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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice — Ultimate Edition (3D Blu-ray Review)

15 Jul, 2016 By: John Latchem

Street 7/19/16
Box office $330.36 million
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $44.95 3D Blu-ray, $44.95 UHD BD
Theatrical Cut Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of violence and action throughout, and some sensuality
Ultimate Edition Rated ‘R’ for sequences of violence
Stars Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot, Scoot McNairy, Callan Mulvey, Tao Okamoto.

In an ideal world, this movie probably wouldn’t exist.

The prospect of seeing a live-action Batman and Superman on screen together has been a fanboy dream for decades, after the two characters were successfully established on the big screen as the anchors of the first true superhero film franchises.

But circumstance has a funny way of expressing itself.

With both the Superman and Batman franchises stalled out at four films apiece, there were notions of a Batman vs. Superman movie in the early 2000s, among several potential projects to revitalize the characters, which eventually manifested in the disappointing Superman Returns and Christopher Nolan’s landmark “Dark Knight” trilogy.

And then Marvel Studios came along.

That spark of competition meant Warner Bros. could no longer take its time to properly develop its DC Comics properties, producing standalone films to introduce its key characters to audiences before uniting them in a Justice League film. Pretty much what Marvel did in setting up The Avengers.

As Marvel started to compile hits with a clear blueprint, the pressure was on for Warner to do likewise with DC, extending the long-time rivalry from the pages of comic books to cinemas.

But the botched Green Lantern movie in 2011 was a serious setback for plans for a cinematic DC shared continuity to rival Marvel’s. Nolan’s Batman series might have offered some hope, though expanding his canvas to include the totality of DC’s pantheon would have proved logistically difficult, especially in light of Nolan’s own vision for the character.

So when 2013’s Superman reboot Man of Steel proved a modest success, Warner was all too eager to make it the foundation of its new DC Extended Universe.

To catch up with Marvel, which would pass a dozen films, including two “Avengers” crossovers, by the time a Man of Steel sequel could hit theaters, Warner needed a shortcut to a Justice League movie. So the first Man of Steel sequel would be destined to showcase not just Superman, but Batman, too, who had apparently been in existence in this world for 20 years. And it would mark the cinematic debut of Wonder Woman, who was there the whole time as well — not to mention other super-powered beings, living in the shadows waiting to be found and united in the pursuit of justice.

With so much needed to accomplish, it’s hardly a surprise that early cuts of BvS were reportedly four hours long. Trimmed to its final theatrical length of a hefty 151 minutes, the end result is a muddled Man of Steel follow-up hampered by the need to set up several additional films.

The main story is relatively simple, all things considered. Newly introduced supervillain Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg, whose slightly offputting performance defines a casting choice likely to be debated for years), believing the Man of Steel is too powerful to be trusted to protect Earth, manipulates Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) and Superman/Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) into a confrontation over their differing concepts of morality and justice. So they fight. And when Luthor unveils a new threat, they fight that too. Comic book fans will recognize it mostly as a mash-up of two seminal graphic novels: The Dark Knight Returns and The Death of Superman (elements of The Dark Knight Returns also influenced Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises).

The basic story mechanics might lead one to think the script started as a straight Man of Steel 2, but when the need arose to create a Justice League prelude, part of Luthor’s reason for hating Superman was transferred to Bruce, who, like Lex, is a billionaire industrialist, and in the final film their motivations aren’t that different. The movie was thus further expanded to include Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and introductions for other Justice League members.

Taking Batman and Wonder Woman out of the movie, the same story could play out in a nice two-hour runtime with Lex Luthor as the primary antagonist doing pretty much the same things he’s doing here. Maybe even building his own super-suit to fight Superman himself (after all, they did make an armored Lex action figure as part of the film’s merchandise line). This theory also would explains a bizarre plot development concerning Lex and Superman’s mother, which seemingly comes out of nowhere to give Lex a reason to goad Superman into fighting Batman.

It’s a bit ironic, then, considering how much Batman and Wonder Woman had to be stuffed into the plot, that they are the best parts of film, and the reason fans can be hopeful about further DC movies.

The story also nicely recognizes an oft-overlooked commonality between Bruce and Clark’s respective families, though the execution of that particular scene, in hindsight, may have played out better on paper.

BvS’s primary motif of the role of superheroes in a lawful society is similarly explored in the recent Captain America: Civil War, which only serves to further contrast the development of the Marvel and DC film universes.

One of the reasons that Civil War works so well is that, as the 13th entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it serves as a culmination of several story arcs that have been playing out since the MCU began with Iron Man in 2008. Because the MCU took its time to develop its storytelling universe, films such as The Avengers or Civil War didn’t have to do much heavy lifting on its own to let us know who its characters were and what they believed.

BvS, on the other hand, being just the second entry of the DCEU, relies heavily on the audience having pre-conceived notions of its characters, as opposed to getting to know them through anything set up in the film. The exception would be this version Superman, who of course was previously established in Man of Steel; but he is pushed to the background to such a degree by everything else added to the film that what time he does appear is spent brooding so much that viewers might be left waiting to discover the optimistic version they’re used to from other mediums. It’s as if director Zack Snyder wants to have it both ways: the freedom to reinterpret the characters to match his vision clashing with his need for viewers to have an understanding of their traditional portrayals in order to appreciate the story.

The film does play to Snyder’s strengths as a visual filmmaker, crafting several iconic moments that connect emotionally to the audience’s core concept of what to expect from these characters. And the 3D provides a nice depth of field that helps to immerse viewers in the action. It’s just a weird feeling when trying to digest the film as a whole, as its constituent parts are more effective than entirety of the piece.

Part of the problem may have been that the studio had to cut out so much of Snyder’s original conception of the film to get it down to a marketable run time. This is rectified to a great degree by the Ultimate Edition’s three-hour extended cut, which is truly the definitive version of the film.

It adds back so much more characterization and story that it starts to give BvS the feel of an epic superhero film instead of just a string of mind-numbing action scenes. Clark and Superman are given more to do, while Luthor’s scheme is given greater clarity, though the final act is still hampered by some sketchy motivations and relies too much on the characters making assumptions rather than acting on information the film properly establishes.

But for those truly willing to accept the film’s presentation of familiar DC Comics mythology, the result might prove nostalgic, and may even produce a tear or two. Certainly, seeing DC’s trinity of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman on screen together for the first time is a definite highlight.

This does raise the question of whether the characterizations in this film (and Man of Steel) will be better received in the future after the DC Extended Universe is fleshed out a bit more, but only time will tell on that point. Several more DC movies are already in the pipeline, with the Batman tie-in Suicide Squad set for August 2016, while 2017 brings us a solo Wonder Woman origin film in June and Justice League in November.

Naturally, footage from these upcoming projects finds its way into the two hours of bonus materials on the Blu-ray (all on the 2D Blu-ray theatrical cut disc), including a full Suicide Squad trailer. There’s a lot of Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman footage in the 15-minute “Uniting the World’s Finest” featurette, which is essentially a primer on the DCEU’s road map.

The comic book history of the characters is presented in the 12-and-a-half minute “Gods and Men: A Meeting of Giants,” which compares the worldview of Batman and Superman, and the 21-minute “The Warrior, The Myth, The Wonder” is a terrific look at the creation and influence of Wonder Woman.

Most of the remaining extras deal with the film’s production and are informative if relatively conventional. The specific depiction of each of the trinity is covered in separate featurettes that detail costume design and fight training — “Superman: Complexity & Truth” runs seven minutes, “Batman: Austerity & Rage” runs eight; and “Wonder Woman: Grace & Power” runs just under seven. The depiction of Lex Luthor is covered in the 12-and-a-half minute “The Empire of Luthor.”

The design of the new Batcave is covered in the seven-minute “Batcave: Legacy of the Lair.” More interesting is the 23-minute “Accelerating Design: The New Batmobile,” which plays a bit like a “Top Gear” episode in how it details how the filmmakers designed, built and tested an actual Batmobile for filming.

Just for fun is “The Might and the Power of a Punch,” a five-minute analysis of the Batman/Superman confrontation that breaks down some of the science behind it, while “Save the Bats” is a five-minute PSA about wildlife preservation.

All in all, it’s a hefty package that should whet fans’ appetites for the DC movies to come.

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