Review: ‘Zack Snyder’s Justice League,’ starring Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ray Fisher, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa and Henry Cavill

March 15, 2021

by Carla Hay

Ray Fisher, Ezra Miller, Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot and Jason Momoa in “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” (Photo courtesy of HBO Max/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Zack Snyder’s Justice League”

Directed by Zack Snyder

Culture Representation: Set in several fictional DC Comics places such as Gotham, Metropolis, Central City and Atlantis, “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Asians), ranging from superheroes to regular citizens to villains.

Culture Clash: An all-star group of superheroes called Justice League gather to do battle against evil entities that want to take over the universe.

Culture Audience: “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of epic superhero movies that have a dark and brooding tone.

Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds) in “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” (Photo courtesy of HBO Max/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is a four-hour superhero movie that can be summed up in four words: “definitely worth the wait.” Also unofficially known as “The Snyder Cut,” this extravaganza is the director’s cut of 2017’s “Justice League,” an all-star superhero movie that was panned by many fans and critics. Even though Snyder was the only director credited for “Justice League,” it’s a fairly well-known fact that after Snyder couldn’t complete the film because his 20-year-old daughter Autumn committed suicide, writer/director Joss Whedon stepped in to finish the movie. Whedon made some big changes from Snyder’s original vision of “Justice League.” (There’s a dedication to Autumn that says “For Autumn” at the end of “Zack Snyder’s Justice League.”) The “Justice League” that was released in 2017 had a lot of wisecracking jokes, and the violence and language were toned down to a more family-friendly version of the movie.

Since the release of “Justice League” in 2017, fans of DC Comics movies demanded that Warner Bros. Pictures “release The Snyder Cut” of the film. And due to popular demand, Snyder was able to make the “Justice League” movie he originally intended to make. “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is part of HBO Max’s lineup of original content.

As promised, “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is a darker and more violent version of the 2017 “Justice League” movie, but it also has a lot more emotional depth and gives room for more character development and intriguing possibilities within the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” was written by Chris Terrio, with Snyder, Terrio and Will Beall credited for the story concept. Terrio and Whedon were credited screenwriters for “Justice League.”

Does “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” live up to the hype? Mostly yes. The scenes with the main characters are of higher quality and are more riveting than in the original “Justice League.” The action scenes are more realistic. The overall pacing and tone of the story are also marked improvements from the 2017 version of “Justice League.” However, the reason for the cameo appearance of The Joker (played by Jared Leto) in the movie’s epilogue isn’t what it first appears to be, so some fans might be disappointed. And the appearance of Ryan Choi/Atom (played by Ryan Zheng) is very brief (less than two minutes), and he doesn’t talk in the movie.

Many people watching “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” have already seen “Justice League,” so there’s no need to rehash the plot of “Justice League.” This review will consist primarily of the content in “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” that was not in “Justice League.” For those who have not seen “Justice League,” the basic summary is that an all-star group of superheroes have assembled to battle an evil villain that wants to take over the universe by gathering three mystical Mother Boxes, which are living machines that have enough energy to cause widespread destruction.

The superheroes are Batman/Bruce Wayne (played by Ben Affleck), Superman/Clark Kent (played by Henry Cavill), Wonder Woman/Diana Prince (played by Gal Gadot), Cyborg/Victor Stone (played by Ray Fisher), The Flash/Barry Allen (played by Ezra Miller) and Aquaman/Arthur Curry (played by Jason Momoa)—all seen together in a live-action movie for the first time in “Justice League.” The villain is Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds), but “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” features the first movie appearances of two arch villains that have more power and authority than Steppenwolf: DeSaad (voiced by Peter Guinness) and the supreme villain Darkseid (voiced by Ray Porter).

“Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is divided into chapters with these titles:

  • Part 1 – “Don’t Count On It, Batman”
  • Part 2 – “Age of Heroes”
  • Part 3 – “Beloved Mother, Beloved Son”
  • Part 4 – “Change Machine”
  • Part 5 – “All the King’s Horses”
  • Part 6 – “Something Darker”
  • Epilogue

In “Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” Steppenwolf is more of a sniveling lackey than he was in “Justice League,” because there are multiple scenes of him acting subservient to DeSaad. Steppenwolf is still aggressive against his foes, while DeSaad is sinister and imperious, and Darkseid is fearsome and unforgiving. In a new scene between DeSaad and Steppenwolf, DeSaad scolds Steppenwolf for betraying the Great One and Steppenwolf’s own family. Steppenwolf replies with regret, “I saw my mistake!”

When Bruce goes to Iceland to recruit Arthur, their confrontation is a little more violent and Bruce flashes a wad of cash to entice Arthur to join Justice League. This scene is extended to show some Icelandic women singing on the seashore after Arthur declines Bruce’s offer, Arthur takes off his sweater, and swims away. One of the women picks up Arthur’s sweater and smells it, not in a salacious way, but as a way to give her comfort.

Back in Metropolis, there’s previously unseen footage of Daily Planet newspaper reporter Lois Lane (played by Amy Adams) getting coffee for a local cop. It becomes clear that this was a routine for her, since she’s seen doing this again in the scene where she finds out that Superman has come back to life. It gives some depth to Lois trying to have a normal routine after the death of her fiancé Clark Kent/Superman. It’s mentioned in the movie that Lois took a leave of absence from the Daily Planet after Clark died.

And there’s an extended scene of Wonder Woman fighting off terrorists in a government building. “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” has less shots of Wonder Woman fighting in slow motion and more shots of her speeded up while she’s fighting. And in the terrorist scene, “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” puts more more emphasis on Wonder Woman saving a group of visiting schoolkids (who are about 10 or 11 years old) and their teachers, who are taken hostage during this fight.

After Wonder Woman defeats the terrorists, she says to a frightened girl: “Are you okay, princess?” The girl replies, “Can I be you someday?” Wonder Woman answers, “You can be anything you want to be.”

Victor Stone/Cyborg gets the most backstory in “Zack Snyder’s Justice League.” Viewers will see the car accident that led to his scientist father Silas Stone (played by Joe Morton) deciding to save Victor’s life by using the Mother Box on Earth to turn Victor into Cyborg. The love/hate relationship that Victor has with his father is given more emotional gravitas in “Zack Snyder’s Justice League.” Viewers see in the movie that even before the car accident, there was tension between Silas and Victor because of Silas’ workaholic ways. There are also never-before-seen scenes with Victor’s mother Dr. Elinore Stone (played by Karen Bryson), who died in the car crash.

And speaking of car crashes, there’s an added scene of Barry Allen /The Flash applying for a job as a dog walker at a pet store called Central Bark. Before he walks into the store, he locks eyes with passerby Iris West (played by Kiersey Clemons), in the way that people do when they have mutual attraction to each other. Iris gets into her car to drive off, but a truck driver (who was distracted by reaching for a hamburger he dropped on the floor of the vehicle) slams into Iris’ car, and Barry rescues her.

During this rescue, Barry grabs a hot dog wiener from a food vendor cart that was smashed in the accident and gets back to the pet store in time to feed the wiener to the dogs. Barry then quips to the store manager, “Do I start on Monday?” It’s an example of the touches of humor that the movie has, to show it isn’t completely dark and gloomy. By the way, this car accident/rescue scene is the only appearance of Iris in the movie.

“Justice League” got a lot of criticism for the movie’s corny dialogue that many viewers thought cheapened what should have been a more serious tone to the movie. And even the parts of “Justice League” that were supposed to be comedic were slammed by fans and critics for not being very funny. “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” removes a few of the most cringeworthy lines that “Justice League” had.

For example, in the “Justice League” scene where Barry/The Flash and Victor/Cyborg are digging up Superman’s grave, Barry makes an awkward attempt to bond with Victor by extending his hand in a fist bump toward Victor, but Victor doesn’t return the gesture. Barry then makes a remark that the timing might be off and the fist bump might be too racially charged for the moment. These lines are completely cut from “Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” but the movie still has The Flash/Cyborg fist bump after the group showdown battle with Steppenwolf.

The gravedigging scene in “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is changed to Barry saying to Victor: “Wonder Woman: Do you think she’d go for a younger guy?” Victor replies, “She’s 5,000 years old, Barry. Every guy is a younger guy.”

Another removal from “Justice League” are some words that Lois utters when she and a resurrected Superman are reunited, and he takes her to a corn field on the Kent family farm. In the original “Justice League” Lois tells him, “You smell good.” And he replies, “Did I not before?” In “Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” Lois’ line is changed to “You spoke.” And Superman gives the same reply, “Did I not before?”

But make no mistake: Even though “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” has some dialogue that’s intended to be funny, the movie definitely has a heavier and edgier tone than “Justice League.” Aquaman still does some joyous whooping and hollering during the fight scenes with Steppenwolf, but it’s toned down in “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” so he doesn’t sound so much like a happy guy at a frat party. And these superheroes say occasional curse words that wouldn’t make the cut in a movie that’s intended for people all ages.

Even the music that plays during the end credits reflects this more somber and more reflective tone. In “Justice League,” the music playing over the end credits was Gary Clark Jr.’s bluesy-rock, upbeat version of The Beatles’ “Come Together.” In “Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” the music that plays over the end credits is Allison Crowe’s raw and soulful version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” which is a song that’s often played at funerals in tribute to someone.

In “Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” there’s a lot more screen time devoted to showing the aftermath of death and how the loved ones left behind are grieving, including extended scenes of how Superman’s adoptive mother Martha Kent (played by Diane Lane) and Lois are dealing with Clark/Superman’s death. Arthur/Aquaman keeps going back to the deep ocean to spend time with the preserved body of his father. Victor visits the gravesite of his mother. And then later, Victor goes to the gravesites of his mother and his father, who was killed when a STAR Labs building exploded. Wonder Woman and Aquaman discuss a past war between the Amazons and the Atlanteans and how there are still lingering repercussions of that destruction.

“Zack Snyder’s Justice League” also delivers more details on what happened in the STAR Labs building during the part of the movie where Superman was resurrected and Steppenwolf stole the Mother Box that was hidden by humans on Earth. This new scene gives more context and shows that Steppenwolf did not get the Mother Box so easily. Victor made a decision that cost him his life, while certain members of Justice League were inside the building soon after the Mother Box was taken.

There are also extended scenes with Mera (played by Amber Heard), Nuidis Vulko (played by Willem Dafoe), Alfred Pennyworth (played by Jeremy Irons) and Deathstroke (played by Joe Manganiello). And the epic battle with Steppenwolf toward the end is truly a spectacle to behold. Viewers will see DeSaad’s and Darkseid’s reactions to this fight. The movie’s epilogue includes a conversation between Bruce and Martian Manhunter that strongly indicates that fans should look for Martian Manhunter to play a major role in another DCEU movie. Simply put: “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is mostly a triumph and can easily be considered one the the best DCEU movies of all time.

HBO Max will premiere “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” on March 18, 2021.

Review: ‘Let Him Go,’ starring Diane Lane and Kevin Costner

November 6, 2020

by Carla Hay

Diane Lane and Kevin Costner in “Let Him Go” (Photo by Kimberley French/Focus Features)

“Let Him Go”

Directed by Thomas Bezucha

Culture Representation: Taking place in Montana and North Dakota in the early 1960s, the dramatic thriller “Let Him Go” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with one Native American) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A retired sheriff and his wife in Montana travel to North Dakota to rescue their grandson and their former daughter-in-law from an abusive and violent family.

Culture Audience: “Let Him Go” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in well-acted, well-written dramas where family issues intersect with crime.

Lesley Manville in “Let Him Go” (Photo by Kimberly French/Focus Features)

Movies about child-custody issues usually focus on the parents of the child, but “Let Him Go” is a well-made, taut thriller whose protagonists are grandparents who want to rescue their grandson from an abusive home and raise him in their own loving and safe home. Written and directed by Thomas Bezucha, “Let Him Go” is adapted from Larry Watson’s novel of the same name. It’s a very good cinematic interpretation of the book, because the movie adeptly shows the contrasts of the wide open landscapes with the almost-suffocating anxiety that the grandparents experience as their quest to rescue their grandson becomes increasingly dangerous.

The story takes place in the early 1960s, before mobile phones, email and the Internet would make it easier for the couple at the center of the story to track down the violent clan members who have control of the child. It was also in a time and place (the rural Midwest) when custody battles weren’t very likely to go to court by people who didn’t have the money for legal fees and who preferred to take the law into their own hands. The beginning of “Let Him Go” shows what life was like for the grandparents before this family feud turned their life upside down.

George Blackledge (played by Kevin Costner), who’s a retired sheriff, and his wife Margaret Blackledge (played by Diane Lane) are living a tranquil life on their rural Montana ranch. Also living in their home are George and Margaret’s 27-year-old son James (played by Ryan Bruce), who is their only child; James’ wife Lorna (played by Kayli Carter); and James and Lorna’s infant son James Jr., also known as Jimmy.

George and Margaret have been married about the same amount time (30 years) that George was in law enforcement. Even though George is retired and probably has a pension, the family has an additional household income because Margaret and James have a business where they break/train horses. Lorna is a homemaker, but there’s tension between her and Margaret, because Margaret tends to do things (such as take care of the baby) in the way that Margaret thinks is best.

One day, Margaret and George notice that James has not come back from a horse ride that wasn’t supposed to take very long. George goes out looking for James, and he tragically finds James lying dead on a creek embankment with the horse nearby. James has a broken neck, apparently because he was thrown off by the horse.

The movie then fast-forwards three years later. George, Margaret and Jimmy are the only witnesses to a small wedding ceremony between Lorna and a local man named Donnie Weboy (played by Will Brittain), whose last name is pronounced “wee-boy.” The Weboy surname can be interpreted as an interesting play on words, since Donnie and his three siblings are brothers who live in the shadow of their domineering mother.

It’s never explained in the movie how Donnie and Lorna got to know each other, nor is it mentioned what Donnie does for a living. At the wedding ceremony, Donnie’s personality is indiscernible, and his family is not mentioned until George and Margaret have an urgent reason to find Donnie’s relatives. Even though George and Margaret don’t seem to know much about Donnie’s side of the family, George and Margaret attending this wedding ceremony is a sign that they approve of Lorna and Donnie’s marriage on some level.

After Donnie and Lorna get married, Lorna and Jimmy move out of their comfortable home on the spacious ranch and into a small apartment with Donnie in the closest big city. It’s a move that hits Margaret especially hard emotionally, because she has raised Jimmy as if he were her own son, and she won’t be able to see Jimmy as often as she would like. Margaret and George don’t live close to the city, but they live close enough that they can take a trip by car to visit.

One day, Margaret has driven to Donnie and Lorna’s apartment for a surprise visit. Before she can get to the apartment, Margaret sees Donnie, Lorna and Jimmy walking down a nearby street. She’s shocked and dismayed to see Donnie angrily hit Jimmy in the face and then do the same thing to Lorna. Donnie also grabs Lorna and Jimmy in a forceful and abusive way.

Margaret is so upset that she drives away. When she gets home, she tells George what she saw, but they do nothing but worry about how Jimmy (played by twins Bram Hornung and Otto Hornung) is being raised. It’s a sign of the times, when domestic abuse was a lot less likely to be reported than it is now. Margaret and George also didn’t report the abuse because it’s possible that Lorna and Jimmy would deny the abuse happened, out of fear, and then it would be Margaret’s word against Donnie’s.

After witnessing the abuse, Margaret goes back to the apartment on another day. And she’s in for another shock. A neighbor tells Margaret that Donnie, Lorna and Jimmy abruptly moved away to stay with Donnie’s family in North Dakota. It’s at that point that Margaret makes up her mind to not only track them down but also to get Jimmy and possibly Lorna to move back in with Margaret and George.

At first, George is reluctant to interfere, and he expresses concern that he and Margaret are too old to raise Jimmy. But when George sees that nothing will stop Margaret from this mission, he goes along with her because he thinks that she will need protection. And so, George and Margaret go on a road trip to find Jimmy and rescue him from what they’re sure is an abusive household. “Let Him Go” has several impressive panoramic scenes of the open roads and land during this journey.

The first order of business is to find out where the Weboy family lives in North Dakota. George gets help from his connections in law enforcement. Through this investigation, George and Margaret discover that the Weboy clan is a family of troublemakers with a history of illegal violence. Early on in the trip, George got upset when he found out that Margaret brought a loaded gun. But later on, that gun might come in handy.

During their travels on the open road, George and Margaret meet a young Native American man named Peter Dragswolf (played by Booboo Stewart), who’s in his late teens or early 20s, and has been living on his own for the past three years due to some problems in his family. Peter has a stallion as his only companion. Margaret and Peter bond over their love of horses, and it brings back bittersweet memories of Margaret and George’s son James.

George and Margaret eventually continue on their journey and part ways with Peter. But is this the last time that Peter will be in the story? Of course not.

During many parts of this movie, George and Margaret, who both have very stoic and strong-willed personalities, share silent moments that are neither awkward nor out-of-place. George and Margaret are people who are used to living simple, uncomplicated lives. And their longtime marriage has given them a comfort level where they don’t need to be chatter nonstop to be in tune with each other.

It isn’t long before George and Margaret track down the Weboy relative who will introduce them to the rest of the clan: Billy Weboy (played by Jeffrey Donovan) is one of Donnie’s older brothers. When Billy first meets George and Margaret, Billy comes across as smarmy and deceptive and as someone who likes to play mind games. George and Margaret tell Billy who they are, but don’t tell him about their plans to take Jimmy away. The grandparents just pretend that they only want to visit Jimmy and Lorna.

George is immediately suspicious of Billy and doesn’t try to hide his wariness. Margaret has a different approach because she figures that if she’s nice to Billy, he is more likely to cooperate with them. Margaret’s tactic works. Billy takes them to the Weboy family home, where George and Margaret have a very brief and uncomfortable reunion with Jimmy and Lorna, who appear to be very afraid of living in the Weboy home.

Why was this meeting so awkward? Because the Weboy family’s widowed matriarch Blanche (played by Lesley Manville, in full villainous mode) insists that they stay for dinner, but she sternly orders Jimmy to go to bed because he didn’t finish eating something. Blanche makes it very clear to George and Margaret that she expects all of her sons (and any of her son’s children) to live in her home and abide by her overbearing rules.

Blanche also reveals that she holds a grudge because she and the rest of the Weboys weren’t invited to Donnie’s wedding. Even when George and Margaret explain that Donnie never mentioned his family, and they didn’t know about the Weboy family until recently, Blanche still acts resentful toward George and Margaret. This menacing grandmother also suspects the real reason why George and Margaret have come to town.

Blanche is one of these villains who tries to mask her wickedness with smiles, but her hateful personality can still be seen underneath the fake politeness. Her late husband Henry is briefly mentioned in the movie, but not much else is said about Henry except that he’s dead. In addition to Billy and Donnie, Blanche’s other children are Elton (played by Connor Mackay) and Marvin (played by Adam Stafford).

Donnie is the youngest brother, and he’s the only brother who seems to be married with a child. Donnie definitely acts like a control freak with Lorna and Jimmy, but the one person who has control over Donnie is Blanche. Considering the very restrictive lifestyle imposed on Lorna, it might be a little surprising to some viewers that Donnie has let Lorna take a job outside of the home (she works as a sales clerk/cashier in a clothing store), but that might be out of necessity since it’s never made clear what Donnie does for a living, if he works at all.

Movies about adults fighting over custody of a child tend to be argumentative and at times overly melodramatic. “Let Him Go” avoids the usual stereotypes of making this family feud play out in the court system or in public shaming. Instead, the grandparents want to keep this battle as private as possible. The issue of domestic violence is handled in a way that it’s expected to be handled in a story that takes place in an era when survivors of domestic violence didn’t have shelters and assistance programs to the extent that these resources exist now.

There are moments of rage and gripping suspense in “Let Him Go,” but that emotional turn in the movie doesn’t really come later until Margaret and George come to the conclusion that the Weboys are irredeemably abusive and evil. Writer/director Bezucha skillfully brings a “slow burn” quality to this film that leads up to a gripping showdown by the end of the movie.

A lot of the beauty of “Let Him Go” is in how Lane and Costner express the internal resolve of these very determined grandparents. Manville has a fairly predictable villainous character in Blanche, but Manville portrays Blanche as someone who truly believes that what she’s doing is what’s best for her family. What most people would see as abusive, Blanche would describe as “tough love.”

Carter’s portrayal of Lorna character isn’t always the domestic-abuse stereotype of being constantly fearful and meek. She has moments of wanting to assert her individual identity, but she’s usually shut down by an older person (usually Blanche or Margaret), who tells her what she should do instead of asking her what she thinks. Lorna’s background as an orphan is mentioned, and it gives viewers some context over why she doesn’t have any biological relatives who can help her. Later in the story, Lorna and Margaret have an emotionally touching scene where they come to terms with their tension-filled relationship. It’s one of the highlights of the film.

“Let Him Go” has moments that might be a little too quiet or slow-paced for people who expect thrillers to have a lot of non-stop action. But just like Margaret and George in the movie, “Let Him Go” has a steady and deliberate pace that people should not mistake for weakness. Underneath is the type of grit and courage that won’t back down from a fight.

Focus Features released “Let Him Go” in U.S. cinemas on November 6, 2020.