The Snyder Cut did more than restore Zack Snyder’s vision for Justice League. It made Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice a better movie, too.
In the aftermath of Zack Snyder’s Justice League (aka the Snyder Cut), the full scope of Snyder’s DC Extended Universe is starting to become clear. A more “complete” film than the 2017 hack job by Joss Whedon, the Snyder Cut goes a long way in making the weirdest stuff of Batman v Superman easier to grasp — like Ezra Miller’s confusing cameo as Flash.
But beyond that, with Snyder’s entire saga laid out, Batman vs. Superman finally makes sense as the dark and stormy night before the kinder, warmer daybreak that would have been Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was released five years ago on March 25, 2016. As Snyder’s sequel to his first DC superhero movie, Man of Steel from 2013, the movie had two jobs. One, introduce a new Batman (Ben Affleck) to the cinematic universe. Two, deliver on a long-awaited showdown that’s been argued everywhere from school playgrounds to Comic-Con.
The movie does both things well but still manages to fail. Despite an $800-plus million box office gross, Dawn of Justice earned a tongue-lashing by critics and audiences who didn’t vibe with Snyder’s dark take on both Superman (Henry Cavill enters the movie slamming a terrorist into a wall) and Batman. (Affleck enters BvS clinging atop a cage of sex-trafficked women and appears over someone’s shoulder like a horror movie demon.)
Especially compared to the crowd-pleasing Marvel Cinematic Universe, there is something about Snyder’s DC films, Batman v Superman especially, that feels hostile to the viewer. In its theatrical form, it’s dark, it’s long (two and a half hours), and because of theatrical restrictions, it tells a story that feels incomplete.
Despite its premise hinging on a clash of two titans, you never really understand why Superman has a problem with Batman. You only get Batman’s paranoid view of an immigrant in blue. It’s a nasty perspective that poisons the entire movie.
Devotion to fandom doesn’t matter here. Even if you know which Frank Miller comic book panels Snyder brings to screen, nothing prepares you to learn Batman brands criminals to let prison justice take over. Or to see Martha Kent (Diane Lane), a comic book icon, gagged in Polaroids that look and feel illegal.
But after the Snyder Cut, popular opinion on the director’s gaze into the DCEU is changing. Slowly but surely, like the shifting of tectonic plates, Snyder’s movies are due for reevaluation, and none more so than Batman v Superman. While I maintain the theatrical cut is cruddy and deserving of its 29 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, Snyder’s more complete “Ultimate Edition” isn’t just a better movie; it’s a great one. And it’s even greater after knowing what Snyder achieves in Justice League.
It’s worth pointing out Snyder had a three-movie plan for the Justice League story. Man of Steel and Batman v Superman were overtures to his three-part concerto, where we’d see Batman and Superman turn on each other again while even more DC heroes crowded the frame.
But Man of Steel, Dawn of Justice, and Justice League form their own trilogy, too. It begins with the arrival of Superman, continues with Superman tested against a dark opposite, and ends with a whole bunch of heroes around him. To that end, Dawn of Justice is necessarily dark. Traditional three-act storytelling dictates the second act’s end as the darkest, lowest point for heroes before they soar high in the finale.
Dawn of Justice is a downer of a movie, sure, but so was Empire Strikes Back. As someone once said, the night is always darkest before the dawn.
Justice League pushes Batman v Superman forward, evolving Snyder’s theme from an exploration of power to one of faith. By the end of BvS, Batman knows he can trust people with power and takes it upon himself to unite them. It’s then that Bruce is overcome with faith.
“He’ll be here Alfred. I know it,” Bruce Wayne says with the tone of a child speaking of Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. What makes him so sure? “Faith, Alfred! Faith.”
There are faults in Batman v Superman. The movie has the worst elements to Snyder’s numbing, cranked-up action (still present in his Justice League). The “Martha” through-line is still absurd. And that there’s a whole half-hour difference between the theatrical cut and the Ultimate Edition reveals that Snyder maybe, just maybe, was never the right person to play in the blockbuster realm. But free from conventional notions such as “runtime limits,” the Snyder Cut doesn’t just prove what Snyder is capable of; it proves what he’s always been able to do.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is streaming on HBO Max, just like the Snyder Cut.