Zach Snyder’s Superman Trilogy

It is finally here: something I didn’t know I needed until I watched it.  I had written off Justice League and the DCEU.  I probably never would have watched the Snyder Cut of Justice League but for Godzilla vs. Kong[1], my primary impetus for signing up for HBO Max.

I can thank David French for casting the Snyder Cut as the final chapter in a Superman trilogy.  That led me to first watch Man of Steel and the Batman v Superman Ultimate Edition.  It was my first time watching Batman v Superman in full and in its Ultimate Edition form.  It was my first time watching Man of Steel period.  I did watch the awful theatrical cut of Justice League.

The bottom line is that the Snyder Cut is really damn good, if not perfect.  It is a vast improvement over the theatrical cut.  And it does in fact form a coherent trilogy.

Coherent trilogies, as it turns out, are one thing that DC has done well in its recent movie ventures.  Snyder’s Superman trilogy probably is the second greatest superhero trilogy after Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy.  Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy lacks a proper arc and ends sourly (if not as sourly as the original X-Men trilogy), and the Captain America trilogy relies too heavily on the other MCU movies to stand firm alone as a trilogy.  Realigned with Snyder’s vision, the three Superman movies[2] owe as much to epic fantasy as to superhero comic storytelling.

That is a good thing!  Snyder is much more interested in the implications of superheroes appearing in the world than the MCU is.  He gives us a single, coherent, epic arc rather than something more like a bunch of (admittedly interconnected) one-offs.  Marvel does an impressive job of pulling things together for Infinity War and Endgame, but they are still difficult to appreciate without watching a bunch of other movies.  Snyder’s Superman trilogy can be enjoyed in one mammoth day of viewing, much like The Lord of the Rings.  The trilogy ends with messy, scrappy good facing off against ultimate evil with the world on the line—what gets more epic fantasy than that?  And the other two great hallmarks of epic fantasy—a large cast of characters and intricate worldbuilding—are present in spades.  There isn’t just a big world out there, there is a big world out there with a long history.  The world feels different than ours because Superman’s unveiling changed it.  Not just for other superheroes but for everybody.

The Snyder approach adds tremendous weight to the story.  To extend the metaphor, that can be a drag.  Restored to his vision, though, it greatly enhances the story, much as it does for a good epic fantasy.

The Batman v Superman Ultimate Edition and the Justice League Snyder Cut fix the three biggest issues with the theatrical cuts.  The darkness of Batman v Superman sits easier when it is properly situated as the second act in a trilogy—the darkness before the dawn.  The longer cuts avoid the plot incoherence of the theatrical cuts.  And Steppenwolf transforms from an extraordinarily bland, boring villain into one with some storytelling and worldbuilding heft (he also looks much, much cooler).

The Snyder Cut also mostly fixes Superman.  He is still the epitome of American virtue from the comics, but is also grappling with the implications, consequences, and pressures of essentially being a god.  Snyder’s vision drives that home.

The Snyder Cut retrospectively improves Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman.  A trilogy should be stronger than the sum of its parts.  Snyder’s versions are.  The new Star Wars trilogy stands in sharp contrast.  I am one of the blogging world’s foremost apologists for The Force Awakens, but it is greatly weakened by the next two movies.  The entire trilogy suffers because there was never a coherent, overarching vision walking in.

None of these are perfect movies, mind you.  There is too little Pa Kent in Man of Steel, and what there is gets him wrong, I think.  More Pa Kent really could have fixed Superman, establishing a small town, flyover country American foundation that we watch be buffeted over three movies by confronting his alien heritage, by putting on the cape, by his death and resurrection, by shouldering the fate of Earth.

All three movies are long, but Snyder’s Justice League, in particular, is too long.  But that doesn’t mean Snyder’s vision never could have worked in theaters.  Cut the first Wonder Woman scene, the Aquaman boat scene, the scene that sneaks in the Flash’s love interest, and most of the epilogue, and you get the movie to a workable length.  Still a very long movie, but workable.  Audiences have a pretty high tolerance for long movies these days (at least Justice League would still be in one part!).  Better overlong than an incoherent mess.  And better pacing than the original theatrical cut eases the pain.

It isn’t the intent, I am sure.  But the Snyder Cut winds up being a damning indictment of two parties nonetheless.  The executives in charge of the DCEU obviously have no overarching vision—as amply demonstrated by the tonal dissonance from movie to movie, the lack of faith in Snyder, an endless stream of villain movies, constantly shifting future plans, down to titling the sequel to Suicide Squad as The Suicide Squad.  You know who had a coherent, GOOD vision?  Zach Snyder.  The power-that-be not only hobbled that vision and fought to keep the Snyder Cut from seeing the light of day (it was the HBO Max executives who fought for it), they continue to double down, insisting that the theatrical cut, not the Snyder Cut, is canon.  If this was about the future of the DCEU, and not executive butt-covering, they would happily consign the theatrical cut to the dustbin of history.

The other big loser here is Joss Whedon.  Warner spent real money on the Snyder Cut—something like $70 million—but that wasn’t for reshoots.  (The misguided Joker scene was almost the only thing Snyder shot for his cut.)  It was for F/X (hence the greatly improved look of Steppenwolf).  This means Whedon had everything he needed for a good movie and threw it away (wasting huge amounts of studio money in the process).  We can see all the great scenes he junked.  And we can see what he added and how damned awful it was.  Worse, it seems to verify Ray Fisher’s allegations against Whedon.  Cyborg was a huge part of Snyder’s vision and in many ways the core of the movie; Whedon almost cut him out entirely.  At best, it was incompetence; at worst, it was malice driven by personal animus.

[1] Big monkey punch big lizard.  There is my review of that movie.  Don’t mistake it for a bad review, mind you.

[2] Superman is in Justice League, even though he died in Batman v Superman.  Sorry if I just spoiled that for you.

About H.P.

Blogs on books at Every Day Should Be Tuesday (speculative fiction) and Hillbilly Highways (country noir and nonfiction).
This entry was posted in Sundry, Superhero Fiction and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Zach Snyder’s Superman Trilogy

  1. Bookstooge says:

    Yep, when I was hearing all the bad reviews for BvS I waited until the directors cut came out and I wondered what all the fuss was about. Then I watched the theatrical cut and man, it felt like a different movie to me.

    I’m hoping this is the same for me. Once I somehow see it that is.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. bormgans says:

    Good to know. I gave up on it after the first released version of Man of Steel.

    Liked by 1 person

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