Hallelujah: A Review of Zack Snyder’s Justice League
It’s no secret: 2017’s Justice League sucked.
It’s also no secret why it sucked; Zack Snyder had to leave the project before it was finished, Warner Bros. replaced him with Joss Whedon (whose style of film couldn’t be more different from Snyder’s, and that’s not even factoring in all the bullshit that went down on set), rushed the production to reshoot over half the movie, and released a steaming pile in theaters for us all to “enjoy”.
Thanks, Warner Bros.
Justice League was one of the first movie reviews I ever wrote on Medium; you can check that out here if you want to. I’ve watched it once more since writing that review, just to make sure it was as bad as I remembered; it was. But for me, giving DC movies a second shot is almost a must- after all, I hated Batman V Superman the first time I saw it. But the second time, I fell in love with that movie, flaws and all.
It wasn’t until the extended cut hit Blu-ray, however, that I realized how much better that movie would have been without so much studio interference. Unfortunately, Warner Bros. has never learned that lesson; after the polarizing response to Batman V Superman, they tried to course-correct Suicide Squad into oblivion, and then tried to do the same with Justice League when they had Whedon reshoot most of the movie.
It is through this tainted lens that I view Zack Snyder’s Justice League. I don’t know that I will ever be able to judge this movie completely on its own merits, because I will forever be comparing it to the travesty that came before it. But it isn’t often that you get to see a good movie and also know how horribly wrong it could have been; side by side, Whedon’s variation on this film feels like a “what not to do” essay while Snyder’s is “what you should have done”. And it isn’t often that you get to see a movie that was so horribly pieced together and duct-taped get a second chance at being what it was supposed to be.
Ironically, there is precedence for this with Warner Bros.; in 2006, they released the “Richard Donner Cut” of Superman II. Of course, this was decades after the original version, after Richard Donner had similarly been replaced by another director who reshot a lot of the movie, and because of that, Donner was only able to compile his version with whatever he had filmed back in the 70s (including footage from some screen tests). But this also sets the precedence that Warner Bros. doesn’t learn from their mistakes (and that’s going to come up again, later).
I have to be blunt: this was a long movie. And it is probably going to be a long review, too. There’s a lot to unpack here; 2017’s Justice League carries with it so much baggage, after all. I’m going to be talking SPOILERS after this point- and yes, there are still spoilers, even though we’ve all sat through this story at least once before.
Right. Let’s get into it.
PART 1: Holy Extended Cut, Batman
Despite that title, I think it best not to look at Zack Snyder’s version of Justice League as an “extended” or “director’s” cut. That’s not what this movie is. To say that it is simply an extended version of the theatrical movie does not do it any justice (if you’ll pardon the pun).
Watching this movie, I couldn’t help but to get angry at Joss Whedon and Warner Bros. (and besides the end result of 2017’s Justice League, there’s a lot to be angry at them for). Watching this movie, I discovered that there was totally a serviceable movie already filmed when Snyder left the project. Warner Bros. didn’t need to bring in some big-name director to “fix” the movie; they just needed someone to fill Snyder’s shoes and finish up what was already there.
That, to me, was very apparent throughout. This movie basically followed the same story as the original, but in every way, it felt better. It felt stronger. It felt more like a proper sequel to Man of Steel and Batman V Superman. Even scenes that I’d seen before that were largely unchanged felt somehow more thrilling and fulfilling. For example, take this side-by-side comparison of Wonder Woman’s intro sequence:
Not a whole lot has changed, but Snyder’s version is richer in detail, longer, and really showcases Wonder Woman’s strength and agility in a way that the original version simply lacked. I remember watching the extended cut of Spider-Man 2, which only added around 8 minutes of footage, but it peppered in little extra details throughout the entire film like how this scene does, and it just made it such a better experience. Sometimes it doesn’t take a lot to improve a movie… just a little.
That said, the “Snyder Cut” didn’t just pepper in little extra bits here and there. That’s how it treated the scenes we’ve already seen. But the movie is so much more than that. In fact, it is roughly two extra hours more.
The original cut of Justice League was exactly two hours long; Zack Snyder’s Justice League, on the other hand, is over four hours. That’s not an exaggeration. That’s a whole extra movie within the same story we’ve already kinda seen. While familiar scenes are enriched with more detail, the entire story itself is padded out with backstory and action and easter eggs and cameos and, well, everything the original seemed to be lacking. I’m going to talk more about that in a bit, but I want to address something here: despite it being a four-hour movie, I really liked that Snyder broke it up into “parts”; I watched it mostly in one sitting, but it was nice to have the option to break it down into episodes. I’ll definitely appreciate this when it comes to repeat viewings.
I’ll be grateful because Snyder really threw everything and the kitchen sink into this version of the movie. There’s never a point where I felt like any scene’s inclusion was a mistake or was too much; in fact, I enjoyed all of it. But there are definitely parts of the movie where you feel the four hours, like when Bruce finds Aquaman and the women in the village start to sing to Arthur Curry; that song lasts for a minute and a half and it feels like five minutes. Moments like this reminded me of Peter Jackson’s extended Lord of the Rings films (this one specifically reminded me of Eowyn singing at her cousin’s funeral); each added moment wove beautifully to the fabric of the film, but they all contributed to the movie being a very long viewing experience. I wouldn’t say that any scenes should have been cut (how could I? This is Snyder’s movie, his redemption, and every moment that he shot deserves to see the light of day), but I can understand how some might find those moments dragging. I myself have always preferred extended cuts (like Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit, and even Batman V Superman), so the longer, the better.
This movie doesn’t just add two hours to the run time, however. What is, perhaps, its biggest strength is what it removed. Gone are the cheesy lines like “I hear you can talk to fish” or the out-of-character jokes Superman would make. Gone are the awkward scenes like Flash falling on top of Wonder Woman. Gone is Henry Cavill’s fake face hiding his Mission: Impossible stashe. I’m honestly more impressed by how much of 2017’s Justice League is absent from Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
Like I said, simply calling this an extended cut does not do the film justice. It might be the same story, the same cast, and some familiar scenes. But this is definitely not the same movie. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is in a league of its own.
PART 2: The Backstories of Heroes
One of the biggest letdowns of the 2017 model was that it introduced so many new characters- Barry Allen, Arthur Curry, and Victor Stone, primarily- and none of them were given the time of day. I’ve always said that it might have been better if DC had given each of these heroes their own solo movie before shoving them into Justice League (I still don’t think they earned the team-up movie like Marvel earned The Avengers), especially Cyborg, since his arc kinda carries the movie.
Zack Snyder seems to be aware of this, too. He’s commented that you can’t tell this story in two hours, and seeing how much backstory he was able to give to these new characters this time around, I’m very much inclined to agree with him.
Firstly, Cyborg feels like a brand new character. I mean, seriously. Where he felt like the most underdeveloped character in the Joss Whedon remix, here he’s a central role; we get to see how he became Cyborg, how his mother died, and how strained his relationship is with his father. These added moments make him the emotional heart of the film. It allows us to understand his abilities and his connection to the Mother Boxes, and it gives us the chance to feel empathy for him when his father dies.
Barry Allen is a character that I’ve been fond of for a while on the small screen; Grant Gustin does the part some serious justice, and I wasn’t thrilled that anyone other than him would be playing the character on the big screen. But Ezra Miller has done an excellent job. He was honestly one of the few parts I really liked about the first version of Justice League, and thankfully all of his best moments from that movie are present in this movie as well. And while we don’t get much more in the way of his backstory (I’m sure they are saving that for the upcoming Flashpoint movie, whenever we get that), Barry Allen is given a lot more room to shine, getting a much longer introduction. And they removed my least favorite part about his character from the original: that awkward Wonder Woman scene… ok, my second least favorite part about his character: that tone-breaking rivalry with Superman… ok, my third least favorite part about his character: his insecurity with helping others. Barry Allen is about as insecure a hero as we can find in the DCEU, but where the previous movie made it seem like he didn’t know how to use his powers to help people, this version has him fully understanding how he can use his powers. He may be awkward talking to people, but that doesn’t stop him from helping them.
And his time travel sequence at the end of the movie was badass.
Aquaman also gets a refresh, taking away the more “macho man” attitude that he had in the first movie and making him more stoic. While I actually thought him sitting on the Lasso of Truth was humorous, it was out of character and didn’t match the tone of this film, and so I’m glad that is gone. But honestly, the best thing that this new version did for Arthur Curry- at least for me- was that it makes me want to go give Aquaman a second chance (cause I wasn’t a fan of that movie the first time around).
Aquaman and Wonder Woman both benefit from their cultures receiving more attention as well. We get to see more of the Amazonians and the Atlanteans and show how they connect into this narrative, both in the original conflict with Darkseid centuries ago and how they play a part in the current situation.
Diana doesn’t get as much extra backstory in this version of the movie, but she doesn’t need it, as she’s the only one who has had a solo movie prior to either version of Justice League. But what she does get is much more important: firstly, she is no longer viewed through the overtly sexualized lens that Whedon put on the film (dude’s a real creep, isn’t he?), and she’s not still hung up over Steve Trevor’s death.
Honestly, that latter part makes a lot more sense, especially in the context of WW84, which would have come out after Zack Snyder’s Justice League (you know, if his version had been the only one to come out in 2017), but takes place decades before it and sees Diana finally let go of Steve Trevor. But the former is really what matters, as it makes Diana much more consistent with her films and previous appearances, and it shows that the character doesn’t have to be sexualized to be respected. Who would have thought that the guy who made Sucker Punch would get that more than the self-proclaimed “feminist” Joss Whedon (hindsight really is 20/20, isn’t it)? You know what… I’m done talking about Whedon in this review. I’ll refer to his movie, but I don’t think he deserves my time of day anymore.
Even Steppenwolf and the Mother Boxes get more backstory in this version (along with a much-needed redesign for Steppenwolf). We now understand exactly what the Mother Boxes do, and we can finally understand Steppenwolf’s motivations and relation to Darkseid.
The mainstays also benefit in this version of the movie. Superman is much more reserved and fits in with the Kal-El that we saw in Man of Steel and Batman V Superman. Superman might be funny in the comics, but he really isn’t in these movies, and so it always rubbed me the wrong way when he made quips in the previous version of this flick. But here, he works very well with what has been laid down before, making this feel like a cohesive part of the story Snyder started with Man of Steel.
But I think my favorite part of this movie was Batman. I mean, I loved Affleck's Batman in Batman V Superman. And when I saw Justice League, I was horrified by how that movie took his version of the Bat and really made him feel wimpy. That Batman was nothing more than a shadow of what we saw in the previous movie. In my original review, I compared him to George Clooney for crying out loud. Here, however, he feels much more in tune with what we saw before, just like Superman, and he is still very much the badass Batman we saw take down Lex Luthor’s goons. Plus, Alfred gets a much bigger role, and that’s always welcome. And we finally get to see this version of Batman interacting with Jared Leto’s Joker, and that was well worth the four-hour movie.
In every way, this version of Justice League improved the characters, made them feel richer, more fleshed out, and integral to the story (seriously, the League would have lost without Cyborg and Flash, who barely had anything to do in the final battle the first time around). There’s not a single character in this movie who doesn’t fare better than what they were given in the first version, even down to the smaller roles of Lois and Martha Kent and even General Swanwick (a.k.a. the Martian Manhunter!).
PART 3: Beloved Tone, Beloved Music
Ok, let’s talk about the tone of the movie. Cause if there’s one thing we can all agree on regarding 2017’s disaster of a Justice League movie, it was that the tone was all over the place.
This was caused mostly because Zack Snyder has a very specific visual style and tone that he sets for his movies, and the director-who-shall-not-be-named has never made a movie that looks anything close to Snyder’s work. Now, I’m not saying Snyder is better in general- I loved the other guy’s Avengers movies and Serenity, probably a lot more than I’ve loved most of Snyder’s movies- but I’m saying that he brought a very specific style to the DCEU and whether you loved it (like I did) or hated it, it was the style that needed to carry over into Justice League.
Since the other guy reshot most of the movie, we ended up with a film that sometimes gave us Snyder’s style and sometimes gave us something completely different. It felt like a mash-up of the worst Avengers ideas (like the Russian family representing the “people on the ground”, which you’ll note both Avengers flicks also have) and whatever Warner Bros. decided to keep from Snyder, and it just didn’t work. At all.
Thankfully, Zack Snyder’s Justice League removed everything that the other guy had added into the movie, like sucking poison from a wound. If there was a part of the theatrical film that made you cringe, it isn’t present in this movie. But moreover, even the scenes we recognize feel different. Snyder has restored his visual tone throughout the film, making it feel like it fits in with his other two movies in the franchise. It is most recognizable in the final battle, which replaces the bizarre red skies with the dark, grey night sky we saw in the original trailers. But even looking at that side-by-side comparison of the Wonder Woman scene, you can see that the color tones have shifted to be a little darker and less poppy than the first version. I know people have complained in the past that Snyder’s DC movies are too colorless (Superman’s red and blue suit should pop, shouldn’t it?) but I’ll trade that for consistency any day; Snyder introduced us to this darker, grimmer superhero world, and this movie feels like a continuation of that in every scene. No longer does it appear that two different movies were super-glued together.
But what really sets the tone more than anything in this movie is the music. Now, I’m a fan of Danny Elfman, but his soundtrack for Justice League left a whole lot to be desired. Not only did I think it sounded bad, it just didn’t fit with the music Hans Zimmer and Tom Holkenborg (a.k.a. Junkie XL) had created for the prior two films. And the inclusion of his own Batman theme from the Tim Burton films and John Williams’ Superman theme from the Chris Reeves movies felt entirely out of place, as those songs were written for extremely different versions of these characters.
Thankfully, Danny Elfman’s music has been removed from Zack Snyder’s Justice League, and Tom Holkenborg has returned to score the film. This means we get callbacks to all the great themes from Man of Steel and Batman V Superman, which, again, gives the movie the same tone and feel as its predecessors. I personally think movie soundtracks are one of the most overlooked things in film, but this goes to show that having the right music behind the scenes can change your perception of what you are watching. Though I could have done without Zack Snyder using a version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” yet again in one of his movies… though perhaps here it is best utilized, because hallelujah, we have a good Justice League movie.
PART 4: Changed Machine
I think the biggest struggle that this movie has to overcome is perspective: we all have some pretty negative feelings about Warner Bros. Justice League movie. And it is difficult to watch the trailers for Zach Snyder’s Justice League and believe that this movie could be any better.
And I think changing Justice League’s legacy is, perhaps, Zach Snyder’s biggest achievement here. Warner Bros. didn’t just give him a second chance at making a movie about the Justice League, they gave him the opportunity to finish his vision for this story.
And the result here is that every aspect of this movie feels changed from the original. From the costumes (like Superman’s black suit) to the tone, from the music to the action. Everything feels familiar, but nothing- not a single frame of this movie- feels the same. Even scenes we’ve watched that are completely present in this movie- like Superman’s showdown with the Justice League after his rebirth- feel changed. And even if you know the moment well from the original movie, there are aspects that will be brand new.
But there are other moments that you cannot possibly see coming, even if you know the 2017 movie well. The final battle, for one thing, plays extremely differently, giving characters like Cyborg and Flash integral roles in the outcome of the conflict. As mentioned, I absolutely loved Barry Allen’s use of time travel to save the day; that would have been truly epic to see on the big screen.
Throughout the movie, there are so many additional scenes that change the course of this story. And other characters find themselves repurposed. Lois Lane, for one, gets expanded upon and is no longer being used by Batman to bring Clark to his senses- that still happens, but now it comes after we get to explore Lois’ grief and follow her as she is preparing to let go of Clark by visiting his broken monument one last time; it is a stroke of luck that she visits the monument at the same time the League is trying to bring back Superman.
And speaking of bringing back Superman, one of my favorite changes to this movie is the reason they attempt to bring him back. My biggest issue with the scene in the theatrical version was that Batman argued that if there was even a fraction of a chance they could bring Superman back, they had to try, even if it resulted in bringing back a monster. And to me, this was one of the lowest points of that movie. This was the weakening of Batman as a character. Because this was the same Batman who spent the whole previous movie believing that “if we believe there’s even a one percent chance that he is our enemy we have to take it as an absolute certainty.” That was his whole driving force for wanting to kill Superman. And it seemed unbelievable that he would do a complete 180 on that belief, even if he now felt Superman’s death was a mistake.
But moreover, the reasoning in Justice League just felt off. It felt like they were shoehorning in Superman’s resurrection into the plot because those scenes were already filmed. But in Snyder’s version, it feels much more like a desperate, necessary act. It also feels much more like a logical one; they determine that Superman can help them win the conflict because the Mother Boxes themselves hadn’t activated until the moment he died. The Mother Boxes wouldn’t call out to Steppenwolf until the Kryptonian was gone. They acknowledge the risk, but as Flash says, what do they have to lose? Steppenwolf already has two Mother Boxes, and they can’t easily defend the third against him without Superman. It becomes more of a calculated risk than the conversation the theatrical version gives us, which is much shorter, much dumber, and ends simply with Batman being like “I have a backup plan if it doesn’t work”. It’s little tweaks like this that really make the movie feel more believable.
I’ve never seen an alternate version of a movie that changed so completely how the story is perceived, and for a movie that I absolutely hated in 2017, I’m finding that this changed machine is quite possibly my favorite DCEU film to date.
PART 5: All the King’s Horses
Honestly, for anyone who hated the 2017 movie, I think this is a much-watch. This version of Justice League is the movie we deserved to get after watching the other DCEU movies. Going into it, I still didn’t think DC had earned their team-up movie, but by the end of this movie, I realized that it was earning it as it went along. No, we hadn’t been introduced to half of the heroes featured, but this movie took the time to properly introduce them all. No, we hadn’t been informed on Darkseid or Steppenwolf or Mother Boxes in previous flicks like we’d gotten to learn about Thanos and the Infinity Stones in the MCU, but this movie took the time to give us all the information we needed.
That’s the big takeaway here: Zack Snyder took the time necessary to tell this story properly. It is the same story, but instead of being rushed and hastily pieced together from spare parts, it is told in its entirety, completely uncut, completely whole. We finally can see what Zack Snyder was building towards, and it is epic.
Where the first version of the movie felt piecemeal, here we find that Snyder was able to put Humpty Dumpty back together again, restoring every piece that the former movie felt like it was missing.
PART 6: Something Better
When I left the theater after seeing Justice League, I felt like I was done with the DCEU. I had no hope in seeing a sequel, or that any sequel would improve upon it. The excellent story that Snyder had set up in Man of Steel and Batman V Superman had fizzled out and died.
But now, watching his version of Justice League, I finally do have hope in a future for the DCEU. He gave us something better than what we’d been treated to before, and I’m honestly hoping we get a sequel.
That’s Snyder’s doing entirely because he definitely left the story tee’d up for more. We know that Darkseid is still coming for the Antilife Equation. And as the ending shows, Batman is still having knightmares about the apocalyptic future where Superman is evil and Darkseid has taken over. This story isn’t over yet.
It isn’t all good news, though. As it stands, Ben Affleck has quit the role of Batman. Though Henry Cavill has hope to return to the role, it is unclear if Warner Bros. is still interested in having him return. Ray Fisher has been removed from his role as Cyborg. Production on Ezra Miller’s Flash movie has been delayed again and again. Suicide Squad and Batman are both getting rebooted, and the Joker has already been recast. And Gal Gadot’s latest outing as Diana Prince left a lot to be desired. In the real world, the Justice League is kind of in shambles.
And According to Warner Bros., they aren’t planning any sequels to the Snyder Cut. But after seeing how good this movie was, I think Warner Bros. would be absolutely insane not to pursue a follow-up. It isn’t too late to bring this band of actors back together to make more excellent movies with these characters. It isn’t too late to salvage the DCEU. With this movie, there’s finally some hope.
Snyder has said that this was the third of a planned five stories, and while I think Zack Snyder’s Justice League might just be his magnum opus- and maybe his final outing in the DC waters- I am now extremely eager to see what he has planned for the final two movies. Warner Bros. better give him the chance, and after seeing this movie, they better finally learn their lesson and let him make the movie he wants to make with no interference.
If they do, then the next Justice League movies might just be something even better. And that’s what we all want to see.
EPILOGUE: A Movie Twice Over
Alien Resurrection- which Whedon wrote (ok, I mentioned him one more time)- was once described as an example of how to take a great movie script and do everything wrong with it.
Well, the duality of Justice League represents how to take a perfectly fine movie and edit it down into something horrible.
I mean, the story is basically there in the other version of the movie, but in every way possible, Zack Snyder told it better.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is not only better than 2017’s Justice League- that was a very low bar to overcome- it is a fantastic story. For a long time, Warner Bros. has been looking for their answer to Marvel’s Avengers, and I think they finally, finally found it.
I don’t trust Warner Bros. enough not to screw this up… again… but I finally have hope that the DCEU could come back strong. I loved this movie, I think more than any of the previous DC movies, and I want to see much, much more, as long as it works as well as this movie did.
This movie was a triumph, in more ways than one. We don’t often get movies like this. We don’t often get to see shitty movies remade and made so well. We don’t often get to see the studio realize they made a mistake and spend millions of dollars to fix it. We don’t often get to see a movie get a second chance.
The Snyder Cut got released. And it was well worth the wait.