Last year it was reported that, during an early screen of Batman V Superman, that Warner Bros executives gave a standing ovation to the film. Fast forward to March 2016, after Zack Snyder stated that his original cut of the movie was 3 hours long before Warner Bros required him to edit the movie down, a 2 1/2 hour cut of Batman V Superman releases to mixed/negative opinions.
Now we finally have Snyder’s original 3 hour cut of the movie, dubbed the “Ultimate Edition”, and I’m inclined to think THIS was the version WB executives gave a standing ovation for last year. The “Ultimate Edition” of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is such a large improvement over the theatrical version, it resolves just about every issue I had with the theatrical cut in my review (including its lack of Jon Stewart and Jena Malone appearances).
I liked BvS when I saw it in March 2016. I didn’t take much issue with the depiction of these characters or the dark tone of the film, finding it a compelling and refreshing take on a modern superhero movie. I did, however, note significant problems with pacing, editing & underdevelopment of characters and certain subplots. Thankfully this cut drastically changes those elements, bringing us a superhero movie that, while still dark and somewhat deconstructionist, also tells its story with great pacing, following more developed characters with more fleshed out motivations.
There’s a better sense of world-building, with small moments peppered throughout that show more of Metropolis, Gotham and even Smallville, as well as the lives of their citizens. The primary cast of characters have been built up better too, giving them more dimension, and as a result caring about them much more. There’s also greater attention given to explaining background plots and motivations, so that story elements that were vague before are now much clearer, and come together slowly throughout the movie to a satisfying conclusion.
Improving the Icons
To touch on character updates, I’ll start with the Dark Knight. If you took issue with Batman’s portrayal before, then you’ll still have those same issues now. He still kills people, and his brutality is emphasized with some added blood and other small touches. I was never offended by this version of Batman, as his cruelty earlier in the movie is a part of his character arc that changes by the film’s ending. This arc of his is now made better, conveying more effectively that Batman has become more vicious than he used to be. This stems from Superman’s Metropolis battle with General Zod, which we now see as being more of a traumatic event for Bruce than we saw in the theatrical cut. However, there are instances that show Bruce taking more opportunities to help civilians, specifically in the Metropolis battle, and this increased focus on helping people also extends to the Man of Steel.
Superman is perhaps the character that benefits most from this extended cut, as it appears much of his plot was cut for the theatrical version in favor of a greater focus on Batman. In this version, not only do we see more of Superman’s efforts to help civilians, we also see much more of the Clark Kent side. This movie’s Clark is more of an earnest and honest reporter than a bumbling nerd, and we get extensive screen-time for Clark to travel around between Gotham City and Metropolis to investigate Batman, and stand up for his clearly-stated old-fashioned ideals for how the press should serve the public. Besides building character, seeing this investigation process also majorly improves the conflict between him and Batman. It now works much better when Superman confronts Batman while he’s in the midst of blowing criminals into oblivion, while in the previous cut there wasn’t much motivation for Superman to suddenly intervene.
Clark is also more human and charming, with more time given to his relationships with both Lois and his mother Martha, and this development with his character makes his bold actions at the end of the movie felt far more. I still would’ve preferred to see a Superman that has a more explicitly-shown love for humanity, but this is a Superman that wrestles with questions of purpose and justice in spite of his love for the world, and they’ve pulled off their version of Superman much better in this cut.
A More Formidable Nutball
Lex Luthor also sees great benefit from this version. This Lex is still too zany at times as he was in the original cut, but elements such as Lex’s hate for Superman’s very being are made clearer, and his plan to manipulate Batman and Superman into fighting is given such better treatment that it makes his character more intimidating and more powerful than he appeared before. The opening sequence in Africa is notably different, unfolding in a clear way and setting up how it plays into Lex’s covert smear campaign on Superman. There are also some very crucial factors that explain how Lex’s plan functioned and why it worked the way it did that were unfortunately removed for theaters. While I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t really like this take on Lex very much, there’s no question that his character and presence are much strengthened in this cut.
Snyder & Terrio’s Ultimate Vision
To summarize, I’ll say that this Ultimate Edition of the movie won’t change your mind if you’re inherently against these darker, more conflicted and dramatic versions of the characters. This cut doesn’t change the approach to the mythos, but what it does do it make almost everything about Snyder, Terrio and company’s execution of that approach much better. Plot, character, logic and emotion are all made stronger in this movie. Flaws still exist, such as the heroes’ rushed resolution, unnecessary Justice League setup and various logistical script issues, but this is the thrilling and compelling mythic superhero drama we were originally meant to see.
FINAL SCORE – 8.5/10
Despite certain script issues, this original cut serves story, character and emotion in a way that gives tremendous justice to this dramatic and epic DC cinematic cornerstone.
+ Character motivations and personality are served much better
+ Conflict between heroes given better plot & ideological build-up
+ Still a beautifully-shot film, with notable musical score and fascinating underlying themes
– Logistic script issues in second half still exist
Seth Zielinski is a mild-mannered contributor of written and video content for The Geekiverse, and defender of the Martha plot device in BvS.
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