Review: The Case for Batman v. Superman (UE)
First, a disclaimer: If you have seen neither the theatrical nor the ultimate edition of this movie and do not want a few plot points revealed, then please watch the movie before reading this. While I keep my discussion of the story and certain major developments limited to my earlier review of the theatrical version, much of what I have written relies heavily on familiarity with that release. In other words, brave readers, Here there be Spoilers…
I’ll begin by saying that the Ultimate Edition of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, which adds about half an hour of footage to the theatrical release, does not do enough to make this a great a movie. If you despised the theatrical cut, it is unlikely this version will win you over. There are still a lot of dubious motivations and decisions at play here and the extra material doesn’t change that. That said, while these additions don’t necessarily make Batman v. Superman a great movie, they do make it a better movie — assuming you have three hours to spare.
So, how exactly does it improve the movie? Well, there are a number of items in the Ultimate cut that add some much-needed context missing from the theatrical cut. I will compartmentalize them as best I can:
Murder in Nairobi
In the opening scenes of the movie; the murder of the paramilitary soldiers in Nairobi is given far more detail. Their bodies, which are riddled with bullets by Anatoli Knyazev (KGBeast) and his LexCorp goons, are also incinerated. This makes it seem like Superman heat-visioned them to death. It’s clear he is being set-up. This also explains why Lois Lane quickly scrambles to investigate the origin of the one surviving bullet in her journal and why an oblivious KGBeast doesn’t think twice about leaving evidence behind. It doesn’t, however, explain why Lex furnished his goons with proprietary bullets in the first place. While the movie still ultimately makes this pointless, it is not as large a plot hole as the original left for audiences. There is clearly some thought and motivation behind the action and the added footage does a little to help alleviate the incredulity of the fervent suspicion levied against Superman.
The False Witness
Relatedly, there is an extended subplot that develops around a bit character from the theatrical run. Although Kahina Ziri (Wunmi Mosaku) is originally shown as a woman providing testimony against Superman in court, the new cut shows her to be an actress who is paid by Lex Luthor to lie publicly and further incriminate Superman. This does two things:
A.) It gives Clark Kent an opportunity to investigate the claims against Superman (himself) beyond what is shown in the news and fleshes out his struggle and genuine desire to understand the frustration of the everyman. This is tiny in scope, but huge in impact. It certainly helps build a case for the Man of Steel beyond what was provided originally. Further, as a result of a few choice interactions, it also gives some insight into his growing mistrust of Batman and of the city’s split support and fear of the same.
B.) It develops Senator June Finch’s (Holly Hunter) character by allowing some time to showcase that she is not some by-the-numbers demagogue, but rather a legitimately thoughtful politician. Eventually, this plot point ends with Kahina’s murder, but not before she is able to confess her wrongdoing to the senator. This all occurs prior to the court hearing with Superman on Capitol Hill. Not only is this significant because it shows the Senator understands that Luthor’s motivations are sinister, it also explains her sense of dread when she sees the now infamous jar of urine beside her. That, when coupled with Lex Luthor’s strange absence from the proceedings, helps relate why the senator is suddenly gripped by fear. Prior to this, her reaction seems largely disproportionate and relatively unfounded.
A Savior Goes to Washington
After the explosion on Capitol Hill, Superman stays to help the victims. This change is fantastic, because he just flies away like a damn sociopath in the original. It adds to his humanity and is far more in line with the character — not just the comic book version, but also as it relates to the story. Couple this with the scenes where Clark is actually out and about and it really starts to come together. His heroism is far more evident and it helps to establish that he does not fly from disaster to disaster callously leaving victims in his wake. After this event, Superman still leaves Metropolis and absconds to the mountains, but not before confiding in Lois that he did not see the threat coming. He blames himself, in fact, for his inability to stop the senseless bombing. This plot point is actually tied up later in the movie when Lois Lane uncovers that Wallace Keefe’s (Scoot McNairy) wheelchair is lined with lead. This explains why Superman didn’t detect the bomb. As a bonus, she also discovers that the chair contained the same metal from bullets used to murder the soldiers in Nairobi.
A New Brand of Justice
As part of his continued investigation into Batman, Clark Kent is seen addressing the partner/relative of the branded criminal from the beginning of the movie. Recall that, for some reason, being branded by Batman was the equivalent of a death sentence in Gotham’s prison system. While this is never explained in either version of the film, there is an added scene where this man is transferred to a Metropolitan jail and then brutally murdered. It is revealed that KGBeast pays someone to extend the prison murders outside of Gotham and further Batman’s infamy. This helps the narrative because Clark appears to make somewhat of a connection between the orphaned child, himself and Bruce Wayne. This also advances Luthor’s plot by adding to the case against Batman in Clark Kent’s eyes. It is also important to note that this would seem to suggest Lex Luthor has already deduced the secret identities of the titular heroes at this point. Presumably, his actions indicate that he had this knowledge at the onset of this movie and certainly by the point he brings them together at his benefit for the libraries in Metropolis, as both Clark and Bruce receive unexpected invitations. This adds some more meaning to the encounter between the three at the event.
Doomed by the Bell
At the end of the movie, before the Genesis Chamber is raided, Lex Luthor is seen communing with a figure that is holding three Mother Boxes in front of it. A cursory search of the internet reveals this to be Steppenwolf, a relative and an elite soldier of notorious DC super-villain Darkseid. Although I erroneously thought this to be Ares at first, this revelation establishes a connection with a much larger DC universe and ties into the “knightmare” experienced by Bruce earlier in the film.
Finally, the scene between Batman and Luthor in jail is extended to improved results. He more-or-less confirms that he knows Bruce Wayne is Batman. Aside from all the contextual clues provided earlier in the movie, this explains why Luthor invites both Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne to his fundraiser (see A New Brand of Justice section above). It also explains why Clark kept getting those mysterious packages defaming Batman at the Daily Planet and why Luthor targeted Bruce’s employee directly (wheelchair not withstanding).
Luthor also reveals he is going to plead insanity in order to avoid prison time. Batman responds by acknowledging that he had planned for the gambit and made special arrangements to have him sent to Arkham Asylum, a place where he still has a few “friends” left. Luthor is visibly shaken by this and then goes into his tirade about aliens and ringing bells which, given the additional footage, makes a lot more sense now.
There were a few other scenes added in, but nothing that added much to the overall plot. So again, while I wouldn’t say the Ultimate Edition serves as vindication for those involved in its making, I would argue that it is the definitive version of this film. The added scenes really do help to provide context to a lot of the decisions made throughout the course of the movie and generally make the experience less messy. It’s a shame that this isn’t the first version of the movie viewers got, as I feel this would have been a lot more digestible for critics despite the extended running time. I left my original review of the movie with some hope for a better tomorrow. It’s true that Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition may not have been the payoff I was looking for, but it certainly did a bit to nurture that expectation.
Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition
Release Date: June 28th, 2016 (Digital); July 18th, 2016 (Blu-Ray)
Director: Zack Snyder
Writers: Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer
Distributed BY: Warner Brothers Pictures
Run Time: 3hrs 2 minutes
All images courtesy of Warner Brothers Studios.