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Zack Snyder’s Justice League, what’s popularly come to be known as The Snyder Cut, is a deeply personal movie. It’s personal because it has his distinct style and singular voice all over it. It’s personal because an intriguing storyteller finally gets to see his vision realised (and released), allowing him to conclude the story he began telling almost a decade ago with Man Of Steel (2013). It’s personal because of how much he clearly cares about these characters and how seriously he takes them. It’s personal for the fans, who rallied, campaigned, petitioned and even raised funds to have Snyder’s version see the light of day, a movement captured by the frequently trending hashtag #ReleaseTheSnyderCut. (For the uninitiated, Snyder left the project during post-production amidst clashes with the studio and the tragic loss of his daughter. As a result, the studio brought in Avengers-assembler Joss Whedon to take over, leading to the terrible patch-job 2017 version also titled Justice League).
Let’s start with the obvious question. Does The Snyder Cut substantially improve upon that barely serviceable 2017 Whedon version? Immediately and entirely, yes. Not that that was a tall order. Every moment of Zack Snyder’s Justice League is told with more patience, care and empathy than the entirety of that film. So much so that in Snyder’s hands, some of the worst scenes of that 2017 film become the best scenes of this one. In short, this film has what that one never did – a soul.
With streaming platform HBO Max stepping in, Snyder was given the chance to tell this story without restrictions. And he takes t̶o̶o̶ ̶m̶u̶c̶h̶ full advantage of that freedom. Zack Snyder’s Justice League has a 4-hour run-time which is split into 6 parts (7 if you count the Epilogue). And you really feel the length. So much so that I genuinely wonder how audiences who aren’t already invested in these characters would willingly sit through this. While it does allow us to spend a lot more time with these characters, and them with each other, it’s hard not to start cutting a version of the movie in your own head as you watch it. A great movie should leave you wanting more, surely? But despite its challenging duration, and Snyder’s many many indulgences, ultimately The Snyder Cut is the movie we deserve and a fitting end to this journey.
Aside from making it easier to watch, it’s interesting just how organically this story lends itself to a serialised format. The first two chapters, titled Don’t Count On It Batman and The Age Of Heroes, examine a world grappling with the loss of Superman, and follow Batman’s initial efforts to assemble a team. These opening chapters are arguably the weakest, partly because they’re made up of many of the same scenes as the 2017 film, such as Aquaman’s recruitment and Wonder Woman foiling a bank heist. Where these early portions do stand out however, is introducing and establishing the big bad Steppenwolf who, like everything in this movie, is far more effective here. While in the earlier version he was a giant, forgettable CGI blob, here he’s given more dimensions and is genuinely formidable and threatening. Instead, this time around the award for ‘forgettable CGI villain’ goes to bigger bad – Darkseid, (the DC Universe’s Thanos if you will), who makes multiple appearances but fails to leave much of a mark.
The third chapter, Beloved Mother, Beloved Son, is arguably my favourite. It’s the most sensitive and intimate of the 6 parts. It focuses on the introduction of Barry Allen’s The Flash (Ezra Miller) and Victor Stone’s Cyborg (Ray Fisher), both of whom are the best things about this movie as its beating heart. This third chapter also signifies how Snyder’s priority here has shifted from its precursor Batman Vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice. There his focus was on examining complex ideas and themes, such as the religious and political implications of the existence of a Superman. Here he shifts his perspective to people and humanising these iconic characters, which is on full display in a number of memorable sequences. Barry’s introduction scene, for example, which sees him save a girl from a car crash, is a thing of playful, heartfelt beauty. No seriously, we need an Ezra Miller Flash and we need it now. Conversely, the scenes devoted to Cyborg (the story’s central arc) and his tragic origins are moving and poignant.
The fourth chapter, Change Machine, has what I think is one of the film’s most telling moments. Before embarking on their first battle as a team, in order to reach the bad guys, we see the Justice League – earth’s greatest defenders …walk up some stairs. Somehow watching superheroes walk up a flight of stairs to reach a thrilling fight scene perfectly summarises the experience of Zack Snyder’s Justice League. The fight scene in question is the tunnel battle, which was one of the most bland, forgettable set pieces of the 2017 version, but here in all its originally intended glory, it leaps off the screen. This joins the ranks of the many stunning sequences of the film such as the climax face-off and the ‘Darkseid invades’ flashback sequence which is genuinely goosebumps-inducing (despite being weighed down by a lazy voiceover, one of many through the film).
What’s more, the dialogue in this movie feels strictly functional and flat and misses the heft of and substance of the words in BvS (that screenplay was written by Chris Terrio and David S Goyer, whereas this was written by Terrio alone). Here nothing comes close to the weight of memorable lines such as ‘Do You Bleed?… You Will’. Also, despite its arduous length, certain characters still don’t get their due and feel short changed such as Amy Adams’ Lois Lane, JK Simmons’ Commissioner Gordon (in it for barely two scenes) and above all Jeremy Irons’ Alfred who get more screen time but no more substance.
I’m willing to forgive, and even defend, any of these issues and this movie’s many indulgences because of what it achieves overall. But the one thing that truly tested my patience was the increasingly tortuous Epilogue. After the film ends, we get 30 minutes of what feels like leftover comic book footage as Snyder just chucks in whatever he had left lying around to set-up future instalments we won’t see. This entire chapter is essentially DVD extras and singularly risks undoing its victory.
For me this film’s spiritual ending comes much earlier. After the Justice League has defeated Steppenwolf, they climb to the top of the tower they were fighting within, and the six mythical figures stand side by side looking out into the distance. The battle is over. The day is won. As you see the camera pan across each of them, I half expected to see Zack Snyder stand beside them as a seventh. It’s a powerful moment. One that signifies a team victorious, a story triumphant, a vision finally realised. Justice has been served.