A still from Justice League. (courtesy: snydercut)
Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Gal Gadot, Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Jared Leto, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Diane Lane, Amy Adams, JK Simmons and Robin Wright
Fans on whose demand this ‘Snyder cut’ has come into being will have no reason not to feel that justice has been done to them, that the disappointment of 2017’s Justice League, which Zack Snyder had to bail out of owing to a family tragedy, has been wiped away. The film’s punishing length, which less enthusiastic viewers will definitely find rather avoidable, will only probably add to their delight.
There we go again with the debate. How much of a superhero movie is too much? The answer obviously depends on which side of the divide one is on. To ensure that the already converted have nothing to complain about, Zack Snyder’s Justice League, a four-hour film available in India on the newfangled BookMyShow Stream, has a no-holds-barred narrative peppered with elaborate action sequences, detailed back stories, a great deal of high drama and a whole lot of easy-off-the-tongue philosophy about love, healing and starting over.
In fact, one of the superheroes, who is resurrected in a last-ditch attempt to shore up the sagging fortunes of the league of five metahumans who team up to ward off impending disaster, has his memory restored by the therapeutic touch of a beloved who, needless to say, is beside herself with joy on seeing him back from the dead.
The theme of loss runs like a thread through Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Every major character in the movie, including the bad guy Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds), who aims to regain the trust of his leader Darkseid (the voice of Ray Porter), has had to part with something precious, something worth going to war over.
The film itself is dedicated to the daughter that Snyder lost in real life. You can sense the deep melancholy that hangs over the movie, which itself could be seen as an assertion of a director’s right not to have his vision tampered with. Snyder pulls out the stops to reclaim a work that circumstances snatched from and proceeds to give it the shape he originally intended. Not all of it is extraordinary, far from it, but there is no denying that most of it abounds in passion and technical flair.
Amid the pyrotechnics and all the eye-popping exploits of flighty, flinty superheroes, mourning and grieving are highlighted repeatedly as broken characters strive to put the pieces back together. Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) has his own demons to deal with and these aren’t revealed until a startling epilogue appended to the six parts that make up the film. Diana Prince/Wonder Woman reminds the audience and Victor Stone/Cyborg somewhere along the way, if only in passing, that she, too, lost someone she held dear and learnt to open back up again.
One of the Justice League superheroes has his focus on freeing his dad from prison. Another holds his scientist-father responsible for the untimely death of his mother. “I need friends,” the latter says. But that isn’t what the brooding Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa), who we first meet in Iceland as Batman tries to talk him into the alliance, is looking for. He has a long-festering set of parent issues and resists all efforts to enlist his support in the fight to save humanity.
You can foretell that Aquaman will eventually be on board and marvel (as he himself does) at the fact that an Atlantean and a 5,000-year-old Amazon warrior are fighting on the same side. In fact, there isn’t much here that one can’t predict from a mile away. But the flair with which the yarn is spun, parts of the film are watchable enough to serve as recompense for the ones that aren’t.
With the barbarians at the gate – in this case the marauders are an army of parademons (likened at one point to “flying vampires” and “giant bats with fangs”) spearheaded by the super-evil force of Steppenwolf – Batman and Wonder Woman seek to build an alliance with Aquaman, Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller) to defend mankind against the threat of a villain determined to control lives and minds of all beings on Earth.
The plot centres on three Mother Boxes, repositories of cosmic power that when synchronized give Darkseid untrammeled power over the entire world, that the parademons left behind when a previous attack mounted thousands of years ago was repelled by an alliance of Amazons, Atlanteans and Defenders of the Earth.
The present incursion has already led to the capture of two of the coveted boxes. Only one remains to be wrested and the superheroes have to guard it with their lives, which is actually literally so in the case of one of them whose very existence is linked to the last Mother Box standing.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is at its best when the human dimensions of the story take precedence over the superhuman ones. One scene that springs to mind plays out late in the film. Superman’s (Henry Cavill) mother Martha Kent (Diane Lane) and his girlfriend Lois Lane (Amy Adams) unite in bereavement and commiserate with each other. (It is another matter that any scene with Amy Adams in it is bound to be several notches above anything else that unfolds around it). “Come back to the living,” Martha pleads with the inconsolable Lois.
Returning to the living is what this film is all about and it takes on a much vaster, more metaphysical meaning in the context of the dangers that humanity faces. But the personal stays relevant all through the sprawling saga of rousing heroism and world-destroying evil. One wishes, however, that the film had more of the Metropolis cityscape than it does. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is overwhelmingly obsessed with spectacle, which, of course, is fine when delivered in strategic driblets. Excess tends to take the edge off at times.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a mixed bag: part pulsating, part plodding. Jared Leto pops up right at the end as The Joker as Batman ponders over the road ahead for him. Is that incentive enough for one to stay the course? For DC Universe enthusiasts, there is no question.