With the death of Superman [Cavill], a vast wave spreads across the world, signalling to three ancient devices that the planet Earth is no longer protected by an alliance of powerful beings and as such, the halted conquest by the alien conqueror Darkseid can once again continue. The emissary Steppenwolf [Hinds] hears this signal and begins collecting the three cosmic items to win back favour with his master and terraform the planet. Realising the threat at hand, Batman [Affleck] and Wonder Woman [Gadot] begin uniting a cabal of heroes to stop this. But with or without the mighty submariner metahuman Aquaman [Momoa], the super fast Flash [Miller] or technological hybrid Cyborg [Fisher], they may need to resort to extreme measures to bring back Earth’s strongest champion.
Throughout cinematic history, the existence of “director’s cuts” has presented a fascination for fans; the prospect of exploring interesting what ifs and experiencing the purest artistic vision, unfettered by studio interference. But these variant editions do not exist in a vacuum and it is almost impossible to go into this film without some knowledge of the background politics, the years of fan campaigning and the on set scandals by those who were brought on to fix it. And yet despite this, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is not what was intended. As a largely self indulgent experiment, it can offer insight into Snyder’s outline for the shared universe but Warner Bros were never going to release a 4 hour film in 2017. As such, comparing the two can be quite detrimental as the circumstances of their generation are so wildly at odds with one another, so I’ll try to avoid that where possible.
From the very outset we are informed that the movie is presented in the 4:3 aspect ratio as the director intended. While this format has been used for independent releases of late, it’s not necessarily that unorthodox as the final shot we see is often cropped to fit screens. In fact, 4:3 is quite close to the IMAX format. Personally I’m not the biggest fan but I will say that the aspect ratio neither adds nor detracts from the film itself but ultimately feels like a bit of an unnecessary insistence. The same could easily be said for the upcoming “Justice Is Gray” black and white edition, which I can’t imagine would really improve on what has been made or take from the already largely saturated image.
Coming off the back of Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice, Justice League feels like an improvement and a positive step forward. It still has all of the setup baggage and doesn’t know what to do with a lot of the characters it’s introducing but it feels like a more coherent and fleshed out character-focused piece and has been structured and arranged fairly decently; both as a long film and as a TV series.
At the time this would have been our first major look at several leads, while we’ll circle back to Aquaman, I’d like to focus on both the Flash and Cyborg. Everything about Ray Fisher’s portrayal of Cyborg felt like an absolute after thought in the theatrical version but in this edit, he is one of the most compelling individuals. A teenager wise beyond his years who has suffered tragedy and a being adjusting to his new reality. Fisher is compelling and interesting and stands toe-to-toe with not only veteran actors but comic properties that even non-comic book fans are familiar with. Granted, some of his interactions are clumsy and smack of Man Of Steel logic. For example, Victor’s father Silas explains everything his Frankenstein-like creation can accomplish and in the process it feels like a zealot heralding a villain before pivoting with the fairly weak Jonathan Kent “you have to choose” schtick. And so Cyborg goes out into the world, scours the entire digital frontier of human existence and finds one woman struggling to pay her bills and awards her one hundred grand. This may not sound like much but it’s Snyder’s whole attitude to heroes and one that illustrates that he doesn’t understand this incredibly complex and stupidly powerful person – like using a top of the line Mac to solely browse Facebook.
The Flash is also much more tolerable in his current form. Presenting someone who is quirky and sarcastic is a fine line without making them unbearable but Miller’s Flash is handled decently, offering some much needed levity to the whole dour universe we’ve been witnessing thus far (speaking from a 2017 perspective, obviously this observation holds no water alongside something like Shazam or Birds Of Prey). Additionally, Steppenwolf may look like the contents of a cutlery drawer in a washing machine but the performance has nicely evolved. Finally this antagonist has an agenda and actual expression in his face. Although I will admit that far too many of his scenes are a retread of the same exposition over and over but we’ll get to that later.
From an aural standpoint the sound design is decent and the score works well enough, if a little forgettable at times and often veering into Mad Max Fury Road / 300: Rise Of An Empire territory. Cyborg’s whole suite is genuinely quite soulful and moving and the Hans Zimmer Superman leitmotif remains incredibly strong. The thing that really jars is Snyder’s music choices, which seemingly never fit, setting the wrong tone. A prime example would be Aquaman downing a bottle of whiskey before returning to the sea, accompanied by Nick Cave’s There Is A Kingdom. The lyrics are eye-rollingly on-the-nose, the “last song of the night” vibe feels remarkably out of place and even things like the instruments used leave the impression that the entire justification for this accompanying track was “I like this song.”
I touched on the trademark washed-out colours being paired with the boxy aspect ratio, as well as the excessive runtime but we really need to talk about the director’s obsession with slow motion. I appreciate this is almost to the point of parody now but we should address the fact that he has proven it can work extremely well. Case in point, the resurrected Superman turning to see the Flash while he is at full speed is still the best moment of the movie. But slow motion is a tool, like any other in a filmmaker’s kit, and should be utilised to accentuate a point or moment of significance. The problem is that Snyder just likes how it looks and subsequently just over 10% of this entire feature has had footage slowed down meaning a tenth of this movie is presented as if it is a moment of significance. And while one could argue a story about saving the world from an alien invader must have plenty of significant moments, a sesame seed falling in slow-motion is certainly not one of them. What’s more, for all the money sunk into this feature, the CGI is often muddy, clunky and obvious. Admittedly, we have to take into consideration that this is fallout due to the release schedule and the pandemic but regardless of these factors, the film is far too reliant on it and wasn’t given enough time to properly develop it.
While I was expecting a certain amount of frustration with how Wonder Woman would be handled or Batman’s pivot from I must kill Superman at all cost to I must resurrect him at all cost, I found myself arguably most frustrated with Aquaman. To clarify, I think Momoa’s version of Aquaman is actually very decent and still hold his standalone feature up as an example of the sort bombastic entertaining tone DC should be aiming for. And that’s the problem. Snyder’s entire vision for Aquaman is pretty weak; I’ll admit it’s better than Whedon’s interpretation but the dialogue about his origin, the constant forming of air pockets to hold conversations, they highlight the director’s limitations on how to handle this character. This film also falls into the classic DC pitfall of how to handle Superman. Multiple Christ analogies and a damned good theme aside, Superman remains overpowered and the entire league unable to stand up to him goes so far to prove you don’t actually need a Justice League if you have a single Superman.
I could continue and pick apart the minutiae from Lois being fairly inconsequential to Steppenwolf’s repetitive exposition dumps being prime “cut that” material, or the endless amount of sequel/universe setup culminating in a supposed lost planet with the anti-life equation being earth all along, or the Atlanteans and Amazons guarding their motherboxes for centuries while mankind just dug a 3 foot hole in the ground in the woods, or Martha having a seemingly meaningful talk with Lois that turned out to be an interaction with someone else entirely, or Wonder Woman killing multiple individuals and being rewarded with a “can I be like you when I grow up” exchange, or the idea that Lois might be pregnant but I won’t because it doesn’t matter. And that is the ultimate failing of the director’s cut in a world of shared universes.
Poor world building is what led Warner Bros to ditch the original vision because the projected shared universe wasn’t vibing with audiences or critics, leading to a shift from expensive underperforming projects to more standalone unique creations with their own identity and audiences. Granted, one of these audiences loves what Snyder has done and would desperately love to see how it concluded but this is operating under the mindset that these stories have an end. Even something like Avengers: Endgame, which was the culmination of over a decade of setup was never going to be the end because the studio simply won’t allow a fiscally successful property to die. Subsequently, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is an interesting experiment but it shouldn’t be a springboard to relaunch an already sloppy universe that didn’t have the legs to maintain this march toward an apocalyptic future. I will absolutely hold my hands up and say this rendition is a vastly superior cut to what was released in cinemas four years ago. But the vast majority of audiences have moved on and I fear in an attempt to please every demographic, we’re going to end up with a series of course corrects that will still struggle to achieve what WB ultimately want – what Disney has. But hopefully I’m wrong.
18 March 2021
The Scene To Look Out For:
Despite the fact that this is likely the end of the road for the undeveloped storylines, Snyder still insisted on reshoots to further tease his apocalyptic vision of the future and frustratingly this is one of the most talked about moments because it’s the first interaction between Affleck’s Batman and Jared Leto as the Joker. With so much teased in the trailer, this entire thing boiled down to a remarkably flat damp squib littered with meaningless references and fan service posing as edgy content. If I had any flicker of interest for a continuation of this story, that scene firmly snubbed it out.
From the beginning I have stood by the casting of Jeremy Irons as Alfred and the playful chemistry he shares with the weathered Bruce Wayne continues to be a joy to watch.
In A Few Words:
“A stimulating and striking retread but one that still failed to exceed where necessary”