And so we come to the one that counts. After all the campaigns. After all the controversy. After all the warfare. We are at the fabled Snyder Cut. No more will it be demanded to be released. It’s out. It’s available freely. It’s over.
There is a review I expected to write for this commission. I expected I’d take the film apart as an object. I expected I’d like it or not like it but I expected to be clinical. Because I didn’t expect a coherent film. And I definitely didn’t think a fully successful film could be made from that clay.
But that’s not what I’m writing at all. I’m writing a very different review. Because against all odds, the one in 14,000,605 outcomes happened. Somehow, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is one of the best comic book movies I’ve ever seen. Not on a curve. Not with conceits. It’s a 4 hour film I inhaled in one go because I was so gripped by what I saw.
The plot is for all intents and purposes the same. Like exactly the same. There’s no different outcome. The setup is basically the same. Even a lot of the structure is the same. And yet it’s wildly different.
Now I’ll say right now I’m not doing a forensic study of what’s different. I haven’t put both side by side. It’s obvious that some scenes in Snyder made it to WB unchanged. A lot more of the jokes than you’d think. Aquaman yelling My Man! is in this cut. But just because the plots are the same does not make the films the same.
What I am going to do bizarrely is refute some of my own arguments about what didn’t work in the WB cut. Because there are things that I said didn’t work there that actually do here. I was wrong to assume they were built in. And studying why I was wrong is studying why this works.
The big thing to make clear is Snyder gets over the Superman obstacle and the obstacle of the DC trinity being in the previous film and does it beautifully. He does so by making us care deeply about the new additions to the cast. We come to care about Cyborg and the Flash and Aquaman. Thus it matters when they take their place as JL members. We actually want to see them as heroes not just because we know them from the comics.
Since we care about the new characters, the film feels less about waiting for Superman to serve as the cavalry. We would be fine just watching this team. That wasn’t the case with the previous cut which was a long wait to something we knew was coming. We still know he’s coming here but we’re patient.
And there’s much better work with the returning characters. Ben Affleck does a career best performance in mainstream work as Batman here. There’s a much stronger focus on the idea of him as a man changed by experiencing true heroism. He’s had a religious conversion to hope and he’s ecstatic to spread it. Assembling the League feels spiritual to him. Similarly Gal Gadot gets her best work as Wonder Woman, truly playing a woman who has also lost faith but is feeling it back. She has a small scene with Jeremy Irons as Alfred that’s pure happiness. And Henry Cavill crushes as Superman as always. This time he looks right.
But about those new characters. While Jason Momoa actually gets a bit less to do here oddly enough, he’s still great as a swaggering, drunken Aquaman. Ezra Miller is a blast as The Flash, feeling like an uncomfortable awkward autistic man thrown into a world of gods.
But the movie’s soul is Ray Fisher as Cyborg. And he should be angry about what he endured. He was abused in the reshoots and his starring work here was lost. I barely registered him in the theatrical cut. He owns the true cut. He is incredible here.
The movie has a dramatic improvement on the villain front. If Steppenwolf seemed weak last time, it’s built into him now. He’s trying to please Darkseid. He’s a toady. He looks better. And as for the lord of Apokolips himself? I’ve long had an itch to see Darkseid in live action and haven’t had it. I got him in full here and as the bigger bad, he’s incredible. He looks fantastic, unreal but that’s perfect. And there’s the reason they care about Earth. Much stronger here. Parademons still rock.
Then there’s the tone. This isn’t what you expect. The movie is about people who’ve endured tragedy discovering optimism again and that is the tone of the film. The joy of starting to believe in good. It’s an upbeat film through and through pulsing with hope and life. This is unlike any Snyder film yet. A profoundly happy, warm film. It’s in no way the edge you expect.
It’s very daunting to see a 4 hour film but it’s a remarkable achievement how fast it moves. There is tremendous pacing here. It shouldn’t be intensely watchable at 4 hours but it is. It might be a bit much for some but I found it gripping. Definitely can see a tight 2.5 hour cut in here though.
And that brings me to the reshoots. It’s possible to imagine a tighter version but this underlines how much the reshoots broke the film. How they robbed it of feeling special. And it wasn’t possible to see that until you see this cut. There’s nothing of the chintzy trash that brought that cut down. No shots that feel shot on camcorder. No awkward jokes. No phoned in performances. No rushing. The reshoots and the dreadful editing made the theatrical feel like a non event. This has the grand feeling that lacked.
And I must address the Snyder of it all. This is HIS cut. And in the context of his career it feels like a long thought finally complete. He’s long been fascinated by the powerful and the question of altruism. With this film he finally makes his point. Altruism isn’t just a virtue, it’s the highest. Giving your all to help someone is the core of this film. And it’s the point he’s been building to through his trilogy.
This is as personal a film one can make from corporate properties. It feels shot through with what Snyder actually thinks and feels. That it’s so deeply about fathers doesn’t feel an accident. And it’s lovely. That his most demanded film turns out to be by far his most accomplished feels only right.
Now, is it perfect? No. There are moments that could’ve been tightened. The closing codas run a bit too long for certain and could’ve been lost even. I didn’t need a reveal that one character is actually another in one scene that serves no purpose. But nitpicks these are.
I’m ultimately baffled that there was ever a moment WB executives looked at what Snyder was doing and weren’t in awe of what he had. He had the real deal here. And they threw it away overreacting to BvS which looks a lot better after this.
In the end, this is JUSTICE LEAGUE as I’d hoped. A big, bold epic in love with the comics and in love with the idea of heroism. It’s a joy to have.
Please consider donating to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention using this link, in memory of Autumn Snyder, who is gone but will not be forgotten.