Storytelling is consistency, in that all aspects of a story need to be told consistently. From the tone to the dialogue, the presentation to the editing, a narrative needs to be consistent in its delivery. With film-making, that includes shots, angles, colour grading, music, and everything else involved in creating a film. The director and editor are responsible for overseeing this, but ultimately it comes down to the director. As collaborative a process as film-making is, there is always a singular force at the helm.
Directors can dabble in different genres and create films in vastly differing styles, yet they will also remain consistent across their oeuvre. A confident director will leave their mark upon a film so it is clearly recognisable. Zack Snyder is a confident director, and though he has many faults—his dialogue is often laughably on-the-nose, he has no understanding of subtlety, his subtext is practically non-existent—consistency is not one of them. He is an incredibly consistent filmmaker, in that each of his films remains tonally consistent throughout their run-times. There are also commonalities between his films, despite their often differing genres. He is a director in control, and his hand can be spotted often from a single scene.
Snyder is credited as the director of Justice League, but this is not his film. Some scenes are his, but others are not, and though a large portion of the film was clearly shot by him, it doesn’t look or feel like a Zack Snyder film at all.
The plot is fairly simple and standard. A big bad villain is invading earth, so some superheroes need to team up to prevent chaos and destruction. The last hope of humanity is—as is often the case—a mishmash group of differing personalities dressed in awkward costumes.
Ben Affleck’s Batman pulls the team together, which includes Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, Jason Mamoa’s Aquaman, Ezra Miller’s Flash, and Ray Fisher’s Cyborg. Jeremy Irons appears as Alfred, Amy Adams as Lois Lane, and various other actors from Snyder’s previous two Superman-based films crop up, including Superman himself, played by Henry Cavill.
It is difficult to look beyond the inconsistencies and assess this as a complete film, but I am going to try. Man of Steel was an interesting reinvention of Superman, and though it had its faults it contained some gripping moments. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, however, was not very good. It was a big fight dressed up as a meaningful film, but unlike Man of Steel it had very little to say. Justice League feels even more exploitative than Batman v Superman. It is a cash-grab that assumes its audience to be suckers waiting to be conned. Batman v Superman looks positively decent in comparison, so it’s no wonder fans have reassessed it to be a good film and are clamouring for an alternative cut of Justice League.
Despite trying to look past it, I find myself entirely focused on the inconsistencies of this film. The only thing that stands out more than these inconsistencies is Cavill’s top lip, which in Whedon-directed scenes warps and looks unnatural, as Cavill’s contractually-obligated Mission: Impossible moustache was digitally removed frame by painstaking frame, but quickly and therefore poorly. The less said about that, and the overall CGI which is poor at the best of times, the better. This is all the result if Justice League’s troubling production, which has been well-documented. Snyder agreed to reshoots written by Joss Whedon, but then stepped down due to personal reasons, which everyone can completely understand, leaving Whedon to pick up the director’s mantle and finish the film according to the studio’s wishes. Despite initially agreeing to shoot in Snyder’s style, Whedon seems to have done the opposite and filmed a fair amount which stands out as being completely different. Scenes feature wonky camera angles and real-time fight sequences performed by the actors, which is fine for Buffy the Vampire Slayer but does not hold up on a $300 million film. Other scenes are slow-motion-heavy with grand visuals, much like Snyder’s previous movies. Yet there are also mixed scenes: very serious conversations take place in wide shots which are interrupted by then sudden cuts to a close-up of one of the principle actors who makes a pop-culture-based sarcastic quip. The serious stating-the-obvious discussions continue without referencing the inserted gag. It’s like the film is trying too hard to be all things to all viewers, and ends up being rubbish for everyone.
The editing leaves a lot to be desired, also. There are pauses around cuts which should have been quicker in the Whedon-directed scenes, yet the Snyder sections have been hacked to bits. The introduction of Batman at the beginning—an obvious Whedon moment—is poorly constructed and rushed. It looks to be made for the same budget as the Adam West TV show of the sixties, in that it takes place on a single rooftop location in a sound stage with three actors. Next we meet Wonder Woman as she foils a bank heist, directed by Snyder, but the scene barely exists. I imagine there is a considerably longer version of this scene on the cutting room floor which was excised to save time, but in saving time the scene is debilitated.
The reverence Snyder holds for his gods of the comic world is missing, and instead we are watching something like a cartoon with the odd graphic novel frame thrown in. Whedon has ignored Snyder’s approach and hacked together a mess. It’s not like Whedon can’t make big blockbuster superhero films well, either. The first two Avengers movies—Assemble and Age of Ultron—were very good, but they were also consistent.
The most surprising thing about this huge-budget superhero tent-pole film is how cheap it looks. Whedon’s made-for-TV aesthetic was charming when he was making TV shows, but here it is embarrassing. Snyder would have glossed up the entire film. The acting is therefore inconsistent, as the actors were appearing in two different films, and it shows. Everything is broken here, from the script and production design to the performances and post-production. It’s a disaster.
In all honesty, I don’t think either Whedon or Snyder were the right director for a Justice League film. Snyder shouldn’t have made Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice either, but after the success of Man of Steel there was no stopping him. Justice League is two steps too far—the result of sunk cost fallacy by the studio. What a waste of money.