When one watches a Zack Snyder film, you have to know what to expect as a viewer. You’re not going to be seeing an intense Martin Scorsese-like drama about sin and redemption, or a Godardian critique of capitalist society. Instead, as exemplified in previous Snyder films like “Sucker Punch,” “Man of Steel,” and “300,” you’re going to get lots of moody slow-motion scenes of characters brooding, accompanied by melodic rock ballads, violent, bloody action set pieces, lots of rain and sometimes snow, and a color palette that is oftentimes washed-out and grayish in tone.
In other words, a Snyder film is primarily a visual and auditory visceral experience, rather than necessarily a film filled with themes and deep insights on society which you can write a graduate school thesis on. Snyder is an instinctual, visual artist whose films need to be felt and experienced to fully appreciate them, rather than trying to seek out complex, thematic layers of meaning. The new four-hour version of “Justice League” is perhaps the ultimate example of a Snyder film, exhibiting all the faults and strengths of Snyder as a unique and compelling visual artist.
Based on the DC Comics series of the same name, “Justice League” focuses on the iconic superhero team of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Superman (Henry Cavill), and Batman (Ben Affleck), as well as the lesser known but equally important characters of Cyborg (Ray Fisher), Flash (Ezra Miller), and Aquaman (Jason Momoa). Picking up right after Snyder’s previous film “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” “Justice League” opens up with Superman still deceased, and Batman going on a global quest to recruit teammates to take on and stop the nefarious Darkseid (Ray Porter), who is searching for three boxes of ancient origin which can destroy the world. Eventually, Batman is able to recruit the aforementioned superheroes, and the rest of Justice League deals with their efforts to seek out and destroy Darkseid.
I’m sure a comic book enthusiast can go into more details about the deeper thematic and plot dynamics of “Justice League,” but what makes the film interesting is Snyder’s distinct visual stamp. “Justice League” is a big film with a capital B, from its marathon-like running time, to its labyrinthine cast of DC comics superheroes and villains, and mostly, its enduringly earnest and at times heart on its sleeve tone. Whatever critiques one may have about Snyder’s films as being at times overly concerned with the visual aspects to the expense of subtext, one can’t deny the genuine passion and heart that Snyder commits into all his projects, and “Justice League” is no exception. With a massive four-hour running time, “Justice League” seethes with Snyder’s almost boyish sense of wonder and joy at his source material.
This is best exemplified in an early scene where Flash rescues Iris West (Kiersey Clemons) as she is about to get hit by a truck. Snyder films this scene as one of his trademark slow-motion sequences, as we watch Flash leap through the air towards Iris, as hot dogs float all around them and the dream-like “Song to the Siren” plays in the background. For a brief moment, right before tragedy seems to be about to strike, we see Flash exchange a look of newfound love with Iris. This brief glance could only have been revealed through slow-motion, as it occurs during a rapidly out of control accident, and Snyder’s combination of visual and auditory cues results in an almost transcendent moment of pure innocent beauty in the midst of chaos.
There are many other similarly blissful moments spread throughout “Justice League,” including another sequence with Flash near the climax as he makes one final, exhilarating sprint towards potentially saving the world, while
remembering his promise to his father to redeem himself, as well as a montage sequence with Cyborg as he uses his powers to help out a struggling mother and child. Although it has its share of large action set pieces, all of which are expertly staged and intensely visceral at times, it is these quieter moments of human connection that make “Justice League” more than just another generic superhero, blockbuster.
With a length of four hours, Snyder is able to flesh out the back stories of each of his protagonists in more detail than he could if he was confined to a traditional two, or even three-hour, theatrical feature runtime. Snyder presents an almost encyclopedic collection of DC comics characters in “Justice League” by introducing many other heroes and villains throughout the film, including a mini-story arc for Atom (Kai Zheng) and brief appearances from the Martian Manhunter (Harry Lennix). The result is an epic, meta-mythological exploration (at one point, Snyder even introduces Zeus as a character) of the super hero genre as pop cultural ethos.
Martin Scorsese has rightfully criticized the glut of superhero films, many of which feel like carbon copies of each other, almost as if they were assembly-line products coming out of a factory. However, this new cut of “Justice League” feels like a much more personal and visually distinct project than other more generic comic book films. Although at times the constant flow of painterly-like compositions can be overwhelming and even exhausting, Snyder has crafted a film that is a genuine work of art, one where you can feel his passion and commitment in every single wildly creative frame.
- Film Review: Zack Snyder's Justice League