It takes an extraordinarily diverse skill set to direct a great comic-book movie. You’ve got to be a visual-effects wizard; a maestro of story and pace; a popcorn humanist who can find the relatable dimension of a bunch of freaks in capes and breastplates and spandex; and enough of an artist to tie the whole thing together into an indelible big vision. Zack Snyder has done just that as early reactions praise Justice League.
It’s no wonder that in the years since Hollywood got eaten alive by comic-book culture, the superhero movies that have achieved a genuine sweeping transcendence can just about be counted on one hand: “The Dark Knight,” “Spider-Man 2,” “Black Panther,” and a few others. And now as early reactions praise Justice League, we can add to that line up-The Justice League Snyder Cut. The Snyder Cut is a thrillingly restored four-hour-long director’s-cut version of the 2017 DC Comics extravaganza. It is unlike Joss Whedon’s version( 2017) which was a hastily shot “audience friendly” version of “Justice League,” synced to the processed beats of corporate storytelling, that wound up pleasing next to no one. It’s like watching a new movie— and make no mistake, it really is a new movie — is more than a vindication of Snyder’s original vision. It’s a grand, nimble, and immersive entertainment, a team-of-heroes origin story that, at heart, is classically conventional, yet it’s now told with such an intoxicating childlike sincerity and ominous fairy-tale wonder that it takes you back to what comic books, at their best, have always sought to do: make you feel like you’re seeing gods at play on Earth.
Timing, they say, is everything, and there are two ways that the new “Justice League” turns out to be karmically well-timed.
It’s premiering a year into the pandemic, which means that audiences have now gone for 12 months without experiencing the primal joys of high-flying fantasy escapism on the big screen.
We’re starved for it, and though it’s true that “Justice League” will be seen, by and large, on HBO Max, the film is such a feast of bravura eye candy and emotionally serious spectacle that it seems to be delivering all the excitement we’ve been missing. As one who grew up watching comic book movies, I am excited to be a kid again, and see my heroes come to life on my own personal screen.
“Justice League” accomplishes in four hours what those films did in nine. And it’s finally a startling tale of death and resurrection. The five members of Justice League, gathered up by Batman and Wonder Woman, realize that they can’t save Earth without Superman, who is no longer with them. So they use one of the three Mother Boxes, the sources of infinite energy everyone is fighting to possess, to raise Clark Kent from the dead — a plot twist that was there in the 2017 version, but that’s the thing, it was just…there. Here, the hard-won reawakening of Superman becomes a transporting saga of its own.
The new “Justice League” exudes a majestic sense of cosmic historical evil. Its tone is less reminiscent of other DC or Marvel movies than of Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. The camaraderie among the superheroes is vastly deepened — with the cheeseball wisecracks excised, they develop a moving affinity for each other. In one of many examples of how sharpened Snyder’s filmmaking is, Ezra Miller’s Flash is introduced with far wittier dialogue than anything Joss Whedon came up with, followed by a mesmerizing bullet-time sequence in which he saves a young woman from a car accident — an episode that beautifully sets up the hidden empathy of his speed-of-light character. Gal Gadot’s Diana has the stalwart but tensely trepidatious presence that got fumbled in “Wonder Woman 1984,” Ray Fisher’s Cyborg has acquired the resonance of a half-machine Hamlet, and Ben Affleck’s Batman is like a different character: With all that Ben-friendly banter gone, he embraces the gruff-voiced, dread-tinged, sinister Bruce with sterling command. Ciarán Hinds’ Steppenwolf, with his horns of evil, is still the prime antagonist, but while he seemed a trifle effete in the 2017 version, here he has been reimagined as a splendid hulk covered in gleaming herringbone platelets that bristle with his emotion, and he’s also a disgraced assassin who will stoop to the unspeakable. “Justice League” ends with what may be the best post-comic-book-movie teaser ever, as Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor and then Jared Leto’s Joker hold court in twin lectures of doom that make you hungry to see the movies they promise.
Beyond that, this has to be one of the most visually spellbinding comic-book movies ever made. The Justice League Snyder Cut Premieres Thursday, March 18 on HBO Max-Join The League!