One of the most divisive superhero movies in blockbuster history, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice opened to a harsh pounding from critics - one that was followed by a heated schism that split longtime DC fans. Conversations about what worked and what didn't were often drowned out by comparisons to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in tone and in shared universe building - fanning the flames of the ongoing (and increasingly toxic Marvel/DC fanboy war). Still, disappointment and criticisms were not unwarranted, even for those who saw potential in Zack Snyder's deconstruction of DC's iconic heroes in Batman V Superman, and the 153 minute cut that hit theaters often "felt" like a paired-down version of the filmmaker's original vision.
News of an "R-Rated" Ultimate Edition that would hit Blu-ray months later was met with the same mix of cynicism and excitement as the theatrical Dawn of Justice release. Some moviegoers dismissed the Ultimate Edition as a hollow gimmick, specifically that Warner Bros. was attempting to cash-in on Deadpool's (R-Rated) success with a bloodier revision of Batman V Superman, while others remained hopeful that the extended cut would flesh out characters and story elements that were sidelined or trimmed away in favor of a more palatable theater runtime. Now, after months of waiting, the Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition has arrived - with a clear answer to the question every fan is asking: Is the Batman V Superman Ultimate Edition better than the theatrical cut?
NOTE: The following is not a revised Dawn of Justice review (read our full Batman V Superman review), not a formal review of the Ultimate Edition, nor a review of home release special features or commentaries. The purpose of this post is to break down what the Ultimate Edition improves upon, and the potential drawbacks, as well as who is likely to enjoy this full 182 minute version.
The Dawn of Justice theatrical cut pushed through a lot of plot, exposition, and action (with Snyder's trademark flare) but often cut away too fast during scenes that would have allowed the filmmaker to dig below the surface and deliver meaningful (even coherent) character development. The result was a movie that, for those who weren't put-off my the darker tone or Snyder's deconstructive approach, was still packed with plot holes and underdeveloped arcs - one that the studio, clearly, struggled to stuff into the release-friendly format of a tentpole superhero film. Fortunately, the Ultimate Edition improves upon many of the film's biggest narrative shortcomings - clarifying and/or outright answering a number of questions that had, previously, presented major plot holes and often undermined the intelligence and integrity of Batman V Superman's starring heroes.
The Ultimate Edition is not going to make converts out of viewers who thought the "Martha" moment was an idiotic resolution to the title fight or rolled their eyes at Lois Lane's disposal (then retrieval) of a kryptonite spear. There are still moments of clumsy storytelling, a significant amount of shared universe setup, and an overall dour tone but the Ultimate Edition injects a considerable amount of quality character drama and plot development back into the experience - putting more distance between the clunky parts while also providing a much more comprehensible set of side arcs that elevate every character, every narrative beat, and every thematic through-line in the process. It's worth noting this version isn't just Batman V Superman with deleted scenes added back in, it's the version that Snyder would have released - if a three-hour cut of the film wouldn't have been a turnoff for the average moviegoer. In the most basic sense, Batman V Superman doesn't just add back in key details to the plot, it also includes a number of extended scenes and subplots that (even in the most subtle instances) allow the audience to linger on interesting conversations longer than before while also clarifying entire story beats that, originally, made characters look stupid, careless, or downright unheroic.
We've put together a list of every single difference in the Batman V Superman Ultimate Edition, and there are a lot of them, but we'll highlight the main three here as well: Clark, Lex, and Lois. Above all else, the Ultimate Edition goes a long way in explaining just how long Lex Luthor had been manipulating Superman, Batman, and other people within the story - as well as the extent of the malevolent billionaire's influence. Lex's exploitation of the political system, media coverage, international relations, and vulnerable individuals, as well as Earth's heroes, are much more clearly defined in the Ultimate Edition - and serve as the connective tissue that drives nearly every single character's actions within the film. The added footage isn't going to alter the opinions of people who simply don't like Eisenberg's take on the villain but, where the theatrical cut often reduced Luthor to an unhinged weirdo, the Ultimate Edition makes it clear that he is a patient and ruthless puppeteer. Viewing the full breadth of his plan and the numerous ways he exploits the people and systems around him sets a much more intriguing precedent for the character's role in the DCEU going forward than his appearance in Batman V Superman's theatrical cut might have originally suggested.
A more intricate depiction of Lex's plan also feeds previously undercooked arcs for Lois and Clark, as well as Junior Senator June Finch, Alfred, and Bruce Wayne. In particular, Lois Lane's role is beefy and adds a lot of insight into the complex mechanics behind Lex's master plan. Her initial investigation of the African village massacre pushes Lois to pursue a series of leads that, on their own, make for a solid political thriller subplot - one that also pays off with further insight into Luthor, and the extent he took advantage of former Wayne Financial employee, Wallace Keefe. Similarly, while Lois chases her story, Clark uses his position at The Daily Planet to investigate Gotham's Batman - as well as the significance of the Bat-Brand (including a conspiracy within the Metropolis prison system) and the impact that Brand has on innocent people, not just criminals. With the added time spent included in these clipped plot arcs, the actions of Luthor, Batman, Superman, and their various helpers make a lot more sense - painting a much more coherent picture of the film as a whole (along with more recognizable versions of these iconic characters).
That all said, a three-hour and two-minute cut of Batman V Superman feels long - and it's understandable why Warner Bros. attempted to hack the movie down to a more palatable runtime for casual filmgoers. Similarly, even though the movie includes a few more light-hearted moments (especially from Perry White and Alfred) as well as more background to justify the dour tone and explain why the characters are so joyless at times, the Ultimate Edition doesn't fundamentally change how the characters are portrayed or how Snyder approached this story. So, for viewers who didn't like Man of Steel or Batman V Superman for larger reasons, such as tone, approach, and the darker characterization of DC's most iconic heroes, the Ultimate Edition is only a longer, albeit more intelligible, version of a film that probably isn't for you - and, for that reason, is likely to remain divisive, even if the final product is a better film.
Ultimately, the Ultimate Edition is most likely to satisfy fans who recognized the vision and potential in Snyder's shared universe building film - and it is the definitive Batman V Superman cut. For curious moviegoers who were not sold on Dawn of Justice or have yet to see the film, the Ultimate Edition is slightly harder to recommend - at least without a few caveats. It is the version that viewers should watch, since the thirty minutes of restored footage make an enormous difference in the overall quality of Snyder's story and characters; yet, at 182 minutes, those same casual viewers might be overwhelmed (and at times underwhelmed) by the ratio of drama to superhero action. Nevertheless, viewers who are willing to invest the time will get a much better (though still imperfect) Batman V Superman movie experience - one that should, for viewers who still have an open mind about Snyder's work in the DCEU, restore a bit more confidence in the filmmaker ahead of Justice League. If nothing else, the Ultimate Edition is required viewing for anyone who intends to jump back into the DCEU for Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman, and Justice League - because, above all else, it does a much better job of fleshing out characters that will, without a doubt, play a major role in future DC franchise films.
The Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition runs 182 minutes and is Rated R. Now available for digital purchase with a Blu-ray and DVD release set for July 12th.
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