Critics can't agree whether 'Zack Snyder's Justice League' is the worst or a knockout

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Tracy Brown
·5 min read
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Ray Fisher, Ezra Miller, Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot and Jason Momoa in the movie "Zack Snyder's Justice League."
Ray Fisher, left, Ezra Miller, Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot and Jason Momoa in "Zack Snyder's Justice League." (HBO Max)

The wait is almost over: “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” will officially be released into the world Thursday.

Commonly referred to as the “Snyder cut,” this version completely overhauls the 2017 original into a 242-minute opus, just as the director had envisioned it. The first “Justice League,” for which Snyder is still the credited director, was completed (notoriously) by Joss Whedon after Snyder left the production due to a family tragedy.

The film was critically panned and did not wow at the box office. Believing that a better version had to exist somewhere, fans campaigned for a Snyder cut release until Warner Bros. and HBO Max relented.

Many of the set pieces and the general plot will be familiar to those who saw the original theatrical version. “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” once again sees Batman (Ben Affleck) trying to round up a team of superheroes along with Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) after the death of Superman (Henry Cavill).

Among the new recruits are the Flash (Ezra Miller), Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and the heroes must band together to stop Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) from bringing about the beginning of the end of the world. Snyder’s new cut maintains the darker tone set by his superhero movies, “Man of Steel” (2013) and “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” (2016), and is packed with CGI-heavy, slow-motion-laden action sequences.

According to reviews, the one thing critics agree on is that this movie is long — it clocks in at just over four hours. They also consider it to be an improvement on the original theatrical release; where the consensus breaks down is on whether that actually makes “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” a good movie (or miniseries, if you choose to watch in installments).

Ben Affleck as Batman standing with Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman while Zack Snyder directs
Ben Affleck, left, Gal Gadot and Zack Snyder on the set of "Justice League." (Clay Enos / HBO Max)

Times film critic Justin Chang finds “fleeting pleasures and unlikely sources of fascination” in Snyder’s “maximalist” cut, but adds that the added material “often feels less than vital.”

“Having sat through this new ‘Justice League’ in its 242-minute entirety, I can note that the two films represent utterly antithetical approaches to a project that might have benefited from a third, middle-ground option,” writes Chang. “Forced to choose between the two, the Snyder cut is probably the one I respect more, which doesn’t mean it’s the one I prefer: The two-hour 'Justice League' was, for all its baggage, a watchable exercise in damage control, with welcome moments of levity that cut through the murky torpor of Snyder’s storytelling.”

Likewise, in a review for the New York Times, Maya Phillips notes that “the [film’s] supersized run time allows the narrative room to stretch, for better or for worse.”

“For better: There’s an ambitious mythology at work, revealing the epic that Snyder had envisioned, a bildungsroman of not one hero but a team of heroes who achieve even greater feats together,” writes Phillips. “For worse: Snyder also plods through seemingly endless, pointless exposition, adding enough back story for each Justice League hero to strong-arm us into investing in these characters so we care when they finally put on the team jerseys and step out onto the court.”

Entertainment Weekly’s Darren Franich also dings Snyder’s more-is-better approach, but accepts that this is just Snyder being “utmost” Snyder.

“Everything takes forever to go nowhere,” writes Franich. “This cut is no worse than the theatrical edition, but it sure is longer.”

For John DeFore of the Hollywood Reporter, this “Justice League” “remains unimproved” compared to the original.

“This expanded version may be exactly the product desired by the legion of Snyder fans who cried to the heavens for its release,” writes DeFore. “But nonmembers of that cult will find it just as unenjoyable as the original.”

Yet the director's cut has its staunch defenders. Mashable’s Angie Han concludes that “Snyder's belated tinkering results in a movie that represents, on just about every level, a vast improvement over the previous edit” and that its “four hours feel far better spent than the two it took for the theatrical cut.”

“Those open to Snyder's take on the DC universe … will find much more to like here than they did four years ago,” writes Han. With the new release, she adds, "it finally becomes possible to see ‘Justice League’ for the grand epic it was meant to be.”

She wasn't the only critic who considered the new version not just an improvement but in fact an enjoyable experience.

Variety’s Owen Gleiberman ranks “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” alongside titles such as “The Dark Knight,” “Spider-Man 2” and “Black Panther”: “superhero movies that have achieved a genuine sweeping transcendence.”

“The new movie — and make no mistake, it really is a new movie — is more than a vindication of Snyder’s original vision,” writes Gleiberman. “It’s a grand, nimble, and immersive entertainment, a team-of-heroes origin story that, at heart, is classically conventional, yet it’s now told with such an intoxicating childlike sincerity and ominous fairy-tale wonder that it takes you back to what comic books, at their best, have always sought to do: make you feel like you’re seeing gods at play on Earth.”

That said, with a movie this long, it might take more than a little childlike wonder to make it through in one sitting.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.