Zack Snyder’s Justice League — A Fully Realized Vision

Let’s face it: the 2017 theatrical release of Justice League was a poorly handled mishmash of ideas which tried to abide by strict studio demands. The film was almost entirely reshot leaving only snippets of its original outline/vision. To be fair, it’s very understandable why Warner Bros. enforced these decisions. I even thought that movie had some good moments! However, a few good moments weren’t enough to make it feel whole or cohesive.

After the mostly negative reception from audiences, fans rallied together on the internet to pressure Warner Bros. to #ReleaseTheSnyderCut. On top of that, director Zack Snyder revealed on social media he still had his original cut. The fan campaign steadily gained supporters and became the collective outcry of those who wanted to see the proper Justice League film. Surprisingly, their voices were heard as Warner Bros. allowed Snyder to release his film on HBO Max. Fans were joyful, but many still felt trepidation. It is a four-hour cut after all. So does Zack Snyder’s Justice League live up to the hype and anticipation?

If you’re a fan of Snyder’s DC films, then I think it does. To clarify: this is not a director’s cut. It is a completely different film showing the original vision as intended with a new score by Tom Holkenborg (aka Junkie XL) and presented in a different aspect ratio.

The story centers around the powerful impact felt from Superman’s absence as the film begins with his dying yell from Batman v. Superman. It not only reverberates around the world but also throughout the universe. His echoes unknowingly awaken three mysterious pieces of alien technology, as well as invite the intimidating Steppenwolf to wreak havoc on the entire planet. With Earth vulnerable without its most powerful protector, this motivates Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince to recruit allies to fight against this threat. However, Bruce is driven more by his guilt over thinking he failed Superman (it’s good Alfred’s around more in this version of the film).

While the idea of forming a team isn’t new in movies, what’s interesting is the juxtaposition of how these seemingly godlike individuals are portrayed as humans dealing with their own respective brokenness. Victor Stone struggles with what he’s become. He sees himself as a monster; a science experiment created by his father. Barry Allen is barely getting by with no plans for his future as he tries to find a way to exonerate his father. Arthur Curry lives selfishly after feeling abandoned by his mother while disregarding much of the good he could accomplish. Even Diana and Bruce have their own personal struggles, but also a shared one in regards to Superman’s death.

That’s one aspect I enjoyed about Zack Snyder’s Justice League: characterization. All the heroes have more complete arcs this time around, though some are more prominent than others — particularly Victor’s. It’s clear he is the heart of the story as we explore his journey towards accepting his new self and believing he’s not alone. As many others have said on the internet, it’s mind boggling how this was omitted in the 2017 film. It’s difficult to care about characters if we aren’t given time to experience their journeys. Even Steppenwolf’s motivations are clearer this time around!

Another thing I liked — or more so respected — was the tone. Snyder’s films are vastly different from the Marvel movies and tend to feel more grim with their themes and presentation. I can understand why many don’t find that appealing, but I personally appreciate the distinct style Snyder was going for in creating his DC film universe. It makes you wonder what it’d actually be like if these superpowered beings existed in our world. I agree with Zack Snyder’s comments about how his Justice League is a modern day representation of mythological storytelling. Heroes facing off against villains to save the world, albeit in a more visceral and fantastical way.

And speaking of villains, it was great seeing Darkseid. He isn’t in the film much, but you’re shown how potentially intimidating and dangerous he can be.

As with Snyder’s other films, the action scenes are excellent. Moreover, every character has something to contribute and their abilities and dispositions are also taken into account. For instance, Barry Allen isn’t really a fighter but his speed still allows him to support the team (and the way he utilizes the speed force near the end was pure genius). I also admire how they actually plan things out beforehand. It’s not simply action for action’s sake. That being said, the slow motion was a bit overused. When it works, it’s magnificent. However when it doesn’t, scenes feel too drawn out and overly edgy.

The film has other flaws as well. The runtime, though somewhat justified, could’ve been trimmed a bit. Another small gripe is how Diana’s theme feels a little repetitive when used (but I still love it). A handful of moments also felt very out of place. One example is how a certain character is used in a meaningful scene, but their inclusion somewhat robs the moment of any emotional weight after the fact. (And no, I’m not referring to the Knightmare scene in the epilogue. Speaking of which…)

If you’re unaware, there is a scene in Batman v Superman where Bruce has a sort of dream or premonition where the earth is barren and Batman leads a small resistance group. More importantly, Superman is evil in this version of events. This “Knightmare” is given another scene in this film where Batman is traveling with Victor, Mera, Barry, Slade Wilson (aka Deathstroke) and the Joker (Jared Leto reprising his version of the character). Its inclusion is basically fanservice, but I enjoyed it. And seeing this Batman and this Joker interact was pretty interesting. Too bad it supposedly won’t be followed up with anything after.

Overall, Zack Snyder’s Justice League was worth the watch. I viewed it in one sitting, but it helps that the film is separated into parts so you can take breaks if needed. Despite minor pacing issues, the characters are more developed and the plot is more understandable. The new score by Junkie XL hits you differently with its mix of orchestral and electronic influences, with a theme attached to Barry Allen being one of the standouts for me. I’ve also grown to appreciate how Zack Snyder and his crew frame certain shots and the overall aesthetic.

Is the film perfect? No. It’s not for children either with its R-rating. There are also currently no plans to develop any film or series to continue Snyder’s vision with a follow-up.

Despite these things, fans of Zack Snyder’s DC films will undoubtedly feel rewarded for their patience and perseverance. Only time will tell if Snyder will be given the opportunity again to continue building his DC universe.

- A. Shin

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