Even nine months after its release, Zack Snyder’s Justice League remains as bizarre a big-studio oddity as they come. There’s little point recounting the odd saga — spurred by a mix of terrible tragedy and trolling by some of the worst internet fanboys — that led to its creation. Needless to say, the final product is one of the most distinct superhero visions to come about in some time, in ways that are both refreshing and preposterous. In other words, this movie is a completely untethered vision of director Zack Snyder, and your gut reaction to that statement is a good gauge of whether you should simply run far away or rush to embrace this 242-minute behemoth (now available on 4K Blu-ray from Warner Brothers and still streaming on HBOMax).
Snyder’s previous two DC ventures (Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice) had their share of transcendent moments but repeatedly collapsed under the weight of their own portent. This wasn’t your granddaddy’s Superman. He was grim. And people didn’t love him. Oh, no. He was a weapon, damnit, and you should be very afraid of what he might do. And Batman? Why, he’s a gun-toting, criminal-branding psychopath, of course! Snyder’s vision was no doubt a dark and frequently striking one yet there was little substance to uphold it.
A lot of that punishing gloominess is thankfully absent from Zack Snyder’s Justice League, but the intimidating runtime here leaves plenty of room for Snyder to indulge his every whim. The director has always had an eye for turning comic-book splash pages into gorgeous cinematic tableaus, and that talent of his may have reached its zenith here. Almost every member of the Justice League — and even its villains — are given stunning set pieces that blur the line between the comic book and film mediums.
The introduction of the Flash — played by Ezra Miller in far less obnoxious fashion here than in the theatrical cut of Justice League overseen by Joss Whedon — in which he saves a woman from getting demolished by a semi-truck amid a sea of floating hot dogs encapsulates the essence of Snyder’s version almost better than any other scene. For once, Snyder’s enthusiasm for slow-motion makes narrative sense, as the Flash’s lightning speed is captured with uncanny beauty. Each step he makes on the ground shatters the concrete beneath him, and the look of joy on his face as he explores his powers gives the sequence a sense of serene wonder. Even the needle drop, This Mortal Coil’s “Song to the Siren,” manages to be moving instead of ham-fisted. It’s Snyder at his best — beautiful, innovative, overly sentimental, mythic, ridiculous.
Though the movie’s storyline is near-identical to Whedon’s abhorrent 2017 version, there are plenty of strange and beguiling detours interspersed amid the League’s efforts to stop intergalactic supergods Darkseid and Steppenwolf from destroying the universe. Whether pausing for an Atlantean princess to sniff Aquaman’s sweater before singing a sea shanty or for Cyborg to brood inside a virtual representation of the internet, Snyder is constantly going for it in big, weird ways and that’s something you don’t see much of in the superhero world these days.
Of course, letting Snyder fully off the leash will never result in a flawless vision, and there’s plenty to ridicule here. The Mother Box plot mechanics, in which the superheroes have to chase down different boxes to save the world from destruction or whatever, is just a dumbed-down version of Marvel’s already-dumb Infinity Stones. Ben Affleck’s Batman, while visually appealing, remains one of the most boring iterations of the character to date — a homicidal brute with an array of weaponry and little else.
Finally, a 20-minute epilogue serves to set up a sequel that we’ll (probably?) never get, showing us a post-apocalyptic wasteland where our surviving heroes are forced to team up against an evil Superman.
There, we’re also treated to another disastrous serving of Jared Leto’s Joker, this time wearing completely different makeup but again fumbling with his tired imitation of Heath Ledger. The dialogue exchange he has with Affleck’s Batman is like the dumbest version of The Dark Knight’s iconic interrogation sequence. This one has the Joker talking about reach-arounds and Batman retorting with “I will fucking kill you.”
Alas, we begrudging fans of this Snyder Cut are more than willing to take the good with the bad if it means getting a superhero film as singular as this one. Believe me when I say: The superhero genre is unlikely to see something quite like Zack Snyder’s Justice League ever again.