For years, fans have exercised more and more power over the creative decisions of the entertainment industry: Animators for last year’s Sonic the Hedgehog movie spent months redesigning the character after fans responded poorly to the trailer, and the Fast and the Furious franchise will bring the beloved character Han back from the dead. That fans could pressure Warner Bros. into releasing the so-called Snyder cut—a project that reportedly cost an additional $70 million to make and runs at just longer than four hours—might be their greatest victory yet.
Yes, the result is an improvement over Whedon’s version, though that’s a low bar to clear. The plot remains largely the same: After the death of Superman (played by Henry Cavill), Batman (Ben Affleck) forms the titular team to combat an alien threat seeking to destroy Earth. What’s different is the aesthetic. Snyder drenches the film in his signature desaturated look, with a barrage of painterly slow-motion shots that render these characters as demigods. There’s a sense of awe around the leads: Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) spends a scene encouraging a little girl to be anything she wants to be, while civilians look on with admiration. Aquaman (Jason Momoa) stands for a full minute on a dock, shirtless and motionless, as waves cascade over his body, and a group of women sing to him as he returns to the sea. With the punishing runtime, Snyder gets to indulge in such character worship. Several key themes—their tortured upbringings, the isolation of being extraordinary—manage to finally come through, particularly with the character of Cyborg (Ray Fisher), whom Whedon sidelined.
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But the majority of the new film’s storytelling amounts to esoterica and clarifications. Snyder has said that he’s never even watched Whedon’s version of the film, but many of his scenes almost self-consciously fill in perceived plot holes. Willem Dafoe’s Vulko shows up to give Aquaman his trident, which Aquaman wielded out of nowhere in the theatrical cut. The Flash (Ezra Miller) indulges in a clunky extended monologue explaining his power, which grinds the action to a halt. The villain Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) has a clearer motivation for trying to destroy Earth this time around—not just because the film needed a villain, but because he’s desperate to prove his worth to a Bigger Bad named Darkseid (Ray Porter).
The film also labors to reward hard-core fans: The Flash meets his romantic interest, Iris West (Kiersey Clemons). Ryan Choi (Ryan Zheng), who becomes the superhero Atom in the comics, appears in a supporting role. Martian Manhunter (Harry Lennix), a popular alien character who often serves as a foil for Superman, pays the film a visit or two. A few of these added scenes are crucial to the plot—in an affecting sequence, Superman listens to the encouraging voices of his deceased fathers—but most were clearly deleted for a reason. They’re merely bonuses for ardent DC Universe buffs, post-credit scenes that got reinserted into the main movie. The Snyder cut thus operates more as fan service than as a narrative experience, like an extended curtain call for DC’s lengthy slate of characters.