Picture the scene: it’s March of this year. Warner Bros. executives are sitting in a conference room. The atmosphere is chilly, and it’s not the air-con. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a film decades in the making, has just been released to what we shall call a ‘lacklustre response’ from critics and audiences alike (our review was one of the kinder ones). The box office numbers are record-breaking, but still considered disappointing by those in the know about the film’s extensive production and marketing costs (apparently around $400m). BvS is the linchpin of their plan to program against the Marvel juggernaut – it’s the kick-off of their own cinematic universe, and they’ve been shot in the knee before they even got off the starting line. Something needs to be done. But what?
In hindsight, the solution seems obvious – add another subheading. Released with an extra 30 minutes of extended and deleted scenes, and promising to offer the definitive superhero punch-up experience, does Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – Ultimate Edition offer any improvement on the original release? I set out to answer that question, and hopefully offer guidance to those who are wary of sinking another three hours into the murky world of Zack Snyder’s DC Cinematic Murderverse.
Note: I’ve tried to keep this spoiler-free for both the new stuff, and the original movie.
Short answer? Its laughable how little is added to improve Batman v Superman. In many ways, the extra half-hour actually makes the movie feel shorter; rather than racing from convoluted plotline to clumsy setpiece, the story runs more smoothly with a little room to breathe. More time is given to exploring the investigative antics of the Daily Planet crew, which rounds out the characterisation of Lois and Clark as wily and dedicated reporters. Their relentless pursuit of the truth, and commitment to telling the stories that count, is a sweet way of uniting them, even as one puts aside his notebook to fly the streets of Metropolis. Their respective investigations into Lex Luthor and Batman also offer insight into the machinations of these characters whose motivations were somewhat under-served in the original release.
Through Clark we spend more time in Gotham, as he explores Batman’s newfound mean streak, making the latter’s controversial characterisation as a vicious killer seem better thought-out. I was one of the many fans upset to see 70 years of storytelling thrown aside so that Zack Snyder could let Batman shoot and immolate criminals to his heart’s content, and while this Ultimate Edition doesn’t make that much easier to swallow, it is a relief to see it acknowledged more consistently throughout the film.
Lois’ investigation of the Naromi subplot successfully corrects the issues with this vital part of the movie, which feels rushed and unexplained in the theatrical release. Several reveals during these scenes are pivotal to understanding key events in the film, as Lois gathers intel on the Naromi killings and the events at Superman’s Senate Hearing. Why might they have chosen to excise essential parts of the narrative? It appears it was easier to completely excise Jena Malone’s character from the film, rather than confuse audiences by having her pop up for a quick bit of exposition once or twice. Unfortunately Malone fans will still feel short-changed by the ultimate edition, as the talent she has displayed in other blockbusters isn’t present in her short and infrequent scenes as S.T.A.R. Labs scientist Jenet Klyburn.
As Jesse Eisenberg dances across the screen cackling like a madman, you can’t help but think that BvS’s Lex Luthor would be better suited to facing off against Adam West’s Batman from the ‘60s. Snyder’s oddball interpretation was another controversial point with fans; Lex Luthor might be a supervillain, but he’s not crazy. However as we uncover far more of his master plan through Lois’ investigations in this extended cut, we see a better glimpse of the cunning mastermind found in the comics, even if he is ultimately overshadowed by the scenery-chewing mania of Eisenberg’s hammy performance.
Ultimately the film feels more cohesive and more coherent here. While everything still descends into meaningless destruction for the final act, and none of those extra 30 minutes go towards extending the fight promised in the title, the reasoning behind ‘the greatest gladiator match in the history of the world’ is infinitely better explained. This version isn’t revolutionary, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice doesn’t suddenly become the best superhero movie of all time, or even the best film it could be. Yet for superfans looking to wash the dirty taste of the theatrical cut away, this may do just the trick.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – Ultimate Edition will be released digitally and physically on August 1st.