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More than any other new release this week, people will likely be talking about the long-awaited “Snyder Cut” of DC / Warner Brothers’ Justice League, the Zack Snyder film that switched directors during production due to a tragedy in the director’s family.
After years of feverish fan campaigning for a release of the film as originally envisioned, Warner Brothers greenlit reshoots and reedits of this rumoured cut, now out this week on HBO Max.
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Zack Snyder’s Justice League - NOW with a Sky Cinema Membership
Outside of dodgy VFX, colour grading, and acting by Gal Gadot, Zack Snyder’s Justice League (commonly referred to with disdain or reverence as “The Snyder Cut”) is certainly better than its past iteration, but not without its own problems. The most significant changes to Justice League come from the re-addition of scenes featuring Cyborg, the initial cut having undersold the character’s importance and emotional journey. Otherwise, the changes feel mostly superfluous or plain weird, not just in terms of scenes but also in the direction of actors – for some reason Mera (Amber Heard) speaks with an English accent that I don’t recall from Aquaman nor the theatrical cut of Justice League.
If there’s one thing that’s agreed upon by Snyder fans and detractors alike it’s that the man is an incredible image maker, but the striking imagery, plus the wonderful costume and set design of Justice League is undermined by colour grading that looks uncharacteristically muddy – Snyders’ films are usually dark and desaturated, but not usually to the point where the imagery feels indistinct. The IMAX framing is interesting in its emphasis on vertical scale (though appearing on TV sets as a boxy academy ratio) but the action it serves often looks awkward. That said, it steadily improves as it goes on, especially as it gets to play with the differing powers of the group - most sequences featuring The Flash, particularly in the last quarter, are the standouts here as Snyder slows the action down to near-stillness, into a sort of painterly tableau.
Watch a trailer for Zack Snyder's Justice League
In parts it’s a return to the sincerity and earnestness that characterised a lot of Man of Steel, driven by the idea that all this dorky comic book deserves to be taken with utmost seriousness, free from the winking quips of the stealthily cynical, commitee-driven Marvel movies. At least no one could accuse it of being purely corporate endeavour - though Warner Brothers opportunism lead to this new cut, this version of the film feels like pure Snyder. (Of course, this also means that his interesting quirks are also bundled with the more tiresome ones.)
The sparseness of its runtime turns it into a missed opportunity to really lean into this newfound emotionality, which would make Justice League something of a perfect a mirror to Man of Steel’s being about a person isolated by their heritage learning to live in the world. Through its implicit explorations of frayed parent and child relationships, emphasised by its reframing around Cyborg, is also concerned with lonely people reconnecting in one way or another, this time viewed through the lens of grief rather than xenophobia.
The film’s desire to turn back the clock — shown in the narrative by Cyborg being salvaged by his father, Superman being resurrected — feels poignant, moving even when examined against the context of the film’s production. But that emotional throughline is buried in hours of stolid setup and monologues that turn the usually wild and exciting creations of Jack Kirby into long, monotonous exposition.
Sometimes, however, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is fascinating in its fragmentation and prioritisation of atmosphere over plot, even if it’s technically the same movie it was before. It exists in odd suspension - in contention with a film that has long since been left behind by its own franchise.
Also new to Now: SAS: Red Notice, The Witches
The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind - BBC iPlayer
Written and directed by Chiwetel Ejiofor and adapted from a book by the boy himself, William Kamkwamba (played by newcomer Maxwell Simba), about his time living in Malawi in the 2000s, The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind is made with a level of authenticity that often escapes tales of Africans as told by European productions. The majority of the film’s dialogue is in Chichewa, English only serving as a bridge between tribes as rather than a bridge for the audience. It doesn’t patronise while it lays out the specifics of Malawi’s political climate, instead revealing information incidentally; we find out about the threats of the drought, government and invading tobacco company as the characters do.
As a result the film feels lived-in to an extent that not many biopics do, leaving behind the sort gloss and poverty porn that one might expect. While the village gets increasingly desperate as people start starving, the film rarely overplays its hand and keeps its focus on the emotional arc of William earning his father’s trust rather than doubling down on. It ’s far from perfect, and still fits snugly in the ‘based on a true story’ template, but The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind at least takes full advantage of its unique perspective.
Also available on iPlayer: I Got Life
Operation Varsity Blues - Netflix
Director Chris Smith examines the headline-grabbing 2019 college admissions scandal, but instead moves away from the celebrities involved for a closer focus on the methods used by Rick Singer to exploit an already broken admissions system. While Smith doesn’t quite explore these insinuations as corridors to power for the wealthy, he at least uses this angle as a jumping off-point, understanding that the event is not isolated, but part of systemic privilege.
Operation Varsity Blues digs into how the educational system is already slanted to benefit the elite, the very universities being cheated revealed as scammers in their own rights.
Also on Netflix: Bombay Rose, Sentinelle