A film review by Craig J. Koban July 1, 2016

BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE

ULTIMATE EDITION: jjj
½  

2016, R, 181 mins.

THEATRICAL EDITION: jjj

2016, PG-13, 151 mins.

Full Theatrical Edition Review HERE

 

Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne / Batman  /  Henry Cavill as Clark Kent / Superman  /  Amy Adams as Lois Lane  /  Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor  /  Diane Lane as Martha Kent  /  Laurence Fishburne as Perry White  /  Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth  /  Holly Hunter as Senator Finch  /  Gal Gadot as Diana Prince / Wonder Woman  /  Callan Mulvey as Anatoli Knyazev  /  Tao Okamoto as Mercy Graves

Directed by Zack Snyder  /  Written by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer

REVIEW SPOILER WARNING

This review consists of a thorough and detailed discussion of key story particulars from BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, so you've been warned If you haven't seen it (in any form) yet.

BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE was easily one of the most divisive super hero films of recent memory in its polarizing (to some) handling of the mythology of both titular characters.  Many DC Comics fundamentalists loved it, whereas many others loathed it, and critical consensus seemed to follow suit as well.  No other film in 2016 thus far has been as endlessly talked about, scrutinized, and debated in social media circles as much as this one.     

I still found much to admire in the remarkably ambitious, but highly problematic comic book epic.  I appreciated Zack Snyder’s film for exploring the very notions of what being a costumed crusader of justice actually means in a highly cynical modern era whose populace may or may not approve of an all powerful being from the cosmos trying to save the day.  BATMAN V SUPERMAN was also one of the decidedly rare super hero films that went out of its way to tackle the notion of the massive amounts of inadvertent collateral damage that heroes cause in the wake of defending humanity and the repercussions of such actions.  There was an undeniable thematic complexity and intrigue in the film that far too many critics - and audience members - overlooked.  

Now comes the BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE – ULTIMATE EDITION (that’s a real mouth full, playing now on digital download with Blu-ray editions hitting in late July), which perhaps amps up the blood spurting and bone crunching violence (in some scenes) to somewhat unnecessary levels (this new iteration of the film has evolved from a PG-13 and into an R rating with relative ease as a result), but there's also an abundance of noteworthy and welcome additions to this newly minted 3 hour and 2 minute version (the theatrical iteration weighed in at a trimmer 2 hours and 33 minutes).  An extra half-hour of new footage seems to have assisted BATMAN V SUPERMAN with correcting some rather nagging and frustrating storytelling anomalies and question marks while simultaneously altering the overall structure of some subplots altogether.  As a whole, BATMAN V SUPERMAN: ULTIMATE EDITION is a more fully expansive, fleshed out and realized cinematic vision of the immortal DC Comics characters contained within.    

 

 

One of the largest – and most deeply satisfying – alterations with this latest cut is the whole introductory sequence involving Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and her investigation in North Africa; it not only makes more actual sense now, but it also manages to see itself sprinkled expeditiously throughout the rest of the film in a vastly more rewarding and comprehensible manner.  We're now given a fuller introduction to Jimmy Olsen (never fully mentioned by name in the theatrical cut, played by Michael Cassidy) and he has a bit more screen time in terms of revealing his clandestine work for the CIA and how he used Lois as a cover to get closer to the Nairomi warlord (Sammi Rotibi) and his inner circle.  There's also more valuable information given this go around regarding the dicey political situation that brought Lois to the country in the first place and, more significantly, how Anatoli Knyazev (Callan Mulvey) conspires to make it appear that Superman murdered people at the compound, which obviously pays off more handsomely later on in the narrative.  A majority of what’s presented here in this retrofitted opening really helps BATMAN V SUPERMAN through a number of related story threads going forward that simply was left to the frustrated imagination in the theatrical version. 

The world of Gotham City and Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) is also afforded more weight and texture this time.  We have a new geographical introduction to Metropolis’ across-the-harbor neighbor as a dilapidated ghettoized hellhole, as well as snippets of news reports that typify the Caped Crusader employing more atypically brutal methods.  This is also wonderfully complimented by additional scenes involving Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) journeying to Gotham to superficially cover the sports scene for the Daily Planet, but secretly he's there to investigate the Dark Knight’s antics and how many have been negatively impacted by his recent hot-tempered streak (“He’s mean and he’s hunting,” says one man he comes across).  None of this was present in the previous version of the film.  The ULTIMATE EDITION rather wisely corrects one of the theatrical cut’s biggest errors in not giving Clark and his alter ego more valuable screen time, not to mention that we never really got to see Clark…actually do his job before.  We now get to see him be an investigative journalist, and what he uncovers about Batman – even though presented via subtle and brief scenes – does small miracles for helping to explain Batman’s turn for the worse (something that diehard fanboys of his vehemently complained about in the previous cut). 

Speaking of investigative journalism, the ULTIMATE EDITION features a new character played by Jena Malone that assists Lois at the Daily Planet in investigating the forensic evidence she gathered during the aforementioned opening scenes in Nairomi, which further manifests into a more substantially embellished portrait of Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) that we didn’t receive beforehand.  Now, there is a case to be made regarding Eisenberg’s performance as the classic Superman antagonist (which is neither healed nor hurt by the ULTIMATE EDITION), but the character himself emerges as someone much more ruthlessly fiendish and crafty in his vindictiveness against the heroes.  The new cut also makes it abundantly clearer the types of methodical strings he’s pulling behind the scenes and in the shadows in terms of conspiring against both heroes to make them want to fight each other.  The ULTIMATE EDITION also clarifies that he was the soul architect of the Capital Hill bombing and even provides a plausible explanation as to why Superman – with all of his powers – was unable to detect a bomb-packed wheelchair that was twenty feet away from him.  Overall, Luthor feels like a more dangerously unstable and cunning adversary in this new film. 

Superman is also given more to do in the direct aftermath of the bombing as he assists the wounded before realizing that on-the-spot public opinion is turning on him and forces him to leave (in the theatrical cut he just…abruptly left, which paradoxically made him look rather unheroic).  There are other small, but savory and nuanced additions like this thrown in for resoundingly good measure, like a new beginning and introduction to that very strange sequence where Clark re-acquaints himself with his deceased father (Kevin Costner), as well as quieter and more introspective moments involving Clark making an impromptu late night call to his Kansas residing mother (Diane Lane) to help him sort through his nagging doubts about his place in the world (it helps humanize Cavill’s performance, which some labeled as too robotic).  A couple of new individual shots that last a few fleeting seconds have an understated gravitas and dramatic power, such as one very early on in the recap of the destruction of Metropolis when Bruce sees a long line of orphaned children that all hold hands and are being led through the rubble by a lone adult survivor.  There are also a few momentary shots of the empty streets and businesses of Metropolis after Superman’s death that – as seemingly nonchalant as they are – help solidify just how much of an emotionally wrenching impact his passing has on a city.   

BATMAN V SUPERMAN: ULTIMATE EDITION still, as mentioned, doesn’t fully erase many of the original film’s issues, though.  It ostensibly remains oppressively bleak, dark, and violent, with even more of the latter evident in this extended cut, which most assuredly won’t placate the rightful criticisms of many that what’s on screen is far too dreary and macabre for its own good.  The overall beginning of the climatic Batman and Superman fight still seems awfully silly (all it would take is Superman saying “they’re gonna kill my mom” to end it pretty damn quick), and the manner that the fight abruptly ends still wreaks of eye rolling contrivance and contains a coincidence that’s still decidedly very hard to swallow.  The infamous "Knightmare Sequence" in the film – showcasing Batman having a hellishly apocalyptic vision of a Superman led scorched earth future – is much more blood spatteringly violent, but just as head-scratchingly impenetrable for viewers that have never picked up a comic book before.  And don't get me started on the insipidly wrongheaded decision to reveal Doomsday in the pre-release trailers earlier this year, that still all but taints the would-be seismic impact of his appearance in both of these versions.

What are we ultimately left with in the ULTIMATE EDITION?  Simply put, a better BATMAN V SUPERMAN film, and one that seems to connect its narrative dots in a much more cohesive and sustained manner as well as adding much needed character building sequences – some large and obvious, some small and discrete – that fundamentally add texture and weight to these legendary personas.  And at three hours, this elongated cut’s forward momentum seems oddly brisker, more nimble footed, and confidently orchestrated than its shorter antecedent.  Overall, the plot machinations seem to have a better A to B to C build-up and follow-through.  I think the clear-cut superiority of the ULTIMATE EDITION may have even the most staunchly harsh critics of the original version revaluating their stance on it.  It’s not a radical departure from the film that was, but the ULTIMATE EDITION should be everyone’s go-to version of BATMAN V SUPERMAN going forward.  

I was constantly reminded of something George Lucas once famously said while watching it: “A movie is never finished, only abandoned.”  The first BATMAN V SUPERMAN film felt somewhat abandoned.  This new version simply feels more finished.   

 

MY YOUTUBE REVIEW:

MY CTV REVIEW OF THE THEATRICAL CUT:

MOVIES TO SEE BEFORE SEEING BATMAN V SUPERMAN:

  H O M E