I don’t have to tell you how divisive Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice has proven itself to be, both among fans and critics, with discussions on its quality raging on till date - there’s a firm divide between two camps, those who love it and those who hate it, and both sides have remained equally adamant and unmoving on their opinions on the film. Now I’ve been on the ‘hate it’ side for as long as I can remember, because even though I’m a huge comic book (and associated media) fan, simply seeing the hitherto impossible feat of watching these larger than life characters duke it out on the silver screen, an excellent Batman and some truly amazing cinematography and soundtrack just wasn’t enough for me to distract from the absolute garbage editing, the all-over-the-place narrative, excruciatingly annoying and hammy villain, elaborate but extraneous sequel set-ups and muddled character development and motivations.
I was extremely disappointed with how the film turned out, and blamed a lot of it on Snyder and his “vision”. As disappointed as I was with the theatrical version, hearing about a 3 hour version of the film, I couldn’t help but feel a glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, the problems could be fixed and Batman v. Superman could be the film everyone intended it to be.
Having finally seen the R-rated (totally unnecessary, you wouldn’t even know it was R-rated if I didn’t tell you), longer by 30 minutes Ultimate Edition, the only thing I can say is I’m torn – right down to my very core.
One thing that immediately becomes apparent while watching the Ultimate Edition is how Zack Snyder actually had a clear idea over where the story should have gone, for a good two-thirds of the film. You know, right before the studio took over and demanded he turn Man of Steel 2 into Batman v. Superman, and then that into Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.
For that reason alone, I feel we should apologize to Zack Snyder, because everything wrong with the film has been blamed on him, and he’s taken it patiently, sticking by the studio (which is more than what Josh Trank did when Fant4stic bombed). I can’t imagine what it must have been like for him to know a superior cut of his film exists, but having to defend the studio-edited atrocity that ultimately ended on our screens.
However, as big an improvement the Director’s Cut is over the theatrical one, it comes with its own set of caveats, and while it fixes most issues, it’s still convoluted and cannot hide the inherent flaws of the story.
As far as I can see, the Ultimate Cut won’t win over those people who disliked Snyder’s vision for the story. For the rest of us, though, the whole experience is much more palatable now. As for the people who loved the theatrical version, they’re going to love this version even more.
What issues does the Ultimate Edition fix?
1. The Flow
I cannot stress this enough, but the storytelling in the theatrical version was absolute trash, with some of the most horrendous editing I’ve seen in a major blockbuster. Scenes are just strung together one after the other without any real sense of progression, and so much of “plot” is cut out that it makes the whole thing extremely incoherent, and sadly, boring.
This is a that problem persisted throughout the first two acts of the film, but I can gladly say it has been fixed for the most part in the Ultimate Edition.
Of the 30 minutes that have been added, not a single minute is wasted, and the subplots are finally fleshed out making you understand why whatever is happening is happening.
Without spoiling anything, the Nairomi incident at the beginning of the film made zero sense in the theatrical cut, but here, we see the whole thing play out and its consequences suddenly seem more understandable. Similarly, the role of the woman testifying at the Senate hearing is expanded and we get to know why her testimony was important, along with how that testimony was relevant, and you would be surprised at how the restoration of just this one scene (and a couple of other smaller ones) ties the Nairomi incident, the Capitol Hill incident and Lex Luthor’s involvement in the whole situation into one coherent A-to-B-to-C narrative.
And along with the additions, there have been some revisions as well, with certain scenes being reordered and this makes the first act and about half of the second one very palatable.
As surprising as it is, the added 30 minutes dramatically improve the film’s pacing and make everything seem like it’s moving at a quick pace.
2. The Characters
Let’s get two things out of the way – Lex Luthor is still just as annoying, and Wonder Woman, as awesome as she was, still didn’t need to be here. That said, the film fleshes out the one character it should have and made the most relatable – Superman. Here, we actually get more of Clark Kent, and see him do actual reporting, talk to his mother and be heroic and it’s these touches that go a long way towards making Superman more relatable, which I just didn’t find him in the theatrical edition.
Plus his journalist work is what causes him to stumble onto Batman, and that just seems like a better plot point to me. While Lois Lane still makes laughable character choice and remain a perpetual damsel-in-distress ex-machina, her journalist side shines here in a couple of scenes, and in the first act and a half, that actually has important consequences, so that’s an improvement too. Even characters like Anatoly Knyazev are given more to do, and while it may not seem like much initially, it acts as a buffer between various events that certainly doesn’t hurt.
Characters like Batman and Alfred were already fine, and they remain so here, but I still can’t digest Batman killing people, the least they could have done is explain why he became so unhinged, and that’s a big miss for me.
I wish they had something more about Wonder Woman here, but then we can’t have everything apparently.
3. Lex Luthor’s Role
In the theatrical version, we’re just supposed to assume Lex is a mastermind who orchestrated everything but in the absence of explanation and presence of Jesse Eisenberg’s dramatically over the top performance, it is hard to take it seriously.
Fortunately with the events of the Ultimate Cut, a large majority of his core plan becomes evident as you see the actions happen. While his motivations still don’t feel entirely satisfactory, they at least are somewhat clear here, and that’s an okay compromise.I’m not sure the direction they ultimately take him in is the best one, but that issue will be covered later on.
In addition to everything I just mentioned, there’s some added nuance here and there that almost always helps the film, and improves almost half of the film to a point where it actually seems good, and that’s a big plus for me. If you’re like me and demand a coherent plot and fleshed out characters, you will without a doubt enjoy the Ultimate Cut more. While it’s possible that the passage of time and lowering of expectations (plus the fact that I didn’t have to pay for the ticket this time) makes me see the film more fondly, I’m certain that even the harshest of detractors will admit that the film flows better now.
But as impressed as I was with the improvements to the first half of the film, the second half, while loaded with action, is still not the best version of a Batman/Superman story for me, and that extends to most of what the Ultimate Edition didn’t improve upon as well.
What issues remain with the film?
1. Jesse Eisenberg
There’s no other way to say it, but Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor is simply intolerable for me.
I hoped that not having to see his twitchy song-and-dance routine on a ginormous screen would help, but it doesn’t and he still comes across as the unwanted love-child of Joker and the Mad Hatter who had too much of cough syrup when he didn’t need any.
Of course, one appreciated thing in the Ultimate Cut is how his character gets some much needed fleshing out. As questionable as the logic behind his motivations might be, at least his motivations become clear and as small as that consolation might be for me and others who dislike Eisenberg’s take on Lex Luthor, I’m sure those who enjoyed Eisenberg’s performance will be glad to have more elements to his character. Still, all fanboy logic of Eisenberg’s performance being acceptable because he’s not da OG Luthor but his son aside, I can’t help but lament at the missed opportunity of what the character could have been if he had been played more traditionally by someone like Bryan Cranston.
2. Future Set-Up
I’m baffled at how an industry like Hollywood fails to realize that overstuffing a film to set up future instalments never works out despite the constant failures of films that try to do so.
Age of Ultron and Iron Man 2 are two of my least favorite films in Marvel’s stable, and this incessant need to set up the sequels and spinoffs is the reason why, but as messy as their narratives were, Batman v. Superman’s set-up focussed narrative makes them seem like elegant solutions.
You know why this is a real shame? Because the first 3/5ths of this film was actually a very mature and responsible story, and the theatrical version’s choppy editing and removal of key scenes may have made it incomprehensible, but once the Ultimate Edition fills in those gaps and you finally grasp the direction the story wanted to head in, you admire it despite all is flaws simply because of its ambition and its willingness to commit to the story. Unfortunately, everything completely blows up in the last 2/5ths because the film becomes something else entirely and abandons its thoughtfulness and maturity to set up and execute the titular fight, and then somehow rush Batman and Superman into being friends and battling Doomsday while Wonder Woman shows up.
It’s exactly as baffling as it sounds.
In the theatrical cut, the choppy editing and the severe plotholes had made sure audiences didn’t care about anything else as long as the action played out onscreen, but here, the added narrative depth to the beginning simply makes the lack of it more pronounced towards the end, and it’s all because WB was in rush to get to Justice League. Wonder Woman didn’t need to be here, Doomsday didn’t need to be here, the Knightmare sequence is laughably extraneous, the set-up for Justice League is horribly lazy and clumsy (an e-mail and some clips, yay!) and as thrilling as the showdown between Batman and Superman may have been, it didn’t need to be Batman v. Superman when Batman & Superman would have worked just as well, had WB not been so insistent on cramming about 4 movies into one and getting to Justice League.Every narrative and character issue the film has can be attributed to his need to set up future instalments, and if only WB had waited and let Snyder explore the themes introduced fully and make Man of Steel 2 and had the patience to establish Batman in a solo adventure before pitting the two on the same screen, everything would have worked out just perfectly.
3. The Circumstances Surrounding the Fight
As jaw-dropping as the fight may have been from a technical and visual standpoint and as excited as I might have been to finally see my childhood question be answered onscreen, I honestly didn’t care much for what was happening because the central conflict felt unearned in both the theatrical and the Ultimate Edition.
It was still a big misunderstanding and it could still be just as easily resolved without violence if Batman and Superman acted more like rational creatures and just talked.
Couldn’t Superman fly out of reach and say what he had to say? Couldn’t he pin Batman down and tell him he was short on time and his mother was in danger?Would Batman actually be this inconsiderate to relentlessly attack and not even care to hear Superman out once? None of this makes sense, and the whole manner in which the fight is orchestrated by Luthor simply screams shoddy story writing, where the writers simply wanted to have these two fight, logic and reason be damned.
Similarly, the much mocked Martha moment still makes me cringe/laugh because no amount of justifying I can do makes it seem more rational. Fans argue how hearing his mother’s name finally made Batman realize Superman has a family too and people who raised him, but that logic’s paper thin, because right before he’s about to “kill” Superman, Batman says he bets his parents taught Superman that he meant something. Try as I might, this is something that’s going to keep bothering me, simply because it’s poor storytelling at its finest.
4. Logical Issues Persist
Again, while most of the logic in the first act and most of the second is sorted, everything beyond the point Lex kidnaps Martha falls apart. Aside from the fight itself, so many logical issues and unanswered questions persist.
Why does Lois Lane throw away the spear?
Why does she know she has to get it back?
How does Superman know every time Lois Lane is in trouble?
Couldn’t Wonder Woman, who is just as strong as Superman and is not affected by Kryptonite, kill Doomsday?
Do these people even know how to utilize a spear?
How does Lex Luthor suddenly know everything in the world?
Does the Kryptonian wreckage contain all the knowledge in the world, even of other planets?
How does Luthor know Bruce Wayne is Batman?
And that’s not all, there are countless more questions (I will link the Everything Wrong With video her for furthering my point when the guys at CinemaSins have it ready – they might nitpick at times, but they also raise very solid points) and it seems like the film hopes that as a consequence of its shocking and then moving (?) ending, you’ll forget about it, but as well done as the scenes at the end are, they can’t take away from the fact that none of it had to be this way.
So where does all this leave us with regards to the film?
If I had to put it simply, I’d say the Ultimate Cut is not a better film, but it’s a vastly better version of the same film, maybe even the best one. I can see Zack Snyder’s vision for the most part, and I don’t mind the dark approach to storytelling, and I’m going to go so far as to say that after seeing the Ultimate Cut, I actually rather like the direction the story seemed to take for the first 3/5ths of the film (which is really saying something because in the theatrical version, I very nearly walked out in the first half itself) but I didn’t like anything that proceeded that any more than I did the first time (except maybe the final shots, which were helped by a longer take and let the feels settle down).
And that brings me to my internal conflict.
I don’t have to tell you that comic book fans and cinephiles tend to be the worst kinds of overthinkers, and as things stand, I’m both of them.
The additions and reordering vastly improve the quality of most of the film, and makes these characters more like the ones I grew up loving, and for that reason, I want to love the Ultimate Cut, because even in addition to that, it adds things that I look for in a film, and I enjoyed all of that.
But, it’s the larger issues that persist, and cannot be fixed, and these larger issues are also important to me, and I can’t ignore them however much I want to, because they detract from the overall quality of the film for me.
Ultimately, I love more than I loathe in the Ultimate Cut, and I finally see the scope of the story, and I enjoy those bits, and I’m inclined to overlook what I detested, but I can do it only to a certain extent.
For me, the film moves from ‘travesty’ to ‘good’, and I’ll definitely recommend this version to both people who haven’t seen the film yet, to those who have seen it and despised it, because while it may not turn a lot of opinions, it will most certainly help see the film in a more cohesive light, and I feel Batman v. Superman has deserved that at the very least.