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Josh Actually Doesn’t Hate the Extended “Ultimate Edition” of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice!

So, yeah, I wrote a pretty scathing review of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and also of the DC follow-up film Suicide Squad.  I wouldn’t have imagined that I’d be in any sort of rush to watch Batman v Superman again any time soon (or even ever).  But when I read that Warner Brothers was releasing a new cut of Batman v. Superman (I’m just refusing to keep writing out Dawn of Justice, OK?) with almost thirty minutes added into the film, I found that, despite myself, I was intrigued.  Thirty minutes is a lot of additional footage.  Was it possible that this longer cut salvaged the mess that I had seen in the theatre?  I doubted that this was a Kingdom of Heaven situation (in which a truncated to the point of being almost nonsensical version was released to theatres and was rightfully savaged by critics as being terrible; and then when Ridley Scott’s much-longer director’s cut was released to DVD we all discovered that the film was, lo and behold, almost a masterpiece), but was there a chance this longer version might salvage the film?  I was dubious but, like Fox Mulder, I wanted to believe.

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Well, I am pleased to report that the “Ultimate Edition” of Batman v Superman is actually, wait for it, not entirely terrible!  It is actually sort of almost OK.

Most of the major flaws of Zack Snyder’s film remain.  The film almost completely misunderstands the characters of both Batman and Superman, turning Superman into a dopey, wishey-washy moron and Batman into a criminal-murdering crazy-person.  The film’s version of Lex Luthor is lame and criminally disappointing.  The way glimpses of all the Justice League characters are inartfully shoehorned into the movie is painful, and Batman’s long dream/vision/whatever of a future in which Darkseid controls Earth and Superman is his lackey is head-scratchingly confusing and totally out of place stuck in the middle of the film.  The entire extended climax is a disaster, in which Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman don’t talk to one another at all while spending an inordinate amount of time punching an ugly, horrible CGI creation and Superman sacrifices himself for no reason when Wonder Woman (who doesn’t happen to be deathly allergic to Kryptonite) could have easily killed Doomsday with that spear.

But the new material provides a lot of useful connective tissue for the film’s various interwoven stories, and at last I can understand what Zack Snyder’s vision was for the film: a dark, complex epic that attempted to blend the ultra-serious and “grounded” approach that Christopher Nolan used so successfully in his trilogy of Batman films with more of an embrace of large-scale super-powers of the sorts seen every month in DC comics, all mixed with a Ridley Scott or Lord of the Rings style vast canvas.  The film still doesn’t really work because of all the flaws I listed in the previous paragraph (and many more).  But while I think Zack Snyder was way off base in many respects with the type of story that he set out to tell (again, this is mostly due to what feels like an epic misunderstanding of these characters), with this more-complete version of the film I can at least understand the story that he was telling (there are now many aspects of the film that make a lot more sense) and I can see what he was aiming for.  This turns Batman v. Superman from a total catastrophe into more of a Man of Steel misfire.

What does this “Ultimate Edition” improve?  Well, first and foremost, the film clarifies how Superman’s rescue of Lois Lane from that armed group in Africa at the start of the film was engineered by Lex Luthor in an attempt to discredit Superman.  In the theatrical edition this made no sense at all.  We saw Lex’s hired goons shoot all the armed African men — why would anyone think that Superman did that?  But here in the extended edition we see Lex’s goons burn the bodies and areas of the compound, thus making it look like everyone was killed by Superman’s heat vision.  This should never ever have been cut out of the film.  This is supposed to be a key inciting incident that gets the whole film’s story going, but what was left in the theatrical version made no sense whatsoever.

Other additions to that sequence are also great.  We get to understand a little more about what’s going on — some sort of civil war in the African nation of Nairomi — in which the U.S. is apparently not involved (though maybe they are, since Lois’ photographer is revealed to be a C.I.A. agent in disguise).  This gives a little more context to Superman’s involvement in the situation, and how his one-man unilateral actions stir the global political pot, which is important to the film’s story.  We also get a whole bit of business about a group of U.S. troops who are on their way to rescue Lois and her team, only to be overruled by their supervisors who just want to use a drone to blow up everyone.  These few extra action beats are fun, and more importantly add to the sense of moral gray running throughout the film.  This “Ultimate Edition” also adds in a character from this village who appears later in the film, first testifying against Superman and then finding herself in jeopardy when she realizes she has been duped.  This character is only briefly in the film but she is nonetheless a helpful addition to this “Ultimate Edition” that helps us further understand why the events in that African compound at the start of the film are important to the story, and also how Lex has been manipulating things behind the scenes.

(The extended sequence in the African village also adds a moment in which Lois’ photographer is identified as Jimmy Olsen.  Previously this was just a joke in the end credits.  I’m not sure how I feel about this.  On the one hand, if they intended this to be Jimmy Olsen then it is better to have him definitively identified as such.  And it certainly adds to the shock when, seconds later, he is shot in the head and killed!!  But I’m also a little bummed that this means that we’ll now never get to see a Jimmy Olsen in this new connected DC movie-verse.  It’s a downside of this connected universe that the repercussions of a mistake in one movie have to be borne by all the future movies.  That is why this movie’s total fumbling of Lex Luthor — and Suicide Squad’s similar mess-up of the Joker — are even more painful.)

There is a lot of great stuff added into the film of Lois investigating exactly what happened there in that African compound, and this gives Lois a much better role in the film’s story as it unfolds, as it is through Lois’ eyes that the audience discovers Lex Luthor’s plot.  Also helpful, albeit a little less so, is all the added stuff of Clark Kent investigating Batman.  It’s nice to see Clark actually doing some investigating and it’s helpful in building up his distrust of Batman which will put them at odds in the film’s central half.  (The downside is that this also emphasizes Clark’s seeming stupidity.  In this film’s world in which Batman has been in operation for YEARS — and indeed has already had a Robin murdered by the Joker — and in which Gotham City is RIDICULOUSLY located right across a small bay from Metropolis, how on Earth could Clark not know all about Batman??)

In the theatrical cut, I was stupified how after the bombing of the Capitol building Superman just flew away.  Now, thankfully, we actually see Superman helping evacuate the wounded.  This is a minor change but a very important one.

The film’s final scene of Lex in prison, in which he seems somewhat mad and warns Batman that something terrible is coming, is a terrible scene.  It is still terrible in this version, albeit made slightly less terrible by a newly inserted previous scene, right before Lex gets arrested, of Lex communing with some huge weird alien surrounded by three floating Mother Boxes.  I can understand why the scene was cut as it would likely have totally perplexed general audiences — and it is a pretty stupid and nonsensical short scene in its own right, and the alien (apparently this is supposed to be Steppenwolf) looks awful — but at least it gives some context to Lex’s final moment and serves as a somewhat better tease of a future Justice League movie than many of the other dumb moments in the film (such as all those computer files so helpfully labeled with each character’s logo).  I also like the short addition to Batman’s confrontation of Lex in prison in which Batman now mentions Arkham Asylum.

My biggest complaint about this extended edition is that when the film’s title comes up on-screen, a few minutes into the movie, it’s actually now labeled as “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition.”  This makes a bad title even worse, and I don’t see any reason to actually change the title of the film itself within the movie (as opposed to just on the DVD/blu-ray case packaging, which of course I have no problem with).  I’m not sure why this bugs me so much, but it does.  I’m not sure I know of any other Director’s Cut of a film where the on-screen title of the film has been changed like this.  It just feels a little crass and a lot stupid to me.

I’ve read quite a lot of noise on-line about this “Ultimate Edition” being rated R (as opposed to Batman v. Superman’s PG-13 theatrical cut rating), but if this version is more violent than the original cut I didn’t notice.  I don’t have any idea why this extended cut was given an R rating.  There’s a ton of violence (and arguably this film’s theatrical cut should have been rated R), but I didn’t notice anything major that was different on this score in the longer version that would warrant the different rating.

There is no question in my mind that this “Ultimate Edition” of Batman v. Superman is a significant improvement over the theatrical cut.   I am somewhat undecided as to whether the improvements are enough to allow me to consider this to now be a not-horrible movie.  (It’s definitely not great or even good.)  Some of the problems that drove me crazy when I saw this movie in theatres bothered me less in this new version, though some of that might be that I’ve made peace with and gotten used to some of the film’s many boneheaded moments, as opposed to any actual improvements made in this new cut.  But there are significant improvements made in this extended version.  Certainly the film makes more sense now, and the plot-heavy story is given more room to breathe which allows me to see the shape of the wide-screen epic that Zack Snyder was trying to create, rather than my just being overwhelmed and annoyed by how stuffed-full with incident, much of which made little to no sense, the film was in its theatrical form.

If anyone reading this hasn’t seen this movie and is considering giving it a go, I definitely recommend this as the version to watch.  Now that I have seen Batman v. Superman twice, I am in no rush to see it again any time soon.  But if I were ever to re-watch this film, this is for sure the version I would watch.

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