Zack Snyder’s Justice League has arrived and its, well, long and its loud. Both are likely big pluses for fans of his films – I’m rather conflicted to be honest. I loved his Watchmen adaptation; its not without its faults but its a far better and authentic adaptation of the Moore/Gibbons masterwork than I had ever hoped for. Snyder is clearly a gifted director at bringing comicbook heroes to cinema- he has a visual sense that is ideally suited to bringing comicbook panels to vivid life, with a particular talent for action sequences and using slo-mo to mimic the effect of comicbook splash pages.
But it can also be his weakness, his Kryptonite. ZSJL is four hours long but it could probably have been brought in at 3.5 hours with the slo-mo shots played at normal speed. The ‘posing’ is one thing (I can accept some of the posing that the characters do -Marvel does it too in its films- because that’s just mirroring the comicbook style of having key panels that readers/fans dwell on when reading the comicbooks, transferring that to the cinematic form) but the slo-mo thing… used sparingly it can be highly effective and is one of the visual devices Snyder is so very uniquely good at (it looks easy but isn’t) but he does go to the well too often sometimes, especially here. Often the film seems to have been primarily shot at a high frame rate and played back at normal rate, the slo-mo almost becoming something of a self-reverence bordering on parody: “This is SO important!” it seems to scream at us. Over and over.
But it really isn’t that important, at least unless you’re a DC uber-fan who is fixated on all the comicbook mythology. The story of ZSJL isn’t up to the task of being a four-hour epic, it just isn’t. Its handicapped with origin stories and character introductions that should be unnecessary, having been handled in solo movies in the way the MCU did things, but since those solo movies never happened (come on, not even Affleck’s Batman got his own solo outing, incredibly) this film has to spend an inordinate amount of time going over material that simply shouldn’t be there. In this respect, I have every sympathy with Snyder and what he was doing (remember this film was shot back in 2016, if not earlier, before Wonder Woman, Aquaman etc ever happened)- its a huge juggling act, positioning pieces, characters and motivations in order to move the plot forwards.
This might have been my biggest issue with the film. Somehow (sideward glance at the MCU) these comicbook films have become so very serialised now they hardly function as individual films anymore. ZSJL directly references events that happened in the prior film to this, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and since its been a few years now since I watched that film, many of them were lost on me (I didn’t realise it was Required Viewing prior to this film, silly me). It also doesn’t help that the film stars a Batman who’s since been rebooted (Ben Affleck’s excellent Batman replaced by Robert Pattinson in next year’s Matt Reeves imaginatively-titled film The Batman) and a Superman that’s being rebooted right now as I type this (poor Henry Cavill being ditched by that Jar Jar Abrams maniac). And it REALLY doesn’t help that ZSJL spends considerable time laying out plotlines -particularly continuing the BvS geektease of the Knightmare sequence, hinting for a SECOND TIME a better film- and threads/arcs that will never get played out, save some kind of miracle, but obviously intended for a JSL2 or JSL3. Best-case scenario, HBO hires Snyder to make his planned JSL2/JSL3 into one last film, but the most likely scenario is we never see it and it becomes another ‘what-if’ for the fans.
Ultimately ZSJL is an oddity, and no doubt while a boon for his fans and devotees of what they are calling the DC Snyderverse films, other than the miracle of it finally being finished and released (I refuse to refer to the 2017 Joss Whedon abomination, preferring to think that film simply never existed) I have to question the fandom hysterics of it being some kind of Second Coming. No film with a story as simple and predictable/formulaic as this one should run four hours long, it just shouldn’t. There are scenes that are redundant and those teases which are wholly pointless: the film could have been a leaner, better 3.5 hours, possibly even 3 hours long.
I also don’t think the aspect ratio of 4:3 justifies itself. It seems Snyder has his eye on Imax screenings but considering this thing is being launched on televisions across the world I would have thought the usual widescreen format would have been preferable now and the 4:3 something saved for those Imax screens later. I really can’t see why 4:3 was the preferable option, it seems to box everything in and loses the cinematic qualities benefitted by widescreen, as if the last twenty-odd years of widescreen CRT tubes and flat screen technologies never happened. I’m almost surprised it wasn’t released in mono for added Old School sensibilities (although I hear rumours of a b&w version that has me thinking the whole thing is an elaborate piss-take). Its such a curio, this whole thing.
But I will just say this- its further proof that Ben Affleck, incredibly (and God knows I was his biggest doubter when the casting news first broke, years ago), is absolutely the best Batman we’ve yet seen. The fact that the guy didn’t get his own movie is a bigger shame than anything else that went wrong with the DC movies or the Justice League project. I thought he’d be terrible but I was totally wrong- he even nails both the Bat and Bruce Wayne, something I don’t think any actor before him really managed: whenever I have reservations regards any casting news I think back to Affleck’s Batman and give anything the benefit of the doubt now. I’d like to see a ZSJL2 if only to see Affleck playing Batman again- his older, wiser (?), more bitter caped crusader is a total joy, up there with Christopher Reeves’ Superman to me. If I ever buy BvS and ZSJL on 4K disc someday, its wholly because of him.