Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Justice League group portrait


The day I sat down to watch Zack Snyder’s Justice League, the death of Jim Steinman, songwriter for Meat Loaf, among many others, had just been announced. And it occurred to me about halfway through watching that this epic is a case of same/same: a big, loud, glorious, ever-crescendoing Bat Out of Hell of a movie.

Snyder himself pops up before the action gets going, to say a big thank you to the fans who hash-tagged his version of the movie into existence with a #ReleaseTheSnyderCut campaign. They were disappointed with the original 2017 version, which, having fought a guerrilla campaign against the Warner Bros suits, Snyder finally abandoned after his daughter died. Joss Whedon was brought in to complete, rewriting, reshooting and only using about 10 per cent of Snyder’s original material.

The fact that Whedon’s version didn’t do well at the box office also called the entire DC Cinematic Universe project into question, so perhaps the studio’s intentions in greenlighting the new cut weren’t entirely charitable and fan-facing. Maybe, just maybe, Snyder could pull the movie out of the fire, fix its problems and, with not too much in the way of reshooting and extra expense ($70 million), save the movie, the franchise and the day.

That’s a superhero story all on its own. But what of Snyder’s actual finished product? In bare bones it’s the same film. Superman is dead and Steppenwolf is keen to get his hands on the three boxes which, when reunited, will bring to fruition an invasion of Earth abandoned millennia before. Apocalypse.

In all other respects it’s a completely different film. At four hours long, as compared to Whedon’s two-hour cut, it’s also a case of more is more. More everything, in particular of Steppenwolf and his peregrinations into different realms in pursuit of the boxes, plus his dealings with the even more ominous Darkseid (who is to Steppenwolf what the Emperor is to Darth Vader – technically a superior, dramatically unimportant).

The original cut was chaotic and unsatisfying. Here, there’s a chance for everyone to breathe, for their characters to gain a bit more heft, in particular Cyborg, who has his entire origin story restored – he’d been almost entirely deleted from the 2017 movie.

Whedon’s quippy, pop-culture-heavy references have been expunged. However, that funny interchange between Flash and Batman – Flash asks Batman, “What are your super powers again?” and Batman replies, “I’m rich.” – remains. I thought that was one of Whedon’s. Apologies to writer Chris Terrio. In general, though, the tone is dark, stern. Black leather, splayed legs. Smoke machines. 1980s rock.

Terrio and Snyder clearly equate backstory with daddy issues. Everyone has them in this version. Most obviously Cyborg (dad’s an unfeeling scientist) and Flash (dad’s in jail for murdering his mother), but also Batman (dad famously dead, Alfred is surrogate), Aquaman (abandoned by despised dad), Superman (haunted by his) and so on. As for Wonder Woman, it’s not clear that she even has a father, what with Amazons being all women.

The one thing both versions share is perfect casting: Henry Cavill as godlike and noble Superman, Ben Affleck as sour and workmanlike Batman, Gal Gadot as resourceful and Amazonian Wonder Woman, Ray Fisher as techy and mighty Cyborg, Jason Momoa as cool and impulsive Aquaman and Ezra Miller as lithe and irreverent Flash.

The four hours do not fly by – it’s half a working day, after all – but they don’t drag either. At one hour in we have the shape of the plot, by two the gang has finally been assembled, and at three we start heading into the final countdown and the big fight finish towards which all epic movies build.

Darkseid and his forces
Darkseid and friends


Through what could very easily have been a slog, Snyder’s command of pacing is what’s really impressive. He brings the rhythm up and then takes it down again. Action, a pause for breath, more action, another pause. The action is not always a fight, though it often is. Flash, for instance, is introduced in a brilliant sequence involving him saving a pretty young woman from certain death.

The soundtrack shifts too, starting out all breathy, lyrical songs and ending up with the massive Wagnerian score of JunkieXL’s massed orchestras as the superheroes take on Steppenwolf in a special effects showdown that somehow keeps all the characters in play. Even here Snyder pauses – mid-bombast – as if to give us a bulletin from the real world. While battle rages between our heroes and Steppenwolf, Darkseid and his Parademons, Snyder switches the action to a cornfield, where Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane) are swapping emotional confidences about Clark/Superman. Corny, literally.

If you want a big message, Wonder Woman gives us one about “Men, Atlanteans and Amazons” working together – diversity, inclusivity and, in the shape of Cyborg, black lives mattery.

One carry-over from the original film is that some of the CG is a bit shonky. It barely matters. It feels like complaining about the font used in a letter informing you that you’ve won the lottery.

Audaciously, there’s even an epilogue, containing an entirely unnecessary dream sequence, which feels like Snyder having a bit of a joke with his audience – I could go on doing this all night, sort of thing. While setting up a sequel – more audacity – he even introduces, right at the last gasp, a new character, the Martian Manhunter.

And if that isn’t enough for you, apparently there’s also a black and white version on the way, with a different ending. Nerds, assemble!




Zack Snyder’s Justice League – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2021







Sucker Punch

Emily Browning as Baby Doll in Sucker Punch

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

20 June

 

The Beatles’ Yesterday and Today Butcher cover, 1966

On this day in 1966, the Beatles released their eleventh US release, Yesterday and Today, a compilation of tracks from the three most recent British albums – Help!, Rubber Soul and Revolver (not yet released). The record became infamous because of its cover, shot by Robert Whitaker earlier that year, which depicted the band dressed in butchers’ aprons draped with pieces of meat and various parts of plastic dolls. In terms of conceptual art, it was ahead of its time (it’s in Damian Hirst and the Chapman brothers territory) and the band sold it to the record company as “our comment on the [Vietnam] war.” Capitol Records printed 750,000 copies of the butcher cover and it caused a stir even before it got to the shops. The record was immediately recalled, the order to pull it coming right from the top. Many of the covers were destroyed, going into landfill, but tens of thousands others were re-issued, with another, less offensive, image pasted over the top. Once word got out that the butcher cover was underneath these so-called “Trunk” copies, the race was on to find a way to remove the new image without destroying the old one. Ironically, “pasteovers” that have not been interfered with now command good prices, whereas “third state” covers (the anodyne image removed) are less valuable. An original shrink-wrap version of the original butcher cover, not tampered with either by the company or the public, now sell for multiple tens of thousands of dollars.

 

 

 

Sucker Punch (2011, dir: Zack Snyder)

If 300 is a light-hearted, cartoon-y take on hot young guys doing bloodthirsty things, then Sucker Punch is the female equivalent, a lurid modern-gothic bit of fun peopled by girls/women whose clothes are all a bit too tight, loose, skimpy or absent. But 300 is dumb shit compared to this, a mad kaleidoscopic mash-up of pop trash loosely held together by a video-game conceit: our fab five of fearless young women – Charlie’s Angels on crystal meth – are fired into one crazy situation after another (disarm the bomb, kill the dragon, defeat the Nazis etc), each situation preceded and precipitated by a dance by Baby Doll (Emily Browning) and accompanied by high-octane mixes of old school tunes by Marcus De Vries. So we get Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit”, the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows”, Roxy Music’s “Love Is the Drug”, among others. The effect is intoxicating, if you can take this sort of thing, possibly migraine-inducing if you can’t. Buried deep inside is an exploration of themes also handled by Lucile Hadzihalilovic in her overlooked and beautiful Innocence – the enculturation of young women. Both films, 300 and Sucker Punch, were directed by Zack Snyder, a man whose output up till this point has suggested that at his worst he’s a hack (Dawn of the Dead), at his best (flashes of this in Watchmen) a Hollywood player trying to move the artform onwards. His artform being the comic-derived, pulpy, over-caffeinated actioner. Sucker Punch is the apotheosis of this. But I haven’t mentioned the cast, apart from the always luminescent Browning – Abbie Cornish being the only one who doesn’t really fit in with Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens and Jamie Chung (Cornish too old? too above-it-all?). Nor have I mentioned that the action actually takes place on two levels of reality, up here in some kind of women’s correctional facility over which Carla Gugino presides while the girls suck air across their teeth. And then in the various rabbit holes that the plot dives down, where alter egos of the young women go to deadly work like some underdressed X-Women. We never actually see Baby Doll dance, but the idea that a young woman gyrating on a table top can create so much disruptive energy, enough to drive deadly combat, that’s brilliant. Because it entirely subverts the normal dynamics of action films, which are essentially about men giddy on heroic notions of saving the dancing girl. Here the women go to war, driven by something so powerful it cannot be shown. Unleashed by the concept, Snyder goes to work with the CG, which doesn’t even vaguely attempt to ape reality – the problem with too much CG work these days, from Pixar down. Instead he’s free to create impossible worlds where imaginary, though consistent, laws of physics hold sway. Yes, if you’re being snitty, Sucker Punch can be seen as an update of the erotic girls school or prison drama. There is a lot of lingerie. I’m not going to mount a defence of this aspect of it; I can’t. That doesn’t make the film any less brilliant. And having had the misfortune to watch Snyder’s Man of Steel, more hackwork, let’s just hope one day soon he gets back with the Sucker Punch programme instead of all this messing around with adaptations of previously existing “properties”.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • A great cast includes Jon Hamm, Oscar Isaac and Scott Glenn
  • Larry Fong’s intense cinematography
  • Snyder and Steve Shibuya’s inventive screenplay
  • The great Marcus de Vries/Tyler Bates soundtrack

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Sucker Punch – Watch it now at Amazon