In many ways, Zack Snyder’s ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ is a turning point for blockbuster cinema. It highlighted not only the dangers of excess over clarity of storytelling and the true complexity of setting up any kind of cinematic universe, but also the dangers that come when criticism of a film reaches levels of hysteria. There’s no question that the film is a train wreck, but this year alone has produced far more mind-numbing and frustrating blockbusters than ‘BvS’. Its narrative incoherence and some truly appalling plot twists aside, there is something fascinating about its ambition and scale. The film is certainly a failure on many levels, but at least it’s a curious one.
This makes the Ultimate Edition so much more intriguing. Snyder (whose excess and self-confidence hides some genuine talent) restores around 30 minutes of footage to the film, making what was already a long film even longer at 182 minutes. However, rather than adding more action (something the film really didn’t need), most of this extra material ends up being about character and story. Suddenly, plot lines, motivations and minor details that seemed incongruous are allowed to play out properly, and a film that always felt like it moved at a frenetic, illogical pace has the space to breathe. Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) and Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) slowly circle one another, investigating and building both their arsenal and their conviction, and the extra character details makes their motivations and their consequential actions make far more sense. We also see a touch more detail for the supporting characters like Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Perry White (Laurence Fishburne), and while this doesn’t divert from the abrasively operatic Lex Luther (Jesse Eisenberg), it certainly gives some more room for it to stretch in.
Essentially though, for better or worse, this is still the same ‘Batman v Superman’, albeit an improved one. For better, there are still some incredible sequences, particularly involving the instantly iconic Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). Snyder may lack any subtlety whatsoever, but he demonstrated in ‘Man of Steel’ (2013) that he could craft some striking and beautiful images, and the grandeur that made that film so distinct has been carried over here. This still feels like a logical continuation rather than a mild reboot, and Batman does quite cleanly fit into the pre-existing cinematic language. It also tackles some terrific concepts, such as the consequences of having vigilante justice and super-human beings (though it should be thankful it came out before ‘Captain America: Civil War’ came along and handled the same ideas in a far better manner). The film also features a cracking score from Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL, more bombastic and aggressive than Zimmer’s previous Batman scores and introducing a fantastic theme for Wonder Woman.
For worse though, you still get the Justice League on a thumb drive and the central conflict resting on the name ‘Martha’, and no matter how helpful the extra 30 minutes are, they can’t fix these fundamental problems. ‘BvS’ is such an enormous film without connecting it to a wider universe, and while the early days of Marvel turning every film into a trailer for another film to come were problematic, this rushed and tacked-on world-building in ‘BvS’ isn’t any better. It leaves gaping plot holes and feels like something added in a last-minute panic, when the film probably could have done without them and still achieved the same end. The film partially succeeds on its ambition but falls even more flat because of it.
For better or worse, this is still the same ‘Batman v Superman’, albeit an improved one.
I have no doubt that this Ultimate Edition of ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ will render the theatrical version totally obsolete in the future, and so it should - in this cut, the film feels more self-assured and ultimately becomes more emotionally satisfying. Many reviews have said that if this version had been released theatrically, the film would have had a different reaction; I don’t think this is necessarily true, as the serious problems in the film can’t be repaired, but it certainly feels closer to whatever the directors vision here is. In the end, ‘Batman v Superman’ will never be a great film, but with this new cut, at least it’s a better film. Hopefully Warner Bros and DC will learn from the mistakes of this curious, ambitious film and put their burgeoning cinematic universe on surer footing in the future.
’Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ is released this week on Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D and 4K Ultra HD. Each edition includes both the theatrical and extended cuts, along with a number of featurettes. The 2D version is also available as a limited edition digibook, and JB Hi-Fi are releasing a steelbook edition.