Thoughts on ‘Zack Snyder’s Justice League’

A league united…and redeemed?

DC core heroes are brought together to face cosmic evil in Zack Snyder’s ‘Justice League’ (image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures).

After much anticipation and feverish expectations, Zack Snyder’s Justice League – affectionately known in fan circles as the ‘Snyder Cut’ – arrived this Thursday courtesy of a long fought, passionate fan campaign and a costly endeavour by Warner Bros. Pictures and the burgeoning streaming platform HBO Max (the film available to U.K. viewers via Sky Cinema/Now TV as part of its international roll-out).  $70 million dollars and some hard but dedicated work later, Zack Snyder’s original vision for Justice League has been ceremoniously brought forth into the light and the differences are significant and often astonishing.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a spectacular effort that provides an almost completely different viewing experience from that of the more compromised theatrical version which saw Marvel Studios veteran Joss Whedon (director of The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron) brought in to replace a grieving Zack Snyder, following the tragic suicide of his daughter Autumn (to whom this version of Justice League is lovingly dedicated), to oversee post production and studio mandated rewrites/reshoots.  It can be argued (though few would) that there is still entertainment value in the flawed but fun theatrical version of Justice League (read the review from 2017 here), as it’s perhaps more easily digestible and no doubt more palatable to the general viewer unaware or less troubled by the commercially-driven ills that befell the final product.  For those more inclined to commit to a four-hour running time then there is much to offer in Zack Snyder’s film.

Less of an extended cut (in the vein of Snyder’s superior ‘Ultimate Edition’ of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) of Justice League and more of a total reworking of it, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a longer, deeper and in many ways more satisfying, often more mighty effort.  It’s not for the timid or for audiences attuned, or accustomed to, and with a preference for the brighter, tirelessly upbeat popcorn blockbuster fare of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (as phenomenal as they often are, of course) as this is unmistakably a Zack Snyder film.  Visually grand, operatic, mythological and of serious mind and intention, it’s an unconventional superhero epic that demands more from the viewer with a tone that’s more adult (beyond an uptick in bloody violence and peppering of bad language) and delves more deeply into it’s characters, providing expanded back stories and greater depth for the likes of newcomers Cyborg (Ray Fisher, whose role is greatly enhanced), The Flash (Ezra Miller) and Aquaman (Jason Mamoa) joining the already established Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and the resurrected Superman (Henry Cavill – thanks to digital tooling, here dons a version of the iconic black rebirth suit from the 1990s Death/Return of Superman comics).  The film takes an existing villain, Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarin Hinds) and adds more dimension – as well as tweaking his physical appearance with stronger CGI – as well as reinstating the overlord of proceedings, the formidable power-hungry cosmic conqueror Darkseid (Ray Porter), who was excised from the theatrical cut.  There are a few small character moments from the theatrical version that are sorely missed, such as Batman’s encouragement and reassurance to an overwhelmed and inexperienced Flash during the tunnel battle, but on the whole there is a lot more to chew on (and less goofiness) in Snyder’s cut.  Another major change of note is the music score with Tom Holkenborg’s (who, as Junkie XL, collaborated with Hans Zimmer on Snyder’s Batman v Superman) music replacing Danny Elfman’s score and proves stylistically more suited to Snyder’s film.

Admittedly, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is only likely to appeal to hardcore fans of not only the director and his vision for these core DC characters but also is more of benefit to readers invested in the rich mythology of DC comics history, well-versed in classics such as Jack Kirby’s Fourth World and Mark Waid and Alex Ross’s Kingdom Come (to cite a couple of celebrated works). The film treats the titanic DC heroes seriously, recognising the fundamental differences between the DC and Marvel universes.  Marvel succeeds greatly by putting the human in superhuman and whilst there is some element of that within the DC pantheon, the DC Universe is largely concerned with mythological fantasy.  Is this all to say that Zack Snyder’s Justice League is perfect?  No, it’s a little slow in it’s set-up and perhaps a tighter three-hour cut would be more refined, leading more quickly into the pacier urgency of the second half.  Is it the greatest superhero film of all time?  Again, no, but in many ways it is ground-breaking in delivering something different from the maligned rough-edged romp of the theatrical version.  Sadly, Zack Snyder’s Justice League leaves us hanging with the narrative doors wide-open for the envisioned sequels that are no longer on the table with the theatrical edition remaining part of the official DC Films canon, but ignoring it’s epilogue the story is fairly complete, if only to now occupy its own abandoned corner of the multiverse.  Whilst Zack Snyder’s Justice League is left as a sort of DC Elseworlds one-shot live-action graphic novel and a promising glimmer of what might or could have been, just as the icons of DC Comics endure, the DC Extended Universe goes on.

Image(s) used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Film Review: ‘Justice League’

It’s all in or bust as DC’s league of heroes unite in Warner Bros’ Pictures latest comic book blockbuster… 

Spoiler-free review

Justice League

DC’s premier super team unite in the Warner Bros’ Pictures release ‘Justice League’.

Starring:  Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Mamoa, Ray Fisher, Ciarin Hinds, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, J.K. Simmons

Directed by: Zack Snyder / Written by: Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon / 121 minutes

What’s it about?

In the wake of Superman’s death, Bruce Wayne enlists the help of Wonder Woman to assemble a team of powered individuals in order to protect the Earth from a looming cosmic threat…

In review

It’s no secret that Warner Bros’ DC Comics film universe has had it tough so far.  2013’s Man of Steel was fairly well reviewed but divided audiences, its sequel 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was even more divisive and Suicide Squad…again, more so.  The tide seemed to turn with the critical and financial smash of Wonder Woman this summer, meaning the pressure was well and truly on for Warner Bros/DC with team-up event Justice League, a popcorn superhero action flick that is enjoyable and entertaining even if it doesn’t quite hit the mark.  Directed by Zack Snyder, who helmed Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, Justice League is held together by its central heroes, with likeable performances from their respective actors and great chemistry that makes it worth a look.

There are flaws to Justice League that prevent it from being as great as it could’ve been.  Firstly, the film’s narrative is a little messy and disjointed (a criticism that Batman v Superman was able to remedy with its superior extended cut), becoming more problematic as it rushes through various plot points that could have warranted more focus – it seems clear that the studios’ insistence on a relatively slim running time has resulted in a good chunk of material being excised.  Another weak link is Steppenwolf, an adequate but generic CGI villain (voiced and performance-captured by Ciaran Hinds) who, albeit, provides a reasonable enough threat, pales in comparison to some of the stronger comic book film villains.  He’s by no means terrible, just not all that interesting or memorable.  There’s also some disappointingly shoddy VFX work that can on occasion be distracting, especially in the film’s busy and action packed final act.

However, it’s with its main characters that Justice League is elevated.  Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot make strong returns as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Diana Prince/Wonder Woman respectively, both providing solid leadership to the rest of the team.  After fleeting glimpses in BvS, we’re fully introduced to Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen/the Flash, Jason Mamoa’s Arthur Curry/Aquaman and Ray Fisher’s Victor Stone/Cyborg.  All three are great, with Miller’s nerdy, excitable and hilarious take on the Flash a particular highlight.  Mamoa is a pleasing surprise with a fun, swashbuckling twist to the iconic heir to the throne of Atlantis and Fisher brings fitting strokes of tortured humanity to the brooding Cyborg.  As for the return of the Man of Steel himself it’s a triumphant one, the rebirth of Clark Kent/Superman forming an integral part of the story and Henry Cavill slips back into the cape and boots with ease, his selfless, heroic sacrifice in BvS and a second chance at life leading to a Superman with a renewed purpose and a more hopeful perspective.

The tone of Justice League is certainly lighter and more accessible than Batman v Superman, with a fair amount of humour sprinkled throughout and it’s generally well-placed and doesn’t undermine the film’s more dramatic moments.  It’s well known that due to personal tragedy, Zack Snyder handed over post-production duties to Avengers Assemble and Avengers: Age of Ultron writer/director Joss Whedon, with Whedon (who shares screenwriting credits with Chris Terrio) scripting some additional material and handling reshoots.  This could’ve easily been to the film’s detriment but gladly, the end result actually feels quite consistent.  Visually, Justice League is most definitely a Zack Snyder film, it’s themes of heroism enhanced by Joss Whedon’s knack for snappy character dialogue.  The screenplay may lack the deeper, more introspective themes and idiosyncratic touches of BvS but it gets the job done.

Although Justice League isn’t perfect its positive aspects make it enjoyable and fun in all the right places, particularly for fans of these iconic characters.  It isn’t on the same level as Marvel’s Avengers but it sets the DC film universe on the right path for the many further cinematic adventures ahead.

The bottom line:  Flawed but ultimately enjoyable, Justice League assembles some of DC’s finest heroes and establishes the road ahead for future outings.

Justice League is in cinemas now.

Comic Review: ‘Justice League’ #43

Written by:  Geoff Johns / pencilled by:  Jason Fabok

What’s it about?

“Taken” – Chapter Three of “The Darkseid War” : as Batman utilises the Mobius Chair to formulate battle plans, Darkseid prepares to bring his impending war against the Anti-Monitor to Earth…

In review

Following the steady (but no less enjoyable) build-up of the opening chapters of “The Darkseid War”, the third instalment of writer Geoff Johns’ latest epic moves things up a notch in a tense and exciting issue of DC’s main Justice League title.

Justice League #43 kicks off where last issue’s tantalising cliff-hanger left off with Bruce Wayne’s Batman elevated to god-like status with the power and insight granted him by the ‘Mobius Chair’.  Not since Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns have we seen a Batman this formidable and imposing, establishing his newfound superiority over the rest of the League by literally hovering above them – the pleas of Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and Cyborg et al falling on deaf ears.

Whilst there is tense interplay between Bat-god and his fellow heroes, the isolation of Lex Luthor and Superman on Apokolips allows for some sharp dialogue between the unlikely ‘allies’ as they fight to survive.  It’s all the more enjoyable given Superman’s vulnerability due to loss of powers (similar to what is being played out in the Superman and Action Comics titles) which Johns utilises to Luthor’s advantage, allowing him further opportunity to show his disdain for the Man of Steel.  Yet, Johns deftly infuses Luthor with some moral complexity by demonstrating his willingness to put his hatred aside for the sake of survival.

What’s most anticipated is seeing the conflict between Darkseid and the Anti-Monitor truly come to a head and by the close of this issue there’s no doubt that all will be coming to bear sooner rather than later and the potential and consequences of two of DC Comics biggest super antagonists hopefully played out fully in forthcoming chapters.

Johns has been DC’s key writer for many years and as always it’s clear that he knows these characters well, with a firm grip on DC Comics mythology and he has the perfect partner in penciller Jason Fabok whose richly detailed, solid blockbuster visuals (enhanced by Brad Anderson’s colours) rise to the call of whatever Johns brings to the table.  Long may the partnership continue and here’s hoping that the duo can continue to hit the mark with this ambitious, epic story and beyond.

The bottom line:  With an incredibly talented creative team delivering a visually and narratively epic story, Justice League is currently DC’s finest comic book and not to be missed.

Justice League #43 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Cover artwork for DC Comics' 'Justice League' #43 by Jason Fabok.

Cover artwork for DC Comics’ ‘Justice League’ #43 by Jason Fabok.

Comic Review: ‘Justice League of America’ #1

Written and pencilled by:  Bryan Hitch

What’s it about?

Receiving a mysterious invitation from a group known as the Infinity Corporation, Superman is soon united with the rest of the Justice League to face the dangerously overpowered Parasite…and the arrival of an alien armada…

In review

This week saw the launch of DC Comics’ much hyped (and equally anticipated) new Justice League title, Justice League of America from comics uber legend Bryan Hitch.  Best known for his collaboration, as artist, with writer Mark Millar on The Ultimates – the celebrated and influential reimagining of Marvel’s Avengers – Hitch now brings his talents as both penciller (aided by inks from Andrew Currie, Daniel Henriques and Wade von Grawbadger) and writer to the DC Comics Universe.

Reportedly years in the planning and not to be confused with DC’s short-lived New 52 Justice League spin-off of the same title, Bryan Hitch’s Justice League of America kicks off with a an extra-sized premiere issue that strikes an effective balance between character, story and epic action.  Titles from a single writer/artist have often been middling at best (Tony Daniel’s creatively flawed run on Detective Comics springs to mind, as does David Finch’s now defunct Batman: The Dark Knight) yet overall, Hitch has managed to deliver a solid first issue.

Whilst this issue largely focuses on Superman and the shocking discoveries he makes at the mysterious Infinity Corporation it’s not long before the Man of Steel is united with Batman, Green Lantern, Flash, Wonder Woman and Cyborg to face the threat of an overpowered and oversized version of Parasite.  That just leaves Aquaman, who has his own separate sub-story focusing on tensions between the mainland and Atlantis that will no doubt have some bearing on what’s to come in subsequent issues.

Hitch is an effective storyteller, as a writer he adeptly builds the foundations of the story and its unfolding mystery and for the most part accurately captures the voices of the central DC Comics heroes as well as delivering the epic widescreen visuals and action that will both delight and excite readers.  It’s an unenviable and herculean task but, the odd character niggle (there are brief moments where Batman seems a little too maniacal) and artistic ‘glitch’ (the odd weakness in Hitch’s figure work/character facials), Hitch generally pulls it off.  It doesn’t quite hit the heights of Throne of Atlantis but it’s more than commendable and far above your average superhero comic.

The undisputed talents of Bryan Hitch aside, what’s great about Justice League of America is its accessibility.  Whilst running concurrently with Geoff Johns’ main Justice League book, Hitch’s title isn’t too entrenched in the continuity of the ongoing events of the wider DC Universe making it easy for new readers (or those who are somewhat behind with DC’s ‘New 52’, like myself) to get on board and enjoy these characters and a decently entertaining, action packed superhero yarn – here’s hoping Hitch can maintain the quality and, perhaps even surpass it, in issues to come.

The bottom line:  Bryan Hitch’s Justice League of America is off to a promising start with an exciting and epic premiere issue that’s sure to entice readers enough to come back for more.

Justice League of America #1 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Cover art by Bryan Hitch for DC Comics' 'Justice League of America' #1.

Cover art by Bryan Hitch for DC Comics’ ‘Justice League of America’ #1.