Comic book franchises come and go. For every Marvel Cinematic Universe, there’s an Amazing Spider-Man, Dredd or Hellboy that failed to take off. Reboots and remakes are common. But it’s unique for a franchise flop to get a do-over like Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Wrangled from his hands due to a horrible combination of family tragedy and studio meddling, the film first manifested in 2017; a garbled hash of recut action sequences and reshoots by emergency director Joss Whedon. Whedon and WB’s Justice League was more coherent than anyone could have expected it to be, but reeked of studio flip-flopping and a director struggling to make the most of a bad lot.
Finally, after years of fan clamouring (and, uh, questionable social media behaviour), Snyder’s original vision is restored. Or at least, something which passes for it. Revising Whedon’s version, re-editing old action sequences and shooting brand new material, it’s hard to know what Zack Snyder originally envisioned for his 2-Part Justice League. This probably isn’t that.
What it is, however, is undeniably Zack Snyder. Cut free from the demands of the studio, it’s the most Zack Snyder of Zack Snyder’s DC trilogy, packed full of the director’s trademark Snyder-isms. It’s also the same film that Joss Whedon made, more or less. Two hours more, to be precise.
When Superman’s death screams awaken one of the Mother Boxes of Apokalips, an ancient threat returns to Earth. Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), looking to terraform the planet and redeem himself in the eyes of his master, Darkseid. Steppenwolf is here reinvented, with better motivation, but much worse armour. He looks hideous (almost all of the CGI does) but his demotion to lowly stooge of Darkseid… really works.
The rest of the film’s big beats play out largely as they did in 2017. Bruce (Ben Affleck) and Diana (Gal Gadot) attempt to recruit the Justice League - Aquaman (Jason Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher). Of everyone, Fisher’s Cyborg really benefits from the extra screen time. Justice League is Cyborg’s film, and only he and Barry get anything approaching a satisfying arc out of it. Batman? Subdued and boring. Aquaman and Wonder Woman? Lost amidst the chaos. Superman? Barely in it.
Still, the extra two hours also score viewers a little more of Jeremy Irons’s Alfred, some more Commissioner Gordon (JK Simmons) and a handful of high-profile cameos. Action sequences are rejigged, mostly to make the thing more gory and violent than it was before. Limbs are lopped off, bad guys are beheaded, and Wonder Woman murders a group of terrorists in front of a class of schoolgirls. “Can I be like you someday?” a little girl asks Diana, after watching her brutally explode a guy. “You can be anything you want to be,” Diana replies, apparently having been through a lot since 1984.
This is the Justice League that Man of Steel and Batman v Superman begets – hideously ugly, frequently confused and needlessly long. Never before has a four-hour film accomplished so little. It’s three-and-a-half hours leading up to an ending we’ve already seen, a black suit, and Batman saying ‘fuck’. Its glorified post-credits sequence – sorry, epilogue – feels insulting, like Snyder fanning the flames of the next hashtag – #restorethesnyderverse.
And yet, in spite of everything, the film is an improvement upon its predecessor in every conceivable way. It’s more interesting; more heartfelt; more sincere. The humour is warmer, the characters more rounded and more human. The action sequences have more bite, the villains more imposing.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is not a good film, but, for all its foibles, it’s a better bad film than the one Joss Whedon tried to make. It's the same film, but... more.