If there's one thing you can say for certain about Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, it's that the film has stirred up a lot of controversy! The latest is over the revelation that the movie's 'Ultimate Edition' will be R-rated. According to a bulletin from the MPAA, this is an important version - they note:
"EDITED VERSION. CONTENT IS DIFFERENT FROM PG-13 VERSION"
Immediately the Internet's started buzzing with questions about whether or not this is a good idea, how far in advance Warner Bros. had planned this, and if they're just trying to copy Deadpool's R-rated success. So what are the facts?
1. The content already existed
When the MPAA reviewed the original version of the film, they classified it as PG-13 because of "intense sequences of violence and action throughout, and some sensuality." In other words, there are a lot of fights, and there are some sexy scenes (likely involving either Bruce Wayne being a playboy, or Wonder Woman being a bare-shouldered Amazonian warrior). In contrast, the R-rated 'Ultimate Edition' has been given a very different rationale: simply "sequences of violence."
So the difference between the two versions is purely the degree of violence - and it sounds to be rather more than using CGI to add blood! There's been no news of reshoots for this 'Ultimate Edition,' so it's pretty clear that Zack Snyder filmed more extreme "sequences of violence" during the process of filming Batman v Superman, and then edited it down to a version that could get a PG-13 rating.
2. The R-rated version was submitted post-'Deadpool'
The MPAA review films regularly, and issue weekly bulletins informing us of recent submissions. The bulletin informing us of the R-rated 'Ultimate Edition' is dated 02/24/2016.
The process the MPAA follow is simple: a studio sends a copy of the film to the Classification And Rating Administration (CARA) to view it on the day before a pre-arranged screening. Within 24 hours of the screening, CARA respond with a judgement. It's all laid out on the MPAA website.
Since the bulletins are published weekly, we know that CARA only viewed the 'Ultimate Edition' footage in the last seven days. Now, given that Deadpool only released on 02/10/2016, that means that - if Deadpool's success inspired this move - Warner Bros. put the 'Ultimate Edition' together in a maximum of twelve days. I could be wrong, but that does seem unlikely.
Still, we're left with an awkward coincidence. Deadpool succeeded in the box office, and within a fortnight Warner Bros. had sent off their 'Ultimate Edition' for rating.
The Likely Scenario
To me, the more likely scenario is the halfway house. Zack Snyder has a history of making massive edits, and then releasing Director's Cuts that include a wealth of new material (and usually make a dramatic improvement to the quality of the film, too). He'd clearly followed his usual pattern with Batman v Superman.
According to this theory, Warner Bros. played it smart. They recognized the potential for an R-rated version, and put it together; but they simply waited to see how Deadpool performed in the box office in order to assess demand. When Deadpool proved to be a runaway success, Warner Bros. then contacted the MPAA and arranged for the screening.
Some fans are really concerned about this R-rating - it sounds like a knee-jerk response, an attempt to feed off Deadpool's success. However, the fact that these scenes were filmed before that box office R-rated hit should calm our fears. Warner Bros. haven't simply pieced together some kind of 'extreme version' (also indicated by the fact that "sensuality" hasn't been upgraded to "sex scenes" in the classification notes). Instead, these scenes of violence were already filmed, and Warner Bros. saw the opportunity to use them.
It's also worth noting that this is just another release of the same film. Warner Bros. aren't planning separate showings or anything like that - in fact, they're taking a rather small step into the land of R-rated superhero action. Their move is highly unlikely to affect sales of the PG-13 version, but will add more profit on for little extra cost.
DC fans can relax: this is no reason to panic.