More noise than signal

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

I suppose before we even get to talking about Zack Snyder’s Justice League we have to address why the 2017 theatrical release was not Zack Snyder’s, as that’s largely why we’ve gotten here and in a way is more interesting than the artefact itself. However, that means recovering a lot of old ground, so this is as condensed a version as I think passes muster.

After a family tragedy saw Snyder step away from the production of the Justice League film, Warner Brothers hired noted asshole Joss Whedon to complete the film, and also reshoot and rescript swathes of it in a total Warner Brothers DC move. The result was widely panned, not just for coming across like a tonally discordant cut and shut, but that was the criticism seized on by fans of Snyder’s work, with the resulting, often ill-tempered campaign to get Snyder back onboard to “fix” the film unexpectedly succeeding, with more reshoots and graphics work authorised for this four hour slab of media released on home streaming service HBO.

Which on a number of levels is a hell of a thing, perhaps unprecedented. Fan demand has, for example, resurrected cancelled series for another outing, like Whedon’s own Firefly, but a fan campaign to get another director to recut some else’s completed work (and of course there’s asterisks to that statement), and what must be great expense, particularly when it’s clear that said studio have already lost any confidence in said directors vision and seem to have no plans to, for instance, complete the trilogy this was envisioned as? What a bizarre situation.

But before we speak on said situation and the perennial “what are these guys playing at?” question, we should pass some sort of judgement on Justice League, although on a lot of levels the self selection of its audience renders critical opinion somewhat moot. The broad strokes of the plot are largely the same – introduce superteam, introduce weird alien cubes that would allow the still awful Steppenwolf to destroy Earth, resurrect Superman, defeat said baddie.

If the only criticism was that the theatrical release was a tonal mis-mash, this for sure does a better job on that level, providing Snyder’s more serious take on things while retaining a few moments of levity. On most other levels, though, there’s enough of a give and take that it’s nowhere near a clear cut case of declaring this better and moving on.

Primarily, the thing to understand is that this is not a plug in replacement for the film. This often meandering four hour beast is chopped into a number of parts, seemingly not as any kind of semblance of act structure but just to provide easy reference points for pausing while you go off and have lunch, or resume watching the day after. Watching in one sitting seems not to be the consumption instruction, and is not recommended. Doing so really exposes the length, particularly for the many scenes that, for the vital purposes of this film do not need to be there.

They are there, however, as fan service. And this version is here entirely as fan service, so in most regards it’s a film that knows its audience and knows that the audience will know the film. So if you want a recommendation for someone on the fence about Justice League, that is to very much not watch this, as there’s really nothing in here to appeal to the undecided or to change the mind of the naysayers.

Most of the new footage in here I broadly like, although as mentioned the pacing issues this brings up is a downside. Some of the tweaks work on some level – Steppenwolf’s interactions with the bigger bad Darkseid at least makes the motivation clearer, although he and his army of parademons are still a big bundle of better, but still barely adequate CG that I cannot bring myself to care about. Speaking of CG, I don’t recall Cyborg looking so much like a Snapchat filter as he does in this version, but maybe that’s just my memory failing. The ending action sequence tweaks make it better, but again, another huge ball of CG I’m past unpicking at this point.

There’s other smaller changes that bring small improvements, or sometimes just small differences, that perhaps we’ll get into as I open this up to the floor. But in large part what I think of this is redundant. This will find its audience purely by dint of that audience having willed it into existence, and I don’t think it’s interested in talking to anyone outside of that audience.