Justice at last?

zsjl1Zack Snyder’s Justice League has arrived and its, well, long and its loud. Both are likely big pluses for fans of his films – I’m rather conflicted to be honest. I loved his Watchmen adaptation; its not without its faults but its a far better and authentic adaptation of the Moore/Gibbons masterwork than I had ever hoped for. Snyder is clearly a gifted director at bringing comicbook heroes to cinema- he has a  visual sense that is ideally suited to bringing comicbook panels to vivid life, with a particular talent for action sequences and using slo-mo to mimic the effect of comicbook splash pages. 

But it can also be his weakness, his Kryptonite. ZSJL is four hours long but it could probably have been brought in at 3.5 hours with the slo-mo shots played at normal speed. The ‘posing’ is one thing (I can accept some of the posing that the characters do -Marvel does it too in its films- because that’s just mirroring the comicbook style of having key panels that readers/fans dwell on when reading the comicbooks, transferring that to the cinematic form) but the slo-mo thing… used sparingly it can be highly effective and is one of the visual devices Snyder is so very uniquely good at (it looks easy but isn’t) but he does go to the well too often sometimes, especially here. Often the film seems to have been primarily shot at a high frame rate and played back at normal rate, the slo-mo almost becoming something of a self-reverence bordering on parody: “This is SO important!” it seems to scream at us. Over and over.

But it really isn’t that important, at least unless you’re a DC uber-fan who is fixated on all the comicbook mythology. The story of ZSJL isn’t up to the task of being a four-hour epic, it just isn’t. Its handicapped with origin stories and character introductions that should be unnecessary, having been handled in solo movies in the way the MCU did things, but since those solo movies never happened (come on, not even Affleck’s Batman got his own solo outing, incredibly) this film has to spend an inordinate amount of time going over material that simply shouldn’t be there. In this respect, I have every sympathy with Snyder and what he was doing (remember this film was shot back in 2016, if not earlier, before Wonder Woman, Aquaman etc ever happened)- its a huge juggling act, positioning pieces, characters and motivations in order to move the plot forwards.

This might have been my biggest issue with the film. Somehow (sideward glance at the MCU) these comicbook films have become so very serialised now they hardly function as individual films anymore. ZSJL directly references events that happened in the prior film to this, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and since its been a few years now since I watched that film, many of them were lost on me (I didn’t realise it was Required Viewing prior to this film, silly me). It also doesn’t help that the film stars a Batman who’s since been rebooted (Ben Affleck’s excellent Batman replaced by Robert Pattinson in next year’s Matt Reeves imaginatively-titled film The Batman) and a Superman that’s being rebooted right now as I type this (poor Henry Cavill being ditched by that Jar Jar Abrams maniac). And it REALLY doesn’t help that ZSJL spends considerable time laying out plotlines -particularly continuing the BvS geektease of the Knightmare sequence, hinting for a SECOND TIME a better film- and threads/arcs that will never get played out, save some kind of miracle, but obviously intended for a JSL2 or JSL3. Best-case scenario, HBO hires Snyder to make his planned JSL2/JSL3 into one last film, but the most likely scenario is we never see it and it becomes another ‘what-if’ for the fans.

Ultimately ZSJL is an oddity, and no doubt while a boon for his fans and devotees of what they are calling the DC Snyderverse films, other than the miracle of it finally being finished and released (I refuse to refer to the 2017 Joss Whedon abomination, preferring to think that film simply never existed) I have to question the fandom hysterics of it being some kind of Second Coming. No film with a story as simple and predictable/formulaic as this one should run four hours long, it just shouldn’t. There are scenes that are redundant and those teases which are wholly pointless: the film could have been a leaner, better 3.5 hours, possibly even 3 hours long.

I also don’t think the aspect ratio of 4:3 justifies itself. It seems Snyder has his eye on Imax screenings but considering this thing is being launched on televisions across the world I would have thought the usual widescreen format would have been preferable now and the 4:3 something saved for those Imax screens later. I really can’t see why 4:3 was the preferable option, it seems to box everything in and loses the cinematic qualities benefitted by widescreen, as if the last twenty-odd years of widescreen CRT tubes and flat screen technologies never happened. I’m almost surprised it wasn’t released in mono for added Old School sensibilities (although I hear rumours of a b&w version that has me thinking the whole thing is an elaborate piss-take). Its such a curio, this whole thing. 

batsBut I will just say this- its further proof that Ben Affleck, incredibly (and God knows I was his biggest doubter when the casting news first broke, years ago), is absolutely the best Batman we’ve yet seen. The fact that the guy didn’t get his own movie is a bigger shame than anything else that went wrong with the DC movies or the Justice League project. I thought he’d be terrible but I was totally wrong- he even nails both the Bat and Bruce Wayne, something I don’t think any actor before him really managed: whenever I have reservations regards any casting news I think back to Affleck’s Batman and give anything the benefit of the doubt now. I’d like to see a ZSJL2 if only to see Affleck playing Batman again- his older, wiser (?), more bitter caped crusader is a total joy, up there with Christopher Reeves’ Superman to me. If I ever buy BvS and ZSJL on 4K disc someday, its wholly because of him.

6 thoughts on “Justice at last?

  1. Now that I’ve finished ZSJL, I’ve been reading other people’s reviews of it….and yeah, I mostly agree. It’s an entirely understandable shame that we won’t be ever able to see a continuation of this version’s promised events.

    Overall, I…I quite liked it!

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  3. Finally got round to watching this last week and… well, I dunno. It is what it is. It never would’ve been this back in 2017, even if WB had been hands off and let Snyder do more-or-less what he wanted — no way would it have been released at 4 hours, and I don’t believe they would’ve split it in two either. Conversely, letting a 2021-released cut include teases for future films that were possible in 2017 but now (almost) certainly won’t happen… it just seems perverse.

    As for comparisons to the Whedon cut… maybe I should save them for a(nother) thousands-of-words-long piece of my own, because I’m not even sure I do prefer this cut to the theatrical version, on balance, but I definitely need to take plenty of time to explain my reasoning for that one!

    1. The irony that this Snyder cut being close to four hours long is the very definition of excess, and its own counter-argument that directors often need reining back, isn’t lost on me. If he’d responded with a three-hour, tight epic with coherent beginning., middle and end then there might have been some hope, but with its episodic nature its clearly displaying muddled thinking and evidence that delivering a four-part mini-series was part of some original plan.

      (Here again evidence of how Hollywood seems to work these days. with Disney’s Eps 7, 8 & 9 lacking a planned overall narrative arc and the DC Universe being such a conflicted mess).

      Having only seen this on Sky Cinema I’m really curious about watching it on 4K UHD at its very best but… I dunno. I bought the recent remastered Batman v Superman on 4K on the strength of Justice League getting a disc release thinking the two releases would be a decent ‘whole’ but there’s better films out there to buy on 4K (although BvS looks awfully lonely without the 4K Justice League next to it).

      1. The real problem with all of these things is that Marvel made it look so damn easy, everyone thought they could copy it with minimal effort. I think what they’ve all proved is that Kevin Feige is a legitimate visionary. I don’t think the Marvel way is the only way to go about it, but such an endeavour clearly needs the leadership of someone equally surefooted with a definite plan to work from.

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