I was not a big fan of the theatrical cut of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The theatrical release felt rushed and there were plot elements that felt incomplete. Superman/Clark Kent, while the focus of the film, felt like a bland boring guy. Bruce Wayne was an absolute angry mad man.
So, does the Ultimate Edition cut of the film, which is a massive 30 minutes longer, make a difference? Yes, it makes it a good film. A lot of the flaws from the theatrical cut remain, but the plot is smoothed out and plot points are clearer.
Between the time that I saw the theatrical release and the Ultimate Edition, I read Glen Wheldon’s excellent book on Batman titled The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture. It gave me a better understanding of the Batman character and his history (I am a fan of Batman, not Superman). Wheldon posits that Batman is an idea and that each of us have our own version of Batman. My Batman closely aligns to the one that is in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy – a Batman that refuses to use guns, does solid detective work and does not kill even the worst of criminals. My original complaint of the theatrical release of BvS was that this Batman kills people and he uses guns! Blasphemy. But, not really. The very first Batman story (Detective Comics #27, May 1939) has Batman punch a bad guy so hard that he falls into a vat of acid. Batman then proclaims, “A fitting ending for his kind.” In later comics, Batman was not averse to wielding firearms. So, while the Batman in BvS is not my Batman, but he is still a Batman nevertheless.
While the Ultimate Edition cut of the film is still not perfect, here is what made it better than the theatrical cut.
- The Kahina Ziri (Wunmi Mosaku) storyline works to expand and explain the political aspects of the film which felt very flimsy in the theatrical version. The Kahina character is used to explain why Senator Finch and the committee are investigating Superman. The character is also shown as part of Lex Luthor’s plans.
- There is a scene in which Lex Luthor explains how LexCorp came to be. It was not founded by him, it was founded by his father and named after Lex. This makes it easier to believe how an insane guy like Lex Luthor would be the top executive of LexCorp. This storyline also portrays Lex Luthor’s father as an unkind and abusive father, which would lead us to a reason to why Lex is how he is. It still does not make me like Eisenberg’s Luthor anymore, but it does give the character a sort of origin story. To me, Eisenberg’s Luthor is more a mix of the Joker and the Riddler.
- The ever boring Clark Kent gets his own storyline/investigation in the Ultimate Edition. He takes trips to Gotham City to investigate Batman and to speak with people in the city about the masked vigilante. This lets us see Clark Kent working and being a normal guy. Not only that, there is an added scene where Clark calls his mother and speaks with her about his father. The scene is a much needed quiet moment in a rather bombastic film. It humanizes Clark Kent and the use of the single word “hi” shows his love for his mother. After the bombing at the hearing, we see Superman rescuing people. Again, this gives Superman more screen-time and lets us see what a terrible situation he is in.
- Clark’s visit to Gotham also fleshed out Batman’s role in that city. In his years of fighting crime in Gotham City, he has become a terror to criminals and accepted help to the police (as shown by a cartoon Clark sees at the police station). But, his terror has also spilled over to the citizens of Gotham.
- Another storyline that gets fleshed out is Lois Lane’s investigation into the Nairomi incident. She is shown working with a Star Labs lab tech, Jenet Klyburn (Jena Malone) to figure out what the bullet from Nairomi is made of (alien material apparently). Also, Jenet Klyburn reveals later in the movie that the wheelchair that was given Wallace Keefe by Lex Luthor was made of the same alien material as the bullet and the bomb hidden in the wheelchair was wrapped in lead so that Superman could not see it. Lois also has an extra scene where she visits Keefe’s apartment after the bombing and discovers that he recently bought groceries, meaning that he didn’t know he was going to die at the hearings.
- The early sequence with Lois in Nairomi gets much more footage. Jimmy Olsen is shown as a CIA agent, which was not very clear in the theatrical release. US Military is shown in this sequence. A drone strike is thwarted by Superman. And most importantly, Lex Luthor’s henchmen are shown burning the bodies of the rebels. This is important because in the theatrical release, it seems that the Senate hearings are about why Superman shot the rebels (why would a super dude shoot people?). But, in the Ultimate Edition, it makes it clear that it looks like Superman burned the rebels with his heat vision.
- There is a scene of Alfred cutting wood outside, then coming into the house to find that Bruce Wayne is not there. Alfred then discovers a pile of returned checks from Keefe (really Luthor). This explains what drove Bruce Wayne to becoming so angry at Superman. Also, in the opening scene with Bruce Wayne driving towards the collapsing buildings (that still makes me scratch my head, what was he thinking he would accomplish?), we get an extra few seconds showing a class of children being led out of the zone of collapsed buildings by teachers. This explains the lone child that Bruce Wayne saves.
- There is a storyline that follows the criminal, Cesar Santos (Sebastian Sozzi) who is Bat-branded in the theatrical release. In the theatrical release, we get background news on what happens eventually to Santos, but not much else. In this cut of the film, we see that Santos ends up being a part of Luthor’s plans also. Luthor’s henchman sets up Santos to be killed in prison and the blame put on Batman.
- In the theatrical release, one can infer what Lex has done as part of his plan, but in the Ulitmate Edition it is laid clear. While some of these things are in the theatrical version, they were cut short. The additional storylines made things clearer: Bullet, Wheelchair, Returned checks, Prison killing and a “witness” in Nairomi.
- The Bruce Wayne/Alfred relationship that I liked so much in the theatrical cut gets some more time. And there is one line in the film that is added in the Ultimate Edition that makes this very clear. Bruce Wayne tells Alfred, “I don’t deserve you Alfred.” It seems cheesy, but in this cut of the film it works well. Alfred’s response is just perfect too. Jeremy Irons and Ben Affleck have the perfect Alfred and Batman chemistry.
- The previously released (online, outside of the theatrical release) communion scene with Lex Luthor and what seems to be Steppenwolf is integrated into the Ultimate Edition. It explains (kind of) what Luthor is raving about in jail after he gets a visit from Batman. It also shows more of the Mother Boxes.
- The visit Batman makes to Lex Luthor in jail gets additional time. Luthor tells Batman that he knows who he is under the mask and is shown that he has no fear of Batman… Until Batman tells Luthor that he won’t be staying in the current cozy jail for much longer. Batman has arranged for Luthor to join some of Batman’s friends in Arkham Asylum – this is a clear nod to the upcoming Suicide Squad movie.
- Unfortunately, the best thing about BvS – Wonder Woman – did not get much new material in this cut.
There are some large issues that the Ultimate Edition could not correct.
- The “Martha Moment” in which Batman and Superman become pals after discovering their moms share the same name. This continues to be the biggest WTF moment of the movie.
- Clark Kent’s complete ignorance of both Batman and Bruce Wayne. In this version of the DC Universe, Gotham City is across the bay from Metropolis. Batman has obviously been fighting crime for more than twenty years. During this time, wealthy Bruce Wayne has been in Gotham City. Why is it that Clark Kent has to ask a photographer who Bruce Wayne is when Wayne arrives at a party? How is it that Clark Kent has never heard of Batman?
- The film continues to have a cloud of dark self-importance looming over it. Batman v Superman could use a shot of levity – there are some glimmers of it with Alfred, but not much more. Sure, it does not have to be like Marvel films which are filled with banter and jokes, but some light in a rather dour film would help.
When I watched the theatrical version of the film in the theater, I felt every minute of the two and a half hour running time. It was long and boring. But, what surprised me is that the three-hour running time of the Ultimate Edition actually is not bad. I chalk it up to the smoother flow and pacing of the film – plus the extra storylines add much needed material.
While I understand that PG-13 films that have shorter running times may sell more tickets, the cuts made to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice hurt the film more than it helped. The Ultimate Edition goes to show that an R-rated three-hour film can actually work and I will give credit where it is due: Zack Snyder did good with this film when judged by the Ultimate Edition. Although, I still wonder why Snyder hates Superman so much. He just seems to beat on Superman until… well, Superman is dead.
It would be a treat if before Justice League is released, Warner Brothers could release the R-rated Ultimate Edition of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice to the big screens.