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How The Snyder Cut Completely Changes Aquaman


Zack Snyder’s Justice League came bearing some unexpected gifts when it debuted on HBO Max last week. I’ve already devoted several hundred words to one of those gifts, an early scene in which ultimate villain Darkseid (Ray Porter) gets absolutely demolished by Ares (David Thewlis encased in a tawny shell of incredible CGI muscles). Another choice selection from the cornucopia of fresh delights ZSJL brought to the DCEU is a scene in which the Atlanteans, the undersea race of metahumans to which Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa) belongs, prepare to defend their kingdom from Darkseid’s forces. And by “prepare to defend,” I of course mean “whistle to each other like a bunch of theme park dolphins.”

One of the subtlest adjustments Zack Snyder’s re-edited vision makes to the DCEU canon is the way the Atlanteans speak, and I’m not talking about Amber Heard’s ridiculous British accent. Or rather, I’m not just talking about that, although I could spend several hundred words trying to break down exactly why Heard speaks like a Hobbit while Willem Dafoe makes no attempt to disguise the fact that he grew up in Wisconsin. She must be from the West End of Atlantis.

Image via Warner Bros.

Anyway, during a key sequence of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, Mera (Heard) and some of her fellow undersea folk attempt to beef up the security around their Mother Box before Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) shows up to slap the krill out of their teeth and steal it. We get some dialogue about how the king refuses to spare any additional forces, which totally tracks, as anyone who has seen Aquaman knows the king in question is Orm (Patrick Wilson), a career dickhead. Mera and the rest of her embarrassingly tiny retinue prepare to make do with what they’ve got, leaving the audience to wonder why the defense of the world-ending doom machine an army of spacefaring demons left behind after hastily abandoning their plans for global domination was taken exactly as seriously as a chain hotel manager trying to provide security for Tom Wopat during an autograph signing. This isn’t the only time you will ask this question while watching Zack Snyder’s Justice League.

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Now, there’s an extremely minor element to this scene that rewards paying close attention; luckily this scene falls within the first two hours of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, so paying attention is actually still a possibility. You see, when Mera needs to speak to her Atlantean subordinates, she creates a bubble of air to facilitate human speech. This device is left over from the theatrical cut of Justice League, but was wisely abandoned by James Wan’s Aquaman in favor of not attempting to offer any kind of explanation for why the Atlanteans are able to speak underwater. It turns out we simply do not give a shit; I have infinitely more questions about where Dolph Lundgren found a giant seahorse to ride, but much like the question of how the Atlanteans are able to practice human speech, these are answers I never actually need to know. My life is enriched by the mystery. Anyway, Mera creates a bubble whenever Snyder wants the audience to hear what’s being said, but she also spends a minute or so ordering her troops around outside of the bubble, in the open ocean. And folks, what we hear come out of her mouth in these incandescently glorious few seconds is a series of low tones, clicks, and whistles – whale noises, essentially. So, in the continuity established by Zack Snyder’s Justice League, the Atlanteans communicate with each other exactly like dolphins when they are not on land. If we treat ZSJL as official DCEU canon, this fact dramatically recontextualizes the events of Aquaman to such a degree that it effectively becomes the greatest motion picture of all time.

Image via Warner Bros.

If you’ve never seen it, it may surprise you to learn that a significant portion of Aquaman takes place underwater. The 2018 masterpiece pits Arthur Curry against his shitty half-brother Orm in a war for the throne of Atlantis, which includes a truly bodacious gladiatorial match between the two waged in a deep-sea arena and accompanied by the thrumming rhythms of a drumming octopus. At one point in the fight, Orm pummels Arthur into a daze and begins roaring triumphantly to the crowd like he just bullied Arthur off of the Nintendo 64 so he and his friends can play Mario Kart. We hear it as Patrick Wilson shouting a wordless cry of victory, because Atlanteans just speak English to each other in Wan’s version of this universe. But imagine, if you will, that the rules established in Zack Snyder’s Justice League had been carried over to this film, as was the original plan. That means Orm would be bellowing full-throated dolphins sounds to his subjects while spreading his arms like an evangelical preacher.

The opening scene, in which Orm and fellow sea king Nereus (Lundgren) negotiate a truce after being attacked by a nuclear submarine, would be a peace summit conducted entirely by whale moans. And believe me when I say that I want nothing more than to watch the perpetually scowling Lundgren fix Orm with a steely gaze before chirping out some bullshit in Lobsterese. Aquaman ends with a sweeping undersea battle between the Crab Army and Orm’s coalition of mermaids and water elves. Basically, it’s a sea monster gang fight, and Wan’s film presents it with the same kinds of battlefield sounds you’d expect to hear in Saving Private Ryan or Braveheart. However, in the SnyderVerse canon, this epic sequence would sound like a pod of dolphins at a monster truck rally. And the tense scene in which Arthur convinces the mythical Karathen to relinquish the Trident of Atlan would be like listening to two manatees fight over a trash barge.

Image via Warner Bros.

I’m not saying you can’t make a serious movie in which half of the cast speaks exclusively in squid burps. Nor am I accusing Aquaman of being a serious movie. (Indeed, I would never even dare to speak those words aloud.) But the fact that Zack Snyder’s Justice League attempted to saddle the rest of the DCEU with Atlanteans who can only speak in whistles is a flex so incredible that it could’ve only come from the mind of the man who also decided to begin the very first Justice League movie in cinema history by killing off Superman. It’s a troll of Kryptonian proportions, and although Wan immediately and correctly did away with Snyder’s sweaty air bubble device, I will forever imagine the actors making whale hoots at each other in place of dialogue every time I rewatch Aquaman, which will constitute hundreds if not thousands of viewings until I finally die.

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