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GLEN WELDON, HOST:
The 2017 film "Justice League" had a famously rocky road to the big screen. Director Zack Snyder suffered a family tragedy and stepped away from the film in post-production. The studio tapped Joss Whedon to take over, and he ordered extensive rewrites, reshoots and completely re-edited the film, which premiered to mixed reviews and polarized reactions. Following an extended online campaign by Snyder's hardcore fan base, the director has gone back and recreated his original vision of the film. The result is "Zack Snyder's Justice League," a sprawling four-hour-and-two-minute epic that is big and bold and certain to delight the very vocal fans who clamored for it. But what about everybody else?
I'm Glen Weldon. And today we're talking about "Zack Snyder's Justice League" on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. Joining me from his home in Washington, D.C., is J.C. Howard, a producer of NPR's TED Radio Hour and How I Built This. Welcome back, J.C.
J C HOWARD, BYLINE: Hello, hello. Thanks for having me.
WELDON: Great to have you. Also, with us for the first time, from his home in Los Angeles is Jordan Morris. He is a podcaster and the co-writer of the upcoming graphic novel "Bubble," which was based on one of his hilarious and very smart podcasts and is available for preorder right now. Jordan, welcome to the show.
JORDAN MORRIS: Hi, Glen. It's great to be here. And in honor of today's movie, I just want to say, I will bathe in your fear.
WELDON: We are going to get to some of that - yes, we will.
MORRIS: And, J.C., I will bathe in your fear, too.
HOWARD: Thank you. I felt left out.
WELDON: We're going to spread the love, spread the fear. "Justice League" was originally intended to be the third film in Zack Snyder's take on the DC Universe, following "Man Of Steel" and "Batman V Superman," but it didn't work out that way because Snyder had to step away from the project. Both the Snyder cut and the Joss Whedon version of "Justice League" tell the same overall story of humanity's efforts to prevent the evil intergalactic despot named Darkseid from acquiring three so-called Mother Boxes hidden on Earth, which he intends to bring together to be evil, intergalactically or whatever. It doesn't matter. Not the point. Focus, people.
WELDON: Batman, played by Ben Affleck, assembles a team to defend Earth from Darkseid's pointy-headed goon named Steppenwolf, voiced by Ciaran Hinds. Said team consists of Gal Gadot's noble Wonder Woman, Ezra Miller's eager speedster Flash, Ray Fisher's sullen half-man, half-machine Cyborg, Jason Momoa's sea-king-as-surf-himbo (ph) Aquaman and, if they can swing it, a resurrected Superman played by Henry Cavill.
This is a much different movie than Whedon's version. We get a lot more Cyborg, for one thing. And speaking of Cyborg, we should note that actor Ray Fisher has come forward with accusations that Whedon was abusive on set. He also said studio executives enabled Whedon's behavior. Warner Media says they investigated Fisher's claims and found no evidence of misconduct. Whedon himself hasn't responded publicly to these allegations.
Other broad differences between Whedon's version of the film and the Snyder cut include the tone. There are some jokes, but they get a much smaller percentage of screen time because how could they not? There's so much more screen time. The visuals are different as well. This is a muddy-looking movie. So if you watched the original film and thought, I wish they had brought more burnt umber to the table, you are very much in luck.
J.C., let me start with you. What was your take on the 2017 version, and what'd you make of the Snyder cut?
HOWARD: Well, I will say that the Snyder cut was definitely long enough.
HOWARD: I saw the runtime was, like, four hours, and I was like, why is this movie twice as long as the theatrical release? And having watched it, I now understand that the reason it's twice as long is because half of it is in slow motion.
HOWARD: And I think that's a fine effect. I think it's a perfect effect for almost anything that the Flash does, for instance, in relation to the Speed Force. But I feel like someone needs to sit Zack Snyder down and say, hey, buddy, it's OK for some things to be in real time. If there were half as much slow-mo, the movie would have been an hour shorter.
HOWARD: But what I overall found interesting is, as you said, Glen, how different a movie it was in the theatrical release. I figured going in, how different could it be? And without giving anything away, I'll say that the ultimate conclusion of the movie wasn't much different than the 2017 version. But I will also say is that we got, first of all, a lot more characters. We have people who were just not there in the first version, and we got a lot more of most characters' motivation, which I really appreciated. Things that seemed kind of random in the 2017 version all of a sudden made some more sense. I mean, it didn't all make sense.
HOWARD: Like, Cyborg's story felt like it made less sense the more it was interrogated and the more we saw of it, and the same with Steppenwolf. But I just feel like, with a runtime of four hours, I should have no questions afterwards.
HOWARD: I mean, there is something to be said about making a long movie that doesn't feel long, but this was just not that. Around the two-hour mark, I felt like I could feel every minute that passed by. And it made "The Irishman" feel like a Pixar short.
HOWARD: If this movie came out when I was a kid, it would be on two VHS cassette tapes.
WELDON: Yes, it would.
HOWARD: And that feels like an investment, and I'm just not sure that the return on that investment was worth it.
WELDON: You know, to your point, when we talked about this film in 2017, Stephen Thompson said something very smart. He said, this movie has such a heavy logistical lift to do. It's got to be a Batman movie to some extent and a Wonder Woman movie and, to a smaller extent, a Superman movie, but it's also got to launch an Aquaman franchise, a Flash franchise and a Cyborg franchise. And while it is doing all that, it's got to tell a story. And back then in 2017, the studio demanded that all that be done in two hours. We get a lot more breathing room here to do all those jobs.
Jordan, what'd you think?
MORRIS: Oh, I kind of liked it.
WELDON: Cool. Cool, cool, cool.
MORRIS: Yeah. So, you know, I think right now, if you are into comic book-related media, you have a buffet before you with many different flavors. And the Snyder movies are a particular flavor, that flavor being a clove cigarette that you smoke in the break room of a Hot Topic.
MORRIS: But it's one that I am here for. I grew up reading comics in the late '80s, early '90s, and so, you know, I watched a lot of Adam West as Batman in reruns, but I also read a lot of comics. And so I like a little of the grim dark. I don't think this will bring people over to the Snyder-verse who weren't already in for it, but if you are in for it, it's a treat. So as a childless single man during a pandemic, I am all about a long movie.
WELDON: I mean, to be fair, half-an-hour of this movie is all epilogues - like, all the interstitial scenes...
WELDON: ...All the, like, midcredit sequences - boom, boom, boom, boom - and it all comes at the end. I'm going to start talking about this film by talking about the fans, which I think makes a lot of sense because this film would not exist without Snyder's hardcore fan base. The most important thing about this movie to me is that those fans who've been clamoring for it most passionately, most vocally and, in many cases, most toxically are going to be delighted by it because it delivers exactly what they have wanted and what they were certain was denied them by Whedon's version. And they had a point. I'm even happy for the thin-skinned Snyder bros who show up in my mentions because they got what they want.
While I think the consensus that's going to emerge about this film is that it's a lot less disjointed, a lot less muddled and a lot more coherent than the 2017 version, if you take that movie out of the mix and don't compare it and just say, is the Snyder cut on its own a good movie - hell no.
WELDON: It's a hilariously pretentious and portentous and self-serious and self-important, grim, dark slog. But that is Snyder. I got to say this, though. He's a hell of an iconographer. He creates these visual tableaux - you know I'm saying that with a E-A-U-X - these visions that hit exactly the same pleasure centers that superhero comics do. This guy directs in splash pages, one after the other. And it may sound like I'm saying that he's just some kind of glorified storyboard artist, and I'm not saying that because he knows there's a rhythm to it. You have to plant the seeds so you can visually build to those moments, and those moments are the stuff that, if you're exposed to superhero comics very young, as I was, it's going to make you love them for life.
So in this movie, again and again, I would be caught up in a moment, and then someone would say something like, this cape charges back, and I'd just fall out of it.
WELDON: Or we get introduced in act - what? - 27, a fourth MacGuffin. This movie already has three MacGuffins. Three is entirely fine. We get a fourth MacGuffin introduced almost in the last act. What did you guys think of the structure of the film?
HOWARD: You know, as far as the structure goes, when I was watching the movie, I was like, if there was a sequel to this movie, it would have to be totally different than a sequel to the theatrical release. And again, without giving anything away, the outcomes are not completely dissimilar. But the answer to the question, what comes next, what would be the logical next step in this story - I think it would just be fairly different between the two movies.
WELDON: Absolutely. And also, there's a lot that I had assumed was Joss Whedon that turned out to be Snyder in terms of jokes.
MORRIS: Oh, I had that reaction many times. I'm like, oh, I would assume that kind of quippy quip was, you know, Whedon, who, you know, has made a career on quippy quips.
MORRIS: But yeah, there were a fair amount of little zingers that were Snyder. I was shocked.
WELDON: Yeah. I mean, the one - there's a joke that's missing here that was obviously a Whedon one that's, like, the - it involves Aquaman and the magic lasso. I miss that. I miss that kind of fun...
MORRIS: Yeah, I like that, too, from the theatrical cut.
WELDON: ...From the theatrical cut.
MORRIS: That was fun.
WELDON: But you have even more Ezra Miller, who - for my money - is the highlight of this film. Like, he is so good. The character is written so consistently, and he's given room to breathe in a way that he just wasn't in the first film.
MORRIS: Something that I think is interesting that there's more of - and we're talking about what there's more of and what there's less of - is I was really shocked how much more schmaltz there was.
MORRIS: I think something interesting about Snyder is that, you know, we associate him with being a guy who loves the old slow-mo ultraviolence. You know, that's his thing. But I think there is such a sap in there. You know, one of the extended indulgent scenes that I was unfortunately kind of here for is - there is a moment where we show Superman back in Kansas, back in Smallville, and he just takes a moment to appreciate corn.
MORRIS: He just lovingly kind of runs his hand along the crop. You know, it's about a one-to-one sap-to-punch ratio, I would say.
HOWARD: To kind of jump off of that, just generally, I would say that the behavior of the heroes was pretty different in the Joss Whedon versus the Zack Snyder cut. And while there is more sap, I think that it's interesting that they're, I would say, far more personally violent in their fighting off the big, bad Steppenwolf. When I grew up - I grew up in the '90s, so the Justice League that I watched was - you know, this is before the DC Animated Universe, so I was watching "Super Friends" from, like, the '70s and '80s. They were just a lot more stabby-stabby (ph), bludgeony-bludgeony than they were punchy-punchy, which is what they were when I was growing up. It was just, like, dark-dark. Like, I understand that the theatrical release got some criticism for being a little too lighthearted. But truly, this was dark.
MORRIS: Yeah. I think we mentioned there being a lot more Cyborg.
MORRIS: And I think that's a good thing. I think Ray Fisher is great. But, man, yeah, he is easily the most emo character in this.
MORRIS: And that is saying a lot when you are in a movie with Batman.
WELDON: That's true.
MORRIS: I did like Ray Fisher's storyline. As a child of divorce, I am always hit in the feels by a reconnecting-with-your-absentee-dad story. There's a little bit of cheese in a scene where it shows Cyborg going into the Internet (laughter).
MORRIS: Going into the Internet - always a little bit of a tough thing to do in a movie. But overall, I kind of liked Cyborg's brooding. I thought he gave good brood.
WELDON: Right. I agree. As a nerd, I resented the fact that so much of his origin story was a slow-motion football game.
WELDON: I was like, why am I sitting through this? I resent the fact that I'm sitting through football, slower than usual.
MORRIS: Sure, yeah.
WELDON: I was surprised that even though Jason Momoa has a lot more screen time in this than he did in 2017, he doesn't have a lot more personality. He also broods a lot. I think that Snyder's go-to is brooding. I think that's what he thinks superheroes do. He even did it - he even had Superman do it, which is totally not his thing. And one thing about hardcore superhero fans - and Snyder fans in particularly - at the end of the day, I get it because, look; my version of Batman drinks milk and says things like, careful, chum, pedestrian safety.
MORRIS: Always has a can of shark repellent on hand.
WELDON: Always has a can of shark repellent on hand. And the Snyder cut happens to feature these characters that I grew up with, on, about. So many deep DCU Easter eggs in this thing. There is a scene between Lois and Martha Kent that ends with something that will make zero sense to most people who watch it.
WELDON: But I was so happy when it happened.
WELDON: Here's the thing - while that's fine, I could write a book or two about how no single version of these characters has ever, will ever or can ever be considered definitive. That's not how they work, right? They are mutable. They are endlessly adaptable, whether that's because they mirror the zeitgeist or because they're just being filtered through the world and the world keeps changing. So they can have this, right? Let them have this. It's made for them. I say mazel tov. I say pax vobiscum. And I just hope that they're going to enjoy and bask in this triumphant vindication that they finally got. But I don't think they will, and that's why I kind of feel sad for them.
What's your relationship to this fan base?
MORRIS: You know, I would not identify as a #releasethesnydercut guy.
MORRIS: But yeah, it is so interesting what you were talking about, Glen, because it is this, like, wound that can never heal.
MORRIS: You know, there is a - admit that this is the best movie and that Marvel stinks. But then there's also - I hate these fake geeks.
MORRIS: Why haven't they been into this their whole lives, you know?
MORRIS: It's like, like it a lot, but if you say you like it a lot, then also you're faking it because...
MORRIS: ...You aren't into it in the same way that I am. I know that kind of hypernerd is really, really tough to please. And it does feel like they're just kind of trapped in this perpetual anger cycle.
HOWARD: I find myself in kind of a no-man's land of, like, I'm not the hardcore fan; I'm more of a casual fan. Like, I'm - I grew up watching - you know, just watching cartoons kind of casually. And I'm not the one who's going out and buying all those comic books for myself. Like, I'm just like, sure, I'll enjoy it. If you give me a good comic book movie, you give me a good comic book, I'm down. I'm completely game. And when you have a fan base that is sometimes toxic - for people like me who was just like, I just kind of showed up to this party, I didn't bring any chips or anything...
HOWARD: ...It's hard when you have people who are there, who are at the party and who are openly hostile, to be able to say, like, look; I enjoyed this, but I'm not the bro who's, like, such an apologist that they're nearly violent to Marvel fans. I'm just someone who enjoys this movie. And I appreciate both of your takes on that.
MORRIS: Yeah, 'cause this set does like to compare themselves to Marvel.
MORRIS: And I think that, you know, something that might unite the fan bases is that - obviously, I think we all remember that scene in the first "Avengers" movie where they're fending off the alien attack and the team's together the first time, and the camera's kind of rotating around them as they pose - iconic movie moment. We all remember that. The Snyder cut has 20 of those.
WELDON: Yes. Yeah.
MORRIS: So if you like that moment, the Snyder cut will constantly give you that moment.
HOWARD: Yeah (laughter).
WELDON: All right. Well, tell us what you think about "Zack Snyder's Justice League." We are sure you have a lot of opinions. Find us at Facebook at facebook.com/pchh or tweet us at @pchh.
When we come back, it will be time to talk about what's making us happy this week, so come right back.
Welcome back to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR. It's time for our favorite segment of this week and every week - what's making us happy this week. J.C., what's making you happy this week, buddy?
HOWARD: So I actually got engaged near the end of last year.
HOWARD: Thank you. And my partner and I, we've been getting a lot of questions from friends and families about what we're planning. Are we, you know, going to do a virtual wedding? Are we going to wait and do something when enough folks get vaccinated? And all of those are very fair questions. But she and I have been having kind of a different conversation. Like, it'd be great to have a big party with family and friends and dancing and booze, but we're, how you say, millennials, so it would also be nice to buy a house.
And I personally feel very vindicated this week because that's the central question to the new Netflix show, "Marriage Or Mortgage." And it's exactly what it sounds like. It's couples who are basically in that same position and are like, should we spend $30,000 on a house or on an absolute rager of a party? A realtor shows them a bunch of houses, and a wedding planner shows them what they could do in their budget, and then they make a decision. So we're watching it right now, and this show has everything - houses I can't afford, tacky wedding ideas, emotional manipulation. In every episode, my partner and I are just like, they have to pick the house, right?
HOWARD: But there are those moments where, inevitably, some do not. And we're just like, this show is billed as a reality show, but it is clearly a tragedy because a lot of it was filmed before the pandemic. So you watch the show and you have these people that choose wedding and then COVID hits, so then it's them, four people and a priest, and my partner and I are just, like, giving the show hard side-eye.
HOWARD: But it's kind of a delight to watch - not every episode. I do sometimes want to throw my phone at the screen and say, pick the house, pick the house. But "Marriage Or Mortgage" on Netflix is what's making me happy this week.
WELDON: That sounds awesome. Thank you so much. Jordan Morris, what's making you happy this week, pal?
MORRIS: Well, first of all, being on the show - I'm a huge PCHH fan from way back, so this - I've - this feels like I won a contest or something. But yeah, I had a DC Comics-related endorsement I'd like to make. There is a great comics writer named Mariko Tamaki. She writes a lot of DC. She does your Batmans, your Wonder Womans, your Harley Quin, - all the bigs.
But she's very interesting because she got her start in emotionally raw YA romance comics. And she did a great one with the artist Rosemary Valero-O'Connell called "Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me" that I was rereading this week. This is fantastic - a YA romance that I think is the best artistic representation of what it's like to date someone who is hot and cold. It's, like, a very specific thing that I think they get just perfect. Mariko Tamaki - check out her DC Comics if you like that sort of thing. But if a YA romance is more your speed, "Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me" is fantastic.
WELDON: Excellent. Thank you very much for that. For me, what's making me happy this week - "Wolfwalkers" is an animated film streaming on Apple+. If you heard that it was nominated for best animated feature this week, which it was, and you were thinking, should I check it out - oh, jeez, yeah, you really have to. It is so gorgeous and stylish - old-school, hand-drawn animation. It's about this young girl in 17th century Ireland who wants to hunt wolves, like her father does, but befriends a young girl she meets in the forest who's got a mysterious connection to the local pack.
It's made by Cartoon Saloon, who did "Secret Of The Kells" a few years back, if you remember. It has kind of the same vibe. I would say it doesn't quite nail the dismount. The climax goes on and on a bit too long. But it is never not just heart-stoppingly beautiful to look at. That is "Wolfwalkers" on Apple+.
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WELDON: And that's what's making me happy this week. If you want links for what we recommended, plus some more recommendations exclusive to the newsletter, subscribe to our newsletter at npr.org/popculturenewsletter.
Before we go, we wanted to share some good news. For the first time in POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR history, the podcast is getting a new logo. That's right. Marketing types call it a brand refresh; we call it a new logo. You should see our new logo in your podcast feed starting this Monday, so look out for that.
And that brings us to the end of our show. You can follow me at @ghweldon. You can follow J.C. Howard at @thejchoward and Jordan Morris at @jordan_morris. His graphic novel "Bubble" is available for preorder right now. You can follow editor Jessica Reedy at @jessica_reedy and producer Candice Lim at @thecandicelim. You can follow producer Mallory Yu at @mallory_yu and producer Mike Katzif at @mikekatzif - that's K-A-T-Z-I-F. Mike's band Hello Come In provides the music you are bobbing your head to right now. Or maybe you're not. I don't know your life. Thanks to you, J.C. and Jordan, for being here.
HOWARD: Thank you for having me.
MORRIS: Yeah, thanks. This has been a blast.
WELDON: And thank you all for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. We will see you all next week.
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