Snyder Cut reviews are in: A 4-hour-long mixed bag which is better but not great

Justice League is back, sort of. The original director of the 2017 film, Zach Snyder, had to drop out of the project midway after a family tragedy (his daughter’s death). Because the film was considered a big tent pole film, the studio hired another top superhero director to finish it. Joss Whedon, who directed the first two Avengers movies for Marvel, wound up reshooting a lot of the movie and revising the script. The result was the theatrical version of Justice League that you may have seen in 2017. It was not good. In fact, it really was the nail in the coffin of the idea that the DC Universe could rival Marvel’s dominance at the box office.

And then over Christmas last year they released Wonder Woman: 1984, a truly awful film which pounded yet another nail in the metaphorical coffin just to make sure it stayed closed forever. Seriously, if you haven’t seen WW84, count yourself lucky. It’s so incompetent that one YouTube reviewer suggested it could actually do harm to the audience by watching it. I’m not sure I completely buy his argument but he’s not wrong that the theme about self-empowerment is very off.

Despite all of this, there are inexplicably some fans who maintain that Justice League would have been a great film if only Zach Snyder had been able to finish it his way. If you thought Man of Steel or Batman vs. Superman were great films (they weren’t) then maybe you’re one of the people who is anxiously awaiting the legendary “Snyder Cut” which gets released on HBO Max this Thursday.

As of today, the reviews of the Snyder Cut are pouring in and so far they are surprisingly positive (though not universally so). Here’s Time magazine’s review which isn’t a ringing endorsement but considers it an improvement:

The new cut of Justice League, dubbed the Snyder Cut by fans on the Internet, lasts four exhausting hours. But Snyder uses his doubled run time wisely. Whereas Whedon’s version gestured at vague, tearjerky backstories, Snyder gives each hero personal stakes, particularly Ray Fisher’s Cyborg: his strained relationship with his father becomes the much needed heart of the film. The villain Steppenwolf, too, gets a motive—redeeming himself to his villainous family.

The CGI battles look better, and are longer and bloodier, if that’s your thing. No longer tonally bipolar, the film is one man’s vision, for better or worse. It’s uniformly dark—and not just figuratively: Snyder transformed several daytime scenes into murky nighttime ones. (Points for consistency, if not for visual clarity.) And he has said he is donating some of the proceeds to suicide-prevention programs.

So it’s better but does that make it good? The reviewer at Looper says almost but not quite:

Clocking in at a whopping 243 minutes — that’s two Empire Strikes Backs! — here comes Zack Snyder’s Justice League. The movie is now twice as long, and quite honestly, twice as good. But is it anywhere close to even the worst Avengers movie for pure entertainment? Not even in the same universe.

Bleeding Cool’s reviewer describes it as a mixed bag of improvements and wasted time:

There are very few movies that justify an over three-hour run time, and, unfortunately, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is not one of them. For the first two hours, there were scenes that you could point out and say, “cut that, that adds nothing, that breaks the flow,” and it’s rather unfortunate that most of those scenes feature Lois Lane. Much like the previous DC Extended Universe movies, Zack Snyder’s Justice League cannot figure out what they want to do with Lois Lane. The rumored romance with Batman would have at least given her something to do besides move from location to location, not doing much of anything…

While the first half is extremely rough, things do turn around when we get to the second half of the second act and into the third [but not the epilogue, that is for later]. This is where the most obvious differences are in terms of Zack Snyder’s Justice League and the theatrical cut. The motivation of the villain and the heroes has changed over the course of the movie, and it does help make things more interesting. The ending feels a bit more deserved, and the action is much better shot and edited in this version than the theatrical. The theatrical had this ugly red haze over everything; Snyder keeps everything on the darker side, and while that means it can be hard to see everything all the time, you more or less can follow the action. The scene in Russia ends with the entire team posing, and it’s good, it’s all right to see, but then the movie keeps going.

This seems to be the theme with most reviews. There’s no doubt there are some improvements here and yet

The new version is an improvement in some concrete ways. Its plot and tone are more coherent, with occasional puzzling exceptions. Its visual effects are substantially improved, though still sometimes fakey, and in general the photography looks better — though viewers may resent the frame’s nearly square aspect ratio, which was designed with Imax, not widescreen TVs, in mind.

But the movie’s soul, such as it is, remains unimproved, and at 242 minutes, very few of them offering much pleasure, it’s nearly unendurable as a single-sitting experience…

Some of the battles here might play well if repurposed in other comic book movies. But they’re just numbing in this film, which feels as long as that secret director’s cut of Infinity War that shows every one of Doctor Strange’s 14 million strategies to beat Thanos.

I’m not one of the people who has been excited about the “Snyder Cut” in part because I’ve seen the two previous films. Man of Steel was long and often boring and flat. I initially blamed that on Henry Cavill being somewhat wooden but I’ve since seen him in other films in which he’s quite good. Batman vs. Superman was better but still far from great, especially the CGI-fest at the end which was barely watchable. However, I will say two positive things about the latter film. The director’s cut seemed significantly better to me than the one released in theaters. I’m not even sure why because the stuff added back in wasn’t all that significant to the plot. But somehow the slower pacing helped make the story work and feel more coherent. Also, while I don’t love either cut of BvS, I do think the one scene of Batman rescuing Martha Kent is arguably the best Batman action scene ever filmed. So for those reasons, I’ll probably give the Snyder Cut a chance this coming weekend.