2021 Movie Review

ROUNDTABLE REVIEW: Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Editor’s note: The moment is finally here… Zack Snyder’s Justice League is set to debut on HBO Max at 12 AM PDT, March 18. Years of fan campaigning and constant social media clarmor has delivered what tens of thousands of people worldwide have been asking for; the mythical “Snyder Cut” is finally here. If you’re unfamiliar with the story of the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement, polish up by reading this article here. The Snyder Cut of Justice League is perhaps the most infamous and relevant story of the collective power of fandom ever told. Whatever your thoughts and feelings are toward Zack Snyder and his movies, it’s hard to dismiss the #ReleaseTheSndyerCut movement as anything short of historic. We had the pleasure of receiving screenings for two of our writers here at Backseat Directors, so this will be a mini version of our normal roundtable reviews. We hope you enjoy what they have to say about this legendary movie.

Superheroes in Zack Snyder’s Justice League head straight on into battle against cosmic foes. | HBO Max Original (2021).

CJ Marshall: The Snyder Cut is good. Compare it to the previous version and it’s a masterpiece. It’s audacious, with a mythic quality that feels more on par with a fantasy epic than your average cape flick. I can’t say it’s enough to convert the naysayers. Justice League is Snyder with carte blanche. You have to sit through the slow-mo and the idol worship to get to the brilliance. Satisfied as I am with Zack Snyder’s Justice League, I don’t need more. This puts a big, beautiful, four hour bow on his offering to the DCEU and he can ride off into the sunset with full vindication (if he ever even truly needed–or wanted–it). Still, I find myself wondering what might have been.

It’s baffling that Warner Bros. chose what we received in theaters over the original vision. The trajectory of the DCEU might still be climbing instead of the peaks and valleys we’ve seen thus far. I’ll even go so far as to claim that this older, better JLA film makes Man of Steel and Batman v Superman better by association. It shows the decisions, whether you find them poor or not, were done with a clear plan in mind. I don’t worry about the precedent this sets with the fandom at large. People are fooling themselves if they think this wasn’t anything more than a stunt to nab subscribers for HBO Max. I just don’t think anyone realized just how good it was going to turn out. Love it or hate it, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is historic.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

DC Comics’ greatest heroes join forces like never before in Zack Snyder’s Justice League. | HBO Max Original (2021).

Parker Johnson: The DCEU opened in 2013 with the first teaser trailer for Man of Steel, as temp music from The Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring played alongside the voice of Jor-El telling his son that, “[he] will give the people an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind [him]. They will stumble, they will fall- but in time they will join [him] in the sun. In time, [he] will help them accomplish wonders.” I sat there in the theater as a young man, simply awestruck. Here was something different than what we had ever gotten before in the superhero genre. Something epic, something beautiful, something inspiring. Seven years later, I now have the privilege of watching Zack Snyder’s Justice League, and as the end credits rolled, I am struck with that same feeling of awe. With the wildly popular, entertaining, and successful episodic formula of the MCU, it was hard for casual fans and studios alike to imagine Snyder’s vision of a 5 film arc for our favorite heroes. With Justice League now restored to Snyder’s intended 4 hour drama, I now see where he was heading.

Those who complained about the weight and somberness of the previous Snyder-verse films will be happy to know that the hope and optimism that they craved is now starting to emerge in the story as our characters reflect on the impact Superman had on their world, fulfilling Jor-El’s declaration. I haven’t seen a trilogy of films (Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, Zack Snyder’s Justice League), with the same scale of epicness, hope, and faith in humanity since The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Snyder has given us our modern day mythos–drawing from the comics, older mythologies and theology (specifically Christianity) to give us stories that inspire us to live up to our potential. It is a miracle that this movie got to see the light of day, and I believe people are going to love it. I was captivated for the full 4 hours, and I want to see the story continue to complete its five film arc.

#RestoreThe Snyderverse.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

REVIEW: Judas and the Black Messiah

Warner Bros. Pictures
Rated: R
Runtime: 126 minutes
Director: Shaka King

*If you are not familiar with the true story of Fred Hampton and Bill O’Neal, the following review will contain some spoilers for the movie.

Judas and the Black Messiah is a biographical drama film directed and produced by Shaka King, from a screenplay written by King and Will Berson. It is based on a story by King, Berson, as well as Kenny and Keith Lucas. It stars Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback, Ashton Sanders, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Lil Rel Howery, Algee Smith, and Martin Sheen. While the story is seemingly about Hampton (Kaluuya), the film concentrates on William O’Neal (Stanfield) who was essentially forced to work for the FBI to infiltrate and spy on the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party. O’Neal eventually became the organization’s chief of security and then supplied the floor plan of the building where Hampton was staying. This led to a raid in which Hampton was killed. 

Kaluuya as Hampton gives an electrifying performance that is as riveting as the man himself. His delivery of the speeches are intense and have conviction. What the film does extremely well is show how Hampton had an ability to bring potential enemies and rivals together. He knew that there was strength in numbers and that they could turn heads to their ideas if they came together. The title is an allusion to former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover’s statement that they, “…must prevent the rise of Black Messiahs.” In Hampton’s case, they did so by enlisting O’Neal, a “Judas,” to infiltrate and betray him. This obviously ties into the biblical story when Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver to Pontius Pilate which led to Jesus’s crucifixion and Judas’s suicide. This film makes Judas the lead character and Stanfield does a fantastic job. The film doesn’t absolve O’Neal for his part in killing Hampton; rather, it humanizes him. Stanfield plays a conflicted man who wants to dedicate himself to the cause of Black liberation but also does not want to go to prison. Our natural inclination might be to vilify O’Neal for killing Hampton, but the film shows reasons to sympathise and how we might learn from his mistakes. Tragically, O’Neal also took his own life, again aligning himself to the biblical Judas. 

Outside of these two men, the supporting cast is strong as well. Plemmons is great, with the best performances coming from Fishback as Deborah Johnson. The film really shows how big of an impact women had to the Black Panther organization. Fishback is fleshed out extremely well and her relationship with Hampton indicates that Johnson was a strong woman who wants to stand with Hampton but also will tell him when he isn’t as good as he could be. Fishback hits every note perfectly and is as charismatic as Kaluuya. Their chemistry makes the final tragic moments of the film even more painstaking.

Daniel Kaluuya stands surrounded by fellow Black Panthers as he sets to give a speech in a scene of Judas and the Black Messiah | Warner Bros. Pictures, 2021.

The film does have a few issues with its historical accuracy of certain details; O’Neal has stated it was fairly easy to get close to Hampton where the film says it was difficult. The writers also took some liberties regarding O’Neal’s relationship with Mitchell. Hampton and O’Neal are not accurately represented in the film as the former was 21 and the latter was 17. Stanfield and Kaluuya are 29 and 31, respectively, which may seem a little jarring as neither actor feels the age that the two men really were.

Additionally, in real life, Hampton did open his eyes when the building was raided but still keeps this scene simple. Instead of a big climactic scene with FBI agents running in guns blazing, the film shows him sleeping. By keeping Hampton sleeping when he is killed, (whether intentionally or unintentionally) the film seems to parallel Fred Hampton’s murder with the infamous killing of Breanna Taylor in 2020. The final flaw is in showing how the FBI was involved. Though purposeful, it can take away a little from the film’s overall pacing.

Judas and the Black Messiah succeeds with its story, the acting, the ending, its message, and the majority of its details. The performances by the entire cast alone is reason enough to watch this movie multiple times. The film highlights how citizens can be manipulated or influenced to turn on their fellow citizens with use of propaganda and other tactics. Will society continue to allow this to happen or will they stand up and fight? That is up to the viewer to decide.

Judas and the Black Messiah was released in theaters where theaters are open, and is available to stream on HBO Max.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

REVIEW: Minari

A24
Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 115 minutes
Director: Lee Isaac Chung

Minari (미나리), which literally translates to “water dropwort” is a drama film written and directed by Lee Isaac Jeong. It stars Steven Yeun, Han Ye-ri, Alan Kim, Noel Kate Cho, Youn Yuh-jung, and Will Patton. It is a semi-autobiographical take on Chung’s upbringing where a family of South Korean immigrants try to make it in rural America during the 1980s.

This film takes inspiration from the Bible, of a family trying to find a new life. In the old testament, the Hebrews left Egypt as “strangers and exiles on the earth and were seeking a homeland,” and they were immigrants coming into the promised land, and the Yi family is no different. Jacob and his family traveled from California to Arkansas to start their own garden/farm. His wife, Monica, wants the family to do well; especially for David, their son (Kim), who has a heart murmur. Their views coexist, but do clash when certain things happen that may or may not put the family at risk. To be successful in this new land, he has to make choices and deal with the consequences; whether that be joy, pain, laughter, or heartbreak.

Chung’s direction is able to accurately capture what some immigrants have to go through when they come to the United States. Even if one does not connect with the religious aspects or the immigrant aspects of the film, the film taps into what almost every human does, restlessly seeking for that sense of belonging. As humans, we are looking for the perfect job, the friend group, the people that accept us who we are and help us succeed. People may not always get along but good people that push through the differences will endure. Eventually, Monica’s widowed mother, Soonja (Yuh-Jung Youn) comes to live with them. Yuh-Jung is so good the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress seems well within her reach. She is dramatic when she needs to be, and her comedic timing was on point, though unexpected. Yuh-Jung has to flip back and forth and she does that fantastically well. Both Yeun give strong but vulnerable performances as the parental figures and Kim is adorably wonderful as David. Not only is David basically the director’s point of view, he ends up being the one that the audience follows even if they are not an immigrant or Asian themselves. David is an Americanized child and is always on the outside looking in. He does not know the struggles that his parents are going through as a lot of non-immigrants do not understand about immigrant families.

Alan Kim and Steven Yeun appear in a scene of Minari | A24, 2021.

Even when this film does show how racism does exist with the many Americans around the Yi family, Chung simply shows this as part of the family’s journey. Their journey is about a family trying to make it in a place that some would say they do not belong in. Chung then shows the immigrant experience of learning to assimilate but they also try to bring along the things that remind them of home. To the Yi family, it’s Minari.  When immigrants come to this country, there is always a conflict of the cultural aspect versus the new one that they are trying to assimilate into. Why would immigrants want to go somewhere where they are instantly put into an uphill battle? Because it’s worth it to make a better life for the next generation, and this is why this film is a beautiful representation of immigrant life. As the film shows, the Yi family goes through a rollercoaster of events and still endures.

Overall, Minari succeeds with its story, its acting, its message, its ending and some of its details.  The only small issue is that the film can feel a little slow at times. However, the ending is definitely worth it; it is about a family that asks for empathy without overdoing it with specific acting scenes. It’s not a political statement rather it’s only showing what humanity looks like. Watch it.

Recommendation: Go See It!

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