“Maybe a man who broods in a cave for a living isn’t cut out to be a recruiter.”Alfred
After the chore of Batman v Superman, I had no interest in seeing another grimdark Zack Snyder superhero movie, but — having avoided the 2017 theatrical version of Justice League — curiosity finally has the better of me. I will readily accept that this is a better version of the movie as there would simply have been no way to condense this material into the two-hour film mandated by the studio. The new cut runs to nearly four hours and, whilst that is certainly too long, much of this was needed to introduce three new heroes and a villain. The Flash is introduced effectively through a concise rescue sequence that showcases both his powers and personality, but the other hero introductions are fragmented and inefficient: we see more brooding than character, piecing things together from what others say. Steppenwolf is a generic hulking villain in spiky CG armour that is intricate but uninteresting; the character is little more than a vehicle to introduce Darkseid as a future antagonist (Snyder’s extended epilogue further telegraphs what he would like to have done with the DCEU but introducing yet more characters in a film already overcrowded with new faces is unhelpful). Most of the action is hollow and repetitive, predominantly characters punching or throwing each other into walls, interspersed with slow-motion hero poses and computer-generated particle effects. It occurs in locations that are intended to be vast and epic, but frequently feel like the empty backdrops of a fighting game rather than organic, connected spaces. Snyder’s use of a 4:3 aspect ratio has been derided and “preserving his vision” of IMAX framing does seem self-indulgent for a film that is only available on streaming services. In practice, it is easy to forget and little use is made of the additional frame height to actually warrant the unusual choice. When it comes to tone, there is something to be said for not falling into the MCU pattern of undercutting more serious moments with levity. Nolan’s Batman trilogy showed how well grittier realism can work but, when every moment becomes bleak and overbearing, the experience is turgid and exhausting. Ultimately, Zack Snyder’s Justice League will not change anyone’s mind about his take on the DC universe: Snyder fans will see this release as vindication, whilst others will consider it another incredibly expensive testament to style over substance. With his name in the title, this is plainly a very personal project for Snyder, showing brief flourishes of excellence but mostly feeling soulless, whilst making grand promises about theoretical future films that are unlikely ever to be realised.
Disclosure: I know personally at least one person involved in the making of this film.