Earlier this week, Warner Brothers released the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition on digital. This version of the film features an R-rating and 30 minutes of extra footage that was removed from the notoriously ill-received theatrical cut.
How does the Ultimate Edition compare to the theatrical cut? Having just watched the film, I hope to offer some insight on the question.
A Pleasant Surprise
I must admit that unlike most, my thoughts toward the theatrical cut of Batman v Superman were much less harsh than critics who contributed to a combined 27% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Having acknowledged this, that cut of the film certainly had glaring problems and I could completely understand why so many were unhappy with it.
Upon hearing the news of an extended version of the film, I was skeptical that it could do much of anything to repair the damage done by the theatrical cut. Surprisingly with just 30 minutes of extra footage, the Ultimate Edition feels somewhat like a different film and addresses some of the problems in the theatrical cut. Before reading any further, there may be some mild spoilers ahead!
A major strength of the Ultimate Edition is an improvement in story clarity. With the theatrical release, one of the problems commonly cited was the sloppiness of edits and confusion with plot elements.
Much of the extra footage in the Ultimate Edition is spread out in various moments such as the pivotal African desert scene in the beginning which becomes much more coherent. That scene plus the other sub-plots that result in Lex Luthor's master plan become easier to follow. What results is a more comprehensible and focused story-line overall, which audiences do not have to wrestle with as they did with the theatrical cut.
Better Character Development
Character development benefited most from the Ultimate Edition with extra footage and the improvements in story clarity. The first beneficiary is Superman. In the theatrical cut, he was portrayed as a very mopey and depressed character who had very weak motivations for his feelings against Batman. It was as if one Gotham newspaper headline was all it took for Clark to completely distrust Batman.
In the Ultimate Edition, we find Clark is first interested in a woman in Gotham who accuses him of killing her innocent family members in Africa. That investigation ultimately leads him to discover the Batman who he learns more about through research and interviews. Only after this, does he begin to distrust Batman due to his brutal methods.
As a result, we are able to see a much more nuanced version of Clark Kent as an investigative reporter. This helps balance the heavily somber persona of Superman in the film, and gives fans a chance to understand his struggle as a superhero.
The second character that benefits from the Ultimate Edition is Lex Luthor. Many fans were split on their reactions to Jesse Eisenberg's eccentric portrayal of the character. While some were open to the new interpretation, others were much less enthusiastic, including myself.
Regardless of the mixed opinions with the character's nuances, most can agree that Lex Luthor's persona as a criminal mastermind and genius were lacking in the theatrical cut. Due to the improved story elements in the ultimate edition, we are able to see the intricacies of Luthor's plan to frame Superman and pit hero against hero. The extra scenes included in the sub-plots really help convey that Lex is controlling everything from beginning to end which restores his true criminal genius persona.
As a result of the improvements to story and character development, the payoff at the end of the film is felt more significantly in the Ultimate Edition than in the theatrical cut. I'm sure most of you know what sequence I am referring to. In the theatrical cut, the end sequence with Clark/Superman seemed rushed and many fans felt disconnected to him.
From the beginning, the two main characters were on an uneven playing field in terms of their development. Bruce Wayne/Batman was a much more fleshed out character and his story seemed to overshadow Clark/Superman. In the Ultimate Edition, a balance is struck between both characters. What results is an end sequence that feels very different and becomes more emotional due to a new investment in Clark/Superman.
Additional footage at the end also allows the audience to better absorb the events that just occurred and gives the sequence more weight. All of those factors culminate in a resolution that becomes much more satisfying.
The Road Ahead
After watching the ultimate edition, I am optimistic for future films in the DCEU including Justice League in 2017.
After audiences saw Batman v Superman in theaters, there was a major sense of displeasure and uncertainty for the franchise. I would also place myself in that camp. I have been critical of Zack Snyder in past articles, but the Batman v Superman Ultimate Edition shows just how much his original vision was altered in the theatrical release.
While the Ultimate Edition is far more superior to the theatrical cut, it is not a perfect film by any means. There are some pacing issues with story, complete character motivations are still left to be desired, the name "Martha" still lacks impact during a particular moment and the film is still tonally joyless.
Yet despite all of its flaws, the Ultimate Edition works on so many more levels with a much more coherent storyline and dramatically improved character development when compared to the theatrical cut. If Warner Brothers and Zack Snyder can bring all of the lessons learned from Man of Steel and Batman v Superman to Justice League, fans could be in store for his best film in the DCEU.