THEATRICAL CUT - 120 minute in.
This is great payoff for that added debate with Diana, where Bruce is back to the loner blasting his way in and leaving the door open while drawing all the parademons his way (and the sonic device paying off nicely), while the others turn to Diana and she finally takes charge and leads them in. It culminates beautifully in the exchange "This isn't the plan." "No, it's a team," even if Bruce getting defensive feels off given that Diana taking the lead is exactly what he wanted. At least give him a little sarcastic smirk or something. Unless he meant the plan was to let him die. In which case, ease up, Bruce. As always.
Much of this battle is still Snyder's footage, with snippets added in, a lot more color, and far less blood splatter from Aquaman and Wonder Woman stabbing everyone and Batman unleashing his machine guns, which is further toned down by the editing moving a lot faster and not lingering on brutality. While I eventually settled into the dehumanization of the parademons in Zack's cut, they've found a way to further soften that harshness here by making them almost literal giant bugs with green goop for blood. I'm not sure if that's better or worse. At least Joss, experienced with his vampires, added that acknowledgement up front that they aren't just brainwashed victims, they've literally been changed. It still feels odd when their destruction is played for laughs, though, like the splattered Flash bit.
Wonder Woman and Aquaman throwing down with Steppenwolf is largely the same, even as it's muted by his less imposing design and silly hat. When they're sidelined, I like how vicious he gets with Cyborg, literally cutting Victor away from the Mother Boxes and tearing him apart. Our heroes are entirely overwhelmed, having reached their endpoint. Which is the perfect time for Superman to show up. And oh how much I love seeing him in the red and blue instead of Zack's emo absolutes of black and white, and the first thing he does is speak about truth and justice instead of just barbarically whaling at and cutting into his enemy. This is a Superman who will listen to the others, strategize, pause for moments of reflection and connection with his teammates. This is the Superman who's all set to end the situation, then literally stops everything and cocks his head to the side, muttering "Civilians" before he zips off to help. You can point at the CGI lip all you want, but this is who Superman should be. This is the Superman Zack is unable to understand.
I really miss Flashpoint. That whole charge and build of Barry in the Snydercut, the fumble, the rebuild, then it being the only thing that keeps him from meeting the same fate as the rest of the team, giving him an opportunity to push himself farther than ever before in order to bring them back. That was an epic, classic moment, deeply resonant to Flash as a character and icon, and shouldn't have been scrapped from this cut. All Flash does now is get lost as he runs around, eventually saves a single truck with our lead Russian family, while being upstaged by Superman carrying an entire building. As a culmination of the civilians arc, it's nice and fulfilling, and shows some good team banter and a focus on preventing casualties, with the especially nice touch of Barry shrugging it off instead of getting jealous. But it really does rob Flash of his major moment.
In terms of how Superman can exist in a team dynamic when he's leveled so vastly higher than everyone else, I like how they play it here, that he can't be everywhere at once, so the others hold their respective grounds until he can swoop in and finish things off one at a time. From the civilians, to downing Steppenwolf, to helping Cyborg pull apart the cubes. I also love the deeply human moment of Clark and Victor connecting over not wanting to die, then sharing a laugh over their pain after the Mother Boxes are destroyed. Which is an interesting choice as you could still hold onto those boxes to turn them against the eventual arrival of Darkseid, but even that's not a setup we get here as Steppenwolf is beaten, his favorite toy is shattered, and upon feeling fear for the first time in his life, his parademons start attacking him? That's a really bizarre way to wrap everything up, even as he's sucked up in a boom tube and we never hear anything of it ever again. No promise of a return, no threat of a lingering invasion. Darkseid isn't even mentioned, let alone seen, which doesn't do much to amp us up for future chapters.
As we enter our epilogue - which thankfully isn't a full half hour - I'm fine with them shifting it from Silas's monologue about fatherhood to a new Lois article about darkness and light, shadows and hope. It works fine and feels more universal, boosts up her part in the story just a tiny bit more, and still largely plays over Snyder moments. I like that Silas is alive and now working with his son, as I'd much rather continue to explore that relationship than sweep it aside to heap more needless tragedy on Victor who's already been stuck in the depths of loss. The new Wonder Woman bit is charming, with the crooks blabbing everything due to the lasso as she entertains children. Between this and her intro, it seems like she's fixated on defending museums now. I do miss her longing to return to her island, but showing the iconic hero inspiring the populace is a nice reminder that Diana won't be hiding anymore. For Batman, thank fuck he's no longer gone through a full Frank Miller relapse with the giant tank. And for Superman, that iconic moment sings so much louder with the red and the blue, and the shades of John Williams' theme.
Post credits, the Superman v Flash race is superfluous, but charming. And the Lex/Deathstroke scene shorter yet still effective. I also love the credits playing over a cover of "Come Together" by Gary Clark Jr and Junkie XL, which is a great taste of what I wish had been more prevalent in Holkenborg's alternate score, with its superpowered base, percussive strut, and pure attitude, as it ties to the uniting of these brooding powerhouses. If the Snydercut score had been more this than ambient wailing, it would have so much more charge and energy.
SO WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE US?
Still largely up in the air. Neither cut is a great movie, yet I enjoy more of both than I don't. Neither cut stands out for me as better than the other, as both make excellent choices with the material, while fumbling others. For everything I loved discovering in Zack's, they are balanced out by everything I thought was added by Joss. For those who claim 80% of the film was reshot by Joss, no. A good 70% of this is still Zack's footage, albeit recolored and re-edited in a way that can make it feel tonally very different.
I'm again left at a stalemate over a film I've put a lot of time into examining despite having not loved it either way. Which is fine, because it stands as a fun experiment in how two very different approaches to a thing can have equal validity. Even just down to the editing. While Zack's could be ponderous and lingering at times, taking too long for its beats to play out, there's times when that expansive reveling can enhance the iconography and grandiose power of the choices and actions on display. And for as breezy and choppy as the editing can be on Joss's cut, it's also snappier, more engaging and entertaining, and does actually deepen certain character arcs and motivations. Ideally, the perfect film would be a fusion of the two, knowing when to breeze quick, and when to slow down. The problem of a uniformity of style is that there's no range to the expression. If it all moves too fast, then you risk nothing sticking. If it all moves too slow, you risk losing engagement. Both can cause an audience to drift, which is why its important to allow your story to shift gears flow between a myriad of tones and paces.
I honestly think this would best be served by a new hybrid cut, though fuck off on anyone starting a movement for it. Let's just leave it to the realm of fan edits and let the creative players move on with their lives. But for the sake of concluding things, let me at least break down my two cents a bit.
Batman. Both cuts are great in showing maturity as he comes out of his petulant tantrum that was BvS, as he focuses on saving instead of destroying, puts the gathering of others above himself, and knows when to hang back and not try to be a heavy hitter. He's still a dick in both, but I'll take the Batman of Whedon who goes too far in his spat with Diana, then grows to acknowledge and learn from it, whereas Zack's just ultimately reverts in the end to his grandiose Frank Miller posturing with that ridiculous giant tank shot.
Wonder Woman. As great as she is in the Zack film, she does lack an arc. Her taking charge as the leader of the team is present in Zack's cut, but Joss contextualizes and adds a spotlight to it, making her rise into that role feel like more of a complete story. I would leave Zack's ending of her holding the arrow, looking to return home, and leave the the entirety of the Age of Heroes backstory intact, but I don't mind softening the brutality of the Amazon fight as it's more thrilling when it's not just ultimately meaningless slaughter.
Superman. Joss not only does a better job of portraying a world who's lost Superman by framing the opening titles around it, but the darkness of his resurrection isn't as overbearing when we see him return to the light. Zack has had three chances to get the character right, but just plain doesn't get Superman, and keeps fixating on the barbarism of an unbreakable man who can hit things and gets angry with his fire eyes, and never seems to buy the hope and warmth of this farmboy god who's dedicated his life to protecting everyone he can. Joss brings that character back, along with humor and relatability which makes him human, which makes him a friend, a member of the team. And fuck the black suit. If we aren't building to a return to the red and blue, a return to the soaring symbol of hope, then what is even the point of that trip to Hot Topic.
Aquaman. While he's an entertaining presence in both cuts, neither gives him much of a character journey. Zack nailed the brooding loner reject, but he's largely a repeat of how we were first introduced to Clark in Man of Steel, as a drifter saving people where he could, but always floating back to the shadows. Zack does a better job of building the Atlanean mythos which will come into play in James Wan's spinoff, but after that introduction, he just stomps around and growls a lot. Joss laces him with more of that Jayne machismo parody he's known for, with his growling barbs taking a more comedic bent. It makes me warm to him as a character, but he still doesn't have much of a story or any form of build to payoff. He's just the team bro.
Flash. His Snydercut intro with Iris is cute, so I'd keep it, but there's not a whole lot of difference between the two cuts. Yeah, Joss adds even more comedy, but it still feels in character with the humor of the Zack cut (boob plant excluded), and I like the added bits of the "accidents" exchange and him saving just one hostage, then another, and another. So those should all stay. But oof does he lose a payoff without Flashpoint being there. I'd absolutely put that back.
Cyborg. Definitely the character who would benefit best from a hybridization. I still argue the Whedoncut gives him more personality in both performance and character exploration, getting away from the "am I machine or man" and focusing more on his sense of betrayal towards his absentee father, as well as having powers and a body he can't fully control and is afraid of. That said, Snydercut excels in making his backstory iconic and mythic with a grandeur that puts him alongside the other players. That sequence where we go into his powers, as he realizes the sheer scale and responsibility of what he's capable, that's one of my favorite sequences and absolutely needs to stay in.
Steppenwolf. I mean, fuck Steppenwolf. In both cuts. He's just a big bruiser. Snyder makes him the sad yet loyal dog of an abusive owner, while Joss makes him reverent and gleeful in his cosmic destruction, but neither is particularly interesting. Snyder definitely wins in terms of designs. His spiny plates are silly, but definitely more striking than whatever they were going for in the Joss cut. Either way, IT STILL SHOULD HAVE BEEN GRANNY GOODNESS, DAG NABBIT. Leave Darkseid in, though. If you can find a way to remove chopping Steppenwolf into pieces, that staredown through the boom tube, promising the invasion yet to come and the force all set to repel it, that's a moment worth preserving.
Lois and Martha also suffer in both versions. Joss thankfully dumped the Martian Manhunter reveal and gave Lois a tiny bit more to do, but both remain peripheral, mostly just there to further Clark's plot instead of having any of their own.
Knightmare. Honestly, I was never partial to Snyder's wet dream, and having a complete lack of it in the Whedoncut is just fine by me.
Score. I love Holkenborg, but his Snydercut score, while lovely, just didn't have any impact to me, whereas Elfman's was a celebration of iconography, both in the established themes it reprised, and the new themes it built to exist alongside.
Overall, it doesn't leave us with much settled in the end. Both films are watchable and entertaining, yet uneven, with great choices running into poor ones, and neither rises to the point of being a sweeping and fully charged experience from beginning to end. And both being the work of problematic creators doesn't help. Zack is by all accounts a good guy, but his heavy-handed themes, and repellent fixation of brutality and a juvenile concept of maturity continue to create offputting moments for me. While the material of Joss's work is easier to gel with (granted, we aren't discussing Dollhouse today), it all comes with the increasingly revealed knowledge of just how vicious and abusive he was behind the scenes, often bringing his vision about through volumes of belligerence similar to those segments of the Snydercut fandom who belligered right back against him.
Does either cut make me that exited for the newly rising demand to Restore the Snyderverse? Not really. I'm ready to be done with the bloody pounding of Zack's vision, especially since the Knightmare would be the central focus of his next film in the series, then the silly concept of Clark and Lois's powerless son become the new Batman in the wake of Bruce's death. I'm not interested in that story, nor more of the Knightmare bullshit. But I'm glad they haven't completely thrown everything out. Aquaman and Wonder Woman ran off to their own franchises, still making great use of the personas Zack was instrumental in establishing. I still haven't seen Suicide Squad, but for all the talk of the new Gunn sequel being a soft reboot, it's still carrying a lot of threads which emerged from the Snyderverse. Shazam is a great counterpoint to Zack's vision, existing alongside it but countering the darkness of abandonment and loss with genuine heart, friendship, and family. And we still need to see what this Flashpoint movie turns into, though Warner Bros. should be ashamed of how Ray Fisher's Cyborg will no longer be a part of it. It's unfortunate that both Superman and Batman are already in the midst of full reboots, because Zack's cut finally built Affleck's Batman into someone I'd like to explore more, and Whedon's cut finally gave Cavill the chance to be the charming, bright, compassionate, and soaring Superman the actor had been denied for an entire trilogy up to that point. Alas.
In closing, I've spent a whole lot of words breaking down two cuts of a film I'm still ultimately pretty ambivalent on, much as they spent a whole lot of film telling a story that still never fully worked and never fully overcame a lot of the issues behind its making. I'm glad both cuts exist and that we can have so much fun debating the pros and cons of each, the contrasts in style and focus, but that discussions is still ultimately more engaging and interesting than either of the films we're left with. I still like both, still applaud sequences and moments in both, but nor do I feel eager to revisit either again any time soon.
But before I shut this door for good, I want to hear what you think of it all. What are your thoughts on both cuts? How do you feel about the film as we learn more backstory from it having been made? How do you feel about the fandom that led to the alternate cut existing? Why is Steppenwolf?