This isn’t really a review of the movie, per say. Not in a “formal” way. Sure, I’ll touch on some stuff, but I did a spoilercast for the movie when it first came out. So if you’re interested to know what I thought originally, this LINK will do you right, hombre.
In the great Zach Snyder tradition, here we are served up with his latest “This is what I would have liked to release” version of one of his flicks. It’s pretty much a standard operating procedure at this point. Actually, there’s only two movies that he’s released that haven’t got some kind of extended cut/director’s cut, 300 and, curiously, Man of Steel. To be honest, it’s usually a good thing.
Watchmen comes to mind, as that has not one but two alternate cuts of the film. One that adds a few sub-plots and character stuff, and the other that also includes the entire animated short The Black Freighter, and all the side conversations that happen around the news stand. Both of them are superior to the theatrical version but, having said that, the theatrical cut did a pretty decent job of getting the story across at least. He filmed an epic, but was forced to deliver something with a manageable running time. It makes sense, asking people to sit for three plus hours in a theater is a tough ask.
The same occurred with another one of his films, Sucker Punch, which was certainly an improvement on the released version but, in my opinion(The right opinion, by the by), there wasn’t a lot to salvage there. Even with added material, it’s still kind of incoherent. Most of the added material feels pretty superfluous. There’s a few new dance numbers, a few excised bits of dialogue, but unlike the extended versions of Watchmen, nothing that’s added back feels necessary. Nothing feels like it enriched my viewing experience. It made a kind of boring and tedious movie, longer and more tedious. Trust me, folks, I’ve tried to like that movie, but… No, just no.
Snyder likes to make epics, of a kind. He seems to be interested in telling stories that are big, broad, sweeping, and mythic. He’s more interested in the deconstruction of superheroes than the actual heroes themselves. You can really see that in a few of his comic adaptations before he went down the more traditional superhero road and, in my opinion, it’s why Man of Steel and Batman v Superman feel so estranged from what we might want out of those movies. He wants everything to be Watchmen, but we don’t. A lot of people point to the dreary atmosphere, the “serious adult” take, or the muted color palette as the reasons why they were never really on board with these flicks, but I think it’s the heavy handed deconstruction that people find off putting and out of place.
Listen, I’m all for “unique” takes on familiar things. I really, really am. Nothing bores me more than homogenized, cookie cutter superhero flicks(I could be talking about Marvel. I could be. I’ll never tell) I’ve said for awhile that even if these DC movies don’t end up great, they’ll at the very least be interesting, and for the most part, after two of them, I still think that. Neither of them have been “mediocre,” you kind of dig it or you don’t. They feel distinct, and they’re trying to deal in ideas that are more lofty than just supers fighting each other. I commend the direction. Yeah, I wish I could like them without caveats but, just like everything in life, it’s probably never going to be that way.
After seeing Batman v Superman in the theaters, I was left feeling mildly frustrated. It wasn’t a terrible movie, it seemed liked critics had kind of unfairly written it off(Seriously, the Tomatometer was in Transformers movie territory). It was mildly confusing, character motivations were a real problem, the third act kind of fell apart, but I didn’t despise it. It wasn’t some blight on the face of cinema.
It felt like there were things lifted out of the movie wholesale, and that let to a lot of the things I mentioned before. Sub-plots, and character motivations were clearly supposed to be there, they just had their guts removed. Everything felt truncated, which made everything feel awkward and out of place at times. The theatrical version of the film has some incredibly jarring editing. To make the story even remotely coherent, they had to touch on all the plot elements that were supposed to be there, but probably couldn’t allow for the necessary amount of time to properly explore everything that had been put in place. It’s kind of a complex plot, it has a lot of moving parts, so by excising motivations and pieces of plot everything feels confused. The characters just act, and we’re never really told what motivates those actions.
If the Ultimate Edition does anything right, it’s that it adds back some much needed context to the story. Most of what’s added fills out some of those obvious gaps that I was talking about before, and now everyone feels motivated. Sure, some of it may still seem misguided, but at least we can judge that for ourselves now.
Most of the added material isn’t whole new scenes just dropped in to justify the existence of this version, but rather extensions to scenes that were already there, and it made a world of difference for me. It kind of made me feel bad for Snyder, as I really think this is the version he wanted to release in theaters. The things that are added are actually pretty small, but the devil’s in the details, and without that stuff the film buckles under it’s own weight.
Superman and Lois have fairly full story arcs now. A lot of the material deals with their sub-plots. It’s seems like a good deal of those plot threads were sacrificed in service to Batman’s arc. He was definitely a bright spot in the original cut, I thought Affleck was great, but it seems that it had more to do with the fact that he was allowed to shine. Now that Superman has more stuff to work with, he comes off a lot better, and his arc feels like less of a retread of his journey in Man of Steel. It was one of my larger problems with the movie, so I was pleasantly surprised.
Lex Luthor fairs better as well. His villainous plot makes a little more sense, as we now get a better sense of it’s machinations. His sub-plot with the senator makes a lot more sense now, and it’s able to clarify things with just a few more lines of dialogue. It’s a real good reminder of how important the editing process.
There’s also some light re-editing of the whole movie that I appreciated, and reinforces my theory that this was the movie that was originally intended for release. It also made all the stuff they added back in flow better, and everything felt congruent with the story that was already there. Gone are the jarring cuts, well, maybe save one. The scene when Clark goes back home to see his Mom, so she can give a monologue fit for a nihilist, still feels awkward.
Having said all that, the movie still has problems. Most of the problems with the third act are still there. The decision to shoehorn The Death of Superman into the last thirty minutes still irks me. The story, while most definitely clearer, is still pretty much the same, and that includes all the dopey decisions that the characters make. The introduction to the other member of the Justice League still feels off. So if you really hated it, I can’t imagine this is really going to win you over. Although, I’d still say give it a go. I thought it was a marked improvement. Just like Watchmen, I’ll never watch the theatrical cut again.
You know, in a weird, quiet way, I’m still rooting for Snyder. I share a lot of his sensibilities when it comes to this type of material. I like broad archetypes that are used to explore our own sense of perception and justice. I like the idea that these characters are mythic interpretations of our collective ids. I like the concepts on display here, I just wish the execution wasn’t so blunt. He could get away with it in Watchmen because blunt allegory was the whole point, but a defter approach needs to be taken with this ilk. I’m not saying that going forward they should lose their “edge,” it’s what differentiates them from everything else. Though, I am afraid that the critical reception is going to make them focus too much on the tone rather than the stories they’re telling, which would kind of bum me out. I get why audiences want homogenized crap, there’s something comforting about mediocrity but, for the life of me, I do not understand it when the critical community calls for it.
All movies should be judged on their own merits, and in that Batman v Superman, even in it’s extended form, has a lot of problems. I won’t deny that, but hopefully with this new version people will give it another chance.
I’ve always had a preference for DC, and on the odd occasion that I read a superhero comic, that’s where I gravitate to. I don’t know, maybe I’m too hung up on the history of the characters, too attached to the great stories from days gone by, but what’s good is good. I hope that they keep telling these big, broad stories, keeping with DC tradition, and not take the easy way out to appease modern sensibilities. Yes, I am 29 going on crotchety old man. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to chase away some kids from my lawn.