HEAT VISION

'Zack Snyder's Justice League': What the Critics Are Saying

Justice League Still 2 - team- Publicity-H 2017
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The reviews praise Snyder's directing style and ability to offer more depth to characters but emphasize a confounding run time.

The reviews are in for Zack Snyder’s anticipated Justice League cut.

Zack Snyder's Justice League follows the 2017 Justice League, which is credited to Snyder but was largely helmed and written by Joss Whedon after Snyder had to remove himself from the project due to a family tragedy. Despite extensive reshoots and a new start, Whedon’s film left fans convinced that Snyder’s original take on the film before handing the reins over was being kept from them — a growing movement of fans rallied by the hashtag #ReleasetheSnyderCut, with even the film’s stars Gal Gadot and Ben Affleck adding their voices on Twitter. Now fans are having their say with Snyder set to release his cut of Justice League on HBO Max on March 18.

"It will be an entirely new thing, and, especially talking to those who have seen the released movie, a new experience apart from that movie," Snyder told The Hollywood Reporter, also noting that he has not watched the version released in theaters.

The Hollywood Reporters John DeFore is quick to note that comparisons to the 2017 version are inevitable and Snyder’s cut "is an improvement in some concrete ways" thanks to a "more coherent" plot and tone, "substantially improved" FX and better photography. However, DeFore writes "the movie's soul, such as it is, remains unimproved, and at 242 minutes, very few of them offering much pleasure, it's nearly unendurable as a single-sitting experience." Though "the expanded version may be exactly the product desired by the legion of Snyder fans who cried to the heavens for its release," unfortunately "nonmembers of that cult will find it just as unenjoyable as the original." DeFore adds that the new cut offers "testosterocious monotony from its first chapter" and admits that "some of the battles here might play well if repurposed in other comic book movies," but "they're just numbing in this film." DeFore also noted how unimpressed he was with the director's "exasperating epilogue." "No thanks, guys. This was more than enough."

Meanwhile Slate's Karen Han credits herself as a "Snyder apologist"; therefore, it's not a surprise to find that the critic is quick to applaud the film for being "remarkable" and says Snyder's distinctive directing style and aesthetics "sets the new Justice League apart." Han credits Snyder for bringing "emotional depth" to characters, in particular with Cyborg (Ray Fisher)." Four hours might seem unnecessarily long, but in this case, it allows for time to see these characters when they aren’t superheroes, and makes them more human as a result," Han writes. Han explains in detail how Snyder "has established himself as a director who’s impossible to imitate," and his new cut proves "a movie with a clear director’s touch is more compelling than a movie that’s been made by committee." Han concludes, "Snyder’s Justice League is more, more, more in a way that most films wouldn’t dare, and, after a year of no theaters at all, a movie that makes me long to return to a multiplex — to see more movies that commit so completely to a vision that it’s impossible not to be swept away."

Amon Warmann of Empire magazine shares the same positive sentiments that Snyder's "four-hour cut that lives up to its title" and "for the most part, it’s for the better." Like Han, Warmann also acknowledges Snyder's ability to take the time to "dig into his team of heroes," with "fleshed-out through-lines" now allowing "the story as a whole to breathe." Recognized for his "super slow motion" aesthetic, Warmann notes that while "the director overindulges" at times, "generally it’s used in the service of accentuating action beats." To offer critiques of the film, Warmann adds that "unsurprisingly, not all of the added material in this four-hour, seven-chapter film is effective" citing "too much exposition concerning 'Mother Boxes,'" the confusion bound to occur among non-DC fans about what is going on in multiple new scenes, and Amy Adams' Lois Lane "still far too wedded to Superman (Henry Cavill) for it to matter much." Of Cavill's Superman, Warmann also critiques that "Snyder and Cavill still haven’t been able to tap into what makes him special beyond his brutish strength, and if you were hoping for an in-story explanation about a certain costume change beyond 'it looks cool and it’s what fans want,' you’re out of luck."

For her take on the film, Maya Phillips of The New York Times puts emphasis on its underlying message of hope. Phillips writes that it's "sadly predictable" when Cavill's Superman "arrives on the scene just in the nick of time" because "yet again a white male Übermensch is the default image of hope and salvation, so much so that he must literally be raised from the dead for the day to be saved. … Despite the other powerful, charismatic heroes on the roster ... Justice League can’t conceive of hope in any other sense than the man with an S on his chest," Phillips writes. Further, she argues that "the hope of the narrative clashes with the hope of the franchise" because "the story aims to give us a world where heroes come back to life, where they put aside their pride and reticence and self-interest to form an alliance," but the franchise simply hopes for "more films, more crossovers [and] more money. … Hope isn’t manufactured. It can’t be limited to a shadow of a gesture or shouldered by one man whose extraordinary abilities are heralded in the 'super' of his name. And it’s definitely not in the cinematic equivalent of a four-hour-long cut scene," Phillips writes, also concluding that amid COVID-19, hope looks different and "doesn’t look like the dead bodies of a villain and his henchmen at the end of a great saga" but rather "something lighter, brighter — so much more than the dark."

The Los Angeles Times' Justin Chang credits Snyder for offering a cut that he respects more, but notes that it "doesn’t mean it’s the one I prefer. … The two-hour Justice League was, for all its baggage, a watchable exercise in damage control, with welcome moments of levity that cut through the murky torpor of Snyder’s storytelling," Chang writes. "True, it butchered its convoluted mythology and left crucial material on the cutting-room floor — to which I can only say that by the end of the Snyder cut, I sort of wanted to kiss the cutting-room floor." Chang explains that "there are fleeting pleasures and unlikely sources of fascination" throughout the new film and positively critiques the film for adding more depth and background to characters. "He wants you to love these characters, individually and in tandem, as intensely as he does (plus a host of briefly seen background players, among them Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, Willem Dafoe’s Vulko and J.K. Simmons’ Commissioner Gordon)." However, Chang adds that though this film may be "a fuller, more stylish film than its butchered predecessor," he's "reluctant to call it a richer or deeper one" given the lengthy film time: "What Snyder has contrived here feels less like a vital re-energization of the form than a ponderous guided tour through a museum’s worth of familiar superhero-movie tropes and conventions: Look at this, look at that, try not to look at your watch. Like the Flash himself, Snyder wants to slow time to a crawl, to deconstruct every gesture, to make his obsessions your own. He wants the movie to go on forever. Mission accomplished."

Angie Han of Mashable is quick to note that in just the opening scene, Snyder's film "wastes no time setting itself apart" from the 2017 original, as Snyder introduces a "darker, grittier vision, through and through." But, Han notes, the film is "still recognizable as a different version of the same basic story. … Snyder's belated tinkering results in a movie that represents, on just about every level, a vast improvement over the previous edit. It still won't be for everyone," Han writes, describing Snyder's take as one that lacks the "sunnier, cutesier, ostensibly more relatable tone that the theatrical version had tried to infuse," and now "recommits to the more downbeat mood" found in his previous DC works Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Commenting on Snyder's directing style, Han acknowledges "the filmmaker's knack for striking visuals shows in the action set pieces" which, she writes, "play crisper and cleaner this time around," as well as "his moodier sensibility" that makes for "a heavier film, but also one whose grandiose emotions feel more earned." Like other critics, she also positively critiques the film's ability to flesh out the characters more. But with two extra hours than the original theatrical release, Han writes that there is now "so much more plot and exposition and Easter eggs that it still feels like we're missing some pieces. … It's enough of a challenge for to keep up with half a dozen lead characters … and it can be dizzying, from moment to moment, to remember what happened an hour or two or three ago. And not all of the new stuff feels wholly necessary."

Matt Zoller Seitz of Roger Ebert starts his critique emphasizing that even with a four hours and two minutes run time, if Snyder's Justice League is eventually released in theaters, "I'll go see it again, just as long as it's in Imax and there's an intermission." Seitz praises the film for being a stronger alternative to the 2017 original, writing, "I don't see how it's possible to put this version of the project next to the 2017 version and not recognize that it's superior in every way." Further, Zoller Seitz writes that the new cut "is the kind of brazen auteurist vision that Martin Scorsese was calling for when he complained (rightly) that most modern superhero movies don't resemble cinema as he's always understood and valued it." He describes the film as "a corporate product that feels as if it sprung from a fever dream," such as Superman Returns, and other works. Of the characters, Zoller Seitz argues that Whedon's cut "favored Bruce Wayne/Batman and Diana Prince/Wonder Woman," but Snyder offers "an ensemble picture that does as good a job as MCU's Avengers films of depicting a band of heroes as strong-willed, fully-rounded individuals who had lives and issues before the main action started and must learn to work to together." With many fans pleading for Snyder's cut to be released, Zoller Seitz writes that the film "will mainly please the people who clamored for it" and "even fans of the genre might consider it a bit much. … It owes as much to rock concerts, video games and multimedia installations as it does to commercial narrative filmmaking. It's maddening. It's monumental. It's art."

Matt Goldberg of Collider poses the question, "Isn’t it far better to see a director’s original vision than whatever the studio chose to release simply to meet a release date?" adding that Snyder's cut "essentially restores the heart of the movie and fleshes out the character motivations into a compelling picture about faith, honor and sacrifice." However, Goldberg describes the experience of watching the lengthy film "confounding" and that the differences between his take and Whedon's cut "don’t feel monumental. … More often than not, the experience of watching ZSJL is like watching the extended version of JL17. It is, in other words, a rough cut but with the benefit of finished VFX," Goldberg writes, referring to Whedon's 2017 version as "JL17." Goldberg argues that editing should've been considered and the film "seems built to keep in everything" which, he argues, is an approach that "not only kills the pacing, but it also makes it difficult to latch onto any kind of thematic or emotional arc. … Without having seen JL17, Snyder has basically elongated that movie in ways that feel senseless and far too merciful in what should be cut," Goldberg writes, adding that even with new scenes enhancing the overall work, the film fails to deliver something that justifies "the vastly extended runtime. … I truly hope that Snyder found some sort of solace in making this new version. I don’t know the man personally, but he seems like a good enough guy, and if this cut of Justice League brings him a modicum of peace, then at least we can say that in the film’s defense. But for the audience, Zack Snyder’s Justice League fails to make the case for its existence," Goldberg writes.

The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw calls Snyder's cut "weirdly entertaining" and despite being four hours long, "its dramatic and theological craziness only really come across when you consume it all at once. … You can see from a mile away where it is all going — or rather from three hours and 55 minutes away — and for me, the Justice League still does not have the colour, flair, snap and zap of the Avengers in the MCU," Bradshaw critiques. "It comes to life most in the regular cityscape settings that it seems keen to avoid." He continues to note that while watching, "there is something absorbing about this operatically strange twilight-of-the-superhero-gods that might yet turn out to be daybreak" and "the film has something preposterous but surreal." With "some nice supporting performances, most notably from Willem Dafoe" and a "disturbing" epilogue that features familiar faces such as Jared Leto's Joker, Bradshaw argues that though "Snyder’s film may be exhausting" it is still "engaging." "Justice is served," he concludes.

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