‘I’ ON CULTURE
There has been a huge stir because the film Justice League was re-released in a new version this past week on HBO Max. The original film was supposed to be the DC Comics version of The Avengers, but it earned only a bit more than half the money of Avengers: Age of Ultron, which was the weakest of the four Avengers films. In other words, it made money but was a relative failure as a moneymaker, and a real failure in terms of critical reaction.
But there had been a problem with the film. Director Zack Snyder had left the film before it was done because of the sudden death of his daughter and Joss Whedon, who had directed the first two Avengers films, took over. Hardcore fans were convinced that Whedon had ruined the film, particularly after Snyder criticized his version.
Eventually, the new version was born. Snyder was given a load of cash to upgrade the computer effects, was able to use a lot of material cut by Whedon, and even to film a scene or two, particularly one in which Jared Leto as the Joker played a role.
The new film dropped on HBO Max, and I watched it, having seen the other version the day before. The new one is twice as long, an incredible four hours (some people were upset that Avengers: Endgame went three) compared to two hours for the Whedon version. Was it worth it? Well, it is an improvement. There is more time spent on the backstories of the characters, particularly the ones who were new. There are some explanations about what is really going on (interesting, although essentially scientific nonsense) and some real focus on a couple of characterizations. But there is a lot of waste. The scene where Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) tries to recruit Aquaman/Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) was brief in the first version. Here it includes the complete singing of a dirge in Icelandic, which was odd since no one had (yet) died. There was a lot of padding.
The story is the same in both versions. A being called Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) plans to destroy earth. In the first version, no reason is given. Here he’s being punished and forced to bring 150,000 destroyed worlds to his master Darkseid. He comes across as a petulant teenager at times, weaker as a villain than in the first. And the superheroes first revive the dead Superman (who Snyder killed off in the horrid Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice) and then all go to a deserted nuclear facility in Russia to battle and conquer the forces of evil.
The real problem with the DC Universe is that most of the characters are not nearly as much fun as those in the Marvel one. Batman and Superman (Henry Cavill) are essentially fairly humorless lunks. Christopher Nolan made Wayne at least somewhat interesting in his films. There was almost no change for Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), who might be the most charismatic character in either universe, but does not do much more than simply fight in this one. The second version did focus a bit less on low angle shots of her legs and backside, perhaps in response to criticism of her objectification in the first version.
Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller) gets a bit more to do, including a bit more heroism overcoming pain from wounds at a key moment and gets a delightful early scene rescuing a beautiful girl.
But it is Ray Fisher’s Victor Stone/Cyborg who moves much more to the center stage. His relationship with his father and his coming into his own is the centerpiece of the film’s emotions. In the Whedon version, he is the least of the characterizations; his acting is at the center of what makes the new version better. He is torn between his human and cybernetic parts, leading him further into a love/hate relationship with his father, the scientist who “saved” him by making him part machine. Joe Morton, a wonderful character actor, plays the father, and gets a lot more to do in this version, and that also is a useful change.
If you like these kinds of films and have four hours to spend, you might enjoy the film. Since it is on television, you can even watch it in parts, something made easier because Snyder actually separates the film into six parts, plus a half-hour epilogue that serves mainly as a tool to set up a possible sequel.