Saturday 20 March 2021

Five things I liked about Zack Snyder's Justice League - and five things I didn't

With much hype and acclaim, Zack Snyder's Justice League has landed over at HBO Max. It's four hours, four super-long hours - more than double the running time of the version released in cinemas by director Joss Whedon. 

I had mixed feelings about them recutting that original - not least because the Whedon version was just... average at best? In fact, I found it a bit dull. So what would the new version bring? Well, for me there was good... and there was bad. So here's five things I liked... before I talk about five things I didn't. Inevitably, spoilers ahead, so stop now if you want to stay spoiler-free.

The good

1 Cyborg

The character that gains the most from the recut is definitely Cyborg. His story takes up a good chunk of the new recut. We see his relationship with his mother, his damaged relationship with his father and the journey that takes. We see him becoming Cyborg and getting used to his powers. All of that was sidelined in the original version - about which much has been written, including about Whedon's relationship with his actors. The luxury of having four hours to tell the story instead of two means that the Cyborg story really gets room to breathe - and, bonus, it's really good. I especially liked the scenes with his mother, with her showing up to see his football games... as she sits next to an empty seat where his father failed to show up because he was at work. 

I don't think it all works - his role in the final battle had me raising an eyebrow thinking it was a bit forced, but nonetheless having the extra story let it build up to that payoff, and was one of the better additions to the movie. 

2. Flash and Iris

Now this scene I can completely see why it was cut from the previous version - but it's very sweet and I'm glad it got to be included with the extra time. It's a fairly simple rescue scene - Iris saved from a crashing car by Barry in between him applying for a job as a dogsitter. It's a nice first meeting... but as it isn't followed up anywhere in this movie, you can see why it got snipped previously. 

3. The final battle

The final battle is much smoother in the Snyder cut than in the Whedon. It feels better organised and it's easier to follow what the character goals are - plus there's more tension in there. Then, at the last... the team fails. They lose. And Barry's talk of time being a bit weird when he gets near the speed of light pays off, and he's able to roll back the couple of seconds it took so they could win instead. It's hard for these moments to pay off but for a moment... just a moment, there really was a sense of oh no, they've blown it! 

Better yet, no Russian family as in the first one - where apparently the only family living within miles of Steppenwolf's base kept taking up screen time. I know that was to show the threat to humans in the midst of this conflict about superhumans, but it really didn't work and just left me cheering on the parademons to get rid of them. Where the demons failed, Snyder succeeded. 

4 They didn't do this... 

5 Knightmare future

I'm slightly mixed on this one, because if they don't follow it up and do more with it then it's just a fairly pointless tease - but the glimpse of the Knightmare future with the team made up of villains and heroes working together (albeit alongside the rather wooden Atlantean Mera) was really intriguing. I'd love to see more of it. No idea if we will. If we don't, then what was the purpose?

The bad

1 Slooooooowwwww moooooooooooottioooooon

Look, I know it's a Zack Snyder style but gosh there was way too much slow motion. I can completely understand it at times but wow it felt as if you could lop half an hour off the run time just by running things at normal speed. 

Perhaps the most annoying one was the slow mo on Lois Lane getting a coffee from a coffee shop and walking past a Daily Planet van. There are moments I can say ok, yeah, that's a cool moment to slow down and swoop in on, but... coffee? Terribly indulgent.

2 Slowest news day ever

That slow mo Daily Planet van? The driver tosses out a stack of newspapers with... this! The slowest news day ever at the Daily Planet, with a story that would never make the front page of a village weekly paper. 

Seriously, Superman dead, aliens having attacked the world, super beings starting to make their presence more and more known, half of Metropolis still rebuilding and... they splash a triple deck headline on a bank looking for an architect? I was thinking as I was watching what on earth is that foreshadowing, but it turns out it's just a reference to The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand, which Snyder has an interest in making as an entirely separate movie. If you want a definition of how indulgent this cut is, then it's right here. 

3 Oh, those slowed down classic pop songs

Again, this is a Snyder tic, but gosh it was all a bit obvious. He has a habit of taking moments and slowing them down and setting them to a maudlin version of an old pop song. They're usually great versions but they really slow down the movie. I can forgive the version lovingly looking at Jason Momoa because everyone who wants a bit of that eye candy deserves some. The music for the Iris West rescue scene - a version of the magnificent Song to the Siren (a Jeff Buckley song, but I'm a fan of the This Mortal Coil cover) - just doesn't fit the scene, for me. Another part of the cut that came across as an indulgence, style wise, rather than just getting on with telling the story. 

Speaking of things that could have happily been left on the cutting room floor, when Batman tracks down Aquaman (and frankly part of his journey could have been trimmed too), the villagers sing a song of farewell to Aquaman which at the end, I just shrugged and said ok, that happened, and on with the movie. 

4 Martha Manhunter

There's a nice scene between Martha and Lois where they get to sit and chat... and then as Martha goes out, it turns out she was Martian Manhunter all along. Which completely undermined what had gone before in the chat (for me). I literally laughed at the screen and said that's nonsense. 

5 The scream heard around the world

And the bit I most disliked for last. The opening of the movie sees Superman's death scream reverberate around the world and even underwater, reaching each of the mother boxes and... activating them? I mean, aside from how anyone in his proximity isn't permanently deaf, why would that activate the boxes other than just to link it thematically? It seemed silly to me. Also, the action picks up quite quickly with the attack on the Amazons (and is it just me or did they get the rough end of the R rating with the greater level of violence seemingly chiefly directed at them with greater splashes of blood). But that left me wondering about how much time was passing before the rest of the movie picks up. Lois, it seems, has been grieving for some time - Barry too for his idol, so Superman has clearly been gone for a while. Batman's search for allies also seems to be going on at length - so how does that fit in with everything being activated by Superman's scream? It seemed an idea to link everything up that then just didn't really connect with everything that followed. And following the sound waves around the world just had me saying "Really?" to the screen. 

My verdict

In the end, I think the whole was much better than the previous cut - but there were things I missed from the Whedon cut too. I liked, for example, the lasso scene where Aquaman sat on Wonder Woman's lasso and couldn't help but tell the truth, a scene that was entirely made by Jason Momoa. 

I think this version fixed bits that just didn't work - such as that Russian family, for example - and removed bits like the Flash lying on Wonder Woman's chest. On the other hand, it had issues of its own, like that newspaper indulgence or the excessive slow motion. 

Against that, my eldest child just finished watching it and says it was 10/10 and ranks just behind Infinity War in his favourite superhero movies. So what do I know?

I do think it'd be an interesting challenge for would-be filmmakers and film critics to take that Snyder cut and figure out where to take out two hours to end up with a two-hour movie for the theatrical release. Would Cyborg's story make your version left on the cutting room floor? Would the Knightmare future survive? What would be the first thing you'd cut to get down to the two-hour mark?

Anyway, hope you enjoyed the movie - it's been an interesting experience to compare two versions of the same work. Toodle pip!