A still from <i>Zack Snyder’s Justice League</i>.

Review: Zack Snyder’s Justice League Is a Bleak Endurance Test 

Zack Snyder’s Justice League is finally out.

Movie Reviews
6 min read

Review: Zack Snyder’s Justice League Is A Bleak Endurance Test

In a rare case of myth becoming reality, the Snyder Cut of Justice League has been unleashed upon us. It comes four years after murmurs of its existence in the internet's hidden recesses mushroomed into a movement, its hashtag a rallying point for DC diehards and trolls. Its worldwide release is as much a victory for Zack Snyder as it is for the fans who willed it into existence. HBO Max's desire to make an impression in a streaming market dominated by Netflix, plus an amount of $70 million, too played their part of course.

A habitual bleakness (to the point of self-parody) pervades Zack Snyder's Justice League, doubling what was already a mind-numbing 120-minute slog into a butt-numbing 242-minute ordeal. Divided into six chapters and an epilogue, the film is really an endurance test, if you aren't a DCEU fan who clamoured for its existence. Even if it is the slightest of improvements on the theatrical version, it can't save the movie from Snyder's own shortcomings as a storyteller.

Before we get into it, a quick recap of the Snyder Cut's backstory. In early 2017, the director had to step away from his passion project due to the death of his daughter. In his absence, Warner Bros. brought in Joss Whedon to finish the film. Whedon had directed Scooby Gangs and supergroups before, and his experience should have held him in good stead. But his quip-a-minute quotient was a clear U-turn from Snyder's master plan for mopey superheroes. Whedon's rewrites and reshoots ended up birthing a beastly mutant which bore no resemblance to Snyder's gym commercials starring shredded supes. Above all, “Joss-tice League” embarrassed Warner Bros. at the box office, got mauled by critics, and shrugged off by fans. Rumours of a Snyder Cut began to spread before evidence manifested on various social media platforms. A petition, a Comic Con and a couple of airplane banners later, the movement had gained mainstream traction.

A still from <i>Zack Snyder’s Justice League</i>.
A still from Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
(Photo Courtesy: HBO Max/Warner Bros)

Now that it’s here, Snyder's Justice League is an ungainly miscreation worth a mauling of its own. It's trapped between extravagance in approach and austerity in mood. Combat sequences resemble ballet in spandex when they are really just bloodbaths in slo-mo. It's these contradictions that define Snyder's film grammar. A sesame seed thrown into the air gets the same reverent treatment as a superhero saving a woman. Snyder's idea of edginess is to let his supes drop the F-bomb a few times. To match his preferred dark tone, he even lets Superman trade his classic red-and-blue suit for a black one.

In the bipartisanship that is the superhero industrial complex, there's the Marvel-ous, and the Marvel-less. The Snyder Cut sure ain't the former. The film is still about assembling the Avengers Justice League, finding the Infinity Stones Mother Boxes, and battling the CGI villain. So, what's out: that Whedon-styled levity, that one Russian family saved from the parademon attack, that CGI upper lip wax for Superman among others. What's in: Steppenwolf redesigned, Darkseid and the Apokolips Squad, more Knightmare visions, a 4:3 aspect ratio, a bigger final battle, and a new Junkie XL score.

The Snyder Cut — or as it should really be called “Apokolips Now Redux” — begins just like the theatrical version. Superman's death in the battle against Doomsday triggers a literal shock wave around the globe. With another world-ending threat on the horizon, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) recruit three new supes — Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) — to fill the void left by Superman. Only here, Bruce and Diana take half the movie to do it as Snyder fleshes out the backstories of the other supes.

A still from <i>Zack Snyder’s Justice League</i>.
A still from Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
(Photo Courtesy: HBO Max/Warner Bros)

Batman is struggling with guilt over Superman's death. Watching Affleck brood, you may find it hard to resist the itch to stroke your quarantine stubble. Call it an "Affleck-tion." When she isn't inspiring schoolgirls and recruiting supes, Wonder Woman is learning how to make proper tea from Alfred (Jeremy Irons). Just in case the accent doesn't give him away, Synder wants to ensure his preferred beverage does. It's proof why some scenes need to be left on the cutting room floor.

With Cyborg's powers coming from the Mother Box, we get a fuller picture of his transformation: his beginnings as a promising high school football player before his scientist father uses sentient tech to save him from a car accident. Flash has daddy issues of his own, plus a love interest in Iris West (Kiersey Clemons). He also brings intermittent moments of levity between all the grunting and brooding. Aquaman gets an Atlantean backstory, a sea-section if you will. Considering he already got his own movie, it renders the whole thing pointless.

On the other side of the conflict, Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) proves himself to be more than just a Surtur analogue. He’s a Darkseid crony trying to redeem himself in his boss's eyes by enslaving Earthlings. Halfway through the film, the supes decide to resurrect the Man of Steel to stem the invasion of Steppenwolf and his parademons. The planning and the execution in the genesis chamber in General Zod’s crashed Kryptonian ship gets a longer cut. Never one to miss out on messiah iconography, Snyder films a resurrection sequence befitting a second coming.

A still from <i>Zack Snyder’s Justice League</i>.
A still from Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
(Photo Courtesy: HBO Max/Warner Bros)

Grieving over Superman's death from the sidelines is Lois Lane (Amy Adams), who's stopped going to work. Snyder shows us how paralysed by grief she is by letting her walk in the rain, as Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds's "Distant Sky" plays in the background. There is no room for subtlety here. Reduced to a symbol, or as the film insists "key," Lane's agency in the film is really limited to talking Superman down from killing Batman in his post-resurrection rampage.

If she is key in any way to Justice League's future, it has to do with what is teased in the epilogue. The Knightmare storyline, which imagines Batman leading a rebellion against a Superman-gone-rogue, would have broadened the film's scope were it a trilogy like it was previously planned. Since the sequels have been scrapped for now, the scenes only add length, not depth to the movie. In another scene in the epilogue, Martian Manhunter reveals himself to Batman. But it’s a product placement for future Justice League films, which may never be.

For HBO Max, the Snyder Cut is clearly a market penetration move to build its subscriber base. For Warner Bros., it's an attempt to cash in on the Snyder cult. Fandoms, for the most part, are a cordial and inclusive bunch. The toxic fans are but one bloodsucking strain. Among the fans who appealed for the Synder Cut were also those who raised over $500,000 for suicide prevention in honour of Snyder's late daughter Autumn. But by vindicating the fandom, the studio has also legitimised its more conspiracy-minded sections. In their advocacy for the Snyder Cut, the most pernicious of these sections bullied critics and former DC executives on social media.

Franchises especially seem to breed a sense of ownership which ignites the flames of online fandoms easily. Consider the Star Wars fans who don't consider The Last Jedi as canon, even going so far as to cut a "De-Feminized Fanedit." The backlash against Rian Johnson's instalment provoked Disney into serving more uninspired nostalgia bait in the follow-up, The Rise of Skywalker. What caving into fans' demands also does is it reduces a director's personal vision into fan fiction. The precedent set by The Rise of Skywalker and the Snyder Cut will only inspire fans to demand idealised edits of all their precious franchises, like it were some honourable crusade.

Rating: 2 Quints out of 5

(Zack Snyder's Justice League will be available to rent and buy on BookMyShow Stream from 18 March.)

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