Cinema Dispatch: Justice League v Justice League – Dawn of Judgement

Justice League 2017 & Justice League 2021 as well as all the images you see are owned by Warner Bros Pictures

Both films directed by Zack Snyder

I can’t say I was ever looking forward to this day as I was one of the people who actually LIKED the original cut of Justice League and then spent the last four years seeing people opine (and worse) for a movie that they already got; not to mention the awful news that broke about how the reshoots went for Ray Fisher.  Still, Warner Bros is looking for ANY sort of cash cow to make their HBO Max service a success, so they threw a bunch of money at Zack Snyder and company to make an extended version of the movie they already made and feed into the LOST SNYDER CUT narrative that has been stuck with us for so long.  Now that the movie is finally out, was it worth all the hype and can it possibly justify the ridiculous over the top actions its most ardent supporters took?  Well obviously not, but instead of just doing a straight up review as the films are very similar in a lot of ways, I think it’d be much more interesting to take a look at what this new version gets right as well as where it falls short of the original cut.  Let’s get started, and beware of Spoilers ahead!!

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Something Good: The colors make more sense

The drastic change in pallets between the early trailers and the later ones was a definite sign that things were changing significantly and a lot of scenes in the movie ended up suffering for it.  Batman in particular always looked like an overstuffed sausage in bat-pants stuffed with pudding (which isn’t COMPLETELY gone but is much less prominent now), and there was a garishness to certain scenes where they pushed the colors up just a little bit too high.  The corrections here definitely fit more with what was being filmed and the pallet fits well with the new tone of the movie.

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Something Bad: The colors are more boring

And yet I just couldn’t get behind it.  Sure the colors didn’t always WORK, but for the most part they were bright and colorful which added a much needed cheeriness to a franchise that until then was stuck in its own morose grander.  Thankfully later movies like Shazam, Aquaman, and arguably even Wonder Woman 1984 built a brighter look from the ground up and the aesthetic fits better with those movies, but going back to this kind of look after those films is just deflating; even if it’s more competently done.  And I’m also going to throw this in here, I just don’t get why they insisted on using an IMAX aspect ratio for a moving going to a streaming service.  It’s distracting the whole way through and I never felt like it added anything.

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Something Good: The cast is more well rounded

When you tack on this much screen time you’re bound to have a more fleshed out cast and there are some genuine improvements here over the original cut.  Cyborg’s dad doesn’t just drop off of the movie once he’s saved from Steppenwolf and his relationship with Victor is much more fleshed out, and while it’s far too angsty for my taste, it’s a definite improvement which is more than can be said for characters like Commissioner Gordon and Martha Kent who still feel mostly like cameos.  Still, there’s more time for our main characters to bounce off of each other which definitely give a bit more weight to character dynamics that only ever hinted at in the previous cut of the film.

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Something Bad: Bruce Wayne’s story arc is undercut

One of the better parts of the original Justice League was how Bruce Wayne, due in no small part to Affleck’s performance, managed to effectively bridge the gap between the disastrous Batman v Superman and this movie.  He felt like the same person, but one who had gone through a change and is working to fix the mistakes he made; namely not trusting Superman which was the first domino in the path leading to his death.  That is almost completely excised here as a lot of the scenes where Bruce’s sadness for his deeds and admiration for Superman are cut out for pretty much no reason that I can fathom.  One of the best lines in the original cut, “He’s a better human than I ever was” is gone.  The scene of him trying to convince everyone to try and bring Superman back to life is reshot to move focus away from him as is the moments where he gets on Diana’s bad side with an ill-timed and overly defensive comment.  On top of that, Lois Lane showing up during Superman’s rampage is just something that HAPPENS in this cut instead of being one last clever masterstroke from Batman that barely saves him and the team, and I couldn’t even begin to fathom why they thought decoupling these two was a good idea as it ends up adding nothing for Lois Lane while subtracting from Batman’s overall presence and purpose in the movie.  Heck, they even cut the opening action scene with Batman and the Para-Demon which is sorely missed considering how long it is until we see Bruce as Batman in this new cut!  If I was trying to make a better version of this movie, HAVING LESS BATMAN is not going to be on the top of my things to fix.

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Something Good: More Cyborg

Cyborg was easily one of the worst parts of the original cut as he was just a brooding guy who had none of the fun or gusto of his most popular incarnations, and while everyone else felt like they got livened up in the reshoots, none of that extended to Victor Stone who was left to be a fifth wheel at best until the end of the movie where he livened up a little bit with Superman.  Screen time wise, this has been considerably rectified as Cyborg (as well as his pre-Cyborg self) is on screen and leading scenes that were cut out entirely from the original cut; all of which provide greater context and weight to his character and his role to play in the story.

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Something Bad: More Cyborg

And yet… I still didn’t particularly care for him.  There’s more OF him so there’s some layers of depth added that weren’t there before (particularly in regards to his relationship to his parents), but he’s still extremely broody throughout and for all the extra time he’s given I can’t say it endeared me that much more to the character.  There’s an extended sequence in the middle of the film that spends a lot of time with him as we establish his power set and explore some of the inner workings of his mind which reminded me quite a bit of the Dr. Manhattan sequence in Snyder’s Watchmen, but where that established the sorrow of a man who is no longer a man realizing how far apart he is from the rest of humanity, this feels just wishy washy.  Where Dr. Manhattan’s humanity was being stripped away by his unfathomable power, this is a dude who is CLEARLY still human because all his energy is spent hating his dad, and while the film finds some ways to make that work as well as show off some of his softer sides, it’s just not enough for me to care for his plight as much as pretty much everyone else’s.  It also isn’t helped that the new cut added some bells and whistles to his design as well as a modulation to his voice that only made him that much harder to take seriously and to gravitate towards.

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Something Good: Aquaman’s story is fleshed out

Aquaman’s role in the 2017 Justice League was a lot of fun, but he was definitely just THERE to showcase the character before giving him his own movie; a movie by the way that is still better than either version of this movie.  Still, this version gets all the credit in the world for including much more scenes with Arthur and his Atlantian allies.  PERHAPS you could argue that these scenes are a bit redundant as the scenes with Willem Defoe in particular are almost exactly the same as some of the early scenes in Aquaman, but regardless of that the added screen time and weight given to the burden he’s trying to run away from elevate him and the rest of this movie significantly.  Also, if you had an issue with just how quickly Steppenwolf popped in and just stole the Mother Box with no explanation or build up, that’s also fixed here as there’s a scene where he kidnaps Atlantians to tell him where the box is.  Personally I didn’t really need much of an explanation for that in the first cut, but it’s still appreciated that they took the time here to lay out it and did so in a fun little interrogation scene.

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Something Bad: The Underwater scenes still look terrible

Alright, I’m reaching a bit here to think of a negative as the Aquaman stuff is easily the most consistently great improvements across the board, but there’s no denying that the water effects in the Aquaman movie were a HUGE improvement on what we got in Justice League, and since we’re using the same footage from then it’s even more noticeably terrible now.  Everything just looks hazy and barren with no sense of society or life surrounding this one random barnacle laden building with a Mother Box in it, and by somewhat extending the action scene forces us to spend that much more time having to look at it.

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Something Good: You get to see Darkseid

Alright DC fans, you wanted your live action Darkseid?  You finally got him!  Not only that, but you even get Granny Goodness for a few moments which I thought was kind of fun to see, and they do have some interesting stuff as it relates to Apokolips.  I also really liked that they gave Steppenwolf a contact on Apokolips who’s giving him marching orders as it definitely puts our main villain’s actions in a greater context, and the effect looks really cool to boot!

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Something Bad: There’s WAY too much Darkseid

I’m going to get into this MUCH more when we talk about Steppenwolf, but Darkseid goes from a fun cameo to an eye rolling supporting character over the course of the movie as the third act keeps diverting attention away from what’s ACTUALLY going on in the plot (the possible destruction of Earth) to dump a bunch of Apokolips nonsense on us that I have trouble caring about even as someone with a passing knowledge of the material.  The Anti-Life Equation always seemed silly to me and the movie stopping in its tracks for five minutes to talk about it felt like time better used ANYWHERE else, and the post movie scene set in a post-Darkseid Earth is just bait for something that almost assuredly will NEVER happen and frankly is not something I would expect to be good.  Jared Leto and Ben Affleck finally have a scene together if you’ve really been hoping to see that, but I found the whole thing to be underwhelming and tedious.  WB has said that they don’t plan to continue on with this storyline in future DC movies, so why they spent so much time setting us up for a payoff that isn’t gonna happen is beyond me.

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Something Good: Steppenwolf gets a few more action scenes

The action scenes that were already there get extended and get an extra bit of fine tuning which only improves his overall menace as a villain.  He’s a bit tougher, a bit meaner, and a bit more skilled with that axe of his, and the added scenes with the Atlanteans as well as how he got the human’s Mother Box (in the original cut he just beams it up) genuinely feel like positive additions to his role in this story.

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Something Bad: Steppenwolf’s character arc is ALSO undercut

Steppenwolf was far from the most compelling villain we’ve seen in a comic book movie, but he had a clear sense of motivation and some interesting flairs to him.  Sadly this movie’s attempt to indulge in Darkseid fan service means that he gets pushed to the side and the most important aspect of his character is completely removed from the movie.  In the original cut, it was Steppenwolf who tried to take over the Earth all those years ago and the failure to do so is what’s driving him now.  In the new cut, they just swap him out with Darkseid who is defeated in that battle instead and Steppenwolf is nowhere to be seen which not only means that Steppenwolf’s motivation is left for us to intuit instead of the movie showing it to us; it ALSO means that the first time we get a good look at Darseid in action is when he gets his butt utterly WHOOPED by a bunch of Earthlings with swords and kinda meh powers.  On top of that, he just looks AWFUL in this.  The design of Steppenwolf in the original cut was straightforward and not overly cumbersome.  You can take one look at the guy and fully comprehend his size, his armor, his weaponry, and his overall aesthetic, while in THIS one they overcomplicated the design with a million moving parts so it’s hard to full comprehend what he even IS and what any part of him does.  Much like Loki in The Avengers, Steppenwolf needed to be the primary antagonist of this movie with the threat of Darkseid looming in the distance, but instead he’s fighting for relevance in a movie that completely disregards him as a genuine threat because the REAL threat is crowding out his screen time, and no extra pointy design on his armor is going to prevent that from being an issue. 

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Something Good: Superman’s mouth

I’m not an expert on this, but it looks like they redid the effects from the original footage and it looks a lot better.  Not only that, they also cut out the opening scene of Superman doing the interview for the kids which I am sad to see go (it was amusing and did a decent job of humanizing the guy), it was also the most blatantly awful use of the fake mouth and was probably not THE BEST thing to show the audience at the very start of the film.

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Something Bad: EVERYTHING else about Superman

I don’t get the black suit and I for sure don’t get why Zack Snyder is so insistent on him punching things than saving people.  The big finale where Superman returns was an absolute delight in the original cut but here it’s unpleasant to sit through as he’s just mercilessly beating on Steppenwolf to a point that it almost seems sadistic; a far cry from the guy who saved an entire building of people and shared some good natured barbs with his new buddies!  Superman being angry and taciturn was one of the worst parts of Snyder’s previous movies and one of the best parts of the 2017 Justice League, but I guess we can’t be too surprised that they kept things grim and gritty here.

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Something Good: You get to see Martian Manhunter

Surprise!  It turns out that General Swanwick from the last two movies is actually J’onn J’onzz in disguise, which means… something I guess, and he looks pretty good all things considered! 

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Something Bad: You don’t get enough Martian Manhunter

He’s in there for two scenes; one towards the beginning that exists for no other reason than to cameo his character, and one at the end to imply that he’ll be of some use in the next movie that almost certainly isn’t going to happen.  I’m not sure why he feels the need to reveal himself and get involved with the Justice League AFTER they just barely saved the planet by the skin of their teeth, but it’s not like they could have fit him into the narrative organically considering this is still ninety percent the same plot as the 2017 cut which didn’t have him at all.  It’s unavoidable that with the costly reshoots for this cut that the filmmakers were given a chance to course correct AFTER the fact to try and make this not just Snyder’s original vision but an IMPROVED version of the movie, and while I couldn’t tell you if the Manhunter was always intended by axed in the 2017 cut, I can’t think of one reason why the studio would cut his minute and a half of screen time out of it if they had the footage to work with; especially since the hope at the time was to score a big enough box office to justify making a sequel; something that is much less likely to happen now than back on its original release date.

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The Most Good: It feels more complete as a movie

The original cut of Justice League was already running into issue even before the tragedy that caused Zack Snyder to leave the production early, and with Warner Bros fronting the bill for this re-release without restriction, well a lot of those issues get fixed.  Some of the effects look better, the narrative flows more naturally without as many lurches forward, and the overall tone is more consistent.  Does it feel its length?  Not quite as it feels closer to a three hour and change movie than the full four hours, but it’s still a pretty arduous slog.  The chapter cards, as hokey as they are, might have been a stroke of genius as it makes this feel much more like a mini-series and made for excellent stopping points as we ended up watching it in two or three sittings with these serving as perfect stopping points.  Stacking the two against each other there’s definitely more good to be found in this version than there is in the original cut.  However…

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The Most Bad: It’s not THAT much better now despite being twice as long

Snyder just isn’t a very efficient filmmaker; at least not when given THIS level of free reign to complete his vision.  With no constraints there’s no discipline, and so indulgence is the name of the game with scenes that exist only to show off some particular effect or convey a particular mood without it having to build on the rest of the movie.  There’s a scene where Scandinavian women start singing after dude bro Aquaman heads back to the sea that doesn’t add anything (it’s at COMPLETE tonal odds with how we’re supposed to perceive Arthur as a character), the Mother Box on Themyscira vibrates for like five minutes before they actually start the scene, and the added Flash action scene serves no purpose other than to sprinkle in a few more crumbs that may or may not tie into the Flash movie which I’m still not sure is even going to come out at this point.  They even go so far as to change dialogue so that it’s LESS relevant to the movie as the whole subplot about the world going to chaos after the death of Superman, a subplot that is weaved quite well through bits and pieces peppered throughout the movie, feels at best completely isolated from any scene of relevance to our heroes.  For everything that the movie does right it manages to do something wrong, but what makes this ultimately a worse movie is just how padded it all is; like getting this movie to four hours was a challenge rather than an organic outcome of a filmmaker’s vision.  There’s definitely a way to split the difference here as giving the original cut more room to breathe would have helped it immensely but some of those limitations led to innovations that led to a much sharper and cleverly crafted script.  I would certainly watch the original cut again (and probably several times) well before I revisit this cut, but it’s by no means a disaster as I frankly expected it to be.  The bones of the solid movie we got four years ago are what hold this movie up and with so many resources thrown at it’d be hard to make a movie worse than that one, but sadly they didn’t make a movie significantly BETTER than that one.  For those who wanted this, I hope they are happy and that the more intense supporters can move on with their lives, but for the rest of us it’s little more than a curiosity; the kind of curiosity we rarely get in this industry so it’s worth appreciating in that regard, but it honestly doesn’t matter that much because we’ve already moved on to better things in the DCCU.  Shazam and Birds of Prey took things in a drastically different direction than Snyder’s original vision and I’d rather move forward with those than gaze backwards at this.

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