First, I'm looking for differences between this version and Joss Whedon's Zack Snyder's "Justice League." I imagine it'll be easier to look for similarities, to be honest, but I'm interested to know what made the final theatrical cut, and what didn't. I'm also interested to know who did the score. Was it still Danny Elfman? Did they have a partial score in place before Whedon came on-board? Did some of the tens of millions of dollars Warner Brothers pumped into this project go to hiring a totally new composer? Will there still be a Leonard Cohen cover song? I guess I'll find out.
Second, I'm looking for any sign of levity at all. There was some in "Man of Steel," but "Batman v. Superman" was notably devoid of humor, and the humor in Joss Whedon's Zack Snyder's "Justice League: Age of Steppenwolf" was often forced and rarely worked. I don't expect much from a movie that is apparently best viewed like an episode of "The Honeymooners," but it would be nice if a movie about colorful children's characters who first assembled to fight a giant telepathic starfish alongside a teenager with a snapping fetish had a tone slightly lighter than "Hereditary."
Third, I'm looking for the hallmarks I've come to see in Snyder's previous superhero movies: emotional moments that aren't earned, clearly-stated themes that are rejected by the characters' actions, a wild inconsistency between the way the characters behave and the way the audience is meant to perceive them, and a tendency to make every moment seem like it's pregnant with symbolic meaning when there's nothing of substance behind it.
Finally, I'm going to apply what I'm calling the Middle Batman Movie Test. "Batman Returns" and "Batman Forever" are not good movies. They have a combined runtime of 247 minutes, five minutes longer than Zack Snyder's Zack Snyder's "Justice League: The Snyder Cut." "Batman Returns" is a slapped-together mess of color-sapped movies with characters who change personalities and motivations on a whim and a plot that doesn't hang together even on cursory examination. "Batman Forever" is a colorful mess that is tonally torn between wanting to be a dark and brooding meditation on psychology and wanting to be a neon-lit cartoon where people scream about "bOoIiLiInG aAaCiD!" About half the actors think they're in one of those movies, half think they're in the other, no one's clear about how old 25-year-old Chris O'Donnell is supposed to be, and Jim Carrey is godawful.
The Middle Batman Movie Test will be applied at the end of Zack Snyder's Zack Snyder's "Justice League: The Snyder Cut," where I will ask myself: would I have been better off watching "Batman Returns" and "Batman Forever"? They're two movies that I don't really like and are kind of objectively giant messes, in ways that specifically irk me about the characters involved, so it should be a pretty easy bar to clear. I would rather watch nearly any MCU movie over "Batman Returns" and "Batman Forever," even possibly Joss Whedon's Joss Whedon's "Avengers: Age of Ultron: Justice League Episode Zero." I would watch "Green Lantern" again over a marathon of two bad Batman movies. I'd probably rewatch Ang Lee's "Hulk" and "WW84" over two Batman movies back-to-back—movies that, individually, I would happily watch on their own. I might even watch "Man of Steel" over a "Batman Returns" and "Batman Forever" double-feature; if nothing else, it would let me put together notes on how the flashbacks could be rearranged to make a better movie. I've got video editing software now, I could maybe do it.
So, in theory, it should be a low bar to clear. But, also, given the choice between the Middle Batman Movies and the previous installment in Zack Snyder's DC Comics oeuvre, I'd play those stinkin' Middle Batman Movies like a harp from Hell.
One last thing before the line break: the last times I've gone into Snyder's DC movies, I've done so with an honest attempt to find things to enjoy, to be positive, to figure out what it is that inspires some people to love these films and this version of Superman with such fanatical fervor (something I think David Mann has articulated better than I ever could). I'm clearly not doing that this time. I plan to give this movie the fairest shake I can, but I don't expect to like it. A lot of that is because I understand now that what I want out of superhero movies—and particularly superhero movies with these characters—is not what Snyder is offering and not what his fans want, and this movie exists for and because of those fans.
And some of those fans are why I'm not likely to enjoy this movie. "Batman v. Superman" came out five extremely long years ago; "Man of Steel" longer still, and I've certainly said my share about both of them. But there are people—including people I like and follow on social media—who are relentless to the point of belligerence about those movies. If you don't like them, it's because you're an unsophisticated rube, a child who cannot handle anything but cartoons, a conservative who wants Superman to be a boring father stand-in, a disingenuous sheep who has to make up things to criticize, a supporter of the abuses done by big corporations and toxic directors, misogynists, and so forth. I have seen Snyder fans accuse critics of supporting the military industrial complex as though "Man of Steel" doesn't have a soldier saving the city and "Batman v. Superman" doesn't start with Superman unilaterally executing a Middle Eastern warlord. I have seen Snyder fans accuse critics of preferring the bloodless, consequence-free violence of Marvel movies as though "Man of Steel" doesn't end with Clark Kent biking to work in a city we just saw largely demolished. I have seen Snyder fans bend over backwards to ignore the director's flippant remarks about prison rape and disliking comics where people aren't having sex or killing each other, to argue that he's totally unproblematic and the frequent use of rape in his movies is fine, actually, even empowering. I have seen Snyder fans bend over backwards to excuse his love of The Fountainhead and the fact that he named his production studio after Atlas Shrugged to argue that there's nothing Objectivist at all in how he characterizes Rorschach as the clear hero of "Watchmen" and has a Superman who repeatedly questions whether altruism is a good thing.
Snyder himself seems like a complicated guy. It's hard to read interviews like this recent one with The New York Times, and not find the guy affable and charming. It's also hard to read his comments about wanting a "Watchmen"-style Batman who drinks and pops pills and is "sleeping with some anonymous girl" and think that he wants anything like what I want out of superhero stories.
But his fans? I do not care for the behavior of his fans. And his fans have made it hard for me to think I might enjoy his movies any more than I already do.
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