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How Zack Snyder’s Justice League Ruins Darkseid in His First Scene

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Folks, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is finally upon us. The four-hour opus of a director’s cut contains just about everything Snyder decided to put in front of the camera for the 2017 film, and while the end result is predictably self-indulgent, it’s also more cohesive than many of us expected. In addition to fleshing out some characters that were barely there in the theatrical version, ZSJL tosses in the biggest bad in all of DC Comics – Darkseid (Ray Porter), an intergalactic despot obsessed with discovering the Anti-Life Equation and using it to conquer the universe. The movie constantly reminds us that we should be so terrified of Darkseid that we fill our trousers every time we so much as hear his name, and it’s not hard to see why. My man is nigh-invulnerable, he’s got glamour muscles and a fitted tank top, and he slices his enemies apart with zig-zagging laser eyes. But the movie makes a huge mistake in Darkseid’s introductory scene that instantly reduces him to a non-threat in the eyes of the audience. That mistake was letting him anywhere near Yoked David Thewlis.

Yoked David Thewlis reprises his role as Ares, the villain of 2017’s Wonder Woman, in a brief cameo during a flashback sequence showing Darkseid’s first attempt at invading Earth. That’s only technically accurate – a digital effects homunculus with David Thewlis’ face and voice makes a cameo appearance, and while that might sound like a complaint, please believe that I will never not welcome a ten-foot-tall Professor Lupin roped with the muscles of legend. He shows up in a huge, sweeping battle sequence involving all of the planet’s mightiest warriors – including the Atlanteans, the Amazons, the Greek Gods, and sure let’s throw King Arthur in there too – fighting back the armies of Apokalips. We get to see a bunch of fools get wrecked, including a Green Lantern who flies a little too close to the sun and gets his ass thoroughly murdered by Darkseid. There’s even a Zeus played by an actor who looks so much like Gerard Butler from 300 that I briefly thought I was back in the Bush administration. At the very least that dude should play Butler’s car thief brother in a McG action comedy.

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Image via HBO Max

RELATED: ‘Zack Snyder’s Justice League’: In Praise of Steppenwolf, the Tragic Middle-Management Doofus of Apokolips

Anyway, there’s a point relatively early on in the invasion where Ares, a.k.a. David Thewlis, the mightiest warrior in the pantheon of vascular beefcakes, springs across the battlefield to meet Darkseid head-on. He didn’t shave his head that morning to not go down in history as an absolute unit, gods damnit, and plus he needs to get his steps in before dinner. That said, in spite of his improbable status as one of the most spellbinding adonises on the field, we don’t expect Ares to do all that well against the God of Evil. We already watched him get taken out by Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), and Darkseid is essentially as close as you can get to Death itself without putting a robe on a skeleton. It is therefore impossible to overstate my surprise when Ares instantly chops Darkseid 30% in half and sends him blubbering back to Apokalips like a kid with a skinned knee. He might as well have made him eat dirt and stolen his lunch money. Darkseid left some tears behind in that exchange.

As a former high school wrestler who lost a match to a man with visible excrement in his singlet, I know a thing or two about embarrassing defeat. And Ares beats Darkseid’s ass so mercilessly with that single blow that the Lord of Apokalips takes his ball and goes home for 100,000 years and forgets where Earth is. The only way that scene could have been more humiliating is if Ares had thwarted the invasion by running over Darkseid’s foot with an economy sedan. Darkseid had to get dragged back to his spaceship by his own crew like a guy who got stabbed in a bar fight. The last thing Zack Snyder’s Justice League needs is another scene, but I would’ve happily sat through an epilogue to that botched invasion in which a brutally hungover DeSaad returns to Earth the next morning to look for Darkseid’s wallet.

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Image via HBO Max

RELATED: What Is the Anti-Life Equation? Let’s Discuss Darkseid’s Plan in ‘Zack Snyder’s Justice League’

In case it wasn’t obvious by now, this is my favorite part of the entire movie. And yet, while it rules unassailably and I’m currently updating my will to stipulate that my ashes somehow be scattered across it, this scene kind of ruins the movie. (As much as it can be ruined – we already know Darkseid isn’t going to play much of a role in the finale just by virtue of the fact that this is a four-year-old movie and the DC superhero films we’ve seen since then don’t even mention him.) Snyder is a master of accidentally undermining himself. He frequently introduces ideas and then chops their legs off like an axe-wielding god of myth two scenes later because he thought of something that would look totally bitchin’. For example, Man of Steel introduces a compelling dilemma forcing Superman (Henry Cavill) to choose between the survival of humanity and the survival of Krypton, but then buys it back entirely by having Supes and Zod (Michael Shannon) kill thousands of people in a bodacious fistfight. And watching Glisteningly Muscular David Thewlis separate Darkseid’s collarbone with a piece of antiquity was totally awesome. The problem is, how are we supposed to take Darkseid seriously as a threat after we watch him get completely demolished in his introductory scene by a character Wonder Woman killed in an earlier movie?

It’s a genuine problem. The final showdown includes the impending threat of Darkseid’s arrival on Earth as a ticking clock, but we’ve already seen Darkseid get worked like the Brooklyn Brawler. Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) and the rest of the bad guys spend a great deal of time hemming and hawing about Superman, but Wonder Woman, the literal demigod who beat the brakes off of the man who drove Darkseid to clown school, is standing right there with a magic fucking sword. It’s also important to note that Steppenwolf barely escapes with the Mother Boxes each time he steals one, and Wonder Woman and Aquaman (Jason Momoa) seem to be tuning him up perfectly fine during the final showdown before Superman shows up to drop some absolute atrocities on his ass. It’s hard to be intimidated by villains who get their faces shoved into the dirt every time they’re onscreen. And while we ultimately want to cheer for the good guys when they finally defeat the bad guys, we need to feel like the bad guys pose an actual threat for it to be any fun. As it is, the heroics of the titular Justice League look way more like bullying in this film, which probably says more about Zack Snyder than he intended.

KEEP READING: New Snyder Cut ‘Justice League’ Behind-the-Scenes Footage Includes a Look at Filming New Knightmare Sequence

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