The Snyder Cut’s Alright

Thomas Rice, Staff Writer

I originally wasn’t going to watch Zack Snyder’s Justice League. When, however, my dad informed me that we got a free HBO Max subscription, I figured it was my duty as a DC fan to watch “the Snyder cut,” the name it was commonly known by. I wasn’t expecting to like it at all. 

I had seen Justice League in 2017 and detested it for the sole reason that basically nothing about it was good. That sounds sarcastic and hyperbolic, but it’s legitimately true. Very little about the movie was aggressively bad, but it was so safe and so boring it bordered on unwatchable. The main cause of Justice League’s remarkable mediocrity seemed to lie in turmoil behind the camera. Zack Snyder, the original director, had to leave the production (Snyder left due to a family tragedy, but a rumor has been floated that the studio wanted him off the project anyway), and the keys were handed over to Joss Whedon, who had helmed the acclaimed Marvel team-up The Avengers. On-set problems ensued, with actor Ray Fisher, who plays Cyborg, accusing Whedon of inappropriate and abusive behavior behind the scenes. (Whedon was accused of similar behavior on the set of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as well). 

Beyond even Whedon’s behavior, though, his and Snyder’s styles meshed horribly. Whedon’s Avengers had quippy group banter, a flat, TV-show-like visual style, and a light tone. Snyder’s Batman v. Superman featured characters speaking seemingly exclusively in vague philosophical ramblings, relied heavily on epic, stylized visuals, and had a dark, gritty tone throughout. The result was an odd, directionless movie that tried its best to do absolutely nothing interesting. But, then again, Batman v. Superman had attempted to swing for the fences, and I had hated that too (that movie had also had an extended cut, the Ultimate Edition, but that version was only marginally better). So, going into Zack Snyder’s Justice League, I was really just expecting a longer bad movie, although probably a more consistent one. 

My verdict after seeing all six chapters and one epilogue (also, some spoilers ahead, but this is basically a four-year old movie at this point): It was fine. Kind of good, even. It was a pretty well put together movie, with better and more extensive backstories for the characters it introduced (the Flash, Aquaman, and most notably, Cyborg, as Fisher does a great job playing the conflicted hero) and more consistent motivations for all. The story made more sense, the villains were more fearsome and their plan understandable, and the visuals outpace those of its predecessor’s by so much it’s ridiculous (above all else, this is a pretty fantastic looking movie). On the whole, I don’t really think any of the story additions harm the movie, and the parts that are similar to the first Justice League are pretty consistently executed better.

That isn’t to say it’s a great movie, because it certainly isn’t. First of all, you feel the length of this movie. The four-hour runtime does not fly by in the slightest, and the movie truly doesn’t need it. Snyder is famous for his love of slow-mo shots, and they are everywhere in this movie. He has a good excuse for using them as the Flash runs at extreme speeds, but Snyder just drags out short scenes, like one of Lois Lane walking up to Superman’s memorial, to excruciatingly long lengths. Also, some scenes just don’t need to be in the movie and feel like they’re included just so “the Snyder cut” could include everything Snyder shot, like Batman’s faithful butler Alfred excessively fussing over Diana’s cup of tea or Lane carefully picking out a shirt for Clark Kent. 

I’ve seen people compare watching this to binge watching a TV show, but I really don’t think the comparison is apt at all. First of all, it’s a bloated movie no matter how you watch it, and second, it still basically follows a three-act structure, just with acts over an hour long (Batman doesn’t successfully recruit another member of the Justice League apart from himself and Wonder Woman until over an hour and a half into the movie), and then a half-hour epilogue. As a general rule, episodes of TV shows end in some kind of resolution, and no segment of this movie (unless you’re merely separating the first six chapters from the epilogue, which, if you were, barely puts a dent in the runtime anyway) provides that resolution. That being said, the runtime doesn’t kill the movie, but it’s also not the only problem. 

I’ve long disliked Snyder’s movies for the unrealistic, faux deep, and sometimes hilariously bad dialogue, and it’s in this movie, although it’s better than in BvS. One of my favorite bad lines is when Cyborg flies down from the sky holding the Motherbox, which we have been repeatedly told is a Motherbox and looks exactly like the other two Motherboxes, responds to Batman wondering whether Steppenwolf, the movie’s main antagonist, has the last Motherbox, by saying, “He doesn’t have it,” waiting a comically long time, and then finishing, “I do.” Lines like that are meant for the audience’s benefit, but anyone benefiting from that just hasn’t been paying attention (although, of course, Snyder may have just been anticipating his audience’s loss of focus two hours into his movie, in which case, 10-out-of-10, great job, no notes). 

Another issue (and the only real spoiler here) I had with this movie is Jared Leto’s Joker. He appears in one of Batman’s nightmares in the epilogue, where the world has become a barren wasteland, Diana and Aquaman are dead, Superman is evil, and the Caped Crusader has found himself allied with a strange group of characters: the villain Deathstroke, who briefly appeared earlier in the epilogue, Aquaman’s Atlantean ally Mera, Cyborg, Flash, and the Clown Prince of Crime himself. I actually was really intrigued by the sequence as a whole, and I think it’s overall a highlight, just solely based on the curiosity of how the situation could ever come about. The essence of the Joker and Batman’s dialogue is even alright, too, mentioning the murder of Jason Todd, the second Robin, which had been teased in BvS. Batman even drops an f-bomb to prove this is a real R rated movie for grown-ups. 

But Leto’s performance is so bad. It’s awful. Some have faltered (mostly in animated media) attempting to do their best impression of Heath Ledger’s or Mark Hamill’s Joker, but this isn’t even that. The voice just sounds weird and annoying, not insane and captivating. Leto hadn’t been great as the Joker before, but he wasn’t this bad. I also have somewhat of a problem with Batman in this movie, in that he doesn’t do much Batmanning. Batman is my favorite superhero ever, so perhaps I’m just very biased, but he feels severely underused. He clearly can’t fight as well as the superpowered Justice Leaguers, but he rarely even uses his wits, and essentially amounts to a glorified Nick Fury, recruiting and funding the team. Sure, he uses his arsenal of weapons and vehicles, but never in an interesting or particularly impactful way. Other Justice League stories allow Batman to stand out in the team despite his lack of superpowers, so I’m disappointed this movie couldn’t manage it.

I’m separating my final gripe because it’s a ridiculously specific nitpick that undermines one of the most heartfelt moments in the entire movie and doesn’t really matter. In her opening scene, Wonder Woman saves a mass of people from terrorists intent on blowing up a bomb in the bank which would decimate four city blocks. After Diana disposes of the bomb, the leader of the terrorists turns his gun on a group of hostages, attempting to kill as many people as he can. Diana saves the people by deflecting the bullets with her bracelets at super speed, and she finally takes out the leader. The entire section is well done, and is probably my favorite action sequence in the whole movie. 

After Diana has saved everyone, a girl who had been taken hostage asks her, “Can I be like you someday?” to which Diana responds, “You can be anything you want to be.” This is a pretty common trope in superhero movies, meant to show how the hero is inspiring people in the movie’s universe, and thereby inspiring the audience. And I absolutely loathe it. No, Diana is a 5000-year-old superpowered immortal goddess, you can’t be like her. In fact, being born as a regular human person disqualifies you from being like half of the Justice League in this movie, and barring a freak accident, you can’t be like another third. That leaves you with Batman, but unless you’re the heir to a multi-billion dollar fortune, that’s not happening either. 

Once again, I understand that it’s pretty stupid to be picking apart an inconsequential line meant to provide a positive message to the audience, many of whom are younger, impressionable viewers watching despite the film’s rampant use of the f-word (three times), and Diana couldn’t just crush the spirit of a girl who simply aspires to do good like Wonder Woman does. But it bothered me, and quite frankly, I wanted absolutely zero hope or positivity from an R rated superhero movie. Logan never would have disappointed me like this.

I spent a lot of time on negatives here (and especially on one weird specific negative), but I enjoyed “the Snyder cut.” Again, it isn’t great, and it feels like maybe Snyder should have hired an editor, just so the movie doesn’t feel like it’s throwing everything and the kitchen sink at you over the course of four hours, but it’s worth a watch, maybe even a rewatch or two. When I began writing this, I’m pretty sure I had a far more negative opinion of the movie than I have now, a few hours in. Maybe that’s the genius of “the Snyder cut.” If you tell everybody it was great, nobody has enough time to watch it back and check.