There’s a saying in Metropolis — I know it’s in Gotham, probably in Metropolis — Fool me once, shame on… on you, fool me twice… you can’t get fooled again…!?
by Thom Yee
Once again we stand here, soon after the release of a version of Batman v Superman, and once again I feel compelled to begin this review by defending its predecessor, Man of Steel, if only for just a little bit. You can skip to the next section if you just don’t want to hear it.
This time, I’d like to start with some of the most common, most consistently held criticisms I’ve heard of Superman, what it is that makes him such an easily outgrown and discarded as a character from the perspective of maturity:
- He’s unbelievable, a boyscout — good for the sake of good.
- He’s unbeatable, there is no credible threat for him to face.
- His powers separate him from us, we can’t empathize with him.
- He’s the ultimate male power fantasy, living in a world that rewards him for answering his problems by hitting them.
Those are the things I typically hear about Superman, and all of them ultimately fall under the problem of character depth. There tends to be nothing beneath the surface of the character for us to find anything but the most temporary, juvenile interests before moving on.
There is, of course, an interpretation of the character who had to grow up very suddenly in front of the public under extremely harsh circumstances, who’s been confronted with difficult situations with no easy answers, whose powers merely made him the only possible solution but were in fact dwarfed by the scale of what he was faced, and who wasn’t gifted with the serenity, grace, or sanctimony of a bucolic world view and people who welcomed him with open arms. A hero who, despite having every reason to do otherwise, tries to do the right thing and wants to help people with all of the power he’s been given. That’s the Superman in Man of Steel.
Now, I understand why people don’t want to see a conflicted Superman, the producers of the DCEU have even admitted that they see that now too, but the difference between a Superman born of a kinder, more open and accepting age and a Superman from today is that our present is, all too often, a real horror show. There’s power and meaning and depth in Superman still choosing to do right in our world, and maybe the lessons learned by the man of steel in Man of Steel are up to interpretation, and maybe, like in the original Superman movie, the movie’s score carries a lot of its themes without them being outright told to us, but I really think if you don’t see the essential goodness and hopefulness in Man of Steel and how important it is to see a modern Superman struggle before reaching the same conclusions that previous incarnations of the character have come to much more easily, that may say something about you, maybe more than it does about the film itself.
However, and this is a big “however”, it was from there that the hero should have launched into a gradually but markedly brighter world, having confronted his personal demons and both the dark and light sides of his alien heritage, and come through the hero that we need, a future for the character hinted at with the more upbeat tone that Man of Steel ends with. Instead we got Batman v Superman, an unrelentingly dark, confusing, and, worst of all, poorly told take on the DC Universe’s two greatest heroes in which they fought each other under very forced and kind of hard to understand circumstances. That was not the vision most of us wanted for the Expanded Universe of DC heroes (or villains, really) we’re getting now. And now there’s an even longer version of the movie.
What’s an “Ultimate Edition?”
Things just got infinitely better for fans of this year’s blockbuster Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice with the announcement of an Ultimate Edition in a variety of Blu-ray configurations. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition contains a full 30 minutes (!) of story and action not seen in the theatrical version (this extended cut is rated R). ~ straight from the Warner Bros. blog
So I don’t know if “infinitely better” is a term that should be tossed around as lightly as Warner Bros. just did in that statement, and I’m certain that the comparative superiority of Batman v Superman’s Ultimate Edition can’t be properly called infinite, but the fact that an ultimate edition exists and is being released is definitely better news for us than just the release of the theatrical cut (it’s also kind of weird to see a movie studio’s marketing speak make use of a parenthetical exclamation). To be clear, this Ultimate Edition is not a different movie in any way that really matters. If you hated it, and you had every reason to, you’ll still hate it, and if you loved it, I don’t think you’ll love the movie much more now.
What Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition really is is the movie you were supposed to see. Which, by extension, makes the movie you may have seen in theatres the version nobody should’ve seen. The theatrical version of the movie is what happens when you have a combination of short attention spans among moviegoers, uncomfortable seats in theatres, and the fact that longer movies make less money if for no other reason than shorter movies can be screened more times each day they’re in theatres.
So is it any better?
From a quantitative perspective, the most notable difference between the theatrical cut of Batman v Superman and this Ultimate Edition is that this one is half an hour longer. When it comes to relatively beloved movies like the The Lord of the Rings and their Extended Editions, these types of additions are usually well received because the many fans relish spending even more time in their worlds (though The Return of the King’s multiple endings really started to push it), but when it comes to a movie as widely reviled and potentially destructive to the overarching franchise as Batman v Superman, a now three-hour super cut might seem like a daunting thing to approach. The good news is, even though it is longer, it actually feels shorter, and that’s mostly because Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition is pretty much just the un-screwed up version of the movie. Or at least less screwed up.
If you were looking for a Batman v Superman movie that mostly makes sense (and I hope you are, because there are very few movies that turn out well when they don’t), then good news, the Ultimate Edition does a much better job of hanging together and not bothering the back of your head with things that don’t add up. Lex Luthor’s plan to set the two heroes against each other? Now sort of works. The reason(s) why some people seem to hate Superman no matter what he does? Now more clear. The ghost of Clark’s dad suddenly showing up? Now less jarring. The whole mess of a scene in Africa that opened the movie on a bad note? Kind of necessary now. That scene where Lex forces a grown man much older than him to eat a piece of candy right out of his hand? Still really awkward and disturbing, but now more hilarious with distance from the first time I saw it. Everything that’s been added to the movie adds significantly to the basic sense and flow, and the additions feel seamless, probably because they aren’t additions as much as they are restorations of the original piece.
There’s one moment in particular that adds significant depth to Clark Kent himself, where he simply calls his mom for advice and they talk about how much they miss Pa Kent, and it’s the kind of scene that makes Superman an actual person in what’s, ostensibly, a movie about him rather than just a character occupying space until he’s supposed to hit something. That scene alone goes a long way to making Superman feel real, it made me care a lot more about what he was going through, and it couldn’t have been more than, like, a minute? Certainly less than two minutes. It’s the small but notable additions like that that go a long way in making me buy into what I feel is the movie’s central argument with these characters, that there is no truly right way or right answer for complex problems no matter who the protagonist may be or how much power they have. Frankly, that was a point I almost entirely missed from seeing the theatrical cut.
What Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition doesn’t do, however is change the movie or somehow make it more palatable if you hated it. It’s still dark, it’s still sorrowful, it’s still not much fun, it’s still kind of boring when it should be anything but, and there are still a few significant events in the movie that won’t mean much to anyone who’s not already familiar with the subject matter. Those things are still present and really no different, it’s just that now if you don’t like the movie, most of your dislikes will be more a matter of story choices rather than storytelling mechanics.
A movie I hated is now half an hour longer and I’m supposed to watch it again?
With the first two chapters in the DC Extended Universe — Man of Steel and Batman v Superman — having proved controversial to say the least, a pervasive argument has grown about Zack Snyder, their director, that these movies are being brought to us by someone who just doesn’t understand these characters. There’s at least a little bit of validity to that argument, just like it’s also valid to say that everybody has their own specifically unique thoughts and feelings on characters as broadly well known as Superman and Batman (and Wonder Woman), and you’re never going to please everyone. That doesn’t excuse the more extreme choices made with the DCEU versions of the characters we’re now getting, but I think a lot of the same types of choices can be found in works like Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, in which that writer/artist mostly uses Batman less as the hero we’ve known and more as a mouth piece for his own deeply cynical beliefs and overtly political philosophies, and people seemed to like that book (or at least they’ve been told to like it).
A part of me really does feel for Zack Snyder, though, because it must have been pretty tough to sit through months of criticms of his basic storytelling abilities knowing that his original vision was much more coherent. On the other hand, he’s supposed to be a professional, he (and his team) should have known what theatrical running time they were supposed to be aiming for, and he should have been able to make a movie that holds together even in an shortened, edited, non-“Ultimate” version. The added scenes in the Ultimate Edition of Batman v Superman cause most of the story to now make basic sense, clarify the movie’s themes with small but important additions, and ultimately add up to a much more satisfying experience by making you feel and think things about the movie beyond “Why is this happening?”
The Ultimate Edition is also, mostly, just a case of fixing mechanical problems, and for a lot of you, that simply clears the way to hate it as a movie rather than hate it as a story that doesn’t work on a foundational level. It makes enough sense now, at least enough to pass the test of the plot not actively bothering you, but it’s not a cut that changes the movie’s overall approach to the characters, it’s not a cut that brightens the DC Extended Universe, and it’s not going to make that whole “Martha” scene suddenly sit right. For me, I appreciate this more complete version of the movie more than its theatrical cut, but that simply means the movie has now earned my three-star rating rather than me just kind of wanting to give it that score mostly on the strength of crazy things like the Flash-Crisis on Infinite Earths reference that meant a lot to me but probably didn’t mean anything (or make any sense) to you. So no actual change in our score.
Thom’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition final score
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