The journey that began in 2013 with Man of Steel finally reaches a climax with Zack Snyder’s Justice League. The 4-hour epic premiered on the 18th of March 2021 on HBO Max and HBO GO.
No review can truly do the experience justice (pun totally intended). But right from the beginning, it is very much a Zack Snyder creation. (His name is in the title after all!)
Following the sacrifice of Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) in the battle against Doomsday at the end of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (BvS), the world has lost its colour. Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) is still haunted by his role in Superman’s death. Nonetheless, he commits to forming a team of metahumans to protect the world from its next threat — the imposing Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds). Together with Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) and ably assisted by Alfred Pennyworth (Jeremy Irons), they seek out Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) and Victor Stone (Ray Fisher).
The Path Chooses You
Zack makes full use of 242 minutes, giving us multiple perspectives across different locations, but it never feels rushed. The runtime gives the team as a whole ample opportunity to breathe. What makes their dynamic work beautifully are the quieter moments where they bond and form connections through shared experiences. While half of the members are willing to work together from the start, Arthur and Victor need more time to overcome their wariness.
Despite the initial mistrust coming from Arthur, it fortunately never regresses to sheer assholery, which can sour a budding team’s chemistry. The League members exercise patience in trying to understand one another. The empathy that Zack takes the time to showcase will satisfy viewers that these characters are growing to be friends, not merely co-workers.
Batman – An Invocation to Heal / to be Seen
The enjoyment of watching Batman in Zack Snyder’s Justice League (ZSJL) comes from how it builds on the character development portrayed by the end of BvS. This Bruce Wayne is fully committed to staying accountable to his previous actions, acknowledging that the good he’s doing doesn’t necessarily absolve him of having an indirect hand in Superman’s death.
While it is always nice to see Batman playing well with others, there is a different kind of satisfaction altogether in knowing that this attitude stems from actual growth — Bruce in the past would’ve written off anyone that could be deemed as a threat, while now he is someone who welcomes strangers with open arms based on sheer faith.
Cyborg – Becoming / Human All Too Human
Cyborg is definitely the breakout star of ZSJL. The importance of a Black disabled hero receiving such treatment can’t be downplayed. Out of the 3 new characters, Victor gets the most fleshed out, and in this reviewer’s opinion, the best story arc out of all the League members. While Arthur and Barry get snippets of their backstories introduced via conversation, Victor’s past is told in flashbacks for the audience to directly empathise with. In many of his interviews, dating back to 2017, Zack repeatedly describes Victor as “the heart of the movie”, and that rings extremely true. All of the League members have experienced some form of tragedy in their pasts, but it is Victor’s trauma and pain that we see fresh from his perspective.
Zack’s DCEU films thus far go down the deconstruction route — he breaks down his heroes to their rawest to show us what makes them tick, before building them back up through a journey of growth and overcoming. Cyborg is no exemption to this, commanding an arc that reminds the audience of the “human” in superhuman. On the narrative side, Victor plays a vital role in the final plan against the villain. Superman may provide the much-needed muscle as a deterrent, but Cyborg holds the key in making the plan work. No one can do what he can.
That Terrible Strength
Steppenwolf may technically be a lackey of the Final Boss, but he makes an effective main antagonist in this film. Zack doesn’t shy away from the vicious brutality this spiky menace is capable of: he flings around warriors on horseback like they are weightless and torturing his prisoners. Fortunately, he steers clear from falling into the pit of one-dimensional villain with the surprising amount of emotional vulnerability the story expands on.
Steppenwolf is given motivation for his need to conquer Earth beyond ‘Just For Sake of Being Evil and Powerful’, but the story takes care never to fully humanize him that we forget he is planning on genocide. Speaking of his spiky menace, the CGI of his armor is definitely one of the most stellar works of the film.
The threat of Darkseid consistently looms over the 4-hour runtime and it is a powerful choice to never pull the trigger on the villain. This may upset those who were expecting ZSJL to be the be-all and end-all of Zack’s vision, but a recent Vanity Fair interview revealed that Zack had always planned for an epic Justice League trilogy. Thus, despite ZSJL being already so broad in scope, all it’s really doing is setting up an even more ambitious storyline.
The Crew at Warpower
Villains aside, the theme of not being alone resonates strongly throughout the plot. Bruce and Arthur claim to prefer being alone. Diana mourns her lost love Steve Trevor (it was a week-long romance, get over it!) and, refreshingly, her family back in Themyscira. Victor constantly hides from society. Barry’s father accuses him of running around in circles with his life. Even Lois is trapped in an isolationist spiral following the death of Clark.
But as the storyline progresses, we see how these emotional walls slowly dissolve. Mutual respect and a shared goal bring these diverse characters to work together and trust each other. It’s an extremely powerful message, and one that is made even more poignant by the memory of Autumn Snyder, for whom this production is dedicated to.
At one point, we are even treated to a banner for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (after the scene where Bruce introduces himself to Barry), where the tagline is “You Are Not Alone”. The AFSP has been the main beneficiary of the #SnyderCut fanbase’s campaigns over the past four years, and it’s great to see that relationship acknowledged in a scene.
All in all, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is an epic tale of characters both blessed and burdened with their powers and abilities, but are able to rise up to inspire and make a difference. Kudos to screenwriter Chris Terrio, whose writing really allowed BvS and ZSJL to rise above and stake its own niche in the superhero genre.
How We Achieve Ourselves
The cinematography has always been a hallmark of Zack Snyder’s body of work. Yet, the number of layers he has weaved into this 4-hour experience is still mind-boggling. For example, the first scene between Bruce and Arthur is consistently framed in shades of grey. This reflects the loss of Clark and the collective grief of a world forced to move on without their symbol of hope. The subsequent scene has Diana protecting innocent lives in a terror attack. This act of bringing hope makes her the vanguard of the movie’s introduction to colour. Her costume is the first true splash of red, blue and gold we see.
Colour is earned over the course of the 4 hours, never to be taken for granted. In particular, the scenes with Barry always feel that much lighter thanks to the palette choices. This artistic decision goes a very long way in affirming the nature of the experience. Zack Snyder’s Justice League looks and feels appropriate for the legendary heroes it showcases.
And the Lion-Earth did Roar
Junkie XL’s epic score brings the entire experience together. The soundtrack melds the themes that he and long-time collaborator Hans Zimmer have developed over the course of Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, making it the coherent, consistent and grand soundtrack that these 4 hours deserve.
Junkie XL chose to start over and do this jumbo soundtrack in the span of six months, in the middle of a pandemic. His original creation was now almost 5 years old and it had been done amidst a “vortex of negative energy” that he did not want. The choice paid off in a massive way and in just four days since its release, the album is making waves on iTunes, Spotify and YouTube. “At the Speed of Force” has over 1,300,000 views on YouTube as of this writing, while “Superman Rising Pt. 2 / Immovable” has a respectable 597,000 views.
The album consists of 54 tracks in total, with only 2 tracks, “Song to the Siren” performed by Rose Betts and “Hallelujah” performed by Allison Crowe, not written by Junkie XL. In case you were wondering about the headings throughout the review, they are the titles of several tracks in the OST.
Beyond Good and Evil
The cast is stacked! If you have been hungry for more Amazonian content since 2017’s Wonder Woman, Zack Snyder’s Justice League reminds you there is a lot more to offer. Much like the main characters, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) is given quieter moments aside from the heavy action sequences. She isn’t just relegated to Badass Queen; she is a Badass Queen with Heart. Whether it is pausing to mourn her fallen warriors or deeply missing her only child, Nielsen continues to play the role as multifaceted as she’s able to with the limited screen time she gets.
It’s also really nice to see the return of Menalippe (Lisa Loven Kongsli), Philippus (Ann Ogbomo), Epione (Eleanor Matsuura) and Euboea (Samantha Jo). All in all, many of the Amazons introduced in Wonder Woman continue to wow in ZSJL, and this makes their sacrifice in the hope of defeating Steppenwolf that much more poignant.
We also have the painful reminder of what could’ve been. DC fans would have recognised and lamented the limited presence of Commissioner Gordon (J.K. Simmons), General Swanwick/Martian Manhunter (Harry Lennix) and Ryan Choi (Ryan Zheng Kai) in the main storyline. Seeing Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), Deathstroke (Joe Manganiello) and Joker (Jared Leto) in the epilogue scenes are bitter pills to swallow knowing that it’ll be nothing short of miraculous to see them return to these roles in the future. Of course, never say never in the comic book world, huh.
There’s truly something about Zack Snyder’s Justice League that transcends the superhero genre. As an audience, we get to grow with characters that are not unlike gods on Earth. Yet, as they deal with their struggles, that aren’t too far off from what we go through, these characters rise above their individual pain and purposes, embodying the best of humanity.
The emotional payoff of finally seeing the #SnyderCut is rather indescribable – knowing all that has come before, it does justice (last time I’m using the pun, promise) to the creative vision of all involved, from Zack and Deborah Snyder, to Chris Terrio, to Junkie XL, to the cast and the rest of the crew. With so many factors playing a role in its creation, it’s probably a feat we’ll never get to see repeated again, but perhaps it will inspire enough change that no other production would have to undergo such a process again.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is now available on HBO GO. An alternate black-and-white version, Justice is Gray, is also available.