“Zack Snyder’s Justice League”: 2nd time’s the charm?


Courtesy of https://www.supermanhomepage.com/no-classic-superman-in-zack-snyders-justice-league/

JD Jones, Arts & Entertainment

Zack Snyder is quite possibly the most divisive mainstream director of the modern movie industry. Having really launched his career in 2004 with a remake of “Dawn of the Dead”, Snyder has been famous for his visual style combining Gothic-esque color palettes with extreme slow-mos, as well as his contributions to the comic book movie genre. 

With his adaptations of “300” (2006) and “Watchmen” (2009) under his belt, Snyder was elected to helm 2013’s “Man of Steel”, a rebooted origin story featuring one of the most iconic superheroes of all time: Superman. Despite solid financial success, the film’s critical reception varied, with some hailing it as a masterpiece, while others thought it misunderstood the character’s legacy. Nevertheless, Warner Bros. believed “Man of Steel” could be the launching pad for a franchise similar to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so they got Snyder back for a sequel. This led to an even more controversial movie three years later in “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice”. Once again, the film got either praise or condemnation, and while it made money, it was not on the level of something like a Marvel movie. 

With Snyder not bringing the DC fandom together, and the tragic suicide of his daughter happening around the same time as he was to finish the first part of the planned “Justice League” movie, he was kicked off of the production, and extensive reshoots began. The studio hired Joss Whedon (who directed the incredibly popular smash hit “The Avengers” for Marvel) to complete what would turn out to be a wildly different endeavor. Finally, the movie about DC’s finest heroes debuted in November 2017. Unfortunately, the film performed rather poorly, not even breaking even financially, and the overall assessment showed no change from before. The humorous direction drew criticism in terms of consistency, and the effects and action were criticised among other things. Even with dependable solo films being released after their big team up, it seemed that the Justice League would never see the light of day again.

However, that wasn’t going to satisfy certain Snyder fanatics. After the movie ended its theatrical run, groups of fans began the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement. Derogatorily nicknaming the released film “Josstice League” (because of Joss Whedon’s involvement), these fans pushed the hashtag on all social media platforms. As the news of a cut from Snyder actually existing began to unravel, the movement grew even larger. They spammed Warner Bros. posts, donated money to charity, and continuously pushed for a release of the cut. The cast of the movie also came forward, voicing support for Snyder and revealing abusive situations that happened during the Whedon reshoots. Finally, during the launch of the streaming service HBO Max, it was officially announced that Snyder would be able to finish his cut and release it the following year. As of now, “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” was released on March 18. 

With a four hour runtime and tons of new scenes added, Snyder’s vision may not be loved by everyone, but the common consensus seems to be that it’s better than what Whedon made in 2017. Even many people who found Snyder’s past work mediocre at best have said that this might be one of his better films! So, what’s to make of this new cut of “Justice League”, and is it even worth giving it another shot?

First off, I’ll emphasize this from the get go: I’m not Zack Snyder’s biggest fan. I’ve viewed most of his filmography, and of the films I’ve seen, I can only really say that I only liked three of them: “Dawn of the Dead”, “300”, and “Watchmen”. While far from perfect, those movies are thoroughly engaging, visually excellent, and most importantly, they understand their identity. The former is an adrenaline-pumping horror-action experience, and the latter two are essentially making a graphic novel come to life instead of being an adaptation. 

Nowadays, I feel that Snyder is still excellent with the whole visual side of storytelling, but his more recent efforts have failed really to grab my attention. 2011’s “Sucker Punch” is straight up one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, and “Man of Steel” and “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” are just pure ambition without the narrative execution to successfully tell a story. I never grew to care about Superman, or even understand why others did. 

In addition, I also didn’t really find too much to enjoy 2017’s “Justice League”. The key to a franchise is consistency, and while Snyder’s two movie setup may not have worked for me, you kind of have to stick with it. The Joss Whedon reshoots really made the final product feel completely different, like it existed only as a standalone vehicle. Some of the humor was mildly funny, but at other points it wasn’t great, and the differing personalities of Snyder and Whedon butt heads too often. The biggest problem (among other things) with the released version is really its runtime. At a brisk two hours, it doesn’t do a great job of delving into the characters and who they are. By this point, this was the first time we met characters like Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and the reshoots failed to make any connection between the viewer and the character.

With both of those thoughts in mind, it’s safe to assume that I didn’t have the highest expectations going into “Zack Snyder’s Justice League”. However, as I sat through the four hours of what was put together, I came to a realization: I actually liked “Zack Snyder’s Justice League”! It’s by far the better of the two versions of the movie, and fixes the core issues I have with the 2017 edition. The overall effects and action are better, but so are the characters. Snyder takes his time to develop the new characters, and the result is an experience that is drastically different. 

The most astonishing difference is Cyborg, who has way more connection with the story than previously shown. Fisher gives the film an emotional center that definitely makes him stand out in the huge pantheon of movie superheroes, and it’s a real shame that Joss Whedon cut so much of that story out. In addition, Jason Momoa also has a bit more of a story around him for the Aquaman parts, and Ezra Miller still shines as the Flash. His storyline with his father is touching at certain points, and considering Snyder’s usual use of serious, dark tones, the humor he provides is pretty good!

Moving away from character though, “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” also sets itself apart by adding a sort of mythic tone. In the opening acts, we see Snyder linger upon an ancient battle between main villain Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) and the ancient gods. It’s a scene that is made with considerable craft, and it adds a lot to the genre. Even with Marvel’s team-up movies, we’ve never really seen superheroes as mythic figures, and when the Justice League actually forms to stop Steppenwolf from conquering Earth, it does feel like epic in that same sense as ancient Greek myths, for example. For a director who I’m not always on board with, Zack Snyder made some gutsy moves that actually paid off.

Now, we get to the bad stuff, and while it’s not as bad as Snyder’s past DC efforts, this movie does contain a fair share of problems I think some might overlook. The most obvious one is the length. I totally respect Snyder for going all out to complete his entire vision, but four hours is just too long. If this were trimmed of some of the scenes that could be considered “fluff”, and brought down to maybe three and a half hours (or even three hours), I think that the already solid story would’ve hit harder. 

I also had a bone to pick with the ending. Two different epilogues are attached (I won’t spoil them for full affect) that tease sequels. However, since this seems to be a one time deal with Snyder just getting to complete one project, they feel like unfulfilled promises we’ll never get to see again. With DC heading in new directions and Snyder himself focusing on other projects, it would’ve been nice to end on some closure for his run with the company instead of rallying more fans for more content. 

Furthermore, I still didn’t find Steppenwolf compelling at all. Even with his backstory of being a pawn in a larger plan, he still didn’t feel like that much of a powerful threat. In the grand scheme of things, I won’t really remember him. 

Finally, the biggest issue with this movie is the fact that I never really appreciated the journey to get here. As I’ve said before, I’m not a huge fan of “Man of Steel” or “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice”, and that certainly affected my viewing. Too many story beats, stylish choices, and worldbuilding issues prevented me from fully enjoying these versions of “Superman” and “Batman”. Even as a solid finale, “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” would’ve been more effective had the first two Snyder DC films been better executed.

While “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” had an interesting path to release, the question still remains, was it worth the wait? To the hardcore fans, probably, yes. To people on the fence like me, I still enjoyed it, and as I said, the ambition here pays off the most for me here. Should it get a sequel? I wouldn’t mind, and I even have a tiny bit of interest, but ultimately I would say not yet. Let’s allow DC to move on into a brighter, better direction.