Before diving fully into this piece (and a great deal of Zack Snyder-themed mockery), it feels important to name the context surrounding both the director’s initial departure from Justice League and the framing of his return to the film. The loss of Zack’s daughter Autumn, who died by suicide in 2017 during the film’s production, was an immense tragedy, and there is something genuinely beautiful about him being afforded the opportunity to return and complete what has clearly been a personal and significant project after taking the time to care for himself and be with his family. There’s a piece in The Cinemaholic about Autumn and the Allison Crowe-performed cover of “Hallelujah” that pays tribute to her over the credits of the Snyder Cut, worth the short read for anyone who is interested.
**As always, numerous spoilers for Zack Snyder’s Justice League await. Reader beware!**
The first warning sign came at the thirty-four-second mark, as the Godzilla Vs. Kong trailer gave way to HBO Max’s characteristically royal purple color scheme backdropping a foreboding inscription: “This film is presented in a 4:3 format to preserve the integrity of Zack Snyder’s creative vision.”
As an avowed comic-optimist, I have loved nothing more than to watch the gradual IP takeover that has cemented this medium at the center-ish of culture over the past decade, cheering the growing ubiquity of Infinity Stones and Lassos of Truth with abandon; and even so, not one minute into what is arguably the most heralded nerdom-driven accomplishment in modern Hollywood history, the only thing I could think was: “this shit is too much.”
And maybe that’s the perfect place to start. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is too much: Overlong, overserious, overslow-mo’d, overcommitted to using the word “scent” at least twice per chapter; this four-plus hour epic is every bit the unmitigated deluge of dimly-lit CGI cacophony and grandiose (if ultimately undercooked) mythologizing one would expect from a final-cut-empowered director who once managed to get a two-minute-long Hallelujah-scored sex scene into the studio cut of 2009’s Watchmen.
But whether by virtue of the inextricable context surrounding its release and prior incarnation, the beat-you-over-the-head-with-it expansiveness of its narrative, or the Stockholm syndrome that set in around minute 210…I might just love it.
In the spirit of Zack Snyder’s creative vision, this reaction will be structured as a collection of six chapters that are neither narratively consistent nor directly connected to their titles. Imitation, flattery, etc.
Part One: What Was, What Will Be, What Never Shall Again
In my sophomore year of college, I lived in a dorm room next to the graveyard where it was rumored that Joss Whedon first started writing the earliest iteration of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. For a long time, I thought this was an incredibly cool fact, one which somehow connected me to the mind responsible (at least in part) for a top-five-all-time X-Men run and the pervasively sarcastic tone that is the beating heart of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Now, it’s impossible to extrapolate Whedon’s creative impact from the numerous (and many-times-over substantiated) allegations of the harassment he inflicted upon his actors and crew members and anyone for whom his position of power afforded him the ability to abuse without consequence. It’s equally hard to gauge the extent to which my more recently waning opinions of his past work are colored by these revelations.
But what I can say with absolute certainty is that the Whedon cut of Justice League was, is, and will forever be a piece of shit film. And while there is plenty to be said about whether you should need four hours to construct an effective narrative arc, or whether choosing a pervasively bleak color palette actually helps to convey seriousness, the Snyder Cut is light years ahead of the Whedon cut in its cohesion.
On first pass through the film (because yes, I am a person who very much so cares about my own time and mental well being and therefore thought it would be a reasonable decision to watch this movie more than once), I was struck by how impactful that tonal consistency was on my enjoyment of even the most ludicrous moments.
From its opening Superman-death-rattle-shockwaves stretching molasses-like across the globe to the bizarre twirling departure of a badly-CGI’d character-who-shall-not-yet-be-named at its close, each character, action sequence, and narrative decision adheres to the same warped and hyper-stylized ideology, consistent even in their lack of a tether to any semblance of reality. And if nothing else, that’s far more than can be said for its previous incarnation.
Part Two: Where Once Was None, A Hero Now Rises
Unlike the more personality-driven films of the MCU, there’s not a whole lot to be said for the characters that make up the titular league of the justice-leaning variety:
- Cavill is an underrated Superman in general, but here plays little more than Deus Ex Machina incarnate.
- Gadot’s strengths as Wonder Woman are better suited to a solo film, and in many ways disappear in all non-battle scenes.
- Momoa is charisma incarnate, even when ¾ CGI’d and swallowing mouthfuls of water, but is only put to best use in a handful of sequences.
- Ezra Miller is very, very happy to be here.
- Batfleck is not.
However, one of the Snyder Cut’s greatest triumphs is the elevation of Ray Fisher’s Cyborg from unsettlingly animated afterthought to central engine of the plot; less so because Cyborg is a uniquely exciting hero in Snyder’s hands (a long-winded explanation of his ability to manipulate the financial systems playing over a questionably rendered wrestling match between a metaphorical bull and bear is perhaps the peak of the films swing-and-a-miss self-seriousness), and more because of the fairly essential Jenga piece his character arc plays within the narrative construction of the updated film.
His progression from resentful experiment to architect of Superman’s resurrection to literal savior of earth (those last two with the essential assists for Barry “How Much Theater Kid Energy Is Too Much” Allen) is in many ways the most fully realized of all the league members, and Fisher’s emotive performance provides just a measure of humanity in the midst of the movie’s more intergalactic concerns. When contextualized by his specific role as the cast-member most willing to take the career hit in order to speak out against Whedon’s on-set abuses, it’s wonderful to see him get some belated shine.
Part Three: A Sentence In Slow Motion
To be read across the page (L to R)
The thing about slow motion is that our experience of time is relative and therefore, when deployed in the midst of an otherwise standard speed sequence, it can enhance the drama of the moment ; however, when roughly 70 % of your film is in slow motion, “slow,” being relative, is no longer slow, sacrificing the allure and instead leaving us with too much time to wonder why Zack’s unimpeached creative vision demanded three full minutes dedicated to a cascade of flying hotdogs.
Part Four: A Few Words For Jared Leto
I do not like Jared Leto. I have rarely liked Jared Leto since I first became aware of his existence portraying a meat sack with a crown of bleached hair begging to be pummeled in Fight Club. I continued to dislike Jared Leto when I (in my perennially late to the party way) recently watched him garbling the skin off some semblance of a New York accent in Requiem for a Dream. I firmly believe his grill-laced performance as Joker in 2016’s Suicide Squad should be obliterated from the record of human history.
In January my pandemic-movie-group (internally known as The Geráld Butler Club, and yes, we know it’s Gerard) watched the new Denzel Washington crime thriller The Little Things, a bewilderingly terrible film with an even more bewilderingly terrible Rami Malek performance as its emotional center. And Leto, approaching his role with all the nuance of a Steppenwolf in a china shop, was an absolute joy to watch. He was rewarded with a (hilarious) Golden Globes nomination, in what I can only assume was the final time this cinematic marvel will be discussed within broader cultural circles.
I bring up this story for two reasons: first, despite my unabashed hatred for his prior Joker portrayal, his brief appearance in the Knightmare sequence at the near-final moments of Justice League feel cut much more from the cloth of his Little Things performance than of his earlier Suicide Squad debacle. You can see him straining against the edges of his own theatrical limitations as he reaches for the why-so-seriousness of Ledger’s Joker, instead of stumbling inadvertently into the high-camp of a more foul-mouthed and heavily neck-tatted Nicholson portrayal, and the result is legitimately hilarious (even if he’s about as far away from “in on the joke” as a person can get).
Second, much like Leto’s borderline-clinical commitment to the bit-he-may-or-may-not-be-aware-of, what makes the Snyder Cut such a surprisingly enjoyable watch is its willingness to steer into the skid. Whether at the peak of its 2010-trailer-for-World-of-Warcraft-inspired battle sequences, or in the midst of its most delusionally self-serious dorm room philosophizing about the temptations of power (shouts to Joe Mortan and his spot-on “Joe Mortan in Terminator 2” impression), it’s difficult to not appreciate how willing the film is to be fully itself, and how hilariously over-the-top its fully realized self is. And while a less maximalist approach may have ultimately made a better movie, sometimes it’s simply more fun to watch somebody airball the big shot.
Part Five: My Kingdom For An Editor
Zack Snyder’s Justice League was written by, among others, Chris Terrio, whose Oscar win for his debut feature-length script in Argo led to similarly illustrious penmanship in films like 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the original 2017 Justice League, 2019’s The Rise of Skywalker, and literally nothing else. In honor of both his soliloquizing in this film and his illustrious career writ large, the following chapter will be exclusively a series of the greatest lines of dialogue from Zack Snyder’s Justice League. In the interest of allowing the words to speak for themselves, no context will be provided:
“We’re a small group of reactionary terrorists who want to turn back the clock in Europe a thousand years.”
“Sky torch. Hero beacon. Scatter the darkness. Burn as you burned in days before. Show her the darkness before the daylight of history.”
“Dr. Stone, I’m sorry. Your wife didn’t survive. I’m afraid your son won’t either.”
“We advise them on Xeno-Science”
“You know what criminal justice would be for me? My son not wasting his life.”
“I don’t care how many demons he’s fought in how many hells. He’s never fought us. Not us united.”
“Fuck the world.”
“The Nazis found the box.”
“It’s to be or not to be. Not both.”
“We’re close. The scent of the enemy…of absence…of darkness…of death…”
“This red cape charges back”
“You were right Dr. Stone. The tests came back negative. Everyone’s clear. Even you.”
“I’m always dressed”
“You have been near a mother box. The scent is on you!”
“Make your own future. Make your own past. It’s all right now.”
“Au contraire my little fishstick”
“How many dead eyes can you look into before you die inside yourself?”
“I’ve been dead inside a looooooong time, but even I have a limit.”
“You won’t kill me! I’m your best friend! Besides…who’s gonna give you a reach around?”
“The scent is on you too!”
Part Six: “And Lo!” Cried The Writer, “What Madness Maketh This The Storytelling Choice?”
Six lingering questions regarding six questionable narrative and/or character decisions in Zack Snyder’s Justice League:
- When burying one-third of a doomsday machine in order to prevent its future discovery, is two feet deep too few feet to dig?
- Are we sure destroying two city blocks is enough to send European society careening back into the dark ages?
- If Barry Allen’s shoes explode the moment he accesses the speed force, are we sure his jeans would survive the trip?
- No Go Fund Me’s to help Superman’s mom keep her house? Really?
- If Steppenwolf tells Desaad in detail how and where he has discovered the Anti-Life Equation, and Desaad is in the same room with Darkseid, and then hands the molten lava video phone over to Darkseid so that Steppenwolf can also tell Darkseid in detail how and where he discovered the Anti-Life Equation, does that mean that Apokolips’ advanced communications technology does not have speakerphone?
- Wouldn’t Zeus be hotter?
Before wrapping up, it seems essential to mention the final addition to the updated Justice League’s cast: longtime DC fan-favorite character Martian Manhunter.
And much like Zack Snyder, that’s all I have to say about him.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is available to stream on HBO Max.