The first hurdle one must clear is imagining a universe in which a four hour recut of “Justice League” needs to exist. But within the infinity of the multiverse, that’s a moot point.
“Zack Snyder’s ‘Justice League'” is a detailed, back-storied origin story with another origin story built in, an opera in effects and comic book movie conflict. It is slow — even when it isn’t playing out in slow motion.
Ponderous? Sure. Bloated? Oh yeah.
But one thing that’s obvious with Zack Snyder’s “finish the movie I started” version of a project that tragedy saw him turn over to jocular Joss Whedon. As “content,” this is pure gold, an HBO Max windfall. And that’s the perfect place to experience it, a “Godfather Saga” or “Lord of the Rings” or “Harry Potter” weekend but for the Superman/Batman/Wonder Woman/Batman and Flash set.
It’s been three and a half years since the Whedon-finished streamlined “Justice League.” I had to glance back over my review of that one to see why so much of this new version seemed different. Because it is.
Whedon’s lighter touch is mostly gone, along with his two hour run time and his reducing the role of Cyborg, which infuriated actor Ray Fisher (understandably). The digital effects have been cleaned up, with a shiny, bristling Steppenwolf (voiced/mo-capped by Ciaran Hinds) now a visually formidable foe.
But thank heaven for Ezra Miller‘s Flash, who has a romantic white knight moment (with Kiersey Clemons) to rival the best emotional punches Christopher Reeve landed many “Supermen” ago.
“Wonder Woman, think she’d ever go for a younger guy?”
“She’s 5000 years old, Barry. They’re ALL younger guys.”
All this gloom and murk and exposition, here’s a rare hint of comic book comedy.
Gal Gadot‘s Wonder Woman is more badass than she’s been in her stand-alone movies, Jason Mamoa makes the most of his few chances to show brawny wit, Ben Affleck seems almost droll as Batman this time out.
“This is Alfred…I work for him.”
Little dollops of heart intrude on the effects, battle royales, epic digital sets and godlike alien staff meetings between Steppenwolf and his bosses, DeSaad and Darkseid (Did James Cameron name those two?).
Amy Adams‘ Lois Lane and Diane Lane‘s Martha Kent sell the sadness of the loss of Clark Kent, Henry Cavill, Amber Heard, Billy Crudup (Flash’s dad) and Joe Morton (“father twice over” to Cyborg) make decent impressions.
Of course, there are too many characters to track and do justice to, too much clutter in the derivative and silly story about aliens invading — Steppenwolf and his ParaDemons minions (Cameron could’ve named them, too.) — in search of Horcruxes, Infinity Stones or uh, “Mother Stones” that will allow universal omnipotence and an end to life on Earth.
Cyborg’s origin story puts him front and center in this, reducing a lot of others such as J.K. Simmons (Commissioner Gordon), Jesse Eisenberg (Lex Luthor), the voices of “Superman’s” father figures, Joe Manganiello and Heard to glorified cameos which show up, all the way through the “epilogue.”
Yes, this beast has big, long “chapters” to it. And an epilogue.
All of which add up to a “movie” that’s a lot closer to “content” than to cinematic art, or a movie that inspires, thrills, touches or moves, or a “movie” in the sense of a coherent story told with urgency.
But it’s often gorgeous to look at, and taken as a transitional film, one that moves this universe onto a streaming platform that needs it and the proper home for a filmmaker like Snyder (a thrilling “300,” a passable “Watchmen,” a decent zombie movie and…all sorts of this), “Zack Snyder’s ‘Justice League'” services the fans and just as importantly, the investors, who also “can’t get enough” of these characters, no matter what universe they occupy.
MPA Rating: R for violence and some language
Cast: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Amy Adams, Ray Fisher, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, Joe Morton, Jeremy Irons, J.K. Simmons and Henry Cavill.
Credits: Directed by Zack Snyder, script by Chris Terrio. A Warner Brothers/HBO Max release.
Running time: 4:02