March 22, 2021
After years of speculation and seemingly endless rumors, Director Zack Snyder’s Justice League has finally been exhumed and released to stream on HBO. In all its 4-hour-long glory, it’s an epic project reflecting an equally epic vision comparable to Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys’ fabled concept album, Smile.
Much like Wilson’s Smile, Snyder’s initial vision for Justice League was never fully realized. Although Snyder amassed more than 4 hours of film for the project, family tragedy tore him away from his work, leaving Justice League at the mercy of Warner Brothers. Scrambling to release something, the studio brought in Joss Whedon who cast Snyder’s vision aside, splicing together a downscaled version for 2017’s Justice League — akin to the feeble form in which Smile was first released, Smiley Smile.
Now available to watch in its raw and unadulterated form, Snyder’s Justice League is long – 4 hours long; but not unnecessarily so. Where its condensed counterpart tried to suggest or imply certain backstories for the sake of brevity, Snyder’s cut is fully flushed; the additional runtime allots ample, and much needed time for the characters to be properly developed.
Justice League’s villain, Steppenwolf, for example, is no longer an empty (and unfinished looking) suit who seemed haphazardly concocted to justify a plot for superheroes. Snyder’s Justice League not only bolsters the horned foe’s armor with shimmering spines, but also delves into his backstory, revealing that Steppenwolf operates under the tutelage of a more powerful foe — with whom he’s had a falling out. In Snyder’s cut, we learn that Steppenwolf’s conquest of earth is in part a chance to regain the admiration of his one-time mentor.
Keeping with the cookie-cutter template that permeates most of the superhero genre, Steppenwolf has his eyes set on 3 magical trinkets — explained by Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) like a college student in the STEM field as, “a science so advanced it looks like sorcery” – which, when combined, afford the wielder sufficient power to conquer and enslave worlds. Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), has a plan to stop this: He’s putting together a team.
The Justice League members themselves are also far better served by Snyder’s extended cut. Wonder Woman returns to form, thwarting a terrorist attack with such nimble panache that effortlessly surpasses the lackluster sequel she was last spotted in, WW 1984. Meanwhile, Flash (Ezra Miller) flourishes in the extended and added scenes, shouldering the film’s comic relief with well timed and lighthearted quips — Snyder appreciatively eschewed Whedon’s nauseating use of awkward reaction humor, opting for more subtle gibes.
And Cyborg (Ray Fisher) is no longer the mere screenwriting addendum from the theatrical release. The Snyder cut’s extended runtime provides proper cinematic real estate for Cyborg’s story to unfold, supplying viewers less familiar with the comic book backstory enough empathy for his plight. His struggle to maintain his humanity after the passing of his father has fused his mutilated, dying body with advanced alien technology and rendered him physically powerful, but psychologically weakened. This inner duality which Cyborg continuously grapples with: His newfound physical prowess at what he felt was the expense of his soul, lends a relatable, human component to the film, setting it apart from a lifeless CGI spectacle.
However, as with any project of this unbridled scale, the Snyder cut isn’t perfect: At four hours long, at times, the film feels overindulgent, suffering especially from slow-motion overload. We must sit through such scenes as a shirtless Aquaman slowly downing a bottle of liquor as ocean waves crash down upon him (in slow motion); in another scene, the Flash spends long, drawn out minutes saving a woman (who we never see again) from a car accident. But such points are scant and sparse. The Snyder cut of Justice League is leaps above its neutered theatrical release. Despite its unnerving runtime, it manages to leave you hopeful for a Snyder-verse sequel.
A decade ago, the notion that a major studio would invest money and resources into polishing and rereleasing uncut scenes from a movie that was a box office flop (the 2017 Justice League grossed $657 million worldwide, coming up short of its break-even point of $750 million) at the behest of fans, would have seemed like a gag. But in the age of streaming services and social media campaigns, such a creation has been made possible.
The Snyder cut of Justice League is a sprawling mythological epic, entirely tuned for this newly emerging age of streaming cinema. Unfettered by the limitations inherent in classical theater releases, the streaming services have given filmmakers accessible mediums through which to communicate their artistic visions to their most potent on-screen manifestations.
While brimming with flashy CGI and superhero effects galore, Snyder’s Justice League manages to tell a heartfelt story of both disparate characters as well as their union under the Justice League banner. While incredulously long for a feature film, it’s largely well paced, and accompanied by a compelling score with such fitting melancholy soundscapes as Nick Drake’s “Distant Sky.” Above all, Snyder’s Justice League is the unregulated realization of a filmmaker’s creative vision, brought to life by its ardent fanbase.
Originally Published on The Daily Wire