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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Ultimate Edition)
This clash of comic-book titans cleaned up at the box office but earned some harsh reviews. Most were critical of the grim tone, muddled plot and nonstop mayhem, and director Zack Snyder almost immediately promised an extended cut that would clarify some of the narrative's finer points. I tried to see Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in theaters, but left after 15 minutes. Not because the film is bad, but because I happened upon a showing in the tiniest theater where the speakers crackled, the projector bulb was dim, and several babies were already screaming. Leaving was probably for the best, because this "Ultimate Edition," with its 30 minutes of additional footage, certainly seems the best way to experience the film. Here, some of the weaknesses are still apparent, but Snyder's extended film proves entertaining and largely dramatically satisfying, with strong production values and good pacing. Ben Affleck makes for a formidable new Batman, Gal Gadot is a promising Wonder Woman, and Jesse Eisenberg's queasy Lex Luthor steals many scenes. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is imperfectly plotted, gritty and bombastic, but offers plenty of blockbuster thrills.
After a brief introduction of Bruce Wayne, the film jumps forward in time to the events depicted in the climax of Man of Steel, viewed this time through Wayne's eyes. A title card offers that this is the day the world was introduced to the Super Man. Destruction is omnipresent; buildings fall, innocents are killed and Wayne witnesses firsthand the collateral damage of Superman (Henry Cavill) General Zod's (Michael Shannon) battle. Eighteen months later, monuments herald Superman's actions, but many consider him a "false god," free from supervision and accountability. Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) leads a campaign against Superman, and inventor Lex Luthor tries to persuade the senator to allow him to import kryptonite recovered from the Indian Ocean so he can create a defensive weapon against the Man of Steel. Billionaire Wayne is an angry Batman, two decades into prowling the night for Gotham City gangsters and killers. Things only get worse for Superman, who is blamed for casualties during a desert raid involving one Lois Lane (Amy Adams). Batman prepares to dethrone Superman, but is blinded by the puppet master pulling the strings of discord.
The main attraction here is fight night, as Luthor explains to an exasperated Superman. But those giving Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice a spin exclusively for that titular smackdown may be disappointed. Yes, it happens and certainly works well in this story, but it is far from the main action beat or narrative high point. More interesting is the world Snyder creates in the wake of his neck-snapping climax in Man of Steel, which now serves as a preview of the director's polarizing choices with these DC Comics properties. Officers watch a dismal Metropolis/Gotham City football game in their squad car, introducing the hometown rivalries between citizens and their heroes. This quick beat is a surprisingly effective way to introduce the cities as separate but intertwined entities. Real people fight over football, and they fight over which hero is truly heroic. Superman's alter ego, Clark Kent, attempts to take down Batman by writing a series of unflattering articles in the Daily Planet that focus on the Dark Knight's brutal crime-fighting tactics and propensity for getting his captures killed in prison. Once branded with the bat symbol, these prisoners are often brutalized and murdered by fellow inmates. Kent's reporting falls on deaf ears and angers editor Perry White (Laurence Fishburne), who sends Lane on juicy assignments instead and is more inclined to publish anti-Superman articles.
As Superman continues to get dumped on, Wayne begins investigating Luthor and discovers research involving "metahumans" (hey there, Aquaman!) and illegal weapons trading. His anger toward Superman grows after another mass-casualty event, and Luthor is revealed to have made hefty bets on the pair's throwdown. Antiques dealer Diana Prince (Gadot) watches intently from the sidelines as chaos takes over the two cities, and is forced to don her own uniform and join the big boys. You can probably guess that our two heroes are not feuding for the entire film, and Snyder spends precious minutes setting up their eventual reconciliation to fight a more pressing battle. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice does a lot of fan baiting and offers glimpses of a number of upcoming DC Comics films. In a way, this film's chief job is world building, which is does fairly well. There were bound to be questions about Superman's ethics after that fiery Man of Steel climax, and Batman is also challenged for being judge, jury and executioner. Dawn of Justice asks whether or not we really want superheroes without a watchful Shield or master. This is a dilemma with which Snyder is intimately familiar. After all, who watches the Watchmen?
There are a great many things I like about this movie, and a few I do not. I'll start with the problems: The narrative is undeniably sloppy at points. While I did not see the theatrical cut in its entirety, I've skimmed that version on Blu-ray and read about the changes in this extended cut. Frankly, I'm surprised Snyder allowed that version to be released, as this "Ultimate Edition" corrects a number of big problems. The scene where Superman rescues Lane amid a desert firefight has almost no context in the theatrical cut, but here provides another layer of anti-Superman sentiment. Plus, it ties LexCorp to the illegal weapons trade and introduces a number of small but important supporting players. The film offers a number of surrealistic scenes that are jarring and initially confusing, at least to casual viewers. Wayne witnesses an apocalyptic future with allusions to Darkseid and Apokolips, and receives a warning from the Flash (Ezra Miller) about Superman and Lane. All this is important to the DC universe, but Snyder absolutely slams this nightmare into the narrative. There are a number of other confounding jump cuts, too, that reveal Snyder and writers Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer may have been tweaking the story during filming.
Superman is largely underwritten, and Snyder banks on the audience importing all their previous knowledge of Cavill's dual characters to fill holes in this plot. The film understandably focuses more on its new Batman, but it barely gives Superman time to talk in the opening hour. Lane is given a number of important scenes, but poor Martha Kent (Diane Lane) is reduced to filler before being thrust into the action as bait. The climax, anchored by Krypton-sourced monster Doomsday, uses far too much CGI. The relatively grounded film goes into full pixels-and-dynamite mode in these final minutes, beating the audience into submission rather than highlighting the spectacular trio of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. Man of Steel is effective because it wears its heart on its sleeve; Dawn of Justice buries it under layers of armor and despair, which makes for a moody but cold viewing experience.
I was initially skeptical when Affleck was cast as Wayne/Batman, but the actor absolutely works in the role. This is a bruised, angry Batman unconcerned with his public persona. We see him after a one-night stand, popping pills, and shaking off a hangover to return to the Batcave. Jeremy Irons is brilliant in his small role as Alfred Pennyworth, deadpanning and chastising Wayne's indiscretions. I look forward to an expanded performance in Batman's standalone film. The way Snyder pits the two heroes against one another also works. The extended cut sees Kent exploring a tenement building to get real opinions on Batman. Some citizens fear the Bat; others contend that vigilante justice only awaits those most deserving. I think Eisenberg's stuttering catalyst also works. Some have criticized the jittery performance, but his Luthor is certainly captivating, spinning a web of lies and deceit that wraps around the film's heroes. In one beat, he reminds Batman that he has fostered a world of doubt and vulnerability, opening it up to more powerful villains. I expect to see more from this Luthor in future films, possibly alongside Jared Leto's Joker from the upcoming Suicide Squad.
As expected, Synder's production design is excellent, and Dawn of Justice is epic in scale. The visual effects, even when applied too liberally, are expertly integrated into the live-action material, and the film travels to a number of gorgeous locations. Batman's new technology and digs are clever, and Larry Fong's gritty cinematography complements Snyder's filmmaking style. The lead performances are all good, even when the script lets the actors down somewhat. The three-hour running time of the extended cut flies by, and the pacing is consistently good despite the addition of plenty of dialogue and character bits. I was consistently entertained by this movie, but I see its weaknesses. Snyder packs a lot into his narrative, and not always successfully. This is not a perfect cornerstone for continued DC Comics films, but it is one that improves substantially in this "Ultimate Edition." I look forward to future Batman and Wonder Woman films, which should continue to ask audiences what, exactly, makes a hero?
Warner Brothers provided DVD Talk with the three-disc Blu-ray edition that includes the theatrical cut in 3D and 2D and the "Ultimate Edition" extended cut in 2D. I'll discuss the 2D transfers first. The 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image is reference quality. Fans may be disappointed by the lack of IMAX-ratio scenes, but Snyder mentioned online that this omission was not his decision. Otherwise, the 2D image is as impressive as you'd expect from a sparkling new release from a director with a great eye for visuals. WB wisely gives each cut its own disc instead of cramming both onto one, which obliterates any chance of compression artifacts. The image is super detailed, razor sharp and perfectly clear, and gives viewers that desired "HD pop." Fine-object detail is abundant. Close-ups reveal intimate details of Superman and Batman's costumes; the grit, dirt and lines on their faces; and all the intricate props and sets dreamed up by the production designers. Wide shots are miles-deep, with impressive clarity and effects integration. Pans are crisp and clean, and I noticed no mosquito noise or anomalies. Skin tones are accurate, black levels are solid and shadow detail is abundant. Totally absent are edge halos, aliasing, banding or digital scrubbing. This is an extremely impressive presentation.
The 2.40:1/1080p/MVC-encoded 3D image is less impressive than the 2D but still quite good for a post-converted film. I noticed a small amount of ghosting, but the 3D presentation does offer extended depth and immersion for fans of the format. Detail is similarly clear and defined, and only occasionally did I witnesses any 3D hiccups. The extended cut is not presented in 3D, only the theatrical version. My ultimate rating is for the 2D presentation, which I am awarding a perfect five stars.
In a word, explosive. The Dolby Atmos soundtracks, which I sampled in 7.1 Dolby TrueHD, are reference quality. Snyder's film offers totally immersive and intricate sound design, and these tracks fire on all cylinders. The mixes are completely rocking, and offer near-constant surround action with appropriate subwoofer accompaniments. Dialogue is crystal clear and never overwhelmed by effects or Hans Zimmer's driving score (I love the Wonder Woman theme.), whether delivered directionally or from the center channel. Ambient noise like newsroom chatter, street noise and environment effects are subtly effective, and action effects, well, those will knock pictures off your walls in the best way possible. Superman streaks across the rear surrounds, Batman lumbers across the front channels and Doomsday makes a full-sound-field racket. Clarity and range are excellent, and there is not a hint of distortion to be heard. This is one of the best, most aggressive mixes I've heard in some time, and I fully approve. English DVS, French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital mixes are also included, as are English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This three-disc Ultimate Edition package includes the 151-minute theatrical edition in 3D on disc 1 and 2D on disc 2. The 182-minute "Ultimate Edition" appears on Disc 3. The discs are housed in a hinged Blu-ray case that is wrapped in a striking lenticular slipcover. I think I prefer this cover artwork to the many other editions available. No unnecessary DVD edition is included, but you do get an UltraViolet HD digital copy of both cuts. Extras are plentiful and found on Disc 2 alongside the theatrical cut:
- Uniting the World's Finest (15:03/HD) - The cast and crew discusses the characters and world building of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and viewers are treated to new footage from Suicide Squad and the upcoming Wonder Woman film.
- Gods and Men: A Meeting of Giants (12:26/HD) - This piece discusses the origins of the Batman/Superman conflict and the progression toward the events of this film. Also discover the importance of "Martha" to these origins and this narrative.
- The Warrior, the Myth, the Wonder (21:15/HD) - This piece focuses on Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman and explores the character's now 75-year-old story arc.
- Accelerating Design: The New Batmobile (22:45/HD) - See the new Batmobile in action and discover how it was built. The vehicle has minimal screen time in this film, but I'm sure it'll turn up in the standalone movie. Not sure that it tops the Tumbler, however.
- Superman: Complexity and Truth (7:06/HD) - Clark Kent and his super alter ego are the focus of this piece, which discusses the character's story arc and fall from grace.
- Batman: Austerity and Rage (8:14/HD) - See how Affleck created a unique version of the Dark Knight. Snyder, Affleck and company discuss the new character, his motivations and all the Bat-tech.
- Wonder Woman: Grace and Power (6:46/HD) - Another, shorter look at Gadot's Wonder Woman character that will get her own movie next summer.
- Batcave: Legacy of the Lair (7:11/HD) - Go behind the scenes of Batman's lair, which offers a somewhat different environment than seen in previous films. Wayne Manor appears in disrepair here, too.
- The Might and the Power of a Punch (5:13/HD) - Snyder worked to craft a realistic fight between Batman and Superman, and this piece reveals the training and planning that went into the shoot.
- The Empire of Luthor (12:32/HD) - This featurette explores the new take on the longtime villain, and dives into the character's origins and backstory.
- Save the Bats (4:35/HD) - The cast and crew work to save real-life bats thanks to efforts spearheaded by Snyder.
Flawed but consistently entertaining, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice receives an impressive Blu-ray package that includes a bounty of extras and the much-anticipated "Ultimate Edition" with 30 minutes of additional footage. The film still suffers from a muddy narrative and dour outlook, but this extended version corrects a number of problems with plotting and expands the DC Comics universe with better character development and world building. The Blu-ray offers reference quality picture and sound, too, and the package is Highly Recommended.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.