For my review of the theatrical cut, click here.
Right, so this review is going to be contentious no matter what I say. In many ways, I’ve been dreading the release of the so-called ‘Snyder Cut’, I knew that I’d be catching flak from one side or another no matter what I wrote, and, to be honest, I just wasn’t as interested as everyone else seemed to be. The idea of a Justice League movie excited me a few years ago, but it seems like I’ve been hearing about it non-stop for the past four years, and I just got bored. Having said that, I’m glad it’s here so I don’t have to read so many tweets about when it might finally drop.
Let’s get one thing straight first though; this isn’t a new cut. It’s not a director’s cut in the usual sense, and although many people seemed to believe the contrary, it didn’t exist way back when the theatrical cut was released. How do I know this? Simple, Snyder was given millions of dollars for reshoots. The word ‘cut’ suggests reassembling footage that already exists, not make a new film from new footage. That would be closer in spirit to a remake. There may have been a cut of the movie that Snyder had assembled four years ago, but this ain’t it.
I have felt sorry for Snyder for quite some time over the Justice League debacle. I don’t believe he’s the God-like genius many people on Twitter proclaim him to be, and he has many annoying habits that crop up throughout his works (which I’m sure we’ll discuss later), but he had a vision for this universe. Maybe not one that everyone (myself included) was utterly on-board with, but a vision nonetheless. More or less all the troubles this film encountered along the way were the fault of someone other than Snyder, be that executives, or other directors. I seem to remember similar issues with Batman v Superman before this, which resulted in the finished film being a mess. You’d think certain people would be able to see a pattern emerging, wouldn’t you?
It’s well established now that Snyder’s vision for the film was thoroughly dissected and sewn back together by people who were wholly unequipped to tell the story Snyder had planned. Joss Whedon may be successful in his own right, but his style is as far removed from Snyder’s as you can get, and the resulting clash of styles leads to a confusing mess of a final product. All of this was also taking place while Snyder mourned the death of his daughter, which must have just compounded his grief and disappointment; to see something he worked so long and hard on be hacked up by such, well, hacks, all the while going through an unimaginable personal loss.
So yes, on both a personal and professional level, I empathised greatly with Snyder. I have never been a massive fan of his work, as my past comments can attest. Still, he certainly didn’t deserve that treatment, even if the film was irredeemable to begin with, and the resulting meddling only added to that; it doesn’t excuse what happened.
Now that we finally have this long-awaited reimagining of the 2017 flop, are we better for it? What’s changed? Most importantly, was it worth the wait? Well, let’s start answering these questions, shall we?
The plot more or less follows the same basic premise as the theatrical cut. Batman wants to assemble a team of heroes; Steppenwolf arrives seeking mother boxes, all of that stuff, except now it makes a lot more sense. That’s the first point in this versions favour; it’s a hell of a lot more coherent than the original. Everything it tried to do the first-time round is expanded upon and given time to breathe, rather than rushing through to establish a franchise’s worth of exposition in under two hours.
However, on the flip side of this is that exposition can be a challenging aspect of storytelling to manage. I’m not sure I completely agree with how this film goes about it, but it certainly isn’t the worst way imaginable. It reminded me of certain scenes in the Middle Earth series, where a character would narrate a scene that took place ‘long ago’, like the arrival of Smaug in the first Hobbit film. While comparisons to Middle Earth are not usually unwanted, I’m not sure the similar scenes here stand up as well to scrutiny. It’s very much a ‘tell don’t show’ way of telling a story that worked in Lord of the Rings’ high-fantasy land but doesn’t land so well in many other scenarios.
However, this being said, it can’t be denied that this is a much better version of the Justice League than the theatrical cut. Granted, that isn’t an exceptionally high bar, but it is. It feels much more like the original vision we were teased with back in Batman v Superman, and for the most part, it delivers on the promise all these years of hype have built up.
I still have issues, though. Not least in terms of run-time, which I thought would be the thing that would test my patience the most, and it turns out I was right. At a staggering four hours and two minutes, this film is longer than The Godfather, two of the three Extended Editions of the Lord of the Rings films, and Gone with the Wind, all titles renowned for their lengths. I’ve heard it said that this extended length helps the character development, and that’s true, the characters are much more rounded in this version, but most films can do twice as much in half the length. A few schools of thought say a film shouldn’t be longer than 90 minutes, and I don’t entirely agree with that. Still, I think there is such a thing as a movie being too long, it happens a lot, and although there’s a lot of story and detail here, there’s still a fair amount of dead weight the film could do without.
It’s also fair to say that if you’re not a fan of Zack Snyder’s filmmaking style, you won’t enjoy this. It’s like a compilation of all his favourite techniques and styles. Slow-motion? Yeah, plenty of that. Dark, dingy atmosphere? Absolutely. Insistence on visual style over storytelling? Not as blatant as in the past, but it’s here. I feel like I’ve mellowed to Snyder in the past few years, but I’m still not overly-enamoured with his style. He seems to want every film he makes to have the same tone as Watchmen, even Superman, for crying out loud. The red, white, and blue boy scout of comic books hasn’t escaped being made into a dark and broody character in Snyder’s hands. I enjoyed what he did with this cut, but the Justice League is not Watchman, no matter how much he seemingly wants it to be.
Still, despite how my last few paragraphs might sound, I did really enjoy this film. The characters are much, much better now they have time to breathe and develop more organically. All except for Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), who annoyed me greatly; his portrayal as a ‘comedy’ character seems so inappropriate given the world he occupies, and his attempts at humour often grated rather than amused. I was supposed to be positive in this paragraph, wasn’t I? Despite The Flash’s attempts to drag the characters down, they’re all reasonably solid now, with understandable goals and motivations. A welcome improvement on the disjointed mess we had before.
The story also came together a lot better with the benefit of more time, even though it was hardly breaking new ground. It’s your typical ‘villain seeks magical McGuffin’ plot that will seem eerily familiar to Marvel fans from the past few years (probably the only place I can accurately compare the two universes). Still, at least it makes sense now, the stakes are much clearer, and the villain has more purpose.
Speaking of the villain, both he and his Parademons all look much better this time around. An Effort seems to have been put in to sharpen up the films special effects, and it especially shows on Steppenwolf, who looks much more intimidating than he did before. The Parademons even manage to look like a threat at times, which is more than can be said for the 2017 cut.
It seems like this film has left itself wide open for a continuation in the coming years, with its ending scenes seemingly hinting at the horrors still to come, which given the fluid nature of the DCEU, is a bold move, to say the least. Who knows whether we’ll see more of the Justice League? Warner Bros might scrap the whole thing and reboot the universe for all we know, and I probably wouldn’t be that surprised. Still, I think this brings the universe back into balance somewhat. The fact that WB released the film seems to suggest that its continuity isn’t completely dead in the water. So we might yet see more of Cavill, Batfleck, and crew. After this much-needed shot in the arm, I might even be able to get excited again.
This is a far cry from the confusing mess that we were once presented with; it even manages to be an entertaining, engaging movie with good characters and action. I must say that I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would; so well done, Snyder, you managed to successfully polish a turd. The DCEU might yet live to fight another day. Or at least another unstoppable alien threat.