After years of anticipation, when Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was finally released in March, it’s fair to say many were disappointed. Although I personally had a good time with the film, it was awash with problems, from a lack of balance of the eponymous heroes to a weak, confusing and downright illogical plot. Reports of an R-rated, three-hour director’s cut swirled around after the film’s release, promising to fix the problems the theatrical cut had, so today we’ll be taking a look at the Ultimate Edition to see if it does improve on the original. Unlike a normal review, we won’t be covering what’s in the theatrical cut (our review of that is here), and instead will be looking at the changes and seeing how they impact the film’s quality. As you may expect, spoiler alert.
The first noticeable change, although quite inconsequential is that, in the flashback to the Black Zero event from Man of Steel, Bruce encounters a nursery of children before rescuing the little girl as seen in the 2015 Comic-Con trailer. Yes, it’s a minor addition, but it clears up why a girl would be roaming around Metropolis, and is a welcome inclusion, and gives us a better feel as to what this universe’s Bruce Wayne is like.
One of the biggest changes that the Ultimate Edition brings is that it fleshes out the action scene in Nairomi that reintroduces viewers to Superman. The added ten minutes or so hugely ramps up the tension of the scene, as blood spills, people are double-crossed and numerous other atrocities are committed, but most crucially it clears up exactly why this sequence is so instrumental to the film’s plot. In the theatrical cut, Lex’s ‘special bullet’ and Lois’ investigation of this is very loose and poorly-explained, but here it’s much clearer and plays out so much better.
On top of this, the extended Nairomi sequence helps set up the character of KGBeast, or Anatoli Knyazev, as he is here seen burning bodies with the flamethrower he uses later to threaten Martha Kent when she is kidnapped. Another small addition that makes it less jarring when we see him later on in the film.
Perhaps the key addition that the Ultimate Cut brings is more Superman: in the theatrical cut, Supes (and his alter-ego Clark Kent) has very little to do aside from mope around, but here Clark is seen investigating Batman’s treatment of criminals in Gotham. This gives Henry Cavill a great chance to prove himself as an actor, and he’s pretty good in these added scenes, especially when interacting with Laurence Fishburne’s Perry White. Not only this, but these added scenes give Clark a genuine reason to fight Batman, other than just at Lex’s behest, and so increase the stakes of the fight, so it’s nice to see these scenes added in.
We’re also given an insight into Bruce’s alcoholism, as he is seen waking up (with a woman sharing his bed) and washing some pills down with wine. It’s another small addition, but it makes sense as to why this couldn’t be in the PG-13 cut, and adds some more depth to Bruce outside of the Batsuit, proving just how damaged he is.
One of the most-hyped elements of this Ultimate Edition was the inclusion of Zack Snyder regular Jenna Malone in an unspecified role. As it turns out, she plays Jenet Klyburn, a S.T.A.R. Labs worker who helps Lois identify the bullets used in the Nairomi massacre, and proves that Superman had no way of preventing Lex’s wheelchair bomb from destroying the US Senate. Her role could be considered a bit underwhelming, since Malone has little more than an extended cameo in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a welcome addition nonetheless.
Arguably the biggest improvement the Ultimate Cut brings is that of Scoot McNairy’s character Wally Keefe. In the theatrical cut his role is brief and unexplained, but we get a bit more of him here, seeing him interacting with Lex more, and mainly giving McNairy more to work with. He honestly gives one of the best performances in the film, and thanks to these added roles, we get to explore his motivations (or lack thereof) a bit more, which helps clarify what was previously quite a messy arc.
A small one, but there are a few more minutes added to the sublime Batman Knightmare sequence, and although they serve little purpose in the grand scheme of things, they help add some meat to what is arguably the film’s best scene, and tease what could potentially be a ground-breaking superhero film if this sequence is ever elaborated upon.
While all the aforementioned inclusions help the film greatly, it needs to be made clear that this Ultimate Cut doesn’t fix the movie entirely. At three hours, the Ultimate Cut is a long watch, and the inclusion of these scenes has some dire impacts on the plot at times. With such a dense film it’s easy to forget throwaway comments, for example Lex’s entire ‘Granny’s peach tea’ ploy, and so when the payoff does come, you’ll struggle to remember its significance.
Another example of this is Wonder Woman: she’s pretty prevalent in the film’s first hour or so – as in the theatrical cut – but as a lot of the second act has been doctored, there are large gaps without any mention of her, so once again it’s possibly to forget about her, and then be jarred by her reappearance.
And although it does its best, this Ultimate Cut simply can’t fix the film’s most damning problems. If you hated the ‘Martha’ revelation, or thought Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor was terrible, don’t expect this cut to fix it. The additions are mainly just to clear some plot elements up and don’t correct the huge problems this film has, which, although to be expected, is a shame.
When we reviewed the theatrical cut of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice in March, we gave it three-and-a-half stars, which in retrospect was a bit too generous. This Ultimate Cut is much more deserving of this score, because although the majority of its inclusions are massively beneficial and help make this film more coherent and enjoyable, the fundamental problems the theatrical cut has are just as prevalent here, and so it’s impossible to reward it more highly when such glaring problems remain. If you can look over the film’s biggest flaws you’ll have a fantastic time with the Ultimate Cut, as I did, but there’s a difference between enjoying a film and a film being good. If you haven’t seen BvS before, or you’re a huge DC fan like I am, this is the definitive version to go for, but unfortunately this cut won’t convert those that detested the original.