I broke down and watched the Ultimate Edition of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice last night.
It's not like my arm needed to be twisted to do it, I was just holding out for the Blu-Ray release on July 19. The smattering of reviews on the Ultimate Edition yesterday though, all of them resoundingly positive, piqued my interest and made me impatient. I had to watch it NOW.
I knew going in that I would probably enjoy it, as I have been an avid defender of the theatrical cut since it released back in March. At the time, after seeing it multiple times at the theater, I said that if I had to compare, I would put the movie even and on par with Captain America: Civil War, not better and certainly not worse.
That's not the case with the Ultimate Edition. Not one bit.
In fact, after watching the Ultimate Edition of BvS, there are three iron clad opinions that I have formed about it:
1 - Some people at Warner Bros., more specifically the ones that influenced the edit of the theatrical cut and the marketing campaign as a whole, need to be fired. Immediately. You cost the studio at least $200 million with your mistakes. More on that later.
2 - A LOT of people owe Zack Snyder a BIG apology. Seriously. He won't get it and they'll never give it, but all the talk of him being a hack director that knows nothing about story and character development is just false. Horrifically false.
3 - Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is one of the best comic book movies ever made. Period. That's not being a DC Fanboy and it's not doubling down on a previous opinion. It truly is one of the greatest comic book movies made to this point. The Ultimate Edition proves that in spades.
Ok, now with MINIMAL SPOILERS and nothing too specific, let's breakdown what makes the Ultimate Edition a true masterpiece. To begin with, it feels like an incredibly COMPLETE movie. I still feel that the theatrical cut works for telling the basic principles of the story, but the Ultimate Edition puts back so much more meat on the bones of that story that it just feels like a full, epic narrative from start to finish. Nothing is manic or unfocused in this cut whatsoever and it's clear what Snyder's true vision for this movie was from the beginning.
That vision indeed, is not the dark and dreary "murderverse" that so many saw in the theatrical cut. Yes the movie still has about the same amount of humor and none of the major events completely change, but this time you actually feel the emotional transformation that the people of Metropolis and Gotham have just gone through and when it's over, you don't feel like you just watched Se7en or some other dank and depressing and movie that took a lot out of you for two to three hours. You feel the hope, you see the light at the end of the tunnel. I did in the theatrical cut, but it's even more apparent in the Ultimate Edition.
Another thing that is even more apparent is the pacing and the amount of development that has gone into each character in the movie. Ben Affleck's Batman is pretty well established in the theatrical cut, but the Ultimate Edition adds more depth and emotional beats to Henry Cavill's Superman and it almost completely revitalizes Amy Adams' Lois Lane. Not that she was a weak character in the theatrical cut, but there's an entire subplot involving her best skills as an ace reporter in the middle of all the action that is fully returned to the film and gives Lois a much, much stronger and important presence in the movie. The fact that so much of it wound up on the cutting room floor is almost criminal. Adams IS the definitive Lois Lane in this movie.
While the overall tone, setting and pacing of this movie are greatly enhanced the biggest addition to the Ultimate Edition is the story depth and development itself. By the time you reach the climactic third act of the movie and the battle between Batman and Superman begins, you feel like you know exactly what is going on and why they are fighting in the first place, which is to say they are being completely and utterly manipulated by Lex Luthor. The theatrical cut only gave the basics on his level of manipulation of our two titular heroes, but the Ultimate Edition gives you the ingenious complexity of his entire plan over the whole movie and it is a thing to behold.
That's the next thing that is greatly enhanced by the Ultimate Edition: Lex Luthor himself. If there was any question that he was this year's strongest and most resonant comic book movie villain, there is no question anymore. We finally get to see the full extent of Jesse Eisenberg's psychotically manic and arrogant take on the classic Superman arch-nemesis and adding the further depth to it just makes it all the more diabolical and fun to watch. Comparisons between him and Heath Ledger's Joker couldn't be more off, as Eisenberg gives his villain an incredibly manipulative gravitas that we just haven't seen yet this year, not even from Daniel Bruhl's Helmut Zemo in Captain America: Civil War.
While we are on the subject of Marvel and that "other" movie, let's go back to the point about the $200 million that WB lost by releasing the theatrical cut instead of the Ultimate Edition in theaters. The movie had five full weeks at the cinema before Civil War came out to make its bank, and had this version of the movie been the one that was released, it would have broken the billion-dollar gross mark and set the bar higher for what Civil War had to do at the box office in May. This Ultimate Edition is a deeper, far more developed story with political, emotional and moral subplots that not only serve the narrative as a whole, but also serve to define the characters and the world of the DC Extended Universe in general. The critics would have eaten it up and immediately rushed to call it "a vast improvement over Man of Steel, and a triumph of the superhero genre."
Seriously, I can picture what those reviews would have looked like. The discussion of whether or not it surpassed the visceral storytelling of The Dark Knight, considered one of the greatest comic book movies ever made, would have occurred. Praise for Ben Affleck's Bruce Wayne and Batman would have been even higher than it already was and the movie would have been seen as "a selfless act of introspection and soul searching for a genre that has become sterile and saccharin over the last decade." I thought of that myself, but couldn't you just see a critic saying that?
Now, BvS Ultimate Edition wouldn't have won over ALL of the critics and many of them I'm sure would still prefer the Marvel Cinematic Universe over the DCEU's current output and that's fine, but considering that this movie would have been almost unilaterally considered an improvement over Man of Steel, it stands to reason that its critic score would have at least been higher than MoS and definitely higher than what it ended up being. Rotten Tomatoes is a terrible judge of movie reviews since it only works on pass/fail and doesn't have a middle ground option, but even with pass/fail, this movie would have scored much higher than 27% rotten and likely would have been "Certified Fresh" between 60 and 70%. That alone would have pushed a ton of people off the fence and into the "I want to see it" category and there goes your extra $150 to $200 million at the box office.
It will be very interesting to see how BvS Ultimate Edition sells not only on the Digital HD platforms like iTunes and Amazon Video, but also the Blu-ray releases in just under three weeks time. In the past, a number of movies that bombed critically and at the theater were revitalized in the secondary market. That's much harder to do now because of digital prevalence, but it will still be interesting to see how well it sells and compare that all of the hand-wringing that was being done during the theatrical run about its budget and not being a profitable movie for WB.
I think at the end of the day, there's a lot of things that we can take from this entire BvS situation. Ultimately, it was the studio's call to cut 30 minutes from the theatrical release, not Zack Snyder, and it effectively "neutered" the movie for a lot of people. To see it now as originally intended and see how vibrant and powerful on several levels the movie really is, you just hope that WB learns its lesson and trusts its filmmakers more with the final cut. Three hours might seem like a long time to ask people to sit in a theater, but it wasn't too long for people to watch Avatar and that was just a retelling of Pocahontas in space. It would have been appropriately bold for WB to release the Ultimate Edition in theaters as the ONLY cut and it would have paid off with the critics and the general audience that would have appreciated a strong, fully-realized story with strongly developed characters and great storytelling.
Above all, this Ultimate Edition strengthens the hope and positive vibes that I have for the DCEU going forward. The world that they have built so far through just two movies focusing mostly on "The Trinity" is a deeper and more well-crafted world than many are willing to give the filmmakers and producers credit for. It's clear that there has been a shared vision for the DCEU even before Geoff Johns and Jon Berg were placed in charge of DC Films, as evidenced by Johns' presence as an executive producer on the opening credits of the movie, something that we all seem to have overlooked in the wake of the critical mass stemming from this movie. At any rate, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition is THE version of the movie that anyone should see and fans of the DCEU should be excited for the bright future ahead for this franchise. Period.