Release Date(s)2016 (July 19, 2016)
Studio(s)DC/RatPac-Dune (Warner Bros.)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: C+
[This review includes minor spoilers for the film. Readers be warned.]
Unpacking Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a somewhat complicated task. The film has been enormously polarizing, even more so than Snyder’s previous Man of Steel (2013). The good news is that this Ultimate Edition, which includes 31 minutes of additional footage, is a significantly better film than you may have experienced in theaters, and it introduces a compelling new Batman in the form of Ben Affleck. The bad news is that it’s 182 minutes long, relentlessly dark, depressing, and destructive, and unfortunately serves more as an over-stuffed preview for Justice League than an entertaining storytelling experience in its own right.
In a nutshell, the film finds Batman – and indeed much of the rest of the world – blaming Superman for the destruction of Metropolis. An investigation by plucky Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane uncovers a sinister effort by Lex Luthor (played by Jessie Eisenberg) to orchestrate and amplify that blame, but not before the effort succeeds in pitting Batman and Superman against one another. It seems that Luthor wants Superman dead, and he’s hoping Batman will make that happen. In the event he fails, however, Luthor has a back-up plan: He uses General Zod’s body, and the Genesis Chamber aboard the crashed Kryptonian ship, to create a monstrous and destructive alien force (otherwise known as Doomsday).
First of all, this much needs to be said: As a follow-up to Man of Steel, which – while also a bit long, dark, and destruction prone – still had the makings of a pretty great film experience, Batman v Superman is the film nobody wanted. Certainly not DC fans or those who actually enjoyed Man of Steel. It should be obvious to all by now that Warner is rushing the birth of their superhero film franchise, in a hasty effort to emulate the box office and merchandising power of Marvel. They want what Disney’s got, they want it yesterday, and their greed is biting them in the ass with one overstuffed and under-baked blockbuster after another (and early critical reactions to Suicide Squad would suggest that trend isn’t reversing itself anytime soon). In Warner’s defense, it is worth pointing out that they originally intended for Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy to be the launching point for the DC Cinematic Universe, but Nolan had enough clout and success at the studio to block the idea; he preferred that his vision stand alone. That put Warner in a bind: Not only were they eager to re-launch Superman, suddenly they had to re-launch their already successful Batman re-launch too, essentially forcing them to start from square one with their Universe building effort. Clearly, though, they were no longer in the mood to take their time and care with it.
In any case, Batman v Superman must be considered on its own merits, such as they are. The film does answer one of the criticisms fans had with Man of Steel, specifically that it never addressed the fallout of the destruction of Metropolis. The caustic motivations of Affleck’s Batman are grounded in that answer: Hundreds of Wayne Financial employees were killed in the battle with General Zod’s Kryptonian forces, so Bruce Wayne places the blame squarely on Superman. It’s also interesting that we meet a Batman here who’s twenty years into his fight with the forces of evil in Gotham City. He’s already beaten The Joker, and presumably many other foes too, but lost his Robin in the process. Meanwhile, little has changed in Gotham. It’s still the same cesspool of crime and corruption it always was, leaving Bruce feeling brittle and bitter. It’s an interesting take on the character. Of course, Gal Godot is introduced as Wonder Woman just in time to help the title characters slug it out with Doomsday, but, while she’s intriguing, we barely get to know her, much less the other members of the future Justice League, whose character introductions are briefly and needlessly shoehorned into the film too. In a nice touch, it’s Amy Adams’ Lois Lane who drives much of the film’s story early on, as she investigates an effort by Luthor to frame Superman for a series of carefully orchestrated tragedies – an investigation paralleled by Bruce Wayne’s own. But if any character gets short shrift here, it’s Henry Cavil’s Superman. His story arc is helped by Ultimate Edition footage that gives him new scenes with his mother and father (played once again by Diane Lane and Kevin Costner). The scene with Jonathan Kent is particularly good (essentially, as a vision that Clark experiences); that character was one of the strengths of Man of Steel. The Ultimate Edition also fills in many of the theatrical version’s story gaps. It takes its time setting up the psychology of Batman and Superman as being in opposition to one another, and makes it far more clear that Lex Luthor was orchestrating this from the very start. All of these things are to the film’s credit.
But this longer version also magnifies some of the theatrical cut’s problems. Like all of Snyder’s films, Batman v Superman is shot in a slightly too gloomy, high-contrast, and color-desaturated style, with a seemingly endless parade of slow motion visual “impact” shots and flashbacks – so many, in fact, that they actually begin to lose some of the power they might have had if included more sparingly. This film is just too damn long, and nearly half of its running time is unrelenting destruction. Worse yet, we rarely get anything resembling traditional movie scenes, in which characters actually sit and talk with each other for a few minutes beyond just brief, on the nose, and sometimes glib exchanges. What dialogue there is tends to serve the plot instead of the characters. And there remain key logical gaps in the story. For example, having grown up in the American heartland, wouldn’t Superman already know who Batman is? Surely, The Dark Knight’s exploits vs. Joker and other villains would have made national 24-hour cable news on an ongoing basis. Even if that weren’t the case, wouldn’t Superman at least have seen the Bat Signal in the sky across the bay during his time in Metropolis? Also, how is it that Bruce Wayne seems less than familiar with Lex Luthor’s activities? Not only are their respective global empires headquartered just across the bay from each other (in Metropolis and Gotham City, respectively), these two men are essentially this world’s Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. You’d think they’d have pretty thick corporate espionage files on each other. And while it certainly makes sense, it still feels a little dramatically weak that the only reason Batman doesn’t finish Superman off during their fight is that he learns their mothers share a common first name. That moment should have far had more emotional resonance and impact than it does; it should have been the biggest blow of all. Instead, Batman’s expression barely changes and his face is half hidden by his cowl. Anyway...
The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray package includes the 182-minute Ultimate Edition in 4K only, with the regular theatrical version saved for the additional Blu-ray Disc. Some of you might feel the need to complain about this, but don’t: The Theatrical Cut simply isn’t worth watching again once you’ve seen this longer version. This is indeed a triple-layer (100GB) 4K Ultra HD disc (you can tell by holding it up to the light – there are three concentric rows of tiny markings on the disc’s hub). As such, you’ll be glad to know that the disc plays flawlessly in the Samsung’s UBD-K8500.
Batman v Superman was shot both digitally and on photochemical film (Super 16, 35mm, and 65mm IMAX) using a variety of cameras, though the final project was finished to a true 4K Digital Intermediate. The 4K image is very good indeed (3840 x 2160p – 2.40:1 aspect ratio – it does not include shifting ratios of the theatrical IMAX presentation). There’s tremendous detail visible in most shots, though the film’s moody color palette and fast pacing make it difficult to appreciate at times. There’s also a moderate grain texture that’s been applied to the image to give it a gritty, almost hard boiled appearance. Colors are subdued through most of the film, but when the action begins, the HDR kicks in too with vibrant hues and ultra-bright flashes and blasts. The overall contrast is excellent; deep detailed shadowing abounds and the brightest areas of the image are boldly bright but never lack detail of their own.
The 4K disc offers the film’s soundtrack in a terrific Dolby Atmos mix that’s awash with crisp sonic imagery. The soundstage is big and wide, with smooth enveloping use of the surrounds, nice vertical extension, and tremendous low-frequency effects (LFE). Composer Hans Zimmer broadens his score from the thumping bombast of Man of Steel with the help of Junkie XL, though the result is over-the-top in its own way, punctuating many of the film’s images with explosive themes and fanfares (Wonder Woman’s comes to mind). Dialogue is generally clean and clear, though there are lines here and there that can be a little difficult to discern amid the explosions. Of course, the Atmos mix is 7.1 Dolby TrueHD compatible, and additional audio options include 5.1 Dolby Digital mixes for English Descriptive Audio as well as French, Italian, Castilian Spanish, and Portuguese. Optional subtitles are available in English (for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing), French, Italian, Castilian Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Latin Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Arabic, Czech, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, and Swedish.
All of the set’s bonus features are found on the Theatrical Blu-ray and amount to about two hours’ worth of material in all. This begins with Uniting the World’s Finest (15:05), which is a preview of things to come in the DC Cinematic Universe. Gods and Men: A Meeting of Giants (12:28) looks at the comic book origins of Batman and Superman’s joint appearances and sometimes conflict. The Warrior, The Myth, The Wonder (21:16) explores the origins and history of Wonder Woman. Accelerating Design: The New Batmobile (22:46) looks at the process of creating Batman’s new wheels. Superman: Complexity & Truth (7:08) features Henry Cavil and others talking about their approach to the character and his continuing evolution from Man of Steel. Batman: Austerity & Rage (8:15) is the same drill with Ben Affleck and others talking about their new incarnation of Batman. Wonder Woman: Grace & Power (6:48) likewise follows suit with Gal Godot and Wonder Woman). In Batcave: Legacy of the Lair (7:12) we learn about the design of this iconic setting in the film. The Might and Power of a Punch (5:15) could have been an interesting piece on stunt work, but instead is a cheesy, “in-world” fight breakdown of the likes that might appear on Metropolis’ version of the Discovery Channel. The Empire of Luthor (12:33) is another good character breakdown with Jessie Eisenberg and others discussing this new Silicon Valley-esque take on Luthor. Finally, Save the Bats (4:37) is a PSA on the worthy cause of bat conservation in nature, as some species are currently being driven to extinction by a fungal disease. On the whole, this is decent batch of extras, and some parts of it are quite good, but the rest feels a little too much like repurposed EPK material. None of this feels like a carefully-curated experience targeted at diehard fans. These offerings would have been greatly enhanced by the addition of more in-depth technical production material, galleries of concept artwork, audio commentaries with the filmmakers, the reflections of longtime comic book historians, trailers, and the like. Note that the package does also include a Digital Copy code on a paper insert.
Batman v Superman was in no way the atrocity some fans made it out to be after its theatrical release, though the reasons why many dislike it are understandable. Thankfully, this Ultimate Edition is a somewhat better and more compelling viewing experience. Its story at least makes sense now and feels more complete. Still, one can’t help the feeling that there was an even better film in here somewhere, had this installment not been so heavily burdened with Warner’s desire to set up Justice League. The added 30 minutes is largely very good; it’s just that there’s another 30 minutes of filler material here that could and should have been cut and saved for the next film. As it stands, it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to endure this grueling three-hour experience more than once. Pop culture, geek genre, and superhero fandom is unfortunately prone to hyperbolic reaction to damn near everything these days, but it does have a point about this much at least: These iconic characters deserve a bit more care than this studio is currently giving them. Slow your roll, Warner.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Theatrical Cut): C
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – Ultimate Edition: B-
- Bill Hunt