Arts and Entertainment

Justice is Gray, Four Hours Long, and Uncomfortably Square

Zack Snyder’s four hour monstrosity of a movie does a lot to fix the flaws of the 2017 release of the “Justice League” but ultimately runs into an array of its own problems.

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By Nicholas Evangelinos

“Zack Snyder's Justice League” is a movie that has little reason to exist. The film is a 70 million dollar director's cut for the commercial and critical disaster that was “Justice League” (2017), a dumpster fire few want to revisit. Most people, quite reasonably, questioned how giving one man a boatload of money, a four-hour runtime, and total control of the fetid carcass of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) could produce anything even somewhat watchable. The insane thing is that Snyder almost proved them wrong.

The failure of the first “Justice League” is a messy story. Following the tragic suicide of his daughter, Zach Snyder took a step back from leading the project, and Warner Brothers brought in Joss Whedon to handle the last leg of production. However, Whedon’s job went far beyond directing reshoots and finalizing editing and story choices: he was also tasked with transforming Snyder’s bleak, four-hour cinematic marathon into something both more lighthearted and, more importantly, short enough to put in theaters. The result was the first release of “Justice League,” dubbed the “Josstice League” by the internet, and universally hated by everyone, from the most committed DC fanboys to the most uninterested and casual viewers. The movie was garish, without any real structure or tension, and painfully bland. Half of the main cast was devoid of any personality, and Whedon’s quippy, Marvel-style character writing fell flat when forced into Snyder’s overly self-serious story. Following this disappointment and the subsequent abandonment of the DC “Snyderverse” by Warner Bros., fans clung to the one hope they had left: the mythical Snyder cut—Zach Snyder’s unreleased masterpiece that would surely set everything right. For years, Snyder’s magnum opus was locked in the deepest vaults of Warner Studios, reduced to a punchline, until finally, the studio needed some publicity. To promote their new streaming service, HBO Max, and show the possibilities of their platform, they greenlit Snyder’s four-hour monstrosity, a film too big to ever be released in theaters. Hence, “Zack Snyder's Justice League” was born.

Much like the first “Justice League,” the Snyder cut focuses on DC’s most famous heroes as they try to stop Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) from collecting the three “Mother Boxes” and bringing an alien invasion to Earth. The difference, however, is in how much Snyder does with the creative freedom he’s been given.

While it’s hard for any movie to justify being four hours long, “Justice League” is almost an exception. The most apparent problem of the “Josstice League” was how rushed it was. As a consequence of DC trying to compete with Marvel in as little time as possible, most of the DCEU world was left critically underdeveloped, forcing the movie to choose between slow worldbuilding and actual action. This is most obvious with Cyborg (Ray Fisher) who, unlike many of the other central characters, needed to be fleshed out for audiences who were unlikely to know much about him. In the “Josstice League,” he just appears out of nowhere to fill out the team, and then he does almost nothing for the rest of the movie; Whedon’s truncated film didn’t have the time to elaborate on him past “robot man.” Snyder is able to avoid this by giving Cyborg a full backstory and a character arc integral to the main plot of the movie, all without removing anything important from Whedon’s film. He’s able to cover up a lot of the first movie's flaws just by spending more time in the world and giving the characters more room to develop. Snyder also cuts out a lot of Whedon’s cornier, more pointless one-liners, which, when combined with a more grand scale and his personal directing choices, does a lot to make the film’s tone more serious.

Is this long runtime without its flaws? Certainly not. “Zach Snyder’s Justice League” is fairly well-paced, but it’s still four hours long. The huge amount of content in the film might be an improvement over the shortened first cut, but the movie still drags on far longer than it should in several places. While it’s interesting to see the threads Snyder wanted to set up for the future of the DCEU, the plot gets sidetracked far too often by fan service and excessively in-depth world-building that doesn’t progress the already-bloated main storyline.

The other problem in the Snyder cut is the cinematography, which can only be described as too much Zach Snyder. The first thing you’ll notice is that the movie is shot in 4:3, a decision announced explicitly before it begins, and explained by the studio’s desire to “preserve the integrity of Zack Snyder’s creative vision.” A holdover from the film’s planned theatrical release, the aspect ratio is, at worst, out of place in most scenes, giving off the impression of an art house film rather than a superhero blockbuster. However, it’s in the action sequences the smaller screen really starts to feel restrictive as Snyder struggles to fit all of the moving pieces of his elaborate battles into frame.

Past this strange choice, “Zach Snyder’s Justice League” is also full of Snyder’s two favorite things: slow motion and desaturated color palettes. Slow-mo is a time-tested essential of action movies, but the Snyder cut uses it to a comedic extent, and at a certain point, it starts to draw the audience’s attention away from the events on screen. On top of that, the movie’s muted color palette, while in line with its tone, can be overwhelming at times. Though it’s without a doubt a step up from Whedon’s bright, television-esque, and genuinely ugly release, Snyder’s completely colorless world makes some of the sets feel boring and interchangeable and leaves a lot of the more visual setpieces dull and flat. These problems only intensify in Snyder’s hilariously unnecessary black and white version release, “Justice Is Gray,” which exacerbates the movie’s previous issues and replaces its gritty feel with an overly moody visual style that’s ultimately less compatible with the rest of the film.

“Zach Snyder’s Justice League” is not an exceptionally good movie. Though it easily rockets past the low bar set by the catastrophically bad 2017 release, it is not without its flaws. At four hours long, it feels unfocused and unnecessarily vast, brute forcing its way through the many hang-ups of the “Josstice League” by the sheer volume of content. Snyder’s direction, while giving the film a more fitting tone, feels overdone and distracting at times. And yet, despite all this, it’s hard to say the Snyder Cut wasn’t what fans wanted. The movie may be overblown and self-indulgent, but it's the first—and probably the last—film to give a comprehensible view of the DCEU. The Snyderverse may not be coming back, but at least it went out with a bang.