A League of His Own

I’ve watched the Snyder Cut. I’m neither a Snyder superfan nor a Snyder hater, so I went in prepared for it to be either better or worse than the Whedon-Snyder hybrid version, though obviously I was hoping for better. And better indeed it is; I enjoyed it much more. To be sure, each has elements I liked that the other lacks; still, the tone of the Snyder version is much less uneven than that of the hybrid, as one would expect.

Comparisons between the Whedon and Snyder versions are sometimes surprising, though; a lot of humour one might have thought was Whedon turns out to be Snyder (though of course a lot also doesn’t), and one major montagey scene that looked like pure vintage Snyder turned out to be Whedon.

A lot of people are rolling their eyes about the four-hour runtime, but I greatly preferred the measured pace and slow burn that gives the story and characters more time to breathe. In particular, Cyborg, Cyborg’s father, and the Flash get a lot more to do. Also, although Snyder continues to operate better at the “moment” level than at the “scene” level (to quote one perceptive YouTube analyst I can’t seem to find now), that vice is less in evidence when he’s allowed more time.

Plus: in this era where people demand to bingewatch an entire season it’s a bit odd to complain about a movie’s length, especially since it’s online rather than in a theatre so you can pause whenever you like, and in any case Snyder has broken the movie into six chapters so you can treat it as a six-episode miniseries and watch one episode at a time if you’re so inclined.

The “Knightmare” flashforwards in this movie finally make sense of the earlier ones in Batman v. Superman; if you put them all together you get a fairly clear picture of what happens in the future that Barry wants Bruce to avert.

Not everything is better in the Snyder cut. I like Whedon’s Steppenwolf better (Snyder admittedly gives him better motivations and backstory, but the Whedon version gives him more personality and more menace). Wonder Woman’s now-familiar theme music gets used only once; instead there’s a new Wonder Woman leitmotiv that, while I like it, I’ve gotta say is overused. And a couple of her new scenes make no sense (I won’t go into details, because spoilers). The Snyder version also asks us to believe that one of the villains just forgot the location of the thing he desires most in life. Snyder’s ending to the Lois/Martha scene completely undercuts it; one of the new characters is just shoehorned awkwardly in; and I’m not crazy about the aspect ratio (which I gather Snyder chose mainly in the hope of future IMAX showings).

And in both versions, the Apokoliptians all look like rough-hewn CGI video game monsters rather than actual characters. That can only make things difficult for the upcoming New Gods movie, at least if that’s supposed to be in continuity with the earlier movies – though the likewise upcoming Flash movie may hand DC a get-out-of-continuity-free card.

One final note: in the hybrid version, the narration over the flashback scene of hiding the motherboxes seems to be a direct homage to the opening of Fellowship of the Ring; if you were wondering whether that was Snyder’s idea or Whedon’s, lo, it was Whedon’s – the Snyder narration is much less Fellowship-y. Though of course the idea of three major peoples each receiving a perilous magical gifty remains.

3 Responses to A League of His Own

  1. Brandon March 22, 2021 at 9:01 am #

    Here’s what I thought of it, for what it’s worth.

    I was able to compare exact frames, and the new cut’s 4:3 A/R does not remove any significant amount of picture from the sides, maybe a few pixels, but it does add a lot to the top and bottom. Also, the new cut has more muted colours than the 2017 cut.

    The Themyscira sequence made me wonder if 50 Amazons just stand around perfectly still watching the magic box all day and night. Paradise Island isn’t much of a paradise for them.

    The terrorist/Diana scene made me laugh. The silly motives of the terrorists, especially the Wikipedia-sounding description read by the lassoed one doesn’t motivate the scene. Blowing up a few city blocks won’t accomplish their too-abstract goals anyway. The little girl asking Diana “Can I be like you…?” felt so calculated I wanted to throw up at the insincerity.

    You’d think that, in four hours, the movie would have enough time to develop each character, but I guess not. All of the lead characters are written generically. Giving them problems doesn’t make them characters. They make four hours worth of broad choices, and are therefore interchangeable.

    There’s a very long (about eight minutes) sequence in the middle of this movie in which the history of the magic boxes is told to Bruce by Diana while the movie shows us what happened. I think this would have been better as a narration-free prologue. I’m biased because I hate narration and exposition, so perhaps it wouldn’t bother someone else. If a movie has a great narrator, as Shawshank does with Morgan Freeman, it can kind of get away with it. In this case however, it felt like ants crawling all over my body. Gadot’s strength on screen is how she reflects photons, not how sounds emanate from her throat. I don’t ever want a movie telling me anything. Show, don’t tell.

    I guess it’s obvious, but Barry could break his father out of jail any time he wants. Barry’s speed force scenes are a ripoff of Pietro’s in the X-men Days of Future Blah movie. Fox got there first.

    Other than the movie’s tenuous grasp on logic, the tone is wrong. Every new DC movie makes the first Superman flick look better. That movie got the tone exactly right. It needs a Cary Grant at the center, lightly hopping from scene to scene with bemused detachment. The 2011 JL reboot comic got this right. That was a source for this movie, but obviously it was not seen as dark and glum enough.

    Another problem is the overly complex magic boxes. The infinity gems are easy to explain. Do it once, and it’s done, so the movie can stop talking about them. The boxes frequently need explaining. We get status updates, debates about how to combat them, or just deal with them — should we blow them up, should we control them, what can they do, where are they, how will they eff with us if we try to control them, etc. The audience doesn’t care. This is a MacGuffin. The movie shouldn’t be about this, it should only appear that way.

    The characters’ victory over Steppenwolf feels unearned and perfunctory at the end, because all they had to do is marshal (vastly) superior forces to win. The JL characters weren’t wounded in the process of achieving their goal. I’ll use an example from a non superhero flick, The Hustler. When Eddie challenges Fats in the early part of the movie, we know Eddie is the better player, because the movie shows us, but it also shows us why Fats always wins — not talent, character. The rest of the running time is devoted to putting Eddie through hell to change him. At the end, when Eddie challenges Fats again, we know what Eddie has become because we watched it happen. Fats has no chance of winning, but what about the battle scars Eddie carries?

    To use a superhero flick, at the end of Civil War, three characters who are ostensibly allies are fighting each other, and it’s because the circumstances have made them enemies, and there’s nothing they can do about it. The whole bloody weight of history and all of the accumulated grievances are just too much for them. That movie isn’t about luxuriating in the superpowers, but in watching the characters decide if the powers should be used at all. Agonizing over the ambiguous moral choices these movies usually make easy. It seems like a natural law at this point that the Marvel side understands the important things about superheroes the DC side doesn’t. What started in the comics decades ago continues in the movies now.

    If we compare this movie to another four hour epic — Lawrence, we can see where JL fails. Each of the main characters in Lawrence make choices specific enough to negate their generic fungibility. They become real to us. The movie puts them through hell and eventually factionalizes them just when they need to be united in the common goal of ejecting the British from Arabia. The problem is the situation is too big and the old grievances too hard to overcome. Lawrence can be criticized, for example David Thomson said something like “is it really about anything?”, but its greatness is earned, there’s no doubt about that. Little or no narration or exposition. The movie shows rather than tells. So much dialogue was removed the characters sometimes sound like they’re reciting verse, but at least they don’t sound like they’re reading articles out of an encyclopedia.

    Lastly, I want to say something about Snyder’s violence aesthetic. Sam Peckinpah slow-moed the violence in his movies starting with The Wild Bunch in 1969. For example, a character would be shot, and the moment of the bullet ripping through flesh and blood is what Peckinpah stretched with the overcrank. The violent choice happened in real time, but the consequences, the pain and death, were emphasized.

    It seems Snyder does the opposite. The consequences are overcranked to the speed of a ping-pong ball. Is there any moral context to the choices in a Snyder movie? I don’t think so. The point is, we’re following the strongest side in the conflict. We’re on the winning team. Might makes right. Clark’s words to Steppenwolf when he joins the fight — “Not impressed” — are revealing. We’re invited to enjoy the fact that the JL are now able to win easily. How is this not violence porn?

  2. Roderick March 23, 2021 at 4:34 am #

    I certainly agree that Lawrence of Arabia is a much better movie.

    • Brandon March 31, 2021 at 12:31 pm #

      I don’t think every movie has to be as great as Lawrence to be watchable, but I do think a movie that aims for a roughly similar target and fails should be criticized.

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