Much has been written about the flawed nature of Batman v Superman — too much, some might say — but the release of the new Ultimate Edition on digital (available now) and Blu-ray (later this month) puts Zack Snyder's long and bombastic superhero face-off into new perspective.
Somewhere in the middle of that vast spectrum of criticism aimed at the DC Extended Universe-launcher is the frequently-observed hypocrisy of Batman's eager trigger finger in Dawn of Justice.
Historically, on both page and screen, Batman is famed for his ability to play the vigilante and take down both criminals and enemies without the use of guns. More than just an attempt at playing up his combat skills, it's an obvious consequence of the trauma that stayed with him after the death of his parents at the hand of an armed gangster.
Before I get into the moral debate of whether or not Bruce Wayne breaks character by using an arsenal of machine guns in Batman v Superman, let's take a moment to remind ourselves of how many men Batman actually takes out with a bullet in this movie. The Youtuber Mr. Sunday Movies put together this epic compilation clip of all Batman's kills in Dawn of Justice — check it out below.
The Dawn of Justice kills are spliced with footage from Nolan's The Dark Knight for maximum comic value. It almost has me pining for a weird, super-meta spin-off in which Batman spends his down time sipping cognac and watching clips of other Batmen, but that's probably never going to happen.
In all seriousness, though, there's an interesting discussion to be had on whether or not the liberal use of guns marks a departure from Batman's long-established modus operandi, or whether it simply serves to compliment a world in which the lines between hero and villain have become increasingly blurred.
In order to construct a solid defense of the Bat's new method of combating crime — which isn't just limited to the use of guns, but also includes the somewhat sadistic habit of branding a bat mark on the skin of the lucky criminals he doesn't kill — you have to really buy into Zack Snyder's vision of a Batman whose own morality has been corrupted by the very people he's supposed to protect Gotham from, and to say that the ends justify the means.
Here's what producer Charles Roven, who worked closely with Zack and Deborah Snyder throughout the creative process, had to say about Bruce's psyche:
"He’s been jaded by the process. There’s a really amazing line in the movie — ‘20 years in Gotham, how many good guys are left? How many stayed that way?’ — and let’s face it, he’s a very damaged guy, more brutal ... We wanted him to be right on that edge, right on that razor. [How else] would he get Superman’s attention?"
As one Gothamite tells Clark Kent during his investigation into Batman: "There's a new kind of mean in him. He is angry, and he's hunting."
Still, doesn't the idea of a Batman turned to brutality by the darkness at the heart of Gotham render him just another problem to be dealt with? Doesn't it ask us to imagine that Batman lived long enough to see himself become the villain? That's not an inherently troubling idea, until you frame it against a movie in which it's actually Superman, not the Caped Crusader, whom the good people of Metropolis and Gotham have come to view as a menace, rather than a savior figure.
The truth is that, even in its enhanced, extended cut, Batman v Superman does not have a full grasp on what it wants its heroes to be. It's a movie brave enough to pull both of its leading men into the grey territory between good and bad, but in many respects there's an unjustified imbalance. Superman was made to pay with his life, despite the fact that both we and Bruce learn before the movie is done that the Man of Steel essentially a good guy after all, while Batman suffers no retribution whatsoever for the evident pleasure he takes in playing the sadist.
Even if there was an argument to be made that Zack Snyder is simply reflecting the grim reality of the world in which this story lives — that, at the end of the day, there is no justice, that sometimes the good guys are the ones who die — this realization doesn't feel earned, because Batman's innate cruel streak is never truly addressed.
There's no indication that Bruce has learned from his mistakes in assuming the worst of Superman. Instead, he leaves his new, dead friend's funeral having decided to gather the metahumans and form the Justice League. There is no justice, but Bruce desires it. He just doesn't want to look inside himself first, all too aware, perhaps, of what he might find if he did.
For all of its flaws (many of which are reduced or dealt with completely by the Ultimate Edition, which really should have been the theatrical cut), Batman v Superman remains that rare beast: A highly enjoyable blockbuster which also provokes some thought. It comes undone, though, with the notion that this Batman — armed and ready to kill — is the hero Gotham needs.
Batman v Superman: Ultimate Edition is out now in Digital HD and July 19 on Blu-ray. Justice League Part One hits theaters November 17, 2017.