I watched the Zack Snyder Trilogy of DC movies back at the end of March, and I thought I’d share my reviews for all three here. Normally, I post my reviews to my Letterboxd diary instead of my blog, but these ended up super long. So I’m posting them here too:
Zack Snyder Trilogy 1: Man of Steel
Other than some weird story choices here and there… This is, like, really good. It’s exactly the sort of grandiose, operatic adventure that Superman deserves. He’s the savior of Earth, the most powerful being ever known of, and the entire story is his journey towards accepting that call. It’s not particularly deep, and Superman isn’t particularly complex, but you know what? That’s what Superman is all about. It’s a reconstruction without the nostalgia, without the cheese.
I started a Zack Snyder Trilogy watch-through with this film, and this was certainly the easiest to digest. It’s overlong in places, as is always the case with Snyder, but rather than being a flaw, it’s sort of a secret success. Namely, the entire prologue on Krypton. It starts out as that typical MCU-style prologue where characters do stuff years in the past, except it just goes on WAY longer, shows off WAY more of the world and its culture. It’s still not much more than a glimpse, but with amazing art direction that helps cement the sheer power that these characters possess once they all duke it out on Earth. Maybe some people will complain that they’re bored by this sci-fi short film before the actual plot, but it’s a vital tether to the rest of the story, and the trilogy as a whole.
Aside from showing off Superman in a dark but noble origin story, everything’s pretty standard. If not for Hans Zimmer’s wonderful music, Henry Cavill’s wonderful performance, and Zack Snyder’s wonderful visuals, this would be an entirely forgettable affair, but luckily those three things lift it way up there.
Like, the fight scenes are just great, y’all. What in the world are we doing accepting the MCU’s C-tier action when we have stuff like this already showing us what superheroes can truly do when they let go of their limits? Everyone gasped at that one Captain Marvel scene where she blows up all the ships, but it’s just an appetizer compared to the bombastic energy every scene has here.
And that might be part of why this movie has such a mixed reception—the Messiah figure buildup, and then the cataclysmic showdown, don’t exactly give us a lot of escapism. It’s quite difficult to sit back and enjoy the movie as a joyride when we see thousands (hundreds of thousands???) of people dying as Superman and Zod duke it out in the middle of Smallville and Metropolis. The destruction here is so vast that they had to make an entire movie to follow up on its legacy. Joyful this is not.
But that’s the kind of movie we were going to get here. A Nolan-produced, Snyder-directed Superman movie made to launch an entire cinematic universe… It’s huge, it’s self-important, and it’s really well-done.
Also it has a lot of awful product placement and WB should be ashamed of themselves.
One final note: Has anyone ever read Superman: Earth One, the graphic novel by JMS? Replace the villain in that with Zod and it’s almost the exact same story as here. Did that comic only exist to give Nolan and Goyer a template for the movie? It sure feels like it looking back.
Zack Synder Trilogy 2: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (Ultimate Edition)
The whole deal with Zack Snyder, we’ve come to realize, is that constraining his vision is going to hurt the film. Sure, they cut half an hour out of BvS and got more screenings per day, but they also turned the movie into a complete mess.
That is not to say that the Ultimate Cut isn’t a mess, because it is. But it’s a sort of beautiful mess, and one I enjoy more with each viewing.
There’s like eight subplots going on all at the same time, weaving in and out haphazardly. So many characters all wrapped up in a villain plot so convoluted it makes Con Air look straightforward. You can follow it if you’re engaged and willing to accept what the movie throws at you, but it IS quite silly.
Man of Steel was already filled with constant over-the-top Christ imagery, but the striking visuals are ramped up significantly here. Half the film exists just to give our heroes space to make cool poses… and I’m ALL here for it. It’s stupid and it’s silly and it’s glorious.
So much of the film is quite impractical. Both Superman and Bruce Wayne are just dumb enough that they are fooled by Lex Luthor’s ridiculous plots and forced to do battle, but never so idiotic that you’re yelling at the screen.
And, like Man of Steel, this movie has some excellent action including that climactic Superman vs. Batman battle that everyone came here to see. Maybe it doesn’t last quite as long as I’d have liked in a nerd kind of way, but I’m very satisfied to have gotten it.
Yeah, yeah, “MARTHA” and all that; it’s very silly and easy to make fun of, but I put it in the same vein as stuff like the Star Wars prequels or Sam Raimi Spider-Man; iconic lines that wouldn’t work in any other context than a sci-fi adventure film. Somehow, it actually works.
I definitely find this to be the weakest of the Zack Snyder Trilogy, but it’s still great in its own part, and especially as the connective tissue between Man of Steel and Justice League. It sure does spend three hours just to set up an entire fictional universe and then get some superheroes to beat each other up, but somehow it’s won me over.
ON THE FIRST WATCH, I absolutely despised the pointless stretch of plot with the “Knightmare” scene and the backdoor pilot Justice League stuff. Out of all the stuff to cut from the film, WB decided that the character development had to go, but the unexplained dream sequence was OK to stay? Then… something happened. Justice League actually came out in its real form, and suddenly it all works. It’s pointless in this movie, but in the entire saga? It’s the kind of slow burn buildup that you just cannot get in Hollywood… and we may not actually see, anyway, depending on how the next few years go.
As a standalone feature, BvS barely functions. Half the story is spent dealing with the fallout of the massive destruction of Man of Steel, and the other half is spent setting up the film we actually wanted to see. Like Attack of the Clones or Matrix Reloaded, in a way, it’s both hampered and brought up by the fact that it’s the first entry in a “two-part trilogy.” It took until this full watch-through for me to realize it, but I do quite like it.
Zack Snyder Trilogy 3: Justice League (Snyder Cut)
The case for auteur filmmaking in the streaming age. Why DON’T we just let directors and their creative teams go wild with no repercussions? Well, probably because this now-$300 million-budget film lost a LOT of money on a pure financial basis, and the number of subscribers gained here is a bit tenuous. But on a creative level, I just love it.
I don’t know if this is the template going forward or a blip before the studios finally figure streaming out, but if this truly is the golden age of bizarre, expensive arthouse endeavors, then I’m all for it. Thanks to the streaming wars, we got The Irishman; we got 6 Underground; we got I’m Thinking of Ending Things; we got Borat 2; and now we’ve gotten Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Big-name directors want to make their preposterous passion projects, and desperate studios greenlight them without really thinking about it too hard.
The streaming wars also give us stuff like Mute, Velvet Buzzsaw, and War Machine—the kind of polarizing misfires that used to churn through the box office with zero fanfare and now churn through streaming catalogs with zero fanfare… It’s sort of business as usual, but everything is way bigger budgeted and with way less studio oversight.
How does Zack Snyder’s Justice League fit into this? Well, it’s the epitome of blockbuster excess and creative flouting. It’s like Zack Snyder walked into a room filled with his favorite directors and told them to eat dirt, because he’s the real game in town. The Snyder Cut makes movies like Spider-Man 3, The Irishman, Jupiter Ascending, and Welcome to Marwen look like standard fare.
Hell, WB just released the utterly bizarre Wonder Woman 1984, and this tops even that for the sheer insanity of it all.
This is a four-hour movie.
There’s so much here that I feel like reviewing it all would take five thousand words and a bunch of subheadings… And honestly I’m probably not up to that on a first watch. Just know that this is supreme storytelling that, despite all odds, actually works.
I didn’t HATE the theatrical Justice League cut, but knowing what I know now, I am certain I will despise it on a rewatch. This version is every single good part of that one, and everything bad removed.
Eight main characters who each get their due with entire fleshed out subplots—all six Justice League members are finally fleshed out, plus Lois Lane and Steppenwolf. There is no reason in the world to have so much going on, and for it NOT to feel like a manic trip like Batman v Superman. And yet there’s not even a weak link here. All the characters are great, especially Cyborg and Flash, who REALLY benefit from the extra time available to them.
A full-on ten minute flashback where an entirely unrelated cast of heroes fights Darkseid in the ancient past. An extended sequence of Icelandic folk singing. EVEN MORE Knightmare dream sequences out of nowhere. It’s all just… so MUCH.
The fight scenes, reimagined from their mediocre theatrical versions, have become absolutely fantastic. Sci-fi/fantasy fans should look no further, because Justice League delivers like a dozen times over with some of the most memorable action scenes in recent memory.
The Wonder Woman bank fight…
The Flash rescuing Iris West…
That football game in the snow…
The Darkseid flashback…
“Your kid was one of them, Dad. One of the best of the best…”
So many phenomenal moments. Who cares if it’s dumb and silly? It’s a comic book movie that runs on comic book rules, and it’s jam-packed with cool poses, lots of punching, and sci-fi nonsense. It has a full THIRTY MINUTE final action scene, which is just the greatest thing ever.
Basically this is a full season of TV compressed as much as possible without losing anything. It’s something I’ve said before about The Phantom Menace, and even about Batman v. Superman itself, but it’s truer than ever with Justice League. Unlike a TV show, though, there’s no filler here. It’s the shortest possible version of itself, and yes I’m saying that about a four-hour movie.
Plus, I don’t think any TV show will ever reach the supreme height that this movie did. Game of Thrones Season 8, one of the biggest-budget TV seasons ever, totaled at $90 million for six hours. Justice League was a third shorter and cost more than three times as much! Maybe that new Lord of the Rings show could surprise, but it’s “only” going to cost $150 million for eight hours of television. It’s still less than, like, Alita: Battle Angel.
That is all, of course, a point against Justice League in the meta sense. Because for as fleshed-out and lengthy as this film is, it’s also not the complete story. Just like Batman v. Superman, it sets up so much that you’re left at the end with the promise of even more insanity to come….
…But will it?
I don’t know if Justice League 2 or 3, like the media says were part of the plan, will ever actually happen. Will they be 3-4 hours long like the last two parts in this saga? Will they go straight to HBO Max and skip theaters? It’s all worrisome, because this is not a story you can tell for $25 million an episode. And this is also not a story that sells tons of merchandise and appeals well to kids. It’s a perilous path forward; if they never do follow up on Justice League with Zack Snyder at the helm, it’s going to be really weird and probably hurt the movie a little bit.
But at I’ll be happy for the phenomenal picture we got this time. An absolute miracle that it even exists, and we should be happy for it.
Last note: Since I first watched this movie, I have rewatched the climactic Mother Box moment three or four times, and I’m just astounded by how well-done it is. Flash does his best, and then passes his baton to Cyborg in a scene that’s frankly brilliant. Any blockbuster filmmaker should be taking notes, because this is how you make a crowdpleasing moment.
I have a lot of other blog posts on movies! I hope you’ll read them.