Zack Snyder’s Justice League: Having A Little Faith

by Drew Kiess

Wind the clocks back with me to March of 2016. Batman v Superman was all the buzz and the buzz was mixed. There were people who were saying it was one of the most brilliant superhero movies of all time, others saying it was the dumbest, and others who simply were, to borrow a phrase from Young Justice, “whelmed”. Later that year, a longer edit of that film hit blu-ray, which smoothed over some criticisms. I continue to stand by my appreciation for Batman v Superman— it’s bold and has quite a bit to say about man’s relationship to God, philosophy, and mythology. It’s a multi-hundred million dollar thesis paper about how Batman and Superman reflect the human condition. It is not surprising that it would turn some people off, but it’s ambition and willingness to not pander to the masses.

And so, with Batman v Superman not meeting the lofty expectations the studio placed on it (perhaps unfairly–that’s for another day), director Zack Snyder was put on a short leash as he began production on Justice League. Studio watchdogs were sent to help him lighten the mood and Avengers director Joss Whedon was brought in to rewrite a few scenes. But the movie slipping away from him was not the worst tragedy facing the Snyder family. His daughter, Autumn, took her own life, and seeing that being with his family was a more valuable use of his energies than fighting the studio over Justice League, Zack Snyder, along with his wife, producer Deborah Snyder, departed production. Wheedon took over full control of the set and re-shot large amounts of the film, taking roughly 30 minutes of the 5 hours of shot footage from principal photography and tacking on an additional 90 minutes of re-shoots and calling it a movie. Adding insult to injury, Snyder’s name, due to being the director of record on all of principal photography, is also the director of record of the 2017 Justice League film, although as previously stated, there is only roughly 30 minutes of his footage surviving in that film.

Reacting to Justice League, on reflection, was really bizarre. I will not lie and pretend like I walked out of the theater grumpy in November of 2017. Seeing some of my favorite fictional characters kick ass on the big screen was pure fun. But it did not feel like Batman v Superman. I did not leave thinking about anything bigger than the surface level story points presented on screen. There was no mythicalness to it.

But something mythic did come.

For three years, the “Snyder Cut” was discussed in various corners of the internet and with varying levels of toxicity, as one would expect with modern fandom. It seemed like a pipe dream. I never believed it would see the light of day. The studio said it would never be released. Snyder gave hints but was never able to give anything concrete as he too was just as in the dark. But the faith was kept. And the faith was rewarded. Zack Snyder’s Justice League a finished, four hour cut, complete with additional photography and brand new special effects, as well as not a whiff of Wheedon footage, is now available to stream on HBO Max.

They kept the faith.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League, from a story perspective, is not entirely different from what we saw back in 2017. What becomes painfully obvious by even the most casual viewer is that what kind of story being told is not nearly as important as how it is told. In Snyder’s film, careful time and care is given to each member of the League to build their relationships and motivations, as well as their burgeoning connections to one another. And where Wheedon had a Batman whose hopefulness was displayed by telling more jokes and reluctantly works with the rest of the League, Batman here embraces the role of leader. Bruce calls out the good in his teammates, puts together plans, and when he needed him the most, had faith that Superman would arrive in time to save the day.

He kept the faith.

I will forever be baffled by the creative decisions made for the 2017 version of Justice League. While it may have put a smile on my faith at the time, it is dwarfed by the grandeur of what the full vision was meant to be. This is perfectly summed up by the inexplicably re-shot scenes in Smallville, where Clark and Lois talk outside of the Kent homestead. Wheedon re-shot this for his version, as evidenced by the ugly mustache-concealing CGI caking Henry Cavill’s face, and the dialogue did nothing to add any emotional mark to the return of Clark Kent from the dead. Another conversation, also outside of the Kent household in Smallville, and also between Clark and Lois, exists, and the scene takes it time in allowing the emotion of the moment to breath, without burying underneath an ill-placed joke.

They lost the faith.

And the rest of the league, especially Cyborg, has their chance to shine and their reason to be present understood. The same is true for the villains. Not just Steppenwolf, who has been returned to his design that was seen at the end of Batman v Superman, now directly under the rule of the evil lord of Apokolips, Darkseid, who was excised entirely from the 2017 film. With all of that drama, all of the grandeur and operatic spectacle, at it’s heart, it is the story of a group of people learning how to stand together. They don’t bicker and banter, but they pull and push, they compliment and encourage, they grieve and celebrate together, and they grow in their ability to trust one another as the film moves on.

They restored the faith.

“Men are still good.” –Bruce Wayne

If you are struggling with thoughts of self-harm or suicide and need someone to talk to, reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

Aquaman Keeps DC Afloat

by Drew Kiess

Top-Movie-Aquaman-Wallpaper

It feels like an eternity since Justice League landed with a thud last November, the film that introduced us (officially) to Jason Momoa’s Arthur Curry. Irrespective of your opinion on that film (I still watch that movie with a stupid, childish grin on my face, despite its flaws), we all knew coming out of it that the landscape of DC on film was going to be changed forever.

The Snyder era, in practicality, was over (The Snyders are listed as producers for Aquaman, but likely had very little creative control). Aquaman is the first true post-Snyder DC film and the first film who’s post-production (and some production) overseen by Walter Hamada. This is the new DC Films, for better and worse.

By the time my “early” screening started, it felt like everyone in the world had already seen the film. In fact, it had already become a smash hit in China and had many screenings around the world. The word-of-mouth on the movie felt really strong, but the critical reception was lukewarm. Heading in, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was in for.

Ever since Geoff Johns took over the book in 2011 at the beginning of the “New 52” era, Aquaman has remained at the top of my favorite comic books. There’s been something exciting about the character for me for some time, and I have long wanted to see what the world of Atlantis would look like on the bigscreen. Finally, James Wan has brought this dream to life.

Aquaman looks gorgeous. Yes, it’s a CGI heavy film, but there’s probably a good reason for that. Rumor has it that Jason Momoa and Amber Heard are not actually fish-people. Once we accept the world, then hopefully we can acknowledge just how well crafted it is visually. But CGI always has a way of drawing criticism, warranted or not.

The cast of Aquaman, from Momoa’s Arthur to Heard’s Mera, and from Wilson’s Orm to DaFoe’s Vulko, are all pitch-perfect castings and seem to have good chemistry. It is an overused trite of film criticism to say that actors seemed to have a fun time making a movie (who cares? So long as it’s a great performance, they can be miserable for all I care), but Momoa had an energy about him that was absolutely infectious, and Heard played Mera with a light-hearted royal air.

Aquaman, however, squanders its cast’s chemistry with some fairly cliche’ emotional writing. There’s nothing wrong with a conventional Joseph Campbell-esque hero’s journey, but the writing needs to be less conventional and on-the-nose. Too often, David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall’s screenplay held the hand of the audience through emotional beats, and some of these beats were delivered in flashback, without our heroes. Much of the humor falls flat as well, which falls square at the feet of the screenwriters The break-neck pace of the film and the consistency and quality of the action make up for much of what is lacking in the screenplay’s dialogue, but script-wise, it may be the weakest of these DCU films for me (remembering, of course, that I haven’t disliked one outright yet).

That hero’s journey is well-plotted. Arthur’s journey from reluctant hero to king is about as classic as it gets, and is a quintessential part of who this character is. He shows us that being heroic isn’t about whether we are worthy of our heroic stature, but it’s about what we decide to fight for–ourselves or those around us?

In a better world, this would have been a two-part film, giving some of the ideas and character development room to breathe. But because superhero movie sequels are not a guarantee outside of the mighty MCU, this film had quite a bit of ground to cover. The result is a fast-paced, wacky, and action-packed adventure. For the most part, it’s fun. It brings a comic book character to life in a way that I had not thought possible. Wan certainly deserves a chance to direct the sequel, and all signs point to him getting that chance. Aquaman is poised to become Warner Bros.’ biggest box-office superhero success since The Dark Knight Rises, but even if it falls short of that billion dollar mark, it should land happily in the neighborhood of Wonder Woman‘s $822 million dollar hull. The new DC Films is here, boys and girls. Let’s hope it sticks around.

Final Grade: Comics Code Approved Approved_by_the_Comics_Code_Authority

 

Aquaman is in U.S. theaters December 21st