After years of trending hashtags, public outcry, and expensive reshoots, the Snyder Cut of Justice League has finally been released in all its four hours of … a mixed bag. There are moments of pure brilliance and moments of utter failure, but for all its ups and downs as I came to the end of the movie I had one strange realization; Superman is barely in Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
Due to the movie’s length I wasn’t sure if that was just a feeling I had, or if the flagpole character of the DCEU was truly given nothing to do in the Snyder Cut, so I went through the movie again to calculate Superman’s screen time and how many lines of dialogue he had. What I found was truly shocking. In this four hour movie about resurrecting Superman, Superman has only 13 lines of dialogue.
To help you take in how truly small that is, characters with more lines than Superman include Hippolyta with 14 lines, and Barry’s dad who has only two scenes but 15 lines.
In fact the Snyder Cut has five scenes involving Superman where he doesn’t speak at all. Knowing this, you’ll probably be less surprised to find out he has only 22 minutes of screen time altogether (counting only the time he’s alive being played by Henry Cavill and not when he’s played by a dead body floating in goo).
And if you’re thinking that his small role can be explained by Superman’s late arrival in the film, Superman is brought back to life at the 2 hour 40 minute mark, which leaves an hour and twenty minutes where he throws punches shirtless, picks out shirts, throws punches in a shirt, and barely says a word. It’s jarring to think about how this movie, which in many ways is about the importance of Superman, feels like it does not care about Superman in any way.
It’s even more strange when we look at the theatrical version of Justice League. That movie runs only 2 hours long but gives Superman almost 19 minutes of screen time and a whopping 41 lines of dialogue! Sure, his upper lip looks like it’s possessed, but that ghastly lip still has three times as many lines in half the runtime.
So why is Superman so underutilized in the Snyder Cut? One explanation could be that Snyder just got tired of the Man of Steel. Like a kid moving on to the next shiny toy in his toybox, Snyder historically shows less interest in his characters as time goes on. Superman is the sole hero in Snyder’s first movie, Man of Steel, but by Batman v. Superman we already see him in a heavily diminished role. Despite being a title character he has only 43 lines in the 2 and a half hour span of the movie - far, far less than Batman and Lex Luthor, the new shiny toys Snyder has introduced who get to have lengthy dialogue and complex motivations. Superman just gets to fly around a little, be physically strong, worry about his mom and then die.
When we get to Justice League Snyder seems to again lose interest in anyone that’s been introduced before as he minimizes Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman to give more focus to the Flash and Cyborg.
But maybe Snyder didn’t lose interest in the Man of Steel, maybe he just had the same view of him that he’s always had. Which is that Clark is boring but Superman is cool because Superman is a weapon of mass destruction. It almost feels like Snyder wishes Clark stayed dead as he has no interest in Clark as a person. Clark’s meager lines include not understanding what’s happening, remembering who he is, and then leaving to find out what is happening. We’re never told how Clark feels about being resurrected, his thoughts about joining a team, hell, Clark never even speaks to Cyborg, Flash, Aquaman, or Wonder Woman. The film is only interested in him when Superman beats people up, whether that’s Steppenwolf or the entire Justice League. While everyone else takes battle damage and injuries in the movie, Superman is unflinching in his invincibility. He’s too cool to get hurt. He decimates the entire Justice League at his memorial and after taking a full hit from Steppenwolf’s ax says his only line in the entire battle, “Not impressed” before swatting the villain around like a fly. In some ways it is cool, as much as weapons can be cool. But it certainly doesn’t help Clark resonate with the audience as a man, a character, or a symbol of hope, as I’m not particularly inspired by someone who heatvision’s half a guy’s head off.
Batman says the world needs Superman, but to do what? By having no dialogue and no interaction with the team he is clearly not destined to be a leader, and his violent fighting style and all black outfit don’t exactly scream “symbol of hope”. More and more it seems like the only reason the world, and Snyder himself, “needed” Superman was to be an overpowered gun pointed at Steppenwolf.
The theatrical cut of Justice League is far from a perfect film, but despite its many flaws it at least showed that you can make this version of Clark feel like a person (a person with a really messed up upper lip, but a person nonetheless). In the theatrical cut we see Superman laugh with Cyborg, joke with Barry, answer the questions of little children, save civilians and even says cheesy lines about truth and justice while still throwing punches in a PG-13 appropriate manner. And in both versions he still loves Lois very much, which is perhaps his only humanizing feature in the Snyder Cut. Snyder’s Superman is a Clark that seems to have no internal life aside from loving Lois Lane, which makes his humanity hang by a thread. He has no interest in what it means to be alive, his only personality trait is violence and loving Lois. The only thing that rings true about Snyder’s version of Superman is that I absolutely believe if Lois died he would unflinchingly turn to the dark side (Darkseid?) to destroy earth and hunt down its heroes as Bruce sees happen in his nightmare visions.
It’s a shame that Snyder has no interest in exploring the humanity, kindness and empathy that makes Clark such an enduring character. In many ways it feels like Snyder sees Superman the same way Batman did in BvS, not as a man but as a weapon of mass destruction that can’t be stopped. Unlike Batman though, Snyder never changed how he felt about the Man of Steel. He still only sees Superman as a gun to point at a problem, a violent solution and not as Clark Kent, a person with interests, feelings or loved ones. Maybe if Snyder’s mom had also been named Martha we would have a very different Superman on our screens today, a superhero who feels like a person and not just a weapon.
[Editor’s note: It turns out Zack Snyder’s mother is actually named Marsha! We were so close you guys!]
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