutes of it.



“ROAD TO JUSTICE LEAGUE” - Director Zack Snyder talks about his films in the DCEU, obviously with more emphasis on this one.



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