The behind-the-scenes stories behind Zack Snyder’s version of DC’s premier super-team are fittingly legend, but finally, mercifully, after a production history as jagged as one of Darkseid’s zig-zaging omega beams, we actually get to clap our eyes on the results of the tireless campaigning that started with the Release The Snyder Cut movement and ends with a restored release on HBO Max. We’ve had restored cuts of troubled DC productions before of course, with the Richard Donner version of Superman II emerging 26 years after the original release, but there’s been nothing quite on the scale of this. With new scenes shot and alternate takes of existing footage virtually rebuilding everything we experienced in the disastrous Joss Whedon version, Justice League is finally ready to be seen in the way it’s original director intended – staggeringly long with copious slow-mo…
But while the relentless pressure of the Snyder faithful has borne fruit, has all this kerfuffle actually been worth it?
After the world was rocked by Superman being turned into a red and blue shish-kebab at the bony hands of Doomsday, a guilt ridden Bruce Wayne/Batman has been travelling the world to try and gather up a group of meta-humans in order to repel an inevitable alien invasion he knows could come at any day. However, as his butler Alfred neatly puts it: Maybe a man who broods in a cave for a living isn’t cut out to be a recruiter; and his initial attempts to convince ocean dwelling bad-ass Arthur Curry/Aquaman falls on deaf ears but has more luck with zippy teen Barry Allen/The Flash. Meanwhile, 500 year old Amazon warrior Diana Prince/Wonder Woman tries her hand at approaching the tragic figure of Victor Stone, a young man brought back from death into the form of a knobbly cyborg by the power of something called a Motherbox – one of three alien artifacts of immense power all predictably hidden on earth – with similar disappointing results.
However, Batman and Wonder Woman had better step up their game as the malevolent Steppenwolf has arrived to make Earth his bitch in order to suck up to his intergalactic conqueror boss, Darkseid and immediately starts gathering up the Motherboxes like their highly collectable Pop Vinyls. It soon becomes apparent that the team as it is isn’t enough to slow the roll of Steppenwolf and with the power of a salvaged Motherbox, the heroes plan to resurrect the body of Superman in order to provide the Kryptonian muscle they need to protect the earth for good. However, events that will be set in motion that stir up nightmarish images of a possible future that go to suggest that even a victory against Steppenwolf would still ultimately result in earth’s destruction in the form of something called The Anti Life Equation. When it rains it pours, eh?
If we’re really setting our sights low, all the Snyder Cut had to do to be considered a triumph was merely be better than Joss Whedon’s tonally malformed hack job that limped into cinema’s back in 2017 – a task that could hardly be called impossible – and yet I was fully ready to wade into the gargantuan running time of ZSJL with the full intention of being utterly unimpressed and after all, could you blame me? Batman Vs Superman had far less characters with a length of two and a half hours and that movie was infuriatingly bogged down with multiple subplots and a general lack of hope that sucked the life out of most of story so my mind reeled at what Zack Snyder would do with an even longer story. However, seen as the experiment it so obviously is, Justice League 2.0’s biggest bullseye is ultimately the fact that it even exists at all and despite having it’s fair share of the kind of flaws you’d fully expect a Snyder movie with no time restraints to have, his restored epic not only manages to restore the dignity back to his original vision but actually makes his entire DCEU output make much more thematic sense. Finally able to move past two films worth of dudes in capes embroiled in existential angst, Justice League finally allows us to see what he was trying to achieve all along as he weaves an absurdly sprawling tale of literal gods and monsters that finally touches on the kind of hope that was suggested by that big old S on Kal-El’s chest.
Does it sacrifice character for the sake of it’s mahoosive scale? Obviously. The film is so vast it frequently ignores it’s core cast in favour of etching out the DCEU’s past and future while keeping a closer eye on the travels of those pesky Motherboxes than any of our heroes do and yet the most noticable casualty of Whedon’s movie (in more ways than one), Ray Fisher’s Frankenstein-esque Cyborg benefits most from the added breathing space.
Probably the most suprising thing about the expansion is probably the fact the the story remains basically unchanged and it’s the tone that’s mostly been ironed out and the majority of the action scenes play out pretty much as they were before with the murderous game of pass the parcel in Themyscira and the thunderous war flashback mostly remaining fairly similar. But most noticable is the blow-up of hulking big bad Steppenwolf who is a far more formidable villain than the nine foot, plasticine-visaged goblin we previously got even though his redesign oddly looks like Grumpy Cat encased in armour that looks made entirely of bristling staples – but it’s a still shame that he (and his imposing master, Darkseid) are still the generic CGI heavies the DCEU regularly employs.
If this review sounds like the movie bounces between stuff that works (the exorcism of Henry Cavill’s grotesquely flapping CGI lips is cause for celebration alone) and stuff that doesn’t (Superman’s minuscule role proves that Snyder STILL doesn’t really get the character – but it’s the closest he’s ever gotten) that’s because ZSJL is a pure undiluted example of what the notorious director is capable of when stripped of restrictions such as a sensible running time and the experimental conditions means that things like restraint and quality control sometimes go out the window. Some of the visual shots aren’t exactly up to snuff (an early shot of Lex Luther looks like it was put into a shot via photoshop) and some of the character placement is noticeably erratic, Flash and Cyborg don’t really feature until just over the hour mark, Batman doesn’t show up in costume until an hour and forty five and, for someone who apparently would have been crucial to proposed sequels, Amy Adams barely makes a dent.
Finally, in a supreme act of trolling during a movie that reportedly isn’t even cannon or due to get a follow-up the final thirty minutes is an orgy of sequel-bait that delights and frustrates in equal measure with future dystopias, Martian Manhunters, Anti-Life Equations and even a full-on Jared Leto Joker renaissance being teased with reckless abandon that’s surely going to jump start a “release the Snyderverse” movement whether it’s warranted or not.
Ultimately, the most successful thing about the de-Jossing and re-Zacking of events is it’s a sizable fuck-you to sizable studio interference with blockbuster movies – something the DCEU has fallen foul of numerous times already cough cough Suicide Squad cough cough – which is ironic considering that this particular connected universe was supposed to be a haven for the director’s vision.
But now it’s finally all said and done (for the moment, anyway) and we finally have some closure for all the behind the scenes chaos that could fill a four hour run time itself.
For the most part, this is one League that finally found some Justice.