Darkseid Was Supposed to Actually Appear in the History Lesson
Now that we've seen images of the mural in the shrine from Wonder Woman's cutscene, a much different picture begins to take shape. We've already seen the history lesson from the first invasion in Justice League, and the mural matches up in several key ways. The image shows the Amazons, Atlanteans, and Men joining forces to fight back the forces of Apokolips, priests reading from scrolls, the three Mother Boxes coming together, and a dark figure over a circle of fire, similar to when Steppenwolf hit his axe in the ground in the movie, only the figure doesn't look like Steppenwolf, it looks like Darkseid.
Not only does the figure look a lot more like Darkseid that Steppenwolf, but the ancient Greek text running the walls also seems to also describe Darkseid. Taking a step back from what we already know about this battle from the way the battle was presented in Justice League, it makes sense that Darkseid would be the one to lead the invasion. Steppenwolf on his own was seemingly lacking in motivation or gravitas, and we've since learned that the Anti-Life equation was also supposed to play a role, and the Anti-Life equation is basically Darkseid's calling card.
Considering Steppenwolf leads the invasion in the movie, that's likely one of the reasons the scene with this mural may have been cut, although, with a two-hour runtime mandate, the movie was already as lean as possible anyway. There's also a question of when this particular change was made. The movie was basically overhauled under Joss Whedon during the extensive reshoots, but some changes, such as Steppenwolf's overall design, had already been changed before Whedon even took over, so this could be another one of those instances. Such a CGI heavy scene would be understandably hard to redo in such a short time, especially considering they couldn't even get Henry Cavill's mustache removal correct.
Related: Why Justice League's CGI is So Bad
Darkseid being present at the original invasion scene has a drastic impact on the entire movie, making the scene similar to the prologue in The Fellowship of the Ring, positioning Darkseid as a Sauron character and establishing him as a much more significant looming presence throughout the rest of the movie, giving a clear hook for the Justice League to face off against him in a sequel.
But simply having Darkseid present at the battle wasn't the extent of his role. According to the Greek text, we were due for an epic smackdown that was entirely removed from the final product.
Darkseid vs. Ares
Some adept fans even translated some of the ancient Greek text, and the results are also incredibly similar to the story told by Wonder Woman, except for a key difference. It reads something along the lines of:
"The Allies have managed to push back the conspiracy of the intruders with iron, blood, and horses."
"Zeus wanted to stop and kill Skotomidis [Darkseid]. He ordered his son, Ares, to kill the invader, but he couldn't. Skotomidis [Darkseid], falling down with a roar, was defeated, and left for the stars, with his soldiers following. They left three Mother Boxes behind, and a Mother Box was given to each tribe to be protected until Skotomidis [Darkseid] invaded again."
After reading this version of the fight, it's actually quite apparent where it was supposed to go. During the version of the invasion flashback we saw in the theatrical cut of Justice League, there's actually a fragment of this moment remaining when Zeus shoots Steppenwolf with lightning and Ares briefly flashes on screen as he brings his axe down on Steppenwolf's shoulder.
Steppenwolf and Ares are located in a circle in the middle of the battlefield when this happens. Steppenwolf glares up at Ares, and it's clear there's about to be a larger engagement, but the camera instead cuts away to Artemis shooting one of the Apokoliptan ships and the next time we see Steppenwolf he's being hauled off the battlefield.
Interesting enough, David Thewlis, who played Ares in Wonder Woman is actually credited as Ares in Justice League as well, although you only get the briefest shot of him without his horned helmet when the heroes are standing around after the battle. It's possible that small flash of screentime was enough to earn him that credit, but the credit obviously raises additional questions about whether or not Ares and Zeus maybe even had dialogue with each other and Darkseid in the original version.
With the two-hour runtime mandate, anything not absolutely necessary (and some arguably some necessary elements as well) were cut, but there's also an obvious question of whether or not Ares vs Darkseid (later Steppenwolf) was removed because WB thought audiences would be confused since Ares was the villain in Wonder Woman. Whatever the reason, it certainly deprived the movie of a moment that sounds potentially as epic as Isildur vs Sauron in the Fellowship of the Ring.
This version of the battle doesn't just change that particular scene, but it introduces Darkseid as a major threat early on in the movie, making Steppenwolf's motivations more significant while driving the whole story toward an inevitable sequel. Warner Bros. is in the process of establishing a new path with DC movies now, but changing this particular moment could be seen as a sort of "ground zero," the moment the DCEU's jettisoned the plan to set-up Zack Snyder's Justice League sequels, and leaving Batman, Superman, Cyborg, and possibly Flash in an extended state of limbo.
With the continued demand from some fans for a Snyder Cut of Justice League, it's changes like this that make critics the most skeptical. Darkseid would have seemingly been abandoned early on, and Steppenwolf fighting Ares also wasn't complete. Presuming the Snyder Cut is ever completed, will WB pay for all the work necessary to include Darkseid, or will they simply revert to Steppenwolf fighting Ares?
It's one thing to add-in Snyder's dialogue and colorization for existing scenes, but with a significant amount of Snyder footage simply missing from the final cut, concepts like Darkseid vs Ares would presumably be the most complicated to bring to life after the fact. Gareth Edwards animated his debut film, Monsters in his bedroom, so nothing's outside the realm of possibility, but this just adds another major question mark on an already mysterious production.
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