Zack Snyder’s Justice League: The Good, The Bad and the Whatever
Unless you’ve been under a superhero rock, you have probably heard that Warner Brothers released a four hour cut of Zack Snyder’s Justice League (previously called “The Snyder Cut”) last week exclusively on HBO Max, giving us the streaming version of the “extended cut” DVDs like those for the Lord of the Rings movies way back when.
A quick history of Zack Snyder’s involvement in the DCEU: Snyder directed 2013’s Man of Steel, the reboot of Superman starring Henry Cavil, and then he helmed Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Justice League was started by Snyder to complete his trilogy, but when both personal tragedy and disagreements with the studio surfaced, the studio brought over Joss Whedon to complete JL for a 2017 release. The movie was enough of a mess that fans went through an online campaign to release the #SynderCut. Warner Bros listened and allowed Snyder to complete his trilogy of the rebooted DC Extended Universe (DCEU). But this wasn’t just a recut, Warner Bros reportedly spent $70 million (more than some feature films!) to add new footage and special affects, basically doubling the length of the theatrical release.
I was more than a little apprehensive when the four hour cut was announced. My personal opinion: I loved Man of Steel, particularly the first three quarters, especially its focus on Superman as an alien, and its slightly darker tone. But BVS was a mess: Lex Luthor was overacted, the Batman vs. Superman rivalry was basically dumb (although it got me and everyone else to the theater to see what their conflict was all about — so maybe it served its purpose!), and most importantly, a lot of plot points made no sense (this includes actual plot points and dream sequence plot points). I wasn’t as surprised as some that Justice League was such a mess — I kind of expected it after BVS and didn’t really blame Whedon so much (since Snyder’s previous outing, BVS was so bad too).
These two movies (BVS and JL) single-handedly (double-handedly? ) turned me off of the DCEU, at least as far as Batman and Superman movies were concerned (the small screen CW shows are gems, and WW was wonderful). For context, I’ve watched every Superman and Batman movie more than once at the theater since the days of Christopher Reeve and Michael Keaton. Somehow Snyder and Whedon together convinced me these two movies (BVS and JL) weren’t good enough to deserve a re-watch, even at home.
Nevertheless, my curiosity got the bettter of me, and I tentatively decided to dive into this new cut— an hour or two at a time. I could bail easily if it was more of the same.
I was pleasantly surprised and really enjoyed this cut. Perhaps because I remembered so little about 2017’s Justice League (other than it sucked), or perhaps because this cut really is a lot better.
So, without further ado here are 12 things that I liked/disliked/or just found myself saying “Whatever” to:
Let’s start with The Good:
1. Backstory on Cyborg. Perhaps the area that seems to be expanded the most and was handled pretty well was the backstory on Cybrog — Victor Stone and his father Silas Stone, a scientist in charge of the “alien” ship’s research (played by none other than uber-scientist Miles Dyson from Terminator 2!). The previous JL cut was more about Superman. This one, is more about the other characters, and I vaguely remember Snyder saying in an interview that this cut was “Cyborg’s” story in a way — and Victor’s arc is perhaps among the most interesting in this movie.
2. Backstory on the Flash / Flash-Batman relationship. The Flash (Barry Allen) has a bit of a backstory here as well, though it’s told in only a few scenes. Those who have watched the CW series will know all about Henry Allen, Barry’s father who is in prison, as well as Iris West, who is shown, but not named in a short but poignant scene where Barry saves her from certain death. Also, Ezra Miller’s performance hits the mark and provides some much needed levity into this very dark movie. His relationship with Bruce Wayne reminded me a bit of Spiderman to Tony Stark in that other EU.
3. Smallville scenes and music. I’m glad that Snyder managed to bring at least a little bit of what I loved about Man of Steel into this 4 hour movie. The scenes with Clark and Lois in Smallville, with that sad but dramatic, calming but intense musical score was one of the best things about Snyder’s first Superman movie. They even quoted both of Clark’s fathers: Russell Crowe (as Jor-El) and Kevin Costner (as Johnathan Kent) — Yay! You had me at Smallville!
4. Amazons and WW. Speaking of music, the Amazon lament made my day, as did any scene where Wonder Woman appeared and her metal musical score showed up. Her scene rescuing the kids in London was great, as was her trying to persuade Victor/Cyborg to join their little team. Come to think of it, the scenes of Themyscira where the Amazons live (just like in WW and WW84) were incredible visually, even though some of them didn’t make a ton of sense — all those Amazons standing around pointing their spears at this box for thousands of years.
5. Batman as the leader. Batman and Wonder Woman work together to build the team of metahumans that will become the Justice league, but it was Bruce Wayne who really was the leader here. I thought that this was Ben Affleck’s best outing as Batman, and it was great to see him as, as the only member of the team without superpowers (other than being rich), actually leading the team. Leadership is a superpower too!
Next, let’s revisit The Bad, and there was plenty of it:
6. Mother boxes and the “plot” — While this isn’t specific to the Snyder cut, the 3 mother boxes that were the focus of the plot were kind of dumb. Just three cubic boxes with “advanced technology” that could be used to destroy the world. Yawn. At least the infinity stones (from the Marvel EU) were MacGuffins with character, each with some individuality (assuming I’m remembering that right) and not just generic “evil stones”. OK the fact that Cyborg was rejuvenated using one of the mother boxes was mildly interesting — but only because we needed an explanation for how both Victor Stone and Superman were resurrected from the dead(“Hey Zach, how about we just use the mother boxes!”, “Sure why not!”).
7. Darkseid and Steppenwolf. So Darkseid was there because we need a big bad who extends across movies, I get it, but but did he have to look almost exactly the same as Thanos, but much less interesting? At least Steppenwolf, the “small bad”, looked better in this than the original JL (or so people say — I found him so forgettable in the the original JL that I can’t recall if this is true or not and I’m too lazy to go search for it and I don’t want to watch the original again). Moreover, Steppenwolf is way too powerful at first. They tried to give him some motivation (something about getting back into Darkseid’s good graces) but these villians just weren’t that interesting — just generic bad guys with a “lot of power”!
8. Superman And Cyborg were too powerful. Superman was resurrected because he was so powerful and could single handedly beat all the other superheroes (forgetting for a moment that all it takes to disable him was kryptonite, something that was played up in BVS). Cyborg was almost as powerful as Superman — he can fly, you can’t really kill him, and was way more powerful in a way — he could manipulate any digital system, break any code, give $$ to anyone’s bank account, given that he was resurrected by the mother boxes — alien technology from thousands of years ago. This seemed like a stretch — kind of like when Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith infected an alien spaceship with a virus using Windows 95 …(Smith: “Do you really know how to do any of the bullshit you just said?” Goldblum: “Umm .. not really”).
Then there were things that I can’t really say were good or bad, but they were kind of silly or just not explained — given the four hour runtime, maybe Zach could’ve done a better job of explaining or integrating them instead of just “throwing them in”. On the other hand, do I really care? Not so much, which made me say, “Whatever….”
9. Dream/Knightmare sequences still not explained. Ok so the Knightmare scenario (as it’s called) still hasn’t been fully explained — this is a future scenario where Superman is a bad guy and Bruce Wayne seems to be having dreams about it. It was a little bit more explained here than in BVS where it just came out of the blue and had no connection whatsoever to the rest of the plot — at least in this one, we see that it is Darkseid (OK I’m going to just call him Darkside because 1) I can’t remember if it’s seid or sied and 2) he’s screwing up my spellcheck) was the one who turned Superman into a bad guy. How? Something about Lois dying. Maybe. It still wasn’t explained well enough to make it a good plot point. It just seems like something Snyder thought up and dropped into these two movies and it made the movies worse, not better. Whatever …
10. Who the hell are these guys? It’s like Zach was jealous of the cameos and after-credit scnese from Marvel movies and wanted to throw in as many “extra superheroes/villians” as possible for a cameo. Unfortunately, they felt they were just thrown in for a “tune in next time” and you can learn more about them! Lex Luthor was included here at the end, too, though it didn’t make a lot of sense given the Knightmare scenario. It was kind of like the end of the Batman TV show episodes from the 60’s — Will Lex Luthor assemble a tream of anit-heroes to take out our dynamic duos? Tune in next time on the same bat channel at the same bat time! Whatever …
Of all these extra references the only one I recognized for sure was the Joker, since that was kinda obvious, and his references to Robin the boy wonder and Harely Quinn, all in the knighmare sequence at the end. The rest of these guys — I had no idea who they were and why they were included.
The weirdest cameos came from the Martian manhunter guy who shape-changed — no explanation given, no idea how the army guy he shapeshifted into (General Swanwick) fit into the overall picture (not to mention that he was already in the previous movies and didn’t do crap, so it sounds like a retcon more than a plot point, raising way more questions than it answered (a good piece on screenrant is all about this). Come to think of it — maybe I do have some idea about this Martian guy — I think it’s the same martian guy from Supergirl, J’onn. Maybe. Definitely. Whatever … he was so unimportant and clumsily inserted into the story that I didn’t care all that much.
11. Backstory on Aquaman and relationship of Atlanteans to Amazons. After the disappointment that was BVS the only DC movie I bothered to watch was Wonder Woman since 2017, so I missed out completely on the Aquaman story. Who is the girl Meera (other than Johnny Depp’s ex, Amber Heard)? Or was it Mira? Or Mera? Aquaman’s sister? His cousin? His ex-girlfriend? Who is William Dafoe playing? The Atlantean king? And why do Amazons and Atlanteans hate each other? Was that even William Dafoe- it kinda looked like him? I don’t really know and not sure if I really care enough to go look it up, but I did just invest 4 hours to watch this thing — shouldn’t I have some idea who these people are? Again, itr mighta been nice … on the other hand, the whole Aquaman story arc gets a Whateve….
12. Equations of Antilife? So the equations of antilife were the MacGuffin to end all MacGuffins — it’s what Darkside was really after, after all. Really? I honestly didn’t really care at this point either, but again, it might have been nice to know a little bit more about it if it’s the end-all be-all reason why Darkside wants to find Earth (the planet where he was defeated because I guess, he didn’t really know what planet, out of the 100,000 he’s destroyed, defeated him — duh!). If you are undefeated 100,000 to 1 — you’d think you know who the 1 was, wouldn’t you?? And the equation is embedded here on this planet? That’s almost as done as the whole plot point in Man of Steel where Jorel takes the skull and encodes it into Superman genes, because, well, this advanced civilization … or rather Zack Snyder, has never heard of a flash drive! Whatever …
Overall, despite my misgivings, I really enjoyed the Snyder Cut — perhaps because I had very low expectations after the mess that was the theatrical releases of Snyder and Whedon’s last two installments, or perhaps I was just glad to see Superman and Batman together in a movie that doesn’t suck!
I’m not sure if I”ll watch it again, like I have with every Batman and Superman movie since 1979, but if Snyder were to make another movie or TV show with Superman and Batman, this cut convinces me it’s worth at least watching. Maybe I”ll even head to the theater to see it.