One of the grandest moments in film history came to a head last week, shifting the cinematic landscape forever. Careers were ended. Lives were changed. In short, the most significant event in the medium of film since the Lumiere Brothers first put moving images into a light projector.
The Snyder Cut was released on the 18th of March, the Year of Our Lord, 2021.
Part One: No Way Jose, Batman
The opening shots of this movie were when I knew that Snyder would be holding literally nothing back. Zack Snyder starts this movie by ratcheting the Snyder-ness up to 11. A *ahem* FULL SEVEN-MINUTE-LONG slow-motion scene of gory violence takes place as Superman is killed by Doomsday, his death screams awakening the Mother Boxes, fully establishing all our super-characters and MacGuffins all in one go.
The next hour-and-a-half consists of a full “assembling the team” movie in its own right (one of the all-time great sub-genres, in the same family but distinct from the “getting the band back together” and the “one last job” subgenres). Bruce Wayne begins his recruitment of the team by hunting down Aquaman in a small Icelandic town, where he walks into the sea, leaving behind some very strange villagers singing a weirdly horny song while sniffing his sweater.
Meanwhile, the Earth is already under attack. Steppenwolf is still the main villain, but his motivation is a bit more fleshed out this time around. He’s now a servant of Darkseid who has fallen out of favor and is on Earth to recover the MacGuffin Boxes and destroy the world to regain Darkseid’s approval.
Wonder Woman recruits Cyborg to the team, although he is a tough sell at first, and after a charming introduction to The Flash, Barry Allen (played by a caffeine-addled Ezra Miller) joins the team as well.
Once the team is assembled and the threat is fully realized, Batman determines they have no choice but to resurrect Superman. The trouble is, they have to use one of the MacGuffin Boxes to bring him back to life, and that will tell Steppenwolf where they are. They place him in a vat of Kryptonian goo, and despite Aquaman, Cyborg, and the literal living spaceship they’re in telling them not to, they go for it anyway.
Surprise! Here comes evil Superman.
Snyder’s obsession with “what if Superman but evil” is something I’ve never felt like he quite pulled off. This time, though, I totally see what makes him revisit the idea all the time.
Henry Cavill looked legitimately frightening here, and if these are the clips he sent to the Mission: Impossible team to convince them he can play a villain, I totally see how he got that gig.
Eventually, he recognizes Lois Lane and flies off back to Kansas, but the damage is done. Steppenwolf knows where the last box is.
The climax of the film comes in the DCEU’s version of Chernobyl, where Steppenwolf decided to set up shop. The final battle kicks so much ass that I decided to give it its own small section of this review, down in Part Five. Be forewarned: it does contain spoilers, so read at your own risk.
Part Two: The Age of Memes
This film was meme-d into existence over the last five years. Since the Josstice League movie was originally released to a dismal critical and commercial reception back in 2017, the online campaign was non-stop. When Zack Snyder had to step down after the death of his daughter, Joss Whedon filled in to finish the job. Although this move was celebrated at the time, it left the film a muddled mix of tone and confusing character decisions. Especially given the context of Whedon’s past behavior while filming Buffy and Ray Fisher’s (Cyborg) recent allegations regarding Whedon’s composure on set, it’s safe to say that not many people are sad to see that version of the film replaced.
Let’s be clear though; memes aside, the mere existence of this thing is an actual marvel. Something of this scale, with an original budget of $300 million and an additional $70 million for Snyder to stitch together his “vision” is a staggering amount of money. In fact, it’s the second most amount of money ever spent on the production of a single film, falling only a handful of million short of the record, which is currently held by *squints* Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides…? (If you’re currently saying something like “Jesus Christ, really?!”, don’t worry, so was I.)
The fact that the fans could demand such a massive project and actually get it is seriously something that I’m not entirely sure we’ve seen the end of. Whether this represents a watershed moment in pop cinema or is simply a flash in the pan is yet to be seen.
Never before on a scale like this have we been able to so clearly see the two distinct visions of filmmakers held up side-by-side. An argument can even be made that this case study could be legitimately studied for film students. You just don’t get to have a shot-by-shot comparison like this very often, if ever!
Speaking of comparison…
Part Three: Beloved Movie, Unloved Movie
The original cut of this movie was such an abomination that even the stars were calling for the Snyder Cut to be released before long. That’s some serious Deadpool-killing-old-Deadpool energy.
Seriously though, this movie is so much better in so many ways. It’s not perfect, and the next section is for my gripes, but I do think it’s important to take a minute and appreciate the changes that were made that improved the experience vastly.
Character reactions make sense in ways I did not expect. The original cut had all sorts of reaction shots where minor characters just…held a stony face. This time, people react like people! That’s great!
Gone are the weird and uncomfortable long takes of Wonder Woman’s butt and that scene where The Flash was groping her. Seriously, Joss, what the hell was that?
Speaking of The Flash, this movie did wonders for him! I was dreading his arrival in the film because I found him to be such an obnoxious presence in the original, but Snyder toned down the rapid-fire quips and gave him more of an opportunity to have some depth. By the end of the film, he went from my least favorite to one of my favorite characters.
Another character that got served well was Cyborg. Now that we have a little more insight into the behind-the-scenes issues between Whedon and Fisher, his lack of a character in the original makes more sense. Here, we finally get to see him front and center! His moment in the climax speaking to the hallucinations of his family, telling them he was not broken, was far more impactful than I expected from a DC movie. It was nice seeing him get some more time to shine.
It’s hard to overstate how far the little changes went towards improving this movie. Even just the choice to include certain takes over the originals went a surprising distance to level up the experience.
Part Four: All the King’s Edits
Come on. It can’t be perfect, we all know that. Even at its best, a Zack Snyder movie is still gonna Zack Snyder, and oh MAN, some of those huge swings don’t connect quite the way they want to.
Not all characters benefitted from the massive run time. Aquaman, for example, couldn’t really approach any sort of serious character development because he already has a sequel he must head directly into. As a result, he felt like he was put in neutral for the bulk of the film.
Steppenwolf, too, feels like he’s put on pause for a solid hour there in the middle of the movie. In his reports back to Darkseid, he even delivers the same information at two points a full hour apart from each other.
The bloated run time hurts as much as it helps at points. The ending suffers from Return of the King syndrome, where we’re given approximately eleven differently perfectly adequate endings, and yet the film just seems determined never to end. One of them seems to be either an alternate timeline or some sort of premonition, where Jared Leto reprises his role as the Joker. Now, my thoughts on Jared Leto are well documented on this website already. However, apparently, he made up the “we live in a society” line just for the trailer, and I’ll give credit where it’s due; that was a pretty excellent troll. That being said, I still was pretty annoyed seeing him on screen.
I’ve also got to say, I’m not convinced Gal Godot is a very good actor. She certainly plays the fish-out-of-water character well in Wonder Woman’s own movie, but I am just left baffled by some of her line delivery choices (“KAL-EL NO!!” being the most obvious one of them). Either way, it was kind of hard to take her seriously after two hours of ANCIENT LAMENTATION MUSIC blaring every time her elbow popped into frame.
Part Five: Cool Machine
The Rule of Cool states that the limit of the Willing Suspension of Disbelief for a given element is directly proportional to its awesomeness.
In other words *deep breath* if The Flash just saw all of his friends get vaporized by a magic box and needs to run so fast that he reverses the flow of time in order to give Cyborg a power boost so he can now destroy the boxes with seconds to spare and give black-suited-Superman and Wonder Woman the opportunity to decapitate the main villain and the only explanation offered is “when I cross that line time gets weird”…
…then that kicks ass, man, don’t worry about it, it all makes sense to me.
Part Six: Something Personal
At this point in my life, I’m a grown-ass adult in my mid-20s. I know this is a comic book movie. I know it’s inherently silly to care so much about this kind of stuff. And I know that, ultimately, these sorts of movies will eventually go the way of the Western or the Surf Movie, and someday I’ll be ranting about the good old days with superhero movies that only nerds like me remember.
I also know, not that long ago, I was a nine-year-old on a bike, riding to my local comic book store, looking through the bargain bins they kept out for kids like me for the coolest old Justice League issue.
I was always a DC comics kid growing up. I couldn’t get enough of the animated shows and would read the comic books whenever I could get my hands on them. Now, trust me, I love the MCU as much as the next guy, but there was always a little hole in the part of my heart where that nine-year-old on his bike still lives because his favorite superheroes just couldn’t seem to get themselves a half-decent movie on the big screen.
This movie is far from perfect. Its writing can be muddled, the CGI is likely to age swiftly and poorly, and obviously, the runtime will make it a chore of a re-watch. But as for seeing my favorite superheroes on the big screen together, it definitely made that nine-year-old part of my heart sing.
I can’t really say if this movie is good or bad. What I can say is that it’s earnest. It’s sincere. It’s so ridiculously and utterly itself that it’s hard to take too critical of an eye to it. For years now, I feel like we’ve been clamoring for a greater level of authenticity in our art. It’s become a currency that’s been increasingly difficult to come by.
In this thing, though, this weird, ridiculous, monstrous thing, born from the bizarre marriage of fans who never stopped shouting and the mind of a man who flailed wildly in his attempts to bring their heroes to life for a full decade, we have perhaps received the most sincere piece of pop art on this scale that has ever existed.
It’s kind of beautiful.
I just want to take a few lines and highlight some things I couldn’t find a place to fit in earlier.
-When The Flash and Superman make eye contact while Flash is running and you can get the scope of just how powerful Superman is.
-Ancient lamentation music.
-Flash’s intro was an excellent display of character, if an odd display of hotdogs. It also showed us how he moves through the Speed Force and it’s not always with impeccable grace. That was a nice touch of characterization I appreciated.
-Where does Aquaman get his shirts? In every single scene, he shows up in a shirt that he promptly tears off before jumping back into the water. Why does he do this? If he came out of the water in a shirt, why does he need to take it off before getting back in? Isn’t that littering? Doesn’t he care about not filling the ocean with garbage?!
–Cyborg for sure won the Heisman, right? That football run (which is VERY loose on concussion protocol, I might add), showed Cyborg pulling off a wild, last-second, mid-snow touchdown run to win the game. It was awesome.
-I like spiky Steppenwolf. It’s a strange character design, sure, but I liked that part when he snapped off arrow tips with a weird full-body flex.
-All movies are mathematically improved by the addition of Willem Dafoe. This is science.
-Wonder Woman’s mom legit sacrificed like 150 warriors on a plan that did not even come close to working.
-ANCIENT LAMENTATION MUSIC.
-It was cool to see Martian Manhunter here! We’re now a Hawkgirl and Green Lantern away from having the Justice League lineup from the animated show that aired in the early 2000s, which I would be unabashedly excited about.
-That ending with Batman and the Martian Manhunter though gave me huge Ferris Bueller vibes. I half expected Ben Affleck to look at the camera and be like “okay, that’s it, movie’s over, you can go now!”
-No matter how often they tell me how important Lois Lane is, I’ve got to be honest, I completely forget Amy Adams is in this movie unless she’s directly in front of my face.
-Ben Affleck deserves an apology. He seriously does capture the billionaire swagger of Bruce Wayne. A little sad, a little desperate, a little crazy, and could totally kick your ass. He’s a solid choice for the character.
–ANCIENT. LAMENTATION. MUSIC.
I really hope that more people can get the chance to make something as big and bombastic and authentically themselves as Zack Snyder got to here.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is now streaming on HBO Max. Clear out your Sunday and give it a watch!
Thanks for reading! What are your thoughts on Justice League? Comment down below!
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