Review: Injustice

Imagine what would happen if Superman went bad. Not a mustache-twirling villain, but a frighteningly powerful fascist who demands loyalty and obedience from…. well, everyone. Sort of like a Twitter warrior with godlike powers.

Hence we get “Injustice,” an animated movie loosely based on the hit video game and the long-running comic-book series that served as its prequel. Sadly, it’s a bare-bones, rather shapeless kind of film, and it’s kind of shallow both in plot and theme – the moral issues raised by the source material are boiled down to “taking away people’s freedoms and rights is bad.” The voice acting is lackluster and the need to fulfill a three-act structure leads to a very rushed and somewhat anticlimactic ending.

The Joker decides to give Superman the “one bad day” treatment – he kidnaps the pregnant Lois, attaches the trigger of a nuclear bomb to her heart, and tricks Clark into killing her. The bomb goes off, destroying all of Metropolis. Enraged and grief-stricken, Superman murders the Joker in front of Batman. Then, with the support of Wonder Woman, decides that he is going to bring peace and order to the world…. whether the world likes it or not.

Only a few heroes, antiheroes and Harley Quinn dare to oppose Superman’s new regime, with Batman as their leader. But as their resources and numbers dwindle – including a loss that forever fractures Batman’s family – Superman makes a Faustian alliance with a villain who promises to help him achieve his dream of peace, and descends further into murder and tyranny as he kills those who offend him. The only hope that this Earth has is for Batman to free Mr. Terrific, and find someone who can stop Superman.

It was always going to be a challenge to reduce a long-running, years-spanning comic series and a full-length video game into a movie that isn’t even ninety minutes long. That’s a lot of character development, subplots, battles and important events that need to be trimmed away. So needless to say, the story is very bare-bones and loses a lot of its narrative oomph – as well as the expansive cast of characters one would expect of the Justice League. I’m still not entirely sure why Harley Quinn is involved except as comic relief.

The story also seems to not have much depth – the main message of “police states and fascism are bad” is a good one, but it isn’t presented with much complexity or nuance. The movie also suffers from having to neatly wrap up everything in a bow after a third-act battle… which it utterly fails at. Lots of plot threads are left hanging when it slams into the credits, only seconds after the whole superpowered-tyrant-controlling-the-world issue is resolved in a very, very anticlimactic way. And whenever a hero is killed – which happens frequently – there’s barely time to register it. Most of the many deaths just don’t matter, and some characters just walk right out to never be seen again (such as Aquaman and Shazam).

It also inherits some original sins from the source materials, and despite many changes, it makes no attempt to explain them. For instance, Wonder Woman is strangely hostile to Batman and all-too-eager to turn Superman into a super-tyrant, apparently being too stupid to see how all this could escalate. Why is she so different from the usual Wonder Woman we know and love? No idea. She just is.

The animation is…. okay. Not the best I’ve seen, but not offensively bad. The voice acting is resolutely mediocre, through – most of the actors range from okay-but-not-very-good (Anson Mount, Justice Hartley, Gillian Jacobs, a strangely stiff Janet Varney) to this-is-just-really-bad (Faran Tahir, Kevin Pollak’s Joker). Derek Phillips is admittedly quite good as Nightwing, and Oliver Hudson is pretty fun as Plastic Man.

The one good aspect of “Injustice” is that it reminded me that I’ve been meaning to watch “Superman Vs. The Elite,” an animated movie that delves into the morals of superheroes and what happens when they throw aside laws. Consider that a recommendation, and give it a watch instead of this halfhearted, fatally-flawed adaptation.

Review: Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Back in 2017, Warner Brothers released Joss Whedon’s Justice League, supposedly the springboard to a shared universe of spinoff movies. But the movie cratered, and in the years since, it has been widely considered to be a creative disaster.

But another version of the movie was widely rumored to exist – a cut by the original director Zack Snyder, before it was sliced and diced by the studio and Whedon in an effort to make a more marketable blockbuster. And after years of fans demanding that the studio release the artist’s vision, the fabled “Snyder Cut” was finally released, completed and four hours long. Was it worth the wait?

In a word, yes.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League covers roughly the same territory as the Joss Whedon Cut – Batman (Ben Affleck) brings together several superheroes to fight an extraterrestrial warlord named Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds). This includes the immortal warrior Diana (Gal Gadot), young speedster Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), the gruff water-warrior Arthur (Jason Momoa) and a traumatized young cyborg named Victor (Ray Fisher). In their quest to keep Steppenwolf from uniting the three Motherboxes that will spell the Earth’s doom, they realize that they need the help of Superman (Henry Cavill) – and they may have the means of returning him to life.

But whole the overall plot – and some scenes – are familiar, the movie has whole swathes that are new and enriching. Characters are massively fleshed out, poorly-conceived comedy is notably absent, and the rich lore of the DC universe is woven into the tapestry of the plot – most notably in the malevolent Darkseid and his courtiers, who give some reason for Steppenwolf to conquer Earth other than “he just wants to, okay?”

In short, with four hours to expand into, the Snyder Cut has the ability to be a richer, more compelling narrative. Snyder’s vision here is a muscular, smooth, flowing expanse of scenes that all interweave neatly – nothing here could be trimmed without diminishing something else. This even includes some beloved DC characters who don’t play much of a role here, but were clearly intended to contribute more to a shared universe.

Snyder also strikes an almost perfect balance of action, comedy and tragedy here. There are some moments of understated comedy woven in (“This is Alfred. I work for him”), but it’s kept sedate and appropriate to whatever is happening. There are some great action scenes as well (such as the tragic battle of Steppenwolf against the Amazons), though Snyder makes sure to weave subtle characterization into them. But he delves deep into the loss and pain of the characters here, especially Cyborg’s misery and anger over being turned into… well, a cyborg. Yet he also shows their nobility and their desire to help others.

Furthermore, the Snyder Cut simply feels… bigger and more epic than Whedon’s cut. Whedon’s film always seemed flimsy and small in scale, but this actually feels like our heroes are going up against an apocalyptic threat. This is particularly true in the Justice League’s final battle against Steppenwolf, which is turned from a standard superhero climax into something dazzling – time is bent, space is torn, battles are fought in body and in the mind, and it feels like no other heroes could possibly do what the Justice League is doing.

Furthermore, the characters are finally done justice by this cut – Snyder’s Batman is intelligent and competent, his Superman is a stern but kind and good person, and his Wonder Woman is fierce and magnificent. Even Steppenwolf is given more character dimensions here – in just a few lines, Snyder makes this horned alien monstrosity feel like a real person, who desperately wants redemption and a welcome home. You almost feel sorry for him, even if you don’t want him to succeed.

But the greatest character development comes for Barry and Victor. Barry is shown not just as a funny quippy kid, but as growing into his role as a hero and completely devoting himself to saving the entire world. And Fisher does an outstanding job as Victor, whose raw pain and misery are recognizable in any person who’s suffered a life-changing injury or disease, but whose compassion for others is never dimmed.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League has some flaws, but it is a wildly different – and far superior – cut to the disaster that was released in theaters. It combined slam-bang action and a lore-rich script with a lot of heart and soul – all you could ask from a superhero movie.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League: Part 2 (Spoilers)

I’ve finished the entire film now, seen it multiple times, and formulated quite a few thoughts about it. Among them:

Thankfully, the random Russian family is absent from this cut of the movie, being one of Whedon’s many baffling creative choices – I mean, why give Cyborg a whole character arc when you can just show random nameless people that we don’t care about? In this cut, the Russian town is completely deserted, which seems like a more likely choice for Steppenwolf’s secret headquarters… and, somehow, makes the whole event seem much more sinister. It’s a mission of death, brewing and blooming in a place that is, effectively, dead.

Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth is, by the way, a delight. The fact that he’s more prominently featured in the Snyder Cut is another point in its favor.

A pretty effective horror scene in which a hapless janitor finds a parademon lurking in the lab… very good at establishing mood and the sinisterness of the parademons. I honestly never felt that in the Josstice League cut.

The firing of the message arrow was longer and more ritualized here, giving more of a feeling that the Amazons are using magic, and very ancient means. It’s also specified that the arrow is an arrow of the goddess Artemis. Overall, it has a slight “lighting the beacons of Gondor” feeling.

It also leads into an excellent scene of Diana investigating the temple where the arrow landed, which – again – increases the feeling of atmosphere and menace considerably. In the Josstice League cut, she just saw it on TV and immediately knew what it meant. Here she knows its significance, but we see her uncovering what it means through non-verbal means and an Indiana Jones-style infiltration of an ancient secret chamber. Compared to the hamfisted dialogue of the Whedon cut, it’s refreshing to have a director assume his audience is smart enough to decipher what’s going on.

Ryan Choi is in this. If you don’t know who Ryan Choi is, he is the second person to assume the mantle of the Atom, a size-changing superhero. Basically, our dear Zack Snyder was laying groundwork for a future movie if the character went over well. But like most non-white characters, he was eliminated from the theatrical cut, which is a shame, because he has some good energy and works well opposite Silas Stone.

Something about Joe Morton apparently just says “genius scientist.” I have seen him in several roles, and the three most prominent ones – this one included – all cast him as a genius scientist.

He’s also our entry-way to Victor Stone, aka Cyborg, whom we first meet being emo in a hidden apartment. This was… about all the character development Cyborg had in the Josstice League cut – he was just emo and wooden for the whole movie, and then he just sort of decided not to be at the climax. It was truly abysmal, and I actively disliked the character of Cyborg because he was so poorly-written.

Turns out that was all Whedon’s fault. Again. Thanks, Whedon. Thanks so much.

Ah, slo-mo. It wouldn’t be a Zack Snyder movie without slo-mo.

A new scene also introduces us to Vulko, Aquaman’s mentor figure, who is rocking the Elrond hair here. He’s appeared in the Aquaman movie so his appearance is not a huge surprise, but it would have been a fun way to segue into Momoa’s own movie.

One contribution Snyder has made that I’m not really a fan of is the air bubbles that Atlanteans generate whenever they want to talk, and their apparent inability to communicate verbally without them. If they’re able to breathe water, they should be able to talk underwater. Especially since sound does travel underwater – Snyder could have had some fun with it by coming up with watery distortion.

I do, however, love the way that Steppenwolf communicates with DeSaad in this movie, in which a giant slab of stone in the middle of a nuclear power plant (no, I don’t know why it’s there) turns into a molten representation of whoever he’s talking to. It’s a very cool-looking visual representation of communication, more so than just talking through a portal or something like that.

The Snyder Cut also does something that Whedon’s never did: makes Steppenwolf a three-dimensional villain. One of the things I (and everyone else) hated about Steppenwolf was how thin and cliched he was – we’re simply informed that he conquers because… that’s what he likes to do. That’s his whole motive. Nothing deeper or more identifiable than that.

But in Snyder’s cut, you almost feel sorry for Steppenwolf. His motivation here is that he somehow betrayed Darkseid once in the distant past, and now he has to conquer worlds to be allowed to return home. It’s a simple motive – he wants to go home – but it’s one that we can understand and sympathize with, even if he’s still obviously evil.

Diana also gives a more elongated version of the “age of heroes” retelling, with some notable differences. For one thing, it’s worth noting that Whedon trimmed out the African and Asian warriors fighting for the kingdoms of men. More attention is paid to the Green Lantern who dies during the fight. We also see more of the Motherboxes and how they work, which makes them feel more like they aren’t just MacGuffins.

But the biggest difference is that it isn’t Steppenwolf who gets his butt kicked by Earth’s defenders – it’s Darkseid himself, albeit before he started wearing a shirt and calling himself Darkseid. He also is forced to retreat because Ares critically injures him, to the point where he’s bleeding all over the place. We also get an idea of how hard it is to hurt Darkseid – even in his youthful, less powerful days, it takes two or three Greek gods to take him down.

It’s interesting that despite the rather bleak depiction of Batman in Batman V. Superman, It’s Snyder’s cut that has Batman being more optimistic about humanity and the possibility of heroes coming together, whereas Whedon’s is all whiny gloom.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League: Part 1 (Spoilers)

Since the Snyder Cut of Justice League is a mammoth four-hour-long expanse, I’ve decided to watch it in sections. This evening, I finished watching the first part of it, with no particular expectations – I’ve been avoiding Youtube videos about it for the past few days, so I could come in with fresh eyes.

And I can definitely say: it’s much better than the Josstice League cut.

Admittedly that’s a low bar – the theatrical cut of this movie was a mess, a mismatched Frankenstein’s Monster of two clashing styles that managed to make each other look terrible. Also, it didn’t feel very epic. It’s fine to have an individual superhero movie with smaller stakes – see Ant-Man and the Wasp – but for a team-up of A-list superheroes, you need everything to feel grand and massive in scale. Nothing about the theatrical cut felt like the whole world was in danger.

That is very much remedied in the Snyder Cut, or at least the first part of it. Things feel bigger, more intense, more expansive.

Flaws? Well, it’s a bit slow. The first part of the film takes its time and unfolds in a leisurely manner… and sometimes it’s a little too leisurely, such as when the Scandinavian women sing, or when Batman is very slowly crossing a mountain range. And yes, if Zack Snyder’s staples like slow-mo bother you, gird your loins, because he does use it.

However, most of the stuff I can note are positives. Almost everything in this cut was done better than in the Whedon cut – sometimes the changes weren’t drastic, but they were notable.

For one thing, there were a lot of smaller scenes that were inserted that make it flow more effectively, such as when the Amazon mother-box first activates – we see one of the Amazons reacting to it and investigating it, before ordering that Hippolyta be told. Or Cyborg sensing the mother-box in his closet activating.

Other scenes were clearly reshot, and frankly they seem a lot better than the ones in the Josstice League version. Batman’s entire conversation with Aquaman has a lot more weight – when Aquaman says “You’re out of your mind, Bruce Wayne,” there’s a subtle hint of menace there rather than humor. And thank God, Batman isn’t spouting Whedon dialogue. Batman should never say Whedon dialogue. Ever. In any situation.

One of the most notable is the scene where Wonder Woman defeats the terrorists and saves a bunch of schoolchildren. The scene is longer, more intense, and Diana feels more like she’s actually angry and disbelieving that people could behave this way. Furthermore, instead of simply throwing the briefcase up in the air, she actually flies through the ceiling a considerable distance, and then throws it. It makes the situation seem more dire that the explosion was so massive.

Furthermore… she seems like more of a badass here, fighting more effectively, flying into the air, and using her superpowers, including that bracer-clashing move of hers. Yet at the same time, the Snyder Cut also highlights her compassion by having her immediately reassure the children and ask everyone if they are all right.

Speaking of how women are depicted, it’s also interesting to me that Zack Snyder presents the Amazons in a far less sexualized manner than onetime feminist icon Joss Whedon, including removing the implied rape threat. Something to think about.

Actually, he depicts the Amazons better in almost every way. In this movie, they’re fiercer, more effective, and the enemy they face is much more imposing, so that their losses feel more earned. Having them all roar “We have no fear!” is a pretty awesome moment, even though you know they are afraid. The fight with Steppenwolf is much more destructive and epic – including a whole temple falling into the sea – and Snyder pauses to let their losses sink in before launching us back into some pretty awesome fight scenes.

Speaking of Steppenwolf, he looks a thousand times better here. This is a CGI render that someone actually finished, and he doesn’t just look like a weird gray guy in a giant hat. He’s bigger, scarier, his voice is deeper and more distorted, and he’s covered with an armor of living needles.

The movie has also been rescored, and honestly I prefer it. The scene of Lois visiting Superman’s memorial feels poignant and heartrending in a quiet, unobtrusive way, without being too on-the-nose with people doing criminal stuff or holding up signs saying “I tried.”

Anyway, those are my thoughts on the first part of Zack Snyder’s masterwork. It’s good, better than I expected so far. I’m hoping it will continue to entertain me. To be continued!

The selfishness at the heart of Batwoman

I haven’t blogged about stuff for awhile, but I had to speak up on the subject of the CW’s laughably bad TV series, Batwoman. The shared universe formerly known as the Arrowverse is now several years past its sell-by date, and while it’s never been good exactly, it is pretty rancid by now. It didn’t help that they cast Ruby Rose as a character we’re presumably supposed to like, despite her inability to do anything but smirk.

Lately, I’ve been watching Youtuber ProcrastiTara’s reviews of Batwoman, and also keeping abreast of the news of the second season, which will be recasting the role with an entirely new character… more on that later. I’ve known for awhile that the people making this show don’t understand Batman, but I’ve recently come to the conclusion that the reason they don’t is because they’re too selfish to appreciate a character whose core is selflessness.

At the beginning of Batwoman, we’re informed that Batman’s real reason for donning the cowl and fighting crime isn’t to save others from the heartbreak that he has suffered, and it isn’t to protect the people of Gotham from evil. No, it’s because he’s edgy and he doesn’t like rules!

You see? They cannot grasp that he chose to be Batman for unselfish reasons, because the kind of people who write this sort of character are in themselves fundamentally selfish. If you have any doubts, we’re assured, at the end of the very first episode, that Kate’s reason for becoming Batwoman is because she wants “the freedom to be myself.” Her core reason for being a superhero is purely about herself, not about wanting to help others. No wonder the character is such a despicable tool.

Honestly, there is nothing heroic about a person who only does good things because they want to “be themselves.” Batman may be more fully himself when he dons the cowl than when he is Bruce Wayne, but that is NOT his motivation for doing what he does.

This was absolutely cemented by the promotional text released to publicize Batwoman 2.0, who is an entirely new character who is somehow able to be a superhero despite being a homeless drug addict with no combat training. What is this new character’s motivation? To “no longer be a victim” and “be powerful.” Again, it’s not about being good, noble and unselfish, about saving people who cannot save themselves – it’s about feeling an artificial sense of empowerment (which, let’s face it, describes pretty much all empowerment – most of the time, it’s just feeling a fake pleasant sensation, not actually changing anything or accomplishing anything).

People who are too selfish to come up with noble reasons for superheroes to do what they do should not be allowed to write/showrun for them. Period. I have zero admiration for these characters, and zero reason for cheer for them. Hopefully they’ll shoot this series in the head at the end of the second season, which they really should have done already when you consider the ratings.

Recommendation: Batman: The Brave and the Bold

I love Batman. I love Batman media, from the Adam West TV show to the dark gothic animated series, from The Batman from the early aughts to the Christopher Nolan trilogy. I fully expect to love The Batman (movie, not series). No, I do not love, or even like, the Joel Schumacher movies, but I do sometimes watch them if I want to laugh and cringe at the same time.

But one show that seems to get overlooked sometimes in the world of Batman media is Batman: The Brave and the Bold, an animated show that aired from 2008 to 2011, before being sadly cancelled in order to make way for Beware the Batman. Not that Beware the Batman was bad, but it didn’t have the heart and soul of Batman: The Brave and the Bold.

And this heart and soul are easy to identify: the people who made this movie not only love Batman and his history, they love the entire DC Comics universe. Not just the major heroes like Superman and Wonder Woman (who are only introduced in the final season), but characters obscure (the Metal Men) as well as iconic. And old as well as new – lots of characters from decades ago (Adam Strange, Wildcat), alongside newer characters like the third Blue Beetle Jaime Reyes (who has many appearances as a fledgling hero who needs Batman’s guidance) and Ryan Choi (the third Atom).

And it’s all done with immense respect and liking for these characters, whether they’re good or evil. For instance, one of Jaime Reyes’ first episodes sees him trying to investigate the legacy of past Blue Beetles, which allows the makers of this series to pay homage to the previous iterations, especially Ted Kord. You can feel all the love they have for DC’s whole history and all their characters, including the goofy and weird ones. Like, I had never heard of Gentleman Jim Craddock before this – I know technically he appeared in one of the DCAU series, but I honestly don’t remember him because he wasn’t put center stage. Or Red Tornado, who just doesn’t get as much attention as his earnest little robot self deserves. Or the Weeper. There’s actually a supervillain whose signature is CRYING.

Basically, every episode features Batman teaming up with some other superhero (sometimes a group of them, like the teen rebels known as the Outsiders) and dealing with a problem on other planets, or in another time period, or on Dinosaur Island, or England, or parallel universes, or in Batman’s own body (Aquaman and the Atom go on a Fantastic Voyage to cure Batman of silicon-based critters). Sometimes we don’t even know how Batman came to be where he is, such as when he pops up in the Old West to save Jonah Hex (who promptly insults his supersuit).

Okay, the focus isn’t always 100% on Batman and his team-up. One whole episode is about Aquaman going on a family vacation, during which he is forbidden to superhero. It even highlights the nature of Batman’s mythos and his fandom in some fourth-wall-breaking encounters with Bat-Mite.

And it’s wonderfully bonkers, and very much embraces the corniness (Diedrich Bader says the most hilariously cheesy things) of old comic books. It wants to be fun, and it IS fun, balancing out plot and characterization with the need to entertain. I mean, one episode has a sitcom version of Aquaman’s life! Another one was clearly dreamed up just because they wanted Batman to team up with Sherlock Holmes.

But it’s worth noting that not all is funny and goofy. There are serious conflicts in here, such as the invasion of Starro that spreads across the second season, and which ends with a truly heartrending loss. Or the ongoing battle against Equinox, a force that seeks to balance out order and chaos, and is willing to do horrifying things to make that happen. There’s also Chill of the Night, a really magnificent and totally serious episode in which Bruce Wayne’s soul is literally held in the balance, as he discovers who was responsible for his parents’ death.

It also has a great voice cast – you’re guaranteed to be a big fan of at least one person who had a hand in this. Diedrich Bader is an outstanding Batman (probably why they brought him back for the Harley Quinn show), and it has homages to Batman’s past by having Adam West and Julie Newmar play the Wayne parents, as well as Kevin Conroy playing an alternate-universe Batman.

So if you’re a fan of Batman, or even just of DC comics and its history, then this series is one you definitely need to see. Even if you don’t normally watch lighter incarnations of the Dark Knight, this is clever and well-written, and its love and joy are infectious.

The Snyder Cut Trailer (Hallelujah!) – Part 2

So, having explained my complicated thoughts on Zack Snyder, my uncomplicated thoughts on Joss Whedon, and my perception of the theatrical cut of Justice League, here are my thoughts on what we see in the Snyder Cut trailer:

  • 1. First, the choice of music. I was a little offput by the choice for two reasons. One, “Hallelujah” doesn’t seem entirely in tune with the operatic scif-fi-fantasy environment…. and two, Zack Snyder used this before. In Watchmen. During an absurd sex scene. Erm. Okay. I guess he likes the song.

But as the trailer went on, I minded it less and less. For one thing, the new footage we’re seeing is actually edited pretty well to flow along with the music. For another, the music kind of complements both the warmer, more human moments we see, and the grander, more epic moments as well. So… yeah, the music is all right with me.

2. Then we see Darkseid right at the beginning of the trailer, which… well, people are a little divided about how he looks, but as I understand it, this is Darkseid before he actually became Darkseid. I’m cool with that, and want to see more.

  • 3. The movie seems to have a lot more alien-attack aspects than the theatrical cut, which I am absolutely on board with. Honestly, the scope of the theatrical cut never felt as big as it should have – most of the fights were relatively small skirmishes, and Steppenwolf just sort of boom-tubes in and out of wherever he is with a handful of Parademons. Even the climax, which overruns a Russian town, feels small because… it’s just a town, not even a big city.

So I was glad to see some big alien ships raining destruction on major cities, and signs of their actual destruction in the Justice League HQ. Which, hopefully, will not be Wayne Manor as in the theatrical cut, because that was stupid – if Bruce is going to openly turn his house into the JL clubhouse, he might as well just announce to the world that Bruce Wayne is Batman.

  • 4. I perked up considerably when I saw the football game being shown, presumably either in flashback or an early scene set shortly before Cyborg is turned into, well, a cyborg. And this is because Cyborg’s story is probably the most bungled part of Josstice League.

Hear me out: in any story about a character forced to undergo traumatic change, you need to see both a Before and an After. We need to see the transition, the change in this person to feel how much their circumstances have hurt, traumatized and altered them as a human being. But in Josstice League, we only see the After. We see Cyborg angsting about his inhumanity and his robotic body… but we never see what he was before. Was he happy? An extrovert? How did he interact with others? How did he see himself? Did he have friends? What precisely has he lost?

We never see. We don’t know the “old” Victor Stone. There are only a few seconds of pre-Cyborg Victor seen, and in those, his body is mostly obliterated. How can I be emotionally invested in the change this character has experienced, when I don’t know what he used to be BEFORE the change? I couldn’t, and honestly Cyborg was my least favorite character because by the end of the movie, all I had seen was pouting and angsting. They didn’t really dive into his feelings and his trauma; they just had him bro out with a couple of other guys, and get over his pain at the end.

The Snyder Cut looks like it’s going to be rich with Cyborg – we see him struggle, we see him losing someone he loves, ripping up a grave, and we’ll see him when he was just an ordinary college guy playing football. I expect to like Snyder Cut Cyborg much better than the theatrical cut’s.

I also wonder what is up with the image of Victor (still in his human form) redirecting a sky full of missiles.

  • 5. There’s also some superheroing for Barry Allen, who is shown rescuing a young woman – I assume it’s Iris, given how the camera lingers on her face – from a car crash.

This seems to be part of a more serious, less “look at how quippy and quirky I am! I’m written by Joss Whedon!” take on the Flash. You know, a Flash who has a serious part to play in the plot, rather than a Flash who faceplants in Wonder Woman’s boobs (such feminism, Joss!) and rambles about brunch. I admit I found the Flash amusing when I first saw the theatrical cut, but time has changed my opinion.

I’m not entirely sure what the Flash’s place in the Snyder Cut plot is, but the glimpses we have indicate that he is going to be doing something more cosmic, more important, more GRAND.

  • 6. Batfleck… sigh. I am going to admit my bias right out of the starting gate: I do not like Batfleck. This is partly because I disagree with Zack Snyder’s handling of the character in Batman V Superman, but it’s also because I dislike Ben Affleck as a human being and as an actor. I just have never seen a good performance from him; he always seems incredibly wooden and douchey to me.

And honestly, Batfleck was a weak point in Justice League. I do not say this because I dislike either the character or the actor – I say this because I love the character of Batman. Batman’s whole point as a member of the Justice League is that he can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the overpowered superhumans like Wonder Woman or Superman, because he uses his brains and his technology to compensate for his lack of superpowers. He is their equal.

But in the Josstice League cut, Batfleck feels like a liability. He seems to spend most of the action scenes bouncing around at the end of a grappling hook, avoiding getting attacked by others. When he does go up against someone else, he gets hurt physically in ways that the others do not. He seems less competent, more fragile, less capable. You’re left wondering why this guy is even going into battle if he contributes so little compared to, say, the butt-kicking Wonder Woman.

But he looks like he’s actually holding his own in the Snyder Cut trailer, where he’s using his body armor to block blasts of energy. So I have real hope that Batfleck is actually going to demonstrate that he’s an asset in these fights, not just a guy who swings around a lot.

Oh, and I’m looking forward to Batfleck’s Whedonisms like “I don’t NOT like you” and “something’s definitely bleeding” being excised. Batman should never sound like a Whedon character in a life-and-death situation. NEVER.

  • 7. A few of the scenes look familiar, if you’ve seen the theatrical cut, but they’re definitely different. It looks like the conversation between Martha Kent and Lois Lane is different, and probably going to be less painfully cringy. Martha is apparently going to pop in during the cornfield scene. And Aquaman’s encounter with Mera looks like it will be somewhat different, given his defiant attitude and her look of distress.

8. Desaad! At first I thought this was Steppenwolf in another outfit because… well, I’m only a moderate comic-book geek with gaps in my knowledge, and I only know about some of the residents of Apokalips. But I’m told it’s the character Desaad, and I’m very curious to see what he is all about. It certainly makes the movie feel more expansive and operatic to have multiple people from Apokalips appear.

  • 9. It also looks like a very different fate is in store for Silas Stone. If you remember from the theatrical cut – you probably don’t – he gets captured and then rescued, and at the end everybody is happy and smiley. But in the Snyder Cut, it seems that his exploration of the Motherbox has some unfortunate results. I smell character development for Cyborg!
  • 10. The redesign of Steppenwolf. Oh, man, this is beautiful to behold. I don’t know what they were thinking with his design in the theatrical cut, but it was terrible. Nobody liked it. It was partly that it didn’t feel finished, as if they literally did not have time to finish rendering the character properly.

But it was a bad design at its root. It was just some grayish guy in a big hat, and he wasn’t very intimidating or impressive at all. I can only assume that WB didn’t want anything too scary, so they insisted on this dumbed-down design. There were other designs, oh yes. You can google them and see the much more intimidating version that was originally conceived.

The Snyder Cut’s design… actually looks menacing. He no longer just looks like a creepy guy in a big hat, but a truly alien creature encased in rippling living armor. There’s some influence from the Destroyer robot featured in Thor, but you know what? I’ll take it.

Oh, and there’s a really dynamic imagine of a black-clad Superman punching Steppenwolf in the face.

11. Speaking of the black-clad Superman, I find myself wondering where the suit comes from and how he’s wearing it. I mean, when we last saw him, he was buried and presumed dead. Does his normal costume turn black when he needs to soak up some yellow sun rays? Does someone in the cast recover this for him? Are we going to have a post “Death of Superman” scenario where his body vanishes, and he later turns up alive and well?

I’m sure this will be explained in the movie. I’m just very curious.

  • 12. Batfleck’s final line is perhaps the one thing I wasn’t enthused about in this trailer, just because it’s a very clunky line. But you know what? If that is the only problem the Snyder Cut has, I will be a happy viewer.

So anyway, those are my thoughts about the trailer for the Snyder Cut. Overall, it looks like a vast improvement on the Frankenstein cut, and I am going to give Snyder a legitimate chance to wow me with his vision.

The Snyder Cut Trailer (Hallelujah!) – Part 1

So I’ve been watching the new DC Fandome trailers and… I’m actually kind of getting stoked about their forthcoming releases. The Batman looks pretty good so far, and Robert Pattinson is living up to my expectations of his considerable talent, and The Suicide Squad looks like it will put being fun and weird above being dark and gritty.

But I think the most buzz is about the long-waited, long-rumored Snyder Cut of Justice League, which fans nagged and screamed and demanded for so long that eventually WB threw up its hands and gave in. So now we’re getting what seems to be an entirely different movie, with all of the material that Joss Whedon filmed ripped out and replaced with Zack Snyder’s original plot.

Let’s be frank here: the theatrical cut – which some are naming the “Josstice League” – was a mess. They took a film that was more or less complete, ripped out giant chunks of it, and then gave it to a completely different director to patch back together with his own material, to the detriment of some of the storylines (especially Ray Fisher’s Cyborg, who has made his distaste for Whedon very clear).

Whedon and Snyder… each makes the other’s style look bad. Whedon makes Snyder look dour, pompous, colorless and grim. Snyder makes Whedon look flimsy, insubstantial, obnoxiously self-satisfied. It’s a Frankenstein monster of a film whose two disparate styles are actively fighting against each other. It simply could never succeed artistically as what it is, and I almost feel sorry for it because of that.

Now, I am as critical of Zack Snyder as anyone. I don’t like his unheroic take on Batman, and I disagree with the constant deconstruction of superheroes through Superman. I do understand what he’s trying to do, but I don’t think he’s doing it well or with the right characters – Batman V Superman had many things that were done wrong. However, I do think he’s a talented filmmaker. I love Watchmen, 300, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (very underrated, definitely watch it), and I like Man of Steel despite its flaws. He does have vision and a unique style, and that’s increasingly rare in the movie world.

So… I’m glad he’s getting the chance to show the world his vision for Justice League. I don’t think it will be the Holy Grail of superhero cinema, but I do think it will have a consistent narrative and style and tone, which already puts it leagues above and beyond the Josstice League cut we got in theaters. I expect it won’t have the bipolar mood swings that so bothered me, with characters talking seriously about world-ending threats before having the Flash babble about something inconsequential.

It will also not have Henry Cavill’s CGI upper lip, which was hideously distracting, especially as it was the very first thing you saw in the film. Goodbye, CGI Upper Lip. We won’t miss you.

And I admit some bias in my interest in the Snyder Cut as well. I have mixed feelings about Zack Snyder, but I have never had the feeling that he’s an unpleasant person. And he’s been done dirty by WB. Whatever my issues with Batman v. Superman, I’m honestly glad for him that he can show people what he was building up to, what he dreamed up. He’s had a rough few years, so it’s nice that something good is coming out of it.

But I don’t like Joss Whedon, and I never have. I disliked Joss Whedon long before it was cool to dislike him because he was found to be “problematic,” because I always got an asshole vibe from him. Furthermore, I was somehow never charmed by his writing. I admit that there were jokes in Avengers that I laughed at, and I acknowledge intellectually that he is an objectively talented writer. But I’ve never been dazzled by Buffy or Firefly or any of the other shows he’s produced, because I always felt like he was waving keys in front of my eyes to cheaply elicit my approval.

I’ve always felt that Whedon is completely in love with his own cleverness and his quips and one-liners and his self-serving feminist cred. And he crafted an image that allowed people to think they were cool and smart if they were fans of his… sort of like a cult. He’s always seemed incredibly smug, intolerant and superior to me, and so it did NOT surprise me that he was eventually outed as a cheating hypocrite who has been using fans and feminists for his own ends for years.

And he’s a colossal asshole to his actors, apparently, as revealed by Ray Fisher. Fisher didn’t specify how, to my knowledge, but I wonder if racism was involved since Fisher (the one black member of the cast) is the only one who has spoken out.

So yeah, considering how badly flawed the Josstice League movie was, primarily because of the needs-to-be-annulled marriage of Whedon and Snyder’s styles… I’m more than ready to see what Zack Snyder has crafted. I’m fine with saying adios to Whedon’s mediocre contributions.

To be continued…

Review: Superman/Batman: Apocalypse

Two things to keep in mind about “Superman/Batman: Apocalypse”:

  1. Yes, it is a sequel to “Superman/Batman: Public Enemies,” but aside from a single line by an unnamed extra, there is no real connective tissue between these two films. If you ignored that one line, this movie could be watched on its own.
  2. It’s not really a movie about Superman and Batman directly teaming up. They work together as part of a team, but the movie is not really about them doing stuff together – or about Wonder Woman, who does her fair share of fighting and bickering alongside the men.

No, the movie is really about Supergirl and her relationship with the DC trinity – especially Superman – even as she tries to find a place for herself in a new alien world. And as the title might have tipped you off, DC’s most legendary heroes are going up against their enemies from the hellish planet Apokalips, led by the cruel Darkseid. Don’t worry – all three of them, plus Big Barda, get their chance to shine in combat.

A massive chunk of Kryptonite lands in the water near Gotham City, and turns out to have a pod with a naked girl inside. She soon exhibits powers similar to Superman’s, which she isn’t very good at controlling, causing quite a bit of mayhem until Batman subdues her. Superman quickly discerns that she is his cousin Kara, but Batman is suspicious of her – especially since Kara’s control of her strength and heat vision is still not particularly good even after weeks of learning.

So he enlists Wonder Woman to take Kara to Themyscira, where she can be trained away from ordinary humans. But there’s another reason for this change: a minor superhero known as Harbinger has been having visions that seem to bode ill for Kara.

Well, to put it simply, the visions come true – Themyscira is invaded by cloned enemies from Apokalips, and Kara is kidnapped by Granny Goodness and Darkseid. Obviously Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are going to Apokalips to get her back, and they have to enlist the reluctant Big Barda to help them get there. But getting to Apokalips is the easy part – the hard part is getting Kara, and getting back alive.

I must admit, I was slightly disappointed that a movie titled “Superman/Batman: Apocalypse” didn’t feature much of Superman and Batman teaming up – they work together, but it’s mostly in independent ways. In fact, there’s some friction between Superman and both Wonder Woman and Batman, since he’s annoyed by Batman’s suspicious nature and Wonder Woman dragging his cousin into combat training on Themyscira rather than letting her have a normal life.

What the movie is really about is Kara seeking a place for herself in this new world of hers. It threads through the entire movie, right to its end, including her stint in Apokalips. Flaws? Well, it feels like the movie avoids the longer-term psychological effects of Kara being brainwashed and forced to do terrible things. She just kind of snaps out of it, like a binary good/bad switch has been flipped.

But don’t worry, the main trio get plenty of screentime – all three kick considerable amounts of butt, from an army of Doomsday clones to Granny Goodness’s female Furies. Batman seems a little too tough for a mere ordinary human (he survives being eaten by a giant dog), but otherwise the fight scenes are gritty, expansive and full of nightmarish scenery to get smashed through.

It also highlights their different personalities and ways of approaching problems: Batman is suspicious and protective of those close to him, Superman is idealistic and overprotective of his cousin, and Wonder Woman is practical and caring in a no-nonsense way. And Big Barda rounds out this little cast, a strong but scarred woman who cherishes the “boring” life she has, because she has lived in the hellscape of Apokalips.

“Superman/Batman: Apocalypse” has a slightly deceptive title, but is a solid, fast-driving movie that shows this superhero trinity at their best. If you want a DC animated movie, this is an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.

Review: Superman/Batman: Public Enemies

For the record, the title does not refer to Batman and Superman being enemies with each other, as in Batman v. Superman. No, this refers to the two most famous superheroes in the world being enemies of the public. Or more precisely, the U.S. government, which is not the same thing at all.

And that concept is enough to carry most of Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, with Superman and Batman going up against progressively more powerful enemies from both the hero and villain categories. But the real meat of the movie is the powerful friendship between two very different men, one an energetic and morally-powerful alien and one a dark brooding guy with problems expressing his feelings.

After the American economy collapses, Lex Luthor runs for president as a third-party candidate, and somehow manages to win despite his past as a supervillain. A third-party candidate winning? Now you know comic-book stories are science-fiction.

However, Superman bluntly refuses to believe that Luthor has reformed, and believes this is all some kind of elaborate scheme. And his suspicions are apparently proved correct when Luthor arranges a meeting… which turns out to be a trap so that his old enemy can be taken down by Metallo. Batman manages to rescue Superman from Metallo’s ongoing attack, but soon Superman finds that he’s been framed for Metallo’s murder.

Also, a meteorite made of kryptonite is about to smash into the Earth, and Luthor has appointed himself the Big Brain who can save us all from it. This will be important.

Claiming that the kryptonite meteorite has driven Superman insane, Luthor puts a bounty of one billion on his head – and now Superman and Batman are up against money-hungry attackers from both the villain and hero sides of the aisle. And their enemies are getting progressively more powerful as they approach Luthor, even as they try to come up with a solution to save the Earth from total destruction.

Speaking personally, I really enjoy the friendship between Batman and Superman, primarily because their relationship is a study in contrasts. Superman is open, emotional, bright and sunny, while Batman is taciturn, emotionally reserved, dark and more than a little weird. And yet they are both noble and deeply moral at their core, which is what makes them so compatible despite their differing outlooks and ways. That aspect of their friendship is what makes Public Enemies such a rewarding experience: seeing their bromance and how they uncomplainingly support and protect each other no matter what.

And while they do that, they’re also in a series of superpowered punch-’em-ups that pit them against a variety of enemies, ranging from the relatively obscure (Black Spider, Nightshade) to the famous (Captain Marvel, Hawkman). Some of these fights are pretty intricate and harrowing, such as Metallo shooting Superman with a sliver of kryptonite. And in between, we have some quieter moments such as Superman and Batman making their way through the sewers, having odd little discussions about the supervillains they’ve defeated over the years.

It also has a pretty excellent voice cast, with the trinity of Kevin Conroy, Tim Daly and Clancy Brown as Batman, Superman, and Lex Luthor. Conroy and Daly are typically excellent in their roles, and Brown plays both the oily, cruel Lex and the cuckoopants Lex with equal aplomb. C.C.H. Pounder is also excellent as Amanda Waller, who serves as a blunt-spoken counterbalance to Lex’s delusion and egotistical hubris. Allison Mack’s performance as Power Girl is rather flat, though.

And the animation is pretty clean and well-done. The only problem I have is that the superhero costumes are beyond skin-tight – the male characters have abs so perfectly-outlined that it looks like they’re all smuggling bags of oranges. As for Power Girl… let’s just say we know for a fact that she isn’t wearing a bra.

If you like the friendship between Batman and Superman, than Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is the movie for you. If you like cleanly animated, action-filled superhero adventures, then it works too.