Zack Snyder's Justice League

Zack Snyder's Justice League ★★★★★

93

2017's Justice League featured glimmers of potential amidst a dying skeleton of clashing ideas, tones, and images. Watching it on release, I saw the vision of Zack Snyder, no matter his usual doses of absurd heft and mythological self-seriousness. But it was buried in the edit - tired re-shoots, major sequences truncated and scrambled, and a lazy change from Snyder's operatic excess to Whedon's quippy team-up adventure. That version might've worked if they hadn't spent two previous films smothered in Snyder's worldview. So it was doomed to fail, rightfully so. If you've never seen the 2017 film, there's no need to, unless you're curious or interested in the vast differences on display. But this version, excitedly reclaimed as Zack Snyder's own film in the title, is so fundamentally different, it's truly like seeing it all for the first time, even segments that made it in the 2017 cut. That lifeless husk of a movie is given context and purpose through Snyder's signature expressive direction.

Much of Justice League is rooted in an earnestness that fights back against the hopeless political structures of Batman v Superman. The tragedy of Superman's death is seen as a cosmic cry - the world's vulnerability echoing across time and space. This opening scene sets the stage for how Snyder understands these heroes - as icons of myth, imbued with religious sanctity and a tragic weight to their actions and consequences. And the first half is largely about these heroes as they come to terms with their personal issues while recognizing their potential to save the planet. How, after Superman's death, Earth collapsed into a directionless void that is ripe for the taking. Whereas Lex Luthor was the major villain of BVS, with his unchecked wealth and ego - here it is something ancient and beyond the confines of capitalism. It only makes sense then that Justice League is less of a deconstruction than Snyder's two previous DC films. The film still operates as a team-up picture, with plenty of humor and levity to counter Snyder's romantic, heroic portrayals, but the shift from the split-tension of BVS to the vignette ensemble of Justice League is mostly seamless, especially when watching them in close proximity.

It's hard to shift your eyes from what this movie is doing differently, in comparison to the 2017 version, to what it actually offers as its own entity. But it becomes clear with The Flash and Cyborg. These two characters were sketches of the real thing in Whedon's cut. In Snyder's version, they are the life-blood of the movie, each reconciling with their individuality and the relationship with their fathers. The film as a whole is about the Justice League growing past what's holding them back - overcoming obstacles while acknowledging the cost. Snyder gracefully builds the camaraderie between all the heroes, taking his time to develop each on their own as well as how they interact with each other and their history.

None of that matters though if the spectacle doesn't hold its own. And I'm happy to say it does. What was a garish hellscape in Whedon's cut is, at the very least, much more coherent in scope and intent. I could actually follow the action, and I'm happier to say that I was engaged and interested in the narrative stakes. It rarely feels lifeless or without a propulsive forward momentum. Some of the CGI breaks past Snyder's usual digitality, but none of it personally ruined my enjoyment of the film, although it could vary for others. How Snyder creates action sequences is so moving to me. He always takes the time to build to a grandiose moment, and he finds unique ways of raising the emotional stakes to an outpour of catharsis. While admittedly flashy - his dynamic camera emphasizes a weighted sense of power and pain for these heroes. Not to mention how elegant the smaller moments are, such as a simple conversation between Lois Lane and Martha Kent. It's a testament to Zack Snyder's understanding of his version of this mythos that even the usual overlong superhero climax feels determined, perhaps even personal.

The final half-hour, which functions as essentially a series of cliffhangers and post-credit scenes, maybe isn't necessary, but when the 'for Autumn' title card rises up at the end, it's clear that Zack Snyder put his all into this gift, for her and others who struggled and didn't make it. Justice League is very much a film that reckons with grief and letting go, and knowing what to cling to as you make your own way in the world. Above all, I admire Justice League as a object of motion-picture purity. A testament to an artist's vision, and holding tight to what matters most. Not for a second did he compromise here. It culminates in a glorious opera of excess - slow motion, Nick Cave needle-drops, Icelandic chants, the emotional rifts between fathers and mothers and their children. Whatever you associate with Zack Snyder, it's here. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

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