It’s safe to say that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was not exactly embraced by critics. Although many fans no doubt rejoiced to see live-action versions of Batman and Superman on screen together for the first time, most reviewers found the movie disappointing. EW’s Chris Nashawaty, for one, gave the film a C+ grade, calling Batman v Superman “overstuffed” and “confusing.”
Now, however, it’s time for the film’s home release. This week, Warner Bros. debuted the “Ultimate Edition” of Zack Snyder’s film, a three-hour, R-rated take that promises to resolve some of the movie’s tangled plot threads and better explain Snyder’s artistic vision. Surprisingly, it actually kind of does. Here are the highlights from our viewing. (Warning: Spoilers below.)
More Jimmy Olsen (and a better drone metaphor)
Snyder caught a lot of heat from fans for the way he killed beloved Superman sidekick Jimmy Olsen without evening mentioning his name. That scene – of Lois and Jimmy reporting on a terrorist cell in Africa only for her to be eventually saved by Superman in violent fashion – is much, much longer in the Ultimate Edition. This time, Olsen actually gets introduced by name (instead of just being an Easter egg in the credits), and the CIA’s setup of the whole operation is made more explicit.
Most interesting, the scene now climaxes with CIA officials deciding to order a drone strike at the terrorist compound, only for Superman to intervene. When the Man of Steel destroys the drone missile by flying into it at similar speed, the whole thing becomes a metaphor. If Superman doesn’t watch what he’s doing, if he just flies into danger zones and executes people he thinks are the bad guys, is he really that different from a drone strike? Especially since his actions also have collateral damage. Holly Hunter’s subsequent Senate hearing, demanding that Superman answer to the American public for his extrajudicial actions, then becomes a Winter Soldier-like take of our post-Snowden reality, where the government increasingly seems to be committing international strikes beyond the public’s recognition or control. The metaphor doesn’t really hold over the long run and is eventually abandoned in favor of the multiple other metaphors Snyder is playing with (Superman as Jesus, Superman as King Arthur), but it’s actually the most interesting of all of them. Along with the new F-bomb (spoken by disillusioned Wayne Enterprises employee Wally Keefe upon finding Lex Luthor in his apartment), the extended brutality of this scene also seems to explain the Ultimate Edition’s R-rating.
More Lois (and her reporting skills)
Batman v Superman had an undeniably stacked cast – so much so that Jena Malone, who shows up briefly in the extended edition as a scientist, was cut from the theatrical release. Unfortunately, as a result of such acting riches, many of the stars were given a short shrift – particularly Amy Adams’ Lois Lane. The confident reporter of comic-book lore was reduced mostly to a damsel in distress (albeit one whose distress had huge implications for the time-space continuum). The extended edition, though, includes several more scenes of Lois reporting on the film’s big MacGuffin: Lex Luthor’s White Portuguese. (It’s Lane, not fellow reporter Clark Kent or supposed “World’s Greatest Detective” Batman, who identifies the threads connecting the the ship and the CIA’s desert operation to Luthor.) She also identifies that the wheelchair bomb that blows up Holly Hunter’s Senate committee is made of lead. (Superman thought he missed the bomb because he wasn’t looking for it, sending him on an existential spiral that leads to an arctic discussion with his father’s ghost, but Lois discovered that it was intentionally hidden from him by Luthor, via the only metal that blocks his X-ray vision.) Unveiling Luthor’s scheme allows Lois to be the one who shows up in time to stop Batman from killing Superman and turn to the real villain at hand. If it weren’t for her, this would’ve all gone very badly.
More Batman brutality
One of the problems with the movie was that it never really seemed to explain its central conflict. Were the two most powerful superheroes in DC Universe really fighting just because of a nearly incomprehensible Lex Luthor ploy that hinged on them never sharing information with each other? The Ultimate Edition clarifies this by having Clark Kent investigate Batman’s brutality in Gotham. Clark talks to victims of Batman’s violent crime fighting methods, relatives of a man who got stabbed to death in prison for carrying a Bat-brand, and even law-abiding people who just live in fear of the Bat’s shadow. During his interviews, Clark finds that poor people of color and immigrants are most affected by Batman’s reign. But when Clark takes this to editor Perry White, he’s met with a shrug – a reaction that simultaneously indicts newspapers for failing to adequately cover the issues affecting poor American neighborhoods, and throws Bruce Wayne’s privilege into stark contrast. (Perry wants Clark to stick to football stories.)
Unfortunately, the movie just abandons this thread; Batman is never made to answer these accusations and doesn’t seem to change his crime-fighting methods in any way. (The quasi-justification: Batman is moving through those circles because that’s where criminals at the lowest level of Luthor’s “White Portuguese” operation work — and years of Joker murders have definitely hardened him, perhaps past the point of heroism). So now it’s more clear why Superman and Batman fight, but this just complicates our understanding of how they unite at the end.
After the release of Batman V Superman, Warner Bros. released a deleted scene called “Communion” that featured Lex Luthor communicating with something – possibly Steppenwolf, one of Darkseid’s generals. (Steppenwolf has since been confirmed as the main villain in Justice League.) In the context of the Ultimate Edition it makes even more sense. The original version of Batman v Superman, in typical superhero movie fashion, teased some greater villain waiting in the wings. Throughout the movie, Luthor referenced “devils coming from the sky,” bells having been rung, and someone or some thing “coming.” This scene confirms it is – and soon: Justice League is out Nov. 17, 2017.