In 1990 Marvel’s What The –?! parodied a fight between the Justice League and the Avengers. It was silly, and I quite enjoyed it. In a world where we have not one by two very different, but also very similar, Justice League movies, I figured we could combine them, and we would have Just A League. Not as good as it could be, but also not a total train wreck.
I just sat and watched the Zack Snyder’s Justice League. It is a lot of movie. Four hours of movie. In the older 4:3 aspect ratio, which actually works unless you really need something to complain about. Watching this is a weird experience, especially having seen the theatrical release. It is much the same, but also fairly different. Because of those, spoilers ahead, mostly for the Snyder cut, but I suppose for the movie as a whole too.
A Tale of Two Justice League Stories
So, first things first. From the very beginning, Snyder explains what Whedon never bothered to – why the Mother Boxes activated after something like 10,000 years of inactivity. Superman’s death scream echoed around the world, and the Boxes responded. Yes, this is…awkward. However, this is also very in keeping with Snyder’s examination of superheroes as messianic figures. Right off the bat, we have, in less than five minutes, more explanation of how and why the Mother Boxes activated than in all of the Whedon release. This also sets the tone for the whole movie – Snyder understands what Warner and Whedon seem to not have, namely that not everyone is steeped in New Gods lore. Joss forgets that to the majority of the population, Steppenwolf is the band who did ‘Born to be Wild’, and not a servant of Darkseid. Who they also never heard of.
And this continues – Snyder’s Justice League covers more about Steppenwolf, including Darkseid being drive off Earth in the distant past, Steppenwolf’s penance, and the relationship between him, Darkseid, and Desaad. And Whedon didn’t even try to cover that, leaving one with the impression that the only real villain is Steppenwolf. This renders the vision in Batman v Superman, where an uparmored Flash shows Bruce a dystopian future where he leads a resistance against Superman, and there are the giant fire pits found on Apokolips, suggesting to those in the know that Earth has fallen to Darkseid. Snyder goes further, expanding on this vision in his Epilogue section.
Beyond the enhanced explanations of the Mother Boxes, we also learn more about Aquaman & Cyborg. Both characters get expanded backgrounds, and Cyborg in specific benefits from having massively expanded background information. This elevates him from, well, kind of there to do Cyborg things and hack Batman’s stuff to an actual character with motivations and a real arc. Aquaman just gets a slight increase in his screen time, but it helps explain why he changed his mind about helping Batman.
One of my personal issues gets a fix too. In the theatrical Justice League, Hippolyta fires an arrow to light a warning fire for the first time in 5000 years, and lights a temple of the Amazons on fire. From Themyscira (wherever that is). The Snyder cut expands this, explaining that this is an arrow of Artemis, a goddess. Further, rather than Diana just hearing about it and knowing everything, she has to go to the temple, and learn what the story is from information in an underground area. Snyder’s version adds to the story, rather than handwaving it away.
We also lose Whedon’s tribute to David Lynch’s Dune. The sonic weapon against the Parademons is not part of the original version either. Neither is the very awkward scene of Flash landing on Wonder Woman – a scene so uncomfortable that Gal Godot refused to shoot it.
But There Is Something Missing
Whedon did add something to his version that I think Snyder missed – humor. Yes, much of it was awkward, and in comparison poorly done. However, it is worth a look. Whedon’s addition of more jokes helped break up the darkness. Having someone who was actually good at that, like a Russo brother, would have been better, but something would have been better than nothing.
I believe that humor, used properly (see Avengers: Infinity War & Endgame), can add to a movie that is otherwise dark in tone. Whedon goes way too far, completely eviscerating the Flash as a hero, and lessening the impact of what they go through. But he does have the right idea – humor was needed. Snyder has almost none. This is in keeping with the darker tone the DCEU has gone for overall. I just believe that all darkness all the time is not the best choice – that just wears on you after a while.
Humor is important, and very human. Dark humor, to be sure, would fit nicely in the DCEU, and to his credit, Joss tried. Joss is just…not able to make it work. Flash is not comic relief, he is usually the heart of the team – a genuinely nice guy who takes the hero thing seriously. Joss made him a punchline. And more or less eviscerated Cyborg as a character.
Ok, I need to vent about Cyborg for a bit. I hate, with a passion, his character design. DC has not shown an ability to do quality CGI people. Ever. And forcing Cyborg to be a fully CGI character is…awful. He looks like shit. The design in the comics is superior in every way. Not only does he still have skin south of his face, the metal is smooth, and looks good. The bumpy crap in Justice League is an insult to both the character and good CGI. It just looks horrible. If Cyborg is carried over in the future, I hope someone who cares about how he looks manages to get involved. Maybe Warner needs to stop using CGI characters in DC movies until they figure out how to not make them garbage.
Justice League Ultimate Version
My ultimate version would meld the two. Take some of the humor from Whedon, some of the exposition from Snyder, and remove some of the bloat from Snyder. This could create a superior version of Justice League, something that we can appreciate as approaching the quality of the Marvel films. Honestly, I would mostly leave the Snyder cut alone, only trimming it some to better fit into a theatrical release. Most of what Whedon added is crap in comparison. As a friend pointed out, neither can exist without the other, and that does render some comparisons invalid. However, they are very different end products. In Whedon’s defense, he did what Warner told him to, and while some of his stuff is inexplicable or indefensible, he did trim the bloat.
Snyder had a lot of vision to work with – and frankly a pair of movies might have served him better. That would allow more time to explore Aquaman, Martian Manhunter (and maybe even make his insertion have value), and perhaps even add in a Lantern. Who knows. Sadly, we will never see what could have been in a properly structured movie or movies. We have two Justice League visions. Neother is great, and both need a lot of work. I enjoyed them both, even if the Snyder Justice League makes me see the flaws in the Whedon Justice League even more.
Watch both, and combine them in your head to make your own Justice League…it’s really the only way.