Thousands of years ago, Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) and legions of parademons tried to take over the Earth using the power of three Mother Boxes. The scheme only failed because of an alliance of Olympian Gods, the Amazons, the Atlanteans, Humanity, and Extraterrestrial Beings. When Steppenwolf’s army was defeated, the Mother Boxes were separated and hidden in different locations. In the present, humanity is in mourning two years after the death of Superman. This has triggered the Mother Boxes and Steppenwolf returns to Earth. He sets out to gather the boxes and use them to terraform Earth into a twin of Steppenwolf’s home world.
Steppenwolf retrieves one Mother Box from Themyscira, where the Amazons live. Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) warns her daughter Diana (Gal Gadot), who is out in the world. She joins Bruce Wayne or Batman (Ben Affleck) in trying to obtain the help of other powerful metahumans. Wayne seeks out Arthur Curry or Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Barry Allen or the Flash (Ezra Miller). Diana locates Victor Stone or Cyborg (Ray Fisher). Bruce Wayne is unable to recruit Aquaman, but the Flash is quick (sorry!) to join up. Cyborg is reluctant to come out of the shadows but agrees to help them locate Steppenwolf until his father Silas Stone (Joe Morton) and other employees of STAR (Scientific and Technological Advanced Research) Laboratories are kidnaped by Steppenwolf.
He also attacks an Atlantean outpost to retrieve the next Mother Box, which prompts Aquaman to take action. Cyborg brings the last Mother Box to the superhero team. It had been used to rebuild Stone’s body after the accident that nearly killed him. Bruce Wayne decides to use the box to resurrect Superman. Clark Kent’s body is exhumed and placed in amniotic fluid in the Genesis Chamber of the Kryptonian scout ship, with the Mother Box. Superman is resurrected but his memories do not return and he attacks the group. Batman brings in Lois Lane (Amy Adams), who calms him down and takes him to Smallville.
In the turmoil, the last Mother Box is left unguarded and Steppenwolf grabs it. Without Superman, the team travels to a remote village in Russia where Steppenwolf is holed up. They fight their way through the parademons to face Steppenwolf but are unable to get the boxes from him. Superman arrives and helps the Flash evacuate the city, helps Cyborg to separate the Mother Boxes, and defeats Steppenwolf, who is destroyed by his own parademons. Afterwards, the Justice League is set up, Diana steps out into the spotlight, the Flash joins Central City’s police department, Victor works with STAR labs, Aquaman returns to Atlantis, and Superman slips into his persona as reporter Clark Kent. After the credits, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) escapes from Arkham Asylum and recruits Slade Wilson or Deathstroke (Joe Manganiello) to form a league of supervillains, the Legion of Doom.
The film was directed by Zack Snyder, written by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon, and produced by Warmer Brothers, RatPac--Dune Entertainment, Atlas Entertainment, and Cruel and Unusual Films. The process began in 2007 with George Miller set to direct. But the project was cancelled because of production delays and financial concerns. Zack Snyder was hired to direct but he stepped down after his daughter’s suicide and Joss Whedon was hired to write and direct and restructure some scenes. He pretty much remade the movie in his own style and many people connected to the production were seriously put out.
It was one of the most expensive films ever made at the time and had to be called a box-office bomb because it could not possibly make enough money. Warner Brothers lost 60 million dollars. Reviews were decidedly mixed. The action sequences and actors’ performances were praised, but the plot, pacing, generic sort of villain and abundant computer-generated imagery were criticized. Some actors did not like the cuts to their performances. Fans clamored for Zack Snyder’s original version and eventually Zack Snyder’s Justice League was released on HBO Max. Ben Affleck commented on Batman, a serious loner, being forced to take control of the group—a bunch of misfits if there ever was one—and beat them into a small army. He could not have done it without Wonder Woman.
Ciaran Hinds received advice from Liam Neeson, who had inhabited the monster in A Monster Calls. Hinds was unhappy that much of Steppenwolf’s backstory was edited out by Joss Whedon trying to stick to the under-two-hours rule. Screenwriter Chris Terrio called Whedon’s work on the film an act of sabotage. The gods Zeus, Ares, and Artemis were portrayed by fitness model Sergi Constance, stuntman Nick McKinless, and MA fighter Aurore Lauzeral. McKinless’ face was replaced with that of David Thewlis, who was credited with the role. Many scenes with villains and heroes were cut out and then restored in the Zack Snyder Director’s Cut, which is why it seems interminable at 4 hours and 2 minutes. It has more endings than a Tchaikovsky symphony, more denouements than Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.
The Snyder cut is a tour-de-force, however, and if you are a fan and do not balk at the length it is worth sitting through. Snyder’s vision and Whedon’s were simply incompatible. Each version has its passionate adherents. The Whedon humor was either welcomed or derided, and I loved it. And the long and dark Snyder cut can come across as self-indulgent. The consensus among fans is that the Snyder version is better and it is considered the definitive version, but the fans pretty much willed it into existence with their demands and naturally they are pleased with their work. The Snyder version has 71% on Rotten Tomatoes and the Whedon version 39%. I find it hard to understand why either of these films is so hated. I liked them both and I’m a Marvel fan. Despite their flaws, the Justice League films give the Avengers lineup a run for their money.
Icelanders got a laugh because Jason Momoa’s Icelandic was so awful it had to be subtitled in Icelandic. Gal Gadot wore 14 different versions of her costume for four different purposes. She began working on this film the day after finishing with Wonder Woman. She was pregnant the last three months of shooting. Danny Elfman used the Superman theme and the Batman theme at various times in his score. Zack Snyder cites Seven Samurai as an influence. Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter were part of Justice League in the comics, but not in the film. Amy Adams guest starred on Smallville and Buffy. Neither Zack Snyder nor Joss Whedon did any publicity and left all that to the cast.
In the Snyder version, everything Joss Whedon did was removed, and Snyder never saw those scenes. Cyborg had nearly been cut out of the film by Whedon, but all his scenes were restored. Steppenwolf was completely redesigned. Something similar to this happened to Superman II (1980), when the public demanded a Richard Donner cut and got it. On his yacht, Lex Luthor drinks Gout de Diamants Champagne, the most expensive drink on Earth at 1.2 million dollars a bottle. This is the longest superhero movie—an hour longer than Avengers Endgame (2019). Jerry, the cop that Lois gives coffee to was played by Mark McClure, who played Jimmy Olsen in Superman (1978). When Barry refers to Wonder Woman at the Superman exhumation, it is the first time that name was mentioned in the series.