Hear Me Out: Zack Snyder's Justice League is Perfect (Even at Four Hours)
To know me is to know my twisted, frustrated relationship with DC comics and movies. I'm a huge DC fan, and have been since 1977, when I was 5 years old watching Lynda Carter kicking boys' asses on our gigantic wooden cabinet television set. I mean, Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno were cool and all; I loved watching The Incredible Hulk as well, but Wonder Woman was a girl. Representation matters, people. Long before Marvel even thought about giving a female comic hero her own show or movie, DC put Wonder Woman out front and center. I've been a faithful DC fan ever since.
In the years between then and now, a lot has changed, obvs. Superhero comics, tv shows, and movies, once the exclusive domain of us freaks and geeks, are now HUGE moneymakers. Along with the rise of CGI, superhero movies have pretty much defined the action genre for going on twenty years. Of course, Marvel is the undisputed king of that game, having gotten the world's biggest lead over DC with Iron Man in 2008. Since then, everything DC creates is inevitably judged against that standard. Zack Snyder's cut of Justice League is no exception, and like all DC superhero movies, it's been getting some bad reviews based on factors I don't think are fair. To wit:
I. DC superhero movies are not Marvel superhero movies.
Well, no shit.
I'm just going to get this out of the way: DC is not Marvel. DC doesn't do funny, loveable, irresponsible but ultimately noble heroes, or witty banter between knockabout teammates. There are no sun-shiny carefree days, no clean sidewalks, no lack of poverty. In the DC Universe, everything is fairly dark and gritty. Hard questions are asked, and sometimes people die, and it's neither noble nor satisfying. Sometimes death comes for stupid, random, even ridiculous reasons...just like in real life.
Is there camp? Sure, tons of it. But it's not the kind of camp that makes you feel warm and safe and relaxed when you read or watch it. The camp in DC stories puts you a little on edge, makes you wonder who will die next, or who's gone a little bit crazy. It makes you wonder just how deep the rot goes. The camp in DC scares you, just a tiny bit, but that's the intent. It's a twisted funhouse kind of humor; you aren't sure if you're supposed to laugh, and that's an uncomfortable feeling.
And here's the thing: that's ok. DC hasn't done cute in a long, long time, maybe since before the days of Alan Moore, maybe all the way back to Lynda herself. If the DC you've been looking for is cute and upbeat, you're going to need to go back quite a ways, or maybe even take a step to the side, and take in a Marvel flick. There's no shame in that--I'm a Marvel fan too, when I'm in the mood for that sort of thing. One of the reasons I love DC, though, is because it offers that darkness to Marvel's light, the jagged to their smooth edges.
What can I say? Some of us like our gods and goddesses to come with a side of haunted.
II. The Corporate Types at DC need to get their heads out of their asses.
Why did we have to have a Zack Snyder cut in the first place? This is where my frustration with DC comes in, because when the suits in charge don't trust the creators, bad shit happens. Snyder wasn't given the opportunity to finish his movie properly the first time around, so instead of a cohesive ending to the trilogy begun with Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman, we ended up with a badly edited mishmash of Snyder footage and Joss Whedon reshoots. Most telling of all is the story that when Whedon was brought in, he was given the directive to "make it lighter" and to "add more jokes" (á la Marvel). Ultimately what audiences got was a mess that looked nothing like what the original director had intended; two wildly different visions clapped together with the seams showing. Naturally, fans were pissed. Really pissed.
At the time I stood by the film; though disappointed, it seemed all that we would get. Having seen Snyder's cut now, though, I'm blown away by how much more the movie became under his restored vision. With the missing scenes and footage added in, we get back story that is really essential to each character's arc in the film (the scene with Ezra Miller as the Flash saving the girl during the job interview!!!). The extra room to breathe gives so much more to Superman's story arc in particular, a meditation on the burden and responsibility of unlimited power that I just adore (fight me). Now that I've seen the whole film, I understand it so much better, and I love it so much more.
It's not like this is the first time the suits at DC have screwed up by choosing corporate over creator, either. I mean, just ask Alan Moore (or don't, I've heard he's not fond of visitors). And in 2016 DC cancelled the best (imho) Wonder Woman comic ever written, the Eisner-nominated series The Legend of Wonder Woman by Renae De Liz and Ray Dillon, over what it called a "challenging relationship." Time and again, they've chosen profit over the artist. It's...frustrating, to say the least.
III. Why are reviewers who clearly have no love for the genre tasked with reviewing genre movies?
This is just stupid. If I hate horror movies, there is no way I'm going to objectively be able to review a horror film. Period. This goes for any genre - romance, science fiction, western, foreign cinema, etc. Especially not a genre film that's four hours long. At the end of the day, this movie wasn't made for you. I'm sorry, but that's the hard truth. I understand that some reviewers feel that movies should ultimately transcend genre, should speak to universal truths and should connect with viewers no matter how the characters dress or what the setting, blah, blah, blah. But let's be honest--if you don't truly love these characters, and aren't truly invested in them, there isn't a reason in the world that is going to compel you to sit through a four hour film. Any four hour film.
And without the investment that comes from years of loving and following these characters, as well as understanding the references to various comic story lines, subtle differences between approach, artistic culture, and the history of the DC vs. Marvel universes, there is also no way that you can (or should) give a deeper assessment than "fun ride," or "not fun ride." You may think geeks are even geekier because we require some cred before we allow just anyone to comment on things, but here you go--this is why. We've endured years of judgement and derision by self-proclaimed "experts" telling us that the things we love and have treasured are meaningless and without value. Your ignorance, however, is not a gauge of the worth of my fandom.
Is art objectively good or bad? Maybe. But art also falls in and out of fashion pretty regularly. The Impressionists were derided as little more than childish scribblers when they first began to exhibit, and now their paintings hang in every world-class museum and regularly fetch millions of dollars at auction. I do know what I like, and I'll defend my choices with all sorts of super-specific geektastic trivia and Easter eggs that non-fans will neither know nor care about. It's ok, though; my bona fides come from hours of practicing that run in my backyard in 1977. You know the one...right?