“The bell’s already been rung.”
Zack Snyder once told audiences and fans of hero mythology to imagine our world with Superman in it (Man of Steel, 2013). While some accepted this concept, many denounced the need to visualize it partly because the mirror Snyder held up to us revealed an ugly part of humanity. But that wouldn’t stop him from maintaining this thought process in subsequent features. Snyder followed that up with asking “Must there be a Superman?” (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, 2016) – a question that burned deep in the minds of fans and critics when it came to his vision. It simply was too ‘dark’ of a question to even ask.
Now here we are. It’s been years since fans of Zack Snyder’s vision fought to bring his storytelling to light, and the auteur director is still asking the important questions. How does a world without Superman look? Zack Snyder’s Justice League (ZSJL) shows us exactly that with bravado, style and the powerful ambiance of hope, which almost makes the long wait worth it. Though not without its problems, it’s a culmination of perpetual persistence, a manifestation of this undying hope — much like his fight to get this movie on screens.
ZSJL is presented in 6 chapters with an epilogue. It makes sense for such a colossal feat, but even more so when you think about the broader impact of Superman’s existence in this world. For me, Superman has always been the embodiment of hope and the aspiration of all good things from a powerful yet human perspective. And the Snyder Cut distinctively recognizes the man of steel’s impact even when his presence on screen is at a minimum. For these reasons, my review of this superhero epic will come in 3 parts, detailing a breakdown of these concepts with respect to the story. Herein, minor spoilers from ZSJL Part 1 (Don’t Count on it, Batman) and Part 2 (The Age of Heroes) will be discussed.
In a world without Superman, a dark presence awakens and hope is slowly dying out. Snyder represents this by reminding audiences of Clark’s death (from BvS) as his screams send shockwaves around the world, ringing the bell to his enemies and showcasing a dimming light that once burned bright. One man, Bruce Wayne (played by Ben Affleck), sets out to rekindle that flame of hope by building an alliance of defenses, a team of metahumans that could save the Earth from an imminent threat. To stop this impending invasion, Earth’s heroes must prevent Steppenwolf from combining three mother boxes (sources of energy and complete power) that would open up a portal to allow Darkseid to take over Earth. Fans of DC Comics can expect this mashup of heroes to be a gargantuan and epic experience. Though its 4-hour runtime is often felt, ZS’s Justice League is an emotionally immersive 7-course meal that is so satisfying as it’s saturated with Zack Snyder’s grandiose style, feeling both savory and sweet.
One of the first ways ZSJL tackles the theme of pursuing hope outside of Bruce’s character arc is on the island of Themyscira. It also happens to be the first large battle where we see the daughters of Themyscira, the Amazon warriors, attempt to protect the motherbox from Steppenwolf. Without going into too much detail, witnessing the Amazons behind Zack Snyder’s lens was one of my favorite things about this movie. Oddly enough, the way Zack directs women in film has often been unfairly criticized even dating back to his 2011 feature Sucker Punch. But here, there are no ifs, ands or buts about what he accomplished. The Amazons are strong, powerful women in both physicality, mentality and emotion. More than that, through dialogue and action, it’s evident that this was not only an upgrade from Justice League (2017), but a mistake on WB Studios’ part to cut the majority of this scene. Even in their inevitable defeat, Hippolyta clutches onto her last hope — that Diana/Wonder Woman (played by Gal Gadot) would answer the call to help stop the coming dark war, and it’s as beautiful as one can imagine.
In between the action sequences and large battles, the film’s somewhat slowburn nature and pacing enabled me to breathe a bit easier. Even within the action, Snyder’s frequent use of slow motion came in handy for the viewing experience. But when the film doesn’t use these aspects to its advantage, these moments become long, drawn-out beauty shots and fillers, which certainly contribute to the film’s length but not its plot. For example, Aquaman’s (played by Jason Momoa) slow-motion catwalk is simply something I could have done without. It’s the scene after Arthur saved someone’s life from a shipwreck in which he then proceeds to chug a bottle of whiskey then liter in the ocean. Was it a way to showcase Arthur not caring about the throne of Atlantis? Maybe. It certainly had me scratching my head. I might even be nitpicking. But this scene, among others, is just something I’ve observed throughout Zack Snyder’s Justice League that felt unnecessary and did nothing for me plot-wise.
Some of the more subtle moments that actually have impact to the emotional core of the feature were far more interesting to me. Specifically, seeing Lois Lane make visiting Heroes Park a part of her daily routine is a delicate yet beautiful moment to show. If you’ve seen MOS (2013) and BvS (2016), you’re used to seeing Lo chase the story and put herself in danger to demand the truth. But Zack Snyder does an extraordinary job of showing that grief comes in all shapes and sizes. For Lo, that means grieving alone because you’re one of the few people who knew Superman and Clark Kent. That means carrying the burden of knowing Superman’s secret in secret and trying to honor him by holding it together when all you want to do is fall apart. These scenes bring a poignant sense to the story because while others (Batman and Wonder Woman) rise up in the hope they’ve undertaken simply because they knew Superman, Lois struggles to find an outlet for her grief because everything reminds her of the life she shared with him. In just minutes, Snyder provided even more context to the complexity of Lois Lane in the DCEU, capturing the importance of Superman in an emotionally compelling way.
To finish off Part 1 & 2 of ZSJL, I would be remiss to not discuss the beautiful history lesson in The Age of Heroes. Diana explains to Bruce the origin of the mother boxes and how Darkseid tried to destroy Earth once before. As expected, it’s a moment in this 4-hour feature that is so appealing visually and emotionally. Heroes once came together from all parts of Earth- Amazons of Themyscira, Men of Earth, and Atlanteans of Atlantis- to protect the world. I imagine that watching this segment for fans of DC Comics to be like a kid walking into a candy store. There’s just so much to take in, and it sets the tone for what the current heroes must do to stop the forthcoming threat. If I am completely honest, there’s one thing I would change about this scene — the voiceover from Diana. Gal Gadot is a wonderful Wonder Woman. She embodies the role on screen and in life. But her voice acting needs work. In this voice-over segment, it felt as if she were reading off a paper — and maybe she was! But I don’t want to feel that when I’m taking in a beautiful segment like the history lesson. When lines called for despair, her speech felt too excited. When enthusiasm was needed, her delivery felt flat. A little consistency would have gone a long way here, so it unfortunately just took me out of the movie.
Overall, Part 1 (Don’t Count on it, Batman) and Part 2 (The Age of Heroes) of Zack Snyder’s Justice League takes a while to get going. It’s often plagued by grandiloquent visuals and slow motion sequences that don’t often contribute to progressing the story along. But they damn sure are beautiful. It’s a nice start to the story, and it takes its time to get us to the point where the ‘Age of Heroes’ would come again. There are high stakes, great set pieces, and a great cast chemistry – a nice start to erase the stench of Justice League (2017).
Overall score for Part 1 & 2: