WARNING: The following article contains minor spoilers for director Zack Snyder’s Justice League, in theaters now.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League finally brings together DC Comics’ premier superhero team in an epic ensemble film that's also one of the cinematic universe’s most hopeful, humorous outings. Despite that success, however, the movie has received mixed reviews. While issues like a lackluster villain and a sometimes-wonky story have been at the forefront of those criticisms, there was one concern that dominated the pre-release narrative: runtime.
So, is Justice League too short? Is there enough movie there to do justice to Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, Aquaman and The Flash’s nascent team, or are we being cheated out of our hard-earned money? The short answer is, sure, Justice League could stand to be a little longer, but it’s an enjoyable movie even without the benefit of those extra minutes. If nothing else, the worst thing about the shorter runtime is how it overshadowed the conversation around the movie, making it sound like something is missing. The irony is that earlier DC Extended Universe releases were criticized as bloated.
So, Who Cares About Runtimes?
The DCEU is populated by movies that go long. Really long. The Warner Bros. franchise kicked off, retroactively, in 2013 with Snyder’s Man of Steel, which ran for 143 minutes; that’s two hours and 23 minutes. The follow-up, 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, was 151 minutes. David Ayer’s Suicide Squad was a welcome respite from lengthy superhero movies (or, in this case, “supervillain movies”) at 123 minutes, but Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman was just shy of Man of Steel’s length at 141 minutes. Justice League is the shortest release to date in the DCEU, clocking in at exactly 120 minutes -- two hours on the dot.
The concern about DCEU runtimes started in earnest with Batman v Superman, the longest of the DCEU films. It's a tangled mess of confused storytelling and bizarre logical leaps that are supposedly explained in the film’s extended cut. Even at 151 minutes, the simple premise of “Batman fights Superman” couldn’t fit into the DCEU’s sophomore entry. This was one of the film’s prevailing criticisms, that critics and audience members felt as if their time wasn’t being used wisely. The specter of those complaints has stayed with the DCEU as it has grown, morphing into a general unease about the cinematic universe’s runtimes.
So, when it was first reported in March that Justice League would release with a 170-minute runtime, it was like pouring gasoline onto a fire. That assertion was later debunked, but the damage was done. Perhaps that rumor and the proceeding backlash helped to inform the decision, reportedly from Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara, that Justice League would come in under the two-hour mark come hell or high water. What should be a positive change, a blessedly short superhero movie in an age in which runtimes only seem to be growing, was perceived as something being taken away.