by Philip Price
Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill & Gal Gadot
Runtime: 4 hours & 2 minutes
Here's the thing, this version of this movie was never meant for public consumption. This may have eventually landed on Blu-ray as the "Ultimate Edition" of “Zack Snyder's Justice League” had some version of Snyder's vision actually been released in theaters, but even that form wouldn't have been this form exactly. I may never understand why Warner Bros. didn't simply break this up into two parts and release them separately, give us a few standalone movies a la “Aquaman,” “Flashpoint,” as well as something like “Shazam!,” after which releasing the conclusion to Snyder's Darkseid saga with the Justice League, but if the 2021 release of ‘The Snyder Cut’ proves anything it's that "what ifs" actually have the chance of becoming reality. Additionally, when considering “Zack Snyder's Justice League” one also has to consider the context with which it has now been received and how it is completely different from how it would have been received in 2017. Is it better than ‘Josstice League’? Of course, but is it good on its own terms? Is it even a movie that can exist on its own terms? The answers to those questions are a little more complicated.
Given Snyder's penchant for renaissance-like visuals and his mentality that approaches these comic book heroes with the seriousness of Greek mythology I was completely in the bag from the moment Chris Nolan and WB named him the man to take up the DC mantle at the studio. “Dawn of Justice” and “Man of Steel” are at the top of my DCEU rankings and I wrote several thousand words on the theatrical cut of “Justice League” in 2017 regarding its overcorrection to the complaints lodged against Snyder's vision, but now that you know the context from which I come from you should also know that I really loved a lot of what “Zack Snyder's Justice League” offered...even if we'll never see any of it paid off.
Most surprising in this new cut is the different tone Snyder's film carries from that of its DCEU companions. Yes, things are still dark are dour for portions of the runtime, but overall, there is certainly a more hopeful vibe to the proceedings especially given the addition of Ezra Miller's Barry Allen and the fleshed out arc offered Ray Fisher's Victor Stone. These two characters saw the most drastic changes from what was released in theaters to Snyder's version and the restoration of their stories gives way to a story as much about loss, the trauma of such loss, and re-discovering oneself in the wake of tragedy as it is about the intergalactic CGI monsters trying to take over the universe. Of course, the CGI baddies are still something of a mess as it's difficult to conjure any kind of tangible feelings toward Steppenwolf as he's very much still a lackey to Darkseid and garners little sympathy despite Snyder and screenwriter Chris Terrio attempting to graph a redemptive arc onto his journey. On the upside, Snyder's film isn't really about the villain as Steppenwolf is present solely to serve as a function of the plot while the story Snyder is telling, the essence of what he wants to do with these characters, is to focus on that throughline of exploring what it means when Gods come to earth that began in “Man of Steel”; continuing to explore the system of checks and balances these heroes bring with them. The building of this team allows for Ben Affleck's Bruce Wayne to share in a power and responsibility he's carried for too long on his own, a passing of the torch in some respects to the trinity of Jason Momoa's Aquaman (the most slighted of the leads in this version), Cyborg, and Flash who each are finding their literal and figurative footing. Whereas Wayne is the head of construction, Gal Gadot's Diana Prince is the architect who uses her experiences and ever-evolving understanding of growth to meld these disparate parts into a cohesive team. “Zack Snyder's Justice League” has and takes the time necessary to establish these dynamics making the eventual culmination of the league's resistance to Steppenwolf that much more magnificent.
So yes, taken as a continuation of Snyder's DC films and a study on the full circle of uncertainty, doubt, and fear alien beings and caped crusaders would initially bring upon society as opposed to the assumed relief and inherent trust, this version of ‘Justice League’ is absolutely a good film on its own terms that stands on the shoulders of the two Snyder DCEU films. There is real heart and thought in these proceedings, genuine investment in what these super-powered people mean to and for the universe they exist in, and even when Snyder's work inevitably devolves into a finale filled with an onslaught of CGI there is still an eloquence to his visual storytelling that lends each frame a panel-like quality that speaks volumes without any character having to utter a line of dialogue. One glance at any shot in this, his cut of Justice League, exemplifies Snyder's adoration of this material and like any of those individual frames – “Zack Snyder's Justice League” is something beautiful to behold.