Review by Tim Robins
I have just seen “The Snyder Cut” and I’m looking for someone to blame for the four hours of my life that I’ll never get back.
“The Snyder Cut”, for those unfamiliar, is the new, re-edited version of Justice League (2017) with $70 million dollars of additional material, spanning four hours of television, dumped as a whole on HBO Max.
The result for my frustration is that this “Cut” worked neither a film nor a functioning work of television drama. This “Thing”, as I prefer to call it, suffers from numerous moments of character and plot exposition, none of which hide the fact that the overall threat faced by the League – the synchronisation of three McGuffins called Mother Boxes by a trio of CGI bad guys – is not only boring; it is, for the most part, inexplicable despite Wonder Woman’s (Gal Gadot) best efforts to explain it, including providing a voice over for this Thing’s interminable exposition scenes.
“The Snyder Cut” is divided into six parts, titled: Part 1, “Don’t Count on it Batman”; Part 2, “The Age of Heroes”; Part 3, “Beloved Mother, Beloved Son”; Part 4, “Change Machine” Part 5, “All the King’s Horses”; and Part 6, “Something Darker. I’m not sure these structure the Thing in any way, other than to suggest toilet breaks. I came to see them as barely summountable hurdles.
It is tempting to blame fans for “The Snyder Cut”, if only because they claim credit for its existence. I’m not so sure. #Releasethesnydercut was a social media hashtag even before anyone knew that such a “Cut” was possible.
There is a clear market for new edits of old movies. Neither is this the first time directors have called out studios. In 1985, Terry Gilliam took out a page in Variety to publish an open letter to the Chairman of Universal to the page in Variety. “Dear Sid Sheinberg,” he wrote, “When are you going to release my film, Brazil?” The answer was after the film, then yet-to-be officially released in the United States, won “Best Director”, “Best Screenplay” and “Best Picture” from the Los Angeles Film Critics’ Association.
Other Director’s “cuts” have also proven profitable for DVDs/BluRays/4k, and digitalisation has restored a lot of films to their former or intended glory. Unfortunately, this has led to frivolous tampering too. For instance, the 1970’s’ Star Wars trilogy and Blade Runner.
(The latter has rested on the myth that director Ridley Scott had in some way been thwarted in his intentions for the film, although interviews and production histories reveal fan theories have rested on script errors and indecision. Yes, a happy ending was stuck on Blade Runner but an earlier shot, of a dove flying into a clear blue sky, nearly upended Roy Batty’s poignant death in the rain).
Of course, when apportioning blame, director Zack Snyder is a”good enough place to start. “His’ Justice League movie failed to be the billion dollar blockbuster Warner Brothers were hoping for despite, or some feel because of, extensive rewrites and re-editing by a previous decade’s fan favourite, Joss Whedon, of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer fame and critically acclaimed for films such as The Cabin in The Woods (2011) and The Avengers (2012).
Now, it is certainly true that the 2017 JLA movie was a not terribly convincing meld of Synder seriousness and Wedon sense of humour, of which the latter proved at best dated (The Flash gibbers about the cultural paradox that is brunch) and at worst uncomfortably puerile (The Flash falls face first into a prone Wonder Woman’s breasts). And Snyder left the film for personal reasons, although the studio were rewriting the film even during principal photography. But there were problems in Snyder’s take on the DC Universe back in Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) if not in Watchmen (2009), a film which missed every key plot point of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ game-changing comic.
Batman Vs Superman enjoyed Warner Brothers’ second biggest opening “weekend” ever, but slipped dramatically thereafter. Worse, the film rightfully became open to ridicule for scenes such as Batman hitting Superman over the head with a sink and the infamous climax during which both heroes realise that their mothers were both called ‘Martha’. (This might have had more clout if the studio hadn’t vetoed the suggestion that Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent might be brothers).
Snyder still appears to think his “Martha” complex is an important key not only to Batman Vs Superman but to his entire vision for the JLA. So one side we have Darkseid and Evil “Mother Boxes”, and on the other, heroes, many of whom have tragically lost their mothers.
So in the “Thing” we come to a scene in which various heroes realise that the Mother Box in their possession can resurrect the dead, promptings he question, “I know that we are all thinking the same thing right now, who’s going to say it!”
At this point I was thinking they were about to restore their dead parents to life, even though a reassuring hologram suggests that they were thinking of Superman. But just as I was groaning “No, not Martha! NOT MARTHA!”, the scene cuts to Martha Kent visiting Lois. So I reckon at some point Snyder was toying with that idea too, or at least having the character’s debate the merits of returning their lost loved ones. (of course, it turns out not to be Martha but a Martian).
I’d like to sit Snyder down and ask him what he trying to say in this “Thing”, but I fear he would simply start crying “I want my Mummy!”
Another of Snyder’s takes on the DC Universe is his umbrella motif of “Gods and Monsters”, alluded to by Lex Luthor in Batman Vs Superman, in which he appears to be responsible for unleashing Darkseid’s hell on Earth. Now I have never thought of seeing superheroes as gods, although it sort of fits comic creator Jack Kirby’s approach to titles such as The Mighty Thor, The New Gods and The Eternals. Snyder really isn’t up for that kind of blasphemy. At one point, we flash back to ‘Old Gods’ fighting New. But this did not develop in the way Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings developed the passing of old magic and the rise of the world of men. And that is where comic book characters were positioned by Stan Lee’s hucksterish take on superheroes as modern mythology. So, there is mileage here, if only Snyder had gone the distance.
There’s something else that Snyder doesn’t get. Superheroes are inherently absurd, particularly when they leave the comic book page and the headspace of readers and are brought to life for TV and cinema. Even Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons Watchmen, which some treat as serious literature, acknowledges the weirdness of grown adults dressing in costumes to fight crime. The thing is, for the most part, the 1960s Batman TV series got it right. And the more creators try to repress this silliness, the more it returns, but in ways that make SnyderVision unintentionally, laugh out loud funny.
For me, the mirth began almost immediately with a corn ball shock wave emanating from Superman (but also Doomsday) spreads across the world and apparently awakens the Mother Boxes, although this is not entirely clear. A shot of Lex Luthor with long hair (regenerated in Superman’s spaceship?) communing with Steppenwolf makes no sense at all, and Luthor’s involvement in all this isn’t developed.
The way “The” (sic) “Aquaman” is shot provided the biggest chuckles; when seen stripped to the waist among crashing waves, I was reminded of 1970’s Old Spice adverts. Then we see Aquaman jetting through the water propelled by a stream of bubbles shooting out of his butt.
But it was the way Snyder uses Norse folk as stand-ins for stereotypical “primitives” was all that I needed to remind me I was watching utter drivel.
I still have zero idea why it was decided to portray The Flash as a Jewish caricature, or as light-ish relief, although it is still as clear as day that Warner Brothers hoped The Flash might cash-in on the popularity of Evan Peters’s ‘Quicksilver’ – but even Marvel couldn’t manage that, in Dark Phoenix (2019). Snyder tries to tie his appearance in Batman Vs Superman into the JLA with a reference to The Flash’s warning about the coming of Darkseid’s dystopian future Earth. Fine. This plot worked well for X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), but here it is just another tangent.
There is so much unreflexive stupidity in “The Snyder Cut” that to go on much longer risks undermining the obvious efforts of the Thing’s creators. However, special mention must go to a scene with “reactionary terrorists” who show up in London with a bomb and the stated intent to blow up four blocks, whatever that means in the Britain, in order to blast the country back to the Middle Ages.
Pause. That’s right. A single bomb will blast Britain back to the Middle Ages. In the hands of Quentin Tarantino, these characters would look and sound cool. Instead, they look and sound ridiculous. Ree-dic-you-luss.
Perhaps the only person I have left to blame is myself. I need to get out more.
Actually, I just need a Shiba Inu. I like a dog that emits an eerie scream when it gets frustrated. It reminds me of The Legion of Super Pets. That would make a good film, but not Zack Snyder’s Legion of Super Pets, which would undoubtedly have a chimp with Covid-19, a cloned horse and a rescue cat with Mother issues…
• Zack Snyder’s The Justice League aka “The Snyder Cut” is available now on HBO Max
Dear reader, a review is an opinion. Other opinions are available
A freelance journalist and Doctor Who fanzine editor since 1978, Tim Robins has written on comics, films, books and TV programmes for a wide range of publications including Starburst, Interzone, Primetime and TV Guide.
His brief flirtation with comics includes ghost inking a 2000AD strip and co-writing a Doctor Who strip with Mike Collins. Since 1990 he worked at the University of Glamorgan where he was a Senior Lecturer in Cultural and Media Studies and the social sciences. Academically, he has published on the animation industry in Wales and approaches to social memory. He claims to be a card carrying member of the Politically Correct, a secret cadre bent on ruling the entire world and all human thought.