Zack Snyder’s Justice League: A League of Its Own

I was wrong.

To be fair to me, that article was written in 2019. In some ways there was a truth to what I said regarding a future Snyder cut. In many ways I was wrong. If you want to read a DC fan’s mentality during 2019 to the Snyder cut, that’s still a really good time capsule at providing the context for the thought process.

To catch everybody up, during the production of Justice League (2017) Snyder had experienced a tragic death in the family. He removed himself from a film largely but not fully completed. Executives and producers gave the task of finishing the film to Joss Whedon. Whedon took the film and made it a two hour experience. Cutting what was once a much longer film, but also undergoing reshoots that greatly changed the tone. Whedon was responsible for The Avengers (2012) and there was a significant cultural and critical backlash against Zack Snyder for his approach in creating a DC film universe. The tone of the theatrical release of Justice League was full of short and snappy writing that could easily be dubbed over or placed in the reshoots. It was brighter, snappier.

If I was Clark, I’d be looking for a costume that wasn’t a onesie.

That film was pretty bad. Even for DC standards at the time. With a healthy but perhaps a tad overzealous fan community dedicated to experiencing a unified Zack Snyder cut of the film, and the advent of COVID-19 and the decisions to commit to creating content for the HBO Max platform, WB gave Snyder somewhere around seventy million dollars to take his old content and finish it into something that can proudly be called a Snyder cut

I wasn’t wrong in the idea that this is not the film you would’ve seen if Snyder stayed on the project for a theatrical release. What I didn’t see was how much content was intentionally left from the theatrical version (and how sorely it was missed) and I didn’t realize the amount of support Snyder would get to realize the vision. I directly compared it to Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (2006), and the difference between these two is that Snyder’s Justice League is without a doubt a finished film with no real caveats. Still, this film as it stands now also seeks to not please theater audiences with its four-hour runtime and also tries to bring in characters and setups for things the original never attempted to do. Snyder was given keys to a candy store, and stuff his shopping bag full of sweets that are meant to please fans of this universe at the cost of the film’s quality.

Jason Momoa being shirtless is a fantastic Aquaman costume.

To actually discuss the film: the film is about the members of the DC film universe coming together to stop Steppenwolf from retrieving Motherboxes and destroying Earth. Many characters were properly introduced in this film, such as Aquaman, Flash, and Cyborg. Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) technically introduced them through cameos, but this was largely meant to platform the supporting characters into their standalone films. The plot is largely the same from the theatrical edition, but the doubled runtime allows for many elements the original cut simply didn’t allow for. Cyborg and Flash have proper character introductions, and Cyborg goes from a very small player in the theatrical cut to a key player. Flash gets a heroic scene where he meets Iris West, and he also plays a completely different role in the climax. Characters like Aquaman don’t particularly benefit from one version to another because they don’t have the emotional connections. They benefit however from slightly better characterizations. In the Whedon cut, Aquaman’s primary personality was drinking whiskey and yelling “rock and roll!”. Snyder’s cut has Aquaman more brooding, but allows him to properly connect with Wonder Woman and extend sympathy to characters like Cyborg. Batman’s dialogue emphasizes the character change he experienced in Batman V. Superman as opposed to cutting most of that out and just pretending Batman was always more heroic than previously portrayed. Superman benefits from not having a CGI face and a bit more emotional weight to his return at the cost of Whedon’s portrayal of Superman being closer to the conventional Christopher Reeve’s optimistic portrayal many audiences love and blame Snyder for not showcasing. Wonder Woman probably suffers from this cut for being too focused on explaining the different plot elements rather than actual character interaction.

Which brings me to the villains: Steppenwolf and Darkseid. Darkseid was not in the original version, and his presence here is a mixed bag. I feel as a fan it’s exciting to see him, however ultimately Steppenwolf remains weak and the drama remains half baked. It’s a shame, because Jack Kirby’s cosmic contributions to the DC universe are amazing, but are not properly conveyed to the audience to justify the time dedicated to them.

There are extended action sequences, with questionable special effects. As well as less quips inside these moments so instead the momentum of the action speaks for itself. Snyder is better at directing and editing these moments than Whedon, even if you’re a hater of slow-motion (to which there is a lot). The special effects remain questionable at certain moments, and this is at the cost to certain moments. I think the Amazonian motherbox sequence is really fun, but the environments don’t feel truly real enough for the audience to feel immersed in the action of the scene. The climax is clearly better, where the different heroes work together and coordinate instead of having specific moments to themselves.

This location might be Metropolis, but the burning police car is VERY Gotham City.

The runtime is too long. I like the presence of scenes that build character, that properly convey a unified tone, that actually feel coherent. This being said, Snyder lingers too long on scenes. The only conclusion I can make is that these moments are meant to either make us reflect or savor a tone, but instead make you very aware of how long the film has left to go. Easy examples include the Icelandic fishing village and Aquaman, where there’s a segment of singing or slow-motion to a licensed song. To bring back something mentioned earlier, there are things in this film that absolutely do not need to be there. Darkseid is technically not necessary. I would’ve liked him if he was good. Martian Manhunter is introduced in two scenes, but his presence does more damage to the film and the film universe than help with the fans. He has no real role in the story (save for a single confusing moment) and looks very ugly with the CGI given to him. The extended cameo isn’t worth it. This can also be said with the epilogue. The epilogue is based on the nightmare scene from Batman V. Superman, only now we see a supporting cast of characters Snyder probably felt didn’t get enough time to shine in the universe. Joe Manganiello appears as Deathstroke, Amber Heard as Mera, Jared Leto as the Joker. This doesn’t need to be in the film at all, but again… It’s probably not for the film. It’s for Snyder, and it’s for the fans. The scenes themselves are honestly some of the worst stuff of the film. Leto as the Joker is the best he’s ever been, but that’s not saying a lot at all. It’s also with some of the corniest dialogue I’ve ever heard, just for the sake of being edgy. Batman drops an F-bomb.

To talk actual film-making, the film is a very typical superhero plot with an unjustifiable runtime. You could cut forty five minutes to an hour of the film and have it be better for it. It’s a tad ugly. Snyder is capable of pretty films, but what tends to remain here is the color saturation and not any sort of visual ambition. There are some exceptions to that, like some of the fight choreography or the Flash sequences. Still, the film isn’t impressive. This also goes into Snyder’s chosen ratio to shoot the film in. Snyder shot it in a 4:3 aspect ratio, making the film less of a widescreen experience and more of a vertical box approach. This was probably intended for Imax experiences when he shot it, but as an end product on HBOMax leaves a lot to be desired. Snyder is a director that can make a film look like a comic book. I think he sacrifices a lot by betraying the landscape a widescreen format provides. Sweeping shots of the team and shots of the Flash running now have to be considered with the ratio in mind. The ratio doesn’t properly emphasize distance, it instead emphasizes the totality of a picture and its composition. One that just isn’t very impressive, at least on my television.

I always respect actors who have to act with half their face being computer generated.

Still, I was wrong. This is what I said in that original article:

These aren’t disposable franchises. Unlike typical blockbuster movies, superheroes and Superman have a cultural importance to the world and particularly America that extends beyond a singular movie. It is why some people desperately want to see the good in some of the lesser DC films. It’s why fans think there’s a white whale that is secretly the best superhero film of all time. That whale existed nearly forty years ago, and I’m sure the whale will exist in another DC movie long after the Snyder Cut is released. This Snyder Cut won’t do anything for anybody hoping for a good Justice League movie.

There’s not a masterpiece here. However, The Snyder Cut absolutely took a really bad film and made a bearable film. It made a film that someone can actually enjoy. It fulfilled a creator’s vision. On all real counts beyond personal opinion, in any sort of narrative that actually matters, this cut was a success. I finished the article with this:

But should it come out? I would say yes. Historically and artistically, stories like this are fascinating, and even if we are stuck with fifteen minutes of storyboards for the final battle, we can see a movie full of compromises be one without compromise. That sounds pretty special to me.

We don’t often see a filmmaker able to actively right the wrongs of a damned film in their career. We don’t often see studios splurging the cash to make a bad movie better years after the fact. If you don’t like Snyder’s approach to the other films he’s made, you’re not going to magically find something better here. However, if you watched the original Justice League and felt like there was a better movie in there somewhere, if you liked Zack Snyder, or if you just want to see a decent enough live-action Justice League, it’s here. The Snyder Cut is here to save the day. No matter what number you’re about to see below this paragraph.


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