The DC Universe gets a redo of its biggest failure
By Diana Beechener
In 2017, DC Entertainment attempted to copy the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s success with a team film featuring all their greatest characters. Justice League had Wonder Woman, Batman, Superman, The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg fighting as a unit to save the world. It should have been the blockbuster spectacle fans had been clamoring for since the DC Extended Universe was announced.
When tragedy struck director Zack Snyder’s (Batman v. Superman) family, he stepped away in the middle of the film. Marvel veteran Joss Whedon (Avengers: Age of Ultron) was brought in to complete Snyder’s vision. Instead of following Snyder’s blueprint, Whedon and the studio changed much of the plot and reshot key scenes. The result was an ungodly mishmash of Whedon’s sardonic style and Snyder’s melodramatic theatrics.
Panned by critics and fans alike, Justice League was considered a massive lost opportunity. But fans were not ready to admit defeat. A concentrated internet campaign backed by the stars and Zack Snyder himself convinced the studio to release a retooled, recut version of the Justice League that adhered to Snyder’s vision.
Is this four-hour Snyder Cut worth the years-long internet campaign? … Kinda.
Snyder is a polarizing filmmaker: fans celebrate his operatic grandeur and stylized action shots, while detractors point out that his films are often juvenile gobbledygook wrapped in pretty packaging. So the first question anyone interested in the Snyder Cut needs to ask is: Do I like Zack Snyder? If you do, chances are this will be a long but ultimately fulfilling journey. If you’re not already a fan, surely you can find something else to do with four hours.
The film is divided into chapters, and because the movie is so unwieldy it might be beneficial to break it into several viewings. Taking a break and coming back to the movie might give it enough space to keep it from feeling like a slog. Unfortunately, your reviewer tackled it all in one sitting, so you’ll have to bear with me as I sort through this marathon of filmmaking.
Snyder’s vision is unquestionably better than the 2017 film. His film offers characters a bit more development. Whedon famously cut all of the backstory given to Ray Fisher’s (True Detective) Cyborg. Fisher’s treatment resulted in a Warner Brothers investigation of Whedon’s conduct on set, and his subsequent removal from several upcoming projects. Snyder restores the story and the result is a poignant look at arguably one of the more tragic figures in the film. Fisher’s Cyborg now gets a chance to shine and show off why he’s an invaluable member of the team.
Justice League: The Snyder Cut also expands the DC universe in new and interesting ways. Fans of the comic books will see a few characters make their debut, and Snyder also hints at a dystopian future based on one of the most famous Superman storylines in the comics. There’s a real sense of stretching and expanding, something the Marvel Cinematic Universe has done well, offering new possibilities and plots for devout fans.
It’s a shame, then, that the 2017 Justice League seemed to kill all these ambitions. Cyborg’s standalone film was cancelled. The characters introduced in the Snyder Cut are not slated to make appearances in new films and the storylines teased in the movie are supposedly dead.
As with most Snyder fare, a good editor would have saved viewers time and boredom. There are so many musical montages in this film that at one point I felt the need to check I wasn’t watching a YouTube fan video. Surely a director should limit himself to one montage an hour?
The music is also peculiar. Snyder’s style is operatic, so a bombastic score behind action scenes is to be expected. However, there are several times when Snyder chooses to score his action moments with bizarre guitar laden mumble-rock, which detracts from the spectacle and also pulls you from the story. “What IS that song?” Mr. Moviegoer asked me several times during moments when we should have been more invested in the imminent end of the world.
Snyder still doesn’t know how to write or film women in a way that isn’t mildly insulting. The camera always seems to be peering up Wonder Woman’s skirt. Poor Lois Lane (played by six-time Oscar nominee Amy Adams) gets to frown and look tragic, though we hear she’s the key to everything. Even the Amazons are extra oiled up and exposed when they’re fighting off the Big Bad.
Finally, Snyder’s style itself gets a little old after four hours. Speed ramping (that neat effect where a scene slows down to show the action before speeding back up) is used so frequently that the effect loses all potency. Even hotdogs are slowed down so we can appreciate their majesty while they fly through the air. Snyder’s signature color palette, a bleak mixture of browns and desaturated blues, also muddies the images making it harder to see just what is happening.
Justice League: The Snyder Cut is undeniably an improvement over the first iteration of the film. But that doesn’t mean it’s a triumph. I like to think of it as stubbing your toe instead of breaking your foot.
Still, there is a hero in this film: The fans.
By using their voices and power, fans have proven that they can help filmmakers realize their vision. Snyder’s four-hour epic would have never seen the light of day had it not been for dedicated fans campaigning to see it. If nothing else, let Justice League: The Snyder Cut inspire you to fight for what you want in art and entertainment. And hopefully you’ll all fight for a little less speed ramping next time around.
Justice League: The Snyder Cut is available on HBOMax.
Interesting Action * R * 242 mins.