Determined to ensure Superman's ultimate sacrifice was not in vain, Bruce Wayne aligns forces with Diana Prince with plans to recruit a team of metahumans to protect the world from an approaching threat of catastrophic proportions. (from IMDb)
Around 2016, when director Zack Snyder was working on his theatrical release of DC's superteam, Justice League, he left the project for then-unknown reasons, and Avengers director Joss Whedon was brought in to finish it. The end result was a disappointing and conflicting mix of styles that rendered the project a dud. It ended up leaving Warner Bros. and DC scrambling to figure out what their next move would be. Zack Snyder had introduced the DC Extended (Cinematic) Universe with 2013's Man of Steel, and followed it up with 2015's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. After the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Warner and DC were desperate for an expansive superhero universe of their own. Snyder seemed up to the challenge, but it forced him to introduce a brand new Batman with Ben Affleck into the mix, as well as Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman, and then start laying the groundwork for future Justice League heroes with The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice ended up being too much movie for one movie, and an ambitious project that lacked the emotional punch it was hoping for while pitting two of the most popular superheroes ever against each other (I do wonder if it had been Christian Bale's Batman if it would have worked better?). After the surprisingly fantastic standalone Wonder Woman movie in 2017, fans were set to be given Justice League just a few short months later, but the Frankenstein monster of a movie just couldn't make it work. Sure it was moderately entertaining, but it ended up being more disappointing - and polarizing - than Batman v Superman.
Enter Zack Snyder's Justice League. Even though fans were disappointed with Snyder's direction for the DCEU, they realized what Snyder had originally planned was way better than what they got. There was some kind of method to his madness, and the interest in seeing what he had originally planned to do became infectious. #ReleasetheSnyderCut went viral, and after a few years, it finally became a reality. Fans knew Snyder's footage existed (and much of it was in the original movie's trailers), and fans were chomping at the bit for a DC movie that could have been as epic as anything Marvel was doing with the Avengers. Justice League had long rumored to be the start of a big, epic multi-movie arc involving the villain Darkseid, with seemingly nonsensical and random seeds Snyder had planted in Batman v Superman eventually paying off. So while Snyder's full vision for Justice League will probably never see the light of day, there was now hope for Snyder to at least show fans what they were supposed to get back in 2017.
When HBO Max financed the completion of Zack Snyder's Justice League to get the exclusive debut rights to the film, Snyder was apparently given full creative control. With that, Zack Snyder's Justice League was given an R rating for language and violence. Fans who saw the "Ultimate Edition" - AKA the director's cut - of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which was also rated R, probably knew that it wasn't going to be a hard R, but with Snyder off the leash, what might that look like? Anyone who knows me or has read reviews on this site regularly enough knows that I still adhere to a strict no-R-rated-movie policy. It's a personal choice; as an easily impressionable person (with empathetic tendencies), I've found that most R-rated movies are given that rating for good reason. (And yes, some PG-13 movies can be worse than some R-rated movies and it's a wonder how they even got anything less.) I asked a trusted friend to let me know what he thought about the content of Zack Snyder's Justice League with me in mind, and after his initial viewing, he told me that "There are 3 'F' bombs, but other than that, it's nothing worse than a normal PG-13 movie." I did figure it probably takes the violence a step or two further (after all, the R-rated version of Batman v Superman had some more lethal violence and blood). And after seeing Zack Snyder's Justice League, I have to say that my friend is mostly right, but there's definitely more freedom taken with showing blood and violence. (Side note: I've noticed that the few PG-13 movies that I've seen that have been upgraded to R have a very specific kind of heightened violence. It won't necessarily show the kind of sadistic violence in a horror slasher or realism of a super violent R-movie, but it'll be more liberal with blood splattering and creature dismemberments.)
So, how does Zack Snyder's Justice League work as a movie? First of all, it's suspected that this cut of Justice League was probably roughly the two movies he was originally hoping to release separately at one point. This four-hour movie is also split up into 6 "Parts," and an Epilogue, that are given title cards. I don't know if Snyder had hoped to fill in gaps or change things with reshoots at some point and had to make due with what he has here, but I found the "Parts" to be unnecessary and intrusive. They pushed me out of the movie a bit and reminded me that this may not be a cohesive end product. The first half or so of the movie is largely spent introducing and attempting to develop Aquaman, The Flash, and Cyborg, while Bruce Wayne/Wonder Woman are trying to convince these new heroes to join them. Meanwhile, Steppenwolf comes to Earth in search of the Mother Boxes still, but Snyder has completely redesigned the villain from top to bottom, even making his voice more menacing, to the point where he actually is kind of intimidating this time around. He also plants the seed for Darkseid to be the overarching Big Bad in the DCEU, much like Thanos is for the MCU. (But don't expect Darkseid to actually do much in this movie, still. He pretty much has the presence Thanos had in the first, 2012 Avengers movie.) Everything that worked in the 2017, Whedon-ified Justice League movie is here (except anything he filmed for it), as well as the overall plot from that movie, but it's all fleshed-out more, expanded, and just tonally more fitting. If you watched Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Ultimate Edition and Zack Snyder's Justice League, they operate well together as a trilogy. (Granted, that's also about 9.5 hours of movie there.) Just about all of the corny humor from the 2017 cut is absent, but that doesn't mean some of the weirder side of Snyder doesn't show up here. The first "What in the world?!" moment comes when a bunch of townsfolk just randomly break into song after Arthur turns down Bruce at the beginning of the movie. It's odd, doesn't seem to have anything to do with... anything... and is more awkward than anything else. Snyder also takes one of the sweetest moments from the movie and twists it to introduce a new character that ultimately teases a future for the series that more than likely will never happen. I would have rather Snyder let the scene play out organically than turn it into something it probably wasn't originally intended to be (and doesn't make a ton of sense... although I think I kind of get what he was going for).
For a four-hour movie, I was surprised how taxing it didn't feel. Although, if I'm honest, I'm surprised how different it wasn't at times. The 2017 movie was 2 hours in length, and this one doubles it, but most of the story beats are the same. This isn't really a "Director's Cut" of Justice League since so much of it is different (anyone remember "Richard Donner Cut" of Superman II? This is more like that). But, all in all, it's still mostly the same story. Some things play out differently, but only in a minor sense. If you wrote down the basic plot of both, they'd be roughly the same. One of the most important differences here to note is that this movie includes ALL of the original footage of Henry Cavill's Superman. 2017's Justice League is infamous for including reshot footage of Henry as Superman while he had been filming Mission: Impossible - Fallout with a mustache he wasn't allowed to shave off, so they had to digitally alter his upper lip to remove it. Yeah, it didn't work and was painfully noticeable. All of that is gone here. Most of Superman's action this time around in the climax is largely different, but that awesome scene when he first comes back and rails on the Justice League is deliciously extended. His fisticuffs with Batman in this version is also a clever spin on their encounter in Batman v Superman, which makes that sequence even more fun.
OK... the moment some of you are here for: the content. I'd have to agree that the movie is probably a hard PG-13 or a light R, but having it be R seems avoidable, since Snyder could have just as easily pulled back literally one or two things to earn this a PG-13 and allow for a wider audience. The are at least 3 "F" words, all of which come out of nowhere and don't add anything to the movie. The first is during the epic "Wonder Woman saving people at the museum" sequence. One of the thugs tosses out the word flippantly and it's a bit jarring. Later, Cyborg says it to Wonder Woman when she tries to enlist his help ("*Bleep* the world") and the last one is during the Epilogue of the movie during a new, highly publicized "Knightmare" sequence when Batman is talking to Joker who is antagonizing him. It's a super dark scene to end the movie on to begin with, and then Batman needlessly throws out the word through gritted teeth at Joker. Otherwise, there isn't a whole lot of language, although there still is some, in addition to those "F" words. The violence is on par with the Extended Versions of The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, with mostly creature-related blood being more flaunted. The most startling violence at first, comes in the scene at the museum with Wonder Woman. It's a much grittier version where these terrorists shoot up the place and take a bunch of kids hostage. As their leader talks, we see a dead body on the floor with a large puddle of blood under them. Later in the movie, during a flashback sequence about Darkseid battling many heroes from different worlds, we see the hand of a Green Lantern get sliced off, with the dismembered bloody hand rolling into the foreground of the shot. We then see other characters stabbed with blood splattering out. During the Justice League's fight with Parademons throughout the movie, we'll often see them getting sliced up or impaled with bloody/gooey results. There are at least two scenes where men are thrown against a wall or rock and we see a blood splatter on the wall behind them, but the victim themselves isn't bloody. There's a fight underwater where we see puffs of red in the water as victims are stabbed. Also, anything that has to do with Cyborg's pre-Cyborg injuries often shows him as just a head and torso with one of his arms missing. But, in each case, anything graphic/gory is covered capped off or covered up by a sheet (unlike the gross visuals in the PG-13 RoboCop remake or Source Code). Later in the movie, a scene briefly shows the insides of a couple characters forming which quickly shows some flesh and bone coming together. And one short scene shows a character disintegrate down to a skeleton and then to ash (somewhat at a distance) from a laser. Lastly, a monster is decapitated and we see the head land on the ground with some blood. Those are the standout gruesome examples. It's definitely excessive for PG-13, but probably "light" for most violent R-rated movies.
When all is said and done, Zack Snyder's Justice League is a pretty solid superhero entry. While I'd call myself a fan of Superman, I've been partial to the movies Marvel has been putting out for the past decade-plus, and I happen to think they've done an incredible job on an entertaining and emotional level with the Avengers sequels especially. I strongly believe Warner and DC rushed the formation of their DCEU all too haphazardly, instead of taking the time to properly build it over the course of several years with several solo movies, but for what we got thus far, Zack Snyder's Justice League is a grand improvement over the 2017 release. It's unfortunate that Snyder couldn't tone down the language and violence just a hair to allow for a wider audience, but I suppose the content is too mature in general to draw younger viewers anyway. Zack Snyder's Justice League isn't the best DC can give fans, but it's a huge improvement and those who were calling for this should find it to be a satisfying alternative to what was initially given and a satisfying conclusion to Snyder's DC trilogy.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 3/25/21)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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