A Bigger, Longer Team-Up Some People Apparently Wanted
Zack Snyder's Justice League
I feel like I have to start this review by stating that I didn't hate the 2017 cut of Justice League. That film -- originally started by Zack Snyder before that director had to leave the project (over a family tragedy), passing the reins off to Joss Wheddon -- wasn't the train wreck some have made it out to be. It's nowhere near as bad as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, it's just aggressively "okay". It's wildly uneven in places but not unwatchable.
The thing is, I'm not one of those people that said, "you know what we need? A longer version of it done by the original director." I'm not a fan of Zack Snyder, that's for sure, and I certainly felt like the things that held the 2017 cut back were the parts that Snyder contributed. Having now watched the four-hour cut that fully embraced the director's vision can can state that the 2017 film is certainly flawed and, yes, the notes that don't work are probably Snyder's because Wheddon went through the film and redid a bunch of stuff and tried to turn it more into his (equally flawed) vision. However, with four hours to tell his version of the story, and also being allowed to cut out all the bits of the Wheddon take he didn't like, along with having the opportunity to film even more footage for the film, I have to admit what I thought was impossible: the "Snyder Cut" is better, in every way.
If you've seen the original cut of the film from back in 2017 this new version, at its core, has the same plot line. There are three powerful cubes, the "Mother Boxes", that were powerful artifacts that Darkseid used to conquer worlds. However, when the evil dictator came to Earth, the forces of the world (the Old Gods, the Atlanteans, the Amazons, and the armies of men, along with even a Green Lantern) banded together to fight him off. Their combined might proved stronger than Darkseid's own armies, and the would-be conquerer was forced to flee, leaving the "Mother Boxes" behind.
We then cut 5,000 years ahead with Darkseid lackey, Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) has come to Earth is search of the three Mother Boxes so he can try and conquer the world once more for Darkseid. The world is very different from how it was five millennia prior, with the forces of the world divided instead of united. The world seems like an easy place to conquer, but thankfully there's a collection of heroes that one man, BatmanOne of the longest running, consistently in-print superheroes ever (matched only by Superman and Wonder Woman), Batman has been a force in entertainment for nearly as long as there's been an entertainment industry. It only makes sense, then that he is also the most regularly adapted, and consistently successful, superhero to grace the Silver Screen. (Ben Affleck) can pull together to fight off Steppenwolf and the forces of Darkseid. They just have to learn how to work as a team (and, just maybe, resurrect the missing sixth member before the battle begins).
Nothing in this new, longer cut changes the over all story of Justice League. Instead, what it does, it fleshed out all the littler moments, giving the story more room to breathe. While I would have said, "we don't need four hours of this mediocre film," having been given the chance to do it up right, I can actually see where Snyder was going with his production. That said, I don't think this is the version of the film he would have released in theaters; there's no way DC would have let him put out a four-hour film in theaters, no matter how well this plays. Likely, instead, we would have gotten a mangled and truncated two-and-a-half hour version that probably would have resembled what was released in 2017. I probably wouldn't have liked it back then, but I think an argument can be made that Snyder needs four hours to tell any of his stories. It's just unlikely that, most of the time, a studio will allow him to take an extra $70 Mil to go back and remake his vision again.
From the outset, this film is going to seem a tad different. Although you'd probably have to run the two films (the original cut and this "Snyder Cut") side-by-side to spot everything, it's pretty clear where Snyder and Wheddon differed with in the approaches: Snyder is much more focused on Batman, looking at him as the leader of the "team" as he pulls everyone in and gives them their marching orders, where Wheddon (as is his brand) was much more interested in turning Wonder WomanLong considered the third pillar of the DC Comics "Trinity", Wonder Woman was one of the first female superheroes ever created. Running for as long as Batman or Superman (and without breaks despite a comic downturn in the 60s that killed superhero comics for about a decade), Wondie has the honor to be one of the longest serving, and most prolific, superheroes ever. into the central figure of the story. Don't get me wrong, I like Wonder Woman and I'm okay with her being a leader of the team, but the way Wheddon handled it is wrong. As this film points out, Wonder Woman is old (maybe not 5,000 years old, like Batman says, but old) so having Batman trying to teach her how to be a leader (like in the Wheddon cut) comes off as condescending. Snyder, though, let's her just be herself, a warrior on her own path, and it's actually much more respectful this time around.
That comes across for other characters, too. Where Batman had to train The FlashStruck by lightning while working in his lab, Barry Allen became a speedster known as The Flash, launching an entire set of super-fast superheroes. on what to do in a situation in the Wheddon Cut, Snyder already has the hero operating on his own, fully realized as the Flash even if, for the most part, he works secretly so people don't know he exists. The Flash, while still being a motor-mouth here, feels very different. More assured, more interesting, and a few of the moments that, really, made him a little too annoying (the Xander of the group, if you will) don't even exist here. I liked the Flash in the original cut, but I think I like him even better here.
What's most interesting here, though, is that Cyborg is given vastly more room to breathe. At this point you've probably read the stories about the on-set difficulties actor Ray Fisher (who played Cyborg) had with director Wheddon. Apparently the director was an overbearing dick (who might have even been fairly racist towards the actor). This might have expressed itself, then, in Wheddon's cut of the film, paring back Fisher's scenes for whatever reason, and bringing other characters to the forefront.
In this cut, though, Cyborg is practically the heart of the film. The film works as a kind of origin story for the character, focusing on his past, what happened to cause him to become the Cyborg, and his learning to be a hero. He's also essential to the plot and the eventual climax of the film as his powers, his connection to the Mother Boxes, are how he's able to hack into that alien tech and pull the boxes apart (instead of making them the gateway for Darkseid to invade). These are all fleshed out details that were hinted at in the original film but are given the needed room so that Cyborg feels like a full-fledged member of the team (and not just a Junior Varsity "Titan", if you will).
I'd say the one character that becomes less essential to the story is Henry Cavill's SupermanThe first big superhero from DC Comics, Superman has survived any number of pretenders to the throne, besting not only other comic titans but even Wolrd War II to remain one of only three comics to continue publishing since the 1940s., but I think this is actually a good thing. In the original film, once the heroes resurrect Supes it, in effect, becomes his movie. The emotional heart moves to his character, and then he becomes the way they win the fight, the way they save a bunch of people, the way they tear the Mother Boxes apart. The team all become second bananas to Superman, in effect. Here, though, Everyone gets something essential to do, each team member is needed, and while Superman is the catalyst towards Steppenwolf's defeat, he doesn't do all the work himself. It's much more balanced, keeping the Justice LeagueThe premiere team at DC Comics, their version of the Avengers (which actually came before the Avengers and, really, has existed in some fomr since the early 1940s), the Justice League is the team-up to end all team-ups, featuring some of the most popular, and longest running, characters in all of comics history (and also Booster Gold). in the Justice League.
Meanwhile, there's also Steppenwolf who actually gets almost as much of a character resurrection here as Cyborg. In the original cut of the film, Steppenwolf was little more than a generic bad guy: he'd show up, spout off a few "evil villain taunts", and then flee with one of the magical McGuffins. You never got a sense of who he was, though, or what his motivation might have been. He'd talk about conquering the world, but it always felt like a "just because" kind of characterization. There was no weight to him, in effect. But here, we delve into his story, how he betrayed Darkseid years back, was exiled from his home world, and is doing everything he can to get back in the Big Guy's good graces. It deepens his character and makes him someone you can actually understand. That's how you build an effective villain.
Hell, I feel like even Lois Lane gets treated better here, this despite the fact that Wheddon always claimed to be a "feminist" (which, as we learned about the director, simply wasn't true). Where the original film put more focus on her but, in the process, somehow seemed to fetishize her (that awkward scene where Clark's mother called her "thirsty" really seems awful in retrospect with all the stuff that's come out about Wheddon). Her scenes are pared back some here, but they're given greater weight, letting the depth of her grieving feel much more real, and more realistic. And Snyder makes one other important change: instead of having Batman call Lois in after Superman is resurrected (and goes on a rampage), she shows up on her own, being the heroic reporter we know her to be. This feels much more in line with her character and means she gets to be the agent of her own story instead of, once again, having Batman direct "the women" around.
All of that said, this is still a Snyder film so, even at four hours and will all the time the director needed (to re-film, to edit, and compose) to tell it his way, Justice League still isn't a perfect film. There are the usual Snyder touches that just don't work no matter what his apologists might say. The director reminds me of an emo teen who's just discovered iMovie and his dad's vinyl collection; there isn't a scene that he can film that doesn't feature unnecessary slo-mo effects and a song from when Snyder grew up that feels like a really awkward fit. Often it works, but there's regularly this atonal note that doesn't quite work. It's in these moments where you're reminded you're watching a Zack Snyder film and it's also in these moments where you just wish there was someone that would slap his hand and say, "five sequences of slo-mo is enough. Do we really need a sixth? Or a seventh? Or..."
And yet, I still feel like this the far superior version of the film. Originally sitting down to watch this version, to see what Snyder's auteur vision of Justice League would be, I was filled with dread. I expected this to be crap but I have to admit, it was good. Like, really good. Where the original cut of the film certainly felt like it was a lower-tier DC Extended UniverseStarted as DC Comics' answer to the MCU, the early films in the franchise stumbled out of the gates, often mired in grim-dark storytelling and the rushed need to get this franchise started. Eventually, though, the films began to even out, becoming better as they went along. Still, this franchise has a long way to go before it's true completion for Marvel's universe. work (better than Batman v Superman and also better than Suicide Squad, neither of which were a high bar to clear, in fairness), this new version certainly ranks near the top of the nine films to come out in this film series. It's not perfect, no, but it is very watchable in its own way. I found myself getting absorbed in it and the four hours, as much as four hours can, just flew by.
James Wan (who directed Aquaman), and Patty Jenkins (who directed Wonder Woman and Wonder Woman 1984) have both said that Wheddon's cut of Justice League was never in "their" continuity; their films were always tied to Zack Snyder's vision for this film. While I originally would have scoffed at that, I have to admit that I agree with that decision. This is my preferred version of Justice League. It might not redeem the whole of the DCEU (there are still a couple of irredeemable stinkers in the set), but it does improve the original version so much it actually makes the thought of watching all these films in order bearable.
Congrats, Snyder. For once you made me a believer (I just don't expect it to happen again).