Zack Snyder’s Justice League
Back in 2013 when Zack Snyder kicked off the planned DC cinematic universe with Man of Steel, Marvel Studios already had a five-year head start kicking off their own shared cinematic universe with 2008’s Iron Man. The clock was already ticking for DC to catch up. In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, Superman’s Kryptonian father Jor-El tells his son before he flies for the first time that he will “give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards. They will stumble, they will fall, but in time they will join you in the sun, Kal. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.” Little did we know just how eerily prescient these words would become in the years since he first took flight, years filled with countless stumbles and tragic falls, not only for the world of the DCEU but the world at large. Now, eight years later, the time has come for the promise of those words to become a reality. Zack Snyder’s Justice League has finally arrived and what a film it is, one born of passion, love, and tireless determination in the face of overwhelming odds.
From the very outset, Snyder’s deliberately more grounded and serious take on the Man of Steel as a conflicted and reluctant god among men with real dimension was met with shock and disdain from so-called Superman fans who worship the classic but outdated Christopher Reeve version of the hero as a relentlessly cheery and morally infallible golden god on the hill. Despite a precedent in the comics (and past films), many fans just couldn’t stomach the idea of a Superman who kills anyone, even when done reluctantly as a last resort to save the entire planet. The fan backlash was worse in the follow-up, 2016’s savagely divisive Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which introduced Affleck’s understandably bitter, world-weary Batman to an anxious world still grappling with the consequences of a god-like being in its midst. Once again, fans clinging to arbitrary moral codes from the fifties decried Batman’s cold indifference to killing and Superman’s despondency in the film, not realizing that these were issues the film deliberately raised in its exploration of what ultimately makes these heroes who they are.
Regardless of what you thought about these two films, it must be agreed that Snyder always planned to build towards a very particular resolution of the controversial issues explored in his first two DCEU films. After Superman heroically laid down his life to save the world in BvS, fans everywhere eagerly awaited his return, wondering just how Snyder would resurrect him and how he would use Superman’s inspiring sacrifice as a springboard to unite his initially reluctant superheroes into cinema’s first flesh and blood Justice League. After the dark year that was 2016, a year which saw too many real heroes of pop culture pass away along with Superman, fans waited with bated breath for their hero to return and complete his transformation into the more self-assured symbol of hope that most people are familiar with. Justice League was supposed to deliver on this promise, but a terrible combination of tragedy, unnecessarily harsh and hateful reviews, lack of faith in a director’s vision, and a desperate desire to mimic Marvel’s formulaic success, ultimately led to the pathetic, soulless Frankenstein monster atrocity which I will henceforth refer to only as Josstice League.
What was supposed to be Snyder’s magnum opus, the crowning achievement of the visionary, shared cinematic universe he kicked off in 2013 and a guaranteed billion-dollar blockbuster turned out to be a train wreck that made less money than any other DCEU film that preceded it. Snyder fans felt betrayed by a creatively butchered and hobbled together hot mess with none of the epic, operatic style of the previous films and peppered with forced jokes and watered-down action sequences which smacked of a desire to cash in on Marvel’s more family-friendly formula. The result was a sterile, safe, and wholly uninspired film without a coherent identity. The future of the DCEU as an epic, sprawling saga of interconnected stories with a distinct style all its own seemed in great jeopardy, despite the successes of subsequent solo films like Aquaman and Shazam!.
I’ve written at length about why I feel Man of Steel and BvS are both cinematic masterpieces, so I won’t dive into it again here, but suffice to say for those who enjoyed those two films and longed to see an emotionally satisfying conclusion to the story arc begun in Man of Steel, what we got in 2017 felt like a cruel slap in the face to the world Snyder’s films had so lovingly and meticulously crafted up to that point. After Snyder stepped away from the film for some much-needed family time following the tragic suicide of his daughter Autumn, it seemed like not a day went by without some news regarding a change to his intended film. Following the news of Joss Whedon’s involvement to finish directing, the film’s intended composer, Junkie XL, who worked on BvS with the great Hans Zimmer, was replaced by Danny Elfman, whose terribly generic, unmemorable, and lazy sounding score lacked all of the stirring intensity and character-driven emotion of Zimmer’s previous work. Then we learned that the final runtime wouldn’t even break the two-hour mark, a pathetically transparent and desperate ploy by the studio to get more showings and hence make more money, which didn’t work out very well, to say the least.
To top it all off there were the absolutely unnecessary and uninspired reshoots that gave us the cringe-inducing phantom mustache mouthed Superman, making what was supposed to be his emotionally stirring return painful to watch. Perhaps the theatrical version’s worst crime was the absolute butchering of Cyborg’s story, not only his crucial importance to the plot but also his central role as the film’s emotional heart as he grows from an understandably bitter and angry loner mad at the whole world to a self-accepting team player who realizes that he’s not alone and more importantly, not broken but rather a valuable individual with unique powers who can make the world a better place. Having seen Cyborg’s full character development in Snyder’s Justice League just makes me angry at the injustice done to Ray Fisher, especially given that he’s the first black superhero in the DCEU. In Josstice League, Cyborg (as well as Flash and even Aquaman) comes off as nothing more than a sidekick, not at all an equally represented and utilized member of the team. In Snyder’s Cut, not only do we get Cyborg’s backstory, scenes of him as a former football star, nice scenes featuring his mother before the accident that killed her, and much more showing the conflict between him and his scientist father, we also see how integral he is in saving the world.
Cyborg’s not the only one who shines beautifully in Snyder’s vision. Flash, who in Josstice League was resigned to goofy, squeamish boy wonder sidekick whose main power seemed to be throwing out forced one-liners, is restored to his true glory as the fastest man alive who not only can run so fast that everything slows down, but can actually change the flow of time when he reaches light speed, a trick that comes in handy at a few crucial moments in the film. We get to see Flash meet and save Iris West and we get to see more of his relationship with his father as well as seeing him in a more crucial role on the team, all the while still enjoying many funny lines. As much as I personally enjoyed Aquaman, I really enjoy Snyder’s version of Aquaman as a gruff, hard-ass, at least at first glance. The film does a great job setting up these characteristics so it can then show how once we spend some time with him, we see that under the callous exterior he’s actually a caring, empathetic person. Josstice League glosses over most of this in favor of making him more a source of comic relief, such as in the scene where touching the lasso of truth brings out his hidden desire for Wonder Woman. While I admit to laughing at this scene initially, I now feel that this doesn’t give a good impression of Arthur, especially after seeing the more noble version of him in Aquaman.
Speaking of characters who were watered down, Whedon’s Wonder Woman was a pathetic shadow of the fierce yet compassionate warrior woman we came to know and love in BvS and Wonder Woman. That savage warrior (and her savage, primal electric cello theme) are nowhere to be seen; instead, we get a neutered, watered-down Wonder Woman with no edge who’s continuously pummeled by Steppenwolf and is the butt of several off-color jokes and gags because she’s the woman on the team. Snyder, who always features strong and self-possessed women in his films, restores Diana to her status as a badass warrior who doesn’t avoid violence when necessary but is also naturally loving and compassionate as demonstrated in the extended scene where she comforts and encourages the group of young girls she rescued from terrorists. Throughout the film she also acts as a maternal den mother to the team, inspiring Victor with her caring empathy and connecting with Arthur in a beautiful exchange over their people’s long and bloody history.
While Diana often acts as a maternal figure for the group, Batman is the group’s de facto leader, showing his beautiful shift from rage-filled and untrusting loner in BvS to team recruiter and inspiring father figure to the team, especially Flash and Cyborg. While this does come across a bit in Josstice League, the addition of so many forced and corny jokes from Batman made him seem like a sanitized and less edgy, kid-friendly version of a character who’s supposed to be a fearsome creature of the night and badass fighter. Snyder’s version maintains Batman’s serious badass quality from BvS while showing how he’s grown and seen the error of his previous outlook and tactics, especially regarding Superman, and is doing everything to right his past mistakes and bring people together rather than divide them.
This of course brings us to the Man of Steel himself. Being a huge Superman fan, I was dying to see how they’d bring him back and hoping for an emotionally stirring and beautiful conclusion to the compelling story arc begun in Man of Steel. Josstice League destroyed these moments with mustache man as well as editing down and rushing the scenes of his hotly anticipated return to fit the pathetic runtime. After seeing Clark’s proper return in the Snyder version, I was truly blown away. First off, after Danny Elfman lazily stuck John Williams’ Superman theme into Josstice League, which doesn’t suit Cavill’s Superman at all, hearing those beautiful piano notes of Hans Zimmer’s original Superman score again sent chills down my spine, not to mention the triumphant, stirring score when he took flight once more. Additionally, the two-hour build-up to his resurrection makes his return feel that much more earned and moving. Plus, the fight between him and the team is far more intense, action-packed, and visually dazzling in Snyder’s cut and at no point does Superman’s mouth look weird, a big bonus. The extended scenes of Clark on the farm with Lois and Martha deliver the heartwarming emotional payoff that fans waited almost five years to see.
As if that wasn’t enough, we get to see Clark return to the Kryptonian Ship as the encouraging words of his two fathers, Jor-El and Jonathan Kent, echo in our ears. The promise of Jor-El’s inspiring words is fulfilled as Clark dons the suit and takes flight once more, a beautiful call back to his first flight in Man of Steel. Much has been written about Clark donning the black and silver suit based on the regeneration suit he wore after being revived in the comics, and although this suit doesn’t serve that purpose in the film, just seeing him wear it was awesome. When Superman joins his team members in the final battle against Steppenwolf, he’s the missing piece of the puzzle they need to finally turn the tables.
Unlike Josstice League where Superman joins the battle and single-handedly beats the hell out of Steppenwolf, swiftly ending the conflict, in Snyder’s version we still get to see Superman thrash Steppenwolf, but the battle doesn’t end right then and there but in fact intensifies, forcing each of the other heroes to step up and contribute their unique skills in tandem to put an end to the threat for good. In a film bursting with eye-popping battle sequences, the final battle stands out as one of the most visually stunning sequences in any comic book film, leading to the already iconic image of them standing together triumphantly, having finally joined Superman in the sun.
We can’t talk about the heroes without talking about the villains. While Josstice League gave us a bland, watered-down and one-dimensional villain in Steppenwolf, in Snyder’s cut we get Steppenwolf as he was originally conceived, a ruthless, brutal, and imposing alien menace who actually had a pretty compelling reason for doing what he does, determined as he is to get back on Darkseid’s good graces. Speaking of Almighty Darkseid, rather than just getting a quick name drop, Snyder’s film actually shows us the mighty alien despot, first in an epic flashback battle scene and then again towards the end, and holy shit, what an intimidating brute! From the commanding voice to his imposing stature, to his glowing Omega Beam eyes, Snyder’s Darkseid looks ripped right from the pages of The New 52 Justice League, but even more frightening, which is even more impressive given that he didn’t even fight the League. Just seeing the legendary alien tyrant in a live-action film was good enough although it irks me that we most likely won’t see him again.
With a 4 hour runtime, it is certainly a long film, but it’s completely warranted given the mythic scope and seriousness of the plot and the huge amount of backstory needed to properly flesh out these characters, especially the new ones who don’t have their own films. This allows the film to stretch its legs and give these hotly anticipated scenes the reverence they deserve, especially all the quiet, dialogue-driven moments between these iconic characters. Plus, it’s split into six parts with an epilogue so it can be easily viewed in pieces. The film’s epilogue has people talking as well given that it contains some fantastic new footage Snyder shot in 2020 featuring Batman, Cyborg, Flash, and a few beloved megastars of the DC Universe as they struggle to survive in the apocalyptic future we glimpsed in BvS. Although only a taste of what Snyder had in store for us in future Justice League sequels, just being able to spend more time in this nightmarish hellscape was an absolute highlight, as was finally getting to see Harry Lennix’s General Swanwick, who was in Man of Steel and BvS, finally being revealed as the iconic DC hero and future League member, Martian Manhunter.
Ultimately, the Snyder cut features all the elements that loyal fans had been clamoring to see but were denied and features none of the sterilized garbage shoehorned into Josstice League. And make no mistake, this Justice League is for the fans since it wouldn’t be here without their hard work and insistence. This is not a play it safe, straddle the fence film targeted for mass appeal. They tried that in 2017 and we know how it turned out. If you hated Man of Steel and BvS, you’re an idiot if you think this is the film that’ll make you a Snyder fan. That’d be like hating Batman Begins and The Dark Knight but expecting you’ll love The Dark Knight Rises. If you already missed the train with his last two films, you don’t get to jump aboard now.
This is a sprawling, mythic saga of darkness and light on par with Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. At its heart, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a passionate love letter and hard-won victory for diehard fans who fought for years to get Snyder’s stunningly beautiful vision of these beloved heroes and their epic struggles to see the light of day as originally intended. In a world stained with countless tragedies and bitter endings, the painfully arduous journey of this film from director’s vision to our screens is a triumphant testament to the power of people when they come together in service of a shared dream, a dream that, to quote Lois Lane in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, gives people hope, something which has been in very short supply these last few years. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is the film that overcame tremendous odds and tragic circumstances to deliver ardent fans the cinematic masterpiece they demanded, fought for, and deserved, a film which I’m confident will rank among the best of the best of superhero cinema.
Epilogue: The Sleep of the Just
In the midst of reports that some diehard Snyder fans have been harassing WB executives because of their decision not to restore the Snyderverse going forward, something I always knew wouldn’t happen, I feel compelled to say to those engaging in this bullying campaign that it’s time to stand down and take stock of what was accomplished here. We, and more importantly Zack Snyder, have won. What we accomplished is on par with what Batman accomplished in the film, namely righting a past wrong, fixing the past injustice that was the 2017 theatrical version. Thanks to the undying devotion of his fans, Zack Snyder was able to complete his epic three-film undertaking, and although we won’t get to see what he had in store for the future, we have to take stock of all that we did get to see. We mustn’t forget we live in a world of imperfection where nothing is guaranteed. In the face of this reality, we must learn to appreciate what we have and stop lamenting the things we don’t. This should be a time of celebration, not conflict. Let’s celebrate this miraculous and hard-won victory and draw comfort and peace from a job well done.
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