The bell has been rung. Soon, you’ll experience movie history undone in Zack Snyder’s Justice League; a wholehearted superhero epic, for better or worse.
The director’s cut: a tool for cynical DVD sales and re-issues, with block-capital promises of two unseen minutes (!); a way of distributing violence and horror ‘too extreme’ for cinemas; or at their best, a filmmaker’s vision not just succeeding, but propelling with its own legacy.
For modern-day audiences, there may be no example more notorious than the Snyder Cut; a man’s vision resurrected, an iffy fandom’s dream incarnate, a franchise calamity rectified. Five years after the dawn, the dusk of justice is finally near.
Superman is dead. His dying scream has echoed across the world. Metropolis has lost its red cape, and a league has yet to be united. But as Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) warns: ‘There are enemies coming from far away… I’m building an alliance to defend ourselves.’
For the fight against Steppenwolf, an otherworldly goon at the behest of the murderous Darkseid (think Thanos but less environmentally-friendly), Batman looks to Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and The Flash (Ezra Miller).
At the core of the story is the Mother Boxes, terraforming MacGuffins which formed a bond between the old gods and the new, capable of destroying the world. Of course, they can’t save it alone.
Disclaimer: it’s the longest superhero film of all time, totalling at four hours and two minutes. It’s split up into six parts and an epilogue, so you can feasibly watch in instalments; but the question worth asking – is it worthy of such a runtime? Yes and no.
The Snyder indulgences are there (you could shave around 10 minutes on slow-mo alone) and its final 20 minutes are unnecessary. The grandeur can feel a bit shallow and – with some icky moments of sentiment – it’s prone to taking itself too seriously, to the effect of the odd yawn (or many, for some viewers) or unintentional laughs.
Actual comedy is few and far between, both due to Chris Terrio’s stretch of uninspired screenwriting since Argo (it should have been David S. Goyer) and the director’s trademark love for the dour – bar Miller’s speedster of course, who makes for a delightful, gleeful tonic next to his frowny heroes.
Cast-wise, nobody borders on exceptional, nor are there any stinkers. Gadot continues to steal the DCEU show upon any appearance, Momoa is good but nowhere near the joy of his solo outing, and Batfleck proves why he’s a fan-favourite. J.K. Simmons and Amy Adams are once again wasted. Most of all, we can let out a huge sigh of relief as Henry Cavill’s nightmarish, blurred upper lip is a thing of the past.
The standout is Fisher, armed with a hugely expanded storyline, forlorn charisma and heartbreak. Very cool and utterly integral to the movie; his earlier handling was criminal.
But the film does something its forbidden predecessor never broached: conjure excitement. This is thanks in part to a more cohesive story, but mostly due to the feeling of a creative endeavour in total control. Love or hate the enormous scale, it’s an epic by definition. It’s the complete Snyder package, from start to finish.
Cinematography-wise, Fabian Wagner’s work comes with some breathtaking hero shots (one of Superman floating in the sun is bound to be shared on Twitter for weeks, if not months) plus eye-watering, chant-worthy battles – the tale of the Mother Boxes could be the best sequence, flowing with brutality and clear love for the lore.
With the exception of one token ‘f*ck’ – seriously, it’s hysterical – the R-rating makes for glorious action, an area where the director is well at home, from Themyscira to Gotham. Remember the dopamine of the warehouse fight in BvS? Nearly every set-piece is just as great here. Blood splatters galore, it may be immature to relish such things, but who the hell cares?
It may not be the most vibrant comicbook movie, but there’s synergy and, compared to Snyder’s earlier hero face-off, this is consistently fun. For sceptics believing this to be a Ship of Theseus, the claims about it being an entirely different movie are wholly accurate. The Snyder Cut is, by far, the superior version of Justice League in more ways than one.
One mustn’t forget the score; Junkie XL’s return after Danny Elfman replaced him could be the biggest highlight. Bringing that grungy, thunderous flair, it’s a score to shatter your body into submission. Also, the callbacks and natural weaving of Hans Zimmer’s Man of Steel theme prove its one of the best ever written.
The very nature of this review is curious though: if a critic’s role is to inform, even persuade or assure, the Snyder Cut doesn’t apply. Those hyped to see it have already made their mind up – please note, the fans will be extremely happy – and apathetic filmgoers will remain unconvinced. Perhaps a small subset of viewers are looking for guidance.
With this in mind, I offer the simplest sentiment I can: it may be long, lofty and… long, but it’s ultimately good.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League available on Sky Cinema and NOW TV from March 18.
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Topics: Featured, Batman, Ben Affleck, DC, Film and TV, Gal Gadot, Justice League, Now, Review