Zack Snyder's Justice League Does Right by the World's Finest Heroes
In the public consciousness, The Snyder Cut exists as more than a film. It is a testament to the willpower of modern fandom, or perhaps the vulnerability of the major studios. It is a possible cipher to whether superhero films can be for adults, or if they can even be considered proper cinema. But any of these distinctions would be doing the film a disservice. At the end of the day, the stakes are low. For better or for worse, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is just a film, and it deserves to be evaluated as such. When viewed on its own merits, past its troubled production, toxic discourse, and its place in the streaming content wars, Snyder has gifted us a deeply personal, mammoth blockbuster that finally does justice to the World’s Finest.
The Business of Gods Told in Snyder’s Grand Style
While the MCU has its own gods and titanic billionaires, Marvel films prefer to bring its heroes down to our level. Iron Man eats a cheeseburger, Star-Lord slips on a banana peel, etc. They are always human first, heroes second. With the Justice League, Snyder instead chooses to focus on the business of gods. Wonder Woman has been alive for a hundred years, while Superman rises from the dead. In contrast to Marvel films, Snyder’s film is more insular. There are no joking references to current events, no segues to pop culture. This isn’t trying to hit beats, but is truly meant to be a personal vision.
Snyder’s style is well-known. The lavish green screen, the epic slow motion, and the contrast photography are reminiscent of the likes of Robert Longo and Annie Leibovitz. Again, he aims high. With Justice League, Snyder has finally found a project that matches his ambition, both visual and from a storytelling standpoint. It should also be noted that the Snyder Cut is in the old-school 1.33 aspect ratio, a bold choice that gets to the heart of classical aspirations. Snyder’s ambition for his Justice League cut is for it to be more than just a superhero film, but a blockbuster epic that transcends genre, in league with The Matrix and Star Wars.
A Four-Hour Film That Lets You Know Its Heroes
From a storytelling standpoint, Snyder is to be commended for his command of a four-hour runtime. It was long-rumored that The Snyder Cut did not actually exist and was merely an assembly workprint of existing footage. What we have is not a rough cut, but a properly laid out story divided into six chapters, plus an epilogue. Excessive perhaps, but in a way, necessary. We are less familiar with these characters than with Marvel’s, and in order for something like this to hit, we need to know them.
Counting backward from its 2017 release date, this film marks only the third film of Superman, the second of Batffleck and Wonder Woman, and the first of Cyborg and The Flash. The extra time spent with them is worth it. Instead of simply moving the story along, we now have the space to see the characters develop organically. One of the characters who benefited most was Cyborg, whose brooding robo-Frankenstein is a major highlight. The 2017 version turned him into a plot device, but here, his tragedy and eventual redemption are an essential narrative and thematic thread.
The Significant Return of Darkseid, DC’s Big Bad
But the most significant part of Zack Snyder’s Justice League has been the re-inclusion of Darkseid. A legendary DC big bad from Superman lore, Darkseid is an ancient alien warlord who targets Earth so he can retrieve the Motherboxes, living machines that will allow him to conquer worlds. Initially exorcised from the 2017 version, Snyder retconned him back into the main storyline (he was to be the main villain of a now junked sequel), and Justice League is all the better for it. He has a few juicy scenes, one being a large battle scene (albeit a flashback), and we are given a peek into his home planet of Apokolips.
Functionally though, the appearance of Darkseid allows the main villain, Steppenwolf, to fully grow into himself. The 2017 Justice League imposed on Steppenwolf the Jaws theory—that the less you see of a monster the more menacing they become. But Steppenwolf is not a monster. He is a villain, and the best villains scare us because we can relate to them. In Zack Snyder’s Justice League, Steppenwolf has fallen out of favor with Darkseid and is eager to redeem himself by taking Earth. The extra scenes go a long way in establishing the stakes for both Steppenwolf and the Justice League, proving a much richer film.
The Effect of the Snyder Cut
I’m leaving out quite a bit in this review. There are some memorable Easter eggs and long-rumored character appearances that will please fans. But what does it all mean? Did Snyder pull it off? Do we live in a better world because of it?
It is indeed a massive improvement, and fans should be very happy that this has even been released in their lifetimes. But it’s all rather inconsequential. Snyder and Warner Bros have mutually decided to explore other projects, the end (no spoilers) teases a film that never will be. Its release on HBO Max/HBO Go means we’ll never truly know how receptive audiences would’ve been.
At the end of the day, it is just a superhero movie. When removed from the box office drama that usually accompanies major releases, it all seems rather trivial. But we are lucky enough to see a filmmaker who has had the circumstances set against him be able to finally realize his deeply personal project, and that, in itself, is enough cause for celebration. And the movie is quite good, too!
Zack Snyder’s Justice League will be released on HBO Go on March 18.