I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I don’t hate the modern DC movies. I know I’m supposed to, especially if I hope to maintain credibility as a comic book movie geek. The opinion I should have is that these films, starting with “Man of Steel” in 2013, are joyless, incoherent messes that get almost everything about their beloved subjects wrong. That’s what the internet expects me, and everyone, to feel. DC’s recent projects generally do compare poorly to Marvel’s, it’s true, but I find their earnest flaws compelling. I’m drawn to the seriousness and the way the darker tone sets the franchise apart in a media environment so dominated by Avengers. That said, even I have to admit the original “Justice League” had big problems.
Zack Snyder was already frustrated with the studio executives at Warner Brothers when a horrible family tragedy forced him to step down as the director of “Justice League.” The studio wasted no time. They brought in Joss Whedon and gave him the impossible task of reshaping Snyder’s vision into a Marvel movie. That plan was doomed from the start. After millions of reshoot dollars and a reportedly abusive on-set atmosphere, “Justice League” hit the theaters in 2017. It was not a hit, to say the least, and everyone involved seemed to want to just move on from it.
Fast forward through three years of rabid online noise about the lost original “Snyder Cut” and fans are now getting what they want. Whether or not Warner Brothers saw this as an opportunity to right a wrong or were simply using the considerable protest energy to prop up their new streaming service is probably not worth knowing. But this kind of thing, bringing back a sidelined director and giving them the keys again, does not happen very often.
“Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” out now on HBO Max, is better than the theatrical version in nearly every way. You have to be willing to commit four hours of your life to it, but the experience is divided into chapters that break it all up nicely. The first thing I noticed is how much more backstory and character development are given to Cyborg and The Flash. Cyborg’s journey in particular is weighted with so much thematic significance that the centering of his role really changes the dynamic of the team. He had no more agency than one of Batman’s gadgets before.
All of the elements of “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” benefit from this deeper, more careful consideration. The script finally works, which makes the stakes of the epic a lot easier to identify, and invest in. Snyder did create some continuity issues for the DCEU though. Many stylistic features and story beats in the solo “Aquaman” film now make no sense at all. It will be intriguing to see how Warner Brothers manages that in the upcoming sequel. As with most of Snyder’s work, however, this new “Justice League” suffers from some bloat and indulgence. And the songs he chose to highlight important moments are way too on-the-nose and, frankly, awful. In the final analysis, however, I was impressed and satisfied. I never lost my faith in DC, but I have to admit it does feel restored today.
I don’t know what the final accounting of the online fan reaction to the “Snyder Cut” will be. So many of them hate everything, no matter what. But I can confirm that they got exactly what they were asking for. This is a better, truer and ultimately richer look at the heroes they love.