Zack Snyder’s Justice League (Review)

About half way through Zack Snyder’s laborious ‘reboot’ of an already terrible film, two of our superhero protagonists – Cyborg and The Flash – are digging up Clark Kent’s corpse. Why? Well, for drawn out and contrived reasons and – fundamentally – for the same contrived reasons as in the original version (directed and completed by Jos Whedon after Snyder had to leave half way through due to a family tragedy – in fact, the only thing I will say in favour of this new version is that its focus on parenthood and familial reconciliation does feel like a touching tribute). When Cyborg and The Flash are digging up Kent, they both agree to do it the traditional way and the slow way. Cyborg could get the body out almost instantly and Flash could just dig very fast. But they decide to do it the slow and drawn out way, for the sake of it really (with vague allusions to respect for Superman). This also seems incredibly incongruous as the film is underpinned by a generic ‘we must save the world, and quickly, from imminent peril’ plot. But, why make narrative sense when you can just be long instead?

Ultimately, this moment is the movie: it’s digging up something that should have stayed dead; it is making something really drawn out for no real reason and it is completely antithetical to the nature of its characters. This four hour movie has almost no characterisation or consistency, to the extent that you could swap out the characters with other heroes and it would make no real difference. Aquaman just needs to be somebody that can fight; Batman, towards the end, is just climbing on gun turrets and piloting tanks (there have been so many egregiously unBatman Batman movies and this one, maybe, is the worst), so you need somebody who can do that; Wonder Woman just needs to be somebody that can, you guessed it, fight and Cyborg, well, they spend a lot of time on him (which is nice, considering he was shafted by the original cut) but, when it comes down to it… He could be replaced with somebody, anybody, that could fight. Flash, admittedly, does use the whole going fast thing in plot critical ways. Though, the effect used for this power is tremendously ugly.

This ugliness is, at least, of a piece with the whole film. Snyder’s ‘new’ vision of Justice League is, for no sensible reason, in 4:3. One could argue this makes it look more like a comic book frame but that doesn’t help the film at all. The film also does not have a ‘comic’ sensibility, so even this feels like artless aesthetic. Where recent films, like Reichardt’s astonishing First Cow, use 4:3 beautifully and purposefully, the Snyder Cut just has it. Actually, it often just goes against it. To go back to Reichardt, I am reminded of how her film Meek’s Crossing, and Kent’s The Nightingale, used this constricting ratio to juxtapose the epic trappings of the genres, or landscapes, they were set in. Both films use a restricted view to evoke constriction, and to purposefully subvert the idea of the epic. The Snyder Cut is a maximalist epic. It throws everything it can into every frame, every bit of possible CG, every particle effect, every light effect. Yet it constrains the view, the aspect ratio is antithetical to the approach and just exists as a differentiating feature. Even more annoyingly, the film doesn’t really seem to be made with it in mind. Things often don’t actually fit into the frame and there’s even a shot of the gang at the end where Aquaman’s trident doesn’t quit fit in the frame. The existing content was cropped, and this is an issue – you get more film and less film at the same time in the worst possible way – and the new content is not aided by this new view.

What is in the frame does not look any better. This is CGI overload from the beginning until the end, and it is bad CG. Yes, it looks expensive but the art is bad. The villain designs look abysmal – even the hero designs, really – and everything looks overwhelmingly fake. This saps any sense of reality out of the film and makes it so hard to care about anything that happens. And then we have the awful colour grading. The film has been corrected so as to have a very bleak colour palette. It may aim for mood but it instead just seems uncanny. It is non-naturalistic, and just ugly, in a way that distracts and does not help. It would genuinely be better if they committed to being in black and white rather than distractingly corrected colours the whole way through.

What is being shown is no better than how it looks. It feels strange to say the narrative is a mess because it is so simplistic. It is the plot of Justice League: Batman brings together a group of superheroes because there’s a big alien baddy who is going to end the world. There are boxes that must be protected and Superman is dead. Maybe the boxes will lose their protection; maybe Superman will stop being dead – he is on the poster, after all, and in all the promotional material, and… Well, this movie has come out already. This very simple set up to an obvious climax – an awful action scene that is utterly devoid of weight, tension or imagination – is drawn out over four hours. What does Snyder do with this four hours? Basically nothing. There is a lot of slow-mo – which does pad out the length – but there is mostly just a lot of nothing. He has so much time to play with and the characters are still inconsequential, the plot is still often incoherent and the pacing is abysmal. Storylines are established, then disappear for an hour, and then come back and take you by surprise.

The sequencing is also awful, and sometimes really tasteless. We have a scene, a really bad one, where The Flash saves a woman, that he likes looking at (that exists in the scene just to be a damsel), from a car crash. He uses the position of power afforded to him by being able to move during slow motion to stroke the woman’s hair (while she is mid car crash – and has no agency), grab hotdogs and be wacky. The whole scene is a comedic set piece: there is even a slow-mo shot of a CGI sesame seed flying off of a bun that takes up the entire 4:3 frame. Just good fun car crash humour. Ten minutes or so later, we are setting up Cyborg’s role in the narrative and we have a scene that is his mother dying in a car crash. This is treated very seriously and the tonal manoeuvring between these two moments is just awful. The film just does not work. It is loads of disparate threads brought together that do not fit tonally or narratively. It also spends too much time on the wrong things – and skips over important things. In a four hour movie, everything of import seems rushed. The film legitimately goes from one scene of Victor (Cyborg) not being a robot and then just being a robot in the next scene. It then waits an hour to give you the backstory to fill that gap in, as opposed to exploring an emotional and relevant plot point when it made sense – following the accident that led to him needing surgery.

This Frankensteinian mess of a film just does not know what to do with itself. No moments fit together, there is no sense of unity and this is especially embarrassing considering the entire purpose and premise of the movie. Annoyingly, the thing only makes sense at the end – and by make sense I mean makes sense in a soulless corporate way. We end our pretentious six part structure, with chapter headings, with an epilogue. This epilogue is just a random montage of scenes that have no bearing on what came before and exist only to set up future DC products. That is of course why this exists; this whole DCU project has been expensive and Justice League seemed to have killed it. By giving into internet hype, and magicking this monster into existence, they’ve opened a door to more DC content and reengineered interest. You’ve committed four hours so it gives you a sizzle reel – glorified trailer content to just keep the thing going. Genuinely, a classic DC character, who was not yet in the movies, just arrives to introduce themselves and say hello, before flying off and conjuring up the credits. People will go, oh, it’s for the fans! It is not for the fans, it exists to exploit the fans. It is an engineered rebirth to justify a lot of sunk costs and to manufacture interest – to make old seem new again. At the end of the day, if you are willing to give four hours of your life over to a film with a bleak colour palette about characters coming together, against the odds, to embark on a potentially impossible journey… An Elephant Sitting Still is one of the greatest films ever made. I’d recommend that.

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