The day is almost here. A day many fans thought would never come, where they get to watch a version of a film many believed never existed. The Snyder Cut is finally upon us, and it’s has had a hell of a journey getting here, full of twists, turns, and tragedy.
After building DC’s own cinematic universe by making Man Of Steel (2013), Batman Vs Superman (2016) and working on their culmination in Justice League (2017), director Zack Snyder exited the project during post-production. Aside from ongoing clashes with the studio over the poor reception of the previous two films, the making of Justice League coincided with the tragic death of Snyder’s daughter Autumn in March 2017. As a result, the studio brought in Avengers-assembler Joss Whedon to take the reins.
After the release of the objectively terrible ‘Whedon-salvaged’ Justice League (which is said to have maintained only 20% of Snyder’s original script and footage), Snyder’s fans and cast members promoted online petitions to release his version. The hashtag #ReleaseTheSnyderCut was a frequent trend. Snyder eventually acknowledged that, though incomplete, his version did exist. The newly-launched streaming platform HBO Max was smart to capitalise on this. They offered him a budget of close to $70 million to complete the film. The result is the four-hour film, titled Zack Snyder’s Justice League, which releases on Thursday (on BMS Stream in India).
Snyder’s interpretation and approach to the DC Universe has been the topic of hot debate amongst audiences. While these movies don’t always work, I maintain that they’re some of the bravest and most interesting superhero movies of recent memory. Part of the criticism is that Snyder takes his superheroes far too seriously, but that’s also what allows them to go to places other blockbuster stories wouldn’t. These movies are also true blue director-driven superhero films with Snyder’s signature style all over them, something you’ll rarely see in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Ahead of the release of the Snyder Cut, the last part of his trilogy, we look back at its predecessors Man Of Steel and Batman Vs Superman (and the botched 2017 Justice League) and examine what makes them so divisive and different.
Man Of Steel (2013)
Man Of Steel is Snyder’s strongest and most balanced movie in how it blends existential ideas with the conventional beats of a superhero movie. It’s also one of the most emotionally-charged and intimate origin stories ever made that roots the fantastical in the emotional. It was a superhero movie that made you feel, in part due to Henry Cavill’s earnest re-imagining of the last son of Krypton.
Man Of Steel took a meditative approach to answer the question: How do you make the perfect man interesting? You place him in an imperfect world and watch how he tries to find his place in it while struggling with the burden of becoming the person that world needs him to be.
Man Of Steel was also a testament to what great actors could bring to superhuman stories. Kevin Costner gave us a deeply affecting portrait of Jonathan Kent (granted his death scene is one of the film’s weakest and most deal breaking sequences). Similarly, Michael Shannon shined as the hauntingly unhinged yet sympathetic dictator Zod and Amy Adams gave us a hard-nosed Lois Lane who refused to be side-lined as a mere damsel in distress.
Not to mention unforgettable moments like that first flight sequence, or the sheer impact of ‘You think you can threaten my mother!’. Man Of Steel also has the best use of CGI amongst all three movies on this list (something the DC movies are notoriously bad at). That entire opening Krypton set piece is arguably the most visually dazzling sequence of Snyder’s DC films thus far.
Many have taken issue with the violent climax in which Superman is forced to kill Zod, although I’d argue he was left with no choice and had to cross that line to save the people of earth.
Batman Vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice (2016)
After Man Of Steel came the bigger, bumpier and far more ambitious Batman Vs Superman, a widely rejected film which, over time, developed its own cult following. Building up to Justice league, Snyder’s interpretation of Batman was an older, more jaded and dejected Dark Knight who’s been in the vigilante game for 20 years, who sees Superman’s sheer power and destructive capability as a threat.
In the impressive opening sequence, we see Bruce Wayne witness Man Of Steel’s final Metropolis-wrecking battle between Superman and Zod from a ground-level perspective. He tries to save civilians amidst collapsing buildings and the horrific destruction, establishing Bruce’s distrust of Superman and laying the seeds of doubt and fear. This is further capitalised on by master manipulator Lex Luthor, played by an at times interesting but frequently irritating Jesse Eisenberg (the dude force-feeds people gummy bears), who carefully constructs a scenario to have the two titans face-off.
BvS doesn’t work for many reasons. For one, it’s a poorly structured film which plays out almost like a slow-burn drama for most of its 2.5 hour run-time, culminating in 3 massive back-to-back action showdowns. Unlike the more balanced Man Of Steel, BvS gets so lost in its complex ideas and headiness that it forgets to deliver on the bare basics of a superhero movie – the fun. It’s also so busy building up the legend and psychology of these iconic figures that you barely get to see them in action (Batman’s only real fight scenes which see him in all his badass glory comes at the very end of the film).
Then there’s the final confrontation between Batman and Superman – a senseless showdown which culminates in that now-iconic Martha sequence, and the jarring ‘let’s be friends’ emotional shift that follows. Aside from the silliness of how it plays out, it’s a conflict that doesn’t feel earned. In contrast, in Captain America: Civil War when Cap and Iron Man finally face-off, it breaks your heart because it feels inevitable because you understand the why of it and empathise with both sides. That’s not to say it doesn’t have great comic book moments, such as the triumphant introduction of Wonder Woman and that entire Knightmare sequence and Batman’s vision of the future.
Beyond these, the film’s strength lies in the ideas it explores along the way. The essence of BvS is a world grappling with the existence of a Superman, and him grappling with that world. How do you process the idea that such a being exists? You either feel threatened by it (Batman), violently jealous of it (Lex Luthor), deify it (the people of the world), try to embrace it (Holly Hunter’s Senator Finch and General Swanwick) or try to see the person beyond the power (Lois Lane).
Justice League (2017)
And then, there was Justice League – the answer to the question: Can a movie truly be about nothing?
While it’s just about serviceable as a mindless team-up movie, everything about the film feels like a patch job. Joss Whedon essentially removed the specificity of what made Snyder’s aesthetic and approach so distinctive, and doubled down on the worst aspects of the DC films, giving us a soulless, bloated CGI-heavy blockbuster. There’s nothing particularly terrible or good about the movie. It’s just utterly devoid of personality and excels only in how it manages to keep you switched off for two straight hours, giving you next to nothing to hold onto or invest in.
For one, there’s the big bad Steppenwolf who’s the dictionary definition of a forgettable CGI villain. Then there’s the now infamous moustache gate, referring to Henry Cavill having grown a moustache for Mission Impossible: Fallout which that film’s makers refused to let him shave off. For Whedon’s reshoots they had to digitally remove his moustache in post. And yes, it ended up looking just as ridiculous and upsetting as it sounds. (Although in hindsight, it proved to be a useful way of identifying which scenes are reshoots vs Snyder’s original footage).
Weird pixelated face aside, Justice League also completely undoes Superman’s two-film character arc, reducing him, and essentially every other character in the film, to a hollow imitation of themselves. All of which leads up to a spectacularly exhausting final showdown which is one giant blur of repetitive CGI visuals.
We can only hope that finally getting to experience Snyder’s original vision not only improves on this film exponentially, but also proves to be worth the long wait and hype that led to it.