Zack Snyder's Justice League

Zack Snyder's Justice League ★★★★

Jettisoning the slapdash color re-grading and Joss Whedon's cutesy and self-conscious irony to replace it with, you can't help but suspect, every damn frame of usable footage Snyder shot, somehow this four-hour unprecedented indulgence takes its place not among superhero colleagues but the roadshow extravaganzas of Cecil B. DeMille and the like. It's fitting, given Snyder's endless preoccupations with the superhero as unfathomable and unaccountable god, that this should feel like the purely secular alternative to The Ten Commandments or Ben-Hur.

Everything about this is wildly superior. In a Heaven's Gate-esque scenario, four hours feels less long than two, and even the least-altered sequences are much improved. Take that early bit between Wonder Woman and the British Luddite terrorists(??): the speedramping is done with real panache, and even though there's some real cognitive dissonance between Diana casually merking some dudes and the new material of an awestruck young girl asking if she can be like Diana when she grows up, there's a real spark there of old-school DC heart that's been missing (hell, Wonder Woman 1984 flat-out made the innocent desire to emulate Diana a villainous trait).

The latter aspect was the most surprising thing here for me. Yes, the special effects are massively improved, actually fucking finished by a team able to work from a real director's sense of vision; the narrative flows more coherently; and Ray Fisher in particular is vindicated as the chief beneficiary of an across-the-board increase in character development and motive that makes everyone fit in the way they absolutely did not in the theatrical.

But what really stood out here is that in the absence of Whedon's neurotic, self-insulating humor, the house style for basically all blockbusters now but especially the MCU, you are left with a film that is self-serious, maybe, but absolutely earnest and even optimistic. That is no mean feat for a movie where Batman continues to kill without compunction using guns, Superman is teased to break bad even more than the theatrical cut, and generally speaking all of the characters are saddled with the overwhelming weight of the losses in their lives that have emotionally insulated them. But in making Cyborg the narrative center of this over Batman, Snyder ultimately resolves on a simple but moving message of perseverance and hope that defines DC Comics at its best and has always marked it apart from the more morally ambivalent, self-doubting realm of Marvel.

Re-framed in Academy ratio, the film cuts against the contemporary trend of putting all things meant for theatrical viewing in Scope framing and instead makes an immediate case that all these movies should be in this ratio instead. He understands that superheroes are vertical beings, soaring in the heavens or perched high above scanning our mortal world. The compositions here can be truly breathtaking, from a moon pulsing over a giant energy shield that rises red over a flat Russian terrain like a blood blister on the surface of the Earth, or the absurdist, fully sincere whimsy of Barry saving his future wife while also plucking a hot dog out of the air and pocketing it with this mischievous grin. And in less formal terms, seeing just how much of Fisher and even just bit-player people of color are in this version and had been totally excised from the theatrical version is absolutely damning of the people responsible for reshooting and editing out all of this footage.

If Snyder basically forced WB to take all of his suggestions as part of their damage control, that would explain why there's a good half-hour too much of slow-motion shots, and at a certain point I started giggling uncontrollably when it became obvious that in a soundtrack that includes a 54-track original score and multiple needle drops that they only had one music cue for Wonder Woman. But this still stands out as a live-action superhero film of genuine directorial vision, and at last I think I can fully embrace the mind of Zack Snyder, god help me.

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