Zack Snyder's Justice League

Zack Snyder's Justice League

zack snyder’s justice league is already a film difficult to talk about (i saw it early and it still felt tiring to think about!) but ultimately the final work as it stands is so diametrically opposed to expectations on both sides of the snyder qualitative binary that it’s almost difficult to give it any kind of qualitative judgment at all save for one rooted in pure feeling. because that’s what zack snyder’s justice league is, a work of feeling. for all the vitriol surrounding the discourse of him and his work, i think it’s easy to forget that in practice he is a populist and always has been. in theory not one of his superhero films should be all that distancing for the audience given how well they conform to the demands of the source material and its consumers (these guys love frank miller!), the only reason there was ever a question was because his mode of filmmaking is fundamentally different from that of marvel which inevitably set off internet wars. but, endearingly, justice league exists as a labour of love and one that almost seems to exist a world away from any discourse that surrounds it or its predecessors. it is different from what came before, but in a manner i find incredibly moving.

in fact, what i find most interesting in the trajectory of zack snyder’s homeric vision is that, by design, the component parts are so radically distinct from one another both in structure and tone that one wonders how the now-complete whole remains so unequivocally unified at all. let alone the unrivaled existence of such an entity (whose only precedent in the 21st century is, as far as i can tell, lucas’ prequel trilogy), i’m shocked more by the notion that snyder’s myth-making had any success moving from a rather sober intimacy in man of steel, to an overtly antagonistic interrogation of those myths in batman v superman, to what may be the aesthetic apex of what i often find to be the largely apolitical sub-genre of superhero team-up films. in the final chapter he fully embraces the promises made by his myth in the first film, it was just that it was only possible after putting it through the gauntlet of bvs. man of steel is undoubtedly the most empathetic blockbuster of recent memory, cribbing a great deal of dialogue laced with nietzschean optimism from the oeuvre of m. night shyamalan in pursuit of a vaguely defined sense of hope for humanity’s future. clark/kal is not an ubermensch because he is superior to humanity physically, it has nothing to do with his powers. he is an ubermensch because he is meant to embody the ideals we as a race should aspire towards (hence the value of snyder’s oft-noted and unduly derided allusions to jesus christ, which are promptly interrogated in the sequel. man does not want salvation, etc). clark/kal’s differences and egalitarianism are not to be feared but to be celebrated and doing so may very well lead to humanity’s liberation from, well, itself. clark/kal self-actualizing is not an individualist goal, it’s meant to be a promise for humanity as a whole.

of course this idealism is rightfully tested in batman v superman in which humanity does not want a utopian future nor can it be saved. clark/kal as a messenger of that hope is duly torn apart and brought down to humanity’s own level like myshkin because our structures do not allow for the kind of guidance he has to offer. evidently attempting such a feat inherently leads to fascism. clark/kal does not want to be a fascist nor are the ideals he starts from fascist themselves, but his actions inherently become fascist or at the very least enable fascism to perpetuate itself when placed in the wider machinations of global superpowers. ultimately a good man dies and is held as a monument to the very forces which broke him down and distorted his message. the tragedy is that this was unavoidable and the irony of the discourse on gods (which at this point has yet to be properly explored save as a means to other ends) distracts from the fact that clark/kal is ultimately made a man and treated as a man in death.

i have reasonable suspicions that the profound irony of batman v superman’s conclusion is lost on its own director, despite how well his own form and interests amplify that irony. that the sequel would sincerely revolve around batman’s new found utopian humanism was inevitable because, for better and for worse, the director really does believe in the possibility that we as a species can uphold superman’s ideals.. zack snyder’s justice league is a Movie (capital for emphasis) almost endearingly comforting for its audience, but is it dishonestly so in connection with the preceding chapters? again, not exactly. again, contrary to his claims of being a provocateur, though surely there’s some truth to it, snyder is and always has been a populist. to this day i struggle to understand why a film as in tune with what audiences and comic book fans want as batman v superman was rejected, but that’s neither here nor there. the mode snyder works in here is endearingly simple by design; it is a film in which billionaires, warriors, folk heroes, and the young who will one day take their place come together to fight for a better future and do so with absolutely zero internal conflict. my friend matt noted to me that an avengers film is marked by constant in-fighting, whereas in justice league the quiet moments of preparation for battle are marked by mutual concern. in my mind, the ethos of the film is revealed in a scene where the flash and aquaman look on at cyborg, whose father has just died, and the latter says that he hopes the boy is okay. the scene ends shortly thereafter.

there is, perhaps, an expectation that the runtime should “justify itself” with lofty ideas and aggravating conflicts but instead snyder devotes every second towards an almost childlike vision of goodness. i don’t recall the last time i saw a film so unabashedly utopian, so committed to its vision of a better world. this idea is all the more moving after batman v superman, in which man spits on his savior, watches him die, and resigns himself to withering away in a cruel world. i always took batman’s newfound spark at less than face value because how in the world could such a narrative lead me to feel any different? to watch superman’s rise and superman’s fall is to feel certain there is no hope for the world snyder is showing us and yet he begs us to think like children again. he begs us to imagine the fascist can redeem himself, that lost people can come together, that the limits of superman’s goodness in a world like our own can be overcome so as to be embraced by all people and nations. it’s almost ridiculous really, but we shouldn’t forget the mindset this was made in; it’s a labour of love for his daughter more than anyone else.

so yes it’s almost hard to believe this takes place shortly after a film so in tune with the material concerns of its characters and those around them. the general populace of the world no longer really exist in any meaningful sense, having long since been left behind in favor of a proper battle of gods (contrary to batman v superman’s bait and switch rhetoric of gods and man, a device used purely to mask the fact that snyder was really only ever concerned with man). in justice league, as in other spectacle-driven hollywood projects such as this, we are led to believe these battles can now exist in a vacuum, though truthfully this transition began with the final act of batman v superman. we are encouraged to believe these battles are for the people’s benefit and no longer necessarily have repercussions. this power can exist independently of consequences. his best argument for why is that new kinds of power are to be shared with the young rather than withheld, as the flash and cyborg are both children of the late 90’s/early 2000’s whose abilities both hold a uniquely futurist edge. snyder expresses belief in the young and their new ways of interacting with the world with the same fervor as godard though, again, he knowingly neglects the thornier consequences of these ideas. whether you find such an approach admirable or irresponsible will depend on your mileage and, indeed, this isn’t exactly a complex movie. but what it is is a movie utterly devoted to its ideal, and i believe that’s worth something.

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