After all these years, it’s finally here. I will admit that I spent way too much time thinking about the Snyder Cut before it was even an idea that existed beyond the beginning days of the fan campaign, and how couldn’t I? The theatrical cut of Justice League is probably one of the most highly publicized production disasters in decades. It’s the Heaven’s Gate of this strange new era of blockbuster filmmaking. Snyder’s unique vision for this universe has always been polarizing and, for me, always imperfect. Like it or not, the guy won out in the end. Regardless of finished quality, I think it’s all for the better.
Immediately the film makes a big change from the theatrical cut and gets it right. Superman’s dying wail at the hands of Doomsday echoes throughout the whole of the universe, alerting everyone from Atlantis to Apokolips that the hero has fallen. This gives us something the old version was drastically missing: reason. Steppenwolf just kinda shows up in the theatrical cut, but here there is a clearly explained motivation behind this being the proper time to come hunting for the Mother Boxes. The added runtime gives everything the proper space to breathe, and it makes what Snyder was attempting to do with these characters clear and finally reasonable. After so long reckoning with it I’m finally on board with Snyder’s portrait of these characters as mythological heroes and figures of folklore, because here he is finally allowed to unabashedly expand on that concept. From the folk song sung by the Icelandic villagers as Arthur Curry vanishes into the sea to the Shelleyan creation of metal man Victor Stone. He treats these characters as true American folklore built from both myth and science.
The idea that we don’t really know how much time has passed since Superman’s death adds to the film’s odd sense of reality that’s more of a storybook brought to life than a plot intricately devised. Dark prophecies and herculean trials are more Snyder’s speed, and the movie is at its best when crafting shamelessly self-indulgent and operatic portraits of these feats of grandeur. Aquaman looks like a god rescuing a single man from a shipwreck. Imposing hieroglyphs of Darkseid are set to dark orchestral strings. Even Victor playing football in an extended flashback is treated with an extreme weight and gravitas that you won’t find in any superhero movie out there and it’s all thanks to Snyder’s approach to portraying them.
According to Snyder’s word, the film is almost entirely the one he set out to make in 2017. Not a single frame of Whedon’s reshoots are present and supposedly only a few minutes of new footage have been added in. If that’s the case, this makes the Whedon quick fix look like even more of a wreck. There are details that under no circumstances should have been left out of the theatrical cut. Seeing Steppenwolf get a hold of the Atlantean Mother Box, the idea that they have a scent, and Steppenwolf’s process of building his fortress are all really fun details. Speaking of Steppenwolf, he’s gone from a slightly snarky brute to an intergalactic heavy for Darkseid, which I appreciated. It adds a little more depth to his character knowing that he is trying so hard to prove himself to the all powerful conqueror.
While I did end up liking this movie a lot, it’s not quite a perfect flick. The run time can certainly be felt, especially with sequences like a car crash that goes on forever to set up a character who barely says a word and then is never seen again. It’s difficult for this film to reckon with anything made without Snyder’s involvement, as this technically takes place before Aquaman, anything regarding Wonder Woman 1984 is nonexistent, and who the hell knows how Shazam fits into any of this. The epilogue is also clumsy and entirely unnecessary, making what should be a complete story with obvious potential for future entries end with a tacked on trailer that makes it clear WB is trying to give this franchise’s main storyline a shot in the heart after branching out with solo films that barely tie into it. Does this film make the DCEU all make sense in retrospect? No, and I don’t think anything can. Nothing will justify the bloated mess that is Dawn of Justice, even if the remnants of it left here make much more sense in context. But in the end, it’s all for Autumn. This beast has finally been brought to life and put to rest. I’m cautiously optimistic for what comes next, and mostly satisfied with what we ended up getting.