Debunking the Praise of the Snyder Cut
There seemed to be a very set series of expectations for Zack Snyder’s Justice League, and it would seem that quite a high proportion of fans were happy with what they were delivered.
I didn’t enjoy it much more than the first version and the parts I did enjoy were offset by the long running time. On release the initial reaction is a positive one, and I have noticed the same handful of comments repeated in praise of the movie. Some I don’t agree with, so set up that straw man and let’s go to work.
“Cyborg is Basically the Main Character Now”
This one is blatantly untrue. Unless they’ve changed the definition of ‘main character’. Cyborg certainly has more screen time but he is in no way a main character. He doesn’t drive the action or the story, as Batman and Wonder Woman are assembling the team, coming up with plans and leading the charge.
On top of all that, the first scene dedicated to the character is close to an hour into the run time. You generally want a main character to turn up at some point in the first act.
“Cyborg is Better Fleshed Out”
Well…they’ve achieved a base level of characterisation. It’s certainly a better defined character than in what is now mockingly referred to as ‘Joostice League’, in which is was little more than a cameo.
Here’s the thing though…Cyborg still doesn’t have any more depth. We get some basic character traits, an origin and a detailed explanation of his powers. Some might consider these things to be the bare minimum for a superhero introductory story. And unlike the fun visuals used to illustrate his powers, the rest of his origin is skimmed through as quick as possible. We learn that Victor is highly intelligent, skilled with computers and kind-hearted through one-scene characters talking about him in another room.
For such a visual director, Snyder does also grasp ‘show, don’t tell’. He did it with the powers being visualised. They were good.
“The Flash is Better Fleshed Out”
Not only is Flash less developed of a character than Cyborg, he’s actually more confusing. Now, I found the Speed Force portion of the final battle to be one of the absolute high points of this movie, but much of what lead up to it was kinda weird.
Barry Allen is properly introduced to audiences even later than Cyborg, more than an hour into the run time. This first scene is one of the highly anticipated new characters, Iris West, a love interest for Barry played by Kiersay Clemons. As we’re going to see a couple of times here, her inclusion in the movie adds little more than running time. She has one line of dialogue, delivered to her car, and their entire interaction is first creepy and then weird.
The sequence starts well with Barry’s shoes exploding off him and poking his way through the window, leaving gouges into the tarmac as he comes to a stop. Then he stares into the eyes of a woman STARING DOWN VIOLENT DEATH. He plays with her hair, and then…he reaches out and takes a hot dog from midair to put in his pocket. This weird moment is completely at odds with the music and tone of the scene.
Yes, I know he got it for the dogs, but we don’t know that when it’s happening in slow motion. I had to wind the movie back during the scene because I assumed I’d missed something. No, it’s just a weird scene and a pointless character cameo that will mean nothing to a large chunk of the audience. She doesn’t come back and this scene is pointless and a really weird way to introduce a character.
Whilst Cyborg comes with a pre-packaged backstory, the origin of Flash’s powers are left to our imagination. With the success of the TV show and decades of comics, maybe you can assume people know it already, that he was struck by lightning while splashed in chemicals at his forensic lab.
Except that’s not where he works yet. It’s a whole scene where he says he’s going to school to learn forensics. He’s introduced as unemployed in his first weird scene.
“Superman Wears His Black Suit!”
This changes nothing about the character, and adds nothing to the story. Superman wears one of the most distinctive and iconic costumes in pop culture history. If you want to make a change to that look in such a dramatic manner, like making it entirely black, you’d want it to serve a good narrative reason.
Why does Superman now have a black suit? Well, he finds it in his fortress and decides to wear it. That’s another point where I had to backtrack the movie because I was certain I’d missed an important explanation. Nobody seems to really notice it when he turned up either.
“The Joker is In It and He’s Much Better Than Before!”
Obviously a low bar to clear to begin with, but this feels very much like a snap response to fan reactions and an attempt at redemption with the benefit of hindsight. So Jared Leto returns as a Joker, making a conscious effort to clearly change the look. He does OK with the role, he’s not helped by the overly hand-held camera movement use to frame his dialogue.
But it’s not the Joker, and nothing he says matters, because this is a dream sequence. Not only is Batman just having a bad dream here, it’s a tacked on epilogue scene after the story is resolved. It feels like both fan service and padding. I don’t think it’s a performance worth adding a scene and monologue for, and it’s doubly marred by the complete disconnect from the story.
Actually, before I write an entry for Deathstroke I’m going to roll him in with this one. It’s the same reasons behind why it’s pointless, except more so.
A bunch of people sitting around chatting against a green screen isn’t all that thrilling.
“It’s Episodic, You Can Watch It in Parts.”
There are reasons to split your movie into parts. Maybe it’s an anthology or there are clearly demarked points in the story that can serve as a short. Perhaps it’s a stylistic choice to evoke a different narrative format, like a book or serial. You don’t have to structure each chapter as a stand-alone viewing experience, but you need a reason for it.
Justice League is split into chapters, and they don’t have a contained structure, they don’t serve a narrative function and they don’t have a stylistic purpose. It feels like it was done because it looked cool in other movies.
Even if they did improve the movie in some way, that was a terrible font choice.
“Martian Manhunter Will Be Included!”
Technically yes, but only in the sense that David Bowie is included in Zoolander. They turn up and say their name and that’s it.
Ok, that’s not fair. He gets two scenes. In the first we end an emotional discussion between Lois Lane and Martha Kent sharing their grief over the death of Clark Kent with the revelation that Martha was secretly Martian Manhunter. It gives an emotional and dramatic scene a really weird vibe.
Then at the end he turns up at Batman’s lake front house and says his name at him. What does all this add to the film? Nothing.
“Steppenwolf is a Better Villain This Time.”
He doesn’t though. He takes to a weird statue thing and says he’s motivated by a need to finish this job and go home or something like that. You’d think I’d remember because they do this scene twice. Same place, same conversation.
Steppenwolf is still a big doofus, he’s just a silly spiky doofus rather than a bland one. He comes across as a bit of a crybaby. He’s no better developed or interesting. Filling out more running time doesn’t automatically equate to more character.
“It Doesn’t Have Many Jokes!”
This one is such a weird flex. The jokes in Justice League were pretty awful, but some critics of the Marvel movies have suggested that their quippy nature is a problem. Fans of the DCEU have complained about the comedy Whedon added to the first JL released. The jokes were pretty crappy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re also a problem in the MCU.
Setting out to make a rival franchise by doing everything different isn’t going to get you very far, and it’s not the same thing as having a distinct style or identity.
“There’s a Black and White Version in the Works.”
I think this is like the aspect ratio and chapter titles. They’re added because they looked cool in other movies. I can’t imagine this will look any better.
There are some things that work better in this version of the movie, but it feels like most of them just add to the running time more than add to the story. It’s certain that the most talked about additions added the least to the narrative, particularly cameo characters. For every scene that is improved there’s two that add nothing to the experience and some that downright suck. It will be interesting to see if this does well beyond the most vocal of the DCEU fan community, as they have been very vocal. Given that Justice League is trailing WW84 at the time of writing we might still get a broader audience response.