erik lundegaard


Monday October 02, 2023

Movie Review: Zack Snyder's Justice League (2021)


Is Zack Snyder the Leni Riefenstahl of the Trump era?

I know, I know, that’s such an unfair question. Riefenstahl was actually talented.

Kidding! No, it’s a totally unfair comparison … yet somehow I keep returning to it. It’s that grandiose superman posturing—this time with an actual Superman (Henry Cavill)—but full of disphittery, befitting Trump and his era. Remember the opening to “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central, and the way Colbert’s right-wing pundit landed in a three-point crouch and then rose majestically? It was so perfectly stupid I thought he killed that move for all time, but apparently it’s tough to kill stupid. Snyder must return to the move a dozen times in this film.

Both men, Zack and Trump, lost their battles and then sic’ed their minions on the power structure to overturn the results. Trump’s big play was the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. A TV game show host and gasbag real estate mogul attempted to violently overthrow American democracy … and very nearly succeeded. And still might.

Snyder did succeed. This movie is the result.

Mother Boxes?
I have more sympathy for Snyder, of course, but it has limits. His rebellion involved artistic differences. He had a vision, the corporation took it away from him during a time of tragedy, he marshalled forces on social media (#ReleaseTheSnyderCut), and the suits relented. But it’s not like the people in charge disliked his vision; they disliked the returns on investment. They’d given him the most valuable superhero IP in the world and he returned with “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” which grossed about half of what “The Avengers” did. Stupid may be tough to kill but dipshit only goes so far at the box office. All in all, Zack’s vision probably cost Warner Bros. more than a billion dollars. So if you’re a CEO or CFO, and even if you’re among the dipshits who put him in charge in the first place, you probably lose a little patience. You probably think, “Hey, what about that ‘Avengers’ guy? He still available?”

And that was the theatrically released “Justice League,” begun with Snyder’s heavy hand, finished with Joss Whedon’s light comedic touch, not “BvS”-awful but not good. Not a triumph.

And now, with his name not only above the title but possessing it, we get “Zack Snyder’s Justice League.” It took me about 10 tries to finally force it down. I could only handle scenes like this for so long:

Steppenwolf: DeSaad! I call to thee!
[DeSaad appears in the wall of rock]
DeSaad: Steppenwolf, have you begun the conquest? …You still owe the great one 50,000 more worlds. He will hear your plea when you pay your debt.
Steppenwolf: The Mother Boxes will be found and united. No protectors here. No Lanterns, no Kryptonian. This world will fall, like all the others.
DeSaad: For Darkseid. [Vanishes in the wall of rock]
Steppenwolf: For Darkseid.

It’s not just the “thee” and the bowing, and the appearing and disappearing in a wall of rock, it’s those names. I think of a kid in the back row of English class sketching the logos of heavy metal bands onto his notebook. DeSaad. Steppenwolf. Cool! And yes, those names came out of Jack Kirby’s “New Gods” comic books, the ones he made at DC in the early 1970s when he jumped to DC—and possibly jumped the shark—so it’s not completely Snyder’s fault. Question: Is the Whedon-Snyder dynamic not far off from the Lee-Kirby one? Stan Lee had a lighter, comedic touch, which meshed with Kirby’s monumental but often ponderous approach, and for a time they worked well together. Obviously there was no such Whedon-Snyder dynamic since they never worked together, let alone well, but the comic book industry does seem full of this split: the witty ones with a ready wink, and the ponderous ones that want to brood on rooftops in the rain.

Alright, what exactly is “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” about?

Well, there’s an enemy coming. They were actually here eons ago, during “The Age of Heroes.” Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) tells Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) about it at the end of Part 2 of this movie. The part called “The Age of Heroes”:

Diana: As Darkseid waged war on Earth, he found a secret there. A power hidden in the infinity of space. He called forth mystics who worshipped and controlled three objects: the Mother Boxes.
Bruce: Mother Boxes?
Diana: Indestructible living machines made from a science so advanced it looks like sorcery. To conquer, three Boxes have to join and synchronize into the Unity. The Unity cleanses a planet with fire, transforming it into a copy of the enemy’s world. All who live become servants of Darkseid, alive but drained of life: parademons.

I like imagining Affleck practicing his line. “‘MOTHER Boxes?’ ‘Mother BOXes ?’ Wait, maybe just ‘Mother…?’ and let it trail off? Right?”

Back in the day, the inhabitants of Earth—Atlanteans, Amazonians and humans—united and beat back Darkseid for the first time in any universe ever. Yay, us! The bad guys were in such retreat they left the Mother Boxes behind, so they’re still here, one with each group, asleep. But oops, now with Superman dead (thanks, Batman!), they’re waking up and calling to Steppenwolf, who shows up with his parademons, who, per above, are actually just victims, aren’t they? God, that’s sad. Meanwhile, Steppenwolf may seem like a superbaddie with a horned head and no dick, but he’s just a lieutenant to a lieutenant. The real enemy is Darkseid who barely gets screentime in this four-hour monstrosity.

For some reason, they have Batman recruit everybody—though I guess Diana is the one who asks Cyborg (Ray Fisher), the former college quarterback whose superscientist dad (Joe Morton) turns him into a half man-half machine to save his life after a car accident. Dad also gives him the power to control nuclear arsenals and financial markets. “The fate of the world will literally rest in your hands,” he tells him. Wow. And some dads don’t even trust their sons with the car.

Is Cyborg grateful for this power? Or to be alive? Of course not. He’s a teen; he’s bitter. Dad never attended his football games, see, and his beloved mother was killed in the car accident that maimed him, and he’s wondering if his existence is a gift at all—alive but not, dead but not—and I’m just kidding about this last part. At least he doesn’t annunciate any existential concerns. He just broods in the shadows, and when Diana asks him to help save the world, he says “Fuck the world.” Not exactly the words you want to hear from a kid who can control nuclear arsenals.

Aquaman (Jason Momoa) also wants no part of any defense of Earth. He saves Icelandic sailors, knocks back whiskey, then returns to the sea in jeans—which has to be uncomfortable. He has douchebag dialogue with Batman. It’s from “Part 1: Don’t Count On It, Batman”:

Aquaman: Don’t count on it, Batman.
Batman: Why not?
Aquaman: Because I don’t like you coming here, digging into my business, getting into my life. I want to be left alone.
Batman: They won’t leave you alone.

Sorry, that last line is mine. That’s the obvious rejoinder but Bruce doesn’t go there, he just says something stupid. And when Aquaman says “Strong man is strongest alone,” Bruce doesn’t say the obvious, “They are stronger,” he brings up how Superman and he fought side by side, and Superman died, which proves Aquaman’s exact point. Jesus, Bruce are you really this dumb? 

The only one who agrees to join the Justice League right away is the Flash (Ezra Miller), who says, “I need … friends.” (Hold onto that thought, Ezra.)

Wait, so white people immediately agree to help humanity while the people of color don’t? And Zack Snyder and his minions accused Joss Whedon of racism?

Anyway, after Steppenwolf gets the first two Mother Boxes, he only needs the third to destroy the world, but it’s the Justice League who has it. By now, the BIPOC community has joined, so there’s five, but is that enough? We get a discussion about how Mother Boxes are “change machines,” and, as fire can change a house into smoke, these things can change smoke back into a house. Flash: “Who’s gonna say it?” Which is when Cyborg creates a holographic image of Superman brought back to life.

That was good bit. I liked that. I also liked them in the Batcave, with Flash being us going “Cool! Batcave!” I liked the Marc McClure cameo. That made me happy. So there are some things in Zack’s movie I liked.

When they bring Supes back to life, he doesn’t remember them, or his credo, or his personality, but he does remember how to fly and use heat vision and all that, and he’s this close to killing Batman, just incinerating him, when, oh, there’s Lois Lane (Amy Adams), who’s been brooding with cups of coffee throughout the first half of the film. Good thing she happened by. And love returns. And Supes joins the Justice League.

Well, not yet. First, he has to return to Smallville with Lois, visit his own grave (Clark’s), and hear how the family farm was foreclosed on by the bank. And somehow Mom (Diane Lane) just happens to drive by at this exact moment? I thought she was in Metropolis? How far is Smallville from Metropolis anyway? How many of these coincidences are you doing, Zack?

The cheer-worthiest moment in the history of ever
I do think Zack’s final battle is better than Joss’. In the Whedon version, the parademons fed on fear, and when Supes and WW destroy Steppenwolf’s sword he becomes fearful and so they fed on him. Burn. There’s also overlong stuff about a staunch Russian family, and a final idiot Batman vs. Flash footrace that recalled the 1960s comics but didn’t fit the whole “world nearly ending” vibe. 

Here, Batman and Aquaman fight back the parademons, Cyborg tries to enter the Unity to turn it off (or something) but needs a nudge from a supercharged Flash. But oh no! One of the parademons has wounded Flash! And the Unity has started! Except wounded, and with his father’s words ringing in his ears (“Make your own future, make your own past, it’s all … right … now”), the Flash turns back time! He enters the speed force! You remember that, don’t you? It was voted the No. 1 “Cheer Moment” at the 2022 Academy Awards ceremony. By the Academy? No, by dipshits online. For 2021 movies? No, for all time. No moment in any movie ever made us cheer more than that one. If you’re wondering what a definition of a cult is, that's it: voting for “The Flash enters the speed force” as the cheer-worthiest moment in the history of cinema. 

Well, at least Zack got to tell the “Justice League” he always wanted to tell. Done and—

Oh, not over yet?

No. Zack has to tee up the sequel that will never be made, about how Darkseid is going to attack Earth “using the old ways.” Then Cyborg has to listen to the tape his father made for him. And the bank doesn’t foreclose on the Kent farm because Bruce buys the bank. Haw! Couldn’t Bruce have just bought the Kent farm? No, because that wouldn’t be douchebag cool. It has to make you go “Haw!” 

And there’s Supes back in Metropolis again, pretending to have a secret identity. “Hey, didn’t Clark die around the same time as Superman?” “Yeah.” “And wasn’t he reborn around the same time as Superman?” “Yeah. Your point?” “Oh, nothing. Kinda funny is all.”

Anyway, finally over.

Sorry, this is Zack. We also get Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) breaking free from Arkham Asylum (or, more accurately, not being there), and hanging on a yacht and telling a one-eyed guy that Batman is really … Bruce Wayne! Then we’re in a post-apocalyptic world? And Batman is being taunted by the Joker (Jared Leto)? And Aquaman and Lois Lane are dead? But of course it’s all a dream. Bruce wakes up, he’s introduced to the Martian Manhunter, who tells him his mom and dad would be proud, and how the Earth wouldn’t have been united without him. Me: The Earth??? It was six people. Did anyone else factor in? We don’t even get a “There are always men like you” moment.

Seriously, I wonder about Zack. I wonder what he thinks of us mere mortals. He’s not only teeing up sequels that will never be made, he tees up his Ayn Rand project with a headline about an architect.

But he did it. He triumphantly willed this movie into existence. He smited his enemies, landed in a three-point crouch and rose majestically. Like a dipshit.

Posted at 09:20 AM on Monday October 02, 2023 in category Movie Reviews - 2021