The following review contains minor spoilers from Zack Snyder’s Justice League Part 3 (Beloved Mother, Beloved Son) and Part 4 (Change Machine). Our review on Part 1 and 2 can be found here.
Determined to keep his promise of unity to Superman, Batman [with Wonder Woman’s help] sets out to recruit additional metahumans to stop Steppenwolf from combining the three mother boxes and bringing hell to Earth. Bruce’s arc really comes to light throughout ZSJL, especially regarding his outlook on heroism. He went from wanting to stop Superman even if there was a 1% chance that he was the enemy (BvS), to having faith that other powerful beings- complete strangers- would do the right thing and help prevent the forthcoming invasion. Superman wasn’t the only one being resurrected in this movie. And that’s what makes Part 3 (Beloved Mother, Beloved Son) and Part 4 (Change Machine) not only my favorite parts of the film, but some of the best moments in CBM history.
One of the metahumans on Bruce’s recruiting list is Barry Allen, the fastest man alive. We first meet Barry submitting a job application at an animal rescue store. A later heartbreaking scene with his father, Henry Allen (played by Billy Crudup), reveals he’s been in between jobs in pursuit of paying for college to study criminal justice — all in hopes of getting his father out of jail one day. It’s scenes like this that truly strengthen the script of this titanic feature and pulled me in. Barry has a hard time slowing down long enough to realize that he can make his own future because he’s understandably hung up on the past. As I sat through this scene, I couldn’t help but cry because I’ve had similar conversations with my own father about not letting the past prevent you from enjoying your present and impacting your future. And this scene ultimately helped me connect to the character more than I ever have- even as a comic book reader.
Barry’s persistent pursuit of justice for his father never prevents him from being the hero he was destined to be, which is so characteristic of him in the comics. His debut scene was one of the most fascinating sequences in the film for me. Here, Zack Snyder’s go-to slow motion technique comes in handy as he uses it to not only amplify the scene but navigate his direction as well. His [Snyder’s] vision of Barry’s speed and its force from Barry’s perspective is one of the best technical features of ZSJL. I’m always intrigued with how directors showcase metahuman capabilities from a practical standpoint, and this did not disappoint. For example, Snyder realizes that physical contact at Barry’s speed could potentially rip a person to shreds if not careful. But in this scene, Barry tenderly pulls Iris out of danger instead of rushing to get the job done. Little details and directional choices like these enhanced the watching experience, capturing my attention for every second of its gorgeous sequence.
Prior to the announcement of the Snyder cut, Zack would often mention that Cyborg/Victor Stone (played by Ray Fisher) was the heart of his movie. As someone who’s seen Justice League (2017) far too many times than I’m willing to admit, I couldn’t fathom how that could be so. But then came ZSJL. In this film, Cyborg’s character is, without a doubt, essential to both the plot and soul of the story. Born out of a mother box, his character arc stands out as the one most important to complete the mission.
This is, in part, due to the fact that Cyborg has to make the choice to rise out of his circumstance to join the League. Unlike Batman, Wonder Woman, and even the Flash, Cyborg’s abilities come with an entire physical change. He’s not only forced to adapt to his new-found connection to technology, but Victor struggles with the fact that this has now replaced his dwindling connection to humanity. As explained to Diana Prince, Victor feels he doesn’t need anyone in this world- I imagine because everyone is out of his life anyway. His heartbreaking scenes connected with me more than I ever thought they would. As someone who felt disconnected with family and friends at a tumultuous time in my life, I saw myself in Victor Stone. Even during the times when I was physically impaired, I pulled away from the people and activities that made me feel most alive – another reason why Victor’s story hit me emotionally.
Even though Cyborg’s existence stems from a tragedy, Victor spends his time caring for and helping others. I don’t know a better example of ‘life resurrected’ than this. Through an exceptionally compelling and visually enriching sequence, Victor helps a single mother out of destitution by a single thought. In my recollection, it’s truly the first time a hero used his power to defeat a different kind of evil — poverty — which made me emotional to no end. Because while Victor is practically all machine, he shows the most heart throughout this 4-hour epic. Not only that, Victor proceeded to implement his heroism at a time when he was at his lowest (declared publicly dead, at odds with his father, without his biggest supporter – his mother). Knowing how it feels to help others when you are at your lowest is a great feeling that pulls you back towards humanity. And Ray Fisher does this with outstanding conviction. His portrayal of Cyborg makes it all the more beautiful as his arc is central to the constant theme within Zack Snyder’s Justice League and the heroes’ ability to save the world altogether.
With his new recruits, Batman and Wonder Woman lead the team to Stryker’s island to take down Steppenwolf and his parademons. When I tell you I held my breath for the majority of this sequence, that is not an exaggeration. This is mostly because it was epic finally seeing these characters work together to accomplish the mission in the way that Zack originally intended. And instead of cheesy lines, recycled music, and questionable sequences — yes I’m referring to that Flash/WW moment from Justice League (2017) — we are able to witness our favorite characters being exceptional and badass like the mythological Gods they are. One of my favorite moments that really emphasized their God-like powers was when Snyder showed Barry’s speed force from the human perspective, and it was nothing short of glorious. Why was it cut out? The world will never know.
Even in their temporary defeat, the League rejoins — this time with Aquaman (played by Jason Momoa) — to come up with a better plan to prevent Steppenwolf’s victory. Change Machine is probably my second favorite chapter (behind Beloved Mother, Beloved Son) of this superhero adventure, as it strongly reinforces Superman’s importance when it comes to hope and saving the world. Up until this point, the League has gotten by on their remembrance and spirit of Superman to lead them into battle. It’s what makes each hero’s journey in this film so compelling and emotionally attractive. But as time runs out, and the fight becomes more difficult, they realize that unifying behind that hope (Superman) is the only way. This is a concept I’ve always gotten out of Snyder’s superhero films – even dating back to Man of Steel, through BvS, and even now:
You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards… they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun, Kal.Jor-El (Russell Crowe) | Man of Steel (2013)
One of the only things I had a hard time loving during this chapter was the conversation between Martha (played by Diane Lane) and Lois Lane (played by Amy Adams). Don’t get me wrong. The conversation itself is wonderful and really speaks to the volumes of how grief is processed for different people. For me, it was actually the Martian Manhunter reveal that totally stripped this scene from its sentimental value. And it also begs the question of why the General didn’t choose to join the heroes in the fight from the beginning. A missed opportunity? Perhaps. But an odd choice that seemed to want to please some fans instead of actually making sense for the story progression.
In general, chapters 3 and 4 are still perfect to me despite my nitpicks. They showcase the importance of Superman to the story, its heroes and his loved ones. As individuals, these heroes are strong and capable. But in unity, they cannot be defeated. As they come to this realization, their hope in each other is resurrected, foreshadowing the chapter to come and leaving behind all doubt that the Age of Heroes would never come again.
Overall score for Part 3 and Part 4: