Review: 'Zack Snyder's Justice League' fixes some problems but not all
The Big Kahuna of superhero movies is still messy, but at least it's more coherent
A longer version of a bad movie is still a bad movie.
At least "Zack Snyder's Justice League" is more coherent than the version of "Justice League" that was released in 2017, and fills in some of the massive gaps that had audiences the first time around asking, "did I miss something?" Turns out there was plenty missed, and it's all compiled here, in a sort of collector's edition box set that should be labeled "for diehard fans only."
It's those diehard fans who clamored for the release of the film's infamous "Snyder Cut," and whose wishes were granted with the somewhat unprecedented release of "Zack Snyder's Justice League." The four-hour (!) film, released to HBO Max, shows the power of rabid fandom in today's marketplace, and the sort of Wild West of streaming service content that we're currently living inside. It's a new world, and it's a great place to be if you want to hear Batman grumble the F-word.
It's also a great place if you love slow motion. Afforded the run-time of "The Irishman," an episode of "Cheers" and a decent bathroom break in between, Snyder is free to take his time and slow down the action whenever he wants in his tale of the teaming of DC superheroes Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), the Flash (Ezra Miller) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher), following the death of Superman (Henry Cavill). Nothing says brooding superheroes quite like a slow-mo shot over echoing metal guitars, and since these are the broodiest of superheroes, you best believe they mug and mug hard as the action frequently slows to nearly freeze-frame levels. (A shot of Aquaman fading into the crashing waves of the sea is especially epic.)
And epic is the goal here. Snyder is such a talented visual stylist (always has been, go back and look at "300" or even the unjustly picked-upon "Sucker Punch") that he can even make a scene of a character shaving an operatic moment, and he does that here, slowing down the water falling from the faucet so it resembles the rush from a waterfall. It's music video aesthetic cranked to 1,000.
The most important recalibration in this version of the story is the filling in of the backstory on Cyborg. Here his story is fully fleshed out, as his relationship with his father, Silas Stone (Joe Morton), important context that was missing from the original film. (We also get more of the Flash, and Miller's comic relief is welcome in breaking up the often dire mood.)
But that dire mood makes this a rather joyless enterprise, which no amount of Miller's cracks can lighten. These heroes are a glum bunch, and while no one's looking for them to yuk it up like an open mic night at Jerry's Laugh Hole, the downcast mood is stiff and stifling.
The biggest problem here, as in the original cut, is the villain, Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), a metallic monster who has come to rule the Earth and says things like "I will bathe in your fear" that are straight out of the Villain Speech Handbook. Steppenwolf is on a quest to unite three powerful boxes that, when put together, yield all the world's powers and blah blah blah. A hero is only as good as his villain — there's a reason "The Dark Knight" is the most beloved film of Christopher Nolan's "Batman" trilogy — and for all his threats of global tyranny, Steppenwolf (and his master, Darkseid) is a bust.
As is Snyder's ending to his magnum opus. It's no secret that Jared Leto's Joker makes an appearance here, but Snyder brings him back in the least fulfilling dramatic device imaginable, and he ends the film with a tease there's no hopes of satisfying. Four-plus hours is plenty of time for Snyder to have his say, yet he doesn't appear willing to let it go. But justice has been served, and it's time to move on.
'Zack Snyder's Justice League'
Rated R: for violence and some language
Running time: 243 minutes
On HBO Max