Finally, ‘Justice League’ is enjoyable

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Film Critic Hunter Friesen reviews the latest superhero blockbuster “Zack Snyder’s Justice League.”

HUNTER FRIESEN

What was once an internet pipedream has become a reality. “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is finally here in all its bombastic glory.

This specific version of “Justice League” was never meant to happen, and neither was the 2017 theatrically released version. Snyder’s original vision was for this movie to be the third part in his DC Extended Universe series directly following “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.”

Snyder left the film in post-production after a devastating family tragedy. Distributor Warner Brothers – not wholly satisfied with the path Snyder was taking – brought in “The Avengers” director Joss Whedon to retool the film into a more light-hearted affair.

What was released in theaters contained very little of Snyder’s material and was widely disregarded as a disjointed and forgettable mess.

The “Release The Snyder Cut” movement was born immediately with hundreds of thousands of irate fans demanding that Snyder’s original version be restored. After years of campaigning, Snyder and his fans have been treated with a golden opportunity that looks to right the wrongs of the past.

The general plot found within Snyder’s version is nearly identical to the one in the Whedon cut. The evil Steppenwolf, a loyal follower of Darkseid, has come to Earth to claim three mother boxes that wield unlimited power to conquer worlds. Honoring his promise after Superman’s death, Batman assembles a team of superheroes to stop Steppenwolf and unite the planet to defend itself from threats beyond the stars.

Snyder adopts the “Seven Samurai” approach to his story as the first half takes an individual look at the members of the team. They each get backstories in varying degrees of quality, with some being more embarrassing than others. The Flash’s introduction will act as a litmus test of your acceptance of Snyder’s excessiveness.

Above all else, this version of “Justice League’’ is an infinitely more cohesive and enjoyable experience compared to its predecessor. It’s also fun to ponder and discuss with others, unlike the migraines I get every time I think of the Whedon cut.

The film looks and feels like a single production rather than  a Frankenstein-like mashup of competing ideologies. Gone are all Whedon-directed scenes and the color saturation levels have been reset to Snyder’s usual palette. The intricacies of the story have been completely retooled, giving characters such as Cyborg and The Flash more characterization and things to do. Superman no longer has his infamous CGI baby mouth. Steppenwolf is less embarrassing as he is visually reworked and supplied with a proper backstory and motivation. Tom Holkenborg’s score and Fabian Wagner’s cinematography are also allowed to flourish on an unparalleled epic scale.

These improvements are not to say this a perfect movie. Stripping away the benefit of comparison, Snyder’s film carries many of the foundational problems that have plagued both of his previous DC films. The newly revised script does provide the five Ws (and one H) for each story thread, filling in the gaping plot holes present in the Whedon cut.

However, the problem is that a few of these storylines aren’t necessary or that interesting to begin with. The writing is still filled with cringe-worthy exposition with attempts at humor that don’t mesh well with the self-serious tone.

Snyder’s insistence on using a 4:3 aspect ratio – more commonly seen in arthouse films – seems to be a decision based more on him being seen as a bonafide auteur rather than just improving the picture quality.

At 242 minutes long (yes, that’s four hours), the film requires a gigantic investment from the viewer that isn’t fully warranted. Scenes are stretched to the nth degree by incessant slow motion and a few deleted scenes that should have been left on the cutting room floor have found their way back here.

The nearly 30-minute epilogue is entirely spent on setting up sequels that are unlikely to ever be made. Its inclusion feels like an attempt by Snyder to rally his troops once again to demand the story be told his way. No matter how much it drags the story down and erases a lot of the goodwill built up to that point, Snyder’s ideas are much better than anything else being offered at the moment.

Even though a much tighter and free-flowing three-hour cut could have been released, there is a complete singular vision here, one that Snyder has carried throughout his DC films. His vision may not always succeed, but it is something to be championed.

With many blockbuster films leaning ultra-safe to guarantee box office returns, Snyder’s no-holds-barred style is the answer to Martin Scorsese’s comment on comic book films lacking an authorial voice. For better and for worse, a filmmaker was the driving force for a major franchise, which is more than one can say about the “corporate machine” attitude over at Marvel.

An experience that may never be replicated again, “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is a mythologically epic film that delivers more than anyone could have imagined. It may not always work, but it sure does pack the punch that fans deserve. If you have the mental and physical ability to invest four hours into this monumental project, I recommend you do so.

Overall: 3.5/5