Spoilers follow for anyone who hasn’t seen any version of Batman v Superman.
Upon hearing the announcement in 2013 that Warner Bros. and DC Comics would be bringing Batman and Superman together on the big screen for the first time in Batman v Superman, I was just as excited as any other fan who’d grown up enjoying their stories in comic books, TV series, and films. Then came 2016, the year that Zack Snyder’s highly anticipated first installment of the DC Cinematic Universe would launch in earnest. The response to the film from critics was brutal; the fans, less so, but still divided. The movie began earning descriptors like “grim” and “dour,” so coupling that with a 151-minute runtime left me with the decision to pass on Batman v Superman during its theatrical run.
And now the Ultimate Edition has arrived, a three-hour cut with 30 minutes of additional footage that has many praising its clearer narrative and more cohesive overall structure. So I find myself with the rare opportunity of getting to watch the Ultimate Edition without ever having seen the theatrical version; the first time I watched the R-rated Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was just the way Snyder intended it to be seen. Or at least, that’s how it’s being marketed. (If you want a breakdown of the differences between the two cuts, check out Evan Valentine’s write-up here.) But rather than being impressed with a movie that was much better than reports have led me to believe, I’m left in a state of disbelief at just how convoluted the theatrical cut must have been and am amazed that a project that should have been a slam dunk was bungled so badly.
Let’s get a few things straight: This review isn’t about DC vs Marvel; I’ve long been a fan of both comic book companies (and others) and they each have their strengths and weaknesses as publishers and production companies. Neither is it about Warner Bros. vs Disney or any other movie studio; WB is the company behind the fantastic The Dark Knight trilogy, after all. And no, it doesn’t set out to bash Snyder out of turn; I’m probably more forgiving than most of Snyder’s work: I find 300 and Dawn of the Dead highly enjoyable, the extended cuts of Sucker Punch and Watchmen each have their merits, and Man of Steel was a solid film troubled by a few glaring oversights. Unfortunately, rather than eliminating the mistakes made in the Superman standalone, they’ve been magnified, amplified, and pumped full of alien steroids in this dark, psychotic ruination of the world’s finest heroes.
Strong words, I know, but there is a surprising amount of good to be found amidst the clutter of capes and cowls. Here’s the best of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – Ultimate Edition:
Ben Affleck as Batman – The plethora of guns and automatic weapons aside, I was quite impressed with Affleck’s performance as an aging, disgruntled, and singularly minded Batman. It’s a character tailor-made for Snyder & Co’s brand of the DC Cinematic Universe: he’s dark, brooding, and violent, willing to permanently eliminate villains of any shape and size (or at least brand them) if it means protecting innocents. We’ll let that particular hypocrisy slide for the moment since the outlook works for this version of Batman, one which brings the best elements of Christopher Nolan’s cinematic version of the character together with that of Frank Miller’s Batman from “The Dark Knight Returns.” And Affleck’s physicality brings a brutal and visceral gut-punch to the fantastic fight scenes and action set-pieces; the warehouse fight is one of the best I’ve ever seen and I wanted to see more like it. The decision to make Batman a force of terror among the criminal underworld of Gotham City was one of the strongest translations from script to screen in the entire film.