Thoughts on Zack Snyder’s Justice League

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One can examine Zack Snyder’s work on DC Comics’ heroes and villains from a variety of vantage points. The just-released Zack Snyder’s Justice League has to stand apart as an anomaly. It is Snyder’s version and his final chapter after Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman but only those two remain part of the DCEU, which seems to remain a work in progress.

As a result, we have to examine the controversial 4:02 film on its own. Is it a worthy film to bring together the League and a good successor to the previous films? Given the nearly double the length running time than the theatrical version, substantively altered by Joss Whedon, it certain tells a more coherent and expansive story. But, it still has series storytelling issues.

We take a lot of time to get from Steppenwolf’s arrival on Themyscira to the team forming, ready to take him on. Instead, Diana tries to convince Vic Stone to see his cybernetic enhancements as a gift and to use them for the betterment of society. He’s still seething over being saved by his emotionally distant father and sees himself as a freak, better off dead. It’d be nice if we had some sense of how long its been since the life-saving operation to see if this is a fresh wound or he’s merely moping.

I still take issue with Barry Allen being so young and so unlike his source material but at least Ezra Miller makes him entertaining. The whole bit with dad in jail hasn’t sat right with me since Geoff Johns shoehorned it into the comics and still doesn’t work for me here. Nor does his bit trying to hold down jobs to pay for college. And the saving of Iris West is a meet cute moment but only if they actually say hello and we get her name, rather than leaving her as some nameless woman.

In fact, other than Diana, most of the women are under-served here. Lois is stuck, still mourning the death of Superman, and adds nothing to the story until his resurrection. Ma Kent is absent until he’s back and the farm going into receivership does nothing to build character or advance the story.

So, as components, each has their value but as a whole, building up to a threat to the planet, it wastes an awful lot of time and is slow to build momentum. We’re halfway through the film before Batman suits up and makes an appearance. His connection with Commissioner Gordon is nicely handled, building out his world a bit.

Steppenwolf is interesting as he is motivated to appease Darkseid and win his forgiveness for past sins. He intends on united the three Mother Boxes after being told by DeSaad he has some 50,000 worlds to conquer before there was a chance of redemption. One wonders what the sin was, not that we’re told. His living armor was fun to watch but as bad guys go, he felt awfully generic.

His Parademons seem to be taking their time sniffing out the two remaining Mother Boxes before finally getting them, raising the stakes for the newly formed League. In between, with some faulty logic, Batman convinces his team, which has really not been given a chance to bond, to disinter Superman and try to resurrect him because they need his strength. And when they do, he needs time to find himself, and he’s gone for quite a few hours without any sense of impending danger. I wish some of the bombast had been jettisoned in favor of the characters talking time to one another and truly bonding.

The film suffers from being disconnected, sometimes there’s a ticking clock, other times we can slow down and stand in the wheat. Similarly, there are set-ups that never pay off starting with Ryan Choi’s comment “Do you think Batman is connected to the object the CID is looking for–61982?” Or the Martian Manhunter, as Martha Kent, telling Lois she has things to do and she never does anything.

The climax is the usual super-hero battle with nothing to distinguish it. No great rallying moment other than Superman’s timely arrival, which we were expecting. Compare that with Captain America wielding Mjorlnir (and the audiences went berserk). There is no wow, I didn’t see that coming moment. And he’s in the black battle suit with zero explanation or anyone questioning it.

And once Darkseid is denied his Anti-Life Equation, left merely looking through a Boom Tube, we’re done. We get a 20 minute epilogue that once more shows everyone apart, not coming together as a defensive force to protect the Earth. The extended dream, with Jared Leto’s weird Joker, adds nothing of value. Instead, the Manhunter revealing himself, leaves things on an optimistic note, but only to Bruce.

It could have been shorter. It should have been better. If this was Snyder’s vision, so be it. I never shared his view of the DC superhorse and I am perfectly fine that he’s time with them is over. Did I regret the four hours invested? Not really, because after all the hullabaloo, it was worth giving him a chance to show what he intended. Time to move on.

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5 thoughts on “Thoughts on Zack Snyder’s Justice League

  1. “The whole bit with [Barry’s] dad in jail hasn’t sat right with me since Geoff Johns shoehorned it into the comics and still doesn’t work for me here. Nor does his bit trying to hold down jobs to pay for college.”

    Thank you! You are the FIRST pro I’ve heard speak out against this since it happened a decade ago! I’m glad to see not everyone is hunky dory with that pointless retcon.

    “His [Steppenwolf’s] living armor was fun to watch but as bad guys go, he felt awfully generic.”

    I thought the same. Is there a reason why DC doesn’t use the Kirby Super Powers redesigns? Maybe because they don’t have to pay his estate (I made that assumption from hearing that Jack Kirby made more money from royalties off of Super Powers redesigns than he ever did during his entire time at Marvel).

    Great review, Bob – I feel exactly the same way! ^.^

  2. On point, Bob. I agree with your whole take, I enjoyed it but I had it on in the background while working, dunno if I could have given it my full attention.
    A Batman movie with this Bruce Alfred and Jim I would have been happy with.
    So many niggles … Mostly the utter mishandling of Superman.
    Them calling out for the ‘red cape’ and when it turns up, it’s battleship grey?
    Superman sadistically, and pointlessly, mutilating his enemy- it wasn’t even for any tactical advantage?
    And what was the point of Martian Manhunter?! If he’s there, have him join the fight, not give faux ra-ra cheerleader advice to Lois. (Disguised as MaKent?! Lois doesn’t mention this to her ?)
    Some shonky CGI too, particularly on the Amazons island. Laurel and Hardy horse riding was more convincing.

  3. I personally loved the film and Snyder’s entire trilogy. Other than Darwyn Cooke’s brilliant DC: The New Frontier, Snyder’s trilogy is (to my knowledge) the only other interpretation of the DC universe told in a narratively integrated, “novelistic” manner, telling the origins of the Justice League as an ensemble piece over three films with a clear beginning, middle, and end (but unlike Cooke who used Hal Jordan, J’onn J’onzz, and Barry Allen as his protagonists with the other characters in supporting roles, Snyder uses Superman as his protagonist with the other Leaguers as supporting players). And even though there have been Superman/Jesus allusions since at least 1978 and the first Chris Reeve movie, I really liked how Snyder went all in on that thematic connection and structured his trilogy so that each film reflected a stage in the Jesus narrative (Mos: Birth. BvS: Death. JL: Resurrection). It brought a level of thematic and structural depth that we don’t normally get in these types of films.

    For me, the film also puts to rest the tired notion that these characters need solo films before they can all team up. Just like we didn’t need solo films for Han, Luke, Leia, and Obi-Wan before the original Star War trilogy, my enjoyment of this film was not hampered at all by not seeing the origins of Aquaman or the Flash. As I said before, the film was a 10-hour ensemble piece, and it gave us all the information that we needed in order to understand these characters. A solo film for each would have simply been superfluous (the 2017 WW film is the only other DC movie that actually adds something substantive to the overall narrative (instead of being a wholly unnecessary discursive tangent like the Aquaman, WW84, and Suicide Squad movies)).

    And as someone who was a teenager in the 1980s and came of age as a comics reader during the post-Crisis era, it’s clear that Snyder has a genuine love for the 1986 – 93 era of DC Comics (roughly from Byrne’s Man of Steel to The Death of Superman). From my perspective, he was clearly inspired by Byrne’s Superman, Miller’s Dark Knight, Perez’s Wonder Woman, and to a certain extent Peter David’s Aquaman (others may disagree). And, like I said, as someone who also loves that era, I was probably predisposed to like this interpretation of these characters because of that, so that’s my bias.

    I understand your critique of the Flash being too young, but I think Snyder and his team were essentially doing a riff on the version of the character that appeared in the Justice League animated series. I also think they recognized that half the audience are Barry fans, and the other half are Wally fans. So they split the difference by giving him the superficial characteristics of Barry Allen (interest in criminal justice and CSI), but with the age and personality traits of Wally West.

    Like I said, I loved Snyder’s interpretation of these characters and would love to see him complete his five-film arc. But since it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen, I’m at least pleased that this film brought his Superman-centric narrative to a satisfying conclusion (with the Knightmare tease at the end a nice coda to inspire viewers’ imaginations for what might happen next).

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