If one is to analyze the possibility of a Snyder cut of 2017’s mediocrity known as “Justice League”, one must first analyze the trajectory that has led to the never-ending #ReleaseTheSnyderCut hashtag all over social media, the narrative merit of Zack Snyder’s early films in the DC Extended Universe DC Universe, and the overall reaction to what the filmmaker intended to do with the characters he included in his films. Only then can one estimate what the quality and reaction will be to the (for now, only rumored) alternate version of “Justice League”.
It’s been more than 2 years since “Justice League”, the film equivalent of an ex saying “look, I’m doing everything you said you would like, and you still don’t want to get back together!” was released. The tales about the making this film are pretty astonishing, so let’s start at the very beginning (sort of).
In an effort to rival Marvel’s incredibly successful (both financially and creatively) Cinematic Universe, Warner Bros (WB) greenlit numerous films at the same time and seemingly gave creative control of the project(s) to (“acclaimed”?) director Zack Snyder. It seemed like a viable plan, except that both of Snyder’s films in the franchise (i.e., “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”) had been divisive, at best, and just plain bad, at worst.
For all his flaws, Snyder is a more than competent filmmaker from a visual standpoint, but he tends to struggle with cohesive plots and character arcs. As much as Snyder loves the comic book characters that appear in his films, he does not always understand their humanity and motivations. While this is a small issue with minor characters, it’s a big issue for major characters. The biggest evidence of this shortcoming in his films is Superman. There’s a guy called Superman in “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman”, but he does not act like Superman at all. He’s wearing the suit, but he does not understand what it stands for.
Superman’s biggest powers are his compassion and his hope for humanity. He fights villains because he wants to save them from themselves, and because he believes that he can change them for the better. He prioritizes the long-term redemption of his villains over a simple cheer from the people of the world. It is because of this hope that Superman is often a difficult character to write. He’s, in some ways, too good, which implies that he’s perfect – and creating drama with a character like that is difficult. In that sense, he’s a relic of a more innocent world in pop culture (your grandpa’s superhero, if you will).
Snyder and his writing team for both “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman” tried to overcome this challenge by having Superman react negatively to the way people of Earth feel about him. He’s begrudgingly saving people, and keeps looking sad and frustrated about how hard he tries to help while people don’t really appreciate it. This brings some “interesting” (according to some people, at least) character drama, but it does not really apply with the character whose story you’re telling, because you’re losing the essence of the character. Superman is supposed to go beyond that fear and that hate – he’s supposed to see the best in these people that hate him. He leads by example, and makes people be the better version of themselves. A film that goes into this issue and finds a good balance in the character’s reaction is Sam Raimi’s first “Spider-Man”.
In both of his films, Snyder went all in, and I mean ALL IN with this “dark Superman” premise. He even delivers cringe-worthy lines like “I’ll bring you in without breaking you, which is more than you deserve!” or “stay down! If I wanted it, you’d be dead already!” WHAT? No… stop it. This is not what he’s supposed to say.
While this seemed like a long tangent, I wanted to explain these flaws in Snyder’s films because all indications seem to imply that he made the exact same choices (in my view, mistakes) in whatever cut he did (or ends up doing) of “Justice League”. He’s pretty much made that clear in recent statements, including the quarantine watch party of “Batman v Superman”.
It’s not a lie to say that Snyder’s choices underwhelmed a big percentage of audiences, which is why both of Snyder’s DC Universe films underperformed at the box office and were mostly hated by critics. A change in direction was advisable, if not necessary – with or without Snyder. This put WB in a complicated situation. They could either continue with Snyder’s bleak and dark vision of these comic book characters, or reinvent the films. For a time, it seemed like the decision was to make “Justice League” a bit more lighthearted than its predecessors, because they overly emphasized the silly humor (mostly by Ezra Miller’s Flash) in the first trailer they released. Snyder was still onboard at that point.
The reaction was better, but there was still some skepticism. It’s hard to tell what was being considered at that point, but then an outside tragedy forced Snyder to step down from the film, and WB seemed to decide to completely alter the creative path for the film: They brought Joss Whedon in to finish and handle all reshoots of “Justice League”. While both Snyder and Whedon are fans, they have vastly different visions of what a comic book movie should be, at least tonally. To put in a food analogy, Snyder’s “Justice League” was a chocolate cake that was going to be turned into a steak with fries after Whedon worked on it (it will taste like many different things and taste like nothing at the same time).
And, so, “Justice League” was released in 2017. Nobody really liked it, and I would dare to say nobody really hated it, either. It was a somewhat competently made film that felt more like a throwback to the early 2000s superhero films than anything else. But the genre has come so far since then – mostly thanks to films like “The Dark Knight” and “Iron Man”, both of which showed a new and more serious tone could be applied to these characters, and that the plots could be more complicated than “let’s go after the bad guy”, which dominated many of the early comic book films (including the good ones, like Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” films). Both “The Dark Knight” and “Iron Man” have plots that go beyond the villain in turn – they are films that are based more in characters than in “the big villain threat”. Because of that, they can balance more than one villain in a way that other films could not. It does not matter who Iron Man is fighting, it matters how this affects his story and his character. “Justice League” is a work that does not represent anyone’s vision or artistic merit, and it does not have any heart or soul. It’s an empty shell of a movie that is surprisingly good for watching between naps on long flights (I know, I’ve watched it), but little more.
That’s what’s the most frustrating thing about “Justice League”: it’s a nothing movie. It’s a project made to meet a release date and a financial commitment, but it has no artistic merit. And because it represents a clear vision of a filmmaker convinced that his interpretation of these characters was the best approach in today’s world, I would love to see Snyder’s cut of the same film. I may not agree with his choices, but I still find his creative vision (or at least some parts of it) interesting.
I really think Snyder’s cut would be a better film than the one we ended up getting, but that does not really mean that it will be a good film, and I think that most people are not really contemplating that. They want to see the film, but I suspect that they haven’t realized that they are bound to be underwhelmed by it. This prospect of disappointment is the biggest danger posed by the Snyder cut.
If I had to guess, I would say that Snyder’s cut would likely be very similar to “Batman v Superman”, in the sense that it includes one too many characters and too many plot threads that culminate an overly long film with no clear resolution and a tireless inclination to set up a cinematic universe that will not ultimately exist in the way that Snyder himself wanted it to be. This means that (a) the people that like the Snyder cut will be frustrated to see that Snyder’s version of the DC Universe has been shelved; and (b) the people that don’t like it, will be just as frustrated to see Snyder make the same mistakes that brought down his prior films in the franchise. There might be a third group, however, of which I feel like I would likely be a part of, that will simply take this film as an alternate version of what we ended up getting. This alternate version will feel like a meal from Taco Bell: I won’t be hungry anymore after watching it, but I’ll also not feel totally happy with what I filled my stomach with.
Either way, I really hope we get the Snyder cut at some point, if only to end this seemingly infinite discussion as to whether it exists or not. I would also like to see more of characters like Commissioner Gordon (who has an almost cameo-like appearance on Whedon’s cut) or an actual villain that’s not the terrible version of Steppenwolf that we ended up getting. If anything, Snyder is known for excess (remember the 4-hour long version of “Watchmen” or the “Batman v Superman” extended cut?), so this means that, within the 20 movies he will cram into a – more than likely – 3+ hour cut, there’s bound to be one or two that I’ll enjoy.
So, what the hell, let’s go with #ReleaseTheSnyderCut. Just remember the dangers, and try not to get your hopes up. You should know what you’ll likely be getting by now.