Sunday, April 4, 2021

Zack Snyder's Justice League

If there’s one thing Warner Bros.’ Justice League is known for, it’s its troubled production. During its original post-production period in 2017, director Zack Snyder stepped down due to the untimely death of his daughter, Autumn. At that point, Joss Whedon took over and went through two months of reshoots, resulting in a bifurcated mess of a movie. Though we thought nothing more of the film after its original release, diehard Zack Snyder fans started the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement, which eventually actually worked when the studio formally announced a release of the “Snyder Cut” of Justice League for the HBO Max streaming service. Shortly after the HBO Max release, we sat down to watch it and generally agreed with the sentiment that it surpassed the original theatrical cut of the film, but found that its runtime of just over four hours held it back in places.

Much like in the theatrical cut, the main conflict involves Batman (Ben Affleck) forming the Justice League in response to an interplanetary threat. That threat is Darkseid (Ray Porter), who has sent one of his minions, Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), to retrieve and synchronize the three Mother Boxes on Earth so he can enslave humanity to do his bidding.

Compared to the theatrical cut, however, the story of the Snyder Cut feels more coherent. Steppenwolf is more fleshed out as a character and core concepts are better explained, along with more in-depth backstories. The actual presence of Darkseid, even though he isn’t the film’s final boss, also gives the threat greater weight and deepens the motivation for the invasion of Earth. Though Joss Whedon’s humor from the theatrical cut is gone, The Flash (Ezra Miller) provides a source of much-needed levity in his interactions with the rest of the team. Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) also feel more memorable while Gal Gadot still impresses as Wonder Woman.

The visuals are also improved, with greater detail on characters like Steppenwolf and an actually good use of slow-motion effects when The Flash uses his powers and interacts with the world around him. Superman (Henry Cavill) donning a black costume during the finale rather than his traditionally more colorful one is a little questionable, but it’s a small detail that otherwise doesn’t detract from the impressive and sometimes tense fight sequences. You would also need to know going in that the film is presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio instead of the more traditional 16:9 to make it more IMAX-friendly.

Of course, the real issue we had with the Snyder Cut is the runtime. Four hours is a lot to ask of an audience, even with clearly marked chapters and an official recommendation to take a break between Chapters 4 and 5, which is incidentally where the IMAX intermission is placed. Cyborg’s backstory is very interesting and ties in well with the context of the film, but could easily have been expanded into its own movie and released ahead of Justice League, which would have alleviated the feeling that it was a short film shoved into an already lengthy feature. Similarly, as much as we liked The Flash and would love to see this interpretation in a full solo film, his introduction also feels like its own short film that pads out the running time and gives no context to his relationship with an unnamed Iris West (Kiersey Clemons).

Then there’s the Epilogue, which clearly sets up future stories, including a potentially unnecessarily bleaker take on Injustice: Gods Among Us, but contributes nothing to the plot and could have easily remained on the cutting room floor. Through some additional research for this review, I also learned that just over 24 minutes, or 10% of the runtime, is dedicated to Zack Snyder’s signature slow-motion, though some of that is justified by The Flash’s power. Taking all of this into account, minus some additional filler in important scenes, we believe the film could easily have been at least 30 minutes shorter without detracting from the experience.

If you were unsatisfied with the original theatrical cut of Justice League, the Synder Cut is certainly worth watching, as it’s truly impressive that a wildly different and more cohesive take on the same film could still get completed and see some form of release. Even if you just want to watch it to see what all the fuss is about, however, it’s likely that you’ll only see the film all the way through once due to its daunting and unnecessary length. Of course, if you end up loving the film and still want more, there’s also the black-and-white Justice is Grey release to keep you going.

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