Feature: The Ultimate Cut of Batman v Superman doesn’t fix the film but it does supplant it

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There’s been no shortage of opinions about the state of DC’s upcoming movie slate since the release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice earlier in the year.

While I came away from it tentatively-positive the first time around, many came away disappointed and angry with the film. Zack Snyder’s second mainline superhero epic was hardly the resounding success it needed to be. Still, with a global box office take of almost $900 million dollars, it’s hard to dismiss it entirely and easy to argue that Batman v Superman didn’t get at least something right. That’s kind-of what makes the Ultimate Edition of the film such a compelling concept. There are plenty of great films cut down to size by a theatrical edit – why can’t this be another one of them?

If you’re watching the Ultimate Edition cut expecting it to magically resolve all of the issues you had with the film, you’re probably going to be disappointed. That’s not to say that this cut of the film isn’t better – it definitely is. It’s just not better enough. A longer run-time makes the foundations of the film more solid but it can hardly change the shape of what’s being build on top of it. 

As you might expect, the extra scenes allow the narrative to flow better and the world constructed around the titular conflict feels better realized for both Superman, Batman and everyone caught in-between.

All up, it makes for more coherent viewing but it’s not the game-changer idealistic fans of Snyder’s work or DC superheroes might have hoped. That said, if you’re in the minority that came away happy with BvS‘s theatrical release, the small additions here are sure to cement the Ultimate Edition‘s pre-eminent placing in any pre-Justice League marathons.

If you’re going to watch this film, this is the best way to do it. Batman v Superman is already a long film – this cut doesn’t change that. What it does do is make more of what length feel earned. 

The narrative padding makes easier to see and understand the things that Zack Snyder is trying to accomplish with this film. Furthermore, it shines a spotlight on why it all goes wrong and buckles under the pressure of its own ambition.

Like the title somewhat-suggests, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a four way struggle between Batman, Superman, setup for 2017’s Justice League and an adaptation of the infamous ‘Death of Superman’ story arc. There’s an astounding amount of stuff going on here, even before the Ultimate Cut adds into the mix. Where the original cut fell drastically short of these intentions, this version gets closer. Even if it still doesn’t quite make it over the line.

The biggest beneficiary here is likely Lois Lane (Amy Adams). While Lois’ investigations into the desert shootout that acts as the film’s (third) prologue felt like an afterthought in the original film, they feel more developed and justified here. It feels like her investigations serve a purpose beyond just ensuring she has something to do between being romantically involved with Clarke and being abducted by Lex.

Beyond Lois, there are a number of other new characters and subplots in the mix. We get a better feel for the harsh world in which Ben Affleck’s Batman operates and spend more time exploring the fallout from the events in Africa. All up, these parts of the film feel like they contribute more and more meaningfully to the overall arc of the film than they did in the original version.

There are also number of scenes that further clarify why people assume Superman is responsible for the attack at the Senate and why he was unable to see it coming. Unfortunately, these smarter additions are counter-weighed against a more-puzzling sequence wherein Superman helps the wounded after the attack. It’s not Superman’s actions here that are puzzling – it’s very true to his character  – but they further complicate the way the world reacts to the explosion.

The first half of Batman v Superman is a film that takes a cool direction and asks interesting questions but the second half suggests it doesn’t care enough about the answers. The conclusions it finds to its big questions it tries to ask about the nature of gods, monsters and heroes manifest as the same old ordinary CGI-blockbuster punch-up you’ve seen a dozen times before.

Interesting;y, the Ultimate Edition really suggests that – while the film draws on the comics aplenty – the audience maybe shouldn’t. Both the Batman and Superman here aren’t quite the characters we know. At least, not yet. Batman is painted as a brutal vigilante. Superman is fallible and perhaps starting to get caught up in the myth around him.

Given just how much of Ben Affleck’s Batman dominates this film, it’s easy to lose sight of what Snyder is trying to do with the Man of Steel. The tension in this story all comes down to the way that Lex, Bruce and Clark see one perceive the power and perspectives of one another. Both Lex and Bruce mythologize Superman as a divine figure but Clark’s entire arc in the film is about him not being able to live up to that.

Batman v Superman is as much about the both of them discovering some shared humanity in one another as it is them coming to blows. Snyder’s Batman is one who has only ever encountered the worst of people and is almost unable to see Superman’s actions as genuine. Presumably, the idea is that the Batman we’ll see in future films is one inspired by Superman’s death and that Superman, when he returns, will be similarly humanized.

Batman v Superman wants to be a lot of things – but it can’t pull this balancing-act off. It wants to be a dark reintroduction for Affleck’s Batman. It wants to be an even-darker and politicized middle chapter in the story of Henry Cavill’s Superman. It wants to redefine our understanding of Lex Luthor to one that echoes Victor Frankenstein as much as it does Mark Zuckerberg. It wants to be the world-expanding film that sets up the rest of DC’s filmic universe and it wants to be the mainstream superhero blockbuster that everyone goes to see. There’s an immensity to the film’s ambition that makes it an engaging and interesting watch, often in spite of itself.

However, with so many different intentions at play, it’s no surprise the film fails to properly deliver many of them. If you’re expecting the Ultimate Edition to amend this, you probably weren’t paying enough attention to what went wrong with the film in the first place.

There’s no simple fix to be found here. The foundations of this film are fundamentally unsteady. However, there’s often more interesting sentiments to be said about failure than success and (if nothing else) the Ultimate Edition of Batman v Superman provides plenty of those.

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