Zack Snyder's Justice League arrived after years of internet campaigning, trending hashtags, and fanboys pleading. Its arrival on Thursday was a moment that many, including myself, never thought would come.
If anything Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a testament to the power that a unified fanbase can have in influencing multi-billion-dollar companies, which is remarkable in and of itself. But it’s also a testament to the dangers of giving a creative unlimited freedom without restraint.
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In the same way that a journalist needs an editor, so does a film director. And if the mammoth runtime didn’t give it away Zack Snyder was seemingly given complete carte blanche to bring his vision to the screen.
The most fervent of Snyder fans have celebrated this fact with great joy, but for the average viewer who is solely concerned with whether the movie is worthy of such a significant time investment, it’s the fatal flaw that sinks this second go at bringing the Justice League to the silver screen.
Ultimately, Zack Snyder’s Justice League has just as many issues as Joss Whedon’s much-maligned 2017 cut, they’re just the opposite problems.
Wait, the Snyder Cut is how long?
In case you’ve somehow not heard. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is long. Like 242 minutes long. That's four hours and two minutes for those doing the math.
That’s longer than the extended editions of the first two The Lord of the Rings films, and only nine minutes shorter than the third. It's also lengthier than even the standard-bearer for a long movie, Gone with the Wind.
It’s also a whole hour longer than the lengthiest Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, Avengers: Endgame.
It probably won’t come as a massive shock when I say this four-hour movie has a serious pacing problem. Though, to be fair, they could have cut the run-time by a lot if all the slow-motion scenes were run at regular speed.
One of the biggest criticisms of Joss Whedon’s 2017 cut of Justice League is that it tried to stuff far too much into a studio-mandated two-hour run time. And while that's true, Zack Snyder’s Justice League overcorrects.
There’s a happy medium between these two films somewhere in the 150-170 minutes range, but unfortunately nobody made that cut.
Meeting too many new faces
Both cuts of the Justice League attempt to introduce three new members of the team: Cyborg, The Flash, and Aquaman. Plus the big, bad villain Steppenwolf appeared in both cuts, while the even bigger and badder Darkseid is exclusive to the Snyder Cut.
That’s a lot of new characters to introduce to an audience in one movie. Joss Whedon’s Justice League failed because you don't get much of a feel or narrative arc for any of them.
Cyborg (aka Victor Stone) is the biggest benefactor of Zack Snyder's Justice League, as he’s given a greatly expanded role — and we actually get to dig into his backstory properly. Barry Allen (aka The Flash) similarly gets a bigger part to play, as well as a whole new introduction.
Steppenwolf is also given proper motivation this time around, too. And that's great for eradicating the myth that destroying the world is the only thing CGI monsters do in their spare time.
Aquaman draws the short straw, still feeling mostly tacked on. However, the Snyder Cut exists after his solo movie came out, so he feels more like a known quantity, as an established player in the game.
This all ads up to four origin stories haphazardly stitched together. The focus isn’t placed on the Justice League coming together to operate as a unit, but instead, the film is mostly focused on getting the audience acquainted with multiple new characters.
There’s a reason that Marvel opted to give each of the main Avengers their own solo movie ahead of the first team-up feature, and it wasn’t just to rake in more box office dollars. By the time The Avengers rolled around, audiences were familiar with the main players, and secondary team members like Black Widow and Hawkeye had at least featured in previous MCU films.
Even the primary villain of the movie, Loki, was pre-established in the first Thor movie. This way, characters and audiences alike were familiar with his mischievous face.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League might have four hours to introduce each team member individually but its first half feels plodding as you meet new character after new character. Imagine how much tighter the focus could have been if we were familiar with the whole team from the start?
Tonally different, not totally different
No doubt about it, the biggest difference between the two versions of Justice League is tonal.
Considering that Joss Whedon directed the first two Avengers movies it’s hardly surprising that his take on the Justice League feels very similar to an MCU movie. Characters crack wise constantly, and the infamous Flash falling into Wonder Woman’s chest gag (which is mirrored in Avengers: Age of Ultron) is as unfunny now as it was four years ago.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League takes the opposite approach. It’s a super serious movie, and boy does it want you to know that. There’s almost no levity and the few attempts at humor fall completely fall as they feel so out of place.
There is of course nothing wrong with a film taking itself seriously. If anything, recent MCU films have become a bit too comfortable sticking to the franchise’s established jovial tone. Still, this is a comic book movie featuring a man dressed like a bat and a character called Martian Manhunter. It’s okay to have a little fun — a spoonful of laughter makes the gritty go down easier.
Comics as a medium have never been afraid to embrace the silliness factor, but Zack Snyder seems utterly terrified to make the audience laugh or even smile. Everything is dark, everything is brooding, and after four hours it’s exhausting.
DC movies have, in the past, managed to strike the right balance, with humorous moments offsetting the more dramatic sections. Wonder Woman and Shazam both excelled at this. But Zack Snyder’s Justice League is completely serious all of the time.
Set ups for sequels and disappointment
Zack Snyder’s Justice League goes heavy on the sequel setup. The last 15 minutes of the movie are basically all teases for things that were going to happen if Snyder had retained the keys to the DCU.
Seeing as Snyder himself has confirmed that his cut isn’t canon, the epilogue feels more than a little self-indulgent. It feels like you're wasting our time showing off all this cool stuff that could have happened in later films when we’ll never actually get to see it all come to fruition.
All the banter between Batman and the Joker in the Knightmare — plus the sight of Superman gone rogue — adds up to just a tease. Of course, the devoted army of Snyder fans will take these scenes as a glimpse into what could have been. Based on some of the responses I’ve seen on social media, the fact we’ll likely never get to see these projects materialize has broken a few hearts. They could even use these scenes as reason to demand more.
It's hardly surprising that the Snyder Cut went excessive at the end. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice already fell into the trap of being more concerned with setting up future movies than actually wrapping up its own tale. So this ending was exactly what we should have expected from a DC film where Snyder has complete creative control.
Joss Whedon’s Justice League at least refrained from trying to set up five or six different films. And to the Snyder Cut's credit, it does take the clumsy post-credits stinger that teased a Legion of Doom movie and reposition and rewrite it to be less clunky.
When it comes to comparing Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon Justice League films, the real loser is the audience.
Neither of these films is worth your time. One is a hatchet job helmed by the wrong man and seriously undermined by a studio who were desperately trying to plug the holes in an already sinking ship.
The other is a butt-numbingly long vanity project, with more slow-motion scenes than the entire Matrix trilogy and overseen by a director who still needs to be told in the editing room that "sometimes less is more."
Frankly, I’d rather just rewatch Avengers: Endgame for the sixth time.