Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021), Snyder’s Superhero Epic

Looking back at my review for what I guess is now called the Whedon cut of Justice League I wrote the following: “would I personally want to see the infamous ‘Snyder Cut’? Undoubtedly […] Do I think that cut actually exists? Not in any meaningful way….” and I’ve never been happier to say that I was wrong. What’s even funnier is my review went live on the 11th May 2020 and it was only 9 days later on the 20th that Zack Snyder officially confirmed that the Snydercut was coming. But I’d be lying if I said I was on board from the get-go, as I’m sure you can tell from my reviews of the other DCEU movies, I’m not the biggest fan of Snyder’s work and have felt pretty mixed about his previous work on the franchise. So even in the run-up to its release I was definitely a detractor from the hype; thinking it was going to be an over bloated, pretentious mess. And after years of not even believing this movie even existed and I can finally say, without a doubt, that I was wrong. 

That’s right, I actually enjoyed the Snydercut. All four hours of it! This isn’t to say that the film is perfect by any means and it’s got it’s fair share of issues that I’ll get into, but on the whole Zack’s vision of Justice League as a mythology-inspired epic works in practice much more successfully than his previous attempts. While the film feels familiar to the theatrical cut, it’s definitely fair to say that this is a completely different film. While the main villain is still Steppenwolf, not only does his design look far superior, we also get glimpses of DC’s Thanos-equivalent, Darkseid, whose design is simply fantastic, and while it doesn’t seem like it should affect the film much, by extending the stakes to the first battle in an on-going war it creates a sense of scale that Snyder is going for in this film. Nothing better encapsulates this shift to embrace a greater sense of scale than the opening scene, taking place right at the climax of Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice as the titular Kryptonian unleashes a final series of battle cries as he dies. Snyder’s signature slow-motion as the camera tracks around the final moments of this battle; capturing the emotions of Batman, Wonder Woman, and Lois Lane as they witness Superman die, before the camera flies along the oceans as it follows Superman’s dying screams as they awaken the 3 mother cubes that Darkseid is seeking. While this sequence is drenched in Snyder’s typical style, the way the camera soars across the skies creates this sense of epicness as the film sets up the sheer scale of the threat yet to come, and sets the tone for the ensuing 4 hours brilliantly. 

Reading back over my previous review of Whedon’s Justice League and a lot of my major criticisms are completely solved in the Snydercut; I spoke about how paper-thin Steppenwolf was and the contrivance needed to bring the characters together, but these issues weren’t present at all in Snyder’s version, despite using the same macguffin of the mother boxes. This is because Snyder actually sets up his characters in Snydercut; rather than suddenly introducing Cyborg and expecting the audience to care, Snyder devotes actual time to Ray Fischer’s character and his backstory allowing natural pathos to be generated, and it works! The scene where we see Cyborg use his powers for the first time to give $100,000 to a struggling mother is really touching and instantly generates a connection to Cyborg while also demonstrating his heart as a hero. Similarly with Steppenwolf, in Whedon’s cut there was no motivation, just that he was evil and wanted to destroy Earth, the only reason is because he’s the bad guy. But Snyder gives Steppenwolf his own agency through the glimpses of his backstory we’re given about his previous attempted betrayal of Darkseid. The exposition of Steppenwolf destroying worlds as his debt to Darkseid gives him an actual motivation for attempting to destroy Earth. Then there’s the added “anti-life” code, which despite being a terribly unimaginative name, plays into Darkseid’s previous attempt at destroying the planet in the flashback. While I’m not trying to suggest this is the pinnacle of screenplay writing, because it’s not, but it’s far more cohesive than the majority of the rest of the DCEU, and operating on such a big scale gives Snyder room to bring these big ideas to life in a way he’s been stifled from doing in the past.

If we’re comparing the Snydercut to the Theatrical version, the Snydercut seems like a masterpiece….however on it’s own merits it still fails to reach that for me. If we carry on talking about the writing, while a lot of the cohesive issues are sorted, Snyder’s continuing problem with dialogue is still ever-present. It’s no secret Snyder is a visual director and he revels in the spectacle of cinema, but his writing can be painful at times; with awkward exposition dumps and stunted dialogue cropping up frequently. At 4 hours the film both feels epic but also bloated at times. While I understand that this version was meant to be Snyder’s uncompromised vision, there were times where I felt someone should have intervened and said “this scene is unnecessary” or opted to remove some of the padding. As while the 4 hour run-time reflects the scale, the film definitely could have been substantially tighter if it had been trimmed down by about half an hour. Scenes like Wonder Woman’s introduction and moments like the villagers singing for Aquaman seem like good ideas in theory but in practice they make the film stagnate, especially the former as it has no connection to the rest of the film and Wonder Woman’s character has already been established in the previous films. I understand why Snyder wanted it there but it feels forced and it doesn’t help that the special effects in this scene look really janky and awkward. The same can be said about the Flash’s character introduction where he saves a woman from a car crash mid-job interview; it’s a great scene that establishes Barry Allen really effectively, but it remains over-indulgent, with the swelling operatic score and Barry’s (sort of creepy) caresses as he makes sure the woman is safe are fine in theory but the point of the scene felt like it had been made well before the sequence was over. 

I mentioned this briefly before, but the special effects aren’t consistent at all in this film. While there are moments that are leaps and bounds better than the theatrical cut, there’s still plenty of moments where the effects look bad. It feels nitpicky to go into them in any detail as in all fairness as much as I can point to individual examples I could equally counter each of those with an example of some really fantastic looking CGI too. The opening scene I described above is astonishingly beautiful, but the dodgy CGI in Wonder Woman’s opening scene looks awful. It is a shame there isn’t a consistency as if all looked like the better examples I think the whole film would have benefitted. 

Overall I really did like the Snydercut. I’m certainly not as big a fan of it as a lot of people I’ve seen online, and that’s okay. Snyder’s style has never been my favourite and while I respect the artistic vision, I think his epic still carries it’s fair share of issues. The Snydercut will forever stand as an incredible moment in film history, and the fact that it is significantly superior from Whedon’s theatrical cut is a testament to artistry and a statement against the studio interfering with the creative process going forward. The Snydercut is the culmination of many things, a gargantuan fan movement, the climax to the DCEU and a turning point for Snyder’s career. Moving on from what I can only imagine have been some of the worst years of his life, Snyder has created something beautiful and despite my issues with the film I’m happy that he’s been given the chance to deliver it to the world.

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