It’s finally here. A film whose existence was denied, then undermined, and finally revived. How we got here is a story in and of itself, both good and bad, but at its heart is a man trying to complete a labour of love as a dedication to the world he crafted, and to the daughter he lost. It is an immensely expansive work with an intimately personal motivation – so now Zack Snyder’s Justice League is here, the question on everyone’s minds lingers: was it worth it?
This is a remarkably stronger Justice League, as Snyder recalls how we got here: Superman’s sacrifice as the catalyst for the events to come, his death cry the beacon for a world unprotected. Familiar scenes are far more fleshed out and relationships are developed organically between Batman and his attempted recruits, using his identity as a source of informational currency to buy over the likes of Arthur Curry and Barry Allen. Snyder’s thematic complexity immediately shines as a strong emotional bedrock to ground the superhero spectacularism, as disillusionment is explored through the first two hours; Bruce’s recruitment quest, Martha’s farm sale, Lois’ mourning, Steppenwolf’s desire for redemption.
The instability of worlds both personal and cosmic itself inextricably tied up in disillusionment, through the notions of grief, antipathy and the lurking threat of planetary mortality. Who cares if people know he’s Batman if the world is ending? It’s the continuation of themes seen lurking in Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, this time brought to the forefront upon the symbolic death of hope itself. It’s mythology writ large, the mark of superheroism more akin to battling a curse than a god-like notion; much of it feels reflective of ancient Greek tragedy, as we watch these titans grapple with their very existence. This thematic darkness grants a greater violence than perhaps seen before in previous DC properties – there’s dismemberment, Amazonians cleaved in two, and blood isn’t shied away from.
For a 4-hour film, it flies by. David Brenner and Dody Dorn’s editing interweaves the cast through connections of emotions, tensions, and needs; the chapter titles help to formulate a thematic quilt within which Brenner and Dorn can sew our scenes into, forming a rich tapestry. The length also allows for a greater exploration of Steppenwolf, allowing for a threateningly intelligent reinterpretation – we witness him working through earth, kidnapping and interrogating to uncover the Mother Boxes, unlike Joss Whedon’s sudden and unexplained Smash n’ Grabs, which reinvigorates him with a sinister intelligence, rather than some grey blockhead. Fantastic craftmanship can be done when you have people who actually care about the material they work with. Speaking of craftsmanship, Fabian Wagner’s cinematography is gorgeous – it’s a much-missed return to Snyder’s kinetic fluidity that defines him, as we sweep across arctic landscapes, dance through exorbitant light shows, or intimately witness a private moment. Sure, some of the CGI is a little unpolished, but this has some of the most visually dazzling moments of the DCEU, period.
This as much Ray Fisher’s story as it is Snyder’s story. Justice League may be about this cast of characters joining forces, but Cyborg is what binds them. We’re given insight into Victor’s emotional struggles, grappling with the decisions his father made and his new-found existence as part-man, part-Mother Box, which place him at the emotional core of Justice League’s story. Much like the other heroes, he’s cursed with god-like power – instilled with a grand purpose yet trapped in a state of self-loathing isolation, with the implication that Victor would have preferred death over what he sees as a privation of life. Fisher is a mesmerizing and definitive Cyborg, so it’s all the more disheartening to know we won’t get to see his story continue. Cyborg is not only key to Justice League’s emotional core, but its narrative essence too – it’s through him we understand the Mother Boxes and their ambivalent potential within the universe, amplifying the central position of Victor Stone as the driving force behind everything; Victor Stone is the lynchpin to saving the universe.
It’s also surprisingly funny, in a way that doesn’t feel cringy or forced like Whedon’s constantly did. Snyder brings a fun levity to moments that feels charismatic and connective, allowing the group to grow closer as comrades without feeling as though it’s trying to be funny. They feel more natural and relative to the scene’s development, or define the character better, especially in Barry Allen’s case. Barry’s still quirky and awkward, but there’s a more earnest and mature side to him that emerges as the situation becomes more and more dire, allowing for a more rounded Flash that was greatly needed. While there are a few moments like the expositional history lesson, and partial typical superhero technobabble, that feel a little heavy-handed, it’s hard to ignore the fun introductions of Darkseid and the Green Lanterns these scenes allow for.
Now, there is one (technically two) new scenes that’re snuggled into the epilogue, and they are insane. The post-apocalyptic interaction between Batman and a surprising cavalcade of characters immediately makes you clamour for a sequel – the scene practically demands it itself. If the rest of the film was a welcome return to the Snyderverse, this scene creates a hungry desire for more. There are some surprising revelations and bombshells dropped that’re unexpected, and Jared Leto’s Joker almost redeems himself from his Suicide Squad performance; the chemistry between Affleck and Leto is admittedly intoxicating, the two really do feel as though they have a decades-old history. These two new additions genuinely sparked a strong desire to return and continue Snyder’s story – even if that’s impossible. It may be one of the best scenes of Snyder’s DCEU entirely.
This is a resurrection twice over: one of Superman, and one of Zack Snyder. This Justice League is the definitive Justice League, and it’s a thrilling denouement of the Snyderverse that feels not only exciting, and mesmerizing, but fulfilling. The story of this film is one for the ages, and it’s beautiful to know that Zack Snyder can finally be proud of what he’s created, knowing that the world will be able to see his passion and his vision for Justice League come together.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is out on Now TV and Sky Cinema 18th March.