By Ben Furgang
The long and winding road that led to “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” was always destined to be more fascinating than the final product, but what we have on our hands is still the most fascinating superhero film to come along in years.
The original “Justice League” released in 2017 as an unfinished, inconsistent, cobbled-together dump of a film. When director Zack Snyder dropped out of the project following a family tragedy, Joss Whedon (director of the first two “Avengers” films) was brought in to clean up the film and inject some humor into it. Snyder’s original vision was thrown out the window, and fans of his work were not happy.
An online movement to release the “Snyder Cut,” as it was dubbed at first, quickly gained momentum, drawing support from the film’s actors, and eventually even Snyder himself. All this commotion ultimately worked, and “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” was released on March 18. It’s not every day that a hashtag can convince a major studio to spend 70 million dollars on re-editing a three-year-old film that bombed both critically and commercially, but here we are.
And as for the film itself, it’s phenomenal.
Snyder has crafted a deeply engaging, fully realized world, and it’s a breath of fresh air. Most superhero films now seem scared to take themselves too seriously. They’re too self-aware, too reflexive, almost as if they’re not entirely confident in their own material. “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” drops all of this, resulting in a deadly serious fantasy wonder that shares more DNA with “The Lord of the Rings” than “The Avengers.” This doesn’t feel like a product that was drawn up during a studio board meeting. It feels like a real film made by a real person.
It must be said that the film’s four-hour runtime (yes, four hours) is beyond indulgent. Absolutely nothing is left on the cutting room floor, and we’re given it all in the boxy 4:3 aspect ratio that it was originally shot in. Regardless of what one thinks of the film, it’s hard not to appreciate the level of creative freedom that Snyder was allowed here.
While four hours might be pushing it, this is definitely a film that deserves a lot of room to breathe. A lot of the theatrical cut’s flaws stemmed from the fact that Warner Bros. wanted it to clock in at under two hours, which resulted in characters like Cyborg and Flash – who were being introduced for the first time – feeling very underwritten.
Here, we really become invested in the world and the story. Cyborg especially shines in the new cut, with his characterization and backstory improving tenfold. Flash is no longer as annoying as he was originally. The scenes with Superman have a weight to them that wasn’t there before.
And Steppenwolf’s motivations are clear now in a way that gives the whole film a brand new context.
With all the fanfare of this finally being Snyder’s original, completed vision, it should be noted that the film is still not the full story. The end of the film points to something much larger: a climax that will likely never arrive, as Snyder’s plans for a Justice League trilogy were scrapped before the theatrical cut even arrived.
But all things considered, this is more than enough.
The fact that this cut of the film even exists is a minor miracle. It’s a diamond in the rough, proving that action films designed to appeal to a large audience can still have an actual vision and directorial stamp. Blockbuster cinema is alive and well.
“Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is now streaming on HBO Max.