In 2017, Justice League, a film set to steal the crown and glory from Marvel’s mighty Avengers as the most ambitious, long-awaited and star-studded superhero adventure so far, landed with a whimper on big screens across the world. Despite breaking even at the box office and fulfilling its promise to unite some of DC’s most classic and cherished characters within the same narrative, it quickly became apparent that Justice League wasn’t the colossal, cinematic force fans had dared to dream of. Instead, Justice League, a product of third-rate CG, conflicting visions and tonal disparities, became a monumental flop.
Not only disappointing to the studio, who anticipated MCU levels of lasting and untold success, and the fans, to whom these heroes and their on-screen representation matter greatly, Justice Leauge’s failure was also a blow for Zach Snyder, who exited as director of the film following a significant personal tragedy. Consequentially, when rumours of the Snyder Cut surfaced online, fans latched onto the idea and orchestrated a large-scale movement, writing letters and taking to Twitter in their thousands, demanding that Warner Brothers #ReleasetheSnyderCut. This vehement mobilisation of fans, encouraged by Affleck, Cavill and Gadot, gained traction, morphing into a united voice that the studio could not ignore, and eventually, following a four-year fight, amid the chaos of a global pandemic, the fans finally received Zach Snyder’s Justice League.
Freed from studio pressures, the Snyder Cut is Justice League exactly as Zack once envisioned it. Coming in at just over four hours, this recut, renewed, restructured, restored and reimagined adventure takes the time to thoroughly dig underneath the skin of each of its legendary heroes. Although it’s now split into seven chapters and presented through a boxy and aesthetically pleasing 1:1 aspect ratio, the film’s plot remains essentially the same as Joss Whedon’s Justice Leauge offering, following Batman (Ben Affleck) as he chases after legend, a couple of kids with daddy issues, and death itself to assemble a team of heroes strong enough to save humanity from the catastrophic threat of Steppenwolf and his army of Parademons. However, with Synder’s wealth of added depth and detail, the film feels overall more coherent than its predecessor. He nails down character arcs, builds upon the DC universe, takes the time to let his scenes breathe and allows his audience some brief reprieve from the relentless assault of action and exposition.
Synder adds layers of depth to Affleck’s Batman, relenting from the darker and unknowable Bruce Wayne constructed in past instalments of the DCEU, adding sorely needed emotional resonance to the core of the film. Although, it’s Ray Fisher’s Cyborg transformation – from a disappointing afterthought to a fleshed out and thoroughly developed leading character – which gifts the film its true heart and soul. This commitment to nuanced characterisation and narrative clarity transforms the movie into something much more exciting, justifying the time spent by fans on the strident Snyder Cut campaign. However, while these details might work for well-versed comic-book fanatics, casual viewers might still find it challenging to find something concrete to cling to. Given that Snyder doesn’t spare much thought to viewers who aren’t already submerged in comic-book culture, big reveals and flailing attempts to pull on the heartstrings feel unearned, and an amalgamation of problems still prevail.
Over-indulgence – a typical trait of Snyder’s – is the film’s chief issue. While it does add much-needed consistency to the film, the epic runtime eventually begins to slug. Mostly because, instead of focusing on streamlining Whedon’s mess of disconnected ideas, Snyder begins to stuff the already bulging narrative with even more bloated comic-book ideology. Perhaps this would have been fine if Snyder hadn’t also chosen to waste oodles of time on silly and unnecessary ideas. A slow-motion scene in which Barry Allen rescues a pretty girl from an approaching lorry and an onslaught of hot dogs feels particularly out of place. While the moment does work to showcase Allen’s powers, Snyder’s decision to have The Flash take the time to tenderly stroke the face of an attractive stranger as she hurtles towards her death feels particularly creepy and out of place. The gravitas Snyder places on pointless moments such as these results in a final showdown with Steppenwolf that is rushed, lacking and just as disappointing as the earlier cut of the film.
While some of Snyder’s character work aids the overall project, his complete disregard of others creates significant cracks in the foundations of the overall franchise. It also feels as if Snyder didn’t take into account characters already favourably constructed by other directors. An early scene in which Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman turns uncharacteristically bloodthirsty in front of a group of school children feels utterly disconnected from Patty Jenkins’ ethical and peace-seeking vision of Diana Prince. It’s disappointing that Synder should use these characters to create a self-serving version of his passion project rather than staying true to and building upon the work of his collaborators.
The Blu-ray will serve as a trophy of success for the fans and a reminder of the long, bonkers and slightly exhausting road to the unlikely release of the Snyder Cut. The film’s physical existence feels like a significant milestone for the fans and something they deserve to hold in their two hands. While not every risk pays off, it’s undeniable that Snyder has revived Justice League by packing it full with flavour, spectacle, humour and as many kick-ass visuals as humanly possible. Special Features include a twenty-five minute behind the scenes documentary titled Road to Justice League in which Snyder reflects on his contributions to the DC Universe—although, the short doc is more of a geeky treat for the fans rather than the scalding hot tea we all would really like him to spill.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is available now on 4K, Blu-Ray and DVD.