HBO Max has announced that it will finally release an extended director’s cut of the 2017 film “Justice League.” This bonus version is supposedly more true to director Zack Snyder’s original vision for the movie. Snyder left the film because of a family emergency in 2017, and it was finished by Joss Whedon, who added jokes and rejiggered portions of the plot. The film bombed critically and didn’t do well at the box office either. Ever since, fans have used the hashtag #ReleasetheSnyderCut to push Warner Brothers to let Snyder finish his (reportedly four hour!) version. The hashtag was boosted by Gal Gadot (the film’s Wonder Woman), and Henry Cavill (Superman) has been enthusiastic about the project as well.
The hullabaloo, though, is massively, or superbly, out of proportion to the actual quality of the movie being discussed.
The hullabaloo, though, is massively, or superbly, out of proportion to the actual quality of the movie being discussed. “Justice League” was not a good film, and it’s hard to see how even extensive tinkering could improve it. More, the fan insistence that Snyder can swoop in and save this mediocre blockbuster through directorial oomph is at odds with the themes of the film itself. “Justice League” is a movie about how everyone needs to team up to save the day. In that sense, it’s an allegory for the way that blockbuster franchises are collective projects, rather than the product of an individual plan. To the extent that “Justice League” says anything, it says that an individual hero like Zack Snyder can’t save anything on his own.
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Really, the main problem with “Justice League” isn’t the editing, or the tone. It’s that the basic plot is extremely silly, even by the standards of big-budget superhero films. A villain improbably named Steppenwolf, played by a desperately mugging and egregiously horned Ciarán Hinds, wants to collect three “Mother Boxes” of power and destroy the earth. He chooses to strike after Superman is dead, prompting Batman (Ben Affleck) to organize a bunch of heroes to fight him. They bring Superman back to life, because bringing Superman back to life is what you do after he dies in any DC Universe story involving Superman. Then they beat Steppenwolf up in an explosion of mediocre special effects and wooden dialogue.
It’s not an auspicious starting point. Additional scenes with Steppenwolf would obviously be a bad idea. Every moment he’s on screen babbling about his own powerfulness and waving his ax is another moment you are wishing for a more interesting villain: Killmonger, Thanos, Orm, even Suicide Squad’s Enchantress. The bar is that low.
More heroes isn’t exactly an appealing concept either, though. Gadot and Affleck have the opposite of chemistry. Every time Gadot sighs meaningfully, while Affleck moves his jawline, a little piece of the history of cinema expires. “I think there’s an attack coming,” Batfleck declaims. “Not coming, Bruce. He’s already here.” Wonder Woman answers. That’s dialogue all right. But do you really want more of it?
There are a couple of bright spots in this vast and tedious dimness. Ezra Miller as the nervous, fast talking Flash manages some lovely quips: “I am a black hole of snacks. A snack hole!” It’s a funny line, (though not to Batman, who, to Affleck’s credit, handles the straight man role with aplomb.) Cavill and Amy Adams as Lois Lane are great in their scenes, too. If the Snyder cut was just the two of them joking and flirting for four hours, that would in fact be an improvement. I’d watch it.
But these moments of adequacy cannot be wholly attributed to Snyder. Miller reportedly improvised good chunks of his dialogue. Adams and Cavill have great rapport, but it seems to be their rapport specifically; Snyder and/or Whedon didn’t manage to elicit similarly simpatico performances from any other pairs of actors.
Viewers have been taught to believe movies are the accomplishment of the director chiefly, or even solely. That may be close to the truth in some indie films. Anna Biller, the amazing director of feminist retro horror melodrama “The Love Witch,” is credited with film editing, music, production design, art direction, set direction and costume design. But tentpole franchise films do not have such singular visions. They’re corporate negotiations or, more kindly, group projects.
If they work, like, “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” they’re smooth, gleaming engines of entertainment, polished and calibrated by phalanxes of specialists. When they don’t work, it’s because lots of somebodies failed to make the joints fit, or mistakenly soldered a monstrous chunk of metal in the wrong spot.
Part of the charm of the big budget superhero film, if you find them charming, is the way they’re so openly assembled by a cast of thousands. Sometimes communal endeavor is necessary — which is, as it happens, the theme of “Justice League.” Batman gathers his team because to accomplish some victories you have to work together. Snyder’s cuts won’t be deep enough to excise everyone else’s contributions, for better and worse. It took a whole league of ineptitude to make “Justice League” the turkey it is. Snyder can’t uncluck it.
Noah Berlatsky is a freelance writer and critic in Chicago.