Christopher Nolan was once asked while filming The Dark Knight why he cast Heath Ledger in the role of the Joker. Nolan responded with one sentence, “Because he’s fearless”. The world would find out how right Christopher Nolan was about Heath Ledger. In late 2010, as executive producer, Nolan hired Zack Snyder to direct the new Superman movie, Man Of Steel.
And when you look at Zack Snyder’s body of work you will be quick to realize that Christopher Nolan saw in Snyder what he saw in Heath Ledger.
Zack Snyder’s directorial debut was the remake of the greatest zombie film ever made, Dawn of the Dead. Not only had this, at the time, unproven director delivered a great film he quickly proved he was indeed fearless when his next film after Dawn of the Dead was 300. A comic book from the icon Frank Miller that’s almost as legendary as the battle it fictionalizes. Snyder’s wonderfully kinetic visual style proved more than up to the task of replicating comic legend Frank Miller’s imagery in a film that would truly elevate Snyder into a director to watch. But what 300 did more than anything is that Snyder gets what makes a comic book adaption, the characters.
Throughout Zack Snyder’s C/V, whether it’s adaption history’s greatest comic book story in Watchmen or his own story in Sucker Punch, Snyder creates strong characterization in moments and action. Snyder’s eye for character and his visual style are able to create moments with these characters that feel incredibly natural and engaging despite, in Gerard Buttler’s case, fighting demon ninja’s as the king of Sparta. Snyder has never let the enormity of the material he’s adapting from getting in the way of telling a great story. But for all the good I’m putting on Zack Snyder, the man does have his flaws. For example, the man loves slow-motion action sequences like J.J. Abrams loves the lens flare.
But for all the bad anyone can say about him, Snyder always delivers an engaging film with great characters and incredible visuals.
It’s a pity the same can’t be said for Joss Whedon.
For those who don’t know, Zack Snyder’s daughter died of suicide in March of this year. And Snyder decided to step away from the production and be with his family. But after screening a rough cut of Justice League, he decided he wanted to add additional scenes and brought on board Joss Whedon to write and direct those scenes and finish post-production on the film.
And I’d like to say the theatrical cut of Justice League does the league justice. But it barely cracks the surface. Justice League follows the set-up from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and finds Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince circling the globe looking for people with abilities to fight an oncoming threat.
I think what I find most irritating about this film is that a genuinely great movie is there and you can clearly see it. But all of the problems with this movie are almost entirely set around the additional footage from Whedon. One thing, almost all of the footage Whedon directed and inserted into scenes doesn’t match the angles, color palette or lighting from Snyder. And you will notice the difference, the change from the Whedon’s footage to Snyder’s footage is far too jarring to keep you in the story. But it gets worse than that. Almost all of the new scenes from Whedon are such a lighter tone to what the story needs and to what Snyder shot that it’s legitimately irritating to the point I question why DC let Whedon do this to the film.
As if DC stills needs to learn they have nothing to prove against Marvel’s mostly style-over-substance formula. DC was the first to get over a billion at the box office. They were the first to win an Oscar and now they have two. Just relax and make a great film. How hard is that to do?For those who don’t know, several years ago, Joss Whedon was hired to write and direct a Wonder Woman live action film. He subsequently quit the project and it was shelved for years. And if you were lucky enough to grab the script online you will know that it was riddled with sexist garbage. And Whedon brought that to Justice League in spades with dozens of confusing angles to showcase Gal Gadot’s ass for no possible reason other than it was there.
But here’s the thing, when you ignore Whedon’s footage and just look at what Snyder did there’s a great movie in here. As Batman and Wonder Woman recruit Barry Allen, the super fast crime fighter, The Flash, and Victor Stone, the college football star who’s genius father merged his body with alien components to save his life, Steppenwolf arrives on Earth. Steppenwolf, voiced by character actor, Ciaran Hinds, an alien being of immense power and strength leads his army across the globe in search of the alien tech he needs to kill every human being on the planet.
It’s a story that differentiates itself from Marvel in that it’s one long story set across different films instead of the way Marvel uses its stars in guest roles in standalone stories. If Dawn of Justice is the legwork for this story, Justice League is the fun. And believe me, it is a lot of fun at times despite Whedon’s best intentions of crapping over everything. The back half of the film is almost one long battle and the culmination in Bruce’s plan of redemption for his actions in Dawn of Justice and the league coming together in possible one of the best hero moments in comic book movie history.
Speaking of Whedon, the criticism over Steppenwolf being a generic villain is, at times accurate because Whedon cut out a lot of Steppenwolf’s plan that Snyder had shot and just left the action. But that being said, he’s 30 feet tall and can handle the entire league by himself without his army. Steppenwolf is a threat, just a threat with the most basic of evil plans.
But despite a truly great villain, this cast shines thanks to Snyder’s ability to show character through action and movement and sheer amounts of talent. Ray Fisher may be the least experienced of the cast but gives the role of Cyborg a power behind him and a sense of searching for an identity to a man who is directly connected to the internet and literally every identity on the planet. Fantastic Beasts alumni, Ezra Miller proves that his Barry Allen is the voice of the people as the more he gets into this world of fantastic people and gets a kick out of everything as much as we in the audience does. But Snyder always gives us the time to let Ezra give Barry an honesty that really makes him the heart of the team.
Jason Momoa brings his passion for life into Aquaman and proves he’s more than up to the task of destroying the stigma of Aquaman being a joke that more uneducated have been pushing for years. I’m looking at you here Big Bang Theory. Seriously, you fact check your math work but you can’t pick up a damn comic book? Gal Gadot continues to expand the character of Wonder Woman/Diana Prince that we first met in Dawn of Justice. What she’s done with the character legitimately gives the character an engaging honesty that the Wonder Woman standalone movie ever did. And Gadot plays off the change in Ben Affleck’s older Bruce Wayne nicely. I think it’s because he’s lived it himself, but Wayne’s drive fuelled by Superman’s death has an incredible amount of weight behind it. And what Snyder smartly did was build off of the relationship between Wonder Woman and Batman. The story of Bruce Wayne trying to reprieve his years of murder and darkness when we met him in Dawn of Justice was a great backbone for this story and to bring this team together.
Snyder cast his league fantastically well and this movie is a lot of fun. And what he’s done a lot of justice for the league and legitimately gives me a lot of hope for what the future of DC comic films will look like. But with what Whedon and WB, the studio behind the film, has done with Justice League never allows it to reach the epic levels this team should hit. Justice League, as it stands, is 3.5 out of 5 stars. You will have a lot of fun with this movie. But there is really nothing special about it because WB clearly is not interested in the quality of the film but more in cracking Marvel’s formula and make money. Evidentially nobody at WB ever heard the phrase “if you build it they will come”.
The ironic part about all of this is that weeks before the release of this film is that the president of WB has been doing the rounds and publicly stating that Zack Snyder’s vision wasn’t WB’s. And what’s being heard unanimously from the fans now is that what Snyder has done was better.
People may not remember, and I’m sure Marvel actually encourages that, the second and third film Marvel ever released on their own, The Incredible Hulk and Punisher War Journals were utterly terrible films that just barely broke even to the point that Thor absolutely had to be successful or Marvel would be pretty much done. WB and DC are two (kind of) mistakes in now. DC Entertainment is now completely up and running and they have no more room for errors because of the next slated film, Aquaman, is their Thor moment.