Skip to main content

They wanted me back for a reason. I need to find out why.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League
(2021)

(SPOILERS) I wasn’t completely down on Joss Whedon’s Justice League (I had to check to remind myself Snyder retained the director credit), which may be partly why I’m not completely high on Zack Snyder’s. This gargantuan four-hour re-envisioning of Snyder’s original vision is aesthetically of a piece, which means its mercifully absent the jarring clash of Whedon’s sensibility with the Snyderverse’s grimdark. But it also means it doubles down on much that makes Snyder such an acquired taste, particularly when he has story input. The positive here is that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has the luxury of telling the undiluted, uncondensed story Snyder wanted to tell. The negative here is also that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has the luxury of telling the undiluted, uncondensed story Snyder wanted to tell (with some extra sprinkles on top). This is not a Watchmen, where the unexpurgated version was for the most part a feast.

I’d considered investigating Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: Ultimate Edition before seeing this, since some claimed it was night and day better than the theatrical. Given some of the similar assertions for this Snyder unleashed movie, though, I’m not sure I’d have been entirely convinced. I don’t doubt, were I a DC fanboy, I’d be orgiastically overwhelmed by the inter-continuity and in both paroxysms of joy and regret at the loss of the Snyderverse. Most of the time, though, I had to look up these character cameos and references. But I do get the appeal of this kind of thing. Back in the ’90s, I considered director’s cuts a holy grail, mostly thanks to James Cameron, the Alien series, Blade Runner and abundant legends of deleted scenes (along with occasional tantalising photographic proof). And I genuinely think it’s a good thing Snyder got his version out there; how often has a drastic retooling benefited a project? And yet, still studios persist. At least there’s a coherent – if unwieldy – vision there now, whereas everything else Warner is currently up to seems like throwing darts randomly around a pub (just look at their frantic attempts to milk evidently dry or drying up wells with Game of Thrones and the Potterverse).

Really, though, the difference between this and the Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut is one of germane content. How well plotted is Justice League? How engaging are the characters? How compelling is the journey Zack’s taking us on? The answers vary according to subplot or character or theme, but it’s fair to suggest that in no instance is Justice League richly rewarding. Snyder has given us seven parts here, and the first chapter often feels like it’s ninety-percent slow motion, while the last is an extended epilogue; he has permission to indulge himself, and he has no compunction in taking it. Which is fine, but I didn’t feel the urge to watch the whole movie in one sitting (I took a break after Chapter Five), and I was only intermittently roused by that Snyder magic: you know, his facility for marrying image and soundtrack so as to achieve a level of puerile poetry (believe it or not, I do mean that as a compliment).

You can find my thoughts on the various heroes/characterisations/performances in the previous review, and they largely stand. While the attention with this version has been on Cyborg’s beefed-up presence, thanks in no small part to Ray Fisher’s very vocal – and not altogether unreasonable – issues with the Whedon reshoot and filmmaking process generally, the greater beneficiaries of the Snyder cut are Supes and the Flash. I haven’t seen Fisher in a sufficient number of other roles to judge his broader abilities – I mean, he’s fine in True Detective Season Three, I guess – but the impact of Victor Stone is muted by several factors. One is that Cyborg himself is an aesthetic train wreck and simply cannot get beyond being a piece of overdesigned CGI. Then there’s Victor himself, burdened by petulant aggression for his major characteristic. His disposition, as a transhumanist nightmare who hasn’t even been catered for with a cybernetic penis, is entirely understandable, but whether it’s the writing or Fisher or a combination of the two, the pathos of say Murphy/Robocop just isn’t there.

Which in turn means Cyborg, as the vaunted “heart of the movie”, doesn’t really embed himself in that terrain. One might even see Victor’s journey as insidious, traversing the treacherous ground from “What part of this looks like a gift to you?” to “I’m not broken. And I’m not alone”. A genderless man jacked into the Internet. Along similar lines, the great “potential” of nanotech is proffered in the form of Ryan Zheng’s cameo as the man who becomes the Atom. Is DC warning or beckoning that brave new world?

Snyder’s version of Barry Allen ditches his cowardly Whedon impulses in favour of eager insecurity. What’s most notable is that Miller makes him likeable, and his dialogue is often funny (or the same as it was before) but without the Whedon po-mo and pop-culture gags; I’d be unsurprised if Whedon passive-aggressively took offence that there was a character already present he could have written, only done better and with less Joss crutches, so he decided to handicap him (Miller is almost doing a Woody Allen impression when delivering his resumé). Certainly, the Flash’s visual set pieces are some of this version’s most sublime. Barry saving Iris West (Kiersey Clemons) is exquisitely done, while his crucial back-in-time hitting the speed of light during the climax is equally memorable (notable that both The Avengers: Endgame and this rely on time travel for their outcomes, while this also explicitly invokes the multiverse, albeit via a Batdream).

Superman in the theatrical version was infamously undercut by Henry Cavill’s CGI’d upper lip. He fares leaps and bounds better here, even though he isn’t reborn until Part 5. This being Snyder’s approved grimdark, we can’t get away from evil Superman/black-costumed Superman at any point, but there’s sufficient duration between his waking up enraged and disorientated and Batffleck’s future visions to allow an affectingly underplayed Cavill turn as Clark Kent. I’m generally fairly indifferent to the Snyderverse casting. Miller is a positive, Gadot looks good. Cavill, I’ve thought has had a raw deal of things, battered by the tonal dissonance between a virtuous character and Snyder’s more destructive impulses. Warner has undoubtedly been – unsurprisingly – rash in dispensing with his services (but hey, they’ve got that black Supes coming down the pike from JJ Abrams, well versed in riding the franchise-destroying woke train).

Batfleck, I’m still not convinced by, I’m afraid. Or his Staypuft Batsuit. The most positive I can be is that Affleck isn’t actually a damaging presence, but I can’t see that he brings anything distinctive to the part. He doesn’t even look sufficiently weather beaten to sell the two-decades-along Batman in a way that would have had impact. And I’ve said this before, and the movie says it outright, but he’s still pretty redundant in the company of all these overpowered heroes – meaning he has to Iron Man it but without the superhero/villain-resistant suit.

Much as I enjoyed Aquaman, nothing of Jason Momoa’s Aquabro stands out here as adding to the character, whereas Wonder Woman is most notable for how incredibly violent she is. Not that I really care about her killing people, but you do notice when she’s going above and beyond. In the early hostage situation, it’s established that she can move so incredibly fast she absolutely didn’t need to blow that terrorist through the wall (“Can I kill people like you someday?” asks an admiring little girl). And later, cutting off Steppenwolf’s head is cool and all, but, you know, gratuitous too.

Much of the material that expands the Snyder Cut concerns the context of the villain(s). In part, fleshing out the presence of the mother boxes on Earth due to the presence of the “Anti-Life Equation” carved on the planet’s surface (whatever that means). It’s notable that Marvel predictive programmes with the depopulation agenda while DC’s equivalent offers straightforward loss of autonomy, promising to turn anyone affected into mindless slaves (so a hive mind, another element of the transhumanist agenda). There’s often something a little facile about the design and general rendering of these DC villains. Apokolips sounds like a kid’s sugar drink, or a play on words devised by a six-year-old, rather than an alien world.

Steppenwolf ought to be much more impactful than he is with Ciaran Hinds voicing him. I’d completely forgotten the character’s theatrical version, so as far as comparing them goes... Well, I don’t know, really. It’s six of one and half a dozen of the other. For definite, the Snyder incarnation’s armour is just too damn busy, the kind of thing that – not that it’s ever in any doubt – encourages the incongruity of his being a CGI creation. Snyder is one of the better directors out there for marrying CGI with live action (although Bay and Blomkamp are probably the best), but there’s so much of it in Justice League that it’s no surprise some of it escapes his grasp. Darkseid seems to be quite true to the character, but he just isn’t visually very interesting, as most oversized mocapped humanoids aren’t (I note that both are New Gods, and he does come across as a decidedly dystopian, materialist, Ahrimanic figure). There’s also the CGI-swathed flashback to the first invasion of Earth, which is often closer to a full-blown computer game than a live-action movie.

Zack will doubtless content himself with further redressed versions of his new unsullied baby. We’ve had the idiosyncratic choice of aspect ratio (given this is TV). Then there’s the black-and-white Zack Snyder’s Justice League.  Next there’ll be a 2:35:1 version. I don’t doubt having a trilogy will further encourage the re-evaluation of his much-derided take on DC’s most iconic characters. While that doesn’t mean Warner execs should – they aren’t likely to – be hasty enough to #RestoretheSnyderVerse, it does serve to emphasise that their former-go-to guy, for better or worse, did have a complete conception for DC. He knew what he wanted. Which is a damn sight more than Warner Bros, mired in second guessing themselves, do. As things stand, they seem all but guaranteed to follow the course of Lucasfilm and make choices directly antagonistic to their fan base. Almost as if they’re taking their orders from above. Architects of their very own Apokolips.

Popular posts from this blog

Doctors make the worst patients.

Coma (1978) (SPOILERS) Michael Crichton’s sophomore big-screen feature, and by some distance his best. Perhaps it’s simply that this a milieu known to him, or perhaps it’s that it’s very much aligned to the there-and-now and present, but Coma , despite the occasional lapse in this adaptation of colleague Robin Cook’s novel, is an effective, creepy, resonant thriller and then some. Crichton knows his subject, and it shows – the picture is confident and verisimilitudinous in a way none of his other directorial efforts are – and his low-key – some might say clinical – approach pays dividends. You might also call it prescient, but that would be to suggest its subject matter wasn’t immediately relevant then too.

Abandon selective targeting. Shoot everything.

28 Weeks Later (2007) (SPOILERS) The first five minutes of 28 Weeks Later are far and away the best part of this sequel, offering in quick succession a devastating moral quandary and a waking nightmare, immortalised on the screen. After that, while significantly more polished, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo reveals his concept to be altogether inferior to Danny Boyle and Alex Garland’s, falling back on the crutches of gore, nihilism, and disengaging and limiting shifts of focus between characters in whom one has little investment in the first place.

I said I had no family. I didn’t say I had an empty apartment.

The Apartment (1960) (SPOILERS) Billy Wilder’s romcom delivered the genre that rare Best Picture Oscar winner. Albeit, The Apartment amounts to a rather grim (now) PG-rated scenario, one rife with adultery, attempted suicide, prostitution of the soul and subjective thereof of the body. And yet, it’s also, finally, rather sweet, so salving the darker passages and evidencing the director’s expertly judged balancing act. Time Out ’s Tom Milne suggested the ending was a cop out (“ boy forgives girl and all’s well ”). But really, what other ending did the audience or central characters deserve?

The Bible never said anything about amphetamines.

The Color of Money (1986) (SPOILERS) I tend to think it’s evident when Scorsese isn’t truly exercised by material. He can still invest every ounce of the technical acumen at his fingertips, and the results can dazzle on that level, but you don’t really feel the filmmaker in the film. Which, for one of his pictures to truly carry a wallop, you need to do. We’ve seen quite a few in such deficit in recent years, most often teaming with Leo. The Color of Money , however, is the first where it was out-and-out evident the subject matter wasn’t Marty’s bag. He needed it, desperately, to come off, but in the manner a tradesman who wants to keep getting jobs. This sequel to The Hustler doesn’t linger in the mind, however good it may be, moment by moment.

Your desecration of reality will not go unpunished.

2021-22 Best-of, Worst-of and Everything Else Besides The movies might be the most visible example of attempts to cling onto cultural remnants as the previous societal template clatters down the drain. It takes something people really want – unlike a Bond movie where he kicks the can – to suggest the model of yesteryear, one where a billion-dollar grosser was like sneezing. You can argue Spider-Man: No Way Home is replete with agendas of one sort or another, and that’s undoubtedly the case (that’s Hollywood), but crowding out any such extraneous elements (and they often are) is simply a consummate crowd-pleaser that taps into tangible nostalgia through its multiverse take. Of course, nostalgia for a mere seven years ago, for something you didn’t like anyway, is a symptom of how fraught these times have become.

You just threw a donut in the hot zone!

Den of Thieves (2018) (SPOILERS) I'd heard this was a shameless  Heat  rip-off, and the presence of Gerard Butler seemed to confirm it would be passable-at-best B-heist hokum, so maybe it was just middling expectations, even having heard how enthused certain pockets of the Internet were, but  Den of Thieves  is a surprisingly very satisfying entry in the genre. I can't even fault it for attempting to Keyser Soze the whole shebang at the last moment – add a head in a box and you have three 1995 classics in one movie – even if that particular conceit doesn’t quite come together.

This guy’s armed with a hairdryer.

An Innocent Man (1989) (SPOILERS) Was it a chicken-and-egg thing with Tom Selleck and movies? Did he consistently end up in ropey pictures because other, bigger big-screen stars had first dibs on the good stuff? Or was it because he was a resolutely small-screen guy with limited range and zero good taste? Selleck had about half-a-dozen cinema outings during the 1980s, one of which, the very TV, very Touchstone Three Men and a Baby was a hit, but couldn’t be put wholly down to him. The final one was An Innocent Man , where he attempted to show some grit and mettle, as nice-guy Tom is framed and has to get tough to survive. Unfortunately, it’s another big-screen TV movie.

Listen to the goddamn qualified scientists!

Don’t Look Up (2021) (SPOILERS) It’s testament to Don’t Look Up ’s “quality” that critics who would normally lap up this kind of liberal-causes messaging couldn’t find it within themselves to grant it a free pass. Adam McKay has attempted to refashion himself as a satirist since jettisoning former collaborator Will Ferrell, but as a Hollywood player and an inevitably socio-politically partisan one, he simply falls in line with the most obvious, fatuous propagandising.

Captain, he who walks in fire will burn his feet.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973) (SPOILERS) Ray Harryhausen returns to the kind of unadulterated fantasy material that made Jason and the Argonauts such a success – swords & stop motion, if you like. In between, there were a couple of less successful efforts, HG Wells adaptation First Men in the Moon and The Valley of the Gwangi (which I considered the best thing ever as a kid: dinosaur walks into a cowboy movie). Harryhausen’s special-effects supremacy – in a for-hire capacity – had also been consummately eclipsed by Raquel Welch’s fur bikini in One Million Years B.C . The Golden Voyage of Sinbad follows the expected Dynamation template – blank-slate hero, memorable creatures, McGuffin quest – but in its considerable favour, it also boasts a villainous performance by nobody-at-the-time, on-the-cusp-of-greatness Tom Baker.

Archimedes would split himself with envy.

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) (SPOILERS) Generally, this seems to be the Ray Harryhausen Sinbad outing that gets the short straw in the appreciation stakes. Which is rather unfair. True, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger lacks Tom Baker and his rich brown voice personifying evil incarnate – although Margaret Whiting more than holds her own in the wickedness stakes – and the structure follows the Harryhausen template perhaps over scrupulously (Beverly Cross previously collaborated with the stop-motion auteur on Jason and the Argonauts , and would again subsequently with Clash of the Titans ). But the storytelling is swift and sprightly, and the animation itself scores, achieving a degree of interaction frequently more proficient than its more lavishly praised peer group.