By Nick Maylor
Having recently revisited Man of Steel (2013) it seemed only logical to continue with the films of the DCEU. This one is renowned for the bad reviews it received during its theatrical run and that is a symptom of a larger problem that has been prevalent at Warner Brothers when it comes to their DC properties, although recent films like Wonder Woman (2017) and Shazam! (2019) were well received and seem to have avoided this issue. The problem in question is that Warner Brothers has had a tendency to show a lack of trust in their director’s on DC comics projects. This is most obvious when it comes to Zack Snyder.
Case in point, a three-hour extended/director’s cut of Batman v. Superman was released on home media that is VASTLY superior to the shorter, theatrical cut. This three-hour version labeled the “Ultimate Edition” was Zack Snyder’s original intended cut of the film and had it been released in theaters, the reception for BvS would have likely been much stronger.
The film’s prologue shows the battle in Metropolis between Zod and Superman from the perspective of Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck). As he watches the chaos unfold, Wayne faces into the heart of the city to the Wayne Financial building, attempting to do what he can to save lives. There is a shot of Affleck running full speed into the debris and concrete that perfectly demonstrates why we love heroes in the first place; they run towards the danger while crowds of innocent bystanders are running away from it. His efforts are ultimately not enough as the Wayne Financial building crumbles to pieces. After saving a young girl from a falling concrete wall, Wayne looks up into the sky to see the storm of hellfire that surrounds Zod and Kal-El as they fight to the death. The look on his face says it all. Wayne sees the Superman as the enemy, the one who brought this wrath and destruction to Earth. This is the turning point that changes Wayne into darkest Batman we’ve yet seen on film; an alcoholic, pill-popping one-man army hellbent on destroying the Superman, reasoning that if there is even a one percent chance that the Kryptonian is the true enemy, Wayne must treat it as an absolute certainty. This Batman dedicates himself to a murder-suicide mission to destroy the Superman, one he views as the culmination of his many years as a crime-fighting vigilante.
The portrayal of Bruce Wayne/Batman in Zack Snyder’s film is predominantly inspired by Frank Miller’s seminal graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns. Affleck’s costume (both traditional and armoured), the epic battle between him and Superman and many shots are directly taken from the acclaimed comic-book. However, the story of Batman v Superman also takes elements from the Death of Superman comic-book wherein a battle between Superman and Doomsday results in the simultaneous deaths of both the alien monster and Kal-El.
The film is more of a Batman film than a Superman one (especially the theatrical version) an entire subplot was cut from the extended version which features Clark Kent taking the ferry from Metropolis to Gotham where he investigates the activities of the Batman. Batman’s recent mean streak has had the caped crusader taking extreme methods with his crime-fighting, going so far as to use hot brands on criminals, marking them with a Bat.
The film is about society and how they would react to an alien god, like Superman arriving on their planet. While it is true that Zod’s wrath brought countless casualties to Earth, it is also true that without Kal-El’s intervention, Earth as we know it would have been destroyed, having been turned into a new Krypton. News beats ate shown during the film featuring Jon Stewart.of The Daily Show and other media outlets discussing the presence of the Superman. Famed astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson appears on a television panel explaining the changing dynamic of Earth’s people and our understanding of our place in the universe now that the Kryptonian lives among us. One cannot help but assume de Grasse Tyson was responsible for crafting his own dialogue during the film.
The movie also introduces the characters of Lex Luthor and Diana of Themyscira/Wonder Woman played by Jesse Eisenberg and Gal Gadot, respectively.
While Gal Gadot’s portrayal of Diana/Wonder Woman was near-universally praised, Eisenberg’s casting as Luthor received criticism. The decision to cast Ben Affleck as Batman was also heavily criticized, however, many naysayers retracted their complaints after seeing the film, with Affleck’s physical stature as Batman receiving credit. He was also praised as portraying a good Bruce Wayne (albeit a very dark and disturbed one). Batman’s voice-actor and fanboy darling Kevin Conroy personally praised Affleck’s dual portrayals of Batman and Bruce Wayne. Affleck also physically resembles Conroy’s Bruce Wayne from Batman: The Animated Series, having the large stature and predominant chin associated with the character.
After battling with Superman, a tense moment arises when Batman is holding the Kryptonite spear, ready to strike down the Man of Steel. Choking out what words he can muster, Clark implores Batman to save “Martha”. This triggers something in the Batman. Bruce Wayne’s mother was Martha Wayne, as Clark’s is Martha Kent. Their mothers share the same first name. At this moment, Batman realizes that Clark is not just some alien god, but a man. Kal-El came to Earth and was adopted and raised as Clark Kent. He has a human mother. Batman realizes that HE has become the monster, not Superman. In Justice League (2017) during an encounter with Alfred (Jeremy Irons), Bruce acknowledges that not only was Clark a man, but he was also MORE human than Bruce had become, having lived in the world, gotten a job and even fallen in love with a human woman.
This “Martha” moment was extensively ridiculed by many. I do not understand the criticisms fully as I can clearly see the filmmaker’s intention outlined above. The theatrical cut of the film did not help any of this, omitting key scenes of character development for both Bruce and Clark.
Setting their differences aside, Batman and Superman join forces. Serious trouble is going down at the crashed Kryptonian ship where Lex Luthor is awaiting for Superman to bring him “the head of the Bat”. Clark had been persuaded to travel to Gotham to face Batman as Luthor has kidnapped Clark’s mother Martha “Diane Lane” and threatens to kill her if Clark does not submit to Lex’s bidding. At the ship, Luthor has taken the corpse of General Zod (Michael Shannon), the on-board genesis chamber and Luthor’s own blood to genetically engineer a monstrosity that would make Frankenstein’s monster look like a plush toy, identified by Lex as Kal-El’s “Doomsday”. The Kryptonian monster is “born” after Clark arrives to face Luthor. Having shown up “one Bat head short”, Luthor plans to have Martha killed, only to find out over the phone that Batman himself has dispatched himself to save mother Kent. Doomsday is unleashed and does battle with Superman, who is later joined by Wonder Woman and Batman for the film’s climactic battle. The “holy trinity” of DC comics faces off against the Kryptonian monster, resulting in the death of Superman, who sacrifices himself by impaling Doomsday with the Kryptonite spear. As they both die, Doomsday has been weakened by a Kryptonite gas bomb launched by Batman and is held in position by Wonder Woman’s lasso.
In the film’s epilogue, Luthor has been incarcerated and has his head shaved, at night locked in his cell, he is visited by the Batman. Luthor mocks the Dark Knight, commenting that he has been declared insane and unfit to stand trial. Batman retorts that he has made arrangements for Luthor to be transferred to the infamous Arkham Asylum in Gotham, home to Batman’s notorious villains. Batman jokes that he has “friends” there who are expecting Luthor. Parts of this scene were cut from the theatrical version, another poor choice.
The extended “Ultimate Edition” of Batman v. Superman is proof that Warner Brothers made the right decision to hire Zack Snyder to direct these massive DC films. It is also proof that their biggest mistake was failing to trust their director after giving him the job.
Zack Snyder left during post-production on Justice League due to a family tragedy and the two-hour version of that film released by Warner Brothers is so “safe” and cut-and-pasted together as to be an insult to audiences. It is obviously nowhere close to what Snyder’s original vision of the film was supposed to be (rumored to exceed three hours in length). Online petitions have been pushing Warner Brothers to #ReleaseTheSnyderCut of Justice League, with several big stars endorsing the movement. While there have been no official announcements to release a director’s cut of Justice League, it is heavily rumoured to exist in some form and should it ever see the light of day, we should expect to see a VERY different film than we got. If Batman v. Superman is any indication, the Snyder cut of Justice League should also be expected to be a far SUPERIOR film to the one we got.
For now, we can only hope Warner Brothers decided to allow for Snyder’s vision to get the release many fans believe it deserves.
Nick is an actor/writer/comedian/musician from Hamilton, ON Canada. Having been a film nut since the early days of his life, Nick has had an obsession with cinema and popular entertainment. Nick has written for thecinemaholic.com and is the current Foote & Friends “expert” on all things geek/superhero/comic-book related. Nick is the host/producer of the official Foote & Friends On Film podcast. Nick met John when studying acting at the Toronto Film School, for which John H. Foote was director and Film History professor. The two have been arguing ever since.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickMaylor