Usually when a bunch of nerds, of which I am one, clamor for change to one of their beloved properties, it’s at best a net neutral. Given this, I was skeptical about the necessity of Zack Snyder’s Justice League. I thought, what is the point of this? Won’t this be just a glorified extended edition a la Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition? I’m not too proud to admit that my initial prejudice was wrong, it really is a remarkable film.
Once you get past the initial shock of the 4:3 aspect ratio (was the “creative vision”, let’s pretend it’s 1995?), you start to see the vision Snyder had for his DCEU tentpole. In the original theatrical release, the audience was forced to take most of the character motivations and plot conceits as granted. Why does Steppenwolf want the mother boxes? I dunno, he’s the bad guy and he just does. Why are they all of the sudden an issue? Shut up, munch some popcorn, and objectify Wonder Woman, nerd. Do the realms of men still just bury their motherbox in a shallow grave? Yes, yes they do.
Without spoiling too much, this is basically a different film. There might be 45 minutes of the four hour runtime worth of scenes from the original release. Cyborg and Flash get a fleshed out backstory. Batman and Wonder Woman don’t mind getting their hands dirty. Aquaman has a secret admirer. The tonal shift is the most striking. Whedon’s film was a weird mix of the levity of one of his Avengers movies but serious. It felt jarring to go from cheap gags to DC’s dark and brooding milieu. Snyder’s film is more melodramatic which fits the tone he had previously set up.
Man of Science, Man of Faith
The updated version of the film gave Ben Affleck and Jeremy Irons way more time to shine. This is prime Batfleck, the world’s greatest detective, who must set aside his deductive skills and his reasoning to have faith that the impossible can come through to stop the inevitable.
Hopefully the Batman’s choices don’t doom the rest of the globe, but we shall see. My favorite Batman performances are, like this, portrayals of him when he does not have all of the answers and can’t just “gadget” his way out of the problem.
The Chosen One
Zack Snyder’s Justice League redeems Cyborg from being a two dimensional McGuffin with dialogue, to a fully fleshed out character. Cyborg is Snyder’s Frodo Baggins. He has this power foisted upon him that he did not ask for and can only use it to save home for others, but not for himself. Ray Fisher has to be most pleased with the updated release as his best performance moments had been left on the cutting room floor, apparently.
Fish Out of Water
Diana Prince… What? Who did you think I was going to talk about here? Diana Prince has a much better outing here than in Wonder Woman 1984, albeit that is a fairly low bar. Still, the movie has a hard time giving Gal Godot’s Wonder Woman and Jason Momoa’s Aquaman something consequential to do. Her best action moments early in the film have nothing to do with advancing the plot. Similarly, the director struggled to find things for Aquaman to do aside from being a begrudging ally and naysaying until the final battle.
Overall, it’s a far superior experience to the original in that the theatrical release was one of my least favorite superhero movies and this iteration probably cracks my top 25. It’s arguably Zack Snyder’s best comic book adaptation and one would hope so given the creative license he was granted. It will likely also remain unique as a product. One wonders how much the nature of cinema during the pandemic allowed this to happen. I highly recommend watching for the pure spectacle of something that may only ever come around once in a decade. In some ways, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is the streaming version of Avatar, I’m not sure if something like it is replicable.