I didn’t like Man of Steel. Zack Snyder’s “down to earth” and “gritty” reboot of Superman was bloated (the entire Krypton sequence was pointless) with a third act that was nothing but destruction porn. Man of Steel refused to concern itself with the consequences of destroying a city and killing thousands of people. And why would it, when ohh look we’re throwing Superman through buildings this is so cool!
When it was announced Snyder would be directing Warner Bros.’ big DC Comics cinematic universe launching pad, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, I cringed. Did the studio learn nothing from Man of Steel? Yes, Snyder had a great visual eye, but he also made Sucker Punch. In short, by choosing Snyder as the de facto leader of the DC cinematic universe, Warner and DC were shooting themselves in the foot before they even started.
Pitting Batman and Superman against each other in a film should’ve been a massive event. And it was marketed as such. But the trailers weren’t inspiring, the film was mauled by critics upon release (I refused to see it), and the $872 million worldwide gross against a $250 million budget, not including marketing costs, left Warner with the realization that hindsight is 20/20, and maybe they shouldn’t have given Snyder the keys to the kingdom.
The only hope was this supposed R-rated cut Snyder teased during BvS’s theatrical release. Maybe it would cure all that ailed the theatrical version of the film. When word started trickling out that this “Ultimate Edition” was actually decent, I decided to take the plunge and see for myself.
Within the first few minutes, I thought I was in trouble. Did they really need to say this was the “Ultimate Edition” in the opening credits?
Things did get better from there, at least for a while. I can’t compare this version to the theatrical cut, but it’s mostly coherent. Much to my surprise, the first two acts of BvS: Ultimate Edition are honestly pretty good. It’s a solid conspiracy/political thriller with a puzzle at the middle that isn’t too complicated or too predictable. What else with BvS: Ultimate Edition worked?
Warning: Some spoilers ahead
Ben Affleck – Bruce Wayne/Batman
Ben Affleck is a fantastic Bruce/Wayne Batman. Murderous rampage gobbledygook aside, BvS perks up every time Affleck is on screen. His take on the character makes no apologies for being a Lothario, does real detective work (which comprise some of the best parts of the film) and wow, does making Bruce Wayne older work wonders with the banter between him and Alfred. If this is what Affleck’s solo Batman movie will be like, we are in for a treat.
Gal Gadot – Diana Prince/Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman is a bit of a mystery, and that’s part of what makes her so much fun. Most of her screen time is devoted to toying with Bruce Wayne, and she’s just playful enough to get under the playboy’s skin. Unraveling the mystery of her origins is one of BvS’s finer subplots.
Jeremy Irons – Alfred Pennyworth
Is Jeremy Irons annoyed that he’s in this film? It seems like that’s the case, which adds a fun layer of friction to his interactions with Affleck.
Laurence Fishburne – Perry White
Fishburne has a lot of fun bossing the Daily Planet’s employees around. In a film lacking a lot of energy, Fishburne’s White is a welcome respite from the dreariness overshadowing most of BvS.
The Metropolis/Gotham rivalry
Metropolis’s college football team is up on Gotham City’s team 56-0. As time expires, Metropolis pours it on with another last-second touchdown, leading to prompts that Gotham may riot. There are a lot of other tidbits, such as Wayne talking about Gotham’s influence on him, which add a nice touch to the DC cinematic universe. This is how to build a universe, with character development and backstory.
Henry Cavill – Superman/Clark Kent
Cavill isn’t necessarily a bad Superman, he just doesn’t have a lot to do. In two films, Snyder seems more interested in showing sonic booms that happen when Superman takes flight or throwing the character through a dozen buildings. For all its faults, even Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns gave the character a bit of range.
Jesse Eisenberg – Lex Luthor
What a train wreck. The hair. The mannerisms. The weird obsession with destroying Superman that’s never really explained. It seems that Luthor is written as a wild, charismatic character in Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer’s script, but Eisenberg, a fine actor, is neither wild nor charismatic. I haven’t seen someone miscast this poorly since Orlando Bloom in Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown.
Batman is not a homicidal maniac
For as good as Affleck’s portrayal of Batman is, wow does he kill a lot of people. Did everybody involved with BvS forget that Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight was almost entirely about Batman not killing people? Heath Ledger’s Joker even tells Batman the only way he can be stopped is by breaking that one rule. Yes, Batman killing every bad buy within spitting distance plays into the overall theme of the character failing to live up to Superman’s standards, but not killing people is a Batman staple. One or two errant kills here and there are fine, but the Batman in BvS snaps people’s necks, shoots them down, even shivs one dude. Not cool.
The attack on Metropolis
During the attack on Metropolis by General Zod in Man of Steel, BvS shows Bruce Wayne getting off a helicopter and driving through the city’s streets toward the destruction. Why? It isn’t to save any random citizen caught in the crossfire. No, Wayne is trying to save an executive with Wayne Financial named Jack. Nobody else seems to matter, until it’s clear to Wayne that Jack is dead. Who is Jack, besides some old white guy? We’ll never know. The sequence is designed to give us a first-person view of the chaos in Metropolis, but like a lot of BvS, it’s a lazy narrative device that could’ve easily been fixed.
The entire third act
For most of BvS, Zack Snyder keeps his over-the-top, effects-heavy style under control. Most of the plot actually works. Then, the U.S. capital building blows up, and the narrative unravels under millions and millions of dollars of BIG SPECIAL EFFECTS. The entire Doomsday bit is dumb. Why would Luthor kidnap Superman’s mom, forcing THE BIG BATMAN AGAINST SUPERMAN BATTLE ROYALE, when he’s been creating Doomsday all along? Why would Wonder Woman check her email, reading up on the secret file Luthor’s been keeping on members of the Justice League, when Doomsday has arrived? The scene itself is fine, but placing it during the big climax is just lazy. Which leads me to…
The Justice League
Bvs has entirely too much going on in it, even for a three hour film. One of the biggest issues? The damn Justice League. Every bit about them takes away from the main plot and is obviously a cash grab to set up the Justice League films. There’s a reason Marvel set up The Avengers with individual films for the characters: you can’t put the Flash in a stupid dream or show 10 seconds of Aquaman and expect people to get excited for two Justice League films. Those characters need to be firmly established, but DC and Warner are in a such a hurry to get in on that Avengers money they don’t want to put the work in.
More stupid let’s set up stuff for the Justice League films. One of the dreams begins as Bruce Wayne is waiting while his computer uploads Luthor’s encrypted hard drive that Wayne has stolen. He has this awful dream about Superman being a warlord, then the Flash shows up in some weird costume talking about Lois Lane, then Wayne wakes up just as the drive is fully decrypted, which was awfully convenient.
Give me a break. Near the end of the BIG BATMAN/SUPERMAN RUMBLE IN THE ABANDONED BUILDING, Batman is about to kill Superman with a spear tipped with Kryptonite. Knowing his mother has been kidnapped by Luthor, Superman yells, “Save Martha.” Nobody would yell out their mother’s name. They’d shout, “Save my Mom,” or something to that extent. What really happened is someone – probably Snyder – realized both Batman and Superman’s mothers were named Martha and thought it would be THE COOLEST THING EVER if that was used in BvS. It wasn’t the coolest thing ever. It was dumb.
Scoot McNairy’s character
McNairy’s character, who lost his legs in the battle during Man of Steel, is basically the embodiment of all the criticism heaped on that film for its lust for destruction while paying no mind to the consequences. In a movie already packed to the gills with plot, McNairy’s character could – and should – have been cut before filming even began.
Showing Bruce Wayne’s parents getting killed. Again.
Sure, there are some great visuals in the sequence, but how many times has the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne been depicted on screen? That’s what I thought. It’s another plot thread that should’ve been excised.
The jar of piss
The infamous jar of piss in BvS, when first introduced as a saying, works. It’s fine. Then Holly Hunter’s Congresswoman character sits down at the head of a hearing, and oh look THERE’S A BIG OLE BOTTLE OF PISS NEXT TO HER. The less said about this, the better.
Really? Olson is a CIA agent that gets offed in the first 20 minutes? SHAME ON YOU, ZACK SNYDER.
All in all, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition isn’t a travesty. Or a fiasco. Parts of it work and under the guidance of a director with a sense of subtlety and focus on narrative, BvS might’ve even been worthwhile. Instead, we’re left with a flawed, messy film that should never have been big enough to merit a THREE HOUR CUT.