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"ZACK SNYDER'S JUSTICE LEAGUE"
(2021) (Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Superhero Action: Batman tries to assemble a team of superheroes to battle a powerful villain who's intent on destroying Earth.
PLOT:

Following the death of Clark Kent, a.k.a. Superman (HENRY CAVILL), that's left his girlfriend, Lois Lane (AMY ADAMS), and mother, Martha (DIANE LANE), still buried in grief, the world feels like a far less safe place. That's something for which Bruce Wayne, a.k.a. Batman (BEN AFFLECK), feels responsible, what with having previously battled the superhero, ultimately resulting in his demise. Sensing something bad is about to happen, Bruce decides he must assemble a group of fellow superheroes to save the day. But Arthur Curry, a.k.a. Aquaman (JASON MOMOA), wants no part of that although Wonder Woman (GAL GADOT), a.k.a. Diana Prince, is quickly onboard with him.

Batman's urgency increases when a powerful being known as Steppenwolf (CIARAN HINDS) arrives on Earth with flying, humanoid type creatures known as parademons as his army. He's intent on collecting three powerful "mother boxes" that have been long hidden away after his leader, Darkseid (voiced by RAY PORTER), unsuccessfully attempted to conquer Earth long ago. When brought together, those boxes will form the Unity which will ultimately destroy Earth and put Steppenwolf back in good graces with Darkseid.

With Wonder Woman and then Aquaman on board, the growing Justice League is joined by Victor Stone, a.k.a. Cyborg (RAY FISHER), a part human-part machine being created by his father, Silas (JOE MORTON) to save his life, and Barry Allen, a.k.a. The Flash (EZRA MILLER), a hyper and naive young man who moves at ultra-high speeds. Together, they set out to stop Steppenwolf from creating the Unity from the "mother boxes" and destroying all of humankind.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10

The following is an amendment to our earlier review (in full below) of the original version of this film, released in 2017.

It's rare for a director to have "final cut" of a movie they've helmed, unless they've put up their own money to cover production and other expenses or when they've achieved enough power in the industry to negotiate such control.

Otherwise, the studios usually have final say and if the director doesn't like the edits, cuts, and such that they propose, they're sometimes replaced with someone hired to fix whatever they deem as the problem. At other times, external circumstances force such a switch, and that was the case with the original, 2017 theatrical release of "Justice League."

Zack Snyder shot the film - and had to deal with reported studio-backed rewrites of the script during production - but had to step away due to the death of his daughter. Josh Whedon was brought in to take over, two months of reshoots were ordered, and the resultant film apparently ended up different than what Snyder had envisioned. Critics weren't exactly pleased, it ended up losing money for the studio, and diehard fanboys and girls started clamoring for Snyder's version to be released.

Snyder then fueled the fire by hinting that a version of his cut did exist, the studio eventually relented to demands to see it and pumped additional millions into additional editing, and that version, "Zack Snyder's Justice League" now arrives on HBO Max. In the old-fashioned TV aspect ratio of 4:3 (as it was originally intended for IMAX) and at a whopping 243 minutes.

Yes, you read that correctly, a bit more than four hours long. Word is that Warner Bros. wanted a limited series for their streaming service, but that would have likely necessitated even more editing and reshoots to give each episode the usual story arc of beginning, middle and end within the context of the same for the overall offering.

Having now endured - um, sat through - that, I can say that it's definitely too long in regard to being a single movie, and some parts easily could have been trimmed or even jettisoned with no likely ill-effect. That said, it's nice to have some parts and characters more fleshed out this time around - most notably Ray Fisher playing Victor/Cyborg - and some scenes from the original version have been moved around or eliminated altogether.

And certain scenes still work their magic (and induce giddy goose bumps), most notably those featuring Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman and Ezra Miller as The Flash. But the main villain still feels weak like before (and keeps reminding me of the horned demon character in the old Tom Cruise movie "Legend"). And the overall plot of him gathering and uniting the powerful "mother boxes" now seems even less compelling when compared to the fairly similar events in the last two "Avengers" movies and the far more complex antagonist, Thanos.

So, it still comes off like a mixed bag, with some moments that are terrific, but other parts that aren't as magical or engaging. And it's simply far too long for anyone but the fan boys and girls who clamored for it (who will probably think it's the greatest thing since, well, the last thing they demanded and got). "Zack Snyder's Justice League" rates as a barely better 6 out of 10.

Original Review:

I have no idea who first came up with the idea for crossovers in the world of entertainment, but from a marketing and bottom-line perspective, it's usually a brilliant move. I'm guessing some book series long ago probably originated the idea, but since then it's been used countless times in movies, TV shows, songs, and especially comic books.

After all, if you want to draw in more readers, viewers, or listeners, tap into the popularity of other characters or artists and bring their fans into the fold. Following in the footsteps of their print predecessors, comic book movies have been doing that of late.

That's particularly true in the Marvel universe where the standalone films slowly but brilliantly started including cameos from other characters, culminating in the all-star ensemble of the "Avengers" flicks that's now continued in other supposedly single character films that have included many others (such as "Captain America: Civil War" and the more recent "Thor: Ragnarok").

DC comics took a while to recognize that trend (despite having a property already established for just that) but have slowly but surely inching their way there, with the closest of recent being "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" that featured not only those two titular characters, but also the third act intro of Wonder Woman.

If the latter part of that title wasn't an obvious dead giveaway about where things were headed, the follow-up to that financially successful but critically maligned film comes out this week in "Justice League," DC Comics' answer to Marvel's all-star assembly films. But rather than wait for all the standalone films to introduce all the characters, the powers that be decided to include the likes of Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg in this offering first before giving them their own pics that are coming soon.

The good news is that those behind the scenes finally figured out that audiences of superhero movies prefer them not to be as morose, grim, and humorless as most of DC Comics latest offerings and like a little Marvel style humor thrown into the mix. I can't say if the late in production replacement of original director Zack Snyder with Joss Whedon (due to a family tragedy for the former) had anything to do with that change, but it's a welcome one that greatly benefits the offering.

I'd wager there's more humor in this single film than all its immediate predecessors combined, and much of that stems from Ezra Miller showing up to play the hyperactive, lightning bolt activated The Flash character. Much like Quicksilver in the "X-Men" movies he zips along at high speed (thus making everyone else seem frozen in a freeze frame collage), resulting in some similarly fun scenes. But his naive eagerness and interaction with others is what makes him stand out.

Jason Momoa gets some less hyper moments of humor playing the loner surfer dude type Aquaman character, but it's the presence of Gal Gadot reprising her Wonder Woman character that truly saves the day...and the film. The actress is so natural and comfortable in the part and the character is so powerful (above and beyond the physical) that you simply can't take your eyes off her, and the film really excels whenever she's present.

Ray Fisher is okay as the part-human, part machine Cyborg character, but isn't explored enough to make him that interesting. Ben Affleck seems tired and ready to hang up the caped crusader character (which sort of parallels his Bruce Wayne alter-ego), and a character from past films makes a return (guess who) and livens up the proceedings in the third act.

Which is a good thing as both the villain (Ciaran Hinds, heavily assisted by CGI) and his plot (assembling some powerful boxes to destroy the world) aren't anything worth writing home about. Many of these films really fail to create compelling antagonists and this is yet another prime example. As a result, you're not as invested in watching him get his comeuppance that you automatically know is going to involve lots of CGI heavy, multiple character fight sequences where too much is occurring and looks fake up on the screen.

Thankfully, the return of that one character along with the presence of Gadot, Miller and Marvel-like humor makes most of the film easy and sometimes quite entertaining to watch. I would have preferred a more compelling story (rather than the usual end of the world material), better villain and less reliance on special effects, but enough of the pic works to earn a recommendation. "Justice League" rates as a 5.5 out of 10.




Reviewed March 18, 2021 / Posted March 19, 2021


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