“I have turned one hundred thousand worlds to dust looking for Anti-Life; looking for those who robbed me of my glory. I will stride across their bones and bask in the glow of Anti-Life, and all of existence shall be mine!” – Darkseid
Let’s kick off with a scene setting historical note. Settle down comfortable and I’ll tell you a story. I’ll lay my cards on the table – comic book-wise, even though I love Marvel, DC are a bit closer to my heart. Always have been. My first “American comic” as we called them here in the UK back in the sixties was DC – specifically Batman. (For those curious few, it was issue 186). So, when the DC Universe movies were released, I was hoping for a lot of truly great things. If Warner were releasing films to compete with the Marvel Movie Universe, then it stands to reason that the audience would be the real, true winners.
Man of Steel proved a tad underwhelming, but was redeemed by Dawn of Justice, which brought Batman into the mix to bring Superman to account for his city wrecking, innocent bystander casualty ridden battle against fellow Kryptonian, Zod, and introduced Wonder Woman to the mix in a movie that was designed to not only “fix” Man of Steel by showing Superman suffering consequences and nobly sacrificing himself to save us – but set up the mighty Justice League to appear in their next film, against an even bigger menace.
Justice League (2017) was beset with problems, when director Zack Snyder had to abandon the project before the filming was completed. In came director Joss Whedon to finish the job. Whedon, by all accounts was mandated to deliver a completed two-hour film and went about his business cutting vast chunks out of Snyder’s almost completed film and adding his own flourishes.
The result was a film I liked, but I didn’t love. And as a comic book geek, I’ve always been more of a fan of the League than the Avengers – I wanted to love this film. But couldn’t. Frankly, I was happy to see the Justice League in a live action film and was suitably grateful – but it didn’t have the sheer epic scope and scape of an Avengers movie. It was obviously a clash of styles and left quite a bit to be desired. It seemed rushed and breezed through several of the characters which were relegated to peripheral scene fillers. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and some other guys. But we take what we get, right? It seemed wrong. It seemed incomplete.
From a business point of view, I fully understand the reasoning to cut a film down to two hours. Multiplexes live or die on the number of screenings they can schedule into a day. A two-hour film fits the bill, a ninety-minute film, even better – they can show it a couple more times per day. A three-hour film cuts down the screenings dramatically and takes more time to make its money back. A FOUR-HOUR FILM? That’s crazy. Two or three screenings per day? And can the millennial audience even sit still for that long? So – I get the business aspect. But as a fan, I wanted the story that was intended to be told, because I felt seriously short changed. I’ve seen the Whedon cut of Justice League several times and I still feel the same way. And there were other things that just downright bothered me. And it bothered both critics and audiences. Back in 2017, the film didn’t perform very well and Warner decided to re-evaluate their plans for the team, and concentrate on single character superhero films instead.
So, rumours started to surface that there was a Snyder cut. Warner denied that such a thing existed. But those rumours persisted. Warner continued to say nope, there’s no such thing. Until Snyder confirmed on social media that there WAS such a thing. Henry Cavill released photos of himself in a black Superman suit which we hadn’t seen in the film, Jason Momoa added his booming voice to the chorus to release the original Snyder cut.
Reluctantly, Warner conceded. They had to – the Coronavirus pandemic was shutting everything down in mid production and so it was decided to give Snyder the money to finish off his vision and have the release be a special event for home viewing. In its full glory.
And now it’s here. A two-hour movie has been substantially recut, restored and revived to become a four-hour marathon. Normally, with a director’s cut we’d get maybe at the most, under twenty minutes of new footage – but this is paradoxically a whole new film version of a film we’ve seen before. The plot is exactly the same, so as the film has been in circulation for almost four years, I’m not going to be treading on eggshells in case of spoilers here. If you’re reading this, chances are extraordinarily high you’ve seen the Whedon cut.
The differences are evident from the opening minutes (ignore the 4:3 ratio - that's the way it is and you soon get used to it) which reprise the ending of Dawn of Justice and the death of Superman (Henry Cavill). Gone is the “Everybody Knows” song, and much as that set a sombre scene, the death cry of Superman is much more effective. And speaking of some of the things that are now excised, I was surprised that Danny Elfman’s whole score is gone, replaced by the music of Thomas Holkenborg. That’s a shame, as I’m fond of the way it incorporated past themes of the characters from both TV and films.
As the film originally started, we saw Batman (Ben Affleck) foiling a cat burglar and being attacked by a flying parademon in the process. The first time I saw the film, I didn’t realise it was a parademon and got a little confused from the outset. It’s a great “Batman fighting on the rooftops” scene, but we needed to know what thing he’s fighting is. I assumed it was a super villain at the time until later in the film. But that’s all sorted as the villainy and their objectives are explained BEFORE the fighting really starts. In fact, we don’t really see much of Batman at all in the first ninety minutes or so. Bruce Wayne is there, recruiting a super team but in his civilian identity rather than the Dark Knight. This makes perfect sense as we had already seen both Wayne and Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) so time is wisely spent getting to know our newer characters whom we’re seeing for the first time (remembering that this film was intended for release before Aquaman)
The Flash (Ezra Miller) Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and Aquaman (Jason Momoa) are now far better realised and have more depth. We don’t get the origin of The Flash at this point – and he’s the character I still have a problem with. I’m used to him being a bit older, but Ezra Miller’s portrayal seems for like a guy in his late teens and he comes across as channelling Tom Holland’s Peter Parker/Spider-Man.
Cyborg seems to have suffered the most out of the characters from Whedon’s editing scissors. Previously, he came across as having a massive chip on his shoulder like a surly teen, and spent a lot of the early scenes wearing a hoodie and hiding in corners. We now see his full origin, we understand his pain and his attitude, not because he’s largely composed of a robot body – but how and why exactly that happened. We can better understand his resentment for his father as a monster maker but we also understand the father’s point of view.
Aquaman is well served by having this film perfectly set up his solo movie. A lot of questions were bubbling around in my head regarding the uneasy fit between Justice League and Aquaman which have now been resolved with the restoration of several key scenes involving Mera (Amber Heard) and Vulko (Willem Dafoe).
The plot has been expanded beyond all recognition; in that it actually makes sense now. Previously the big threat was a low key (not Loki) character from the hell world of Apokalips named Steppenwolf. And for most of the film, it still is. But he’s a mere lackey, trying to win back the approval of the REAL ultimate villain, Darkseid.
By way of explanation for the non-comic book readers, Darkseid is a REALLY big deal. Where Marvel have Thanos and his quest for the Infinity Gauntlet, DC have Darkseid and his quest for the Anti-Life Equation. The Anti-Life Equation is a transcendental mathematical formula which allows those who know it to dominate and enslave the free will of any sentient race. So, as much as Thanos wants to wipe out half of all life to give the surviving half a better chance of survival with the existing resources, Darkseid just wants to enslave everybody, everywhere, throughout creation.
This isn’t the first time Darkseid has tried to conquer Earth – several thousand years ago, he tried but was defeated by the Olympian Gods, the Amazons, the Atlanteans AND at least one member of the Green Lantern Corps. As Darkseid’s forces retreated, they abandoned three Mother Boxes. These are what Steppenwolf is trying to reclaim for his master, because they’ve been hidden on Earth by the victors – but one was reactivated by the death of Superman. (Mother Boxes are computers from Apokalips containing technology so advanced, it seems like sorcery to us lower beings)
The more leisurely running time of the Snyder cut obviously allows more time to better explore exactly what’s going on and what the implications of failure are.
As we recall, the hub of Steppenwolf’s activity is near an abandoned nuclear facility in Russia. It’s not the arbitrary decision it seemed to be. Steppenwolf didn’t think to himself “oooh, that Chernobyl seems a lovely spot” – there is actually now a reason to be there – and the rather strange addition of having one poor family live in a ramshackle house in a heavily contaminated site who need to be rescued is also gone.
Superman finally gets his black suit. Though it’s never explained why he ditches the red and blue. The black suit is actually well established in the comics as a regeneration suit, which he wears after being brought back from the dead. The restored scenes with Henry Cavill have solidified his portrayal as Superman. He always looked the part, but there was something about the performance that slightly missed the target and made the well-loved character seem somewhat aloof. That may well have been a gradual and planned evolution, but we have finally got our proper definitive Superman.
It’s astounding how many questions and questionable scenes have been resolved here. Prime examples, I thought that Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen)’s abandonment of her warriors during Steppenwolf’s attack on Themyscira was uncharacteristically cowardly and callous, the same with Batman using Lois Lane (Amy Adams) virtually as a human shield to snap the just-resurrected Superman out of his fury. I’m completely happy with the scenes as they now stand. Our heroes and heroines can stand tall. AND there’s the appearance of the shape shifting Martian Manhunter which leads us into…
A promise of more to come. We need to know what the nightmarish desert scenes we’ve seen both in this film and the preceding Dawn of Justice mean. They were going somewhere with this, and we deserve that film, be they scenes from a parallel Earth in the multiverse (hey, they mentioned it) or an apocalyptic end to this run of films that leaves the heroes divided and making uneasy alliances with some of their mort evil villains. We need that conclusion.
I’m hoping that the runaway success both critically and financially of this cut, which is certain to be come the definitive version, will sway Warner to re-re-evaluate their decision and green light some more Justice League films. Overall, I can’t wait to rewatch the DC Universe films again in their intended order with this instead of the Whedon version because I feel that they’ll flow every bit as well as the Marvel films do in terms of character development. This one's a firm winner, kids.
I'll leave you with THIS image.
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