MATTERS OF OBSESSION
‘Justice League’ – The Snyder Cut proves that artists should be left to their vision
‘The Justice League’ is by no means a new thing – it was released by Warner Brothers in 2017, with the usual reservation by fans, as the DC Extended Universe up until then had a hit-and-miss record on the cinema circuit.
Back when we still frequented cinemas, the movie was a commercial success, but fans – real fans who actually read the comics and followed the stories of the superhero ensemble – hated it.
The movie was released at the height of the geek culture revolution. At a time when comic book-reading geeks such as myself curled our toes in excitement at the next comic book-inspired, CGI-filled, action-packed onscreen romp. Marvel Comics, through their Marvel Cinematic Universe, dominated – and continue to dominate – this revolution. Detective Comics (DC), with their pantheon of superheroes such as Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman, were slow out of the starting blocks and had to catch up very quickly to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. A feat they horribly failed at. Until now.
So, in 2017, Warner Brothers splashed The Justice League on cinema screens, a two-hour-long movie with a difficult production history.
The original director, Zack Snyder – from 300, Watchmen and Dawn of the Dead (the remake) fame – left the project under dubious circumstances. The official story was that he had suffered a family tragedy, which was actually true, as he lost his daughter to suicide. However, many believed that rather than putting the project on ice and allowing Snyder to return and complete his vision after mourning the death of his daughter, studio executives used this as an opportunity to replace Snyder with Joss Whedon – Whedon being no stranger to superhero-fuelled mega-blockbusters himself.
What we saw on screen four years ago was ultimately a chop job of Snyder’s footage, reshoots, and Superman’s horrific CGI upper lip. After two hours in a packed cinema, on a Friday night, before we knew of the lethal danger such a gathering of popcorn-munching, carbonated soda-slurping masses, in the dark could pose, I stood up in utter confusion as Superman and Flash re-enacted an epic saga in the comics, but a damp squib on screen.
The movie, quite frankly, sucked! Batman/Bruce Wayne/Ben Affleck tried to hide his beer belly beneath a waistcoat and spent much of his time hiding or fighting one really frustrating, anonymous CGI minion weakling. The Flash was unrelenting with his stale jokes and Aquaman was an annoying Boksburg “boet”. As for Cyborg, it is easy to forget that Cyborg was in the movie. At the time – without taking anything away from Ray Fisher’s performance – it seemed to be a “diversity” inclusion. He had no presence, no real function, and was completely disrespected for his contribution.
Wonder Woman, an echelon of a powerful female superhero, both in her solo movie released earlier the same year and in most of her eight-decade comic book history, was presented in this movie as whiny, and clearly Whedon was dissatisfied with her canon-established powers and turned her into a female version of the Flash.
Apart from confusion, fans like myself – who had waited for a Justice League movie for decades – were pissed. We knew we had been short-changed and as the production hell-tale emerged, true fanatics started searching for the holy grail – the Snyder Cut. Johnny-come-lately fans (me included) threw our hands in the air and moved on after a wasted two hours, but the true fans, the fanatics, launched online and social media campaigns calling for the release of the Snyder cut.
On 20 March 2021, the Snyder Cut premiered on HBO Max, the Warner Brothers-owned streaming service, and we rejoiced.
Is it the greatest movie ever made? Of course not. Logan already holds that title and nothing will ever pry that from Hugh Jackman’s fingers. However, the four-hour epic that is the Snyder Cut, in six-by-nine (old-school TV) aspect ratio is 10 times the movie Whedon vomited out four years ago.
The villain – CGI-generated – had character and motivation. Despite being computer-generated he felt like a real threat this time around. Aquaman is deeply troubled, torn between giving a hoot about humanity and his true origin, Atlantis. Wonder Woman was presented as a worthy role model for my daughter and Batman did Batman things. Flash did not just have to save one person this time or entertain a random Russian family, the true extent of his powers was on full display. Superman – sans horrible CGI upper lip – did not only look cool in his post-death black suit, but his story made sense. Cyborg was presented as a real character, with real conflict with his father, presented as the heart and soul of the team of superheroes.
It was an epic journey. A few strategic pauses and a cup of coffee later, I got through the four-hour movie, but it was worth it.
See, the DC Extended Universe, unlike the Marvel Cinematic Universe, had not given us a solo Aquaman, Flash or Cyborg movie at that point. These central characters to the Justice League had no backstory and were simply thrown at us. The Marvel Cinematic Universe took time in establishing important characters, with Ironman, Captain America, Thor, the Hulk and countless others receiving the solo-movie treatment. Before the major team-up that was the Avengers movie, we knew the central characters and could get on with watching entertaining explosions, flips, punches and kicks. The DC Extended Universe deprived us of this and so Snyder had an epic tale to tell in bringing his audience up to speed and bonding with the characters.
Ultimately, what happened four years ago was that the Marvel Cinematic Universe was miles ahead of the DC Extended Universe and instead of going about building an audience and characters we liked, Warner Brothers wanted to fast-forward their box office success.
Tragically these commercial incentives led studio bosses to vomit out flashy explosions, cheesy one-liners and an orange sky in an effort to get as much out as possible. They wrenched creative control from the artist with a vision and handed control to the accountants. Because their audience is not a bunch of empty-brained dullards, their accelerated “throw anything on the screen” approach failed.
Today, after Thanos’s snap and his eventual demise and in the era of Covid, the magic of the superhero mega-blockbuster seems to have faded. Relegated to streamed Marvel Cinematic Universe series, the Snyder Cut is the epinephrine shot the genre needed to put life back into superhero romps.
Four years later, after having watched a really good DC Extended Universe offering, a movie that sets a solid foundation for the future of DC-based movies, one cannot but wonder what the DC Extended Universe would have been had the artist’s vision been left intact.
Instead, balance sheets, income, and expenditure projections as well as presentations won the day.
A four-hour epic – with the need for a 15-minute intermission – would not get as many butts into cinema seats in a 24-hour cycle. Half the time would double the number of tickets bought. Rather than satisfying the fanatics, the Johnny-come-lately fans, the casual fans or even the reluctant watchers with a visionary story, ticket sales were the most important consideration.
The “money first and forget the art” approach backfired and the only hope for the survival of the DC Extended Universe is a movie released on a streaming service, done not as a victory for the fans, but as a gimmick to peak interest in said streaming service. DM/ML
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