Unless you’ve been in a coma or living under a rock for the past four months, you’re likely aware of the litany of negative reactions by critics (27% rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, 44% on Metacritic) to Zack Snyder’s highly anticipated Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. A runtime of 151 minutes should’ve been plenty of time to establish a new Batman/Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor, further the character development from 2013’s Man of Steel, and simultaneously set the stage for the Justice League films. Hell, Joss Whedon established 13405021 characters, storylines, and subplots in roughly the same amount of time with Avengers, it can’t be that hard, right? Apparently Warner Bros. and the post production team didn’t get that memo; cutting key explanatory scenes, shortening others, and seemingly relying on geekdom level-80 knowledge of the source material to fill in plot holes and stay with the disjointed story.
Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t a bad film. It was, however, a badly-edited, too-short version of the director’s vision. If you follow me on twitter, you know I thought the film was seriously far from terrible, which is at least somewhat supported by the much-more-favorable audience rating of 66% on Rotten Tomatoes. Shortly after suffering a 69% attendance drop Week 2 (the largest of such drop in history), Snyder and Warner Bros. announced the “director’s cut” Ultimate Edition, complete with a shiny-new R rating and 30 minutes of new footage, pushing the run time to just over three hours at 181 minutes. Batman v Superman: The Ultimate Edition saw a one-night theatrical release on June 27th (which I was lucky enough to attend) which was accompanied by the film’s release on Digital-HD, and was released on Blu-ray/DVD July 19th.
Obviously some pretty big spoilers are coming from here on out — just have to throw that out there to avoid any potential backlash. Chances are, if you opened this article you can’t be bothered with minor details like spoilers, so read on after the jump to see how the Ultimate Edition improved upon the original, as well as one small addition/fix that would have really perfected the film.
From the opening scene, the Ultimate Edition sets out to fill in the numerous plot holes that plagued its predecessor, and deliver the story Snyder had always envisioned. Lauren Cohan’s Martha Wayne is given a few extra seconds of screen time pre-gunshot, and more emphasis is placed on her name (likely to reinforce the “Martha connection” between Batman and Superman later in the film).
After a mostly untouched scene featuring Bruce Wayne watching Superman and General Zod destroy Metropolis, we get the first big chunk of added content in the fictional Nairomi, Africa. In the theatrical version, some sort of incident allegedly involving Superman occurs in the fictitious country, fueling the tension between Supes and the United States government. The only problem was, we never actually got to see what they were talking about, and less than 30 seconds was spent briefly mentioning any details.
At the onset of the desert scene, we learn that the ill-fated photographer/spy accompanying Lois Lane is in fact Jimmy Olsen. When Lois heads inside for her interview with Nairomi terrorist General Amajagh following Olsen’s assassination, Anatoli Knyazev (KGBeast) wastes no time when he instructs his comrades to “Pile the bodies, he’ll be here soon,” moving quickly to burn the mound of dead with his signature flamethrower, to make it appear as if the victims were killed by Superman’s heat vision.
Back on US soil, Clark Kent heads to Gotham, but ditches his Daily Planet assignment of covering the football team to instead try and track down and interview Kahina Ziri, an alleged survivor of the Nairomi incident. Clark’s search proves futile with no sign of her anywhere, but he is warned by a homeless man to stay off the streets at night, and to “beware the bat.” Finally, Clark stumbles upon a distraught woman and her young son, whose husband/father was branded by Batman, then later killed in lock up when the brand was discovered. This interaction (among others) leads Clark to find Batman’s actions as a brutal lone judge, jury, and executioner, to be disdainful.
During Lois’ investigation into the mysterious bullet and metal from the Nairomi incident, Jena Malone’s mystery character is FINALLY revealed (more on that later) to be a random, completely unimportant (okay, mostly unimportant) lab tech: Jenet Klyburn. Thanks to Klyburn’s research, Lois is able to deduce that the bullet and the metal in the Capitol bomber’s chair was a new alloy, created by Lexcorp. Klyburn’s work further concluded that everything in the chair was made of this alloy, except the center, which was completely lined with lead so that Superman wouldn’t be able to see the bomb, and it would appear as if he did nothing to stop it. Shortly after the bombing, Lois visits the bomber’s apartment to find freshly purchased groceries and produce, strongly suggesting he had no part in the bombing, nor any plan of dying.
Other tidbits placed throughout the Ultimate Edition include:
- Lex funded the entire Nairomi civil war, knowing it would draw Lois’ journalistic attention, which would bring Superman to her aid and kick off Luthor’s nefarious plan.
- Lex arranging the murder of the criminal that Batman branded, to further the “brutal” view of the Dark Knight.
- Ziri reveals that Lex forced her to lie, then he had Knyazev murder her before the Capitol blew up. Luthor additionally paid the homeless man who warned Clark about Batman.
- The Capitol bomber wasn’t sending his paychecks with strange messages attached to Bruce Wayne, as previously thought.
- After the bombing, an extended scene is shown of Superman flying survivors to safety outside, before leaving abruptly.
Overall, the Ultimate Edition did a really good job of filling in the major plot holes, and thoroughly showcasing Lex’s role as puppet master as well as his grand scheme. A rewatch paints Lex as much more complex than the theatrical release, which should calm some of the major critics of the character.
But for all of the things it fixes, the Ultimate Edition manages to make one MAJOR detail even worse than the theatrical: Batman’s brutality. Canonically, Batman has been against using guns, knives, bombs, or anything that could cause fatalities to his adversaries. He’s always been about hand-to-hand combat, as well non-lethal weaponry. While there are instances of Batman being slightly more brutal in his beatings (the brilliant source material, The Dark Knight Returns, being key among them) there was always a major cause for it, as well as a generally a well-timed intervention and revelation, leading to a return to form. But this incarnation of Batman, played to near perfection by Ben Affleck, is brutal to a whole new degree. Even in the theatrical film, we see Batman brand a criminal, severely break bones, and shoot guns (his own as well as ones acquired in combat) with little disregard for anyone’s safety outside of his own. The Ultimate Edition kicks things up a notch, showcasing an extended rescue scene with Batman violently dispersing the villains who were keeping Martha Kent captive. We’re lead to believe that all of this stems from watching Superman destroy Wayne Financial, with only the hint at a past Robin who had an apparent run-in with the Joker. No mention of ANY real cause outside of Superman’s battle with General Zod just doesn’t sit right with me. Batman isn’t brutal for brutality’s sake, and he wouldn’t lose his mind like that over the building’s collapse and the subsequent deaths associated with it. He’s a master tactician and strategist, afterall.
Obviously there wasn’t any real way to “fix” this by the time the movie premiered in theaters. The reshoots would’ve been far too costly and extensive for such a shift in the story. But, Snyder and Co. could’ve corrected the problem before there was one (which they may still plan on doing, we’re at the start of our newest Batman journey, after all), by listening to the fans from the beginning. When Jenna Malone’s casting was first announced, fans were quite vocal with their speculation and desire for Malone to play Carrie Kelley. In the Dark Knight Returns, Caroline Keene “Carrie” Kelley is a 13 year old with neglectful, former-activist hippie parents who are more concerned with getting a fix than raising their daughter. After Batman saves her, she buys a Robin costume and tries to battle small-time criminals in hopes of attracting Batman’s attention. After much resistance on his end, and her coming to his aid in a big way, he takes Carrie under his wing and trains her as the new Robin, years after the death of Jason Todd. As the new Robin, Kelley helps Batman to soften and become less violent, not wanting to pass that side on to his young apprentice. She also plays a key role in Batman’s big showdown with Superman, helping to stall and distract the metahuman.
Kelley’s character could easily be updated and adapted to the film world, and Malone could’ve played it well. She frequently plays characters in their early twenties or younger, and has showcased her physical abilities in the Hunger Games sequels, as well as Sucker Punch. Malone could’ve played Kelley as a millennial looking for a way to make a difference, surrounded by her apathetic, entitled roommates – or even yuppy, absentee parents. Old enough to remember Robin as a child, Kelley could take up the same mantle the way she did in the comic, trying to clean up Gotham and get on Batman’s radar. Once under Bruce’s wing, she could’ve still assisted with the epic battle near the end of the film, and would’ve made a WAY better plot device for snapping him out of his brutal haze than the “Martha connection” with Clark.
In the end, only time will tell how Snyder and his team will address Batman’s as-for-now unnecessary brutality. Aside from that, the Ultimate Edition paints a richer, fuller, and more cohesive narrative, that fixes the major plot holes and gives more depth and understanding to Jesse Eisenberg’s complex Lex Luthor – the two biggest issues plaguing the theatrical cut.