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They wanted me back for a reason. I need to find out why.

Movie

Zack Snyder’s Justice League
(2021)

 

I wasn’t completely down on Joss Whedon’s Justice League (I had to check to remind myself Snyder retained the director credit), which may be partly why I’m not completely high on Zack Snyder’s. This gargantuan four-hour re-envisioning of his original vision is aesthetically of a piece, which means its mercifully absent the jarring clash of Whedon’s sensibility with the Snyderverse’s grimdark. But it also means it doubles down on much that makes Snyder such an acquired taste, particularly when he has story input. The positive here is that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has the luxury of telling the undiluted, uncondensed story Snyder wanted to tell. The negative here is also that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has the luxury of telling the undiluted, uncondensed story Snyder wanted to tell (with some extra sprinkles on top). This is not a Watchmen, where the unexpurgated version was for the most part a feast.

I’d considered investigating Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: Ultimate Edition before seeing this, since some claimed it was night and day better than the theatrical. Given some of the similar assertions for this Snyder unleashed movie, though, I’m not sure I’d have been entirely convinced. I don’t doubt, were I a DC fanboy, I’d be orgiastically overwhelmed by the inter-continuity and in both paroxysms of joy and regret at the loss of the Snyderverse. Most of the time, though, I had to look up these character cameos and references.

But I do get the appeal of this kind of thing. Back in the ’90s, I considered director’s cuts a holy grail, mostly thanks to James Cameron, the Alien series, Blade Runner and abundant legends of deleted scenes (along with occasional tantalising photographic proof). And I genuinely think it’s a good thing Snyder got his version out there; how often has a drastic retooling benefited a project? And yet, still studios persist. At least there’s a coherent – if unwieldy – vision there now, whereas everything else Warner is currently up to seems like throwing darts randomly around a pub (just look at their frantic attempts to milk evidently dry or drying up wells with Game of Thrones and the Potterverse).

Really, though, the difference between this and the Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut is one of germane content. How well plotted is Justice League? How engaging are the characters? How compelling is the journey Zack’s taking us on? The answers vary according to subplot or character or theme, but it’s fair to suggest that in no instance is Justice League richly rewarding. Snyder has given us seven parts here, and the first chapter often feels like it’s ninety-percent slow motion, while the last is an extended epilogue; he has permission to indulge himself, and he has no compunction in taking it. Which is fine, but I didn’t feel the urge to watch the whole movie in one sitting (I took a break after Chapter Five), and I was only intermittently roused by that Snyder magic: you know, his facility for marrying image and soundtrack so as to achieve a level of puerile poetry (believe it or not, I do mean that as a compliment).

You can find my thoughts on the various heroes/characterisations/performances in the previous review, and they largely stand. While the attention with this version has been on Cyborg’s beefed-up presence, thanks in no small part to Ray Fisher’s very vocal – and not altogether unreasonable – issues with the Whedon reshoot and filmmaking process generally, the greater beneficiaries of the Snyder cut are Supes and the Flash. I haven’t seen Fisher in a sufficient number of other roles to judge his broader abilities – I mean, he’s fine in True Detective Season Three, I guess – but the impact of Victor Stone is muted by several factors. One is that Cyborg himself is an aesthetic train wreck and simply cannot get beyond being a piece of overdesigned CGI. Then there’s Victor himself, burdened by petulant aggression for his major characteristic. His disposition, as a transhumanist nightmare who hasn’t even been catered for with a cybernetic penis, is entirely understandable, but whether it’s the writing or Fisher or a combination of the two, the pathos of say Murphy/Robocop just isn’t there.

Which in turn means Cyborg, as the vaunted “heart of the movie”, doesn’t really embed himself in that terrain. One might even see Victor’s journey as insidious, traversing the treacherous ground from “What part of this looks like a gift to you?” to “I’m not broken. And I’m not alone”. A genderless man jacked into the Internet. Along similar lines, the great “potential” of nanotech is proffered in the form of Ryan Zheng’s cameo as the man who becomes the Atom. Is DC warning or beckoning that brave new world?

Snyder’s version of Barry Allen ditches his cowardly Whedon impulses in favour of eager insecurity. What’s most notable is that Miller makes him likeable, and his dialogue is often funny (or the same as it was before) but without the Whedon po-mo and pop-culture gags; I’d be unsurprised if Whedon passive-aggressively took offence that there was a character already present he could have written, only done better and with less Joss crutches, so he decided to handicap him (Miller is almost doing a Woody Allen impression when delivering his resumé). Certainly, the Flash’s visual set pieces are some of this version’s most sublime. Barry saving Iris West (Kiersey Clemons) is exquisitely done, while his crucial back-in-time hitting the speed of light during the climax is equally memorable (notable that both The Avengers: Endgame and this rely on time travel for their outcomes, while this also explicitly invokes the multiverse, albeit via a Batdream).

Superman in the theatrical version was infamously undercut by Henry Cavill’s CGI’d upper lip. He fares leaps and bounds better here, even though he isn’t reborn until Part 5. This being Snyder’s approved grimdark, we can’t get away from evil Superman/black-costumed Superman at any point, but there’s sufficient duration between his waking up enraged and disorientated and Batfleck’s future visions to allow an affectingly underplayed Cavill turn as Clark Kent.

I’m generally fairly indifferent to the Snyderverse casting. Miller is a cautious positive, Gadot looks good. Cavill, I’ve thought has had a raw deal of things, battered by the tonal dissonance between a virtuous character and Snyder’s more destructive impulses. Warner has undoubtedly been – unsurprisingly – rash in dispensing with his services (but hey, they’ve got that black Supes coming down the pike from JJ Abrams, well versed in riding the franchise-destroying woke train).

Batfleck, I’m still not convinced by, I’m afraid. Or his Staypuft Batsuit. The most positive I can be is that Affleck isn’t actually a damaging presence, but I can’t see that he brings anything distinctive to the part. He doesn’t even look sufficiently weather beaten to sell the two-decades-along Batman in a way that would have had impact. And I’ve said this before, and the movie says it outright, but he’s still pretty redundant in the company of all these overpowered heroes – meaning he has to Iron Man it but without the superhero/villain-resistant suit.

Much as I enjoyed Aquaman, nothing of Jason Momoa’s Aquabro stands out here as adding to the character, whereas Wonder Woman is most notable for how incredibly violent she is. Not that I really care about her killing people, but you do notice when she’s going above and beyond. In the early hostage situation, it’s established that she can move so incredibly fast she absolutely didn’t need to blow that terrorist through the wall (“Can I kill people like you someday?” asks an admiring little girl). And later, cutting off Steppenwolf’s head is cool and all, but, you know, gratuitous too.

Much of the material that expands the Snyder Cut concerns the context of the villain(s). In part, fleshing out the presence of the mother boxes on Earth due to the presence of the “Anti-Life Equation” carved on the planet’s surface (whatever that means). It’s notable that Marvel predictive programmes with the depopulation agenda while DC’s equivalent offers straightforward loss of autonomy, promising to turn anyone affected into mindless slaves (so a hive mind, another element of the transhumanist agenda). There’s often something a little facile about the design and general rendering of these DC villains. Apokolips sounds like a kid’s sugar drink, or a play on words devised by a six-year-old, rather than an alien world.

Steppenwolf ought to be much more impactful than he is with Ciaran Hinds voicing him. I’d completely forgotten the character’s theatrical version, so as far as comparing them goes… Well, I don’t know, really. It’s six of one and half a dozen of the other. For definite, the Snyder incarnation’s armour is just too damn busy, the kind of thing that – not that it’s ever in any doubt – encourages the incongruity of his being a CGI creation.

Snyder is one of the better directors out there for marrying CGI with live action (although Bay and Blomkamp are probably the best), but there’s so much of it in Justice League that it’s no surprise some of it escapes his grasp. Darkseid seems to be quite true to the character, but he just isn’t visually very interesting, as most oversized mocapped humanoids aren’t (I note that both are New Gods, and he does come across as a decidedly dystopian, materialist, Ahrimanic figure, as defined by Steiner*). There’s also the CGI-swathed flashback to the first invasion of Earth, which is often closer to a full-blown computer game than a live-action movie.

Zack will doubtless content himself with further redressed versions of his new unsullied baby. We’ve had the idiosyncratic choice of aspect ratio (given this is TV). Then there’s the black-and-white Zack Snyder’s Justice League.  Next there’ll be a 2:35:1 version. I don’t doubt having a trilogy will further encourage the re-evaluation of his much-derided take on DC’s most iconic characters. While that doesn’t mean Warner execs should – they aren’t likely to – be hasty enough to #RestoretheSnyderVerse, it does serve to emphasise that their former-go-to guy, for better or worse, did have a complete conception for DC. He knew what he wanted. Which is a damn sight more than Warner Bros do, mired in second guessing themselves. As things stand, they seem all but guaranteed to follow the course of Lucasfilm and make choices directly antagonistic to their fan base. Almost as if they’re taking their orders from above. Architects of their very own Apokolips.

*Addendum (26/10/22): It seems Steiner made Ahriman up, whether knowingly or inadvertently.

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