WARNING: Spoilers for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Moving right along on the road to Zach Snyder’s Justice League leads us to the second film in the DCEU:
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
This was an extremely divisive film when it came out. Fans have been waiting for years (some their whole lives) to see the two greatest comic book characters duke it out on the big screen. And while some found the film to be an epic tussle worthy of the title, others found it to be an absolute mess. But then the Ultimate Cut was released on Blu-ray and DVD and we found that an entire half an hour of story had been cut. And these cut scenes certainly make all the difference.
I have always been a defender of this film. Well, the Ultimate Cut at least. The theatrical film is a jumbled mess that does a terrible job of positioning our two heroes against each other in a believable way. It’s a shame this is how most people saw the film. The Ultimate Cut on the other hand, brings back all of the plot points that keep the characters true to their nature while also making the overall conspiracy against Superman much, much more believable. If you still personally dislike Snyder’s overall style, or some of the performances (a lot of people dislike Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor while I have always enjoyed it), you’re still going to dislike the film. This longer cut won’t fix any of that. But if your issues with the film were plot based, or that you felt Superman seemed out of character, then you MUST watch the Ultimate Cut.
Snyder begins the film with another banger of an opener, starting off with one of the most thrilling sequences of the DCEU franchise. This opening scene with Bruce Wayne making his way through Metropolis as Superman fights Zod at the end of Man of Steel is an incredible and epic opening. By showcasing the fight at the end of the last film from a very different point of view, Snyder really gets you into the right mindset; preparing you for what themes the film will tackle. This is immediately complex. Maybe needlessly so, but Snyder is trusting his audience. He knows we already know the ins and outs of Batman and Superman. He knows that at this point we’ve seen countless superhero films and he is trusting that we want something with more moving pieces.
Lex Luthor is a man of unparalleled intellect and a simple plot would certainly not do. Especially when he has the world’s greatest detective looking into him. Everything is addressed for if you pay attention. But you cannot look away, not even for a moment, as important plot points zip by in the blink of an eye. Lex Luthor has accounted for EVERYTHING and nothing in this film happens by chance. The problem with having such a complex plot, is that if you cut 30 minutes of small, but still important discoveries and plot points, then the whole thing comes across like a jumbled mess. This was the case with the theatrical cut.
Affleck and Snyder give us the best comic-style Batman since Michael Keaton and Tim Burton.
I appreciate that we start the film in the middle of the action. We are picking up at the climax of Luthor’s plan. We start in the middle of Batman’s investigation of the White Portuguese. I also love how we finally get to see Batman doing some legit detective work (and I am a strong defender of Bat-fleck). While Nolan and Bale gave us an amazing look at a Batman that would work well in the real world, I think Affleck and Snyder give us the best comic-style Batman since Michael Keaton and Tim Burton. But I digress. These characters are already in motion. We don’t have time to sit around and discuss who they are. We can tell by their very actions what kind of people they are. Batman has become brutal in the wake of Superman’s revelatory power. That feeling of powerlessness he felt as a child has returned and he has countered this feeling by diving deeper into the darkness that saved him in his youth. He has even gone so far as to brand some of the criminals he has taken down. But this is NEW. Several characters, Alfred included, mention how Bruce/Bats wasn’t always this brutal. This is a time of darkness for him. And by the end of the film, he will find the light again.
Knowing Bruce’s psychology is PARAMOUNT to understanding the little moments in this film. That is why we are shown the death of his parents again at the beginning. Take the moment where he needs to go out as Bruce Wayne to Lex Luthor’s party for example. Before he leaves, he stares at the Batsuit intensely. Then, he looks to the monument to his fallen Robin. Only to finally go upstairs. He takes a shower, but stares off, probably down to where his suit is. He needs that suit. He cannot stop thinking about the suit. The guilt it carries. The weight. But also the power it gives him. The power to stop what happened to him as a child. And when you see a man who can destroy a building as an accident, the need for that suit becomes all the stronger.
Luthor is conniving and manipulative. A true snake. But the smartest snake you’ll ever know. He already has his pieces in motion and is just waiting to make his check mate. Again, Snyder is trusting that you will pay attention to the dialogue. Luthor’s involvement in something may not be made obvious, but the way he will talk to someone, or the way he refers to an incident will reveal it was all a part of his plan. He’s already done his homework. That mysterious invitation that both Bruce and Clark received for Luthor’s gala? Lex sent them. How? Because he already knows BOTH of their secret identities. He’s discovered them months ago and has been slowly moving them closer to one another. Now he’s to the point where he can put them both in a room together without it being obvious. He is planting seeds that neither of them know or could even realize.
That cooky joke about how strong Clark’s handshake is, “You do not want to pick a fight with this guy.” - He’s literally telling Batman THIS GUY IS SUPERMAN! He’s dropping little hints and subconsciously preparing them to fight one another, and they don’t even know it. He’s even made sure that every inmate sent to prison with the Batbrand has been killed in order to perpetuate this idea of Batman being judge, jury, and executioner. This scene in particular, and Clark’s discovery of said information, was cut from the theatrical film. Which is a shame because Clark’s investigation of Batman’s brutality is one of his primary motivations for his aggression and it was totally lost in the theatrical cut. That is a massive blow to the film.
Without Clark’s investigation and belief that Batman is a crueler and more brutal vigilante than he truly is, Clark just comes across as an overly aggressive and douchey Superman completely out of his character. By inserting this subplot, it retains Clark’s nobility. He’s going after what he perceives as cruel injustice actions. He’s just being manipulated. This subplot actually completely flips the viewing of his first confrontation with Batman at the docks. That scene comes across like a particularly aggressive move by Superman in the theatrical cut, but now with the extra footage, it seems like a genuinely restrained and well-deserved warning. A scene of Superman rescuing people after the Capital building bombing was also cut down. These cuts resulted in Superman being depicted as uncaring and I have no idea why these beats were taken out.
The scene juxtaposing Superman performing super-feats with the population debating Superman’s moral and political stances set to a somber version of the Man of Steel theme is stunning. Depressing, yes. But super smart. This is the antithesis of the typical Superman montage. Here he is, helping people. Doing these incredible feats to help the world, and all we as a people can do is argue about it. He is literally carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders and none of us can appreciate it. I think that’s a powerful statement. One of the commentators accidentally hits the nail on the head by saying “maybe he’s just a guy trying to do the right thing.” That’s all Clark is, and he’s being viewed as someone who is omnipresent. These feelings of weight are reflected in scenes with Clark and his mother, and Lois. One, or both of which were cut down or taken out. The scene with Clark and his mother is particularly great, with her basically telling him that she believes he can carry the weight of the world, but that it is his choice. Also, that none of us deserve his help, and so she would not judge him if he said no. That is some great stuff there! And really brings to light the Christ metaphor built into Superman’s fabric.
I also really liked how they actually gave Lois something do in this film. But sadly, her subplot investigating the bullet she found in her journal was also condensed into oblivion in the theatrical cut. This subplot basically confirms that Lex has developed a special metal that has a low melting point like lead, so when torched they become undetectable. That’s how he was able to frame Superman in the beginning. The same metal is used to create the wheelchair bomb. Speaking of that bomb, the reveal that it was lead-lined so Superman couldn’t see it was also cut. As was the revelation that the woman testifying against Superman, you know the KEY EYE WITNESS, was being paid off by Lex Luthor! Cutting these revelations introduced MOUNTAIN SIZED plot holes into the theatrical cut.
But as the (fixed) plots converge, it becomes clear that Lex Luthor is behind the public’s new perception of Superman. He has also manufactured a situation that exploits Bruce’s anger and fear, pushing him to want to confront Superman, while simultaneously manipulating Clark’s perception of the Batman. And when Clark refuses to do what he asks, Lex pulls out his trump card: he’s kidnapped Clark’s mother. We saw in Man of Steel how Clark reacted to Zod threatening his mom, so we know he will do anything to save her. Using Martha as leverage to get Clark to go after Bruce is one of the most evil things I’ve ever seen a villain do in a comic book film. It’s real; it’s palpable. And every boy in the theater tensed up, waiting for Lex to get his comeuppance. You don’t mess with a boy’s mother. This violation immediately elevates this Lex in my mind to one of the most heartless and sadistic comic book villains ever put on screen. That scene on the tower is one of my favorite scenes in the film.
This of course leads to the titular fight, and oh boy is it brutal! Clark tries to tell Bruce what is going on, but Bruce is having none of it and is completely blinded by rage. Clark is forced to meet anger with anger and the fight begins. If I had to complain, there are certainly a few moments when Clark could have reiterated what was going on. But we have to remember that he only has 34 minutes to do what he is going to do or else his mother dies. So if Bruce isn’t going to listen, he doesn’t have much of a choice.
There is a reason we saw Bruce’s origin in the beginning. And there is a reason it was filmed the way it was filmed.
And now we get to the most divisive moment in the film. The famous “Martha” moment. Now, I can see why a lot of people balked at this. From the outside, it certainly seems hokey and ridiculous that a single word would completely change Bruce’s attitude in that moment. It’s also pretty convenient that their mothers both have the same name. I get that. But I would argue that the word “Martha” is quite literally the ONLY thing that could break Batman from his rage in that moment. There is a reason we saw Bruce’s origin in the beginning. And there is a reason it was filmed the way it was filmed. There is a reason that in this iteration, Thomas’ last action is to try to fight off his attacker as opposed to offering help as in Chris Nolan’s adaptation. This Bruce learned a different lesson from his father. There is also a reason his father’s last words were “Martha.” His last action in life was to protect his wife and son.
Bruce, as a human, is fundamentally broken. He was molded by tragedy and found comfort and power in the fear and justice that Batman brought. He learned that you need to force the world to make sense. So he does this by taking out his angst by beating the pulp out of people dressed as a friggin’ bat. He is not what you would call “mentally stable.” So this mentally unstable man, who doesn’t even see Clark as a man (more as an alien with untold power), is in a blind rage. He is letting the very fear he imposes on criminals blind his own actions. And then he hears this alien, this thing, say the same last word that his father uttered before he died. The word that molded him. Of course he would be confused. And of course that would be the only word that could shake him out of his actions. But that’s not enough.
The word confuses him, but it’s Lois’ reveal that Martha is Clark’s mother that truly breaks through to Bruce. This being that he was about to kill in cold blood has a mother. Not only that, but in his final moments, he wasn’t thinking of himself, but of his mother. Just like Bruce did as a child. Bruce is about to kill someone’s son. Bruce has, in effect, become Joe Chill. And THIS is what breaks him. He throws away the kryptonite spear and realizes what he has become. I think Ben Affleck plays that inner turmoil perfectly, looking absolutely disgusted by his own actions. This is also why the following action scene with Bruce rescuing Martha at the docks is the best action scene in the film. Because it is letting Bruce metaphorically save his own mother (a feat his father could not accomplish), redeeming his actions in a cathartic release of all of his rage; this time pointed at the right people. Beautiful. Again, don’t get between a boy and his mother.
Then it all culminates in the battle scene at the end where the DC Trinity comes together. Wonder Woman’s introduction is cheer worthy and that entire fight against Doomsday is pure geeky goodness. The kind of spectacle that makes comic book lovers scream. If I were to be picky, I do wish Doomsday was spikier, but that’s really the only complaint I have. Some have questioned Lex’s decision to create Doomsday, but I think he had a plan. Lex knew Bruce had the kryptonite, so there was every chance that he would kill Superman. But still, if Superman was in fact the winner, Lex still wins. As he can now claim Superman went crazy, killing another hero (even if he was a vigilante). Lex would then be praised for releasing Doomsday in order to stop this menace. And if Batman had killed Superman? Well then he has a monster that is capable of killing the other meta-humans he has been researching. And I think the very fact that Luthor gave his blood in the creation of Doomsday led him to believe he could control the monster. Maybe he could, that shot of Doomsday throwing the first punch is a little ambiguous as to whether he is attacking Lex or Clark. If he couldn’t, then he owes Clark his life (though he would never admit that).
...while the film may be dour and stark and brutal at times, it does end on a note of hope.
In the end, Superman learns the true cost of being a hero and sacrifices himself in order to stop Doomsday. This act of sacrifice breathes new hope into both Batman and Wonder Woman. Thus, bringing Bruce’s arc to a close. He started the film bitter and brutal, but through the actions of Superman, he now has renewed belief in the world and will go back to his less brutal ways (though he’ll probably still break an arm or two). So while the film may be dour and stark and brutal at times, it does end on a note of hope. I do think the final shots of the ground being lifted are slightly unnecessary, but at the same time, it does help end the film on that beat of hope.
So yeah, I still love this film. It’s a little slow in the beginning (as was Man of Steel), but I still think the pacing is quite good for a 3 hour film. And once you notice the pieces being put together, the first half is quite fun. And my God, can Snyder frame the camera. This whole film has a wonderfully gothic and operatic feel that compliments the epic tale and its comic book roots. This movie FEELS like a graphic novel come to life. And it features one of my favorite music scores for any film. I think BvS is one of the best DCEU films (in it’s complete form) and even though some of the style choices may not be for everyone, I still think it is a bold take on Superman and Batman. And one that truly needs to be finished off correctly. Thank God for that Snyder Cut. Now I can actually see the Christ-like story arc he is trying to tell for Superman to be completed. A man who came to Earth and had incredible abilities. Who helped us in the ways he could, ways we could never imagine. But we didn’t appreciate it and we fought against him. Tried to kill him. Then, he sacrificed himself to save us all, and rose later to bring peace and hope to the world. Hopefully this new Justice League can correctly finish off that last part and have Superman reborn as that symbol the right way. And without the horrifying CG mouth.