“I’m not broken… and I’m not alone.”
There are quite a few ways in which you can judge Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021). It’s a lot of things to a lot of people, some of which I don’t agree with. You could describe it as cause for fans who considered themselves wronged, an easy answer to a buzzy outcry, giving in to hostile voices, a filmmaker finally finishing a work they started years ago, a PR move for a new streaming service, or a grieving father retroactively channeling his feelings into a work of pop art. But what it can be most accurately described as—and you can tell by the name on the tin—is a Zack Snyder film.
There are two things I’m going to be clear about in this review, so I might as well get them out of the way now. The first is that I’m a fan of Snyder’s work. I unapologetically like his other movies to varying degrees (Sucker Punch  is the only one that didn’t land for me, but I appreciate what it was trying to do), and that’s the perspective I’m coming from. If you’ve hated most or all of Snyder’s previous work, I don’t think this is the movie that’s gonna win you back. The second thing is that I want to avoid comparisons to the Joss Whedon version of this film. If I went down that road, it could literally just be an article comparing scenes with me saying, “Look … LOOK!!!!” I think I’m just going to take it as read that everyone agrees the theatrical release is a botch job, regardless of whom you blame for that.
So I’m taking this version on its own terms. And I like it a lot.
Like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), this movie opens during the finale of the previous movie. Superman (Henry Cavill) has been stabbed by Doomsday, and his death cry reverberates across the world. Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) look on in horror and awe, and Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) is busy chatting with Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) on a weird, liquid metal iPad, but he’s still unsettled by the scream. The scream also awakens and alerts the Mother Boxes that Superman is dead. Earth doesn’t have a Kryptonian protector.
Snyder’s original plan was five movies. Man of Steel (2013), Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) and then a Justice League trilogy modeled after The Lord of the Rings (2001 – 2003). While that would have been amazing, I think the trilogy we have now works perfectly and incorporates the same elements. A later scene where Diana describes the Age of Heroes (which includes a use of David Thewlis’s likeness and possibly voice on top of a jacked CGI god, hilariously giving him a credit in this film) is extremely similar to some Lord of the Rings stuff, and it’s exactly the right kind of movie to crib from. These films are about heroes who are mythical and god-like, deserving or not. Aquaman (Jason Momoa) basically has a cult around him, and as much as he balks at it as a character, the movie takes that seriously.
My favorite thing about the film, and possibly my favorite thing in any live action superhero media, is Batman’s arc across this movie and the previous one. Batman was the villain in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. He literally reiterated Dick Cheney talking points while justifying himself. He was also sympathetic and, by the end of the film, he was a born-again recruit to the Church of Kal-El. Batman is much lighter in this movie—not in a studio-mandated, “add some quips” kinda way, but in the sense that he knows he’s on the right path.
Characterization is a big part of why Zack Snyder’s Justice League works. Batman is less condescending, Diana gets to be a warrior without being the mother/lover of the group (I know I said I wouldn’t compare it to the theatrical release, but you could write volumes about how Whedon treats the women on these super teams), Aquaman gets to be gruff and charming and more of an older brother. The biggest beneficiaries are Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and The Flash (Ezra Miller). Fisher wasn’t a surprise, he was a vocal proponent of the Snyder Cut and mentioned that everything he shot was cut or reshot except for one scene. It’s almost criminal what Whedon and the producers did to Cyborg’s story. It’s full of beautiful, poignant imagery and acting, and I have no idea why they threw it out.
Flash was even more of a surprise to me. I assumed that the version we got in the theatrical cut was roughly the same, but it wasn’t. Takes and scenes were completely different, and it was a completely different performance. Visually, he also has one of the best moments I’ve seen in any superhero film, bordering on Superman being so mad at Lois dying he turns back time in Superman: The Movie (1978). Steppenwolf is another character that I didn’t really expect to be improved that much, but he’s so different from the theatrical version. I’m not surprised that Ciarán Hinds was allegedly annoyed at the premiere. They gutted everything interesting about him and turned him into a simple creep.
As I said, I will not be comparing the versions to each other.
The biggest and most accurate criticism you could level against this movie is that it’s self-indulgent. It is. That’s totally fair. There’s no way the Snyder Cut would have been released as four hours with a new scene including the Joker (Jared Leto) added in. But also … it’s literally called Zack Snyder’s Justice League; if there were ever a time to be self-indulgent it would be now. Whether you like them or hate them, this is like if we got the extended editions of The Lord of the Rings movies immediately. It’s kind of the perfect movie for the perfect time, in that it’s a time where we’re forced to watch it at home with the ability to pause it whenever we want.
Again, I’m going to break my rule by saying that the Snyder Cut is much funnier than the Whedon version. One of our first scenes with Steppenwolf ends with his weird, rippling, staple armor and then immediately cuts to a razor Batman is shaving with. That’s funny. There’s also Henry Allen (Billy Crudup) happily saying, “I taught him nothing he knows,” when he gets news about The Flash that is so weirdly removed from the theatrical cut. The characterization is much deeper too. Whedon seems to think a group of people talking shit to each other in a boring grey warehouse is development. In actuality, Alfred and Diana bonding over tea is development. Aquaman and Flash worrying about Cyborg seeing his father die is development.
I will also agree with people who say that the post-scripts in this film are too many. But I also agree that it’s self-indulgent, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Why shouldn’t Snyder include another Knightmare sequence? Why shouldn’t he introduce Martian Manhunter just for the hell of it? They told the man he could have his vision, and he absolutely had it.
And I really liked it.