Not in a million years did I ever expect Warner Bros. would let Zack Snyder complete his cut of Justice League. The man who took their big push for an MCU style shared universe for their DC Comics label, featuring arguably the most recognizable superheroes in all of comics, and floundered with both critics and audiences alike. No amount of online bullying from persistent nerds could bring back a man who was clearly doing WB zero monetary favors. But then I was wrong (You can read my initial reaction here)
I had written off most of Snyder’s work at this point. Both Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman made fundamental story and character decisions that I loathed. As a person who once put an irrational amount of stock in these movies successes with my own self worth, they hurt to watch. I mean, I found bits and pieces that I appreciated. MOS’s score is my favorite superhero theme. Even BvS has moments of grandeur that I can respect. “The Gods of old walking among us”, is a direction I genuinely dig. But the execution sabotaged everything that really counted.
But now Snyder has been given Carte Blanche by Warner Bros. to put out his dream director’s cut of Justice League. The cap on a trilogy of sorts for his three DC movies, while also serving as a jumping off point for an apocalyptic tragedy featuring the DC Thanos, Darkseid. But this is no longer a grand destination on the DC Extended Universe’s roadmap. WB has moved on and taken a direction with their DC adaptations that have found more success than they ever received with Snyder steering the ship. Zack Snyder’s Justice League isn’t a four quadrant film at the whim of box office receipts or even critics. It’s become something else entirely.
The movie is in many ways an apology from Warner Bros. after Snyder had to leave the project following his daughter taking her own life the same year. It’s also a marketing opportunity for HBO Max, the streaming service that is still finding its footing after a year online, getting a shiny “new” superhero movie in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s a shiny luer for fans who begged it into existence, and for anyone who hasn’t had to hear about it on twitter for the past 3 years. Zack Snyder has created one of the most bloated, indulgent, avant-garde superhero films ever made. A film that throws everything but the kitchen sink (That was in the last movie) into its run time. And through these very unusual circumstances, it’s maybe the boldest thing Snyder has, and likely ever will, make.
Justice League by way of Joss Whedon (Or JL’17 for short) was a movie that took Snyder’s visual style and jammed in moments of Avenger’s style levity. Whedon coming from a TV background, juggling numerous characters and plots that go on beyond the scope of the contained story, was perfect for the crowd pleasing first Avengers film—but when mixed with Snyder’s auteur-level visual style. What came out was a Frankenstein that squandered both of the filmmakers strengths (and brought out the worst in Whedon specifically). Despite getting the best performance out of Henry Cavill’s Superman to date, it was too little too late. It was not only trashed, but very quickly forgotten. Shortly after the Snyder Cut was announced, Ray Fisher (Cyborg) opened up about Joss Whedon’s abusive and racially biased behavior on set, behavior that was encouraged by the film’s producers and execs at WB. In the shadow of Snyder’s inbound re-edit, the expired film has only gotten more rotten. Compared to JL’17, Snyder effortlessly eclipses Whedon as the filmmaker with the stronger movie. But that was always bound to be the case. It’s what he achieves next that’s impressive.
Zack Snyder has actually realized the closest thing to a cohesive story he’s gotten in one of his DC movies ever. The gravitas he brings to these characters is palpable. The slower pacing elevates the visuals and finally communicates the love Snyder genuinely feels for these characters. His movie carried a lot of responsibility, introducing a Justice League where we’ve only gotten to know three of the characters well. The scattered locations and characters enhance the scope, while Whedon made it feel flimsy and disconnected. He’s made the DC universe feel legendary. And as larger than life as everything is, the characters are actually likeable.
Among the many pieces of JL’17 that were fumbled, Ben Affleck’s Batman really suffered. He’s given one too many jokes, and is often the butt of many more. So much so that the character is unrecognizable to the miserable bastard we saw in Batman v. Superman. Not that anyone would particularly miss that take on Batman, it seemed like Ben Affleck lost who Bruce was as well and is noticeably struggling the entire film. Here we have a Bruce who’s repenting for how he behaved in BvS. He’s vulnerable and you see him more naturally open up after being so isolated previously. This gives Affleck a chance to bring a more Bruce Wayne charm to the character. Enhancing scenes with Gadot and Momoa, both actors who benefit from a strong scene partner. The fact that this growth still works with Snyder’s tone? After the other movies, this feels like a miracle.
I’m really most surprised by the levity Snyder finds in a number of scenes, especially in a movie that I’d say is still taking itself *very* seriously (Several bloody dismemberments gives this film an R rating). But his most valuable tool here is Ezra Miller as Barry Allen, The Flash. Allen is easily the most consistently handled character between the two cuts of the film. His eagerness and anxiety with being in a room with Gods actually brings something that’s been missing from Snyder’s last two films—fun. He eases some of the tension out of scenes and convinces you that no, you should actually be having fun right now. Where everyone is overpowered and near invincible, he gives the audience a human viewpoint amongst the Gods, with a character who charmingly has none of the confidence, but possesses truly awe inspiring power (One scene in particular had my jaw on the floor). The Flash brings some much needed heart to this movie, which is paired perfect with the soul of the movie, Cyborg.
Of everyone in this film, Ray Fisher’s Victor Stone had the most to gain from a Snyder cut. In JL’17 he was disposable. But Zack Snyder’s Justice League makes him the central character of the film. Cyborg is given an origin story that sets up his relationship with his father Silas Stone (Skynet inventor Joe Morton), and is given a stronger connection with the film’s macguffin, and by extension the film’s plot. This gives him one of the stronger arcs in the film and a lot more screen time. Which is needed when he spends the movie almost entirely behind a CG costume covering everything besides three quarters of his face. His character is also mostly machine, which leaves his performance stoic and sometimes distant. But while there’s so much going on in this movie that could certainly be cut if they’re trying to pace this movie out to a reasonable runtime, a movie like this really lets him shine brighter than before, as the least recognizable hero in the entire movie.
At this point, I’m sure some of you may not be buying this. Where did this turn around come from? How did Snyder fix all of his shortcomings in one movie? Well for one thing, it’s four friggin’ hours long. So it can’t help but make sense. Within the four hours are many scenes that do not forward the plot in any meaningful way. There are moments that are window dressing for movies that will never come out. To a DC universe that will never be, but what could have been. And for the majority of viewers, these additions only drag out a movie that at times feels directionless. Besides, even cohesion doesn’t exactly make this film very meaningful. It’s almost as shallow as JL’17 in terms of plot. In fact they’re exactly the same, just doubled in length. But as a fan of the DC Universe, they added to the scope in a way I found compelling, and didn’t hinder my investment. Do they need to add a scene of Barry Allen saving Iris West, a character we have never seen and won’t see again in the entire movie? No they don’t. Was I brought to tears watching Barry Allen incinerate his sneakers to save the woman he would eventually marry, set to a cover of “Song to the Siren”? Yes. Yes I did. It’s why the core audience this film was made for is going to eat it up and lick the plate clean. Yet as much as I enjoyed it, there’s no getting around the fans role in this movie, for better and you better believe for worse.
I wrote all about the fans roles in the Snyder Cut in the article linked above, and those feelings have largely gone unchanged. This film was born from a harassment campaign directed at Warner Bros, the movie wouldn’t exist today without it. Many of Snyder’s fans have done charity work in the name of the campaign, genuinely commendable fundraising in the name of suicide prevention. But it’s unlikely that changed WB’s mind. It was when Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot tweeted the same hashtag that had been filling their twitter mentions for the past 2 years that convinced them they could probably make some money off of this. Zack Snyder has been pretty intent on lifting up his fans as being more positive than negative. But it’s hard to believe that when the alt-right YouTube channel, Geeks + Gamers, was still on the Snyder Cut’s AFSP donation page until at least the day the film was released. Snyder publicly distanced himself from the group as of March 17th, despite their assistance in the campaign. While that was a good move from Snyder, he undeniably egged on these same people with glimpses into what his cut looked like for over two years before that. I’m happy for the success Snyder has found in the reception of this film, but he is complicit nonetheless.
#RestoretheSnyderVerse is still being tweeted by many of the loudest champions of the Snyder Cut. They got their way once and they believe they can do it again. Snyder Cultists viciously went after anyone who found the crusade over a Justice League movie not to be a very important use of one’s time, in a way that is pretty common within a growing number of fandoms. Only time will tell what Snyder does with that information. One hopes he’ll be the adult in the room to tell everyone when it’s time to hang up their capes.
I was pretty irritated by Snyder’s role in the campaign. And I had no shortage of jabs and put downs in his name. The parasocial feud I felt with this man was intense. So when I tell you watching this movie brought real emotions out of me, in a way I never expected, and ones that very rarely come out of me from superhero movies, it was overwhelming. It brought about joy and respect over a movie I had written off before it was even announced. The tears I shed nearly three hours into the movie were those of exuberance and shame. Y’all I could not believe how much I liked this movie.
To start this movie around 12:30 AM Thursday morning felt like a bad decision, even if I was excited for whatever I was about to watch. Last Easter I watched both Infinity War and Endgame back to back to experience the full scale of that story, and by the end of the night I had a migraine. Even as a shameless fanatic of capeshit, I had a limit.
It was an hour and a half in and I could feel my brain hurting, as much as I was appreciating the improvements from JL’17. I was questioning my decisions. It was around that point that I chose to match the overindulgence I was watching on screen to how I’d be spending the night. I ordered myself a deep fried cheesecake during an insane late night Postmate surge. And during this night of miracles, I did not regret that decision.
I never thought I was watching the greatest superhero movie of all time as many hardcore fans believe this to be. I was still laughing at many of the quirks that Snyder can’t help but throw in, many of which made me say literally out loud “this movie is stupid”. One detail in particular involving Darkseid and his side macguffin was particularly hilarious when given one iota of a second thought. But I was undeniably having a ton of fun watching this, a feeling I have never truly felt in a Snyder DC movie. By the time Superman had been resurrected and his theme music made a reprisal (one of the elements I most missed from JL’17) I was completely captured. I say this while also believing that most of Superman’s post-resurrection scenes are some of the most nonsensical in the film. A much hyped costume change happens for no discernible reason besides “look how cool he looks” and “it was in the comics”.
After 6 long chapters, the main narrative is finished and the bulk of Justice League as we know it is finished. The 20 minute epilogue that follows, filled with sneak peaks for movies that are never going to see the light of day. It’s the most disposable section of the movie. For anyone who’s still awake, it will bring about eyerolls, and maybe tears, believing this movie will never end. This is where the much discussed Batman and Joker scene comes into play. A glorified post credit scene that teases a sequel that will likely never happen (As much as I like this movie, I don’t think I want it either). But even if it’s one of the cheapest looking parts of the film, The F-bomb dropped by Affleck is impossible to take seriously, and Jared Leto has come back to do what is essentially a cheap Heath Ledger impression (it’s the most dialogue he’s ever gotten as the character, he’s basically a new character than who we saw in Suicide Sqaud). Zack Snyder knew this would be the last breath of his DCEU, and he knew that not bringing Affleck and Leto together for one scene is a disservice to those characters. I appreciated that it happened. They deserved at least that and for what it’s worth, it’s unlike any relationship between the characters we’ve seen on screen.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League would have never made it to theaters. Whatever edit he would have put out would have likely been maligned like the rest of his output had been before it. His director’s cut would have been more interesting but largely dismissed as the polishing of a turd. This film is something else entirely, it’s a redemption for many involved. And as likely the last thing Snyder will ever do for DC, this is a high note to go off on. It’s a movie that I would pay to see in a theater easily. (The film 4:3 formatting may feel confusing now, but I can only imagine how stunning it will look on an IMAX screen). It’s a film that has taken up such an unnecessary space in the zeitgeist no one can blame the irritation people still likely feel even hearing its name. It’s a film that I was so ready to toss aside that gave me so much glee and connection after a year of the most insufferable loneliness I’ve ever felt. And in a time where I feel like everything I perceive goes in one ear and comes out the other. I have not been able to stop thinking about this film since I finished it at 4:30 am in the morning. Hallelujah.