‘ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE’ Review: An Overdue Restoration and Redemption

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Courtney Howard // Film Critic

ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE

Rated R, 4 hours and 2 minutes

Directed by: Zack Snyder

Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Ezra Miller, Amy Adams, Ciarán Hinds, Diane Lane, Kiersey Clemons, Joe Morton, Ray Porter, Peter Guinness, Jesse Eisenberg

The theme of restoration reverberates throughout all corners of ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE. This four-hour feature restores the legacy of its beloved superheroes, providing them with better backstories and stirring stakes, while simultaneously restoring an auteur’s creation. With this repaired artistic vision, Snyder proposes a potent statement that fixing what was once considered a broken, lost cause can uncover a renewed sense of redemption within those reunified pieces. The results form a far more cogent, cohesive narrative that feels immensely enjoyable and satisfying.

Even though there’s a ton of structural change in the “Snyder Cut,” the basic, vague outline remains the same. But what happens within each of those milestone markers has been drastically altered for everyone’s benefit. The tragic death of Superman (Henry Cavill) echoes throughout the world, quite literally. It awakens three powerful devices, called “Mother Boxes,” which could cause an apocalypse if united in the wrong hands. Millennia prior, this alien technology had been separated by an alliance of men, gods, (Green) Lanterns, Atlanteans and Amazons and scattered throughout the kingdoms of Earth to prevent evil forces from ever connecting them again. But Superman’s otherworldly death knell also alerts bad-to-the-bone villain Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds) and his fleet of parademons to the first box’s whereabouts on the Amazonian island of Themyscira. He’s out to collect the boxes in order to impress his commander DeSaad (voiced by Peter Guinness) and supreme leader Darkseid (voiced by Ray Porter), who are eagerly awaiting another chance to conquer Earth.

Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne/ Batman (Ben Affleck) has caught wind that Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) has had a vision of these Mother Boxes. The billionaire businessman has started scouring the globe hoping to recruit an elite squad of legends to join him in protecting the planet from the impending alien menace. His super-powered team are comprised of Arthur Curry/ Aquaman (Jason Momoa), who is reticent to join until an attack on his people, Diana Prince/ Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), who’s deeply compelled to help, Barry Allen/ The Flash (Ezra Miller), who speedily answers the call, and Victor Stone/ Cyborg (Ray Fisher), who’s reluctant to harness his newfound powers. As Steppenwolf sets up his Russian lair that will serve as his masters’ gateway to Earth, the prospective members learn that they’ll have to work together to defeat this menace – and it won’t be easy. It becomes clear they’ll need to resurrect Superman.

Joe Morton and Ray Fisher in ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE. Courtesy of HBOMax.

From the opening moments of this refurbished film, there’s an overwhelming sense of clarity. Joss Whedon’s JUSTICE LEAGUE was maddeningly incomprehensible in chunks, forcing the audience to hurdle large logistical gaps despite suffering through a deluge of exposition. Though the expository speech dumps still occur in this drastically altered update, they’re pertinent to the characters’ struggles and don’t bog down the proceedings. Snyder and screenwriter Chris Terrio (who earns sole credit on the screenplay) fill in the previous version’s gaping chasms, since they have plenty of time to pace themselves. They deepen the heroes’ and villains’ motivations and thematic resonance, which are the driving forces of the picture. These added extras may not all prove necessary, but they’re engrossing and entertaining nonetheless.

Arcs are brilliantly reinstated. Victor, who was left aching for development in the prior iteration, is given a fully-formed, heartrending hero’s journey centered on trauma, body horror and a father-son dynamic, explored through his tenuous relationship with his dad Silas Stone (Joe Morton). Barry is also established better, particularly through a classic superhero rescue involving a girl (Kiersey Clemons) in distress and a big rig careening towards a collision – one that’s comedically infused. Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Martha Kent’s (Diane Lane) grief is built out further, allowing us to feel a greater tether to their anguish over Superman’s absence.

The 4:3/ Academy ratio Snyder utilizes initially seems like it’s going to be claustrophobic given the epic production value. Yet surprisingly that artistic choice doesn’t limit the scale and scope. It condenses them, and possibly even helps forgive and distract from some bits of ropey CGI. The movie is long. However, that expansive run time is only felt in the previously-seen portions – which barely amount to a third of this reassembly. Perhaps the greatest virtue of the narrative’s reinstatement is that its sentiments (which before felt hollowed out) ring truer. Genuine heroism is about persevering in bleak times of crisis, despite the world offering its saviors nothing in return. It’s charged messaging that delivers.

ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE begins streaming exclusively on HBOMax on March 18.

About author

Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.