Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition (2016)
I have not seen the theatrical version of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, although I’ve been informed that it was a somewhat confused and flawed edit of the film. The Ultimate Edition clocks in at three hours and three minutes; thirty-two minutes longer than the version shown in cinemas. That is over half an hour of more exposition and character development. More than enough to have a significant impact upon the movie, its themes and narrative. Judging purely by the version that I saw, along with the fact that I have no major familiarity or investment with either of these characters, beyond their cinematic depictions, I was entertained by Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I thought it maintained the cerebral approach to DC Expanded Universe that we previously saw with Man of Steel. Furthermore, despite its sprawling nature and an overabundance of CGI driven action scenes, the film explores some very contemporary issues about societal paranoia and upsetting the political status quo.
Having recently re-watched Man of Steel, the segue into Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was seamless and the movie picked up the previous story and instantly got cracking on expanding it. Several events from the climax of Man of Steel where subsequently shown from the perspective of Bruce Wayne. This then sets the plot of Batman siding with an ever increasingly paranoid establishment that see’s Superman as an uncontrollable threat. As ever, with any threat to the established order, it is the rich and powerful that fear the new, as it may rob them of their privilege. Yet the poor and the disenfranchised, see Superman as their advocate. In this respect, Director Zack Snyder has made a very political movie. He also ponders the vigilante aspects of Batman’s character, who at this time works outside the law and has established himself as judge, jury and indirect executioner. He brands his victims, which makes them clear targets when placed in a prison environment.
So far, the first two instalments of the DC Expanded Universe have been dark, dour and have not shied away from social commentary. Certainly, the themes explored are especially pertinent in the light of contemporary US politics. Presenting super hero stories in such a fashion certainly puts to bed the notion that comic book movies are kiddie fodder. The levels of violence in the Ultimate Edition are also unusual for this genre but completely justified considering the nature of the story and the noticeably more cerebral pitch the producers are trying to make. However, because this is a genre movie it still feels obliged to regularly punctuate the proceeding with major action based set piece. I find that is not the scope of these sequences, that are the problem. They often display arresting imagery and novel ideas. It is their duration that is the issue. There is a finite amount of destruction and mayhem one can endure, before it becomes tedious and bombastic. These sequences also slow up the narrative, which surprisingly enough, does become the selling point of the film.
Like Man of Steel before it, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice also has a controversial scene. In the previous movie, it was having Superman act out of character and take a life. As a plot device, it actually worked, taken in context of the films own internal logic. This time round, an armoured Batman defeats Superman, through the use of weaponised Kryptonite. Yet a single incidental remark, spoken in desperation by Superman, stays Batman’s hand and sets him upon a path of introspection. His subsequent epiphany shows Bruce Wayne exactly how far he has fallen, morally. This scene divided fans. Some felt that it was contrived and hokey. Again, I was content to go along with it and felt in principle it was an acceptable concept. Perhaps it could have been implemented a little better but I did not see it as a deal breaker in any way. Again, I think that my willingness to go along with the director vision, stems from my lack of personal baggage with the source material. Fans often forget that a movie is an invitation to share the film makers vision. You can blame a movie for perceived faults in its production but is patently unrealistic to complain that the studio has not made the film that you had in your head. That was never on offer to begin with.
There were several other facets of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice that I enjoyed. I was happy with all main performances. Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor was a bold piece of casting. However, it was prudent to fly in the face of established depictions of the supervillain. This was a far more contemporary Lex Luthor, pertinent to the technology and the fears of our age. I also enjoyed the subplot regarding metahumans and the extended cameo by Gal Godot as Diana Prince. We were also given a far more “hands on” Alfred Pennyworth, who is technically adept and happy to put his employer, Bruce Wayne, in his place. Jeremy Irons is the sort of actor who can project this sort of moral authority. Another aspect of the film that improves its dramatic scope, is its global perspective. The events of the story do not just happen within an inward-looking US. Superman interacts with all people and nations. Catastrophic events also have international implications.
Even in this extended form, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is not a perfect movie. It is somewhat bloated and has an uneven pace. Yet is it now narratively coherent and doesn’t suffer from the plot holes apparent in the theatrical release. It approaches its subject matter in a manner that is appropriate to our current world. We no longer live in the Fifties so it would be crass to depict the concept of metahumans in such a way. Superman is no longer a seen as a benevolent, extraterrestrial immigrant who has embraced the American dream. He is now viewed suspiciously by those who harbour an inherent fear of the unknown and that which they can’t control. Kal -El is no longer the bland, one dimensional embodiment of patriotism. He is now a potentially rogue messiah who is acutely aware of the divisions that he causes. Such ideas certainly make for interesting viewing and intellectual reflection. So far, because of the manner in which all these ideas have been handled, I am still sufficiently invested to pursue them further. Thus, I am looking forward to watching both Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman. Hopefully, these adult fantasies will continue to offer spectacle and food for thought in equal measure.