“The Snyder Cut” Review!

The epic saga of Zack Snyder’s original vision for the Justice League movie is arguably more epic than the actual plots of either his film – commonly spoken of as “The Snyder Cut”, with the kind of hushed reverence befitting this semi-mythical Hollywood Holy Grail – or the almost universally-condemned version of his film put together by director Joss Whedon and released in 2017 – and often referred to nowadays as “Josstice League”; a dismissive nickname for a film which dismissed many of Snyder’s boldest ideas out-of-hand in favor of something more generic and “crowd-pleasing”, laced with Whedon’s traditional brand of humor. For years, “The Snyder Cut” of Justice League was the stuff of legend, so mysterious and controversial that many thought it didn’t even exist, and even those who knew about it thought its chances of being recovered, like Snyder’s over-arching vision for the DCEU, had died.

Snyder Cut
Darkseid | vulture.com

Yet here we are. Following loud and persistent demands from fans, cast, and crew, Warner Brothers finally gave Snyder the go-ahead to complete his already mostly-finished cut of Justice League, touching it up with some additional VFX work and a few minutes of new footage. The Snyder Cut is now available to watch exclusively on HBO Max, making it the ultimate crown jewel in the streaming service’s collection. But after the excessively long waiting-game, the suspenseful build-up, the pageantry and hype surrounding its release…is it, in fact, a better movie than Joss Whedon’s Justice League? Even if it is, is it really good enough to warrant all the attention, all the hashtags and the fan-campaigns, the uproar and the ceaseless arguing?

Fortunately, the answer is a resounding “yes” on both counts. It’s hard to even compare the two when it’s so clear in hindsight that the Snyder Cut is (despite several flaws) a complete, comprehensive work of art; and Whedon’s cut is merely an abridged and simplified version that strips away the artistry, the voice, the heart, and most damningly the soul of Snyder’s film, all while turning up the brightness and saturation to an 11, which I realize now is why some otherwise unchanged elements shared by the two films, such as Ezra Miller’s Flash costume, no longer make me want to rinse my eyes out with bleach. Is the Snyder Cut the greatest superhero film ever made? Not quite (at least to me personally), but the fact that it now ranks anywhere near the top of the list is enough for me to say this whole endeavor was worth it.

Clocking in at four hours (and helpfully divided into chapters of varying length for a more comfortable viewing experience), the Snyder Cut is basically the exact same story as before, but with all the purpose and power layered back in gradually over the course of the film. There’s just enough new (well, old) material to keep the story engaging and fresh, particularly the entire subplot with the villainous tyrant Darkseid (voiced by Ray Porter), but the Snyder Cut’s secret weapon is its ability to take scenes and sequences we’ve already seen – and hated, I might add – and either completely recontextualize them and/or replace the character development and sincere emotion that Whedon removed. And those scenes justify the Snyder Cut’s existence, and make it easy to see why Warner Brothers held out for so long: it’s hard for studio execs to understand that audiences actually want character development and heartfelt stories, rather than nonstop CGI battles and crowd-pleasing jokes every other minute. A superhero movie that’s all about the former, and adds little of the latter? Good luck even getting that movie made.

But superhero movies are evolving well past the limitations imposed on them by studios constantly trying to outdo each other with more and more explosions, snarky one-liners, and third act plot twists. The Snyder Cut is able to be part of that evolution, even as it remains (on its surface) the story of a group of superhumans trying to disconnect sentient alien cubes to stop a cosmic dictator from wiping out all life on Earth. Deeper than that, it’s the story of Victor Stone (Ray Fisher, finally getting the screen-time and justice he deserves), whose every waking moment, trapped in a metal cyborg body designed to keep him alive after a brutal car-crash, is a reminder of pain, guilt, and regret over having been saved from the brink of death in the first place. Victor’s inner struggle is the crux of the film, and out of the large ensemble cast he comes closest to being the singular protagonist. His journey to some level of self-acceptance, piecing together the broken bits of himself to form a whole, mirrors the journey of the disassembled Justice League, which must form to save Earth from Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds).

Other characters have more broadly-sketched emotional arcs, probably as a result of having had origin films or sequels on the way at the time of Justice League’s production. But even so, they’re each benefited by the freedom that four hours allows – Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), the Aquaman, actually gets to interact with some of his Atlantean brethren beyond just Mera (Amber Heard), planting the seeds for later plot-points like his return to Atlantis and his brother Orm’s betrayal. I generally prefer James Wan’s vision of Atlantis to Snyder’s (which is significantly more bleak, and dark, and did I mention bleak?), but it is nice to see Willem Dafoe again as Aquaman’s mentor Vulko, still pestering him about his destiny and the trident and all that, but sporting a far more magnificent wig than before.

Snyder Cut
Justice League | ign.com

As for the Amazonian warrior Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), it’s glaringly obvious how many of the problems with her character in the theatrical cut of Justice League were wholly the fault of Joss Whedon, as Snyder’s take on the character mostly respects the version of the heroine established by Patty Jenkins in Wonder Woman: never subjecting her to sexist humor or cinematography, giving her a far more prominent role as a leader and strategist as well as a warrior, and removing the awkward, inorganic flirtatious interactions between her and Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck). Her action scenes are the best in the film, thanks to the thrilling jaggedness of her physical movements, her unique array of weapons, and the eerie wailing female vocals that accompany her into every battle. And there’s one shot of her – too breathtaking to spoil – that perfectly emphasizes how ancient and otherworldly she really is, and how misguided Whedon was to try and sacrifice that aspect of her character.

But the real surprises, at least for me, were Affleck’s Bruce Wayne and Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen. I had so utterly rejected both these actors’ takes on the characters for so long that it was painful to admit that I actually liked them in the Snyder Cut, especially Miller, whose physical acting whenever they get moving is actually mesmerizing to watch, made up of ethereal fluid movements and incredibly gentle gestures. They’re allowed to be serious, and to make their way through scenes without cracking jokes, and their role in the third act is just…intensely cool. As previously mentioned, even their costume looks decent. The same can’t be said of Affleck, whose Batsuit is still atrociously ugly, but in his case the writing is just better overall. Even though he’s the weak link in the League in terms of physical strength and superpowers, the Snyder Cut shows Wayne actually grappling with that fact as well as working past it by utilizing his intellect in fights. He’s never going to be able to hold his own against Steppenwolf for long, and Snyder doesn’t offer him any convenient plot-armor, so he often has to act cautiously and strategically – underscoring his courage in the third-act battle.

Each character’s specific fighting style (besides just their obviously distinct powers) makes for a series of diverse action scenes, ranging from a surprisingly ferocious battle between Wonder Woman and a group of European terrorists, to the third-act battle in which she, Aquaman, and a resurrected Superman (Henry Cavill, no longer obviously suffering from the digitally-removed mustache problem) go toe-to-toe with Steppenwolf, brilliantly bouncing off each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Steppenwolf himself has gone from being one of the worst and most underdeveloped villains in superhero cinema to among the most memorable; a tantalizing, terrifying glimpse of the power of Apokolips. He might look like just a sentient monolith of bone and spine, but he’s almost sympathetic by the time we have to root for the heroes to take him down…and he’s only the weakest of the villains in Darkseid’s inner circle, as the film makes clear. If the Snyderverse is eventually restored, I can’t wait to see characters like Desaad and Granny Goodness join the battle for Earth.

That’s a big “if”, but the mostly self-contained story does include an epilogue with several cliffhangers and teases – all for a sequel we have to hope we’ll someday see, in one form or another. Most of Darkseid’s storyline is left for that hypothetical sequel to deal with, making for a viewing experience that is equal parts electrifying and frustrating, as the four hours start running out and you remember you’re watching merely the first installment in Snyder’s planned trilogy. Then there’s the added wrinkle of Jared Leto’s Joker, a character only recently included in the final minutes of the movie by Snyder, leading to a highly-anticipated encounter between him and his nemesis Batman. No spoilers here, but I was left somewhat underwhelmed by the strange back-and-forth between the characters, which only confirms that Leto’s Joker is not the bold artistic expression he clearly thinks it is.

Snyder Cut
Cyborg | syfy.com

Rather, Leto’s brief, bizarre, performance is part of a pattern throughout Snyder’s films of small and generally harmless things which, taken out of context and ridiculed online, can easily make the director come across as pretentious and overly-serious. And sure, the Snyder Cut is unintentionally silly at times: an Icelandic villager inhaling Aquaman’s manly scent from his discarded sweater while her fellow townsfolk hail the Atlantean demigod with a hymn is…certainly a choice. Superman posing Jesus-style above the world after his resurrection is some over-the-top religious symbolism. But these are little things, and they don’t accurately represent the entire film.

No matter what you think of Snyder or his past work, it should be obvious that the Snyder Cut is something he loves deeply, and into which he poured a great deal of effort and heart. That doesn’t necessarily always result in a terrific movie, and it could be argued that Snyder loves his work too much, as evidenced by his lack of editing and consequently monumental runtimes – but every moment of the Snyder Cut’s daunting length is worth it for the powerful and quietly respectful scenes each character has gained, for the new perspective on specific arcs and beats we might otherwise have dismissed, and for that love and unique personality which now emanates throughout the story, bringing life back to the Justice League.

First rule of comic-books: no death is irreversible.

Rating: 9/10

“Dune” Trailer Review!

Like The Lord Of The Rings before it, Frank Herbert’s science-fiction epic Dune has long been considered “unfilmable”: too huge and complex to ever successfully translate to the big screen. But Peter Jackson achieved the impossible by bringing Tolkien’s masterpiece to life (and in turn, revolutionizing the fantasy genre in Hollywood), and it looks like director Denis Villeneuve will try to do the same for Dune, with a lot of help from his incredible cinematographer Greig Fraser and his all-star cast led by Timothée Chalamet.

Dune
indiewire.com

Chalamet has made a name for himself in the indie and arthouse scene, and is one of the actors whose name routinely pops up during awards season: but Dune will mark his biggest role to date, as he steps into the shoes of futuristic messiah Paul Atreides, royal scion of House Atreides and heir to the throne of Arrakis, a remote desert planet rich with the resource known as Spice: a dangerous but powerful drug that pretty much everybody in the galaxy wants to get their hands on, either to use it (Spice plays a part in spiritualistic rituals and even interstellar travel) or to control it (due to its rarity, Spice is also extremely expensive and can be heavily taxed when it’s not being smuggled illegally out of Arrakis). Although it’s been a while since I’ve read Dune (it’s probably one of the most inaccessible books ever written), I remember most of the major story beats: Paul, whose entire life is built around a series of prophecies, sets off into Arrakis’ rugged, inhospitable deserts to try and unite the planet’s indigenous people, the Fremen, against the forces of his family’s sworn enemies, the tyrannical Harkonnens, when the latter clan arrives with the intention of conquering Arrakis and winning control of the Spice. At some point, I suppose I’ll have to reread the book, but that’s the general concept: from there, it gets bigger and bigger until it becomes a cautionary tale about ecological disaster (an issue it tackles head-on and spectacularly) and religion (an issue it tackles boldly but with less success, due to its reliance on tropes regarding indigenous cultures).

For most people, the image that comes to mind when they think Dune (assuming they know about the book at all, which might be rarer now than it would be in 1965, when the novel became an instant cult classic) is that of the terrifying Sandworms, gargantuan beasts that roam beneath the deserts of Arrakis and are worshiped as divine beings by the native Fremen. Appropriately, the first trailer for Villeneuve’s Dune holds off on the reveal of the Sandworms until the very end, when one suddenly erupts from the sand and rises over Paul. I love the new design: it looks awe-inspiring but also frightening in the best way possible. I would have maybe liked it to be a little bigger, but it’s possible that, like an iceberg, more of it is concealed beneath the sand than is visible above the surface.

Dune
polygon.com

The trailer intersperses scenes of desert warfare and high-tech weaponry with beautiful shots of Arrakis’ deserts and the already radiant cast: from Rebecca Ferguson to Zendaya to Jason Momoa to Oscar Isaac (and Oscar Issac’s impressive beard, which I count as an entire supporting character), there’s not an unattractive person on this planet. And Greig Fraser, Villeneuve’s cinematographer, has captured it all in the very best lighting with hazy, orange and blue overtones (orange and blue is a color combo proven to attract attention, and it never fails to do just that). Fraser’s job is made a lot easier by the fact that, canonically, Spice turns human eyes a vivid shade of blue. Visually, this trailer is nothing short of stunning.

With regards to the story, it will be interesting to see whether or not Villeneuve has streamlined the book’s plot dramatically or fixed some of its major problems, particularly….well, the entire plot, which isn’t a white savior narrative in the usual sense, but still “has many of the same discomfiting hallmarks that we see replicated again and again”, to quote from a recent, brilliantly-written breakdown of the book’s dealings with issues of race, gender and sexuality. Getting into that issue would require talking about spoilers for the book, so I’m not going to get into that conversation here, but suffice it to say that the Fremen (who, remember, are based off an amalgamation of various Native American, Middle Eastern and African cultures) and their interactions with Paul Atreides veer dangerously close to white saviorism for reasons that are not only difficult to explain, but downright disturbing. That’s why I’m hoping there’s just as much focus on the diverse supporting cast as there is on Paul: the Fremen, in particular, but also Paul’s mother (the sorceress/concubine Lady Jessica), and his love interest (the desert warrior Chani). Surprisingly, the trailer doesn’t give much screentime to Jessica (despite her being a major character in the books), but Chani’s role does seem to have been expanded – the trailer even starts with her meeting Paul in one of his prophetic dreams and the two exchanging a heartfelt kiss, before later reuniting in real life. There’s still no word on whether the villainous Baron Harkonnen will be depicted as he is in the books, as a grotesque, homophobic caricature who preys on younger men, but I have to hope that’s not the case.

Dune
techcrunch.com

But while it’s still too early to tell how similar Villeneuve’s Dune is to Frank Herbert’s original novel, it’s not too early to guess that this movie will generate a lot of conversation heading into next year’s awards season, thanks to the out-of-this-world special effects, cinematography, production design, direction and cast. Hopefully it generates just as much money at the box-office, but that will depend on how successfully it has updated its controversial and complicated story. In a year like 2020 (or, in fact, in any year), the last thing we need is a white savior.

Trailer Rating: 9.5/10

MTV Awards Nominees!

Well, my votes have been cast – or, my first round of votes has: MTV has a strange system whereby voters are allowed to vote more than once, thus allowing rabid internet fans to make their voices very clearly heard. This is both wonderful (who doesn’t love voting more than once?), and infuriating (voting more than once is…well, cheating?).

But let’s talk about what we’re even voting for! The 2019 MTV Movie & TV Awards nominees have been announced, and the polls are open in all sixteen categories. Here’s some of the nominees, and, of course, the candidates who got my vote.

For Best Movie, the top contender is obviously Avengers: Endgame, the superhero mega-hit that has crushed the box office and dominated the public conscious for months. While I voted for Endgame, I have to admit there were several other worthy challengers: BlacKkKlansman, Spike Lee’s dramatic adaptation of the story of a black man who infiltrated the KKK; Spider-man: Into The Spider-Verse, an animated film with huge appeal to a mainly teen and young-adult fanbase (and those teens are MTV’s target audience); To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, a critically-appraised Netflix film about teen romance; and Us, Jordan Peele’s latest horror-drama about doppelgangers who terrorize an African-American family.

For Best Show, the choice was incredibly easy. Game of Thrones has my vote, no matter how bad the final season may be – and it’s bad, don’t get me wrong, but it’s still building off of very good material, and, hey, there’s one more episode left! There’s still time to turn the sinking ship around…even if, by that time, it will be too late. But seriously, I’m a fantasy fan, and Riverdale simply does not appeal to me. Now, if The Umbrella Academy were on this list, the choice would have been even easier, but sadly MTV has decided to ignore this cinematic masterpiece.

Interestingly, MTV does not have separate categories for Best Actor and Best Actress, which makes the competition for Best Performance In A Movie that much harder: Amandla Stenberg for The Hate U Give; Rami Malek for Bohemian Rhapsody; Sandra Bullock for Netflix’s Bird Box; Lupita Nyong’o for Us; and Lady Gaga for A Star Is Born. I voted for Lupita because she deserves way more recognition than she gets. Malek is worthy competition, but he did just win an Oscar for his role as Freddie Mercury. It’s far more likely, though, that Lady Gaga will finally get an award, even though it’s probably too late to console her for her Oscar snub.

Naturally, for Best Performance In A Show, I’m backing Emilia Clarke of Game of Thrones – yes, her character has just recently inspired backlash and division among the fans (and you never want to divide the fans), but she’s still a great actress, just burdened with bad writing.

None of the categories were as difficult as Best Hero, which pits Captain Marvel and Iron Man of the MCU against Shazam from DC, Game of Thrones‘ Arya Stark and BlacKkKlansman‘s Ron Stallworth. This one was hard: Captain Marvel has a special place in my heart because of all of the trials that she (and actress Brie Larson) has struggled through on her way to a billion-dollar box-office sensation, facing internet trolls and haters along the way; but Iron Man’s heroism in Avengers: Endgame cannot be emphasized enough – Robert Downey Jr. is the man who started the MCU and has now honorably closed its third phase as well. But then you’ve got Arya Stark, the girl being lauded as the true hero of Game of Thrones after the show has increasingly begun honing in its focus on her, the traumatized assassin and fierce warrior who said “Not today” in the face of death. Ultimately, Captain Marvel won my vote – the negativity that has surrounded her solo film was vanquished by Larson’s own bravery, as the actress refused to back down from the fight. It is worth noting, however, that Shazam‘s very own Zachary Levi will be hosting the MTV Awards ceremony – I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up winning.

MTV has its own peculiar categories: Best Kiss, for instance. I voted for Jason Momoa and Amber Heard’s kiss in Aquaman simply because, if it’s passionate enough to get the film censored in certain countries, that’s got to count for something.

Another fun one is Best Comedic Performance – with some indecision on my part, I finally chose Marsai Martin of Little, even over Zachary Levi’s performance as Shazam.

Best Villain…Thanos, obviously. Is there any doubt that Josh Brolin’s motion-capture creation should take home this award after snapping half the universe out of existence? I don’t think so.

I’m confused as to how Captain Marvel vs Minn-Erva is seriously one of the nominees for Best Fight – I mean, seriously, that is possibly the weakest fight-scene in the entire Captain Marvel movie. I would have chosen her ten-second combat with Yon-Rogg over that scene. Even with Captain America vs Thanos and Ruth Bader Ginsburg vs Inequality also up for consideration (though, really, does that latter even make sense?) I felt compelled to vote for Arya Stark vs The White Walkers in Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 3. That is an intensely exciting fight, even if it suffers from being darkly lit in an episode that was already notorious for being darkly lit.

I didn’t forget Ruth Bader Ginsburg though, when she came up again as one of the nominees for Best Real Life Hero. How could I not vote for the woman who has dedicated her life to the fight for equality? She’s up against Serena Williams, though, so expect the competition there to be tight.

So what do you think? You can vote here, and share your thoughts about the nominees in the comments below! (But if you don’t vote for Arya Stark, are you really even entitled to an opinion?)

Ezra Miller’s New “Flash” Script

It’s been common knowledge for months now that Warner Brothers is still working out what to do with the DCEU. They’ve experienced a pretty uneven string of hits, mild successes, and epic fails – from the peak of their creative genius, Wonder Woman, to the disastrous Justice League. But last year’s Aquaman proved to be a billion-dollar hurricane at the box-office, and paved the way for a new take on the DCEU – one that is light-hearted, cheesy, over-the-top, and…well, still completely discombobulated. The emphasis now was on making DC movies stand-alone adventures, without trying to tie them into some bigger universe. Gone was the grim-faced Henry Cavill; gone was the dour Ben Affleck; gone was Geoff Johns, the man behind Justice League: gone was the dark and serious tone of the prior DC movies.

And then, today, we learn that Ezra Miller is making one last effort to try and stop DC from going down this path.

Ezra Miller, the actor who has portrayed The Flash in Justice League and Batman vs Superman, is set to star in an origin movie titled The Flash, which should start production later this year. Just the other day, however, we got news that Miller is taking it upon himself to completely rewrite the script for the movie.

Yes, Miller has enlisted the help of author Grant Morrison, and is going against the wishes of Flash writers John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, who currently have a very light-hearted, funny script written for the film, in keeping with Warner Brothers’ new approach to making DC movies. Miller, on the other hand, is writing a much darker, more serious screenplay, and is actually showing incredible bravery in doing so: the official writers don’t seem to be backing this idea, and Miller’s future in the DCEU could be at stake. His script could be submitted as early as next week, which means we will soon learn if a new Flash is coming onboard, and Ezra Miller will be joining the lengthy list of cast and crew members kicked out from the DC franchise.

My feelings are quite conflicted: I do not like this new approach to DC movies, where they all have to be completely stand-alone and ridiculously comical. It works for one or two, like Aquaman, but characters like Wonder Woman would not, in my opinion, benefit from a more humorous approach, and the Flash, even though we’ve only seen him as a funny character, certainly has the capability to be more serious. Ezra Miller has done a great job as the dark and brooding Credence Barebone in the Fantastic Beasts franchise, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what’s inspired him to rewrite the script – to complement his own expanding talents as much as to help out the DCEU.

So what will happen? I have an uneasy feeling that Ezra Miller’s script probably won’t ever see the light of day, and the Flash will be recast. But maybe…just maybe…there’s a chance that Miller’s script is too good to pass up on, and the movie will end up being a more serious installment in the DCEU. Maybe Miller can initiate a new tonal style for DC movies, who knows? Despite what Warner Brothers likes to claim, none of their “serious” films were all that serious, except Wonder Woman, so this would be a great opportunity to expand the brand.

We should find out next week.