Like the heroes on its frontlines, Zack Snyder’s Justice League had its own hard-fought battles. Born out of a failed mission, it, too, for its fans, has become a Christ-like effigy that befell an unfortunate death before rising through the rubble.
We all know its storied downfall—and eventual rebirth: the film underwent major changes after Zack Snyder had to resign from the helm due to a personal tragedy. Warner Bros decided it would push through with another director, The Avengers’ Joss Whedon, a decision that would become the film’s death knell in that it left the film tonally scattershot, perceivably confused, and stunted as nothing more than a big studio cash grab, a money-making beast that must be unleashed come hell or high water. This new film—called upon for years by a persistent movement led by Snyder and the cast themselves using the hashtag #ReleaseTheSnyderCut—is a corrective recuperation of an original vision lost as ardent and awe-inspiring as its messianic superheroes.
And now we’re here, in perhaps the perfect time for Justice League to exist in its current form as Snyder had intended. People are locked down, scared to their wits at home, and in desperate need for an Homeric, larger-than-life adventure that sees the world triumphant against a catastrophic threat. And much like the eponymous League, Snyder’s new film had somewhat of a plan, but also a void to fill—and quite a big one at that.
Which is all well and fine. ‘Cause as it turns out, Snyder’s vision is a humongous, unfettered, and imprudent adaptation featuring DC’s most well-known roster of heroes. The four-hour runtime (longer even by superhero blockbuster standards) shows how much sizzle we’ve missed out on when it was out of Snyder’s hands. The film’s many excellent set pieces and action sequences capture the film’s heroes, truly Gods among men, in glorious slow motion, as though posing for a photo opp or a painting whose fate is to outlive the Gods they depict. It’s a common slight against Snyder’s work—the superfluous slo-mo—but here, it works. We are, after all, at the rood where gods stand.
The screenplay, written by Chris Terrio (Argo), doesn’t break new ground, but it works. Many argue that it’s the same story, but the Ship of Theseus contends that changes and un-changes warrant at the very least a second thought. In the same way that the film’s Mother Boxes don’t operate in terms of good or bad—of healing or destruction—Zack Snyder’s Justice League maintains what must be. It eschews the prior judgments of its master, Warner Bros, with regards to how the film should be—even if it means for you to watch it in a squarish aspect ratio and a runtime as long as Lav Diaz’s shorter works. So what of the story? At best, it rearranges and provides much-needed context to a story you’ve seen play out—albeit poorly—in 2017.
The most meme’d moments in the WB-Whedon cut (I’m thinking of Jason Momoa’s “yeah, men” and Henry Cavill’s digitally botched upper lip) are all fixed, obscured by the sustained grandness of everything that happens on screen. The urgency sorely lacking in the 2017 film is almost tangible here, as we follow single-minded minion, Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), ravage through civilizations to earn points from his extraterrestrial imperialist boss, Darkseid (Ray Porter). Ray Fisher’s Cyborg, most notably, is given a bigger arc, one that’s aligned with the film’s almost Frankensteinian fascination with playing God.
That isn’t to say that the film is without fault. At four hours, Snyder tells the story with pretty much complete abandon. The bloat and exposition, however, are weaved in a way that feels in-built with the mythology that the film tries to construct, like intermissions in an opera told in a number of parts (the film has six, plus an epilogue). What lacks, in my book, is the dynamism of the team. I’d hate to draw a Marvel comparison, but the last two Avengers films prove that, though tricky, it’s possible to mesh a whole bunch of characters and bring out an easy chemistry. Here, Ezra Miller’s wisecracking Barry Allen sticks it with the punchlines at a stone-faced terminator, a bro-mariner, and a vigilante brooding seemingly enthralled just by standing there—and it’s all a bit tough to watch.
In the end, I think that the film’s existence, in and of itself, is a win. We’ve seen a whole story unfold outside of The Synder Cut, and I wonder if that’s the more interesting story than the one being told in the film itself. But as it sets precedent for studios reconstructing their past films according to their filmmakers’ original visions, who knows which redux we’ll see in the future? There will be plenty of kerfuffles and mishaps along the way, but if there’s anything that Zack Snyder’s Justice League tells us, it’s that everything falls perfectly into the right place at the right time.