Zack Snyder's Justice League

Zack Snyder's Justice League ★★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

the snyder cut begins with a prolonged and anguished scream. superman's dying wail projects with such supersonic force that it's heard in the city across the bay, and under the sea, and eventually across the entire world. everyone on earth knows and shares in his suffering. it's an obvious extension of snyder's series of christian metaphors with the character, and it also calls back to his previous film's channeling of real-world national/global tragedy. but more than that, i think it's only appropriate that a film with such a tortured and painful journey to the screen would begin this way.

it's hard not to look at this film, so wholly consumed with stories of children making their parents proud and parents letting down their children, and not think of the personal tragedy suffered by its director. i don't intend to psychoanalyze the man, but it really is everywhere. superman hears the voices of his two fathers as he decides how he'll return to the world; the flash's widowed and wrongfully imprisoned father insists that his son cut him out of his life, for fear he'll forever hold him back; aquaman scorns the mother who left him behind and cut him off from half his heritage, and must be convinced to carry her weapon into battle and carry on her legacy; batman is, of course, a man who in every incarnation carries the gaping psychological wound of his parents' murder (as well as that of his adopted son) but here seems to have found some peace in assembling this new family.**

and of course there's cyborg, the film's clear protagonist, a man who lost the mother he loved and was agonizingly preserved by a father who was never around for him much before. his father only seemed to care about him when he was on the brink of death. that's a feeling anyone with a history of suicidal behavior can surely relate to. cyborg resents his father for keeping him alive in a way that causes only one of them anguish. he thinks his father made a selfish decision in preserving him. but isn't that all that parents can do? the conclusion of his arc is also the film's most moving moment: as cyborg melds his mind with the three fused mother boxes, they appear to him as the three members of his family, alive, restored, and whole. but he rejects the offer. "i'm not broken. and i'm not alone." he wrenches the illusion of his past apart, choosing to reenact the trauma that brought him to this moment, because if it hadn't, he could never save the world. it isn't the most nuanced or intelligent take on the idea. what it is, though, is so clearly coming from a parent of a suffering child. the idea that this pain isn't endless, that you'll get through it someday, and you'll come out the other side a stronger and more self-assured person. what else could he say? what other movie could he make?

superman, too, has come to a place of surprising self-acceptance. snyder's conception of the character has previously leaned on uncertainty and discomfort. this clark kent has always been uneasy with the idea of using his powers, struck with a sense of moral obligation but in conflict with clear apprehension of being seen as a deity. he accepts an ethical responsibility, but broods when he's treated like a god. this is one of the reasons i so firmly reject the idea of reading snyder's superhero movies as any more fascist than the genre inherently compels. a key line for this superman comes from man of steel, when as a child he's first told by his adoptive father where he really comes from. on the verge of tears he asks, "can't i just keep pretending i'm your son?" but when he shows up to the final battle here, for the first time he seems entirely at ease with being who he is. perhaps it's because he's now part of a unit of people who all face the same questions, but who've all come to the same place. it's as a unit that these people can finally feel whole.

and oh, how whole they are. snyder is perhaps the only person working in this space who not only accepts but embraces that these figures can and should inspire awe. the film's new aspect ratio emphasizes their mighty scale--they tower over the frame like skyscrapers, rooted solidly in the bottom-heavy compositions which are common in imax cinematography. snyder was snickered at by some for his explanation that a 4:3 aspect ratio made sense here because superheroes are more often vertical than horizontal, but that idea bears out perfectly on screen. he wants his heroes to create slack-jawed wonder in an audience, a mission that's for some reason absent from pretty much every other outlet in the genre. for the first time since i was a kid, watching superheroes do battle on screen didn't feel so old-hat or like an arbitrary sideshow to a brand-building exercise. snyder's action isn't particularly complex in its choreography, but it's rock-solid in its rhythm and blocking. snyder is obviously a superlative visual storyteller even disregarding the stories he wants to tell. a sequence near the end involving the flash running backwards through time is particularly astonishing, as he reassembles the world around him with each electrified step. i've deliberately avoided mentioning the previously released cut of this film, but sequences like that left me baffled as to how anyone would leave them on the cutting room floor.

so now the snyder cut exists, it's real, i watched it and have rewatched particular scenes and would happily turn on the whole thing beginning to end right now. it's a movie that only a father could make, about nothing moreso than a father's enduring, hopeful love. it's tremendously moving blockbuster cinema, and i'm glad we live in a world that gets to see it.

**even the villainous steppenwolf here comes with some familial angst. after committing some unspecified betrayal against his nephew, the tyrannical darkseid, he's been given a quota of planets to conquer before he can be allowed to return home and reenter the fold. his role in the film is less a bland alien conquerer and more a squirrely middle-manager on the outs with his boss. i wouldn't say he's a fully-cooked character, but he's got surprising pathos. like everyone else in the film, he's just a guy who wants his family back.

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