Zack Snyder’s Justice League is the ultimate superhero epic (Spoiler review)

As someone who never saw the 2017 theatrical cut of Justice League, I wasn’t sure if the movie would work for me but having been a big fan of Man of Steel and BVS ultimate edition I was ready to give it a chance. But as soon as that DC Fandome trailer dropped I was fully onboard to see Snyder’s darker take on the superhero ensemble movie.


And I’m truly thrilled to say that not only did Snyder deliver on his promises, but he also gave us a movie that I would rank as one of the best superhero movies of all time and is my favourite movie of the year thus far. Be warned I will be talking full spoilers as I can’t fully express what I love about this movie so much without talking plot points.

Characters


One of the major complaints that Snyder has received in the past is how he has written these beloved DC characters, now as someone who does not read the comics and only really has exposure to these characters via media like games and films. His handling has been criticised due to his bleak takes on hopeful characters like Superman as well as Batman’s negligent and borderline murderous ways in BVS. However, with Justice League, the arcs for his characters have been made clear and what we were being shown was a journey on how these characters become what we know them to be.


Batman


I’ll start with Batman who for me is the protagonist of the film, in his first scene we see him travelling to find Aquaman who is viewed by a small fishing village as a kind of deity. We immediately see Bruce’s desire to reach out and trust other super beings something he defiantly opposed in BVS. This theme is carried throughout his journey in the film with many scenes where acknowledges his mistakes in BVS “I spent a lot of time trying to divide us” he says in an intimate moment between him and Alfred.


His desire to honour Superman throughout the film is incredibly powerful, his want to be the man Clark believed he could help to heal any resentment you may have felt to him in BVS. His arc is rounded off in a phenomenal scene where after resurrecting Superman, despite Superman’s confused and violent state when asked by Alfred why he believes he will help he replies “Faith Alfred, faith!” it’s a wonderful line that instils the more hopeful tone of the film.

However, I do feel that more work needed to be done to make him effective in the final battle against Steppenwolf as although he is useful in his Batmobile when it comes to fighting Steppenwolf, it would have been nice to see him in his armoured Batsuit. He takes a more commanding role within the team, helping to bring the team together and take the fight to Steppenwolf. We also see another peek into batman’s psyche again where even after his victory over Steppenwolf he has another vision of a bleak future one where he is a broken man forced to even work with The Joker to survive.


Aquaman


Having not yet seen the solo Aquaman film, this was my first introduction to the character and I have to praise his character. He comes off as a jaded and somewhat selfish character, who has animosity towards his people being torn between his human and Atlantean side, he flat out refuses to help Bruce on their initial meeting. However, as the film progresses, we see him grow as he interacts with the league even reconciling with WonderWoman when he realises Atlanteans and Amazonians share common ground.

Much of his additional scenes create the groundwork for the Aquaman movie that followed addressing interesting plot elements that will be built upon later. By the end of the film, he too has gone through a shift, choosing to trust the league and even sympathising with Cyborg’s loss later in the film.


WonderWoman


Character-wise WonderWoman gets the least development, however, besides Superman, she was the only character to receive a solo film to this point (bearing in mind that this was originally filmed in 2016) so less time being given to her isn’t a big issue. What is here is still enjoyable though and connects well back to her solo outing, she has several enjoyable moments with Alfred and Bruce as well as a pivotal moment with her trying to connect with Cyborg.

What Wonder Woman lacks in character development in this movie she makes up for by having some of the most impressive action sequences, with her introductory scene being particularly brutal. Her fights with Steppenwolf are way more intense and impactful, however, the constant use of her theme in practically every scene she is in can become very grating on repeat watches. In her most character-driven scene, she uses the events of the original Wonder Woman to reach out to Cyborg, however, this scene is somewhat hampered by the release of Wonder Woman 1984.


The Flash & Cyborg


A big challenge Justice League faced was bringing these characters into the fold in the same film that they needed to assemble as a team, and with Cyborg and Flash, we have to learn and care about them before they even come together as a team. Fortunately, both characters here are handled expertly, with Cyborg being essential to the entire plot of Justice League, especially in the final battle. Cyborg in particular has many impactful scenes with his backstory being full of tragedy and the scene in which his powers are explained is a highlight of the movie.


The Flash (Barry Allen) also has his backstory and significant role to play within the final battle, the full does a good job of exploring Barry’s comic book origins with his imprisoned father potentially setting up for the later Flash movie to come, his scenes with his father are very endearing and well performed. Flash also gets one of the greatest scenes in the film, wherein the final battle against Steppenwolf the League fail to prevent the mother boxes from fully coming together destroying Earth, in a last-ditch effort Barry travels back in time in a visually beautiful scene that shows him reversing time and saving the world, giving him an incredibly powerful conclusion to his character arc in the film.


Superman


Whilst superman’s screentime is considerably lesser than his colleagues it is still valuable and helps to round off his arc that began in Man of Steel. He has some of my favourite scenes of all 3 films and his final battle with Steppenwolf is incredibly satisfying and downright brutal. There is a tonne of call-backs during his scenes to Man of Steel with dialogue from those movies playing over as he dons the black suit and flies up towards the sun, it's an all-time moment for comic book movies.

What I find particularly great about Superman’s arc in this franchise is that it is surprisingly reminiscent of the arc that David Dunn went through in the unbreakable trilogy, Clark Kent’s quest for purpose in the world is very impactful and comes to a very satisfying close, even if there are hints that he may potentially be a villain one day.


Steppenwolf & Darkseid


Finally, it's worth noting the strength of the film’s villain, Steppenwolf is a surprisingly interesting and complex character, he has his own set of motivations and it is made clear early on that despite his impressive level of power he is just an underling to a much more dangerous foe that being Darkseid, who is essentially the DC universe big bad. Steppenwolf’s fight scenes are excellent at establishing his power level he is incredibly ruthless at one point cutting an Amazonian in two in a surprisingly gory moment (thank you R rating).


Steppenwolf’s best scenes are when he is shown cowering in front of Darkseid begging to pay off his debt to the ruler of Apokolips, it’s a strangely endearing moment that teases additional lore with some kind of inner power grab going on within Apokolips. At one point he even sounds like a child when he asks Darkseid if he can “come home” it's very well done and his facial expressions are well done considering the challenges the special effects department must have faced.


Darkseid whilst only being in the film for a few minutes is a seriously imposing threat, his demeanour and voice are incredibly threatening and the glimpses we get at just how powerful he is are chilling, even being shown to be able to corrupt superman in a possible what-if future. Still, it’s a real shame that we’ll probably never get a continuation of his character coming to earth, in an infinity war style clash, however, I feel it's important to point out that this is not Synder’s fault and leaving Darkseid out of this film would have robbed Steppenwolf of much of his motivation.



Story & plot


The plot for Justice League flows naturally from the end of BVS with the death of Superman signalling a call out to the universe and the Mother Boxes, that Earth’s best defender is dead, and Darkseid on Apocalypse is coming to claim Earth. The opening scene works perfectly to establish the tone, the score is almost horror-themed as it builds a level of dread at the impending arrival of Darkseid’s forces.


The movie’s massive runtime allows the story to greatly expand the world where we see major locations throughout the DC universe (Metropolis, Central City, Gotham, Atlantis Etc) this helps to establish the stakes of this mission. It all leads to a final battle against Steppenwolf and his forces where our heroes fight to prevent Darksyde’s arrival and come together as a team.


The plot overall is incredibly gripping and well-paced as we are introduced to each of the league members with several of them receiving extensive characterisation and acting as their origins. The film wraps up in an incredibly fulfilling fashion establishing each team members future roles.


However, the main issue I have with the film's plot is in the additional scenes that come after the film has wrapped, now I understand why these scenes are included as they are essentially a way of Snyder showing what his plans were for the future of the franchise, but their placement in the film feels a little jarring and spoils the films natural endpoint, my least favourite of these additional scenes is the exchange between Bruce Wanye and Martian Manhunter.


However, I would also like to shout out to the end apocalypse scene that continues from the possible future established in BVS where we get to see Ben Affleck's Batman and Jared Leto’s Joker finally interact. As someone who didn’t like his performance in Suicide Squad I was surprised how much I liked this scene, now there are certainly some cringe-worthy lines, but there are also some incredibly dark and chilling exchanges especially when Joker directly references his murder of Dick Grayson’s Robin, it also gives us a glimpse at a batman, who is tired and has given up on being a hero similar to how he was in BVS, it's another tantalising glimpse into what could have been a fantastically dark cinematic universe.


Performances


Everyone in the cast gives it their all in this movie, but the standouts are Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck who give very enjoyable performances to their characters, Affleck displays expertly the character growth he is gone on from BVS, showing a Batman who truly wants to believe in heroes again. Cavill on the other hand finds a fantastic balance between the more sombre and emotional superman of the Snyder films whilst also embodying the superman that has finally accepted his purpose in the world, it’s a more hopeful performance that sends off Cavill’s Superman in style.

Aside from these two, the other major standout is Ray Fisher who plays the damaged and emotional Cyborg expertly, he handles the incredibly emotional scenes towards the end of the film so well, that he is immediately one of my favourite DCEU characters. The scene in which he shines the most at the end of the film is fantastic and gives Cyborg an incredibly well-rounded character arc.


Outside of the standout performances, the rest of the cast do a great job too, although Gal Gadot does seem to have a few scenes where either the direction was off or she just delivered the lines a little wonky. Overall, this film is filled with great and memorable performances and I couldn’t be happier with the casting of the DCEU and only hope we see more of these versions of the characters in future.


The visuals & action


In terms of the movie's effects, there are some weaker spots here, more so than we are used to with these kinds of films, however much of this is since they are touching up effects of a film that was filmed in 2016. I can’t think of any downright awful effects but some characters like Darkseid are a little videogame looking compared to other films like Infinity war’s Thanos, although I think the movie’s hyper-stylised visuals help offset some of the films weaker effects.


Action sequences are great, the film takes a lot of time to show off each team members powers as they fight, whilst also showing them use each other's powers to work together, the final fight with Steppenwolf shows this off very well. I also appreciate that the film makes a clear effort to establish each member's power level with WonderWoman and Superman being the best at going toe to toe with Steppenwolf.

The addition of the movie's R-rating also really helps in giving the action scenes room to breathe, there are a few moments that would certainly be considered gory compared to other superhero flicks, but it's nothing extreme or that isn’t tonally consistent with the previous films. Some particularly awesome gory shots include a scene in which Myra uses her abilities to drain the water from Steppenwolf’s body.


The score


Another part of the presentation that absolutely nails it is the score by Junkie XL, who takes the motifs of Hanz Zimmers previous work in Man of Steel and BVS, the music adds brilliantly to the epic atmosphere and has multiple pieces that stand out, although the overuse of WonderWomans theme becomes a little grating. The best pieces in the film are the tracks superman rising pt2/immovable and At the speed of force, these are some of my favourite superhero film tracks of all time and are astounding well utilised in the film heightening the emotion of their respective scenes.


The length


The most divisive issue about this film is its runtime, I completely understand that sitting down for a 4-hour movie is a bit much for many people. However, it appears Zack Snyder was well aware of this as the film is split into 6 parts, as such it's very easy to watch the film like a mini series, which can accommodate viewers who don’t have the time to watch the whole film at once.


I will also point out that the film is paced very well and for me never felt like it was dragging or stretching itself thin, it also adds to the feeling of it being a true superhero epic. I will also mention that if you’re not a huge fan of the additional scenes at the end you can stop at around the 3 ½ hour mark as the story is mostly wrapped up by this point its best to think of the extra scenes as end credits sequences.


Final thoughts


Overall, I’ve avoided the comparisons between this and Joss Whedon's version of the film, this is primarily because I feel that the greatness of this film stands on its own easily, and it isn’t good just because the Joss Whedon version was a failure, although I will say that I don’t think we would have gotten such a complete version of this film without the previous failure and so if nothing else we can thank Whedon for that.


Zack Snyder’s Justice League is one of my favourite superhero films of all time, it's currently still my favourite film of the year and I can wholeheartedly recommend it to any comic book movie fan, even those that didn’t massively enjoy Man of Steel and BVS.


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