This new restoration of ‘Justice League’ is the result of a years-long campaign by DC fans to #ReleaseTheSnyderCut. Originally released in 2017, it was reshot and re-edited by Avengers-director Joss Whedon, and met with a lacklustre response. This new version is an entirely different beast.
Art can be bad, it can be good. But above all, it’s the expression of an individual. The best thing I can say about Snyder’s restoration of Justice League is that he turns it from pop-content to pop-art. There is no discernible artistic vision behind Marvel films because they are managed by Studio Overseer ‘Kevin Feige’ who course corrects, micromanages and calculatedly chooses his directors. Marvel Cinematic Universe films are coherent, entertaining, and safe, but they aren’t art. They’re great content to pass the time. No engagement with the ideas is necessary; it’s a fun time for everyone. Justice League on the other hand, is art.
Is Snyder’s Justice League particularly good art? No, not really. It’s tonally incoherent, it retreads mostly unoriginal themes, and has mind-bogglingly silly moments. It also has a nonsensical amount of product placement, with not one but two Mercedes Benz commercials stuck right in the middle of the film.
Ignoring this, the film works just fine with its runtime, and the only problems with it as a piece of entertainment is in the awkward epilogue (I place the blame squarely on Jared Leto’s acting abilities). But that’s not the point. Many reviews of superhero films tend to muddy the waters of film criticism. What I see is reviewers recommending the film to mainstream consumers: is it entertaining, is the pacing fast, is it worth your dollar? It’s always about the execution. These reviews never actually ask the most important question of film criticism, what does the film say? Maybe it’s because most mainstream films don’t have a lot to say, or maybe it’s because readers don’t really care. Either way, it’s a shame.
Cinema is risk, putting yourself out there – an expression of your being. Zack Snyder has done this to better effect than most other superhero film directors; his flawed masterpiece ‘Watchmen’ exemplary of this. What he has accomplished may not be a product that is as refined, entertaining or consistent as Avengers: Endgame, but it is something to commend. A mainstream, Hollywood-funded blockbuster that is an expression of a person’s aesthetic and moral values. The added bonus is that Snyder’s Justice League is alright too.
Snyder portrays these characters as gods, stricken with the foibles of the human condition. They are the best of the best… the strongest of the strong, but they still have the same shortcomings as us. The Flash cannot escape the past, his father’s imprisonment becoming a drag on his life. Cyborg lives with the pain of believing he is broken and alone. Batman now appeals to faith over reason, after witnessing the miracle of Superman. The mythicality with which Snyder presents these characters calls for not just an emotional unity, but a spiritual one.
These are ideas that, although executed with a ‘hit-you-over-the-head’ amount of subtlety, undoubtedly come from a place of personal humility with Snyder. Other superhero films never allow their directors to strike deep into ideas that express our collective plight, and are too self-conscious to use the melodrama and stylistic risk that Snyder does.
Does it always pay off for him? Again, not really. His characteristic overuse of speed-ramping interestingly mimics the style of comic books (leaps of movement rather than fluidity), but it doesn’t translate well onscreen. This restoration also features a lot of truncated and awkwardly shoe-horned scenes superfluous to the narrative, so much so, that one has to go into it with the George Lucas ‘Special Editions’ mindset of thinking ‘there is a good film underneath all of this dredge, so I’ll ignore the bad parts’. Jared Leto, Amber Heard and Gal Gadot should never be allowed to act again, and the final scene that teases a new hero almost ruins the entire film. But then, you remember the moments where Snyder shines.
The film’s highlights are certainly in its moments of arresting viscerality. Slow-motion is a tool that Snyder does not hold back on, and he uses it to powerful effect here. Many viewers take for granted the fundamentals of filmmaking that detach it from reality. Jump-cuts, carefully framed shots, no first-person perspective, and non-diegetic sound. None of these things exist in our realities, yet we take them as absolutes in the medium of film. Film has become so uniform in its rules that when something leans into its stylistic direction, many find it disconcerting. In truth, films resemble dreams more so than our own conscious experience – they’re facsimiles upon facsimiles of reality that try to convey deeper truth through a fiction. Snyder leans into the idea of film as a dream, and allows our minds to wander in his fantasies.
“Make your own future… Make your own past… It’s all right now.”
The creativity of expressing the Flash’s movements is something to behold. One of the final scenes of the film involves the Flash gliding through space and time, towards a vortex of destruction in the desperate hope to save everyone he loves. The colours, the visual effects, and the music combine to create one of the best scenes that Snyder has ever directed. Everything feels as if it is at stake. It’s a scene no other filmmaker would even conceive of, and it’s a high that no Marvel film has yet achieved. It’s the chill of the moment where you concede to the power of the image. The film hits such high notes like these that you wonder why you ever settled for less with other superhero films.
Consolidating Zack Snyder’s Justice League as a piece of pop-art, both art and entertainment, its unbridled vision is its greatest strength and its biggest downfall. As entertainment, it’s likely to disappoint all but the most hardcore fans, and as art, it's rather unremarkable. But the fact that it's a piece of pop-art is something we should all admire.