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Sunday, March 21, 2021

Zack Snyder's Justice League


By all accounts, Zack Snyder's Justice League sounds like an impossibility.  It's a four hour long director's cut of a film that back in 2017 rolled over and died with critics and at the box office  When reviewing the version that played in theaters four years ago (which I have not watched since then), I called it a "big, dumb lumbering dinosaur of a movie that is as soulless as a blockbuster can get", and further described it as "a lifeless, dreary experience designed to trick bored teenagers into thinking they're watching something worthwhile".  I stand by these comments.  I also now stand by my belief that this new take on the material is a superior film in every way imaginable.  

By now, the backstory behind this movie is as famous as the origin stories of the individual superheroes who appear in it.  While filming Justice League, director Zack Snyder found himself frequently butting heads with the higher ups at Warner Bros.  The studio heads had been disappointed by the overall box office take that Snyder's Batman v. Superman had brought in, as well as by the largely muted response by the fans.  Snyder wanted to complete his complex cinematic vision that he had set up in previous films, while the studio wanted something lighter and more marketable.  When Snyder's daughter tragically died in early 2017, he left the production, and filmmaker Joss Whedon (who was responsible for the first two Avengers movies) was brought in to not only finish the film, but take it in the completely different direction that the studio wanted.  

The film that wound up playing on screens was a literal Frankenstein's Monster of two conflicting visions.  Only a small portion of Snyder's original film was in the final cut.  The rest were the results of massive reshoots under Whedon's studio-mandated watch, which included a lot more action, a lot of out of place and inappropriate humor, and rushed special effects that led to the dreary, ugly and downright incoherent experience that audiences rejected.  After the disappointment of the theatrical cut, word quickly began to spread on the Internet that a rough cut of Snyder's true vision did exist.  Passionate fans, and even some of the stars of the film who were disappointed with the end theatrical result, started a massive campaign to finish the original film and release it.  Like I said, going back to finish and put together a director's cut of a 300 million dollar box office bomb sounds like absolute insanity.  And yet, thanks to the HBOMax streaming service, here it is at last.  A 4-hour vision of the movie we were originally supposed to get. 

Zack Snyder's Justice League tells basically the same story that the theatrical version did, only much better.  The narrative has been tightened with much better character development.  These famous heroes like Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Superman (Henry Cavill), The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) are now given room to breathe and be memorable characters, instead of engaging in non-stop and uninteresting CG battles, while exchanging weak one-liners with each other like they did before.  It's especially notable in the case of Cyborg, whose tragic storyline was but a mere afterthought in the original cut, but here is greatly expanded on to the point that he is now one of the more memorable characters of the film.  The scope of the film has also been expanded, giving us a much better glimpse at just what Snyder was trying to do not just with this film, but with his Cinematic Universe based on the D.C. Comics.  

Even the villain, an alien by the name of Steppenwolf (voice by Ciaran Hinds), is better used here, as his plot and motivations for searching out the three Mother Boxes have been greatly expanded on and make much more sense.  What once came across as a generic "I will rule the world" villain is now fleshed out, as we finally get to learn more about his intentions and backstory.  It's not anything deep or powerful, mind you, but it makes a world of difference when you actually see where the villain is coming from.  He still hangs around with those ParaDemons, who like before, are CG bug people who look and act like targets in a video game.  It's true, this director's cut does not correct all of the original film's problems.  But this is such a more tightly focused, cleanly edited, and better told story that any imperfections seem small in comparison.  It also helps that the film is better to look at, as the special effects artists had adequate time to bring their vision to life, unlike the theatrical version where they were under a gun to get the newly shot Whedon footage done in just a few months.

It's not just the plot that has been cleared up and changed.  Many of the hokey jokes that were demanded to be added by the studio are now gone.  Batman no longer cracks wise, and the embarrassing scene where The Flash wound up face-planting into Wonder Woman's breasts is gone too.  There still is time for the occasional joke here, but the movie takes itself much more seriously than before, and carries an overall somber and heavy tone that seems fitting for the stakes that are being placed on these heroes.  The film is also now R-rated, and while it includes more violence and a couple scattered F-Bombs work their way into the dialogue, this is nowhere near the level of say Deadpool, and it probably could have squeaked on by with a PG-13 if the filmmakers wanted to.  Regardless, it really is impressive just how this version fixes most of the problems, while still telling essentially the same story.  It's basically an example of it's not the story, but rather who is telling it.


Given the troubled history behind the film, and the recent allegations being raised about Joss Whedon reportedly being abusive on the set, it's especially amazing just how well this four hour director's cut has come together.  Like I said, it's still not without its problems, as most of the fight scenes still feature way too much CG to be believable.  But still, the way that Zack Snyder's Justice League has gone back and fixed many of the narrative problems and plot holes that plagued the original deserves praise.  It also leaves fans with a lot of questions as to just where this Cinematic Universe was supposed to go next, as the film's epilogue hints at a lot of possibilities.  Who knows, maybe the studio will be inspired to go back and finish what was supposed to be.  People used to think it was crazy to dream we would ever see this movie the way it was intended finished after all.

2 comments

2 Comments:

  • At best, I find it only a slight improvement over the theatrical version. I can't speak to allegations against Joss Whedon, but he was in a lose-lose position; the Bohemian Rhapsody-esque situation of a second director taking over and turning in a well-received film is the exception rather than the rule.
    That said, I made a point of rewatching the theatrical version for comparison's sake and I don't actually think there is that much "Whedon" footage in it. There are definitely alternate scenes, and most noticeably in the Lex Luthor scene, the tight closeup on Jesse Eisenberg as he mentions "a league of (their) own" is clearly an insert shot, along with some "humourous" jokes. But between a change of effects, specifically the different design used for Steppenwolf, and just longer (I dare say too long in many cases) scenes it gives the impression of "different" footage without actually being different.
    During the first half, it dragged out things so much, I was all but banging my head against the TV yelling for them to get on with it. But the back half was (mostly) an improvement over the theatrical version to get me to give it a lukewarm review.
    But I am completely done giving them my money if Zack Snyder is still making Superman-centered films.

    By Blogger Chris, at 4:34 PM  

  • One complaint I had that I forgot to mention in my review is the fact that I felt Amy Adams and Diane Lane were still far too underused in their roles. If you're not an Amazon, the women in this movie kind of got the shaft.

    By Blogger Ryan, at 6:08 PM  

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