I realize the door I’m about to open here, but longer doesn’t necessarily mean better. The latest example of this is the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition three-hour cut that was released on Digital HD Tuesday. (Even the title demonstrates how unwieldy this entire venture is, right?)
As you surely know by now, BvS was a critical disappointment — and probably a commercial one from Warner Brothers’ standpoint, even though the film made approximately $875 million at the global box office ($330 million in the United States). Fans were generally divided over the movie, though I think it’s fair to say that a majority leaned toward negative opinion. (I wonder what the split was with comic book fans, as opposed to superhero movie fans. Did more comic book geeks like the obvious nods to Frank Miller’s classic series The Dark Knight Returns and thus give it more of a pass?)
This was supposed to be the launchpad for WB’s DC Films universe, building toward their version of a superhero team-up blockbuster in Justice League. Yet critics and fans seemed to have significant reservations about Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman making up a big-screen Super Friends, especially since there was nothing friendly about the grim, dark universe (and color palette) director Zack Snyder created for these iconic heroes.
Where was the joy? Where was the fun? Why does everyone here seem so conflicted and miserable? And does the sun ever come out in these versions of Metropolis and Gotham City?
But very soon after Batman v Superman hit theaters, word of an “Ultimate Edition” extended cut circulated, perhaps trying to appease fans and stanch the negative buzz against the film. Never mind that quickly revealing that there will eventually be a presumably better version of the film basically admits that the theatrical edition was a mess.
Equating more with better is Snyder’s move, though. There are three different versions of another of his comic book adaptations, 2009’s Watchmen, available for your viewing pleasure.
The original theatrical cut (which I happened to like and will defend, by the way) nearly ran three hours, but I think most fans were OK with that, given that Snyder was trying to distill a 12-issue miniseries into a movie. The director’s cut added nearly a half-hour of footage. Then there was the “Ultimate Cut,” which not only included the additional footage but also spliced in the animated “Tales of the Black Freighter” pirate story that was a key part of the comic book.
Besides the commercial enterprise of selling another version of the movie and getting fans to spend more money on something they may not have fully enjoyed the first time, the hope for this “Ultimate Edition” is that it results in a better movie. Hey, this is the story Zack Snyder wanted to tell! In my review of Batman v Superman, I wrote that much of the movie “lacks any flow, simply providing a collection of scenes.” Would the added footage add some clarity, perhaps lay down some mortar in between the bricks?
Maybe this would even be a different movie, as was the case with Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven. I certainly didn’t have such a lofty expectation, but I lined up on the side of hoping that a movie I badly wanted to love might be salvaged with this extended version. I’m probably a sucker, but I gave Warner Brothers more of my cash to see if Snyder had actually made a better movie before he had to slice it up for theatrical consumption.
After watching three hours of Batman v Superman, I can say rather confidently that, yes, I’m a sucker. The “Ultimate Edition” isn’t a better movie; it’s just a longer one. Several other movie bloggers posted reviews saying this was a vastly improved film by restoring that half-hour of cut footage. To me, that’s an almost embarrassing overreaction, tipping off a deep desire for this to be a good movie. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with that. I certainly want a really good movie featuring Batman and Superman. (Though I’d have preferred a sequel to 2013’s Man of Steel first.)
With the restored footage, Batman v Superman Ultimate Edition is a more coherent movie. In particular, the storyline involving Lois Lane going to interview an African warlord and Superman intervening, only to be framed for causing widespread slaughter, makes much more sense. Even better, it becomes clearer just to what lengths Lex Luthor goes to turn public (and political) opinion against Superman, while also manipulating Superman and Batman into a confrontation. And there is just a bit more action added to the title fight between the two iconic superheroes.
But if you didn’t like Batman v Superman to begin with, this “Ultimate Edition” isn’t going to change your opinion. If you were on the verge of liking it, maybe the extra footage will give you the nudge you needed. And if you were among those who liked this movie the first time around, the longer version provides more to enjoy.
I still think the dream sequences don’t work at all, and the intention to launch the Justice League franchise feels like studio notes. Oh, and Martha. Yet my appreciation for certain aspects of the film deepened. Ben Affleck’s version of Batman and Bruce Wayne is the closest thing to the character whose adventures I grew up reading. There’s a bullying side to him that bothers me more each time I see this movie, but maybe Batman has always fundamentally been a bully.
To me, Henry Cavill can be a good Superman, but needs a better script that allows him to do so. (We do see Clark Kent be more of a journalist in this version of the film, which is an intriguing side unseen in previous movies.) However, this entire venture still comes off to me as Zack Snyder wishing he’d been able to make a Batman movie instead of a Superman film to begin with. He clearly has a far greater love for that character and his mythology.
Now that Warner Bros. has gotten a bit more money out of us (and I’m shelling out for the Blu-ray that will be released on July 23 for those special features), I think the studio would prefer that we largely forget about BvS and anticipate Justice League instead. Hopefully, Snyder and the DC Films producers learned from their mistakes here and make a better film for it. Ultimately, Batman v Superman may serve better as an informative tool and painful first step in a franchise, rather than an entertainment product.