Zack Snyder’s Justice League

The director’s cut of the 2017 movie Justice League was released for streaming last week, all four hours of it. I watched it over several evenings, grateful that Snyder chose to have labeled acts that made it easy to pause. I don’t often bother with director cuts of movies I’ve already seen. Historically they usually just include scenes that, in retrospect, were cut for good reasons. But the theatrical version of Justice League is a case where we definitely didn’t get Snyder’s full vision, a result of him having to leave the production after his daughter died, and Josh Whedon being brought in to finish things.

And the theatrical version is widely seen as defective. Of course, most of the DC movies are seen as problematic by a lot of people. While I don’t find them as good as the Marvel movies, I’ve never seen them as the smoldering mound of diseased fecal matter many take them to be. For me, they’ve generally been entertaining in their own way. I found Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman to be somewhat grim, but I don’t mind grim if it’s done well. But that grimness probably limited their mass appeal, and Snyder has been a big part of that dark edginess.

All of which is to say, this version of the movie is probably darker and edgier than the theatrical cut. I say “probably” because I frankly don’t remember that much from the theatrical version. Most of the scenes in this version felt familiar, but not in a way that enabled me to remember how the movie played out. One big change that I did notice is that Steppenwolf, the villain, is far more impressive in this version. He exudes demonic power, as compared to the theatrical version which I recall looking like an actor in a silly costume. It’s harder to take fight scenes seriously when your villain looks like a clown.

There were some aspects of this cut I found a bit off putting. I’m not a fan of some of Snyder’s visual techniques. A lot of the earlier scenes had a 300 feel to them. It was a technique that was cool in that movie, but isn’t something I personally want to see a lot more of. Thankfully it seemed toned down once the movie shifted into more real world settings. And the pace of the movie could have been a little quicker. It wasn’t enough for me to get bored, but many scenes seemed to drag on longer than necessary.

One thing the movie inevitably retains is the fixation on the power of Superman. A substantial part of the story is about resurrecting him. But, and this is a long standing issue with the Justice League, he ends up being so powerful, it’s easy to wonder at times why he even needs the rest of the team (other than to resurrect him when he’s inconveniently killed). It worked okay for this movie, because for most of the action he wasn’t available. But any future movies are going to have to inflate the villains correspondingly to make them a credible threat. A contingency which Snyder does lay the groundwork for in this movie.

The movie ends with an epilogue, which starts off tying up some character arcs, then morphs into a number of scenes similar to Marvel’s end credits scenes, with teasers for future movies. Although at this point it’s not clear how many of them will ever be made. Snyder has stated, probably repeating the studio line, that this version shouldn’t be considered canonical. I hope the studio reconsiders that stance. There’s some cool stuff here I wouldn’t mind seeing developed. Although given the realities of contracts and production schedules, that ship might have already sailed.

So overall, I was more entertained than I expected to be. If you’ve enjoyed Snyder’s other movies, then I definitely recommend checking this one out if you have HBO Max.

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