Movie Review: ‘Zack Snyder’s Justice League’

Director: Zack Snyder

Cast: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Mamoa, Ray Fisher, Ezra Miller, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Willem Dafoe, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J.K. Simmons, Ciarán Hinds, Henry Lennix

Plot: An evil alien searches the Earth for a collection of alien artefacts that will end the world. Batman and Wonder Woman recruit new superheroes to help them in the coming battle.

Review: I already regret this.

I wasn’t planning of watching this second attempt at this second attempt at a Justice League, this version reinstating original director Zack Snyder and stretching the running time out to four hours. But I also want to be part of the online discord, and I’d like to have made up my own mind. When the opening scene involves something so contrived and silly as a point of view shot following the soundwaves of a scream around the world, watching a bunch of unconnected characters reacting to Superman’s (Cavill) death rattle. We also see some boxes actin shifty.

These boxes are the key plot point that all factions will be fighting over. Don’t plan on getting invested in this conflict because we’re not going to get any real sense of what these boxes are or what the stakes are for more than 2 hours. It doesn’t matter how long your movie is, waiting until after the halfway point to begin the story is bad writing. When you add the fact that we certainly don’t have any idea what the deal is with half the characters, or what their role is in the story. It’s easy to lose focus watching Justice League because it gives us very little to care about beyond our preconceived notions of the iconic figures.

Of the big characters, Flash (Miller) and Cyborg (Fisher) remain the most under-utilised. They get only token efforts at being humanised, with the Flash relying on meme humour and Cyborg getting a brief dialogue in flashback telling us he’s a nice guy. For all the screen time given to these characters there’s a disappointing lack of visual storytelling. The supporting cast, such as Martha (Lane) and Lois (Adams) pop up for a quick scene or two here and there and it never fails to completely take us out of the experience. In the middle of the first big meeting and planning session of the Justice League is perplexingly put on hold for a quick Martha and Lois moment that weirdly throws in a quick introduction of Martian Manhunter (Lennix).

Steppenwolf (Hinds) is the big bad, once again, and despite him getting plenty of new screen time to provide some motivation he’s still ridiculous. He turns up wearing a bright silver, spiky suit like X-Men villain Stryfe and a sickly green face. Granted, he doesn’t look as bland as before, but he does now look stupid. It’s not an improvement. In terms of backstory, he sometimes talks to big-big-baddy Darkseid (Ray Porter) and cries about wanting to come home. There’s much much buzz on the internet about Darkseid’s inclusion, but he’s mostly just shopped into a flashback in Steppenwolf’s place. He jumps around grunting for a bit and doesn’t do much else. Mostly his scenes just put in mind of the old Mortal Kombat movie in terms of style and quality.

Many of the problems that plagued the first take on this production are still very much present. Some of Joss Whedon’s gags have been left on the cutting room floor, but there’s still plenty of goofy jokes. When Batman declares his superpower as being ‘rich’, it still comes off like Snyder is cribbing material from tumblr blogs. The Flash is introduced having a weird, creepy moment with a girl who is about to be splattered across the tarmac, only to be distracted by a hotdog. Things like this straight-up don’t work regardless of which ‘cut’ of the material this is. The Batman line stolen from How It Should Have Ended is now replaced with a line stolen from Inception. So there’s that.

It’s the narrative flaws that ultimately make this a bad movie. Major aspects of the plot from main characters down to the ‘Mother Boxes’ are introduced and we’re expected to take it at the movie’s word that we care about them. The villain motivation is introduced literally hours after we’ve seen them in action. Big concepts like Superman being raised from the dead are introduced, fleshed out and acted upon within the space of a single conversation. There’s little to no emotional engagement on any level. Some things, like Martian Manhunter or Superman’s black suit, pop up for 30 seconds and then vanish like we’re supposed to be impressed. Piling more garbage onto the pile just creates a bigger mound of trash.

Some scenes feel entirely mishandled or poorly conceived on a core level. An example would be the introduction of Cyborg, accompanied by a long voice over from his father. Cyborg is told at great lengths about how he can infiltrate any computer system in the world, manipulate the world economy at will, launch nuclear warheads for all he wants. We get a demonstration of this power when he creepily stalks some woman and gives her money, watching her on the street from a metre away. I assumed this was a metaphorical moment, since she didn’t respond to the metal, glowing man standing on the other side of the pavement, but then some passer-bys stared at him so I guess it’s just bad film-making.

Oh, and then Cyborg is later shown to have no control over his abilities and his arm will turn into a laser canon and start blasting people because it ‘senses danger’. Perhaps all the introductory stuff about how great he is wasn’t true, because he can’t even control his arm. Actually, this was likely added to ‘explain’ why Superman attacked the Justice League upon his rebirth. In patching up one hole, they’ve made a bigger one.

Zack Snyder’s work on this movie suggests that he has watched a lot of big, epic movies and taken notes on what he saw. Then he used all those ideas in Justice League without any understanding of why they worked. Quentin Tarantino breaks his movies into ‘chapters’ to mark shifts in style of perspective in the aesthetics or narrative. Zack Snyder did it because he saw Tarantino do it and thought it looked cool. The IMAX aspect ratio is confusingly used on a TV release, leaving a large portions of the screen blank, presumedly because The Dark Knight included IMAX scenes. Snyder has a surprising amount in common with Michael Bay in this respect – they both like doing things that look cool and expecting us to be satisfied with the lacklustre effort in almost every other part of the process. The orchestral choir music soundtrack also feels like an attempt to evoke a grander scale, but it’s propping up a dud story.

The only one of these characters I have attachment to as a comic reader is Batman, and he’s a character for whom the different versions are part of the charm. This is a pretty solid Batman, at least now he’s not straight up murdering people. The story thread of him having sworn on Superman’s grave to build a superhero team is odd, especially since this is swapping out Batman’s parents for Superman. I only know Cyborg from Teen Titans and Teen Titans Go and I’m disappointed that he’s not more fun.

There are a few moments of visual aesthetics I liked, as it often the case with Zack Snyder. A moment late in the film where Flash enters the Speed Force is a real visual treat. Giving Batman a couple of Arkham game series style actions scenes is always a smart call. These moments are few and far between though, and large chunks of movie are just people standing in a circle and talking.

The story here is pretty simple. If you genuinely need four or more hours to tell it, then you’ve crapped the bed at some point. I’ve done the Lord of the Rings Extended Edition marathon a few times and never found it as much of an endurance trail as this this, and the problem is in engagement. I don’t care, and Zach Snyder doesn’t do anything to make me care. It often feels like to need to have already read the comics, and even seen the first version of the movie, to appreciate the creative choices.

Some touted this movie as an ‘entirely different movie’, but it follows the same beats. It’s just…longer. The one thing they most have in common is sharing the same problems facing all the DCEU movies. They’re reactionary to public criticism, they only know comics by the big event stories and survive on fan service.

Oh, we have fan service aplenty. About 30 seconds of Martian Manhunter, 30 seconds of Luthor and Deathstroke, 30 seconds of Iris West, the Joker offering to give Batman and handjob…then Batman telling Joker that he is going to “fucking kill him slowly”. None of it adds anything to the experience.

Rating: TWO out of TEN