10 Changes The Snyder Cut Needs to, But Probably Won’t, Make for the Justice League re-release: Part I — Story
‘Wow, just wow!’ That was the near universal reaction to watching Marvel’s Avengers Assemble, the first live action superhero team up that wrote the book on Blockbuster ensembles and spawned a further 3 films, one of which became the most successful of all time…‘Oh god, my eyes, make it stop!’ That was the collective reaction to barely half an hour of Justice League, DC’s limp, meandering, franchise-killing attempt to replicate it. Yet several years and millions of #releaseTheSnyderCut’s later, and the Justice League is being treated to the most expensive resurrection in film history. Wow, just wow!
So the twenty million question becomes where to even begin re-assembling what turned out to be such a Frankenstein of a movie? Well, despite the fact that Snyder’s restored version will contain a lot of changes and expanded storylines — with it rumoured to last up to 4 long hours — I honestly doubt his re-release will have room to incorporate as many changes as I think it needs; especially as Snyder somehow appears content with the direction the previous two misfires were on. Therefore, I won’t attempt to fit my ideas in line with his vision, merely make suggestions as to what needs to happen to improve the film as a whole.
These suggestions will be broken up into two types: story and plot. The difference between the two being that story is what the film is about and includes things like character, theme and overall story direction, and the plot is how that story is executed. This first article will focus on story improvements. So without further ado, here are some not so minor changes that could help make this a more engaging Justice League movie, because I just can’t resist giving it a little rewrite:
- For The Love of God, Keep Character Consistency! — Okay let’s get this out of the way first, do you notice any crazy differences from the prior two films to this one? It’s difficult not to with the way it punches you in your moustached face as soon as the film begins. Honestly, the way these characters are represented here makes such a drastic 180 as to seem like they belong in an entirely different universe.
I mean let’s take Batman, who in the previous film is dark and brooding, jaded yet relentless, and here is somehow reduced to a weak, light hearted, out of shape and unconvincing shadow of his former self. Likewise upon resurrection, Superman is insane and destructive to his team, then does a complete reversal by the end with no character moments that show how this growth occurred. It doesn’t even vaguely resemble how he was at the in the last film. It just happens…because…reasons. WW is the only consistent character carried over here and frankly she’s not bringing any consequences from her flaw earned in her own movie, so what’s the point? Well, given the tonal shift the studio forced onto the movie, one can assume it’s because of that. But, if your goal is a lighter overall tone, then you can add character’s who bring it with them so you’re not messing with existing continuity. Flash and Aquaman, for instance, can bring some much needed yang to Batman and Superman’s yin. This way the audience isn’t left with a riddler sized question mark over our heads and you set up the unique tone for their own movies. So, now that we’ve done that, let’s look at the direction of our characters.
- Batman’s Character Arc — Unlike in the current version, Batman should be the most driven of all of all of them to defeat the enemy. Continued should be the grizzled, battle-hardened fighter as we saw before, except now he’s forced to become the reluctant leader as well. So, what’s his journey?
At the end of the last film, Batman realises he was wrong about Superman and begins to embrace him as a team mate. Only to then loose him. A wave of opportunistic crime follows and he starts off this movie more determined than ever to stop it from spreading through and from Gotham. And why? Because he blames himself for Superman’s death. He, therefore, is hesitant to call Diana and assemble the JL. He feels responsible and won’t allow anymore death. It’s only through Alfred’s cajoling and a realisation he needs help that he begins to lean on the team and through struggle, slowly comes to trust their judgement. By the end, he’s able to better embrace his role and successfully unite the team, including one whom he’s previously clashed with.
- Superman Character Arc (if possible into a likeable character) — One of the fundamental flaws of this version Superman is that no one likes him. In other words, he’s a sulky, whiny dud with seemingly no redeemable characteristics except for reluctantly saving the day. I guess, Cavill plays the role as best he can, but even the late great Robin Williams would have trouble bringing likability to a character written like this. Therefore, upon reappearing Superman shouldn’t go all Pet Cemetery, that would be weird. Instead he must take some time and embrace what he was struggling with in BvS; and after seeing what the world has become in his absence he chooses to become the symbol of hope he realises he is and for the first time fully embrace being Superman.
Now an instigator for this change is that, when he does return, he’s not immediately as powerful: he’s still recharging, regenerating. He has to build strength before he can be as effective, something we see him struggle with right up to the last moment of the end battle. The added side effect of having this de-powered Superman is that the action scenes now carry a lot more tension to them: The man is not yet of steel. Winning is not a foregone conclusion, facilitated by a few offhand punches. Instead it comes only through team work, creativity, and visible effort, allowing them to earn every ounce of their victory.
Ironically, de-powering him should go a long way towards making he more likable, as he will actually have to struggle, learning what it’s like to be vulnerable now. He’s also quit whining and actually has interesting character interactions too, such as…
- Creating relationship pairings between characters — When working with an ensemble as big as this, a great way to keep track of conflict between characters is to create a web of opposing beliefs. This way characters can bounce off one another, arguing and then reconciling over the same issues: Cap dislikes Tony’s selfish style and asserts he cannot be a team player; Tony dislikes Cap because he can’t do anything but follow orders. Over the course of this and the next films we see these challenged and overcome.
Here we need to see Batman coming into conflict with WW over leadership and her role in the world (expanded more meaningfully than we currently have). We need to see Bruce argue with Alfred over his reluctance to unite the team. We need to see WW challenge Aquaman over not fighting for his throne, but bonding because they’re both outcasts. Superman should also clash with Batman over his killing policy — setup from the previous film. Perhaps even Flash clashes with them all over fear of getting involved. The point being if people’s opinions and stances upon issues are made clear, then they can be explored through conflict with their opposites within the group to reveal character and encourage positive change. And how do we visualise these improved relationships?
- Creative Uses of Powers — DC exec: So, we’ve got the greatest range of superpowers available, the possibilities are endless. What powers should we show them using?
JL writer: Basically we’re just going to see them almost exclusively punch a bunch of stuff.
DC exec: Oh, really? Shouldn’t we find a cool way to combine their powers in ways nobody’s seen in live-action before?
JL writer: Nah, let’s just go ahead and recreate Zod vs Superman, that worked so well before…(pause for cricket and fanboy tear)
There’s a great YouTube essay by the Nerdwriter on how all too often fights in the DCU boil down to simply hitting someone hard and then cursing or yelling, and I use this term loosely, a witty remark. It’s a shame because combining diverse powers lead to great moments in the MCU and DC’s comics and should be utilised here too. Above all, what needs to happen is that these combinations need to serve/setup and payoff team building arcs and moments. Heat between characters in the beginning, leads to them proving that they’ve put their differences aside and learned to work together and will risk themselves to save another. In this way they realise how imperative each is to the group and why they’re stronger as a whole.
- Display Each Character’s Skills/Traits — To really hammer this point home, we need to see why each member has value and why they’ve been chosen for this team. We should be seeing Batman’s strategy/battle intelligence, Diana’s warrior team skills, Superman’s new heroism, Flash and Aquaman discovering the full range of their abilities (solo movie set ups), as well as the former’s innocence and Cyborg’s connection to the Motherbox and drive to right the wrong that created him. Together these skill sets/personality traits will set them apart as well as bring them together to form the team they need to be. Not to mention it’s much more entertaining for the audience when characters use a variety of powers in a fight, just look at Thanos vs the Avengers on Titan for a good example.
- Batman/Flash — Fear mentorship — Not only would this would be a very interesting character relationship to explore because Barry and Bruce deal with similar fears of involvement, but it also gives us a chance to understand in much greater detail who Barry is. So, how do we accomplish this? Simple, in place of the loner who for some unexplained reason doesn’t have friends in the original film, we now have a self-imposed loner whose fear of losing people — as he did his mum and dad — causes him to push them away.
Sound familiar? Which is why, when Bruce goes to recruit him, Barry is reluctant and Batman is forced to persuade him using sentiments of his own story. Later on we see Barry’s inexperience become his crutch and his fear causes him to want to run. Fortunately, who is there but the fear expert himself: Batman, who is able to remind Barry that his team is there for him, that they aren’t going away and that they need him as much as he needs them. Words that echo and help reaffirm Batman’s own realisation. Boom, all of a sudden you’ve got character growth because of team members. However, something tells me you’re going to need a little more for Batman…
- The Bruce & Diana Ship — When I was younger I used to love the idea teased on the JL TV show of Bruce and Diana. They played it so well in the show and created a very natural fit for both characters at the time, but as Batman says, ‘Your a princess from a society of immortal warriors, and I’m a rich kid with issues, lots of issues.’ Likewise this dynamic, of two lonely warriors, would be a very interesting to explore here, particularly if they have an undercurrent of tension to their chemistry in Batman attempting to cajole WonderWoman into stepping into the public eye and her imploring him to trust in his team.
Diana needs to emphasise that he doesn’t have to do it all alone and prove that he can trust in the team and especially her. Bruce needs to assert that she should almost be the one leading the team, and if she would just embrace her role in society then she can do that. Admittedly it’s not an easy relationship to pull off (as the original film found out) but if it works it would do wonders for their characters. Now if only they had something credible to unify against…
- One Mildly Interesting Villain Please — I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that literally anything, anything would be better than the villain we already have. Steppenwolf is the result of a studio playing it super safe and allowing a computer to come up with his lines based on 90’s Van Damme movies. It’s an all out disaster. However, it doesn’t have to be this way.
If we’re looking for an appropriate villain to fit this series, I think they would need to have three characteristics that combine to create something different than one we’ve seen in the superhero movie before. First, they need to have a power that makes them unique, which is difficult for the team to overcome and poses a genuine threat. Second, they need to have a connection to at least one hero. Why? So someone on the team can already be emotionally invested in defeating it; this would work best if it’s Diana, because her people already have a history with the world invader. And lastly, they need to have a personal connection to Darkseid; if Darkseid cares more about his emissary, then his revenge in later films will be all the greater and devastating.
Answer: This new villain is Darkseid’s son, whom isn’t teleported to earth because of the Motherbox — because that’s Loki all over again— but rather has been imprisoned by it for a millennia. In carelessly using the Motherbox, Cybrog’s father allows our new villain to escape. When he does, he’s angry, furious about being locked away and abandoned. He’s also haggard and weak — for the time being. He’s not an all powerful villain with vaguely defined powers but an abandoned son who desires revenge on the planet and the father who beat him. All of a sudden we’ve got a (hopefully) more interesting villain whose goals are more understandable and one who has direct links to not only the history of the world but also the theme of…
- Fear — This should be a given, seeing as how many times I’ve mentioned it already, but the theme of fear should be present and explored in every scene of this film. Not only because of it’s deep connection to Batman, but literally because that’s how the enemy grows stronger. Instead of giving him a disposable CGI army, as has been done to death in Superhero movies, I think it would work wonders to limit the number of minions the villain can wield. Perhaps he has a handful of demons that are able to grow stronger throughout, just like him, by feeding off people’s fear, so by the final confrontation they’re at their most powerful.
Needless to say this means there is now a very physical reason why the respective fears of the JL need to be overcome (at least in part) by the films end, so they can effectively beat the demons. Fear is already an important part of this franchise and it’s build up in this film should pay off what has come before it: Batman and society’s fear of Superman; and set up what is to come after: the Knightmare scenario Snyder is building to in future films.
And there you have it, my first list of story alterations that should, but probably won’t, happen in the Snyder cut. Now I must admit I didn’t get a chance to delve into all the story elements that need, let alone deserve, expansion here, such as Cyborg’s story, a more resonant ending, the team up and set up for next movie, etc. Some of these I will tap into in the next article, but mostly I just don’t have the time to go through all the changes the film needs.
The following article will look at how the above changes will translate into plot points and should start to paint a picture of how cool the Justice League movie could have been. Regardless, the above changes should help serve as an anchor to at least steady the ship in turbulent studio waters allowing for some much needed character growth with a uniquely threatening villain. Until the next article, feel free to tell me how crazy these are and let me know where you think I went wrong or right as I wade further into the troublesome waters of Zack Snyder’s Justice League.