You can't fault a film for being an indulgent endurance test if that is exactly what it was aiming for. What would have been criticism in normal circumstances, in a post Snyder Cut world, has become indistinguishable from praise. These are strange times, indeed. Overlong and often overwhelming, Zack Snyder's Justice League is a monumental achievement in blockbuster filmmaking, a cultural curiosity that the director only half-jokingly described as The Godfather of superhero movies.
Watch the trailer of Zack Snyder's Justice League here
Its opening credits unfold across 10 minutes, over a flashback sequence of the Man of Steel's death from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice — one of the earliest signs that Snyder's four-hour cut of the superhero spectacle isn't going to be like the theatrical version at all. Batman, meanwhile, suits up for the first time almost two hours into the film.
If you watched Joss Whedon's version of Justice League in the theatres and thought that it needed more F-bombs and a scene in which Wonder Woman learns how to correctly brew a cup of tea, then you're in luck. This is what you asked for. This new version, for better or for worse, has the scope and sentimentality of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, painted in trademark Snyder blood-splatter.
It's easily the filmmaker's most personal DC Extended Universe project — a film that is just as much about ponderous superpowered beings as it is about parenthood. Knowledge of what transpired behind-the-scenes — and I can't imagine anyone who is interested in watching this not being intimately familiar with what happened — only makes the experience all the more emotional.
"For Autumn," reads the dedication at roughly the four-hour mark — it's Snyder's tribute to his daughter. Exhausted yet exhilarated, I stayed for the end credits — what's a couple more minutes at this point, I thought to myself — and was treated to the most moving cover of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, performed by Allison Crowe. It was Autumn's favourite song, played at her funeral, after her suicide.
Death looms large in Zack Snyder's Justice League. Nearly every central character is in some way coping with the loss of a loved one. It is what binds them together — they're united by an unspoken grief, and a desire to not let anyone else suffer like they have.
The fall of Superman, as Lex Luthor correctly predicted in BvS, sends a signal to the villains of the vast DC universe — that God is dead, and Earth is up for grabs. So Darkseid, the DC equivalent of Marvel's Thanos, sends his henchman Steppenwolf to Earth, on a mission to locate three Mother Boxes, DC's equivalent of Marvel's Infinity Stones. Uniting them can give Darkseid the ability to transform any planet into his home world, Apokolips.
There's a lot of exposition like this in the Snyder Cut, minus the Marvel context, of course. I found my attention drifting when conversations shifted to 'change machines', 'the anti-life equation', and everyone's obsession with either 'synchronising the unity' or stopping it. But that's part of the charm, I suppose.
The reason why Snyder himself is such a beloved character in this incredible saga — the studio essentially threw him under the bus midway through the shoot, and brought him back years later after sustained fan pressure — is that unlike some of his contemporaries, he never winks at the audience. To him, superheroes are gods; and comic books modern myths. There is an almost slavish seriousness to this film, which you have no choice but to surrender to — the sooner the better. The Snyder Cut does, after all, deal with the resurrection of a deity, and if you think about it, Steppenwolf is nothing more than an overzealous missionary on a mass-conversion spree in a 'primitive' land.
He looks drastically different from the sentient piece of chewed up bubblegum that he resembled in the theatrical version — more sinister, and therefore, more believable. As is the film. Shot in the 4:3 aspect ratio by Fabian Wagner, there is an unmistakable operatic quality to the action. Characters seem larger, even on personal devices (I watched it on a press screener on my laptop, in two sittings).
It is also more coherent, despite the overuse of CGI. Combined with lenses that have more personality than the BvS villain Doomsday, and a suitably epic score by Junkie XL, the Snyder Cut blends real human moments with terrific fan service and poignant themes. The Flash, played by Ezra Miller, has scenes that completely rewrite his presence. And Snyder wasn't kidding when he said that Ray Fisher's Cyborg was the heart of his film — the heart that was so violently ripped out in 2017.
Zack Snyder's Justice League is a redemption tale, at the end of the day; for Batman, who has lived with the regret of letting his friend down; for Fisher, who has been fighting a lone battle against a playground bully. But perhaps the greatest redemption arc is Snyder's own. Hallelujah.