Wind the clocks back with me to March of 2016. Batman v Superman was all the buzz and the buzz was mixed. There were people who were saying it was one of the most brilliant superhero movies of all time, others saying it was the dumbest, and others who simply were, to borrow a phrase from Young Justice, “whelmed”. Later that year, a longer edit of that film hit blu-ray, which smoothed over some criticisms. I continue to stand by my appreciation for Batman v Superman— it’s bold and has quite a bit to say about man’s relationship to God, philosophy, and mythology. It’s a multi-hundred million dollar thesis paper about how Batman and Superman reflect the human condition. It is not surprising that it would turn some people off, but it’s ambition and willingness to not pander to the masses.
And so, with Batman v Superman not meeting the lofty expectations the studio placed on it (perhaps unfairly–that’s for another day), director Zack Snyder was put on a short leash as he began production on Justice League. Studio watchdogs were sent to help him lighten the mood and Avengers director Joss Whedon was brought in to rewrite a few scenes. But the movie slipping away from him was not the worst tragedy facing the Snyder family. His daughter, Autumn, took her own life, and seeing that being with his family was a more valuable use of his energies than fighting the studio over Justice League, Zack Snyder, along with his wife, producer Deborah Snyder, departed production. Wheedon took over full control of the set and re-shot large amounts of the film, taking roughly 30 minutes of the 5 hours of shot footage from principal photography and tacking on an additional 90 minutes of re-shoots and calling it a movie. Adding insult to injury, Snyder’s name, due to being the director of record on all of principal photography, is also the director of record of the 2017 Justice League film, although as previously stated, there is only roughly 30 minutes of his footage surviving in that film.
Reacting to Justice League, on reflection, was really bizarre. I will not lie and pretend like I walked out of the theater grumpy in November of 2017. Seeing some of my favorite fictional characters kick ass on the big screen was pure fun. But it did not feel like Batman v Superman. I did not leave thinking about anything bigger than the surface level story points presented on screen. There was no mythicalness to it.
But something mythic did come.
For three years, the “Snyder Cut” was discussed in various corners of the internet and with varying levels of toxicity, as one would expect with modern fandom. It seemed like a pipe dream. I never believed it would see the light of day. The studio said it would never be released. Snyder gave hints but was never able to give anything concrete as he too was just as in the dark. But the faith was kept. And the faith was rewarded. Zack Snyder’s Justice League a finished, four hour cut, complete with additional photography and brand new special effects, as well as not a whiff of Wheedon footage, is now available to stream on HBO Max.
They kept the faith.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League, from a story perspective, is not entirely different from what we saw back in 2017. What becomes painfully obvious by even the most casual viewer is that what kind of story being told is not nearly as important as how it is told. In Snyder’s film, careful time and care is given to each member of the League to build their relationships and motivations, as well as their burgeoning connections to one another. And where Wheedon had a Batman whose hopefulness was displayed by telling more jokes and reluctantly works with the rest of the League, Batman here embraces the role of leader. Bruce calls out the good in his teammates, puts together plans, and when he needed him the most, had faith that Superman would arrive in time to save the day.
He kept the faith.
I will forever be baffled by the creative decisions made for the 2017 version of Justice League. While it may have put a smile on my faith at the time, it is dwarfed by the grandeur of what the full vision was meant to be. This is perfectly summed up by the inexplicably re-shot scenes in Smallville, where Clark and Lois talk outside of the Kent homestead. Wheedon re-shot this for his version, as evidenced by the ugly mustache-concealing CGI caking Henry Cavill’s face, and the dialogue did nothing to add any emotional mark to the return of Clark Kent from the dead. Another conversation, also outside of the Kent household in Smallville, and also between Clark and Lois, exists, and the scene takes it time in allowing the emotion of the moment to breath, without burying underneath an ill-placed joke.
They lost the faith.
And the rest of the league, especially Cyborg, has their chance to shine and their reason to be present understood. The same is true for the villains. Not just Steppenwolf, who has been returned to his design that was seen at the end of Batman v Superman, now directly under the rule of the evil lord of Apokolips, Darkseid, who was excised entirely from the 2017 film. With all of that drama, all of the grandeur and operatic spectacle, at it’s heart, it is the story of a group of people learning how to stand together. They don’t bicker and banter, but they pull and push, they compliment and encourage, they grieve and celebrate together, and they grow in their ability to trust one another as the film moves on.
They restored the faith.
“Men are still good.” –Bruce Wayne
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