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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Does the "Ultimate Cut" make BATMAN v SUPERMAN a better film?

Last night, I took in the Ultimate Cut of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the 3 hour long R-Rated version of Zack Snyder’s superhero slugfest.
A few years back, Snyder had released a Director’s Cut, and later an “Ultimate Cut” of Watchmen. The former had drastically improved that film, while the latter harbored too much bloat. Regardless, these were both attempts to expand on a decent, if not spectacular theatrical cut. With Batman v Superman, the starting is a point was a theatrical experience that I did not hold a terribly positive view of. While I did not go in expecting the movie to magically become great simply through the restoration of 30 minutes of material, I wanted to get a better sense of what Snyder’s *vision* entailed in full. While this is one of those movies that I do not particularly like, I’m still fascinated by the process of making it and its ramshackle, almost unconventional nature.
So, the big question, does it improve the movie? That depends on what you found to be the biggest flaws of the theatrical cut. Bottom-line, it remains a fairly joyless slog, but this time it’s just longer. If Batman’s somewhat psychotic and thug-like nature does not sit well with you, nor does a Superman that looks pained by the idea of helping humanity, you’ll remain on the outside-looking in the entire time.
On the other hand, if the theatrical cuts logical holes were the stumbling blocks for you, then you may find that this new cut is just what you were looking for. The Ultimate version of the movie basically restores 50% or more of Superman’s arc in the movie. We get an opportunity to see Clark investigate, like an actual journalist, multiple times. Cavill himself isn’t much of an actor, but it’s nice to see him get to actually do something Clark Kent-like, particularly when he attempts to learn more about the Nairomi villager that testified against him at the initial congressional hearing.
With more Clark, comes more Lois as well, and she too gets in on the investigative piece. Here we get a lot more time with Lois and the bullet that was errantly fired into her notebook, including working with a scientist (played by Jena Malone – after ALL that speculation about who she might play) to determine its origin. In the theatrical cut, this was an utter stray end, but here its a much stronger subplot, with Lois initially suspecting the government of funding rebels. This in turn leads to Lois delving further into this mystery, and in the process coming across as far more capable, and less the damsel in distress that the original running time made her out to be.
The other major addition, is just how involved Lex’s master plan was. You knew from the initial iteration of the film that Lex was obviously pulling all the strings, but it seemed like it took very little to push both Batman and Superman into full-blown combat. With the expanded footage, we get a better sense of what lengths Lex has gone to in order to set these two titans at odds, from burning dead bodies to frame Superman, to paying prisoners to kill one another with the bat-brand, to being intimately involved with the testimony given at the hearing. All of this, in turn, helps beef-up the storylines given to Clark and Lois, and even poor Senator Finch, who, in her final moments, looks far less accusatory of Superman and instead is fully aware of the wool Lex has pulled over her eyes. In addition, the “Steppenwolf/Communion” scene has also been restored, so Lex’s increased madness/knowledge of both Batman and Superman’s identity can be attributed to what looks to have been an on-going interaction with the Fourth World. Lastly, Lex’s final destination subtly ties into Suicide Squad, and may provide some lead-in to that film, provided he still appears in that in just a little over a month.
As for the R-rated material, it’s a bloodier film, particularly in the Nairobi scene (and yes, it’s confirmed on screen that poor old Jimmy Olsen meets his end there) and the Batman fights the thugs in the warehouse sequence. Additionally, there’s at least one f-bomb thrown by Scoot McNairy’s Wallace Keefe, and we get a shot of Ben Affleck’s butt in the shower. While it’s not quite Watchmen level in its violence or sexual content, it’s definitely enough to get that R-rating. Also, Clark takes his shirt off when he hops into the bathtub with Lois, which ever so slight improves that bit just a tad.
There are multiple smaller additions that aren’t really worth noting, but the keen-eyed viewer may appreciate them. The truth is, this 3 hour cut felt very long, and the fact that we had to stop the movie in the middle to discuss just why Batman is at odds with Superman and vice-versa, tells you just how much plot has been crammed into this movie and the multiple pieces of groundwork it’s trying to lay down. No amount of new footage will really fix the issues with a core concept that just feels untenable, and the Doomsday finale remains pretty awful. In the end, the Ultimate Cut improves the movie’s in-story logic, but in terms of actual quality, it just makes a not particularly good film longer.
Still, I continue to be fascinated by this one in a way I rarely am with any other superhero film, and that’s gotta count for something.
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