It’s November, so that means that as summer approaches here, we’re getting all the hot new Blu-ray releases. On the heels of the record-breaking release of Justice League, Warner Home Video has at last given in to fan demands and released the never before seen: Batman v Superman: The Zack Snyder Cut, hitting Blu-ray later this month.
Fans were itching to see this since even before the theatrical release hit theaters in March 2016. As most fans know, the film underwent a longer than normal post-production after the film’s release was bumped from Summer 2015. Warners was unhappy with Zack Snyder’s original three-hour cut and so Joss Whedon was brought in to supervise rewrites and reshoots that resulted in a lean and critically-praised two-hour cut. Since then, the question fans have pondered is: “How different was it from Zack Snyder’s original vision?”
I have the answer for you: a lot.
Snyder’s cut is much darker and boasts several subplots removed in the interests of streamlining the film. It’s interesting to see how effectively Whedon covered the holes with reshoots and careful editing. As much as Warners tried to downplay the reshoots, a look at the Snyder Cut shows that much of Superman’s subplot was the result of the reshoots. The Batman/Bruce Wayne material was left mostly intact, except for some significant changes, showing that as with fandom, Superman’s depiction was a source of concern.
One of the biggest changes is related to Batman’s arc, though, and utterly alters how the final battle plays out. In Whedon’s Cut, a major source of tension is how close to the edge Bruce is willing to go. His code against killing is mentioned twice, and Alfred cautions against losing his soul to his vendetta against Superman. In the final battle, he has Superman at his mercy with the Kryptonite, and the sight of Superman’s blood finally breaks him. He realizes he’s not a killer and then seeing Superman risk his life against Doomsday convinces him of Superman’s true character.
The Snyder Cut doesn’t grapple with that morality at all. In fact, Batman’s no-kill policy appears not to exist. In Whedon’s cut, Batman goes to great lengths to use non-fatal methods. Remember those scenes of Batman balking at a sure kill shot on the bad guys, even when it puts the Batmobile at risk? Remember how after putting a couple thugs in traction, he pays their hospital bills? All of that was apparently reshoot material because the Snyder Cut features a Batman who almost certainly kills several bad guys without regard, and is indifferent to the fact that victims of The Bat will be killed in jail.
Weirdly, the scenes that most contrast Superman with Batman are missing here. Everything that showed Superman being an inspiration to the world was added after the fact. In Whedon’s Cut, Superman has won over the world, leaving Batman and Luthor as the rare voices against him. The Snyder Cut aims for a less cut and dried approach that seems almost as critical of Superman as Batman is. It shifts the whole balance of the film. Even Superman questions if he’s doing good (after a bizarre scene where the Senate blows up… yes, it turns out they filmed all of this and had Superman fail. There’s a later moment where Pa Kent’s ghost gives Superman a speech where the moral seems to be, “If you try to do good, you just end up hurting people elsewhere.”)
It’s a clear contrast with the Whedon revision, which shoots for a more black/white morality. There’s an entire subplot in Snyder’s Cut about how Superman’s intervention against an African warlord resulted in the murder of an entire village. Superman is blamed for it for reasons that aren’t always clear and the Senate – at Lex’s behest – opens an investigation. Whedon was content to use the Metropolis Battle in Man of Steel as the foundation for any criticism of the hero, and it’s quite effective in his cut. We see Batman’s point of view, and it’s immediately contrasted with later ultra heroics.
In Snyder’s version, Batman is centered as the guy who might have the most reasonable position, and that completely upends the film’s morality. The movie is less about the battle for his own soul and more about dragging Superman through the mud. Whedon presents a classic pure heart superhero and uses Batman to bring real-world skepticism to the classic tropes. Snyder’s presenting less a debate and more of a thesis. There’s not much of a pro-Superman argument in this, even Superman seems ill-equipped to defend himself.
Snyder’s cut is three hours. Whedon delivered a two hour movie that easily contains 30 minutes worth of reshoots, so it’s easy to see how massively the film is reconceived. Many of the cut scenes now appear to be obvious removals. There’s an expensive and visually cool nightmare scene where Bruce imagines Superman as a totalitarian ruler on a wasteland Earth. As it has no bearing on the plot, it makes sense Whedon cut it.
Along with this went another scene of a future Flash warning Bruce that he was right about Superman. This was the first sequence foreshadowing Justice League, with a later removed sequence encompassing Wonder Woman watching video clips of each of the future League members in action. After seeing Whedon’s Cut, we of course realize that none of this was necessary to the film, and it’s an unnecessary detour that only bloats the story. (Honestly, I think there’s a chance Snyder would have cut this himself had he not left in protest of the reshoots.)
Other cuts ended up removing bits that made it clear Luthor has been manipulating Batman and Superman into fighting each other. Maybe this is just the result of me seeing Whedon’s Cut first, but that feels like a redundant detail in this version. From the first sequence, we understand Batman’s motivation, and it’s a straight line from there as to why he loathes Superman and mistrusts him entirely. If you add Lex’s machinations to that, it almost neutralizes Bruce’s legitimate mistrust because it was manipulated. And yet, it’s weirder still that such scheming has to take place in a movie that’s already making a strong anti-Superman case on its own.
Snyder fans might complain about the black-and-white morality of Whedon’s Cut, or attack the simplicity of making these two men polar opposites, but it’s thematically cleaner and more coherent than the Snyder Cut, which is more obtuse to parse. The whole movie is built around “Batman’s right,” only to have Batman pull a 180 because…
Oh crap, I’m going to have to explain this, aren’t I?
In Whedon’s Cut, Batman affirms he’s not a killer by realizing he can’t deliver the fatal blow to Superman. In Snyder’s Cut, Batman is about to go through with it, when Superman says “Save Martha.” Batman stops, says “Why did you say that name?!” For you see, dear reader, “Martha” is also the name of Batman’s mother and this is what stops Batman from committing first-degree murder. Maybe the notion is that it humanizes Superman to reveal he has a mother, but that emotional turn is botched by the emphasis on the fact that Batman and Superman’s mothers have the same name.
For this and other reasons, I assume that what we’re really getting with the three-hour Zack Snyder Cut is more of an assembly cut. There’s doubtlessly stuff her that Snyder would have honed given more time, and almost certainly things he might have reshot after deliberation.
Is it fair to compare the flabby Zach Snyder Cut with the more polished Whedon Cut that was seen in theaters? Doesn’t a lean, mean two-hour cut always have the edge over a flabbier extended version in need of nips and tucks to deliver clarity?
The Zack Snyder Cut was always going to be a curiosity for fans certain that the Batman/Superman conflict would be better served by shades of grey. Viewed on its own, it’s a compelling alternate look at two iconic characters, but it can’t help but feel like an Elseworlds version where the entire point is to subvert everything intrinsic to the popular versions of the characters. Warners would likely have found it difficult to launch a franchise off of these interpretations. Whedon can be criticized for falling back on the familiar, but he very effectively made a film that left an audience eager to return to that world again and again.