Zack Snyder’s Justice League: Some Improvements, Lots of Fluff
Somehow, it’s finally happened; the “Snyder Cut” hundreds of Twitter users begged for for three years was actually given the greenlight, and it’s longer, grayer, and more self-important than I could have possibly imagined it would be.
The amount of people who really wanted to see this always baffled me due to Snyder’s track record; Man of Steel ignored everything Superman was about to pursue a god complex character arc, leading to a brooding Superman with none of the idealism and humanity most longtime fans of the character actually like.
Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was an utterly conceited, overlong slog with a ridiculous conclusion and a Batman who didn’t seem to mind guns or killing.
Thus, I highly doubted giving him full creative control would actually be an improvement on the franken-movie which he only had partial control over. Somehow, though, he really did make a more coherent movie. For every improvement, though, one of Snyder’s annoying directorial habits found itself even closer to the spotlight, and I can’t really say the end result is actually good.
Starting with the improvements, the characters feel much more complete in this cut. The Flash (Ezra Miller), grows into his role in the group after initially seeming out of his depth amongst the rest of the League rather than just being an annoying sidekick-type, culminating in one of the most impressive scenes near the end of the movie.
Aquaman (Jason Momoa) is no longer just a too-cool-for-school jock, showing much more humanity towards the other heroes.
The most dramatic improvement is found in Cyborg (Ray Fisher), who has a prominent arc regarding his fraught relationship with his father and accepting his robotic augmentations as a blessing rather than a curse. Where he was an afterthought in the original film, Zack Snyder’s Justice League places him in the forefront and makes him one of the most interesting characters.
However, the movie never quite seems to know what to do with Batman (Ben Affleck) after he brings the League together for the first hour or so, and Wonder Woman seems to exist only to dispense exposition about ancient events and do cool sword moves in the fights.
Speaking of the fights, the action is much better in this cut of the movie. The final fight now takes place in a ghost town instead of an occupied area, which means that all the heroes take on active roles against the villains instead of some like The Flash taking the sidelines to protect civilians. The League fights more as a team, especially later in the movie, than they did before; the original cut has them all taking on self-contained encounters simultaneously while the Snyder cut shows them combining their unique strengths to take on tougher opponents. The plan to take down Steppenwolf before he can destroy the world feels like a complete team effort this time around, as everyone plays a meaningful role. The fights do contain some out-of-place blood spurts and gore in what I assume was a misplaced attempt to make this comic book movie seem more adult, however, reminding me more of Doom games than a DC story and adding nothing of substance. If anything, the fascination with gore makes it harder to take seriously, along with the rest of the film’s excessive edge.
This improved action, and the movie as a whole, is made worse by the unchanged dullness of the villains, though; Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds) is the ur-example of the big grey CGI villain. His armor’s redesign in this movie is an atrocious mess of spikes and moving parts, making him as distracting and unpleasant to watch as he is dull to listen to. His small grey CGI sidekicks don’t make the movie any more visually interesting, either, nor do his bigger grey CGI leaders such as Darkseid (voiced by Ray Porter). This is a symptom of the movie’s larger visual flaws. For some asinine reason, Snyder believed it necessary to shoot this movie in a 4:3 aspect ratio, surrounding the already dark footage with black bars and restricting the scope of shots. The movie also rarely features colors besides grey, black, and occasionally orange, giving the film an immensely dull visual style which may have put me to sleep had I not watched the movie with my brother to joke around with. It even goes so far as to replace Superman’s (Henry Cavill) iconic suit with a grey-on-black version that blends him right in with the rest of the movie’s boring colors. Artistically, this movie is a chore to watch.
The biggest obstacle to this movie is the four-hour runtime, mostly because there simply isn’t four hours worth of meaningful content in the movie. A lore dump by Wonder Woman about Darkseid’s unsuccessful first invasion of Earth features an overlong fight scene with characters the audience doesn’t have much reason to care about. Every time Lois Lane (Amy Adams) appears, the pacing grinds to a halt. Martian Manhunter (Harry Lennix) is also in the movie, but confoundingly does nothing but deliver messages amidst the catastrophe unfolding throughout the movie. Certain expository scenes, like the one featuring the Flash meeting Iris West (Kiersey Clemons), overstay their welcome, and Steppenwolf seems to contact his leaders multiple times only to tell them exactly what he told them the last time he contacted them.
Generally, the movie fails to keep you consistently engaged, sporadically having something interesting to show you only to drop back into bog-standard expository dialogue and minor character interactions which contribute little to the experience. Ironically, the Snyder Cut would benefit from a second cut which trims the fat significantly.
Overall, I see this movie as an example of Snyder’s directorial egotism and a cautionary tale against giving any one man full control over a passion project. With some advisors around to criticize this cut before release and help streamline this experience, I could have actually liked the movie more than I disliked it. However, it always would’ve irked me a little bit, since Snyder’s obsession with gritty, dark movies and symbolism which is nowhere near as clever as he thinks it is, leaves me groaning at his movies constantly. The truth, of course, is that he makes dumb fun action flicks, but his attempts to pretend his films are profound or thought-provoking seems juvenile. Although this cut has some of his best work for DC, it’s also a microcosm of all of his most annoying traits, and I think this marginal improvement over a bad movie wasn’t worth the effort in the end.