THIS ARTICLE ASSUMES YOU’VE SEEN THE THEATRICAL CUT
Before one frame of Zack Snyder’s coup de grace to the potential of a completely loved DC Extended Universe had graced our eyeballs, we already knew that there would be a Director’s Cut coming with footage cut from the original film and an R-rating. It was immediately leaped on as the ultimate salvation of this film by the fans, which to be fair has some precedent.
This would, after all, be Zack Snyder’s second major Director’s Cut after Watchmen (third if you count Sucker Punch) and the director’s cut on Watchmen was an actual marked improvement, vaulting it into the realm of great.
The cut became doubly important when Batman v Superman: Jesus and Jesse Eisenberg came out something rather like a wet fart, unpleasant for most everyone around. The cut would apparently add back in the necessary connective tissue and make it clear a lot of what the film was trying to do, in addition to adding a little bit of extra connection to the past and the future of the DCEU. Essentially, it was going to make it a better film. Does it?
BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE ULTIMATE EDITION IS BETTER THAN THE THEATRICAL CUT
To be fair, almost anything would be.
To be yet more fair, the Ultimate Edition lives up to exactly what it promised, which was to provide a great deal more connective tissue that helps this film makes a lot more sense. One of the biggest problems was the disjointed and jerky first…two acts of this film and this cut largely smooths out the beginning proceedings.
Simply, this film now makes a lot more sense, largely by slowing down the events and adding back some of the missing steps. Lex Luthor’s plan no longer seems to simply fall into place, but we now see him pulling the strings that bring Superman and Batman actively into conflict. The North Africa incident that kicks the whole thing off is given more detail, including the fact that the bodies were burned to look more like Superman might have killed them.
Clark Kent also takes time to investigate the Batman, and it seems as though he’s being an actual journalist and actually finding out what the hell is going on here which means that the ultimate conflict is founded in an on-the-ground look at what Kent sees Batman doing in Gotham.
In fact, let’s talk about that for a second.
CLARK KENT IS ACTUALLY IN THIS CUT
Look, either version of the film gives Superman the shaft. Unfortunately, Cavill’s Superman still comes off as grimacing, aloof, and reluctantly heroic, qualities that do not make for a terribly compelling superhero, and an even less compelling Superman. Even if he does now get a scene of actually saving people after the bombing at the capital, there’s still a palpable sense that this film is aggressively uninterested in watching him be an unabashed superhero.
But this cut actually restores Clark Kent, the crusading journalist alter ego, to some kind of relevance in the film. We see him arguing for something like ideals and getting out there and talking to and investigating people. The stuff about him not writing his copy will always bug me (DO YOUR DAMN JOB), but actually starting to get some sense of Clark Kent as a character was nice.
It’s a shame they killed him. After all,
THE CUT DOESN’T FIX THE BIGGEST PROBLEMS WITH THIS FILM
In fact, it may make them worse. But to be fair, what did you expect?
The biggest problem with Batman v Superman: Yawn of Justice isn’t what wasn’t in there, it’s what was in there.
Lex Luthor may be a master manipulator in this version, but his motivation is still incoherent and ill-defined, a mashup of daddy issues and anger at God that seem to dart in and out. Eisenberg’s performance is still pitched 8 different directions and resembles Jim Carrey’s Riddler by way of Heath Ledger’s Joker more than anything else.
Batman and Superman may have barreled towards conflict more organically, but their final fight is still disappointingly short and inertly choreographed and still resolves itself in a way that’s absolutely baffling in its execution.
There may have been a more reasonable setup for Justice League by actually showing Steppenwolf, the upcoming villain, and his plan. There are also still the laptop videos of Lex Luthor’s files on the future Justice Leaguers that grind the film to a halt for what ultimately amounts to fan videos with a budget.
There may be stuff added back in that seems important, but there’s still huge amounts of stuff that doesn’t need to be here. There’s no added narrative reason for the Knightmare sequence, which still reads simply as Zack Snyder disappointed he didn’t get to do a Mad Max movie. There’s no added reason for the Flash cameo that follows it. There’s no reason for Superman to die in this film, it feels like a moment that someone wanted to happen rather than needed to.
Most damningly of all, the North Africa sequence is still a mess because…
THE FIXES EXPOSE THE DEEP NARRATIVE LAZINESS OF THE FILM
North Africa is the inciting incident the film didn’t need. I hate prescribing what a film should have done, but I’m going to do it here because it’s part of an overall point, I swear.
This film is a sequel to a film that invites self-reflexive criticism, Man of Steel. It ended on one of the most world-altering incidents in human history when aliens came down and wrecked a major city. Hell, the film knows that, it reprises that ending and makes it even clearer how major it was.
It also believes that the US Government would be largely done with hearings on the matter just a year and a half later. For a little perspective, March 2003 is when hearings on 9/11 began.
Why do we need another inciting incident to kick things off? Why isn’t following out of the previous film interesting enough? For a film that wants to criticize and deal with the effects of superheroes on the world and be a “realistic” take (I’m not necessarily in love with that idea, but let’s address the film on its own terms here), it refuses to wrestle with an actually gray moral issue and rather jumps into an issue where Superman is unabashedly in the narrative right, even if he doesn’t necessarily deserve to be.
Which is an endemic problem throughout the film. It wants to play with these big ideas, but it refuses to do the legwork to get there. It wants to be a film about our relationship with God and the world would actually react to superheroes, but it doesn’t do any of that through its actions, taking shortcuts to make things happen instead of allowing the narrative space to tell them.
It’s a film where the narrative doesn’t connect to thematics. Things happen and it’s about things, but things that happen aren’t necessarily about anything, and rarely about the things the movie is about.
The problem is that now that everything makes sense, it becomes clear that these things are flawed at the roots. The fixes exposed that the cracks run deeper than we could have imagined, because they can’t be written
There’s just no care taken with the story which is a shame because
WHAT’S GOOD IS STILL GOOD
The film is still really beautiful at times, even if the images aren’t in service of anything. Ben Affleck and Jeremy Irons are still working their asses off to get this thing to watchable, and share most of the good sequences and dialogue together. That Batman warehouse beatdown is still the motherfucking cat’s pajamas. Gal Gadot is gonna be a good Wonder Woman in a film that lets her talk.
IT’S TOO LITTLE TOO LATE
Even if the film works better, it’s like when I upgraded from a 1998 clunker to a 2000 impending clunker. Most of the problems are still there, it’s just got a little more time before you realize how truly fucked it is.