The Snyder Cut won’t fix anything

| Staff Writer

It was not until my second viewing of 2016’s “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” that I admitted to myself how terrible it was. Me, a greasy high school sophomore and burgeoning DC comics zealot, wanted to worship every minute, to witness the sublime genesis of the DC cinematic universe with my favorite fictional trinity leading the charge. But after the initial shock of spectacle subsided, what remained for me, and most fans, was a loud, disorienting, three-hour headache that tried to replicate the thematic prestige of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy while at the same time stretching itself paper thin in efforts to set up a half-dozen future DC titles. Nothing worked, from the contrived conflict between our heroes—who, despite never meeting, have a profound, murderous hatred for one another*—to the haphazard stabs at symbolism, to the emotionally barren third act where our heroes, suddenly simpatico again, face off against a cave troll with eye beams. The only redeeming factor was Zack Snyder’s beautiful cinematography, furthering the sense that this movie was simply an attractive image with no substance behind it, a board room sales pitch whose emotional depth mirrored that of the poster used to advertise it. Years later, my mother still tells me it is the worst movie I have ever dragged her to—except Alvin and the Chipmunks. I have to agree.

The resounding lesson I drew from this experience was Snyder’s inability to tell a coherent story and his fundamental misunderstanding of the characters. I was heartbroken, trying to reconcile my lost faith for the franchise with the knowledge that more ill-prepared movies were already on the way. It was like taking the bones out of a baby’s legs and then telling it to run before it’s even stood up for the first time. And yet, fans demanded he be given a shot at redemption with the “Ultimate Edition,” a chance for the director to “realize his true vision” with a longer cut of the movie (sound familiar?). Unsurprisingly, thirty additional minutes and an R rating did nothing to curb the film’s crippling structural issues. Suffice it to say that at this point, I trusted Zack Snyder with my beloved characters about as much as I trust an overfed infant not to catapult his semi-digested lunch onto my favorite sweater (I know, lots of infant imagery, but considering Warner Bros. acts like its audience has the mental capacity of a toddler, I thought it appropriate).

Flash forward to 2017’s “Justice League,” when Snyder had to step away from the film due to family tragedy. It was reported that the theatrical cut, released to tepid reviews from audiences, featured only about a quarter of the content he shot. Further reports suggested the existence of an alternate cut of the film that was more attuned to Snyder’s original vision—thus, the legend of the “Snyder Cut” was born. Two years of Twitter rumblings erupted into a full-blown movement when actors like Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot pledged their support for the director and insisted that the fabled second version did, in fact, exist. Finally, in February 2020, Warner Bros decided to breathe life into the project by announcing that the Snyder Cut would be produced by the man himself and released on the upcoming HBO Max streaming service. Supporters of the movement rejoiced and have since been building anticipation for the project, which releases in less than a month, on March 18.

[As some streaming services adopt weekly episode release patterns, it’s not as bad as you think]

Supporters of this film, I think, see it as the ultimate Schrodinger’s superhero movie: We don’t know if Snyder’s vision truly would’ve been better unless we actually watch it, and with such high potential for these characters, fans desperately wanted it to happen. But in reality, we know what lies in store. We may not have seen the cut, but we’ve seen everything around it—the chaotic reshoots, the disarray in production and most importantly, Snyder’s previous movies. What in the world could Snyder have shot—and subsequently have had cut by another team—that could rectify the staggering inadequacies of the original film and the universe as a whole? Are there solo movies for Flash, Cyborg and Batman on the cutting room floor that flesh out their characters to the point where we care about them? Can this movie erase the atrocious “save Martha” scene from our memories? Is Batman played by anyone who is not Ben Affleck? (context: I do not like Ben Affleck). This project feels like Warner Bros trying to patch the holes on a ship that is on fire, sinking and lost at sea. Despite my infatuation with the DC multiverse, I struggle to imagine a world where the Snyder cut—even with its four-hour(!) runtime—can fulfill the fans’ desire for an Avengers-like spectacle when the necessary groundwork and character development simply has not been done. The 2017 “Justice League” did not fail because Darkseid didn’t show up; it failed because nobody making the film bothered to convince the audience why we should care about anyone or anything happening on screen.

To the believers in Snyder and this film, I ask: is just seeing these characters on screen enough? Is a black Superman suit, a Joker cameo and the mere appearance of Darkseid really what you want? If it is, head to your local comic shop and pick out an action figure. While you’re there, pick up a major DC title from the shelves and appreciate what it feels like when creators respect the legacy of a character and find inventive ways to tell a new story. I will, of course, watch it, but I’ve buried my expectations low in hopes that it can’t possibly disappoint me. Perhaps the best way to watch this is to treat it like any other low-budget thriller: enjoy the mindless action, laugh at its saccharine emotional stakes and put on “The Dark Knight” when it’s over.

*I can’t hold it in any longer. I have to say it: BATMAN DOES NOT KILL. I won’t apologize for demanding that the most core element of my favorite character be left untainted by a director with an obvious gore fetish. Batman ostentatiously ripping through a crew of goons with his tank of a Batmobile does not thrill me if it undermines the very foundation of his identity; haunted by the death of his parents, his motivation stems from a desire to prevent his trauma from ever happening to another—he is a savior and a protector, not a murderer. Despite Snyder’s apparent infatuation with one half of Frank Miller’s “Dark Knight Returns,” which I assume was his only source of reference based on his treatment of the character, Batman does not become more interesting behind the barrel of a gun. The enduring intrigue of the Dark Knight comes from his absolute refusal to cross that line, understanding that he becomes something different, something his parents would be ashamed of, if he passes it. But for argument’s sake, let’s concede that Batman does, on occasion, kill people: why is the Joker alive? Or Harley Quinn? How about Lex Luthor, the giggling, Zuckerberg-ian mastermind who orchestrated a bombing of the Capitol building? Batman’s entire motivation in this universe becomes one massive logical fallacy that prevents meaningful storytelling from occurring.

More movie and television show reflections from the Cadenza staff:

Television shows should quit while they’re ahead

Try to keep up: ‘Tenet’ is as electrifying as it is perplexing

Television just can’t replace live entertainment, and the pandemic proved it

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