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Zack Snyder’s Justice League

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What it’s about:

With a dark alien force threatening to conquer the planet, Batman recruits a team of iconic heroes—including Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, and Cyborg—to save the world. The fate of humanity lies in the control of three hidden devices, which may also hold the key to bringing back Earth’s greatest champion from the dead.

Names you might know:

All of DC Comics’ heaviest hitters are here, including Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Amy Adams, Diane Lane, Connie Nielson, Joe Morton, J.K. Simmons, Ciarán Hinds, William Defoe, and Amber Heard. Zack Snyder gets sole directing credit here, as well as a story-by credit, alongside Will Beall and screenwriter Chris Terrio.

Why it’s worth your time:

In case you don’t know the full backstory of this release, here it is in a nutshell: Filmmaker Zack Snyder was originally hired to make a Justice League film as a follow-up to his previous DC projects Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. During the production, however, Snyder had to back out due to a family tragedy and Joss Whedon stepped in to replace him. The film that came out in theaters in 2017 (and was widely panned) was the result of Whedon’s reshoots and substantial edits, though the full extent of his changes wasn’t previously made public. Since the initial theatrical run, fans have been hounding the studio to release the “Snyder Cut,” restoring the original director’s vision for the film. And here we are.

You only have to ask one question about the Snyder Cut: Is it better than theatrical release? The answer:  Yes, it is. The first 15 minutes are better than Whedon’s entire movie, which is a relief and also kind of a shame. Full disclosure, I hate-watch the Whedon Justice League every time it’s on TV. There was so much potential there, but so much to loathe: Whedon’s obsession with Diana’s cleavage and butt, the far too many slapstick moments and wooden lines, and a completely useless side story involving a Russian family. It turns out, despite popular belief, Whedon didn’t improve on Snyder’s vision; he ripped it up and threw it out.

I always knew that there was a better movie in there somewhere, and I think this might be it. Is it perfect? Oh, no. It could definitely be shorter—a good half hour could be carved off just in the slow-mo shots, and Snyder’s never conceived a fight scene that didn’t last five years. “Zack Snyder, Auteur of Epics and Opuses” is definitely in the house, and that’s a blessing and a curse. Plus, there are some extraneous characters and concepts floating around that merely come off as Snyder pushing for a sequel. Yes, Jared Leto, I’m looking at you. But all in all this is a way, way better film.

For the most part, Snyder makes good use of the time by adding depth to each character. Everyone gets a few more scenes explaining who they are and what their lives were like before Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) found them. Snyder emphasizes that Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), Aquaman (Jason Mamoa) and The Flash (Ezra Miller) were already friendly neighborhood superheroes many times over. Bruce just makes them into a team.

Snyder focuses on that team working together to save the world, long before they come up with the plan to resurrect Superman (Henry Cavill). Like, we’re two hours and some change in before the idea even comes up. It’s a slow group realization, with each hero’s knowledge and experience coming into play. Given how the plot device known as the “Mother Box” transforms energy and matter, could they bring Mr. Kent back? The scene is such a contrast to how it’s handled in Whedon’s version, with Bruce insisting that Superman must be brought back to life, as Diana tries to be the desperate voice of reason. Snyder’s characters are smarter, mentally tougher, and more confident in their abilities than Whedon’s are. They’re the heroes of legend.

Wonder Woman and Cyborg get the best edit here. Diana no longer runs the short gamut between sex object and den mother. No one is yelling at her to be a leader, because Snyder makes it obvious she is one, to herself and everyone else. She’s fierce, the first to jump into a fight, and more than equal to anyone else in the League. And it’s nice to finally get a good look at her face. And then there’s Victor Stone, aka Cyborg. He gets a fully fleshed-out backstory. He has a complex relationship with his father, which becomes an integral part of the story. He’s given more to do than hang around morosely and hack into computer systems. He‘s the one character who’s truly given an arc, from cursing his father and his own existence, to embracing what’s possible.

I was surprised at how little time Snyder spends with Superman. I mean, his death caused the whole Mother Box problem in the first place, and the entire planet is in deep mourning for him—his influence is everywhere. But we barely get an hour with Clark once he returns. It’s a short shrift for someone who takes up most of Snyder’s last two films.

Snyder gets very sound performances from his actors, which is another departure from Whedon’s film. And the added scenes, like Barry’s “save cute” with a bystander who happens to be his comic-book love interest Iris West, made me feel like I’d been robbed. You mean I could have had this movie instead?

The takeaway:

It may not be perfect, but Zack Snyder’s Justice League has stronger characters, and delivers an absolutely gorgeous production. It’s a masterclass in how much of a difference directing and editing can make.

Watch it with:

A fellow comic-book movie fan, emphasis on “movie.” I’ve had some great discussions with friends about the different directing styles of the two versions, and diving head first into the DC vs. Marvel rabbit hole. It’s a marvelously distracting way to waste some time.

Worth noting:

Speaking of time, it’s a four-hour movie. Don’t feel the need to watch this all in one sitting. It’s broken into six parts and an epilogue, and you can easily take breaks between them without losing the thread of the story. Feel free to treat it as a six episode TV miniseries. And, no, I’m not taking credit for that idea.

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