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Zack Snyder's Justice League Review: Characters Are A Standout In Slow Film


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The journey toward Zack Snyder’s Justice League has been years in the making. Fans have rallied to #ReleasetheSnyderCut following the debut of Joss Whedon’s theatrical version of the film in 2017, which was reworked after Snyder left the film due to a family tragedy. The once mythologized film is finally complete, with Snyder’s vision for what it would have been now realized. At four hours in length, the film can be tough to sit through as it slowly inches towards the end, attempting to tell multiple individual stories before the superheroes — including Batman (Ben Affleck), Superman (Henry Cavill), and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) — come together for the final showdown against the world-ending villains. Much of the slog is primarily because Justice League is fragmented, its scenes not transitioning well between one storyline and the next, something which leaves the building tension at a standstill. There is plenty of richness to be found, however, when the film turns its focus to its characters, Cyborg in particular, who has the best storyline. But, while there are individually interesting, meaningful character arcs and it's far superior to the 2017 film, Snyder's Justice League is fragmented.

Following the events of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Superman's death, Bruce Wayne/Batman (Affleck) begins his search for a group of superpowered individuals to join him against an incoming foe. His goal is to create a team that could take on whatever threat Earth is facing now or in the future. Batman successfully recruits Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller), with Wonder Woman (Gadot) working to bring on Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher) through a mutual understanding of loss and hardship. Justice League makes sure to engage with each of these characters individually before finally bringing them together to prevent Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) from uniting three alien mother boxes that would call an even bigger threat to Earth. Uniting the Justice League (though they're never referred to as such in the film) effectively brings about the second age of heroes.

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Cyborg’s story is a particular standout, as is Fisher. While his arc is compressed, Victor Stone gets a full circle superhero arc that is poignant, thoughtful, and emotional. He’s a fully realized character, more so than most of the others. Audiences will get to see how he came to be Cyborg, how he’s grappling with the change, and the ways it's changed his life. His anger and frustration is understandable, his reluctance to join the Justice League even more so, and the strained relationship he has with his father Silas Stone (Joe Morton) is fleshed out. Vic is given some time to explore and lean into his emotions, so that by the time he does come around to joining the team or dealing with the fallout of being Cyborg, it’s satisfying to watch. Whedon’s film cuts his storyline almost entirely, but Cyborg is the core of Snyder’s Justice League in a way that is resonant and meaningful. Fisher brings so much nuance and feeling to the role; both he and his character deserve a solo movie.

The film includes a plethora of subplots and moments — Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane) grieving the death of Superman; Aquaman’s anger towards his mother for abandoning him and his reluctance to take his place on the throne of Atlantis; Martian Manhunter's arrival. All of these things are intriguing on their own, with certain scenes initially meant to set up aspects of Aquaman's (and Flash's) solo outings. Collectively, however, they don’t add too much to the overall plot of Justice League. In the case of Lois, she doesn’t have a lot to do outside of mourning Clark, which can get very frustrating and is a shame considering how important the film makes her out to be in a crucial sequence later on. A lot of the additions slow down the film overall, preventing it from reaching its conclusion in a smoother manner, though Snyder seems to indulge in taking the long road to get to the end.

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One can understand why in this instance, especially considering this is seemingly his final DC film. However, this ultimately affects the pacing, with the film attempting to add so many layers and storylines, some of which fail to find resolution. It turns Justice League into a bloated story with a lot of dangling threads that don’t always work. The additional subplots are there to expand the world, but the editing surely doesn’t help the flow. One scene might be powerful on an emotional level, but the transition won’t build on that, with the film changing course entirely in the next scene to focus on another story tangent. It’s often jarring and there could have been more time spent having the characters sit in certain feelings and actions. This is especially true for Batman and Superman, who get the least on an emotional level. The film could have also benefitted from allowing them to bond more as a team before the start of the action. Snyder also employs a lot of slow-motion moments that look cool visually, but become tedious after the umpteenth time.

To be sure, Snyder’s Justice League is tonally consistent, whereas Whedon’s was not, with the subplots ultimately running parallel to get the characters on the same page eventually. There’s an effort made to tell a cohesive story and it works in some respects. Wonder Woman and the Amazonians have some great scenes and the villain’s motivations are a whole lot clearer. The film certainly benefits from Snyder's vision in a way that makes Joss Whedon's version look even more clunky and frustrating than it already was. Superman's resurrection makes a lot more sense in context (though his role is still minimal), Cyborg gets a much more expanded storyline, Batman attempts to atone for his actions from Batman v Superman, and the buildup towards a potential Darkseid battle is much more organic (though Steppenwolf is arguably still the main antagonist). The action sequences are far better as well and the cinematography, while still somewhat dreary, isn’t as one-note as Snyder’s other films. The film still won’t be for everyone. But, despite everything, it has its fair of shining moments. There's a clear direction Snyder's Justice League has that the 2017 version of the film does not, and for that alone viewers can appreciate this film a whole lot more because of it.

Zack Snyder's Justice League will be available to stream on HBO Max March 18, 2021. The film is 242 minutes long and is rated R for violence and some language.

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