Principal Cast : Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons, Gal Gadot, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Holly Hunter, Tao Okamoto, Ray Fisher, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Harry Lennix, Christina Wren, Michael Shannon, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Lauren Cohan, Scoot McNairy, Jena Malone, Callan Mulvey, Dan Amboyer, Michael Cassidy, Carla Gugino.
Synopsis: Following the events depicted in Man of Steel, Gotham City-based vigilante Batman travels to Metropolis to preemptively combat Superman, fearing what would happen if the latter is kept unchecked, while another threat, created by billionaire entrepreneur Lex Luthor, endangers humankind.
It’s impossibly to deny that DC Comics’ foray into cinematic universe construction has had a bumpy ride. The critical ambivalence greeting 2012’s Man Of Steel led to Zack Snyder’s doubling-down on the DCEU’s gritty, drab aesthetic with the follow-up, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, released in March 2016. The critical reception of that film was, and I’ll put it mildly, almost violent in its rejection of Snyder’s overall vision for DC’s iconic characters – Sad Superman, Sad Batman, Angry Wonder Woman, et al, produced within global audiences a sense that these weren’t the superheroes we all wanted to see. Following BvS’s theatrical release, Snyder and the team behind him intimated that not only had plenty of footage been cut from the finished film, but that a “hard R” rated version was waiting to be released in what is now know as “the Ultimate Cut”, the version of the film we’re reviewing here. The theatrical version – which I enjoyed watching in spite of its recognised flaws, and reviewed here – felt chopped up, missing pieces of a larger puzzle that, much like Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven, deserved a broader canvas on which to tell its massive story.
Complexity. It’s a word used too infrequently in the American comic book, and its something I think Zack Snyder, together with screenwriters Chris Terrio and David Goyer, have tried to infuse into their darker DC universe. The basis of any good story is some manner of character complexity, and in trying to bring some kind of dramatic arc to Superman, a being of God-like power for whom nothing should be a problem, Snyder’s foundational epic proves both sublimely contiguous to the tonally grimmer Man Of Steel, and less scattershot in its endeavour to give us an appropriately iconic pairing of the world’s two most famous heroes. Batman V Superman’s Ultimate Edition doesn’t rewrite its own history, rather it seeks to develop characters so ingrained into our pop-culture with some manner of human complexity, and for even attempting that, I have to give Snyder props.
Snyder has injected some 30 minutes of added material into the buttresses of the Ultimate Edition’s key selling points. However, unlike Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings Extended Editions or the aforementioned Kingdom Of Heaven, where entire scenes were stripped from the theatrical versions, Snyder’s trimmings are more or less extensions of already-seen scenes, with a few minor exceptions. Extra dialogue, more developed motivation for both Clark and Bruce Wayne as they spiral into conflict with each other, and a couple of emotional subplots involving Superman’s desert assault, all combine not only to accentuate the film’s emotional heft but also its action quotient. Make no mistake: the overall issues with the DCEU are still present, and there’s no sudden difference between Superman and Batman as inherent characters. What there is, however, is an elevated complexity to them, although whether it works or not remains in the eye of the beholder.
Yes, Lex Luthor is still an awful stammering caricature, yes the “Martha” plot device remains intact, yes the email introduction of the future Justice League still stands, and yeah, the title bout between Batman and Superman just feels weirdly off. These are issues inbuilt into the film’s DNA that no amount of editorial oversight can correct; rather, Snyder rattles the emotional cages by imbuing Clark’s innate guilt at being the focus of so much rage and hope and shifts its focus into something more cogent to our understanding. Whereas the theatrical version robbed Cavill’s performance of much needed ligament structure to his motivation, the Ultimate Edition restores a lot of backstory and subtext, repudiating the complaint that Superman was just an angry man jostled out of his own film by larger forces. That’s still partially true here, just not so much as before.
There’s a lot of people, fans and non-fans alike, who’ll find the Ultimate Cut a more satisfying event film in spite of the remaining problems. There’s a brief scene towards the end, tying directly into the forthcoming Justice League, that brings a sense of grand design at work here missing from the theatrical version: the true structure of a comic book movie striving to add complexity to characters who have become so mythologised within our culture it’s impossible not to see them almost as caricatures. I’d argue (as many will, no doubt) that the Ultimate Cut is the version that should have made it to our eyes in the first place, the fully marinated story over the brief stabbing puncture of a film handed to us at full cinema cost.
With the caveats of the film’s inherent problematic issues still intact (Lex Blerghthor, secondary characters with brief moments rather than strong arcs, and wasted supporting talent like Laurence Fishburne and Harry Lennix collecting a paycheck) and an insistence on driving that grimdark aesthetic into the ground, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice – Ultimate Edition is actually an improvement on the theatrical release, and a pleasing one at that. Haters won’t find much to reverse original thoughts to the negative, but casual fans and hardcore fanboys will more than appreciate the additional width afforded this iconic moment in the respective heroes’ history.