Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is an F+ movie. It hums a very weird tune compared to its contemporaries. It hates Superman. It wants Batman to be its dad. Its Lex Luthor reads as a self-proclaimed alpha male's opinion on modern wealth. It is an advertisement, a vision-statement, a joyless creature with cracked skin, bleeding at the seams.
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice - Ultimate Cut (BvS) is not an F+ movie. It's a much better movie. Its thesis actually makes sense. I'll dissect the film's updated version here, point out the differences in the two separate cuts, and shine light on its more bizarre choices.
First, understand the statements BvS makes in its characterizations of the two protagonists: Superman is conflicted, and Batman is in the wrong.
Differences in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Cut makes Superman sympathetic and Batman villainous
Center on that idea: Batman is the bad guy of the movie. Weird to look back on The Dark Knight Rises and realize he almost made a similar turn in that film, too. It takes 3 hours in the Batman V Superman - Ultimate Cut, but its statement is that Batman's cruelty and nihilism are incorrect world-views. Until the very close of the movie, Batman is a failure. Meanwhile, Superman is an insecure mope until he realizes his confidence will grow in time, and things will eventually make sense if he endures.
Weird takes on the characters, right? Superman hasn't quite crossed the line yet and become full-on, always-correct Superman, while Batman has gone so far over the line of the Batman rules that he's unrecognizable.
Both the Original and Ultimate versions of BvS are deconstructions of their characters. Director Zack Snyder took a similar, failed stab at genre breakdowns in the uncomfortable Sucker Punch. Along with Watchmen, he fancies himself a student on the topic. We'll let that thought lie for another day.
Let's get down to it.
Snyder's breakdowns for Batman and Superman here are not good deconstructions because they stray from the familiarity that usually surrounds them. The versions of the characters in BvS betray the traditional rules of Batman and Superman. This drives longtime, studious, aware fans mental. In many minds, to go against these rules is to undo the characters reason for being.
I won't go so far as to say the interpretations of Batman and Superman in BvS are better, or even good, but in the Ultimate Cut, their motivations for being "different" are clearer.
Why does Batman kill people in BvS?
Batman is a killer in this version. For the unitiated, Batman does not normally ever kill people. To the audience's shock, he shoots, stabs, and explodes criminals in the BvS universe. He does this to actualize his hatred for what the world has become. In the face of a universe too powerful for him, he has lost faith, and chooses instead to beat the filth out of bad guys and literally brand them with a hot iron.
So, that's a change. At least the initial attempt at Superman in Man of Steel strived to represent hope and optimism. But, aha, I think we're getting at something here.
Both Batman and Superman act uncharacteristically in this movie. How? Superman is uncharacteristic because he's conflicted. Batman is uncharacteristic because he's WRONG. Once again, this drives Batman fans up the freaking wall because the Batman they love notices EVERYTHING.
Here, Batman is wrong to kill people. The movie wants you to know that. It is wrong that he uses his power to cause such a degree of harm. We'll get deeper into that thought when we discuss Superman, but understand that Batman's insane violence (see image above), while sometimes shrugged off in other Batman movies as, "Yeah! You just got Batman'd!" is now, "Whoa, dude, nice car, but that insane violence was not righteous."
Batman is over the edge in BvS to a disturbing, felonious degree. Alfred brings this up with Bruce, to which Bruce answers, "We've always been criminals Alfred." This Batman is old, far, and gone.
This thought is expanded in the Ultimate Cut though. All criminals branded by Batman end up killed in prison, shown in a new scene. The cops turn the other way as one guy is shanked over his brand. This, again, is a downfall of the system that Batman SHOULD believe in. Now his rage is a statement on Batman's misdirected power: if Batman says you're bad, you're gonna get stuck with a blade.
That's horrifying and BvS knows it. Remember, Batman is the villain.
Alfred also mentions to Bruce, "Hey, Batman beat the life out of all these people and found nothing. Bruce Wayne did some detective work, hacked a guy's phone, and discovered a lot more." This is a hint that, hey, maybe Batman shouldn't be acting like a violent killer. And while you're at it, it's weird how much you hate Superman, Bruce.
In the Ultimate Cut, Lois is the most important character.
Meanwhile, Superman doesn't do much in the original BvS cut. He feels resigned to being Superman. He doesn't say much. Sometimes he doesn't say a darn thing and then buildings explode for no real reason.
That's changed. Now, Lois helps him become a better person. Instead of being an exposition machine, the two of them do real journalistic investigation. There are a number of new scenes of Clark Kent searching around for info on Batman, on the Luthor conspiracies, and even more saving people, Superman-style.
The extra time spent with Clark, Lois, and Luthor strengthens the movie to a tremendous degree. They are the humanity and perspective it lacked before. Now, instead of Batman being a murderer taking up all the screen-time, attention is lent to Lois and Clark digging into Luthor's plan. The "bullet" sub-plot in the original cut made no sense. In the prior version, a Lois retrieves a specific type of bullet fired during a battle in a desert. It's implied the bullet is evidence Luthor's private military contractors were involved in this massacre, but never followed through, while suggesting Superman killed the villagers. It's vague to a hurtful degree. This bullet Lois finds goes from loose end to the impetus for Superman becoming a murderous monster in Batman's eyes. It was flimsy and it made Batman seem like an uncharacteristic idiot.
However, in the Ultimate Cut, it clarifies Lex's calculated campaign against Superman. It restores the audience's faith, and Superman's faith, in humanity. It's all because of two characters: Lois and the new lab technician character, Janet Klyburn.
This is the most important scene in the movie now:
In their first meeting, Janet mentions to Lois as they investigate that suspicious bullet fired during a much clearer, obviously orchestrated conflict in the African desert, "You know, this makes you a good reporter, Lois. This stuff still shocks you." It's blunt dialog, but it implies that others might just shrug this evidence off and accept that this is the way of the world. Batman's disenfranchised world-view might. But not Lois.
By the movie's conclusion, Batman will complete his redemptive arc and admit, "Men are still good." But we aren't there yet.
Next, we go to the wheelchair bomb incident.
This was an ill-paced shock in the original cut. BAM! Bad urine-drinking joke, explosion, Superman is sad, leaves. It was a payoff with no build. The Ultimate Cut has a slower build-up. The Senator Finch character goes through a few extra scenes to discovering bits and pieces of information that Luthor has been planting. We learn witnesses were paid off to smear Superman further. More time is spent with Bruce realizing his attempts to help the man who lost his legs went nowhere, thanks to Lex's manipulation.
And THEN there's the explosion. "Why didn't Superman try to stop it?" People ask. They wonder if he, in all his power, chose not to, and is therefore malicious?
That is the movie's mission statement: people with power who do nothing, or do ill with it, are the villains.
Lois doesn't have super-powers, and despite setbacks in the investigation, she busts her butt all over the map uncovering things. That eventually inspires Superman, the hero, to side with humanity instead of inhumanity, or nihilism, effectively letting him become Superman. With a little effort, a new scene shows Lois discovering the wheelchair-bomb was lined with lead, so Superman couldn't have noticed it to stop the attack. He even has some extra moments saving people after the explosion instead of jetting off to the north pole in disgust with himself.
Meanwhile, Batman, succumbs to Luthor's provocations, and decides to continue using his powers to destroy threats: in this case, Superman.
Here, the scenes are re-ordered just a little from the original cut. Instead of Batman immediately stealing the Kryptonite from Lex's lab after failing to snatch it during the Batmobile chase, his theft is delayed until after the explosion. This is superior editing. In the original cut, Batman is stopped by Superman after the car chase. Then in the very next scene, the audience is shown the aftermath of him robbing Lex's lab a moment later. Delaying this fixes it. Bruce holds back until he is manipulated once again into thinking Superman is the enemy. The revelation that his funds sent to the wheelchair-bound victim (later an unwitting bomb on wheels, as revealed in another new scene of Lois doing her job) were re-routed by Lex, and now are used to taunt him and his powerlessness. The failure of all Bruce's efforts to resolve the situation without exercising blunt-force might as Batman forces his hand.
So he builds his Kryptonite weapons.
Does BvS Ultimate Cut fix Superman?
Sure does. His dream-state conversation with Pa Kent on top of the mountain tells the story. Now, because of the time spent with Lois, the scene works. Here's how it plays out.
Pa Kent explains how he and his dad tried to do good once, preventing a flood overrunning his Kansas farm. They succeeded, but in so doing, they accidentally flood a neighbor's farm by mistake, drowning some horses in the process. It gave Pa Kent nightmares until he met Ma Kent, who teaches him to love and understand life a little better. For context, Batman still is still traumatized by losing his parents, condemning the audience to a still-moronic "Knightmare" sequence. The scene is interesting, but misplaced.
The point of Pa Kent's speech is a question directed squarely at Clark: "Superman, don't you have anyone in your life who you love, and is trying really hard to do good, in spite of not being a god-tier hero? Don't you think you could learn something from her?"
Ta-da! Lois Lane doing her job inspires Superman to do his.
And suddenly, the whole movie clicks. Superman has an arc now. He is still too vicious in his conversation with Lex when he finds out his mother was kidnapped, but still, it's a marked improvement. He's entered into a "find a way, save everyone" mode for the first time. Now, his holding back in the fight against Batman makes sense because his faith in humanity is strengthened. He tries to explain what's happening. Batman won't have it. He's been blinded.
Remember, Batman is the villain. He still has nightmares. He never got over his loss of humanity. Batman is the cautionary tale of what happens when faith is taken. So they fight.
The fight is still stupid and bad. A lot of time is spent with Superman shoving Batman around. This is the moment where Superman should be pleading with Batman, but he doesn't. The brawl lasts for a few minutes, you can see 75% of it in the image above. At least Batman's rage and Superman's reticence are a more thematic fit. There is a new, very brief close-up on Superman's face when he's been knocked down, and you can see him thinking about what's happening. Or maybe it's just a close-up? I don't know, I noticed something.
I can't remember if this was in the original cut, but after Superman is hit with the first Kryptonite gas grenade, Batman tells him he's breathing in fear, before delivering this stinger: "You're not brave. Men are brave."
Call me crazy, but this isn't the movie celebrating Batman. It's a reminder that Batman's got it wrong. This comes next.
Does the "Martha" line still suck?
Sure does. Why does Superman call his mom "Martha?" He calls her "mom" in every other instance for two whole movies.
Nonetheless, Batman's REACTION to the line still works as intended. Batman has just declared, "My parents died in the gutter for no reason, and that taught me a lesson. The world only makes sense if you FORCE IT TO." Listen to how crazy that sounds. That's a villain's victory lap. Batman is trying to bend the world to his nihilistic will. In Superman's desparation, he tells Batman, fine, kill me, but save Martha (egh, bad delivery).
However, in a moment of total madness and pent-up triumph, summoning the name of Batman's mother would absolutely be enough to stay his hand. There are multiple scenes of Batman wondering what his dad would want him to do, so the moment his mother is brought up, he finds unanticipated clarity. Kinda a neat, dumb trick.
Out of nowhere, women are the vital, unsung force of Batman V Superman. It's a darn miracle. From Lois' conversations with Janet, the movie even passes the Bechdel Test for a split-second. What is freaking happening, man?!
After hours of creating versions of Batman and Superman that verge on betrayal of their best-known incarnations, Wonder Woman appears. Oddly, without question, she is Wonder Woman, with no re-calculations like Bats or Supes. While there aren't any major changes to her character or her scenes in the Ultimate version, she is nonetheless there to cast side-eye at Bruce and Clark for being moronic boys with, let's say, "challenging" relationships with their mothers.
That brings us to the validity of character "reads." To reiterate, BvS conjures versions of Batman and Superman who begin as murderous and conflicted, respectively. By the end, Batman is remorseful, but re-aligned. By the end, Superman is dead, but inspiring. In death, he has righted Batman, a very "Superman" thing to do. Their respective arcs are improved in the Ultimate version because the supporting cast is given more time. Strange, right? Spending time with normal people allows the audience to realize these versions of the super-human characters not only aren't "right," they're not "right" on purpose.
And it is correct for an audience to notice. People saw this Batman and this Superman and said, "These aren't Batman and Superman." No, they weren't. Not initially.
Does an audience want that, though? Does an audience want a Batman who is so in the dark that he initially kills, perhaps reformed by the end? Does an audience want a Superman who is young and unsure of himself until he grasps some clarity through the people he loves? This Superman, as an entity, is not an immediate, familiar manifestation. Batman is not even a stable force without Superman to morally rein him in.
By comparison, Iron Man, Spider-Man, and even Captain America step fully-formed onto the screen in their respective Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. An audience recognizes them, their legacies are honored, and we are along for the ride. What is Captain America's arc though? He doesn't need one, he's already Cap, and he is acting character-appropriate. Even when Cap and Iron Man fight in Civil War, they are acting character-appropriate, as we have come to understand. That's why people love the Marvel movies.
But that isn't automatic drama. That's a very expensive Halloween costume contest. For most, myself usually included, that's enough. I love how they aren't even bothering with an origin story for Spider-Man: Homecoming because audiences have seen it a hundred times. I love the THOR movie. I love Iron Man 3. They work for me as, "Here is the character, just as you know them, alive on screen."
On the other hand, is it wrong to not have Superman fully-formed into SUPERMAN until the end of his second movie, and is it wrong for BATMAN to be a misguided psycho until he realizes Superman is his compass at the end of his first movie (in this continuity)?
I won't fault BvS for attempting a different interpretation for these 75+ year old characters. I can recommend the Batman V Superman Ultimate Cut to people interested in a 3-hour long superhero saga, I just don't think many of those people exist. That's fine. I think it's cool that big, dumb failures like BvS exist.
In closing, I'll point out one of the last shots in the movie: a zoom-in on the painting in Lex's house with the angels and demons. He talks about how the painting should be flipped upside down because demons actually come from the sky, haha, like Superman. By the end, he's being too conservative, especially after his communion with (checks Wikipedia) the alien freak-beast Steppenwolf in the extra scene in the Kryptonian ship. His closing monologue with Batman in the prison cell, while stupid, once again makes more sense (which I've repeated too many times now).
But the closing shot of the now-inverted painting is cool because just as there are demons potentially coming to invade earth from the sky, the angels are set in position on the ground to defend the planet, foreshadowing the arrival of the Justice League much more elegantly than the flashdrive of footage Wonder Woman examines earlier.
So now we at least have a heroic failure of a film instead of a malformed insult. I might have missed a few things, but, hey, I'm sure somebody will take the time to correct it.