by Jordan King
Zack Snyder’s Justice League has been a long time coming. In 2017, following continued studio interference and a personal tragedy that saw Snyder leave his vision in the hands of Joss Whedon, a film called Justice League was released. It was hideous, a Marvel-lite affair that razed Snyder’s philosophic vision of Gods and meta-humans to the ground, putting in its place awkward sex jokes, limp action, and threadbare characterisations of DC’s finest. One massive fan campaign, a considerable amount of toxicity, four years and $70 million later though, and ‘The Snyder Cut’ is finally here. The result is a four-hour work of unrestrained brilliance filled with IDEAS! ARTISTRY! THEMES! CHARACTER!
The basic plot of Snyder’s Justice League is much of a muchness with Whedon’s. Ciarán Hinds’ Darkseid-jilted metalhead Steppenwolf seeks to unify the Mother Boxes, three sentient devices capable of turning Earth into a veritable Hell. Bruce Wayne’s Batman (Ben Affleck), grieving the loss of Superman and determined to honour his legacy, teams with Diana Prince’s Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) to unite a league of meta-humans to stop the apocalypse from happening. So far so standard.
The plot is not the entire picture with Snyder’s Justice League. Not by a long shot. The first thing viewers will notice is the old Academy aspect ratio employed by Snyder here. Alongside a grittier colour grading more in-keeping with the serious tone of Man of Steel and BvS, the use of a 4:3 aspect ratio immediately places Snyder’s film in a more focused frame. The towering verticality of the canvas reminds us that in Snyder’s world of Gods and Monsters, we are meant to be in awe of our heroes, dwarfed by and at the mercy of them.
The score from Hans Zimmer’s protégé Thomas Holkenborg – Junkie XL – adds to the grandiosity of the piece brilliantly, replacing Danny Elfman’s hollow score for Whedon’s film with something far more experimental, using established themes and choral elements whilst touching on DC history with nods to the likes of Batman The Animated Series that serve fans without existing purely as fan service.
Though functionally the first half of Snyder’s film sees Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince variously try to get Jason Momoa’s Aquaman, Ezra Miller’s The Flash, and Ray Fisher’s Cyborg to join their butt-kicking band, it is far more interested in getting to the heart of what grief and loss looks like in this world of meta-humans.
It is hard to watch this film without thinking of the tragic suicide of Snyder’s daughter Autumn, to whom this work is touchingly dedicated, and though the story was always bound to centre on grief following the events of BvS, that this Justice League is united by and humanised in their pain feels like a twist of fate that has given Snyder a chance to creatively exorcise his demons in a profound way.
In place of the Everybody Knows opening to Whedon’s film, we instead open on Henry Cavill’s Superman dying, his cries ringing around the universe, calling our heroes to attention and our villains to action. This foregrounds the loss of the messianic figure of Clark Kent as the catalyst for all that is to come, and makes us instantly aware of what gives humans, Atlanteans, and Amazons alike skin in this particular game.
Whilst a welcome CG upgrade and new visual effects work do much to make Steppenwolf and his flying monkeys – erm, Parademons – more palatable and palpably threatening, also giving us Ray Porter’s Darkseid in all his thumb-headed glory, this film transcends the trappings of the genre best in its quietudes.
Sure, the fights across Themyscira, Atlantis, America, and eventually Russia are unrecognisably better than we saw four years ago, giving us a strong reminder of the power of competent editing and letting character direct action rather than vice-versa, and sure it’s cool to watch a black-suited Superman heatray a big bad who looks like a Rammstein tour prop. Far more affecting though is watching Lois Lane cradle Clark Kent’s cape as if it were her dead lover’s own body, or hearing tracks from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds play out over slo-mo shots of rain hitting a Metropolis in mourning. These are the moments in which The Snyder Cut truly comes into its own.
Barry Allen and Victor Stone were given such short shrift in Whedon’s Justice League that all their contribution has been remembered for is an uncomfortable encounter between Wonder Woman and The Flash, and Ray Fisher’s righteous fury at Cyborg’s virtual excision from the League through merciless cutting. Here we are given back these two characters, two young men with lost mothers and differently imprisoned fathers trying to come to terms with powerful bodies and plagued minds.
Ezra Miller continues to provide much-needed levity as Barry Allen, the socially awkward superquick conduit for fanboyism in the film, but extended scenes with his father (a fantastic Billy Crudup) as well as a gorgeous, vastly overblown introduction that defines the character in microcosm make an entire world of difference.
By the same token, Cyborg/Victor Stone is still a fizzing vessel of anguished machismo. But here, Chris Terrio’s brilliantly written backstory is restored, giving us a grounding in the character’s conflict and pain whilst unearthing a nuanced performance from Fisher that was once reduced to a graveside quip about complicated pasts.
It has to be said at this point however, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is not for everyone. Running at four hours, ten percent of which is given to slo-mo and 100% of which is crafted in lofty dialogue that talks of dead Gods, demons, and resurrections without a hint of self-awareness, the film will not win over anyone whose biggest gripes with the director are his stylistic extravagances and self-important approach to heroes we are more familiar with seeing spandex-clad supes biffing baddies and trading one-liners. Nor will its brutal violence – a key scene early on with Wonder Woman has already stirred a social media shitstorm (yes, her force was excessive – no, I’m not a terrorist sympathiser). And if on-the-nose needle-drops curl your toes, make sure you’ve cut your nails before settling down to this one.
Even for the acolytic followers of Snyder’s work, a strong case could be made that the film’s six chapters and half-hour blueball-inducing epilogue could have been trimmed a little to save a tailbone or two. But there is something undeniably special and universally appreciable about watching a man with a clear vision overcome personal struggles and studio battles to see his ideas find their way out into the world unshackled. The care and attention to detail is evident in every frame, and by the time Superman’s Christ-like resurrection and triumphant return to the fray is performed, way into the film’s third hour, it is hard not to be awed by the biblically epic approach to this universe Snyder has taken.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a totally new and supremely satisfying DC film. It is overindulgent, excessive, loaded with Snyder’s worst directorial impulses and exemplifying of his very best cinematic invention, yet it manages over four hours to achieve the unthinkable and make the Justice League as a team work. The individual characters breathe and develop, and their relationships to one another do in kind, elevating the ensemble action sequences and drawing out an emotional depth and range simply non-existent before.
To be plain, this Snyder Cut does the league justice at last.
Justice League: Snyder Cut is out now!