Joe Morton and Ray Fisher in Zack Snyder’s Justice League / HBO Max
Seldom in professional life do you get a do-over, particularly one that costs $70 million.
But that’s exactly what director Zack Snyder received in November of 2019 when he was given the go-ahead to complete his version of “Justice League,” the film that was all but taken away from him during post-production in 2017.
Snyder officially left the project after the suicide of his 20-year-old daughter, Autumn, in March of 2017, but he and Warner Bros. had been at odds over the film after the less-than spectacular performance of his “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” tentpole in 2016.
Super-hero specialist Joss Whedon, director of 2012 Marvel blockbuster “The Avengers” was brought in to punch up dialogue on the film, but once Snyder left the project, Whedon reshot a majority of the movie and completed the film that debuted in November of 2017, although Snyder remained credited as the director of record.
Snyder’s said he’s never watched the Whedon-doctored version.
The original “Justice League” opened to less that $70 million dollars its first weekend and grossed just $657 million as compared to Marvel’s four “Avengers” films, which have all grossed well over a billion dollars. The final two topped $2 billion.
Disappointment over Whedon’s version of the movie prompted Snyder fans to campaign for the director to be able to finish his rough cut of the movie.
While many laughed at the campaign, eventually former HBO Max head Bob Greenblatt greenlit the completion of Snyder’s four-hour opus at a cost of least $70 million dollars in November of 2019 in hopes of driving business to the streaming channel. Some believe that expensive decision weighed heavily in Greenblatt losing his job when AT&T took control of the company last year.
So, how was the film which became available Thursday morning on HBO Max?
Ezra Miller in Zack Snyder’s Justice League / HBO Max
As a longtime fan of the Justice League and DC Comics in general, I liked it better than Whedon’s truncated version.
However, I do wonder if non-committed viewers are really going to want to watch two hours more of a movie they had already seen and were lukewarm about?
In many ways, it is the same movie, just with additional scenes and characters as well as the deletion of the scenes Whedon wrote and shot.
The movie clocks in at an enormous four hours long. Viewing it went by rather swiftly, but still that is a long commitment for a single movie a viewer might have seen before. It is divided into six chapters that vary in length for those who would rather watch it in chunks.
The major differences in the film is the addition of popular DC big bad Darksied, who is only mentioned in exposition of Whedon’s version, Superman donning an all-black costume with his traditional symbol in silver when he returns from the dead as well as a significant increase in the character Cyborg’s screen time and story.
Cyborg is played by Ray Fisher, who has accused Whedon of a number of abusive actions towards himself, other cast members, and crew during reshoots. Most members of the primary cast have lent words of support to Fisher’s accusations, including Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot.
Other actors who worked on Whedon-ran shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel” have also come forward with accounts of abusive acts reportedly committed by Whedon in years past.
After watching Snyder’s version, one can see why Fisher was upset with the theatrical version of the film. Much of his work and storyline was not used in Whedon’s version of the film.
Jason Momoa, Gal Gadot, and Ray Fisher in Zack Snyder’s Justice League / HBO Max
Not excusing any abusive behavior on Whedon’s part, the embattled director was tasked with a thankless chore. WB executives commissioned Whedon to produce a cut of the movie that was no longer than two hours to garner the maximum number of screenings in theaters per day to amp up the potential box office for the film.
The movie was also rushed to hit theaters in November so that executives would receive bonuses in 2017 that were tied to the release of the film.
So, Whedon was forced to cram four hours of story into just two hours of movie. No wonder he was stressed, and no wonder the 2017 version of the film is disjointed.
While the movie’s story could have still used a bit more work, Snyder’s version is clear and understandable, which I’d argue Whedon’s version is not. That in and of itself made the Snyder cut more enjoyable.
There are some excised scenes in Whedon’s version I missed, such as a budding romance between Afflek’s Batman and Gadot’s Wonder Woman that is only slightly hinted at in Snyder’s version. But all in all, Snyder’s version is a better film if you are willing to commit four hours of your life to it.
The movie falls into a slightly better than average category for me. I probably will rewatch it with some friends at some point, but Snyder’s view of super heroes is just too dour and ponderous for me to get excited about.
Snyder’s Batman and Wonder Woman literally crush skulls, leaving blood splatter on the walls where the bad guys’ heads caved in. Also, one of the primary conceits of the Batman character in comics is that he doesn’t use guns. Snyder’s Batman is Machine Gun Annie in contrast, blazing away at the primary villain Steppenwolf’s demonic horde.
Ciarán Hinds in Zack Snyder’s Justice League / HBO Max
That said Henry Cavill, Gadot, and Affleck do give strong performances as Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman. Snyder and his team did an excellent job casting those parts.
Fisher and Ezra Miller don’t do much for me as Cyborg and the Flash. Fisher is too flat and Miller too silly, but Jason Mamoa does have a large dose of charisma as conflicted surfer-dude Aquaman.
The film closes with a sequence that was setup two sequels that Snyder has said Warner Bros. isn’t interested in making, at least with him. The sequence features Jared Leto as a deranged Joker arguing with Batman and the imposing Joe Manganiello as Deathstroke stuck on a post-Apocalyptic Earth in which Superman has become a brain-washed minion of Darksied.
I don’t know what type of viewership it would take to change the minds of WB executives about those sequels being made, but just the fact that this four-hour version of “Justice League” exits is a reason to never say never.
(R) 4 hr. 3 min.
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