Zack Snyder’s Justice League ***
One Liner Review:
About a thousand times better than the original, much shorter version, this four hour version is incredibly fun and gives time to ideas so that they can actually be developed.
A movie that combines some of the best parts of the Lord of the Rings with Avengers Infinity War to give us an epic take on the previously released theatrical cut. This Zack Snyder cut is about a thousand times better. The characters are developed, the story and action are great, and the pace and tone definitely work. Darker was clearly the way to go with this movie, just as it has been for all Batman films, starting with the Tim Burton movies. And giving the film more time contributes to fleshing out the stories and bringing them to life in ways that get the audience to care. Other then a flaw of having one too many McGuffins, this movie works. It is beautifully shot and told, and incredibly entertaining fun.
Talk about an amazing investment and incredible payoff. The story of Zack Snyder’s Justice League and how it came to be is almost as interesting as the movie itself. And I guess it goes all the way back to Snyder’s other DC superhero movies that began this unofficial trilogy. First was Man of Steel. Then Batman Vs Superman. Both used Snyder’s very dark color palette, style, and tone. Batman Vs Superman didn’t work (although after seeing Snyder’s Justice League, I’m curious about seeing the longer director’s cut to see if it makes the movie better.) When that movie turned out to be lousy, Warner Brothers uprooted the director (he was also dealing with a personal tragedy at the time, which the studio used to say that his replacement was a mutual decision.) Warner Brothers got Joss Whedon, the director of the first two Avengers movies to take over, and suddenly we were given a bright and colorful two hour movie that wasn’t funny or entertaining or sensical at all. That movie was a mess. It was meant to look and feel like a Marvel movie. And it didn’t work. Then, years later after much hounding by the fans to “release the Snyder Cut,” Warner Brothers decided to give Zack Snyder seventy million dollars to complete his vision. The result is a four hour movie that shows us exactly what Snyder had always hoped for and planned. And this longer and more detailed version is a pretty remarkable film.
After seeing Batman Vs Superman, the studio can certainly be forgiven for wanting to go with a lighter tone. Especially since Marvel was in every way kicking their butts with popularity, critical acclaim, and box office. But using a lighter tone is Marvel’s thing. And to impose that on the DC Superheroes just didn’t feel right. Now, after seeing the Snyder cut of Justice League, it is pretty obvious that this darker approach was indeed the right approach. So what is it about this cut that makes everything better and makes the movie actually quite good? Before we get into that, let’s be clear… as good as this movie is, it is in no way on the same level as the best Marvel films. Those movies exist on a playing field of their own, in large part because of the casting of Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark, a match between actor and character that couldn’t be more perfect. But the beautiful thing about Zack Snyder’s Justice League is that it doesn’t really try to compete with those movies. This film is something completely different and exists by its own standards and set of rules.
The movie is pure fantasy the whole way through. Marvel movies have generally been grounded in reality to the point where finally taking leaps into the fantastical (Doctor Strange with sorcerey, and Guardians of the Galaxy on other worlds,) is something we were more than ready to buy into, because the MCU had been grounded for so long. But with Justice League, the characters don’t need to be grounded in reality first, and that’s totally fine. Superman is known as an alien. We spend a lot of time during this movie inside a lab that is studying alien technology. And of course the villains, from Doomsday in Batman vs Superman, to Steppenwolf and Dark Seid in this movie, are monsters. So are the Parademons, Steppenwolf’s army of flying vampire-insect creatures. The movie never tries to pretend it’s something that it’s not, and instead embraces the fantasy elements, including going underwater to the kingdom of Atlantis where Aquaman’s people live.
Speaking of Aquaman, this movie spends time not only showing Atlantis, but also letting us meet the characters who live there, (two in particular are featured here, played by Willem Dafoe and Amber Heard.) We even learn about Aquaman’s history with his parents. We learn that he hates Atlanteans and wants nothing to do with that kingdom under the sea. We also spend time in Themyscera, where Wonder Woman is from. The movie explores more about the customs and systems that these Amazon women have setup for defenses, including a temple built on the side of cliff that is built to house a motherbox (the big mcguffin of the movie,) and also a fire-arrow shooting system that can reach an Amazonian temple in the world of men. All of these are details and scenes that were not in the theatrical, Joss Whedon cut, and that Snyder is able to fully present to us with his extended version. They all look fantastic and add quite a lot to the story.
In fact, every character gets more development in this movie. That includes the obvious ones like The Flash and Cyborg (two characters whose stories were barely featured in the theatrical version,) but it even goes as far as to reach Superman and Batman. There’s no doubt that the relationship between Batman and Alfred, (played by actors Ben Affleck and Jeremy Irons,) gets more time here, and that their relationship actually feels real for the first time. But more does not always mean better, and the reason why directors generally cut their movies and trim them down is to give the audience only what they need and not a whole lot of excess. So then why does the longer version of this movie work so well? Because by giving us longer versions of everything that was happening in the theatrical cut, whole storylines actually change and become far more interesting. For the first time they start to pop and resonate. The extra material isn’t being thrown in here just because it’s extra… it’s being added because it actually helps bring this thing to life.
Take the villains for example. In the theatrical version, Steppenwolf was a disgrace of a movie villain. He looked ridiculous, with the face of a human, a helmet that looked metallic, clunky, and uninteresting, and very a limited story. That character was the big bad of the movie, and yet he had very little of interest to do or say, and really had no storyline of his own. Here, in Snyder’s version, Steppenwolf’s story is much more fleshed out. We learn that he does everything in order to please a higher being named Dark Seid, who he once betrayed. Now Steppenwolf wants desperately to come home, which means proving himself to Dark Seid first. But aside from story, the character actually looks fantastic here, with a suit of armor that has tons of sharp etchings and threads moving all over it, including spikes that poke out from his shoulders and arms. Even his face looks different, more monstrous now than human, and we get to see what he looks like without a helmet too (which is also pretty cool.) Watching this guy move around and fight is also quite a lot of fun. He literally went from the worst thing about the theatrical cut to one of the best things about the Snyder version. What a change. And he’s not alone. We also get scenes with Dark Seid and his assistant, Dasod, who acts as a messenger that speaks to Steppenwolf through a lava-fire block-transforming projection. All of this looks creative and fantastic. And getting multiple villains really works for this movie.
Another thing that works is the way that the movie takes its time, not just to tell more stories that were otherwise not being told, but also to stretch out the stories that were. At four hours, half of the movie is spent recruiting team members, and coming together. And this turns out to be a good thing, because it feels more believable. Characters don’t just say yes and sign up at rapid speeds, but instead need to be convinced. Circumstances around them need to lead them to realize that the problem is real and that they need to help. If the recruitment is one of the major storylines, and occupies two hours of the film, the other major storyline is the quest of Steppenwolf to get all of these mother boxes. Those are alien artifacts here on earth, that when synchronized and united, have the ability to transform the planet into whatever the creature in possession of them desires. Sounds a lot like Infinity Stones, right? This movie goes to great pains to make the look and design of the mother boxes completely different. The boxes actually seem to come to life, with cracks bursting through them and light pouring out.
We follow Steppenwolf in his conquest of these boxes as if he is in a mission or heist movie. Early on, he gets the first mother box from the Amazonians, which leaves only two to go. He spends the next three hours getting the other two. Which means they take time, and involve him finding clues and kidnapping people who might know their whereabouts… especially the box that is held by humans. A quest movie needs to be long to give it that true epic feel, (look at the Lord of the Rings trilogy,) and by allowing itself to stretch out, this storyline about the villain hunting down the boxes works. Also giving it that epic, Lord of the Rings feel is the way that the boxes are each held by different “races” of characters. One is held by the Amazonians, one by the Atlanteans, and one by the world of men (humans.) That is very much like how the rings were held by different groups… the dwarves, the elves, the men. And to add to a this legend, we get to see the story of the first “Age of Heroes,” told in flashback, with a giant battle. Again, very much like Lord of the Rings, and very much what this movie needed.
Aside from everything else it has going for it, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is incredibly artistic and beautiful. Darkening the colors and going for a more grim and subdued look turns out to be the perfect decision. The characters and dialogue might not be great, but for a movie like this, they are just fine, and definitely get the job done. It’s not like we ever see Oscar worthy writing and dialogue come from a fantasy movie. At four hours, there are ample opportunities for a movie to show its flaws and weaknesses, and for the most part, this movie doesn’t really have too many. There’s an early scene where some singers by the beach burst into song while looking at Bruce Wayne, after Aquaman has disappeared into the water. That moment makes the audience worry for a moment. Please don’t let there be more of these pointless scenes that exist because the movie was given four hours and now needs to fill time. Not to worry. There aren’t. But one flaw that is real, however, is that there are one too many Mcguffins. First the mother boxes and then the anti-life equation. Despite the movies massive running time, the idea of this equation still isn’t given enough development or explanation. And there’s no reason for it to be in the movie, when there is already an alien object that is the source of everyone’s desire and that can single-handedly destroy the world.
The tone of this movie is obviously much darker than the theatrical version, to the point where yellows and reds and oranges have been more or less cut out. And boy does it work. Look at Batman alone, whose light grey suit in the Whedon version almost looked blue at times. Here it is black the whole way through. So is Superman’s outfit, paying homage to the Superman Lives comic book series where he comes back to life wearing all black. But aside from the color palette, the humor is also much darker now, which is a smart move. DC doesn’t have to be funny. We already have that with Marvel. And when they tried to make this movie funny, it ended up just feeling forced. But as a darker movie, that almost feels black and white at times, (lots of blacks, grays, and whites,) we are reminded of the difference between Batman movies, and the ones that either worked or didn’t work. The Tim Buron Michael Keaton Batman movies worked. They were dark. The Joel Schumacher Bstman movies did not. They were colorful and dopey. And then the Christopher Nolan Batman movies, which were again very dark and gritty, definitely worked. Clearly dark is the way to go with Batman, and with this team of heroes. There is so much to like about The Snyder Cut, including all of the cameos and Easter Egg storylines from other characters in the DC universe (the ending is packed with them.) Here’s a movie that swings for the fences and pretty much does it all. What a tremendous success.