What’s your guiltiest secret pleasure? For me, it’s that I enjoy 2016’s Batman Vs Superman. Just to be clear, I don’t think it’s a good movie. But it was the quintessential 2016 superhero film, to me: a furious, bloated, violent mess that somehow mirrored my overall sentiments about a politically turbulent year.
Captain America: Civil War, released at a similar time and exploring a similar theme of superheroes and collateral damage, was far better. But director Zack Snyder made the sort of film you’d never see in the MCU: a self-indulgent, far-too-long and tonally wonky picture that doesn’t have any of the fun bits you should probably put in a superhero movie.
It’s such an angry film: people are angry at Superman for the destruction of Metropolis. Superman is angry at Batman for violently attacking criminals. Batman is angry at Superman because he blames him for the death of his employees. Lex Luthor is angry at Superman because he’s a jealous billionaire with nothing better to do. Batman Vs Superman has this intensifying rage over its first two acts, before the movie takes a total left-turn and becomes a big monster fight at the end.
Like I say, I don’t think it’s very good. But there is something compelling about it, and it’s a film I love discussing and dissecting with people. There wasn’t really anything worth remembering in 2017’s follow-up Justice League, which despite extensive efforts to recut the film behind the scenes, felt like a cynical attempt to retrofit another movie into a bland rip-off of a cheery MCU film.
It was a total waste of time, and given that the mangled end result flopped at the box office anyway, Warner Bros might as well have released Snyder’s director’s cut and saved themselves a reported $20 million, not to mention sparing us three years’ worth of hashtags.
Now, Snyder will get his shot at presenting his cut of the movie in 2021 for new streaming service HBO Max. Good for him. Snyder had to drop out of the original Justice League production due to the tragic death of his daughter. Considering the circumstances, he deserves his movie.
Why the Snyder Cut makes sense for HBO Max
HBO Max, meanwhile, got the biggest possible marketing beat it could ask for, just before the streaming service’s May 27 launch. The recut film could be almost four hours long (and divided into six TV-style episodes, according to a THR report), and gives them a major exclusive to look forward to in 2021.
The response to the Snyder Cut news was divided: campaigners (if that’s what you call sitting in your house and tweeting these days) were delighted, while others groaned that the resulting movie probably wouldn’t be much better than the original, and that it’s another example of a big company caving in to angry internet boys.
There is at least some element of that to the ‘Release the Snyder Cut’ campaign, even though I’m sure many fans just have good intentions. Just check out the shitty responses to replacement director Joss Whedon’s tweet here, and it’s clear there’s a nasty undercurrent to parts of the ‘movement’ that makes it hard to see the news as a universally positive thing (Side note: imagine having real principles that weren’t about a bad movie featuring Batman and Superman).
Still, that aside, no matter what you think of the news, it’s a fascinating turn of events. This actually isn’t the first time something like this has happened with a DC movie – the Richard Donner cut of 1980’s Superman 2 saw the director doing something similar, albeit much later and on a smaller scale. THR’s sources say this project could cost between $20-30 million in post-production costs.
Here’s the thing: I do think Snyder will release a film that’s more interesting than Justice League. I’m sure I’ll ultimately find his Justice League film memorable, strangely engaging and worth talking about years later, which is how I feel about both Man of Steel and Batman Vs Superman. I’m not convinced, though, that the finished result will be good, even if I’m encouraged by the endorsement of Watchmen’s Damon Lindelof.
And in some ways, I guess I don’t know what the point of the Snyder Cut is on a cultural level. Is this rewriting history? Is this Warner admitting the original film was bad? Is this going to lead to a proper Justice League sequel, at an investment of hundreds of millions of dollars? It’s none of those, most likely. The Snyder Cut is just a thing that is happening. But I’m certain people will watch it, even if they don’t like the idea of it.
How can you look away from a movie with such a strange journey?
To be fair to Snyder, Justice League did look like it was going to be more fun than Batman Vs Superman when he was still directing it. This 2016 trailer was shown at San Diego Comic Con, and while the music is overdoing it, some of the moments in this trailer (Barry Allen meeting Bruce Wayne) ended up being highlights of the finished film.
The point for those campaigning for the recut movie’s release is that it will allow Snyder to complete his three-movie arc as he saw it. “This movie was the culmination of a hero’s journey that all these characters went on,” producer Deborah Snyder said to THR. “And the idea was always to build them up to be the heroes people expected them to be.”
Snyder and screenwriter Chris Terrio’s vision of Batman was an alcoholic who mercilessly gunned down criminals in his car. I don’t think his interpretation of DC’s superheroes will ever be to everyone’s tastes. But I do know that whatever version of Justice League he comes out with, I’ll be thinking about it for years afterwards – for better or worse.