Determined to ensure Superman’s ultimate sacrifice was not in vain, Bruce Wayne aligns forces with Diana Prince with plans to recruit a team of metahumans to protect the world from an approaching threat of catastrophic proportions. (from IMDb)
Around 2016, when director Zack Snyder was working on his theatrical release of DC’s superteam, Justice League, he left the project for then-unknown reasons, and Avengers director Joss Whedon was brought in to finish it. The end result was a disappointing and conflicting mix of styles that rendered the project a dud. It ended up leaving Warner Bros. and DC scrambling to figure out what their next move would be. Zack Snyder had introduced the DC Extended (Cinematic) Universe with 2013’s Man of Steel, and followed it up with 2015’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. After the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Warner and DC were desperate for an expansive superhero universe of their own. Snyder seemed up to the challenge, but it forced him to introduce a brand new Batman with Ben Affleck into the mix, as well as Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, and then start laying the groundwork for future Justice League heroes with The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice ended up being too much movie for one movie, and an ambitious project that lacked the emotional punch it was hoping for while pitting two of the most popular superheroes ever against each other (I do wonder if it had been Christian Bale’s Batman if it would have worked better?). After the surprisingly fantastic standalone Wonder Woman movie in 2017, fans were set to be given Justice League just a few short months later, but the Frankenstein monster of a movie just couldn’t make it work. Sure it was moderately entertaining, but it ended up being more disappointing – and polarizing – than Batman v Superman.
Enter Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Even though fans were disappointed with Snyder’s direction for the DCEU, they realized what Snyder had originally planned was way better than what they got. There was some kind of method to his madness, and the interest in seeing what he had originally planned to do became infectious. #ReleasetheSnyderCut went viral, and after a few years, it finally became a reality. Fans knew Snyder’s footage existed (and much of it was in the original movie’s trailers), and fans were chomping at the bit for a DC movie that could have been as epic as anything Marvel was doing with the Avengers. Justice League had long rumored to be the start of a big, epic multi-movie arc involving the villain Darkseid, with seemingly nonsensical and random seeds Snyder had planted in Batman v Superman eventually paying off. So while Snyder’s full vision for Justice League will probably never see the light of day, there was now hope for Snyder to at least show fans what they were supposed to get back in 2017.
When HBO Max financed the completion of Zack Snyder’s Justice League to get the exclusive debut rights to the film, Snyder was apparently given full creative control. With that, Zack Snyder’s Justice League was given an R rating for language and violence. Fans who saw the “Ultimate Edition” – AKA the director’s cut – of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which was also rated R, probably knew that it wasn’t going to be a hard R, but with Snyder off the leash, what might that look like? Anyone who knows me or has read reviews on this site regularly enough knows that I still adhere to a strict no-R-rated-movie policy. It’s a personal choice; as an easily impressionable person (with empathetic tendencies), I’ve found that most R-rated movies are given that rating for good reason. (And yes, some PG-13 movies can be worse than some R-rated movies and it’s a wonder how they even got anything less.) I asked a trusted friend to let me know what he thought about the content of Zack Snyder’s Justice League with me in mind, and after his initial viewing, he told me that “There are 3 ‘F’ bombs, but other than that, it’s nothing worse than a normal PG-13 movie.” I did figure it probably takes the violence a step or two further (after all, the R-rated version of Batman v Superman had some more lethal violence and blood). And after seeing Zack Snyder’s Justice League, I have to say that my friend is mostly right, but there’s definitely more freedom taken with showing blood and violence. (Side note: I’ve noticed that the few PG-13 movies that I’ve seen that have been upgraded to R have a very specific kind of heightened violence. It won’t necessarily show the kind of sadistic violence in a horror slasher or realism of a super violent R-movie, but it’ll be more liberal with blood splattering and creature dismemberments.)
So, how does Zack Snyder’s Justice League work as a movie? First of all, it’s suspected that this cut of Justice League was probably roughly the two movies he was originally hoping to release separately at one point. This four-hour movie is also split up into 6 “Parts,” and an Epilogue, that are given title cards. I don’t know if Snyder had hoped to fill in gaps or change things with reshoots at some point and had to make due with what he has here, but I found the “Parts” to be unnecessary and intrusive. They pushed me out of the movie a bit and reminded me that this may not be a cohesive end product. The first half or so of the movie is largely spent introducing and attempting to develop Aquaman, The Flash, and Cyborg, while Bruce Wayne/Wonder Woman are trying to convince these new heroes to join them. Meanwhile, Steppenwolf comes to Earth in search of the Mother Boxes still, but Snyder has completely redesigned the villain from top to bottom, even making his voice more menacing, to the point where he actually is kind of intimidating this time around. He also plants the seed for Darkseid to be the overarching Big Bad in the DCEU, much like Thanos is for the MCU. (But don’t expect Darkseid to actually do much in this movie, still. He pretty much has the presence Thanos had in the first, 2012 Avengers movie.) Everything that worked in the 2017, Whedon-ified Justice League movie is here (except anything he filmed for it), as well as the overall plot from that movie, but it’s all fleshed-out more, expanded, and just tonally more fitting. If you watched Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Ultimate Edition and Zack Snyder’s Justice League, they operate well together as a trilogy. (Granted, that’s also about 9.5 hours of movie there.) Just about all of the corny humor from the 2017 cut is absent, but that doesn’t mean some of the weirder side of Snyder doesn’t show up here. The first “What in the world?!” moment comes when a bunch of townsfolk just randomly break into song after Arthur turns down Bruce at the beginning of the movie. It’s odd, doesn’t seem to have anything to do with… anything… and is more awkward than anything else. Snyder also takes one of the sweetest moments from the movie and twists it to introduce a new character that ultimately teases a future for the series that more than likely will never happen. I would have rather Snyder let the scene play out organically than turn it into something it probably wasn’t originally intended to be (and doesn’t make a ton of sense… although I think I kind of get what he was going for).
For a four-hour movie, I was surprised how taxing it didn’t feel. Although, if I’m honest, I’m surprised how different it wasn’t at times. The 2017 movie was 2 hours in length, and this one doubles it, but most of the story beats are the same. This isn’t really a “Director’s Cut” of Justice League since so much of it is different (anyone remember “Richard Donner Cut” of Superman II? This is more like that). But, all in all, it’s still mostly the same story. Some things play out differently, but only in a minor sense. If you wrote down the basic plot of both, they’d be roughly the same. One of the most important differences here to note is that this movie includes ALL of the original footage of Henry Cavill’s Superman. 2017’s Justice League is infamous for including reshot footage of Henry as Superman while he had been filming Mission: Impossible – Fallout with a mustache he wasn’t allowed to shave off, so they had to digitally alter his upper lip to remove it. Yeah, it didn’t work and was painfully noticeable. All of that is gone here. Most of Superman’s action this time around in the climax is largely different, but that awesome scene when he first comes back and rails on the Justice League is deliciously extended. His fisticuffs with Batman in this version is also a clever spin on their encounter in Batman v Superman, which makes that sequence even more fun.
OK… the moment some of you are here for: the content. I’d have to agree that the movie is probably a hard PG-13 or a light R, but having it be R seems avoidable, since Snyder could have just as easily pulled back literally one or two things to earn this a PG-13 and allow for a wider audience. The are at least 3 “F” words, all of which come out of nowhere and don’t add anything to the movie. The first is during the epic “Wonder Woman saving people at the museum” sequence. One of the thugs tosses out the word flippantly and it’s a bit jarring. Later, Cyborg says it to Wonder Woman when she tries to enlist his help (“*Bleep* the world”) and the last one is during the Epilogue of the movie during a new, highly publicized “Knightmare” sequence when Batman is talking to Joker who is antagonizing him. It’s a super dark scene to end the movie on to begin with, and then Batman needlessly throws out the word through gritted teeth at Joker. Otherwise, there isn’t a whole lot of language, although there still is some, in addition to those “F” words. The violence is on par with the Extended Versions of The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, with mostly creature-related blood being more flaunted. The most startling violence at first, comes in the scene at the museum with Wonder Woman. It’s a much grittier version where these terrorists shoot up the place and take a bunch of kids hostage. As their leader talks, we see a dead body on the floor with a large puddle of blood under them. Later in the movie, during a flashback sequence about Darkseid battling many heroes from different worlds, we see the hand of a Green Lantern get sliced off, with the dismembered bloody hand rolling into the foreground of the shot. We then see other characters stabbed with blood splattering out. During the Justice League’s fight with Parademons throughout the movie, we’ll often see them getting sliced up or impaled with bloody/gooey results. There are at least two scenes where men are thrown against a wall or rock and we see a blood splatter on the wall behind them, but the victim themselves isn’t bloody. There’s a fight underwater where we see puffs of red in the water as victims are stabbed. Also, anything that has to do with Cyborg’s pre-Cyborg injuries often shows him as just a head and torso with one of his arms missing. But, in each case, anything graphic/gory is covered capped off or covered up by a sheet (unlike the gross visuals in the PG-13 RoboCop remake or Source Code). Later in the movie, a scene briefly shows the insides of a couple characters forming which quickly shows some flesh and bone coming together. And one short scene shows a character disintegrate down to a skeleton and then to ash (somewhat at a distance) from a laser. Lastly, a monster is decapitated and we see the head land on the ground with some blood. Those are the standout gruesome examples. It’s definitely excessive for PG-13, but probably “light” for most violent R-rated movies.
When all is said and done, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a pretty solid superhero entry. While I’d call myself a fan of Superman, I’ve been partial to the movies Marvel has been putting out for the past decade-plus, and I happen to think they’ve done an incredible job on an entertaining and emotional level with the Avengers sequels especially. I strongly believe Warner and DC rushed the formation of their DCEU all too haphazardly, instead of taking the time to properly build it over the course of several years with several solo movies, but for what we got thus far, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a grand improvement over the 2017 release. It’s unfortunate that Snyder couldn’t tone down the language and violence just a hair to allow for a wider audience, but I suppose the content is too mature in general to draw younger viewers anyway. Zack Snyder’s Justice League isn’t the best DC can give fans, but it’s a huge improvement and those who were calling for this should find it to be a satisfying alternative to what was initially given and a satisfying conclusion to Snyder’s DC trilogy.
– John DiBiase (reviewed: 3/25/21)
4K UHD Special Features Review
Zack Snyder’s Justice League debuted this March exclusively on HBO Max. The movie is finally expanding beyond the streaming service to make its disc debut in a Blu-Ray / 4K combo pack. It is also availble in standard DVD and in a Blu-Ray-only set. However, don’t expect to get a digital copy with any of your purchases; even the 4K combo pack does NOT include a digital copy, which is kind of disappointing. But I guess it’s a safe assumption that Warner is keeping it as a streaming exclusive with HBO Max. (I suppose fans should be satisfied it’s even getting a disc release at all, as other stream service exclusive movies, like Apple TV+’s Greyhound, are still not even on disc yet.)
The 4K UHD / Blu-Ray combo pack comes with 4 discs – two for each format. It’s kind of disappointing that they couldn’t get the full 4-hour movie onto one 4K UHD disc, but they put the “Road to Justice League” featurette as a bonus feature on the first disc, so you can watch it right away if you’d like. When you pop in the second disc of the movie, it starts immediately at “Part 5.”
Zack Snyder’s Justice League in 4K UHD – When the movie debuted on HBO Max, it streamed in 4K, so seeing it on disc in this format should match how most viewers probably first watched it. The picture is super clear, but it’s also kind of grainy, especially since the overall film color scheme is quite dark. Still, it’s gorgeous to see Wonder Woman blocking bullets that shatter into tiny brilliant sparks, or see any of the many detailed landscape or ocean shots. You gotta hand it to Snyder for making a visually beautiful film, and this format really showcases this.
Road to Justice League (24:40) – The only special feature on this set is a 24-minute featurette about Zack Snyder’s creation of, and vision for, his trilogy of DC movies — Man of Steel (2013), Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) and his new cut, Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021). Here, Zack talks about what inspired him for the DC movies and explains how this version of Justice League got completed because of the fans begging so relentlessly for it. The core cast and crew, including Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot and Deborah Snyder, talk about his style of filmmaking and what it was like to work with him. Throughout the featurette, we see lots of B-roll footage from all three films. Zack also talks about some Easter eggs in the films and how they’re all things that have inspired him while making his films. Lastly, we see some rare screen tests, like Jason Momoa as Bruce Wayne and Gal Gadot as Diana Prince. It’s a good segment for sure, but it’s interesting to note that the 2017 release of Justice League, as completed by Joss Whedon, isn’t mentioned even once. There’s also no backstory given to why Snyder never finished the movie himself or what his process was for completing it. It’s pretty common knowledge that he did film some scenes in 2020 to finish it (you even see him wearing a face mask at one point), and I would have loved to hear more about this process. (There are only two bleeped-out uses of the “F” word, once from Zack and once from Jason, but they’re completely bleeped. There is no other language in the featurette.)
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 9/5/21)
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Sex/Nudity: Diana shows cleavage in a white dress she’s wearing while working; Diana shows some cleavage in her other outfits; Mera shows cleavage in her suit.
Vulgarity/Language: 3 “F” words, 3 “S” words, 2 “My G-d,” 1 “J-sus,” 4 “Oh my G-d,” 1 “Oh Chr-st,” 4 “h*ll,” 1 “d*mn,” 1 “S.O.B.,” 1 “a” word, 1 “b*stard,” 1 “Swear to G-d”
Alcohol/Drugs: We see people drinking in a pub, Arthur asks for whiskey and drinks it from the bottle while walking out and across a pier; We see Alfred pouring alcohol for himself and then later see a closeup of the glass; Arthur drinks from a small flask.
Blood/Gore: Some spoilers ahead… The movie opens with a flashback of Superman impaled in his fight with Doomsday. The camera whirls around and we see the gaping wound in his chest as she screams and his scream is heard around the world in various lands; We see blood on the wall and pooled under a dead man’s head; In a flashback, the hand of a Lantern is sliced off with blood splashing onto the ground. The dismembered bloody hand lands in the foreground of the shot. Darkseid takes an ax to the shoulder/neck with lots of blood spilling out. We see an ax behead a creature with blood splatter. We see a trident stab through a creature with blood pouring out on the ground; Steppenwolf throws an Atlantian against a rock. We see blood splatter on the rock (he’s still alive though); We see Victor lying in a hospital bed with the stump of his arm wrapped up, and some blood on his chest. A sheet is pulled up to his chest but we notice that he’s missing the lower half of body (It’s unsettling); The League fights some Parademons splattering them with blood/goo; Flash gets blasted in the leg and screams in pain (we see the burn and slight look at the wound); We see more of a flashback of Victor’s torso strapped to the board in Dr. Stone’s lab. Then the Motherbox electrifies him and we see him screaming as it turns him into Cyborg; We briefly see a mummified Kryptonian in a tube on Superman’s ship; We briefly see a mummified Kryptonian in a tube on Superman’s ship; Darkseid envisions Wonder Woman dead, stabbing Arthur with a trident and frying other Atlantians, Superman holding a charred skeleton while screaming and then a person holding the head of a Lantern; Superman X-rays the League and we see their skeletal structure, muscles and organs inside; A man locks himself into room where he uses a laser on the Motherbox and gets fried into a skeleton and disintegrates to ash; As the Justice League fights many Parademons, we see them get sliced into pieces and impaled with blood/goo; A Parademon shoots and hits Flash in the side and we briefly see the purple, fleshy wound through his suit. We then see him healing it; We see the bodies of a couple characters being formed with some bone and muscle briefly being seen; Arthur stabs a creature with his trident and we see black blood; Wonder woman beheads a big creature with a spray of black blood and the head slowly lands and slides on the ground. We then see a boot step on it and one of the horns breaks on it; We see a skeleton in a car and a Parademon lands on top.
Violence: Some spoilers ahead… The movie opens with a flashback of Superman impaled in his fight with Doomsday. The camera whirls around and we see the gaping wound in his chest as she screams and his scream is heard around the world in various lands; Arthur throws Bruce wayne against the wall; Men with guns exit a van and shoot up a museum, gunning down many people. They then hold a lot of children hostage at gun point and start the countdown on a bomb. Wonder Woman shows up and lassos a man, dangling him while interrogating him. She then bursts through a door and beats up a bunch of the bad guys. A terrorist shoots at the kids and Wonder Woman blocks it. He switches to rapid fire and she blocks that as well; She does her power block and blows up the room, obliterating the bad guy (we just see his hat land on the ground outside); The Motherbox in the Amazon sends out a wave that tosses the Amazons against the wall. Steppenwolf shows up with his Parademons and they fight the Amazons. One is mortally wounded when shot in the armor. They slice and stab at the creatures and many Amazons fall. The Queen escapes and they seal the temple with everyone else still inside. It then collapses into the ocean; Steppenwolf escapes and fights off many of the Amazons, pursuing the Queen who holds the box. We see one of the Amazon women in slow motion as their eyes and mouth are filled with the orange energy from Steppenwolf’s ax. Another Amazon is trapped under her horse and dies; In flashback, Darkseid strikes the ground, causing lava and fire across the ground in lines. Multiple armies unite and charge and fight in a huge battle with stabbing, slashing of swords and arrows. The hand of a Lantern is sliced off with blood splashing onto the ground. The dismembered bloody hand lands in the foreground of the shot. Darkseid takes an ax to the shoulder/neck with lots of blood spilling out. We see an ax behead a creature with blood splatter. We see a trident stab through a creature with blood pouring out on the ground. The camera then pans over dead bodies lying on the ground (not too bloody); A truck loses control and a car hits it, throwing a girl into the air. Flash catches her in slow motion and then we see the car crash and explode on the street in the distance; Parademons drag Atlantians out of the water to Steppenwolf who is standing on the beach. He holds one up by the throat and throws him against a rock. We see blood splatter on the rock (he’s still alive though). A metal spider crawls onto his head and projects his thoughts so Steppenwolf can read them; We see footage of Cyborg with his head and torso only strapped to a big board; We see the flashback of inside a car when it is suddenly struck by another car and the screen goes black; We see Victor lying in a hospital bed with the stump of his arm wrapped up, and some blood on his chest. A sheet is pulled up to his chest but we notice that he’s missing the lower half of body (It’s unsettling); A cop throws a thug against a wall and struggles with him; We see Parademons carrying off Dr Stone; Steppenwolf attacks Atlantians in Atlantis and throws them around with blood clouds in the water. He holds Mera by the throat against the rocks. She then drains some fluid from him and he hits her to the ground to stop it. Arthur shows up and saves her, fighting him; We see Steppenwolf holding up and interrogating a man with his metal spider on his face. He then throws the man down to the ground. Cyborg saves his dad from being shot and crushes the spider with his suit’s arms. Wonder Woman slices some Parademons with some blood splatter. A Parademon throws Batman around. Flash dodges being shot at. Batman blocks them firing at him. Wonder Woman fights with Steppenwolf. Outside, after Flash rescues people, debris falls around the survivors and Flash quickly pulls the pieces around to avoid hitting them. Cyborg blasts a piece of it that Flash missed (saving more people); Wonder Woman uses her block to throw Steppenwolf back. Batman’s vehicle crashes in a heap. Flash gets blasted in the leg and screams in pain (we see the burn and slight look at the wound). Steppenwolf catches a rocket and shoots the inside of the tunnel with it, bursting the wall so water pours in. Arthur shows up to stop the water and they all climb out; Steppenwolf slams his ax into the ground and lava and fire spreads across the land; We see more of a flashback of Victor’s torso strapped to the board in Dr. Stone’s lab. Then the Motherbox electrifies him and we see him screaming as it turns him into Cyborg; We briefly see a mummified Kryptonian in a tube on Superman’s ship; Darkseid envisions Wonder Woman dead, stabbing Arthur with a trident and frying other Atlantians, Superman holding a charred skeleton while screaming and then a person holding the head of a Lantern; A Motherbox crashes onto a car; Superman X-rays the League and we see their skeletal structure, muscles and organs inside; Cyborg shoots at Superman who fires back with his heat vision. He then fights each of them; A couple military vehicles shoot at Superman. He uses his laser vision to fire back and destroy them. Cyborg attacks him and Superman fights him off. Superman and Wonder Woman head butt each other a couple times. He fries Batman’s arm and pushes him into a car. He then shoots him some more on his other arm till someone breaks it up; Steppenwolf crashes into a building and a man locks himself into room where he uses a laser on the Motherbox and gets fried into a skeleton and disintegrates to ash; Batman crashes his ship and attacks the protective bubble Steppenwolf has over his lair; The Batmobile shoots and levels many Parademons. The Parademons shoot at him and he shoots back. They attack his car. One gets impaled with goo dripping down. Wonder Woman flies in and slices two in half. Aquaman fights them in the sky and rides one through a building to the ground. An explosion flips the Batmobile and Batman ejects. They keep fighting them, impaling Parademons, etc; Batman blows up one of the Parademons’ cannons and shoots ofhers; Arthur and Cyborg shoot at Steppenwolf. Superman stops Steppenwolf’s ax and fights him. He uses his heat ray to slices off one of his horns. A Parademon shoots and hits Flash in the side and we briefly see the purple, fleshy wound through his suit. We then see him healing it; We see the bodies of a couple characters being formed with some bone and muscle briefly being seen; Cyborg sees a vision of his family and, knowing it’s not them, stabs them with his arms and they turn into scary demon-like creatures; Arthur stabs a creature with his trident and we see black blood; Wonder woman beheads a big creature with a spray of black blood and the head slowly lands and slides on the ground. We then see a boot step on it and one of the horns breaks on it; We see a skeleton in a car and a Parademon lands on top.