Zack Snyder’s Justice League feels like a movie that is beyond criticism at this point. It’s something that has taken on a life of its own outside of simple discussion about filmmaking, storytelling, or any of the other facets we talk about when we try to analyze cinema. It’s tied to a real-world movement that has been both celebrated and criticized. It is a project that has more people talking about its director than it does the film itself. And there has clearly been a line drawn in the sand when it comes to how a lot of people feel about Zack Snyder as a filmmaker and as a public figure. Basically, the opinions surrounding Zack Snyder’s Justice League are so entrenched at this point that everyone already knows how they feel about it before they have actually seen it.
One does wonder if finally sitting through all four hours of the finished film will change anyone’s mind for better or worse. Because this reviewer can attest to growing weary with most of what Zack Snyder finds interesting or cool about cinema and superheroes, but I also have to admit that Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a totally functional and successful movie at what it’s trying to do. When we talk about technical construction in film, we aren’t just saying a movie looks good thanks to the technology behind the camera. We are also talking about the structure of the screenplay, the way editing affects pacing, and other constructive elements of the art form. And from a technical standpoint, Zack Snyder’s Justice League really, really works. It’s well-paced even at its exorbitant length and has undeniable confidence behind its edit. Given the freedom to do exactly what he wanted with as much time as he could, Snyder has made what is easily his best stab at a DC property. Yes, I’m even including Watchmen.
Granted, so much of this is bolstered thanks to the theatrical version we got back in 2017. Comparing Zack Snyder’s Justice League to that original cut of the movie is definitely helping put more shine on this new director’s cut. There is no feeling of the story being chopped up and rearranged for brevity’s sake. There aren’t tonal inconsistencies that clash with the overall design of the movie. Effects look better and more in line with the rest of the totality of the movie. Characters aren’t given the short shrift in order to help the plot move along. Instead, nearly everyone gets ample time for their characters and it makes them much better. This all plays out with an assured grasp of itself and the particular approach it wants to take with this story. There is a legitimate vision here and it is meeting practically all the goals it is setting for itself.
However, that comes back around to whether or not you can even conceive of being on board for the vision present in Zack Snyder’s Justice League. If Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – a movie I have called the worst modern DC film – were repellant to you, you already have the cards stacked against you when this movie starts playing. Because this will still feature many of the indulgences that people have strong opinions about when it comes to Zack Snyder’s filmmaking. Dislike his copious use of slow-motion sequences set to melancholy needle drops? This movie has plenty of those! Bored by his dedication to speed ramping during action sequences? Every fight feels drawn out thanks to always featuring moments of that. Just not crazy about his edgy approach to the DC universe in general? You’ll giggle when characters drop an f-bomb to sound super serious. It’s all here and more thanks to Warner Bros. giving Snyder nearly everything he wanted.
But, there is one illuminating aspect to Zack Snyder’s Justice League that acts as a microcosm of his real issues with getting to play with the DC canon of characters. During a flashback scene, we get to see a Green Lantern. These are characters whose superpowered rings allow them to make energy constructs that appear like nearly anything their minds can imagine. It’s an artist’s dream when it comes to crafting unique and fantastic ideas. And all Zack Snyder could think to do with a Green Lantern was have them shoot a green laser out of their ring. And that feels indicative of Chris Terrio’s entire script for Zack Snyder’s Justice League. With such an eclectic and wonderfully bizarre ensemble and world to play with, the story falls back on the most palatable and tired tropes you can think of. Whether it’s turning the Mother Boxes into de facto Infinity Stones or framing a character like Darkseid as a stereotypically one-note Sauron type, the plot itself does little to capitalize on just how special and excitingly weird all of these concepts could be.
Though, that should not be seen as a dig against the style of the film. Again, if you don’t like Zack Snyder’s stylistic choices and how he implements them, you are doomed from the start. But, it is clear that he is good at the particular style he is trying to achieve. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a stylish movie and this new cut allows the entire piece to gel together with the stylistic choices it wants to make. It flows with assurance and proudly marches to the beat of its own drum. It does not feel beholden to any rules other than its own. That is commendable but also crafted to turn some people off. For example, one moment of R-rated goodness comes during the climax with a surreal sequence of gore that is truly strange and disturbing in the best of ways. It is in small moments like that where this new cut shines the brightest.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is going to be exactly what you think it is, whether that’s positive or negative. Removing so much of the baggage this director and project have attached to them, it is unquestionable that this is a well-crafted movie. It functions in almost every arena on a technical front and is vastly superior to its maligned theatrical version. But, a car can run incredibly well and you can still find yourself disapproving of its aesthetic design. That’s where I find myself with Zack Snyder’s Justice League. In no way can I call it a bad movie, but it’s not one that sparks interest in what I find invigorating about cinema, storytelling, or the DC universe. But I’m glad this version exists now. Perhaps it will only strengthen the decision to really let filmmakers at Warner Bros. do whatever it is they want with these comic book properties. Canon and connectivity are far less important than allowing artists to try something bold and visionary with these ideas. And Zack Snyder’s Justice League is definitely those things. Even if I don’t like them, I can’t fault them for it.