Zack Snyder's Justice League review – four hours of geek-pleasing grandeur | Peter Bradshaw's film of the week

Affleck and Cavill are as insipid as ever but this new cut adds operatic colour to vapid original – and a bold new ending

It started as a hashtag: a cheekily insurgent social-media campaign against big media corporations who presume to tell superhero devotees what’s good for them. Enraged by DC’s lacklustre Justice League movie in 2017 – which director Zack Snyder had to abandon during postproduction after a family tragedy, and which an uncredited Joss Whedon re-shot and re-edited – the fans took to Twitter demanding that DC Films #ReleaseTheSnyderCut. Like the GameStop share price, hopes soared. But so did cynical suspicions that a pristine “cut” would eventually be fabricated to cash in on customer excitement.

The Welles cut of The Magnificent Ambersons and the Von Stroheim cut of Greed are still not with us, but the Snyder cut of Justice League is, with a new chiaroscuro look, new backstories, new minor characters and a new, disturbing ending. Its sheer colossal size, its sepulchral feeling of doom and its trance-like sense of its own mythic grandeur make it weirdly entertaining, although the familiar superhero-movie MacGuffins are there, and the film needs to absorb the slightly uncharismatic performance of Henry Cavill, an actor who perhaps does not soar to the standards of superness, and is better off playing a character called, simply, Man, with an M on his chest and who has to walk everywhere. Did Snyder really intend the original film to last four hours? Well, this one does: an epic so splurgingly huge that you can see how it might have been purposed as four streaming episodes. Yet its dramatic and theological craziness only really come across when you consume it all at once.

As the film begins, the whole world is in mourning after Superman’s death, and humanity is now menaced by the intergalactically evil Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds), who is after three “mother boxes” that are somewhere on Earth – three occult crucibles of cosmic power which together give their owner complete universal control – left behind, apparently, from a previous incursion. So plutocrat Bruce Wayne wishes to assemble a crack crew of superheroes, the Justice League, to defend the planet in Superman’s memory. They will be the disciples of Superman, and Diane Lane and Amy Adams play Superman’s mum, Martha, and girlfriend, Lois Lane, respectively the Blessed Virgin and Mary Magdalene of the Superman story.

Wayne is played by Ben Affleck with stubble, a perennial expression of lantern-jawed discontent and a voice that drops to a growly lowness when he’s in character as Batman (even though everyone around him knows perfectly well who he is). Gal Gadot is the stylish, creamy-browed Wonder Woman, while Jason Momoa is Aquaman, who is in civvy street as Iceland’s answer to Crocodile Dundee, hanging out with bearded, jumper-wearing Nordic fisherfolk in the pub until the time comes for him to embrace his superheroic destiny.

Ray Fisher is the troubled bionic teen Victor Stone, or Cyborg, and Ezra Miller has the quirky and smart-alecky role of Barry Allen, the Flash, whose job is to supply the ironic self-awareness. There are some nice supporting performances, most notably from Willem Dafoe, who somehow confers actorly dignity on the role of Nuidis Vulko, an undersea personage of Atlantis. Jeremy Irons is Wayne’s manservant (one might almost say his batman) Alfred, who is reimagined as a silver-fox hipster and gadget specialist, waspish of tongue and fussing over the tea served to the Justice League, but who will keep saying “Master Wayne”. (“Master Bruce”, surely?)

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; it comes to life most in the regular cityscape settings that it seems keen to avoid. But there is something absorbing about this operatically strange twilight-of-the-superhero-gods that might yet turn out to be daybreak.

The film has something preposterous but surreal, and there is a disturbing epilogue in which Wayne is confronted by his personal demons. Snyder’s film may be exhausting but it is engaging. Justice is served.

  • Zack Snyder’s Justice League is released on 18 March in the UK on Sky Cinema and in the US on HBO Max.

Contributor

Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Justice League review – good, evil and dullness do battle
Ben Affleck’s unconvincing Batman deadens the long-awaited DC adventure as superheroes team up to save planet Earth from destruction, but not boredom

Peter Bradshaw

15, Nov, 2017 @7:50 AM

Article image
Justice League review – dour and wooden beneath the wisecracks
Joss Whedon’s quips sit ill with Zack Snyder’s leaden direction, while Ben Affleck makes for an unconvincing Batman in this dire DC offering

Simran Hans

19, Nov, 2017 @8:00 AM

Article image
Will the Snyder Cut of Justice League be any better than Joss Whedon's original?
Zack Snyder’s $30m edit for HBO Max could be darker than Whedon’s 2017 film, it could give more screen time to Ray Fisher – or it could just be just as bad

Ben Child

10, Jul, 2020 @9:00 AM

Article image
Justice League: Zack Snyder's cut to be released after fan campaign
Director has announced that the ‘Snyder cut’ of the DC adventure will land on HBO Max after years of fan petitioning

Benjamin Lee

20, May, 2020 @7:02 PM

Article image
Justice League – hit or miss for the DC Extended Universe? Discuss with spoilers
It has patched-together directing, shoddy special effects and a wetter than ever Batman, but is the latest DCEU instalment still worth watching?

Ben Child

17, Nov, 2017 @4:46 PM

Article image
Five tasks Justice League must complete to save the DC universe
Can the much-anticipated superhero team-up feel less like the critically reviled Batman v Superman and more like this year’s Oscar-buzzed Wonder Woman?

Ben Child

01, Nov, 2017 @4:29 PM

Article image
Justice League: first full trailer released online
The trailer for the much-hyped DC Comics superhero movie sees Batman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman join forces

Guardian film

25, Mar, 2017 @3:34 PM

Article image
Zack Snyder: ‘I don’t have a rightwing political agenda. People see what they want to see’
As his latest film Army of the Dead hits Netflix, the Justice League director takes time to answer questions from fans and collaborators

As told to Catherine Shoard

20, May, 2021 @2:00 PM

Article image
Wonder Woman 1984 review – queenly Gal Gadot disarms the competition
Gadot is terrifically imposing, while Kristen Wiig is the scene-stealing antagonist in Patty Jenkins’ epically brash sequel

Peter Bradshaw

15, Dec, 2020 @5:00 PM

Article image
Aquaman review – a complete bellyflop
This part-underwater set superhero origin story is a big disappointment and even Jason Momoa’s good-ol-boy persona can’t save it from drowning

Peter Bradshaw

11, Dec, 2018 @7:00 PM