By David T. Valentin
Image taken from Pinterest
In an entertainment industry for superheroes dominated by the quick-witted, sarcastic, and quirky Marvel films, DC attempts at something grittier, something deeper, something more introspective. Attempts is the key word there. As the saying goes in the comic book industry, if Marvel comics and movies are about humans becoming superheroes, then DC comics and movies are about gods becoming superheroes. That holds especially true with Synder’s Justice League and his attempt at tying together the emotional and thematic beats of Superman: Man of Steel and Wonder Woman (2017) (I don’t include Batman v. Superman in that because, let’s be honest, I don’t think there’s much that film does successfully).
Let’s start off with the heart of the film and what seems to be the overlying message that seems to wrap up the final fight with Steppenwolf and the justice league. If Batman is the brains of the Justice League and Superman the strength of the Justice League, then Wonder Woman, our princess Diana, is the heart of the film. Cue the ancient lamentation music! Sorry, what review of this movie can’t resist bringing it up?
Diana has always been the heart of the DCEU. From her story as a naïve amazon warrior goddess who believes that evil is a bad guy you have to vanquish to a woman who learns that evil cannot never be vanquished, her final lesson is that to defeat that evil, as best we can, as to always have the courage to choose compassion over an endless cycle of hatred. As her lesson goes, she teaches us that these ideals are not just inherent in femininity, but inherent in all of humanity. Ultimately, this free will to choose compassion is humanity’s greatest strength and that especially holds true in Synder’s Justice League.
While the Whedon cut of Justice League was a bit stale in getting the audience to care about the characters, Synder’s vision adds heart and character to the team with Victor Stone aka Cyborg and Barry Allen, the Flash. It is within their stories of the young adults giving up their lives to either avenge the sins and mistakes of their family or continue that cycle of mistakes and then finding joy within their own hearts, not within the hearts of their parents who are well along in their lives. (Allen deciding to throw his life away to help his father get out of jail and Victor who would rather remain bitter at his father and their broken relationship instead of making a future for himself). As the team goes through so much together, they mend whatever conflict they have against each other. By the end of the film their compassion unites them, giving them a greater sense of themselves and a greater sense of themselves in relation to the world around them. And I think this was the overall, final message of Synder’s Justice League. For the most part, I think it did a good job at getting that across through fairly quickly with surface leveled character arcs.
One of the points I couldn’t ignore while comparing Whedon’s cut and Synder’s cut of the film was the improvement of Batman’s character between the two. I admit, I did not rewatch Whedon’s cut so I could better compare it to Synder’s cut (there was no way you were getting me to watch six hours of this film), but I do remember how stale Batman came across as. A lot of fans seemed to blame Ben Affleck for his stale performance during Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice and then again in Whedon’s cut of Justice League. But I found myself thinking that Affleck was doing the best he could with what was given to him. It’s clear that Whedon took Batman’s more serious and stoic nature and amplified that, barely giving him any dialogue that wooed me or anything. It’s clear Synder understands the character a little better than Whedon but not by much. Although I found myself enjoying how Bruce warmed up to his team in small subtle ways, I wanted more out of that. Still, I found myself enjoying Affleck as Bruce more so than Batman. I simply could not get over the horrible voice Affleck did as Batman, especially Affleck’s insistence on delivering that voice for his more emotional lines.
Although Synder’s cut is definitely a step up, a big point of contention for me about the film was its length. Now, I understand online that a few people have talked about how, since it is a different cut of the movie, and not released in cinemas, that Warner Bros. allowed for the movie to go for four hours. Still, I felt myself incredibly bored the first two hours of the film and even the last two required some extra focusing. I do think the film was stronger by the final two hours, but I felt so burnt out by the first two that I didn’t feel invested in the ending. I found myself sighing every time a new scene happened after Batman had given Superman the farmhouse back. And let’s not even talk about the unforgiving casting of Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg, Silicone Valley tech CEO turned bad. His performance as Lex Luthor is just equal level cringy to cis straight white boys who look up to the joker.
On a more important note, the length of the film kept nudging me with one singular question throughout the film: Had it been released in theatres, what would’ve been cut to trim the film down, and would it have just ended up like the Whedon cut? Don’t get me wrong, the Synder cut is definitely an improvement (not much of one, I think), but I couldn’t help but think Synder would have been forced to cut a lot of the small emotional scenes and bits of dialogue that really invited audience members to really care for the characters in such a plot-driven film. Or perhaps they might have let him run the whole four hours, who knows?
But by the end of the day, we still live within a capitalist society and I just had to compare it to the Marvel films not for the stories or the characters, but for the future of the movies and its financial longevity. It’s clear that Marvel’s slow burn reveal of superhero stories throughout the decade has clearly been a financial decision that will continue to make Disney gillions for another decade or even more to come. But the DCEU has clearly tried rushing a superhero team-up film without the necessary character and world building through Whedon’s cut. Which is why I’m curious to see going forward, where exactly is the DCEU going to go? Are they going to use Synder’s cut of the film, which, despite still failing in many ways, does a much better job at establishing potential stories moving forward?
I know this review may seem like a “Oh, a Marvel fan doesn’t understand DC comicbook stories.” And that’s not at all the case. Although I enjoy Marvel’s superhero formula (and I will call it a formula because it is just that), I find myself growing tired of Marvel’s oversaturation in pop culture. I want to see the DCEU succeed because I want to see some of my favorite DC superheroes come to the big screen. At the end of the day, although I think the Synder cut of Justice League still flops more than it succeeds, I really hope fans’ excitement about the Synder cut kicks Warner Brothers in the ass and finally gets them on the right track to really take their films seriously and to do it without trying to copy the success of the Marvel films. Just be yourself, DCEU.