Film: Batman v Superman (Ultimate Cut)
Director: Zack Snyder
Viewing Format: Blu-ray
*There are a few spoilers in this review, but it’s nothing that hasn’t already been ruined by the film’s marketing campaign. Enjoy.
Before you scamper away cursing obscenities under your breath, just know that I, like you, thought the trailers for Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice looked awful. Jesse Eisenberg’s take on Lex Luthor was cringe worthy, and the film’s biggest surprise had been spoiled in a desperate attempt to sell more tickets. Still, I was curious to see how this would turn out, so I waited for the inevitable Blu-ray release.
Now, to be blunt, I’ve grown tired of the superhero craze. We’ve been treated to plenty of mediocre origin flicks, and somehow the sequels manage to slide comfortably under that very low bar. And yet, superheroes have not only managed to saturate the film industry, but television and streaming services as well. So, obviously, Warner Bros. wanted to flex their DC license and cut in on the action. But instead of being patient and allowing their cinematic universe to grow organically, they produced a single Superman film and then decided, ‘What the hell. Let’s go for broke!’ Because for all intents and purposes, that’s what Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is: A way for the studio to catch up to Marvel in about two and a half hours, or three if you watch the Ultimate Cut. But the big question is, of course, did they pull it off?
I may have skipped this in theaters, but I heard plenty of criticisms about the theatrical cut from both the media and friends. The most common complaint had centered on character interactions which didn’t make sense within the film’s context. Knowing an ‘ultimate cut’ was on the way, many had speculated it would at least make for a more coherent film. So, when I plopped down in my man cave to give this a spin, I figured there was only one way to go.
Now that I’ve seen it, Batman vs. Superman isn’t anywhere near as bad as people make it out to be. It’s deeply flawed, sure, but Zack Snyder isn’t Hitler, nor is his film the Necronomicon on celluloid.
We get a taste of Batman’s origins, but for the most part, this film begins from Bruce Wayne’s perspective while he watches people die as buildings collapse. This unspeakable destruction happens as Superman battles General Zod, and as Bruce can do nothing but look helplessly towards the sky, the look in his eyes says more than mere words ever could. In contrast, society sees Superman as a savior and even erects a statue in his honor.
18 months later, and Superman’s status has become more divisive. The government is seemingly afraid that there’s a power on Earth that far exceeds their own, so they begin the process of turning the public against him. Of course, controversy not only feeds the flames of power, but also of money, so media outlets are more than happy to follow the narrative. Clark Kent is on to something else, though: Gotham’s ‘Bat’ is a heroic vigilante turned mean, branding criminals with the bat symbol before heading to jail, which has proven time and time again to be a death sentence.
Enter Lex Luthor, who wants to pit the two heroes against one another because… well, this is still a sore spot in the Ultimate Cut. I really don’t know. Lex seems to believe that Superman could become some grand dictator… or something. So, in order to prevent this from happening, he performs an elaborate long con to make Batman want to have a go at him. Oh, and in case that fails, he turns Zod’s corpse into Doomsday. That’s right, folks. If Batman can’t take out the man in red and blue, Doomsday is his backup plan.
You know, because Lex Luthor already has tons of power and money, his shtick is supposed to be that he’s the ‘diabolical genius’. Yet, in Batman v Superman, he’s one of the dumbest villains I’ve seen in some time. First, if Luthor was so concerned about how dangerous Superman was, why does he bother creating something far more dangerous? And furthermore, did he have a contingency plan in the event Doomsday won and started to destroy… well, EVERYTHING? I’ll go out on a ledge and guess not.
Luthor is, hands down, the weakest part of this film. Not only because his plans are stupid, but because he’s flat-out unnecessary. Batman and Superman had enough motivation to eventually fight one another, given a proper script. So, why is he here? Well, it’s as I said at the beginning of my review: Batman v Superman is WB’s attempt at catching up to Marvel with a single feature film. So, Luthor is the catalyst which introduces the idea that other heroes are out there. I won’t delve into why or how, since I’ve already spoiled enough with this Doomsday chit-chat. But I’ll cap my comments on Luthor by confirming I didn’t like how Eisenberg played the role at all. There were FLASHES of brilliance, but for the most part, he just came off like some squeaky cartoon villain.
Anyway, I wish I could say the terrible writing ended with Lex, but no. Much of what this film expects us to swallow just isn’t up to muster. Batman’s been fighting crime for 20 years, yet law enforcement act as if he’s some sort of myth. Somehow, Gotham and Metropolis are right next to each other. The ‘bat brand death sentence’ is meant to be a loophole for Batman to execute criminals without doing so himself, and yet later, he’s perfectly comfortable mowing people down in a hailstorm of lead. And the convenient plot thread they wrap around the fight between Batman and Superman? It’s a doozy. I could go on destroying the plausibility of this film for ages. However, I’ve made my point.
Most of these hero flicks are riddled with plot holes anyway, so I think any reasonable filmgoer would have expected that going in. With that in mind, I was able to enjoy this movie far more than anything Marvel has produced in some time.
Having to sit for three hours may sound daunting, but I never stopped to check the time. The extended runtime works because the screenwriters knew Superman already had enough exposition in Man of Steel, so they wisely spent more time fleshing out the new Batman. And what a character he is. I love that we’re finally seeing a mainstream superhero deal with real mental and emotional trauma. The Batman of yesteryear could put even the sharpest of detectives to shame, yet here he’s so overcome by his desire for revenge that he’s oblivious to everything else. It’s also nice to see Superman being held accountable for the destruction in his solo film. Far too often cities are laid to waste, only to have everyone smiling and cheering after all is said and done. But in the real world, people would demand answers, and Superman would carry the weight of that collateral damage on his shoulders. And this is the film’s only successful thematic hook: How the line should be drawn between men, Gods, or perhaps even monsters.
But is the grim nature of this film too much?
A lot of people criticized Batman v Superman for not having the levity of Marvel flicks, but so what? Why does every on-screen superhero need to be a wise-ass? Is it because Hollywood thinks we’re too intellectually dull to handle the weight of grim circumstances over an extended period of time? Diversity in any given genre should be applauded, and Zack Snyder was attempting to deliver that. Unfortunately, I fear that because of the public’s reaction to this film, the DC universe will be remodeled to emulate the ‘fun’ nature of Marvel’s offerings. Hell, we can already see this in the Justice League teaser trailer. Have studio execs already forgotten how popular Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy was, regardless of how dour? Did Warner Bros. not realize that the DC universe is inherently darker and more violent than Marvel properties?
And for anyone who was afraid of Ben Affleck being cast as the Bat, you can put those worries to bed. Affleck is easily the best Batman we’ve had in nearly a quarter century. Michael Keaton’s portrayal is still my favorite, but I’m very excited to see how Affleck will perform in the upcoming solo film, especially since he’s pegged to direct it (seriously, if you’ve never seen Gone Baby Gone, The Town, or Argo, treat yourself this weekend). Henry Cavill does well enough as Superman, but again, it’s a while before the film starts to pay him regular attention. I love Amy Smart, but her contribution here – and it’s probably because of the way Lois was written – was your typical damsel in distress. Gal Gadot was a nice contrast though, as she teased an intriguing variant of Wonder Woman, which I’m also now eager to see in future DC films. And Jesse Eisenberg… well, let’s not get me started on that again.
At the end of the day, if you’re looking for great cinema, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice should be the last thing you consider. It’s a deeply flawed film which introduces plot points merely for the sake of expanding the cinematic DC universe. If, however, you’re just looking for a solid superhero flick – nothing more, nothing less – then this experience is different enough from the competition that you’ll probably enjoy it a great deal.