By Josh Silva
Graphic By Jennifer Notman
As the last bastion of blockbuster auteurism, Zack Snyder stands tall. The director, after suffering a personal tragedy and the seizure of his Justice League, triumphantly emptied the pockets of Warner Bros. to complete his passion project. He could only do so with an army of fanatical devotees, whose sheer numbers and persistence willed the nonexistent “Snyder Cut” into being, culminating in a four-hour opus of unprecedented proportions.
After the death of Superman in Batman V. Superman (2016), Bruce Wayne gathers a team of superpowered beings to fight some alien named Steppenwolf, who wants to bring three boxes together that will unlock a portal allowing his master, Darkseid, to take over every living being with an “anti-life equation”… or at least I think that’s what happened. As with Batman V. Superman, the plot’s convolutions aren’t primarily important; they serve as a vehicle for Snyder’s grandiose, CGI-laden frames.
As a phenomenon, fandom is largely contemptible. Constructing one’s entire personality around a slavish love of someone else’s intellectual property is not only embarrassing but also psychologically harmful. However, it is uplifting to see a legion of fans browbeat a studio into letting an artist fulfill his personal vision, albeit one that still fits within the blockbuster framework. In an age where hegemonic studios suffocate artistic expression more than ever before, Snyder’s idiosyncrasy has more value than it possibly should. And watching this, the differences between his vision and the focus-grouped blockbuster standard became increasingly vivid.
It’s silly to call superheroes, who have only existed in a corporate context, our modern mythology, but they are characters of mythic proportions. In the Dark Knight trilogy, Christopher Nolan approached this myth as an abstract belief among a society, whereas Snyder shows its physical existence. He is perhaps the only superhero movie director who believes in the mythology he depicts. Take, for example, an early scene where Wonder Woman (played by a comically bad Gal Gadot) tells a girl whose life she’s just saved that she can be anything she wants to be. An exchange as trite as this could, in any other superhero movie, be rendered tiringly saccharine. But Snyder truly believes in the power of such a message and who it comes from. While this doesn’t make him a good filmmaker, it certainly makes him a compelling one.
Snyder’s talent is his ability to find humanity in these larger-than-life figures. His characters are burdened by a core duality: that they are both man and myth. Myths do not know death, but mortals do, and this difference makes the bonds between the superheroes and their loved ones all the more tragic. The resurrections of superheroes and the irreversible deaths of their loved ones are equally pivotal plot devices. The film, completed after Snyder’s daughter tragically took her own life, is one grief-laden reckoning with death. The same director who nonchalantly showed thousands of civilian casualties in the climax of Man of Steel (2013) has strikingly matured on the subject.
Unfortunately, this duality doesn’t apply to the cartoon (both literally and figuratively) villain, Steppenwolf. Moreover, the four-hour runtime’s necessity is questionable. While it allows Snyder to better pace his film and showcase his strongest suit, slow motion, it takes a few unnecessary detours and, like its predecessor, culminates in a drawn-out epilogue that only serves to tease future movies.
On its own, the Snyder Cut is not quite a good movie. Its bloatedness and bombasticity get the better of it, and Snyder exhausts his tricks well before the four-hour mark, but its earnestness is a refreshing corrective to the otherwise cynical landscape of superhero cinema.