Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice starts his roll-out to the home video market today, as both the theatrical and R-rated Ultimate Cut of the film become available for sale digitally on streaming services like iTunes, Vudu, and Amazon.
While some of us had an opportunity to see the Ultimate Cut early when it was briefly released to Best Buy's CinemaNow video service earlier this month, it's the first opportunity for most fans to see the longer version of the movie, which was cut for both content (the longer cut features more extreme fight sequences which bumped the Motion Picture Association of America rating to an R) and time (it clocks in at 3 hours).
To really know whether it's an improvement on the original or not, you have to have seen them both side by side. I'll address the film itself up top and then talk a little bit about the differences between thw two takes.
Fearing the actions of a god-like Super Hero left unchecked, Gotham City’s own formidable, forceful vigilante takes on Metropolis’s most revered, modern-day savior, while the world wrestles with what sort of hero it really needs. And with Batman and Superman at war with one another, a new threat quickly arises, putting mankind in greater danger than it’s ever known before.
The Review (WITH SPOILERS)
First thing's first: I unabashedly loved Batman v Superman.
While there were elements of the film that weren't "my" Superman, it was visually and thematically interesting. It kept my interest, and I never found it to be as convoluted as many others did.
SPOILERS AHEAD. If you haven't seen the film yet, skip forward to the next pane and I'll talk about the which version you should try.
Much like Captain America: Civil War, which came shortly after it and was being filmed around the same time, the two heroes are pitted against one another by a sinister, ingenious outside force. It's not a surprising revelation, to be honest, but the complexity of Luthor's elaborate plan has really thrown some people.
It worked fine for me in the theatrical cut, but it admittedly did jump around quite a bit, leaving fans who didn't have a sense for where it was going grasping for connections. Anatoli Knyazev's role in the master plan was pretty baffling for some people, too, although I didn't have that problem.
The actual Batman/Superman throwdown was built up to for much longer than the fight itself lasted...but that's as it should be. Who wants to see the good guys beat each other bloody for an hour? Even the fifteen minutes or whatever it was that they fought in the movie was about as much as I felt like I wanted to see it.
There were certainly some leaps in logic, but none that seemed particularly egregious to me. I followed them all, and once we got around to watching the Ultimate Cut, we'll talk about how that worked out.
Obviously here Zack Snyder is laying the groundwork for the larger DC Extended Universe, and talking about his style now gives me the benefit of a bit of hindsight.
While the tone of Man of Steel and Batman v Superman doesn't bother me, it's good to hear that the movies are each going to have their own thing going on -- that Justice League won't feel just like these movies, and that what has been seen and heard from the upcoming super-team-up is promising. It will be interesting to see the ways Snyder retains his identifiable look and feel in a world where there's got to be so much color and light.
That said, it worked for what he was trying to do, and while you can debate whether what Snyder is going for is worthwhile, I think it's pretty clear that he accomplished what he set out to do in most respects.
Superman is probably the weakest link of the film, which pains an old Super-fan like me.
Cavill ably depicts the Man of Steel, although his Clark Kent is often sullen and ponderous. He’s given little to do on that front in the script, and bafflingly, Martha Kent’s “you don’t owe the world anything” monologue reeks of Jonathan Kent’s paranoid speeches from Man of Steel…but when we see Jonathan’s ghost, he gives Clark some pretty damn sound advice.
I like Clark’s relationship with Lois; it’s the only thing about him that feels real. The tub scene is cute, if a little over the top, and the idea that so many of his problems as Superman come from trying to be there for her…well, it fits the “super consequences” that producer Chuck Roven told me they felt would come with super powers.
Batman was absolutely high point. Bruce Wayne is relatable, his broodiness feels earned and real, his paranoia feels justified, and at the end of the day Affleck knocks both Bruce Wayne and Batman out of the park.
There’s a lot of complaining that Batman kills people in this film. He does. And he does it with guns — although it’s not like he’s going into combat with a gun in hand. He’s using cannons on his car and plane — like he’s done in every film version — and he’s taking the arm of gunmen who are trying to kill him and redirecting it (not fatally, I'd add). Anyone who tells you he kills with abandon is either lying, wrong, or counting the nightmare/fantasy sequence that happens during a post-apocalyptic future.
Wonder Woman is, so far, mostly a mystery. She gets great moments, has great fight choreography, and Gadot is both charming and beautiful in and out of costume. That said, we didn't get enough to say very much.
Lex Luthor was an odd distraction. I wanted to like the change from traditional type, and I didn't actively dislike Jesse Eisenberg's take like so many viewers did...but it just felt like the next cartoonish step beyond Gene Hackman's Luthor. A little too silly for the film it was in.
This movie can't quite decide what it wants to do with Lois. It seems they want her to play the role of Iris Allen; she's Clark's rock, the one who keeps him grounded and human.
In that way, she's fine. She feels a little like a narrative device -- especially when they draw the 1:1 comparison to Martha Kent in that way -- but she's fine. And Amy Adams is, as ever, a terrific actress who does great work as Lois.
The problem is when they start using the classic damsel-in-distress thing that's been done in basically every Superman movie ever made. I grew up reading the post-John Byrne Superman comics, with the idea that Lois could easily kick Clark's ass if he didn't have powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. So she creeps, frightened, away from the 90-pound Lex Luthor and ultimately lets him shove her off a building without a fight, it's frustrating. Surely, there was a better way to get where you needed to be?
Similarly, we get the hamfisted "I'm not a lady, I'm a journalist," which is fun and all but ultimately wasted since they don't do much with her as a journalist. And this is in a movie where the first act is Jason Bourne-level conspiracy stuff; she totally could have shown off her investigative chops in a way that didn't get a bunch of people killed and redeemed her mistakes in the desert.
I'd have liked to see a little more of the Lois and Clark dynamic; that scene in the bathtub is almost painfully cute, but as somebody who grew up in the '90s, I love watching Lois and Clark be cute together.
What's wrong with Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice?
This is a two-pronged question. There's a question of what I perceive to be wrong with the film, and there's what is wrong from a big-picture perspective, in terms of public perception, reception from critics and casual moviegoers, and the like.
For me personally, I had no major issues with Batman V Superman. If I had to pick one thing to go after, it would be Clark Kent and his world. Sure, the Daily Planet was fun and it was fairly well-defined, but Martha Kent, like her husband before her, utterly lacked any sense of being an inspirational figure, or raising someone who is capable of being as good as Superman needs to be.
In the comics I read growing up -- the ones on which the world of Batman V Superman are largely based -- Clark Kent was the "real guy," and Superman was a means to an end. Here, we get the opposite: like in the Silver and Bronze Ages, Superman spends a lot of time fixating on Krypton -- a world he never actually lived on. That never sat right with me in the comics, and it doesn't work for me in the film, either. The idea of making Superman a true outsider doesn't work for me: I like him as more a Captain America figure: he may be from somewhere else, but it doesn't get him down.
In this film, Clark's parents are not inspirational. His job is an interesting backdrop but little else. He's not particularly good at his job, and that aloofness and disobedience begs the question of how he would maintain employment at a place like the Daily Planet, effectively undercutting the profoundly "real" and "grounded" world they're trying to build. In short, this isn't John Byrne's Clark Kent, but Elliot S. Maggin's...and in that version, Clark was never all that compelling a character.
This bleeds over into the love story with Lois; it's hard to know what she sees in him as Clark, other than the fact that he's Superman when they're at home. Part of that is the Cavill defies the odds and makes himself the one and only person alive who has no chemistry with Amy Adams -- but most of it is the way the character is written.
All in all, Clark Kent feels like a man completely defined by his other-ness, by his life as Superman. And that's driven home at the end when he's buried in a coffin in Smallville before friends of the family.
Why is the Smallville funeral such a problem for me?
There was something absolutely heartbreaking about Jonathan and Martha Kent in "Funeral For a Friend." They had to bury a box of their son's toys and childhood things, alone in a cornfield, because they couldn't gain access to their son's body. Superman, after all, belonged to the world.
There was an upside, though: When Superman came back, Clark's body had never been found. This meant it was plausible enough for him to ave been trapped under rubble, only to be "discovered" and rescued a few days after Superman's return.
Once you put that pine box in the ground in Smallville, you're declaring that you have nothing more to say about Clark Kent. And that's a huge loss.
I liken it to one of my big problems with recent comic books. They're so event-driven, so preocuppied with world-building, that it's rare for a superhero's supporting cast to get much, if any, attention. More often than not, superheroes surround themselves only with other superheroes, which makes the Marvel and DC Comics Universes fairly one-note a lot of the time.
So, that's me. What's wrong with the film from the perspective of others?
There are a lot of answers to this; it's a deeply divisive film. Because so much focus right now has been on the box office numbers and its seeming inability to reach the $1 billion mark as the studio had reportedly hoped, I'll focus on that and maybe touch on some other points as I go.
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is having a hard time connecting with casual moviegoers, which is likely at least in part because of the critical response and lukewarm word-of-mouth. Fans turned out in force on opening weekend, and then a significant number of them are buying another ticket (per presale retailer Fandango) -- but if you have a high volume of repeat buyers AND a huge drop, it means Joe Public isn't going.
That's borne out, anecdotally, by the fact that I haven't spoken with nearly as many people who feel like they have to see this as I did when Deadpool was in theaters, or Star Wars: The Force Awakens. My wife, who saw and enjoyed the movie, is and was exponentially more excited for Suicide Squad. Somehow, the fanboy wet dream that blew up Hall H when it was announced has become something that appeals to fewer everyday people than Guardians of the Galaxy.
There are also incredibly high expectations at play for this movie, based on the performance of the Marvel franchise and the Batman franchise over the last ten years. It's not really an apples to apples comparison to try and pick something in that vein to compare it to -- let's say Iron Man or The Incredible Hulk, Marvel's first couple of movies. In fact, I'd argue that there isn't an apples to apples comparison when you're trying to look at any two films in a constantly-changing landscape. In the last ten years, Iron Man changed the game; then The Dark Knight; then The Avengers; then Guardians of the Galaxy; and now Deadpool. All along the way, Warners has been trying to figure out how to make a Superman movie that appeals to an audience that for years said loudly and often that Superman Returns was a disappointment.
There's a story out there that argues "Batman V Superman is Too Smart For Marvel Fans," and while that's reductive, there's absolutely an element of truth to it.
Where the piece is right is that director Zack Snyder uses this film -- as he did Man of Steel -- to make a statement about the nature of superheroes. What would the real world -- our world -- be like if Superman were to suddenly appear? What would Donald Trump's America be like if we woke up one morning and not only were there strange visitors from another planet, but they come to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men? The world would go apeshit.
Where the piece goes wrong is that it maligns other approaches to superhero fiction, as if Guardians of the Galaxy or Deadpool were somehow not excellent films because they elected (not failed, by the way -- elected) not to address such issues. It's an asinine argument that undercuts the seriousness of the arguments the piece makes in favor of Snyder and his approach, and guaranteed that the comments thread would become a shitstorm of Marvel fanboys and DC fanboys yelling at each other in ALL CAPS. It was not only wrong and wrong-headed but actively self-sabotaging.
All that said, it was about a month before the movie came out that people started talking about how it might not perform at the level Warner Bros. hoped at the box office. While the first reports came out basically saying "test audiences didn't like it," soon thereafter follow-up reports said that the movie was very similar to Man of Steel: that it was challenging, philosophical, political, and ultimately divisive.
That second batch of impressions turned out to be true, of course, and that's why it was unlikely that this film was ever realistically going to make Dark Knight or Avengers kind of money.
While excellent films, those movies were narratively straightforward and morally unambiguous. They asked relatively little of their audience and provided a great deal of entertainment in return.
They also didn't ask anyone to take too much of a leap of faith in terms of worldbuilding. The Dark Knight was the sixth Batman movie in 20 years at that point and the second in a franchise, with the Gotham City of Christopher Nolan's movies already established. The Avengers was the culmination of a half-dozen prior narratively-straightforward, morally-unambiguous Marvel films.
While there isn't anything inherently superior about movies that are challenging, narratively complicated, and morally ambiguous, those sorts of films are rarely rewarded at the box office. Putting that kind of baggage onto a movie you hoped to make a billion dollars was likely a poor idea.
The Ultimate Cut
What does the Ultimate Cut offer that the theatrical cut didn't?
A keen insight into the politics of the world and of Luthor's plan, for starters. Viewers and critics who said the original version of the movie jumped around too much, had leaps in logic, or didn't make sense should see those concerns addressed by a version of the movie that restores a half an hour of footage, almost all of which was expository.
For those, like me, who actually understood and enjoyed the theatrical cut, many of the changes made actually slow the film down a bit. It's interesting because, from the mindset of somebody who knows what the movie is all about, and who's read the script and seen all the dailies, I can see why the filmmakers may have made some poor editing decisions, because it's easy to see the movie and think it makes sense because it makes sense to you.
Will the film win over critics? Perhaps some. At the end of the day, the movie is still fundamentally the same film, and the fact that Snyder's direction, the tone, and the film's handling of Superman are such controversial elements that it seems unlikely a little clarity will drastically alter the perceptions of people who are emotionally invested in disliking the film.
Would I suggest picking it up? Absolutely. For most people, it seems as though the Ultimate Cut is a better film that holds together and deals with many of the shortcomings by some of the most vocal critics of Batman v Superman.
But of course, take that for what you will. I liked the other version, too.