When Images Replace Imagery
“In the dream, it took me to the light. A beautiful lie.”Bruce Wayne, Batman V Superman
“I’m sorry, I know you mean well. You just didn’t think it through.“Ultron, Avengers: Age of Ultron
A common criticism of Zack Snyder is that he’s great at action scenes, great with visuals, not great at tying them all together in a story. And we see that here. A bunch of great sequences, excellent action beats, but a few very questionable choices.
Like the black Superman suit, for instance.
Yes, in Reign of the Superman, when the real Superman wakes up, he’s in a special black suit designed to help him recover. Which he needs, because he’s not at full strength yet, having been dead a minute ago. He also needed jet boots and weapons because he was still actively recovering. And when he is back to full strength at the end, he doesn’t keep wearing the recovery suit, he goes back to the real suit.
None of that is true in this movie.
From the way he swats aside the entire Justice League like gnats seconds after coming back, it’s pretty clear he’s already at full strength. And at the end, when he does the iconic shirt-rip, it’s a little ruined because he’s still in the goddamn black suit. Why. He doesn’t need a recovery suit. This black suit does not serve the same narrative purpose, arguably any narrative purpose. Hell, the scene where he decides to put on the black suit is preceded by two voice over monologues from Clark’s two dads about his potential to inspire people, and how it’s his moment to soar, and he goes for what is visually the least inspirational choice. He dresses like General Zod.
What I’ve heard is that Snyder puts Superman in a black suit because, apparently, his Superman “felt he hadn’t earned the classic costume,” which, a) why not, why the hell not, he died saving the city then came back and immediately saved the world, I get imposter syndrome but goddamn, and b) when we have the utterly unnecessary Knightmare scene, Evil Superman is in the classic costume.
Has Zack Snyder not seen Spider-Man 3? Was there no one on the production team who had seen Spider-Man 3 and could have explained to Snyder what visual language he was evoking?
The Superman and Lois team figured this out. Good Superman, iconic costume. Evil Superman, black costume. Getting that backwards points to a director who feels that “Maybe Superman is bad” is his cutting edge galaxy-brain hot take, and certainly BVS seemed to be pointing that way.
(Oh, if you’re preparing to say “He would have been the classic Superman eventually, you needed to be patient,” please jump forward to page six and report back.)
There’s all sorts of scenes and moments and choices like this in the Snyder Cut, because that’s what happens when you just put every idea you had into the movie until it’s four hours long instead of working with an editor to get a shorter, cleaner story. Yes, I appreciate that when we first meet Barry Allen, there’s a shipping truck for a vegetable company called “Gard’ner Fox,” referencing the creator of the Flash. That’s neat. I’m with you. But it’s not story. TV Flash does that stuff all the time but doesn’t think including it counts as storytelling.
Let’s cover some other Cool Moments that just raise so many questions.
First and foremost… Snyder had always wanted to have a reveal that General Swanwick, later Secretary of Defense Swanwick, as played by Harry Lennix, had secretly been J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter, the whole time. And since this was his “Every idea I had” cut, he threw that in. In fact, when Martha Kent tries to convince Lois to re-enter the world, that turns out to be Swanwick/Martian Manhunter, feeling Lois is also important. Then at the very end he shows up at Stately Wayne Lakehouse saying “Hey, nice job building a League, think I’d like to be in it, call me next time,” and Bruce says to leave his resume at reception, and J’onnwick flies away, and all of us watching who are capable of dissecting this rationally say “Wait, the fucking world almost ended, you’re the Secretary of Defense, where you been at, why weren’t you helping. The entire world is at stake, and all he did to contribute was ask Lois to keep living her life and being a reporter. Good idea, bad execution.
Zack’s original plan was that Martian Manhunter in that final scene would have been the John Stewart Green Lantern instead, and rumour suggests that in the original original plan, he would have turned the tide in the final fight, and Superman’s resurrection would have been pushed back to the next movie, you know, the one where he turns evil because Darkseid killed his girlfriend. None of this is better. Green Lantern showing up at Wayne Lakehouse to say “Hey good job I’ll be in the next one” would have been just as dumb a scene to throw in. And WB told him not to bother, they didn’t want him casting a Green Lantern when another project was about to start doing that, but of course he did it anyway and filmed the scene in his driveway because HEAVEN FORBID he go ONE GODDAMNED WEEK without leaking behind the scenes shots on Vero that the fat cats at Warner Bros. don’t want the people to see so that the Cult stays rabid. I don’t know much about Vero as a social network but I think it’s basically just Zack Snyder releasing his Justice League frame at a time and agreeing with fans when they comment that he’s a genius.
The poor schmuck who agreed to film a scene the studio had forbidden is now trying to use the Cult to boost his career, and I just… I just feel bad for him. Snyder conned him. Snyder must have known, on some level, that this scene he was specifically told not to include teasing sequels he wasn’t going to make wasn’t going to go anywhere, but he told this guy “You’re gonna be Green Lantern” like that meant anything. By all accounts Snyder’s a good guy and pleasant to work with but everything about that stealth-shoot, up to leaking it right when the Green Lantern Corps TV series started announcing cast members, is such an utter dick move. Sorry. Got caught on that. Moving on.
When Barry sees a massive car accident outside his interview to be a dog-walker (a scene we’ll come back to), he super-speed pokes a window, elegantly smashing it, to run into the street. Very cool shot. But… why not just open the door. He could also do that superfast and wouldn’t have had to run through shattered glass gravity couldn’t get out of his way.
Theatrical used the History Lesson scene to give a very half-assed explanation of Mother Boxes and Steppenwolf’s plans for them. Snyder Cut used it to give a much improved explanation of Mother Boxes and their intended use, but also introduced Steppenwolf’s boss and Snyder’s planned Big Bad, Darkseid. And it all goes well, and then Ares from Wonder Woman takes him down with one hit from an axe. Some felt that Darkseid lost some menace when he got one-shotted by “buff Remus Lupin,” apparently hard enough he forgot which planet he was on when it happened.
To this most Snyder faithful would say “Well he wasn’t really Darkseid yet, he didn’t have the Omega force, so he’s still Uxas.” Two notes on that. 1) The name “Uxas” is never spoken in the movie, he’s only called “Darkseid,” including in the history lesson, so no he isn’t. Two blog posts back I did a rant about text vs paratext, I’m not repeating it, but short version, if it’s not in the movie it’s just headcanon. 2) I’m a bigger DC fan than anyone I know and I Could. Not. Care. One. Iota. Less. About whether he’s “Uxas” right now. Every time I saw “He’s not Darkseid yet, he’s Uxas” my eyes rolled, and I was the exact target for that level of nerd detail, what chance does the general audience have? It would be like saying “At the end of Avengers Thanos had one fewer Infinity Stones than when he started, why was he so bad at collecting Infinity Stones,” and being told “Well he wasn’t really Thanos yet, he was just Craig then,” and being expected to find that a satisfactory explanation.
Also everyone’s right to ask how the hell Darkseid forgot which planet he both lost three Mother Boxes and found the Anti-life Equation on. And I would like to draw your attention to this spot-on summary of the differences in how the three armies chose to defend their Mother Boxes after the fight. The Theatrical Cut added a line to try to justify it but it’s just inherently funny how little effort one army put in.
I guess this is also as good a time as any to bring up the score by Thomas Holkenborg, aka Junkie XL. This was a huge selling point for the Snyder faithful, even more than that goddamn black suit. I didn’t get that for a long while, because Theatrical was scored by Danny Elfman, one of my favourite film composers, who wrote two of the most iconic superhero scores of all time, while Junkie XL sounds like a DJ who makes dubstep remixes of the Trainspotting soundtrack. Turns out he was Hans Zimmer’s assistant in scoring Batman V Superman, so yeah, I see why BVS fans were into him scoring the movie instead. Especially since Elfman, who had a fraction of his usual time to slap this score together, recycled Hans Zimmer’s Wonder Woman and Krypton themes, John Williams’ Superman theme, and his own Batman theme. But… those are great themes. Honestly if Barry’s big hero-entrance in the tunnel fight had been to the theme from either Flash TV show, the one Elfman wrote or the new one, I might have actually cheered.
The only thing I can remember about Holkenborg’s score is that weird, overdramatic, ancient lamentation singing that kicked in anytime Wonder Woman did anything cool. It was such a weird choice, was largely mocked online, and not without cause. All I’m saying is that given three years, Elfman would have given us something better than either soundtrack we got.
So this one has problems, for sure, but let’s look at the bigger flaws in the attempts to overhaul it without Snyder’s involvement.
Next Page: The theatrical additions