Tuesday, June 22, 2021

In the Reels: ‘Justice League’ tries again on HBO

Cameron Kaercher

Marvel is the undisputed king of comic book cinematic universes, as the company’s development and execution of the Thanos storyline is flawless. Watching DC trying to compete against Marvel has been like watching a snail race against a leopard. DC’s “blockbuster” team-up film, “Justice League” was dead upon arrival.

The credits may have said “Directed by Zack Snyder,” but he was not the only person in charge of the film. In May 2017, it was announced by The Hollywood Reporter that Snyder had left the production due to the tragic loss of his daughter. The film had been shot in its entirety, but with concerns over its dark tone, the studio hired “The Avengers” director, Joss Whedon, to film two months of reshoots. Whedon shot scenes to force in comedy, hired composer Danny Elfman to write the score and supervised the final edit.

It is a mess of a film that could only provide some entertainment by picking apart where the original film ends and the reshoots begin. The fans did not find any fun in the theatrical release and grew angry at the studio. Thus #ReleaseTheSnyderCut spawned online, which grew throughout the years.

DC fans finally got what they wanted this month as “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” was released on HBO Max.

The film is four hours long, and 242 minutes is a lot to ask from a viewer. The Snyder Cut is subdivided into six chapters and an epilogue to break up the film. Every 20 or 30 minutes, the film fades to black and an intertitle comes up displaying “Part 1” and so on. It would make far more sense to just cut the film in half and include an intermission, as the film does have a pretty clear midpoint.

The villain of the week is Steppenwolf, played by Ciarán Hinds, a servant of an even bigger alien named Darkseid, played by Ray Porter.

He is sent to Earth to find all three of the Mother Boxes, which when combined will turn the planet into a nightmare world. This aggression will not stand, so Batman, played by Ben Affleck, decides to assemble the titular team of superheroes. There’s more to talk about here than all the heroes and stars that team up, so please consult the poster for more information on who is part of the Justice League.

The film covers quite a lot of ground compared to the theatrical cut. Everything in the 2017 version feels disjointed and poorly set up. Here the larger runtime allows for scenes to play out entirely and for motivations to be better conveyed. Cyborg has an impressively detailed back story that is done with some grace. These character-driven moments are much appreciated considering what the rest of the scenes consist of.

One special scene takes its time to sit down with Lois Lane, played by Amy Adams, and Martha Kent, played by Diane Lane, the respective wife, and mother of Superman. They connect with each other about their grief over Superman’s death in 2016’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” It is a heartfelt moment that is performed well and gives the film some stronger emotional grounding. Then, a pointless twist fueled by fan service undercuts it all.

The fan service reaches a peak during the epilogue of the film that starts to feel like it is holding its audience hostage. The last 30 minutes are dedicated to setting up future films to come, but because this is purely a director’s cut there won’t be any future films. If it makes the fans happy, so be it, but any casual viewer will be better suited shutting off once (spoiler alert) the good guys defeat the bad guys.

Despite the entire world being at stake, Batman and Wonder Woman, played by Gal Godot, find a lot of time to stand or sit in their headquarters to talk about this threat. They talk about why this threat is coming, who is doing the threatening, and how it is the biggest and most serious threat ever. The plotting can leave the casual viewer comatose if it weren’t for the bombastic action sequences sprinkled throughout.

When the action hits it is well directed, with special accommodations to a mythological fight between the aforementioned Darkseid and the old protectors of the Earth. It is epic in scale, the bloodshed does justice to the R rating and the use of a shirtless Zeus harkens back to Snyder’s “300.” That sense of mythos is missing in the theatrical cut, which is puzzling because that scale would set the DC films apart from every other superhero movie.

To rewind in time to a pre-pandemic world, Martin Scorsese ruffled feathers when he spoke out on the lack of personal vision in comic book movies. He stated that superhero films lack any risk and do not feel like art. In this case, “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” starts to get closer to that idealized form of “cinema.” The film still feels like a cog in a bigger machine, worrying about including comic book nods more than delivering on human interaction. However, Snyder includes enough of his style in the action to make it stand apart from the usual superhero fare.

Is the Snyder Cut better than the theatrically released “Justice League?” Technically yes, the consistency of storytelling is better in the Snyder Cut, but there is a whole lot more to take in.

It is far from perfect, but there is a sense of catharsis to see a director’s full vision be released after seeing a corrupted version of a film like the 2017 “Justice League.” One thing is for sure, no one who sat through this can complain that “The Irishman” is too long.

 

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