Well, it turns out I was wrong.
When the long-awaited Snyder Cut was finally announced, but we were also told it would take months to release and cost almost an additional one hundred million dollars, I was convinced that this movie was essentially going to be a do-over.
I thought for sure the Snyder “cut” never existed; they were just going to release an almost entirely new movie and claim it was what Zack wanted all along. I had seen others say “Why should I watch this? It’s just going to be a longer version of a bad movie I already saw!”, and I responded, “No, they wouldn’t do that”. Why would they?
And so, today, I sat down and, over course of six-and-a-half hours, I watched Zack Snyder’s Justice League, live-Tweeting as I did so. But now that it’s happened, what did I think?
First of all… yes, I was wrong. This movie was literally just a stretched out version of the Justice League movie that was previously released, the one where we were all told how bad it was. There is more of it this time, sure, and we actually see a lot of Darkseid himself, but ultimately… it’s the same movie. Vast chunks of the movie are basically unchanged. The plot is identical.
The biggest change that wasn’t just an addition of new material was the removal of the family who were being terrorized by Steppenwolf–the family that Flash saves in the third act of the 2017 offering, giving the film the touch of grounded stakes that kept all the big CGI monsters shooting each other from being too unrelatable. That was arguably my favorite part of the original Justice League, but it is M.I.A. in the Snyder Cut.
The rest of the movie? Yeah, there are a lot of additions. A LOT of slow motion. I don’t inherently have a problem with a movie being four hours! It’s wildly unnecessary and self-indulgent, but if you as an artist feel that your product needs to be four hours, go for it! But know that when a movie is FOUR HOURS, I’m not going to have any patience for extraneous scenes that could easily have been cut. Off the top of my head? Lookin’ at you, weird Villagers-Sing-At-Aquaman bit. Oh, and Cyborg creeping on the life of a single mom.
There’s also the quasi-cliffhanger ending scene which sees Bruce have another… sigh… “Knightmare” about a future under Darkseid’s rule where Superman is working for the Fourth World despot. It’s long, and it manages to feel even longer. Jared Leto’s Joker is prominently featured there because we apparently don’t deserve nice things. And it all seems very Injustice in the way we are led to believe this will all be a result of Lois Lane’s death.
I don’t care about this dark future. I would think DC could build to a better story than this one, where Superman has heel turned and Batman is back to just murdering everyone. It makes it feel like I suffered through Batman Vs Superman and this Justice League for NOTHING.
Some of the additions do work, though. Hey, it IS nice to see Darkseid in action! I might get WHY his scenes were removed from the theatrical cut, but the scenes we get of him do a decent job at showing him as a threat without overexposing him. It’s possible that, assuming he is “to blame” for the scenes not being in the original release, Joss Whedon looked at them and thought it was too much, too soon. Marvel had handled Thanos with much more tact. But the DCEU was always a lazier version of the MCU played in fast forward, so why not really show off the big bad? We all know where it is going, anyway. More Darkseid faster! Great.
I also want to definitely give the Snyder Cut its props where it is due: there are absolutely some great scenes here. Steppenwolf on Themiscyra doing battle with the Amazons was pretty impressive, and seeing him literally just tossing their horses around really built him up as a powerhouse. And when Superman enters the climactic final battle by appearing just in time to no-sell Steppenwolf’s kill-swing of his axe? That was a genuine mark-out moment. Even well over three hours in and more or less resigned to what the more was giving to me, I reacted to that. It was a spectacular moment. And say what you will about Zack Snyder and his slow motion shots–and I said a lot about it in my Tweets–but the scene where Barry is barely able to stay a step ahead of an enraged Superman while both are in speed mode was well done and felt needed. Even in the slow-mo overdose mode the movie had put me in, I found that scene to be captivating.
I figure Zack just shoots EVERYTHING in slow-mo so that when he occasionally blind squirrels his way to a nut like that, it all feels worth it.
Before I get into the technical aspects of things, I guess I just want to compare this version of Justice League to what came before it and ask… was this necessary? Was it an improvement? Maybe the fact that I had so worked myself up into thinking all of these months and millions of dollars were being spent making a new, better movie is getting the better of me here, but… I don’t know. This doesn’t feel different or special enough. It feels like the 2017 Justice League with more Darkseid and less of that hostage family that grounded the plot. I really, REALLY thought it was going to be more different than it was. It isn’t, at all.
So maybe it wasn’t NEEDED… but is it BETTER than its forefather? Maybe negligibly. I feel that I simply must give credit to Snyder for improving with each step he takes. Man of Steel was an insulting abomination. Batman Vs Superman wasn’t good, but it was had stand-out moments amidst the silliness. Justice League 2017 was an entirely forgettable, inoffensive movie. And Justice League 2021 is… maybe a step better than that. So I will admit: he has gotten better with each additional toe he dips into the DCEU. There’s something to be said for never taking a step backwards.
All right, getting into the technical aspect of things now! The DCEU has long had something of a CGI problem. From Doomsday to the original Steppenwolf to a lot of the effects in Wonder Woman 1984, the DCEU constantly feels like it is personally trying to set visual effects in movies back about twenty years. This movie was kind of a mixed bag in that regard. Darkseid looked mostly good! Not 100% of the time, and he didn’t have the soul to him that Thanos did in Infinity War or Endgame, but given the previous efforts, he was a solid A.
Steppenwolf was more of a sideways lateral. He still looked awful when the shot lingered on his face and he was talking or “emoting”. He looked… I think the professional term would be… “derpy”. He had the face of a sad and confused rodent. But they also put him in sparkly body armor that mostly distracted from everything else and looked passable! So we’ll call him a push.
Then we get to Cyborg, and OH MAN. I can’t imagine any reality where you had two chances to make this movie, with months of reshoots and several million more dollars, and someone still looked at Cyborg and said “Yes, this is a finished product. I am proud of what we achieved here”. Cyborg looked TERRIBLE throughout the movie. I am not sure what they were going for with him, but he seemed to be more made out of jagged, broken glass than sleek futuristic machinery. Cyborg’s appearance is straight unacceptable in a major motion picture in the year of our lord, 2021. To be fair, though, it’s possible his problem was as much in design as it was in the effects.
Also, the movie was shot in 4:3, which–I’m not going to pretend to understand what that means; I’m not a film maker. To me, it just means the film was square, and I had to deal with empty black bars on either side of the picture. I’m neither going to pretend it was the most egregious thing in the world, nor that it wasn’t distractingly noticeable at times. I personally wouldn’t have done it, but I guess I don’t have Zack Snyder’s vision. His square, square vision.
As for the cast: there’s nothing particular to note here, but as a referendum on the DCEU as a whole, casting has seldom been one of their issues. Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, and Gal Gadot are beyond worthy of being a franchise-carrying trio. If any of them were to continue with DC going forward, I would have no complaints. Jeremy Irons, Amy Adams, JK Simmons, Diane Lane… there are a lot of inspired choices in the supporting cast who really lift up their smaller roles and make everything more worthwhile. Jason Momoa, to me, is what happens when you tell your mom you want The Rock, and she says you have The Rock at home, but he is trying his best, is god damn gorgeous, and seems to be having fun. The only ones that really don’t work for me are Ezra Miller and Ray Fisher.
All in all, there’s nothing about Zack Snyder’s Justice League that was bad, but neither was it something we as a civilization direly needed. Have you ever reheated pasta from a few days ago, but poured some fresh Ragu over it first so it wasn’t dried out? That was this movie. It’s fine–it didn’t hurt me–but maybe I should have ordered take-out instead.
In that analogy, take-out is… having watched the first episode of The Falcon & The Winter Soldier? Maybe? I don’t know; I’m not good at analogies.