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“No one stays good in this world.”
At long last, after years of tortuous whingeing on Twitter and a courageous protest in real life the self-described crusaders of artistic freedom have managed to unleash whatever hideous, inhuman, Zack Snyder filth Warner Bros had hitherto locked away in favour of the beige, ill-fated Joss Whedon Frankenstein creation farted into cinemas in 2017. Yes, the Snyder Cut of Justice League is being #Released.
For years, people have tried to convince me of some grander vision Snyder has had for these characters – that his characterisation of Superman as a bumbling buffoon who forgets to save peoples’ lives because he’s simply “in training” is simply a clever example of rich character development. That his decision to end General Zod’s life by snapping his neck is yet another baby step towards the pacifism he employs in traditional stories. That Batman’s bloodthirsty acts of blatant murder are simply to demonstrate How Far He’s Crossed the Line (™). These same scholars argue that Ayn Rand-fanatic Zack Snyder’s deconstructive attempts to bring down Superman and Batman were simply Step #1 in a grand master-plan to build them back up again in Justice League.
While it pains me to admit it – that’s all fine on fucking paper. But the evidence clearly shows that Snyder has neither the wherewithal nor the actual storytelling chops to attempt anything as epic as the Internet would have you believe. You can have your mentally ill version of Batman and your creepy YouTube comments-section version of Superman. The fact remains that these films employ clumsy, often goofy filmmaking to try and achieve these stupid goals. And this distilled version of Justice League will be no different.
Snyder’s first dalliance with the comic book genre was the suitably blood-soaked 300 starring Gerard Butler. I tried watching this once and fell asleep. Snyder’s next effort was a disappointingly literal interpretation of Alan Moore’s Watchmen (previously deemed unfilmable both by Terry Gilliam and Moore himself – they may have had a point). Instead of the complex, unromantic, three-dimensional characters of the comic, Snyder’s approach was to make everything as cool and badass as possible – everybody knows karate and everybody has super strength for some reason. And there’s that awful sex scene halfway through. You Will Believe a Man can penetrate to completion to the sound of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”.
This, coincidentally was the first example of Snyder being unable to make a film without needing to resort to hours of supplementary material – as would become commonplace with his terrible films, fans everywhere will assure you that the only version of Watchmen worth watching is the 3 ½ hour long “Ultimate Cut”.
When it came time to reboot Superman (yet again), WB’s instinct regarding a series about the ultimate paragon of virtue, was to employ the talents of a man who had previously spent three and a half hours deconstructing superheroes. Gotcha.
All in all, Snyder’s opening gambit Man of Steel is not completely devoid of quality – yes Henry Cavill is perfectly fine, Kevin Costner and Diane Lane are great (even if their roles often make no sense) and Russell Crowe is actually a brilliant Jor-El. The score by Hans Zimmer is superb and there are some interesting bits of worldbuilding in David Goyer’s otherwise creaky script. The film falls flat on its indestructible arse when Michael Shannon’s General Zod shows up to invade the world – it stops being a Superman film altogether and becomes something not unlike a Dragonball Z film if it had been directed by Roland Emmerich. There are plenty of token moments from the comics sprinkled in as wallpaper, but none of it saves an aggressively okay, charmless film soaked in grey CGI sludge.
There’s no better example of Snyder’s hubris than Superman’s random act of homicide in the film – assuming that Clark snapping Zod’s neck was supposed to be this grand stepping stone to him becoming the Superman we know and love who never kills…none of that ever comes across, it was clearly never designed to be such a heated discussion point – it’s plonked into the film because Snyder thought it would be a cool dramatic scene to end his 48,000-minute long battle sequence / 9/11 fan-film. It’s never foreshadowed, it’s never setup or paid off in the slightest. It’s just there for the sake of it.
Christopher Nolan (who mysteriou$$$ly agreed to have his name plonked on the credits of three of these godforsaken films) even disagreed with its inclusion. The following, disparate scene at Jonathan Kent’s grave seems to be designed to sum up Clark’s actual character arc. And then it’s all smiles to the Daily Planet where a now-bespectacled Clark Kent (the Budweiser beer chugging man-child best known for roaming around Canada, working on fishing boats and in dive bars) is randomly given a staff position as a journalist in a pulitzer prize winning paper. As a journalism graduate myself, I too enjoy the realism Snyder employed in this film.
Following a tepid response from critics, many fans raced to the sacred texts of the source material, mining them for every possible example of Superman acting in the boneheaded, untoward way in which he does in this film. For no better example of why these counter-arguments hold no water – simply consult Grant Morrisson, Mark Waid and Mark Millar – three of the best Superman writers in recent history, all agreeing that the film had none of the spirit of Superman.
And then there’s Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. The worst film I’ve ever seen.
Even when you remove yourself entirely from the 80 odd years of collected Batman and Superman media and take the characters as they appear in the film, the film remains a total mess. Scenes feel plonked on top of each other like slices of processed ham. The dialogue is agonisingly bad. Tonally, the film is dark, but not in the traditional thematic sense of the word where characters grapple with adult themes and are faced with difficult decisions – no, dark in the Fred Durst/Chad Kroeger sense of the word. The film’s turgid atmosphere actually manages to reinforce the “Darkness!! No parents!!” song from The Lego Movie, performed by Will Arnett’s Batman. The whole film appears to be the product of an angry teenager, frustrated with girls, with teachers, with parents and with the world. It’s everything I dislike and it’s nothing good.
Very few characters are established properly and almost none of the characters have anything resembling a narrative arc. Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is an unmitigated disaster, as annoying as any character from the Star Wars prequels. A jar of his piss is a plot point in the film. His motivation for building Kryptonite weapons as a Superman-deterrent is poorly defined – does he have a villainous endgame? Is all of this actually about saving humanity? Does he just dislike Superman for some reason? A jar of his piss is a plot point in the film.
Similarly, despite the fact that we’re told repeatedly that Superman is a noble Christ-like saviour, he comes across as a complete dope many, many times in the film. Again, despite the ending of Man of Steel hinting that he was on the road to superheroism, this film just shows him languishing around the world once again, confused by what he should be doing.
Just like in Man of Steel, Superman lets people die because he forgets he has certain superpowers. Later, he allows Batman to kick his ass (while barking thoroughly unSupermanlike tough guy clichés like “If I wanted it you’d be dead already!”) instead of just grabbing him by the shoulders and quickly explaining the situation. In fact the only thing he appears to be able to do with any effectiveness is rescue a similarly incompetent Lois Lane (Amy Adams, held at gunpoint and forced to be in this film). Even if you can rally behind this isolated neckbeard version of Superman, I still don’t understand people cheering for the wonky writing in all of these Snyder films.
By design, Batman is unlikeable and entirely unheroic throughout the film. Killing without mercy is one thing, it wouldn’t be the first time a screen-version of Batman has killed, but the film is framed in a way that we’re supposed to be shocked and appalled that this Batman is so broken and lost – but we’re not. We don’t know this guy, we’ve never met him. Straight away, he just comes across as an unlikeable psychopath who should have been gunned down with the Waynes (whose deaths we must endure, yet again, in slow motion, for the 40th time in a motion picture).
Early in the third act, Bruce Wayne has a risible monologue about how his ancestors made the Wayne fortune trading in pelts and skins “They were hunters, Alfred,” says the Caped Crusader, staring down at his family crest. He then goes on to murmur something about how killing Superman will be his legacy. Batman machine-gunning mobsters is one thing, but establishing that Batman is just doing all of this because he likes it and for the glory of it all just neutralises the character altogether.
But not to worry! Both Batman and Superman’s mums have the same name, so all is forgiven and everything’s fine. It’s the worst film I’ve ever seen.
Once again, Snyder added an asterisk to his own film by releasing the supposedly superior “Ultimate Edition” of the film, adding god knows how much extra material that was designed to flesh out the story. I haven’t seen it (and I won’t), but I don’t know man, if the central crux of the characters’ arcs still depends on mothers having the same name, I’m not convinced and I won’t be. A jar of Jesse Eisenberg’s piss reportedly remains a plot point. And no, I’m not being paid by Marvel to discredit the film, you maniacs.
And then there’s Justice League. Given the lukewarm box office reception received by Batman V Superman (as well as its critical annihilation), surely the higher ups in Warner Bros grew suspicious as to how much damage to their IP Snyder’s next 3-hour opus could accomplish. Following a personal tragedy, Snyder left the supposedly completed project leaving Warner Bros to hurriedly assemble it into a finished film. This led to the equally rushed recruitment of former Avenger Joss Whedon to sprinkle some warmth and fun “finish the film Zack Snyder envisioned”.
The final film is admittedly rubbish – it’s full of the kind of aggravating slow-motion nonsense that polluted the other films, but with a sheen of Dad-joke humour (much of which doesn’t land) designed to evoke rival Marvel Studios’ films. And yes, the CGI removal of Henry Cavill’s moustache is so unimaginably bad, I’d fully believe it if you told me that they used a Snapchat filter. But the film has none of the sort of eye-scratching right wing preaching that Snyder employed in Batman V Superman. It’s a dumb film where a group of superheroes have to retrieve a magic box. If you’re hungover, you could do a lot worse. Mercifully, it’s a film you could almost show to a child who likes superheroes (imagine!).
Thanks to the archaeological works of Snyder’s fans, it was discovered that something was rotten in Darkseid – supposedly there did in fact exist many more minutes and hours of unused Zack Snyder footage that would radically alter and even improve this previously mediocre film. Cries of “artistic vision!” and “the artist’s true intent!” filled comment threads everywhere about this billion dollar IP owned by a corporation. This led to that fucking hashtag (#ReleaseTheSnyderCut) being machine-gunned into the Twittersphere every minute of every day. Not to discount some of the good these people accomplished (like raising a sizeable amount for suicide prevention), an awful lot of their efforts were unbelievably toxic. They’d post the hashtag under every WB post imaginable – when Kobe Bryant died and WB posted an in memoriam tweet, someone tweeted #ReleaseTheSnyderCut underneath. Snyder’s already cult-like status grew to the point where he was creepily deified by this army of creeps – where any anti-Zack (or ‘Zaddy’) tweets or articles would be assaulted into oblivion.
So now Zack Snyder’s Justice League is finally being released as an enticement to join HBO’s new premium streaming service ‘HBO Max’. Despite Warner Bros losing a fortune on the film, the race for content has saved the day. Some sources indicate that the final post production required to complete the as-yet incomplete film are in the region of $20-$30 million. The fans are rejoicing and those who don’t care for these films are taking some comfort in the fact that they’ll never have to subject themselves to it. It’s never nice to boo people getting what they want, but I’d argue that releasing the Snyder Cut not only is another worrying example of corporations rewarding toxic fan behavior, but it’s also a clear indicator that the superhero genre has become so all-powerful that even financial cluster-bombs like Justice League deserve some kind of strange Greek Bailout, instead of just financing original projects. The question of whether or not the film will be better than its theatrical predecessor is rendered moot by the sheer cynicism of everything going on here. That being said, it’ll of course be worse.
Ultimately, Snyder’s juvenile, surface-level filmmaking embodies every example of transparent artlessness levelled at the genre as a whole. I’m all for a stonking great superhero film series – but must we give a hack director three unimaginable chances, somewhere in the region of $860 million and a cult following, just to tell a story where a group of individuals learn to get along for the greater good? It’s not for me.