Zack Snyder's Justice League

Zack Snyder's Justice League ★★★★

Zack Snyder’s preceding DCEU films offered a bleaker take on superheroes than we’re accustomed to in mainstream movies, framing iconic characters as lonely, reluctant gods recovering from trauma and torn between heroism and the temptations of civilian life. Their power is more of a curse than a dream, and even their best-intended day-saving has devastating consequences.

Snyder’s long-gestating, fully-realized version of Justice League is still bold, broad, and bleak, but provides its heroes — and its audience — with something that his other films pointedly withheld: a strong sense of hope. These moody, isolated deities find solace in one another when they finally unify, and it’s immensely satisfying to finally witness these previously-butchered characters treated with such care. Every member of the titular team experiences a genuinely thoughtful, emotional arc, as they each slowly embrace their roles as the world’s protectors — their collective cynicism and self-doubt fades as they accept their responsibility. It’s almost radically earnest. Unlike the theatrical cut, everyone has a purpose in the narrative, and some of their emotional transformations are genuinely moving: a tortured Cyborg reconciles with his distant father as he realizes his own self-worth, while the pessimistic, broken Batman of BvS blossoms into a selfless father-figure and a true believer in the goodness of humanity — the apostle Paul to Superman’s very-overt Christ.

Of course, the movie is still emphatically a dumb, exposition-heavy series of fetch-quests that eventually devolves into a fairly-generic smashy CGI battle. The dialogue is still as clunky as you’d expect (though much more earnest than previous Snyder projects), and the plot certainly doesn’t attempt to reinvent the super-team-up wheel. Even the heavy sequel-baiting nature of the genre persists, despite the extreme unlikelihood of Snyder returning to this universe. This is not some magical exception to the superhero rule that will convert comic book skeptics.

It is, however, an absolutely magnificent spectacle, and a fascinating glimpse at what near-total creative control looks like on a broad blockbuster scale. Aside from pockets of somewhat-shoddy CGI, no expense is spared here, and no stone left unturned — the extensive runtime ensures that every moment, from indulgent action setpieces to quiet character sequences, has sufficient time to expand and breathe. Snyder’s visual splendor is as strong as ever, with exquisite compositions ripped straight from the pages of comic books. The sequences that play out with minimal dialogue are among the most dynamic in superhero filmmaking, which is why the first quarter is the film’s peak and the most-talkative third quarter is its weakest stretch. It’s the natural finale for Snyder’s vision of these characters — they’ve almost backwardly developed into genuine heroes — yet I’m sad to see him go. It’s a bloated, strangely-paced, exquisitely-composed, and totally worthwhile piece of superpowered melodrama.

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