Somehow it feels like ages ago now, but back in 2017, moviegoers finally got to see Justice League in the theatres. Fans of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman (hey, no Aquaman jokes now!) had been waiting for this day. Discussions about the qualities and shortcomings of the previous films in the DC Comics franchise had been many, and often loud.
But many left the theatres with mixed feelings about the new Justice League film. It was described by both fans and critics as rushed, messy and uncoherent in tone, with too little time spent on developing the characters this film was supposed to be about.
Tragedy and Drama
The production of Justice League was marred by drama and tragedy. Director Zack Snyder, who also helmed Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was supposed to bring his vision and story into a trilogy of Justice League films. But after Snyder’s daughter died from a suicide in 2017, the director left the project to spend time with his family. Picking up the reins would be the American director Joss Whedon.
Joss Whedon, with his directing credits including The Avengers and The Avengers: Age of Ultron, along with fan favorite series such as Firefly and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is according to many who have worked with him, a bully. His first order of business was to cut apart and redo most of what Zack Snyder had made up until that point, in favor of more kids-friendly, cliché-ridden version of the film (which quickly earned the unfortunate nickname «Josstice League»). It also goes with the story that Joss Whedon would often loudly criticize both Zack Snyder and what he had done with the film so far.
Talk about kicking a man when he is down…
From the Weakest…
It feels almost like karma, then, that what Joss Whedon managed to put onto the theatre screens in 2017 would be eviscerated by most critics and fans. «Josstice League» gave disappointed fans a string of stale clichés, misplaced humor, cringy one liners and uncoherent storytelling. Even worse, the film gave us almost no exploration into the backgrounds, drives and motivations of the various heroes and villains the film was supposed to be all about. In a film series many would say have a varied level of quality, Joss Whedon’s version of Justice League is arguably the weakest.
Several of the cast and crew from the other DC Comics adaptations, such as Jason Momoa from Aquaman and director of Wonder Woman, Patty Jenkins, have defended Zack Snyder’s version of Justice League. Both have on several occasions stated that Whedon’s version of the film, or «Josstice League», should not be considered canon, and that several continuity problems exists with other films in the franchise. At least one Hollywood executive has gone on record calling Whedons version of Justice League a «piece of shit». Others involved in the franchise have given similar opinions and showed relief when it became clear that Snyder’s version is finally going to be released.
…to the Strongest!
Fast forward to the present day. The year is 2021, and the world is struggling through a major pandemic. Cinemas all around the world are standing on a precipice and are slowly, but surely, being pushed towards the edge by an increasing number of online streaming services. Audiences are gradually moving away from the traditional cinema experience in favor of home entertainment.
Zack Snyder never watched Joss Whedon’s «Josstice League». Instead, he kept working on his own version, in the hopes of one day releasing it to the fans. And when the same fans, many disappointed over much of what had come before, discovered hints of an existing «Snyder Cut», a massive show of support and even an online petition to have it released ensued.
This would be the Zack Snyder’s unfiltered vision, unhindered by the limitations of the cinema format. Here he would explore the heroes’ backstories and the mythos of the superhero world, along with their motivations for working together against an outside threat. And he would spend as much time as he liked to tell the story, without recuts and studio interference.
And the result? In one word: amazing! Zack Snyder’s Justice League is still dark and brooding, so if this is what you disliked about «Josstice League», this new version might not be your cup of tea. Gone are Joss Whedon’s fiddling, cringey one liners and misplaced humor. In fact, Snyder made a point out of not using a single frame of what Joss Whedon shot for his version of the film. And the film is so much better for it. It is a visual masterpiece. The weakest film in the DC Comics franchise has become the strongest.
The Fate of the World
Despite following the same story and general plotline as in Joss Whedon’s 2017 version of the film, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is hard to recognize as the same film. It is divided into several parts, with their own titles, to break up the over 4-hour runtime. It feels almost like a miniseries on its own, or maybe a even comic book in multiple issues. I can easily imagine this format used in future superhero film adaptations.
But for those in need of a reminder of what Justice League is about, here is a short summary: Batman, aka Bruce Wayne, is wracked by guilt after the passing of Superman in the previous film, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. When he begins to sense that a greater danger is coming, he begins gathering a group of superpowered people, or «metahumans», to be ready when the threat rises.
And true enough, with the arrival of the intergalactic warlord and genocidal badass Steppenwolf, the Earth is again in danger. The villain is after the «Mother Boxes», three powerful items that the gods hid on Earth thousands of years ago, with the power to destroy the world. And with the Earth’s mightiest hero, Superman, out of the picture, the way is clear for Steppenwolf to start his invasion.
This, of course, leads to one mighty dustup between the superheroes and the invading Steppenwolf and his army of demonic insect men!
Epic Action and How to Use It
For when the action starts, there can be no doubt about who is in the director’s chair. Zack Snyder knows how to create intense, epic action scenes. But even more important, he knows when not to use them. This is a film packed to the brim with explosions, spaceships, aliens, and some insanely over-the-top fights. And as usual, the fate of the world hangs in the balance.
But Snyder balances it all out with plenty of calmer, character driven scenes, often with very little dialogue. It gives us the rare feeling of something more real to this story about superheroes and interdimensional aliens. Yes, it is dark. It is gritty. It is neither funny or witty (no rhyme intended). But the heroes we meet here are shown from a more vulnerable and believeable side than the constant barrage of one liners, cringey humor and the standard «Oh no! The bad guy killed Uncle Bob!» we get from certain other films in the genre. It is the eyes, something about their movements, and just under the surface. The cast gets to spread their wings, so to speak, and in the 4-hour runtime, they have the time they need to invite us into the minds of their characters.
Myths and Epics
Snyder’s version of Justice League is something as rare as a superhero movie for adults, and while watching it, I was often reminded of the director’s adaptation of Watchmen. Compared to other film in the genre, the violence is more brutal, and the themes, even language, darker, more unfiltered. The heroes drop F-bombs, and the blood flows freely in the action scenes. The motivations and drives of some of the heroes might be difficult for younger viewers to understand, and the longer, slower pacing is decidedly more adult in tone. The Marvel movies can be considered light hearted action comedies when compared to this new Justice League. It has the tone of the epics, the myths, almost a superhero genre’s answer to the Odyssey, the Iliad and even The Lord of the Rings.
When I was asked to review Zack Snyder’s Justice League, I decided not to watch any of the teasers or trailers. My only reference for comparison would be the 2017 «Josstice League». And I am glad for it. I love superhero movies, science fiction and fantasy in general. But had I reviewed the 2017 version back when it came out, I would have given it a hard time, and low rating. This time around, it is a celebration of the DC fandom, in all its dark and brooding grittiness. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is one film maker’s unfiltered vision, and a gift for the fans.
It will premiere on HBO Max the 18th of March.
About the author:
Eirik Bull is a film journalist writing for the Norwegian film and television magazine CINEMA. He went to film schools in Oslo, Sydney and London, and hold a bachelor’s degree in marketing and brand management. His main interests in film includes science fiction, fantasy and horror, and all things fandom- and pop culture-related.