'Zack Snyder’s Justice League' is a four-hour movie only a fan could love

The director's highly anticipated vision for the DC film is uneven and too long, but hardcore fans will lap it up

Brad Keefe
Ray Fisher, Ezra Miller, Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot and Jason Momoa in 'Zack Snyder's Justice League.'

There’s never been a movie with a story quite like “Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” and with good reason.

Yesterday Snyder’s long-awaited (at least by some very vocal, very online fans) four-hour, $370 million vision of “Justice League” arrived — not in theaters, but on home streaming exclusively on HBO Max.

The good news? It’s Zack Snyder’s definitive version of the movie he originally wanted to create.

The bad news? It’s Zack Snyder’s definitive version of the movie he originally wanted to create.

Snyder and his wife (and producer) had to step away from the project after the tragic death of their daughter. The studio brought in Joss Whedon, who essentially reinvented the entire project to meet the studio’s desire for both a two-hour cut and more of the levity and humor that’s powered the Marvel movies.

Snyder’s cut returns to the dark, dour and overly self-serious tone of his previous DC films. If that’s what you’re looking for, you’re in luck.

Also, just to repeat this, it’s four friggin’ hours long. This gives Snyder time to indulge his usual impulses again, for better and worse.

Fans are essentially drooling all over Snyder’s cut, which makes sense because Whedon’s version was both bad and forgettable, and said fans have long anticipated this to the point they aren’t going to be the least bit critical.

Of course, I am.

The four-hour runtime gives Snyder time to develop his new characters, particularly The Flash (Ezra Miller) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher), whose character bore the brunt of Whedon’s rework.

This also reveals what a spectacularly bad idea introducing three new superheroes (this was also the introduction of Jason Momoa’s Aquaman) in one movie was in the first place.

Even when divided into more digestible chapters, “Justice League” feels overlong at times and rushed at others. But this cut also feels more at home in living rooms. It feels less like a traditional movie and more like a limited television series that you can easily marathon.

That’s great and all, but let’s remember that Snyder was tasked with making a single theatrical film, and his version cut to a more theater-friendly running time would be nearly as bad as Whedon’s. In my book, that’s a creative failure. You had one job. If you’re not at least attempting to tell a story that can be pulled off in under three hours, what are you doing?

Still, there’s a tremendous amount of fan service, and that’s really both the audience and the core of who’s going to like this movie. A more casual audience can enjoy the many, many action set pieces and eye candy, but it’s not story that will engage them.

And, yes, when they’re spending this level of money, a movie studio is going to want a shorter runtime to get more screenings per day, as well as a broader appeal. There’s a reason the DC movies fall largely flat, and Snyder has had more to do with that than almost anyone.

But potentially the most obnoxious “auteur” decision Snyder made unfortunately remains intact for this home-viewing debut: The entire film is shot and presented in that boxy 4:3 format of days gone by, giving you the black bars presentation of a ’90s TV show.

This format has had some trendy use in recent years in indie films like “First Cow,” but it’s distracting and detracting for both home viewing and most theatrical releases.

Snyder’s reasoning was that he was shooting for the full-screen ratio of IMAX theaters. One has to imagine that he would have been required to release a “cropped” widescreen version to fit most screens.

For all his fan service, this is one great disservice, as even in a normal theatrical release, the vast majority of large screens are not made for this. In his effort to make his film feel bigger, he makes it feel smaller. There’s a reason screens got wider as audiences sought more immersion.

Of course, Snyder’s online fanbase will lap this up as his artistic vision. And those fans are the only audience that will truly love this movie, because they’ve already prepared themselves to love it.

For the rest of us, it’s overlong, unevenly entertaining and nonessential. I’m glad we won’t be getting more of these movies.

“Zack Snyder’s Justice League”