A lot has happened since 2017’s disastrous release of ‘Justice League’, DC/WB’s attempt to keep up with the Joneses of Marvel/Disney. Much ink has been spilled on the tale of Zach Snyder’s step down helming JL due a family tragedy, the non-handoff to a now blacklisted Joss Whedon for fostering a toxic work environment during its reshoots, and the viral online campaign of not only fans of Snyder’s vision but many of the stars of said vision to release it to the public. Much money has been spent on this overall failure to capture the essence of DC’s titanic superhero archetypes for an audience eager to see them done Justice. And now, much will be said, written, and debated about the four hour, multi-part final product now available streaming on HBO Max.
In a play that’s as fascinating as it is maddening, parent company AT&T announced that they would support Warner Bros. handing director Zach Snyder $70 million in order to complete his vision of ‘Justice League’ as he intended. This money presumably went to finishing the abundant computer generated effects that basically comprise the entire film, edit the vast amount of footage that never made it into Whedon’s final product, and even film some additional footage to support the story. This was in addition to the reported $300 million budgeted for the original 2017 theatrical release which also covered the significant amount of reshoots that Whedon and crew needed after basically tossing out 80% of what Snyder had lensed. All this amounts to what can definitively be described as a realization of what Zach Snyder intended for the characters he had been shepherding through 2013’s “Man of Steel” and 2016’s ‘Batman v Superman’ (itself getting its own extended, R-rated cut in 2019 also available on HBO Max), as well as some new faces for ‘Justice League’ and beyond.
There’s no denying that Snyder has a style all his own. He has been composing wide-screen painterly renderings of bombastic, operatic action throughout his film oeuvre, from the full camera pullouts of his ‘Dawn of the Dead’ remake, through his sepia-toned depictions of the battle-hardened Spartans of ‘300’, to his slavish attempt to capture specific panels of all-time graphic novel “Watchmen”. Through it all, he hasn’t met a slow motion punch or an on-the-nose music video-style needle drop that he doesn’t like. This version absolutely fits this mold over the course of its considerable runtime, and there’s some truly gorgeous compositions of comic book glory throughout, although it’s hard to even classify it as a film. Conveniently and thankfully thematically broken into an introduction, six chapter “parts”, and an epilogue, the presentation of the material makes it easy to digest over multiple sittings. Initially there was some consternation around the length of the project that seemed to hint at breaking it into four hour-long episodes, but this final decision on the presentation works best.
Make no mistake, the Snyder cut is not the same movie as the theatrical version. With the exception of some action sequences and a few character interactions seen in the original, the footage presented here is completely different. Even those aforementioned beats are massively expanded, or drawn-out, depending on one’s mileage with this stuff. There are long stretches devoid of the titular super team, and due to its structure of Ben Affleck’s (Batman/Bruce Wayne) quest to bring them together while the villain is gathering the Mother Box MacGuffins, many characters don’t appear until well into the runtime. When they eventually do, it’s to mixed results. Affleck and Gal Gadot acquit themselves well, with Batman only slightly less angry and dour than he was in BvS, and Wonder Woman with the unenviable task of delivering exposition over some pretty generic “Lord of the Rings” flashbacks.
This movie is ostensibly the introduction to Jason Momoa’s Aquaman, Ezra Miller’s Flash, and Ray Fisher’s Cyborg, so it’s unfortunate that these scenes struggle to balance the film’s weak themes. It’s hard to imagine trying to understand the underpinnings of Arthur Curry/Aquaman’s struggles with his hinted leadership obligations in Atlantis without the reference of his own movie, which would not have been out until after ‘Justice League’. Momoa’s rendition of the character as a frat-boy bro who likes to toss wool knit sweaters before he jumps back into the ocean really leaves much to be desired. The Flash, as realized here, is a pale attempt at injecting some humor and younger energy into the group, but none of his comrades seem to find him funny or endearing in any way, so neither does the audience (plus his costume is terrible). Finally Cyborg, with a most unfortunate fully CGI rendering, has a greatly expanded roll here which, while coming in handy in a neat way for the last two major segments of the movie, does not work on an emotional or practical level. The extended sequences of Fisher grappling with his powers and being injected into the past are just confusing and at times come across as heavy-handed nonsense (particularly a sequence when he grants a down-on-her-luck mom with extra money in her bank account).
By the time Superman finally comes back to life two thirds (?!) in (this is not really a spoiler, is it?), the movie does start cooking, leading up to a pretty coherent, clearly defined climactic battle that is infinitely better than the finish of the original. While it may not have a purpose beyond the aesthetic, Cavill in the black costume is also very cool. Why the movie then feels the need to tack on yet another head-scratching dream sequence that hints at things to come is just another example of the project’s overindulgence. In reality though, this is all keeping with the overall Zach Snyder aesthete (it’s right there in the possessive title), a very adult, very serious, but also a very droll, dreary take on the modern mythological figures of our times . . .
Directed By: Zach Snyder
Written By: Chris Terrio
Run Time: 242 min.
* * (out of four stars) -or- C