Zack Snyder's Justice League

Zack Snyder's Justice League ★★★★

"they told us our gods would outlive us... but they lied."

feels in many ways like a culmination of zack snyder's interest in superheroes as genuine myth; in their iconography, their abilities and feelings. it takes less than a minute to see what it was that wb loss confidence in and less than five to see how wrong they were. unlike the whedon version which opened on cellphone footage of superman being a good little boy followed by a "superman is dead :(" montage snyder opens on a twirling slomo close-up of superman's ugly, christlike spear wound, the reverberating screams of his bloody sacrifice from BvS at first being shown felt by the immediate people in his surroundings, then the city, then the oceans and the entire planet. about as clear an artistic statement on the self-serious simplicity of his vision coupled with his focus on the pain & consequences of heroes taking action/making choices as there could possibly be.

what follows is, unlike the bleak expressionist nightmare world of BvS (which still rears its head a couple times in the violence, less so in the characters this time around), some of the most plainly earnest and dorky and surprisingly emotional bring-the-team-together montages any of these movies has ever attempted. all blurred tragic backstories/memories of family and freak accidents and gifts that feel like curses giving way to exceptionally moody and violent sequences of heroism. the decision to go with the academy ratio compositions make these sequences feel huge, there's a scale to the frames and momentum to the camera moves whether its something as simple as lois grieving superman, or barry allen's childlike meet-cute romantic version of heroism, or establishing aquaman's presence as a lone, brute elemental storm, or cyborg (who received the biggest upgrade in complexity in this version of the film, his origin sequence is incredible, legit what were they thinking cutting all the stuff between him and his dad out?) who's reckoning with the power and perversity of his own re-animated existence. these introductions are stitched together with a sense of character and musicality for nearly half the runtime of this 4 hour movie, and the room they are given to breathe because of that duration make them the heart of the movie instead of the set-up you sit through to get to the good stuff. formally gliding back and forth between these intimate moments of these characters living their individual lives in their closed-off pocket of the world and the incoming fantasy epic brutality that's soon to connect them.

even what should be the weakest part of the film, the kinda stuff that has to appear in every single one of these movies as indicated by wb and whedon opting to keep in truncated form, which involves a lot of talk of alien boxes and galactic cg monsters and the ancient fantasy worlds they're a part of is somehow not terrible. the "keep it moving" sequence for example, something that was kept in whedon's version of the film but significantly shortened and changed in tone here for example is its own mini-film that though using many of the same images forms them into something that has all the operatic, mythic tragedy of snyder's own 300. swarms of themysciran ladies swarming steppenwolf and his bugs and just being shredded to pieces of pulp next to the people they care about and trying to seal tombs with giant hammers simply to honor an ancient promise; a sequence that is later expanded on too in an unhinged flashback story sequence that can only be described as snyder's version of the opening of Lord of the Rings, which he cribs a couple design and ritual elements from and features longboats and horseback soldiers fending off aliens spaceships, as well as lanterns hands being lopped off, godly lightning disintegrating bodies and battle axes piercing giant muscles. (give him an Excalibur or Conan movie please.)

the action in general takes a massive step up in these moments, even in a hastily cgi'd together form snyder has always excelled at images of visceral power and digital fluidity and his interest in superheroes has always partially been how he can apply that style to the massive things they are capable of and how that alienates them from the normal world. there's a real emphasis on strength and effort and pain in his setpieces and a stylish use of movement and time to highlight them which makes his superpowered action frequently exciting and shocking. when superman takes flight in MoS it feels like a bomb has gone off, when batman dispatches a goon in BvS it's not before he's found a way to stab him and break a few bones like a sadistic psycho first. that mentality translates here even as the team of aliens learn to work together, their choices and powers result in unintended consequences and apocalyptic premonitions, when they get wounded or their comrades fall its viscous and bloody in a way i'm not used to seeing in these movies. it's a young boy's sense of "mature", sure, but it does give a more appropriate sense of the power they are both resisting and unleashing because these aren't quirky toys to snyder but weird mutant people who use exceptional force to achieve an exceptional goal.

if i have any reservations here it's the same ones intrinsic to all these movies. even directed by a stylish music video himbo they all suffer from a certain amount of the generic brand management shuffling act, the constant spinning wheel of a bigger cg villain on the horizon and so there's a number of things in the last hour that involves a lot of who can punch harder sequencing (that is not imo as interesting as the many sequences of them trying and failing in the early action scenes) and ends on a solid 20 minutes of referential threads that will be left hanging for the fans of movies that are no longer coming. i kinda wished it just ended on those closing moments of the climactic setpiece where a now united earth (i'm not broken... and i'm not alone") stares down a portal at the brutal invasion have just effectively stalled but not defeated. it's an interesting moment of half-hearted victory that mirrors the united forces of the ancient flashback from earlier (establishing like so many fans want to that these characters are modern myth) and also carries weight because this unity actually means something when contrasted with all the different, fleshed out histories and headspaces we experienced in the first 2 hours.

that being said it really is just insane an assembly cut this big and expensive exists at all and that it is as vividly imagined and tonally consistent as it is. it's absolutely too long (though somehow still better paced than its 2 hour counterpart) and it doesn't all work but i can't deny seeing the same sequences that were frankenstein'd into a garish romp handled with genuine patience and atmosphere and emotional pathos was kinda surreal and based on the way things are going snyder (in all his occasionally flawed sincerity and self-seriousness and sense of "cool") is one of the last true ostentatious imagemakers will ever be put in charge of IP this lucrative. so idk. fuck it. 4 stars

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