Man v God. Day v Night. Peanut Butter v Jelly.
While we try not to carry preconceptions into reviews, it was difficult not to have lowered expectations based on the barrage of negativity that surrounded the theatrical release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Now, with 30 minutes added and an R-rating, the Ultimate Edition is set to land on Blu-ray. So, did it deserve all the venom it received? Let’s find out.
Set roughly a year and a half after the events of Man of Steel, Dawn of Justice finds a world struggling to reconcile the reality of Superman (Henry Cavill) and fallout of his devastating fight with General Zod. Among those leery of the power Superman has is Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck), whose Wayne Tower was reduced to rubble during the Superman/Zod battle.
Seeking to manipulate public opinion is Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) as he engineers an incident in the desert that makes it look as though Superman indiscriminately killed people while rescuing Lois Lane (Amy Adams) in a CIA setup gone wrong. Meanwhile, Luthor is attempting to obtain and import Kryptonite, efforts that are rebuffed by Senator June Finch (Holly Hunter).
Simultaneously, as Luthor and Batman both consider the possibility of fighting Superman, the Man of Steel has also become aware of the Caped Crusader’s vigilante justice. He disapproves of Batman’s methods and seeming willingness to serve as judge, jury and executioner with criminals. That puts the two superheroes on a collision course, with Luthor operating in the shadows.
Despite all the online hand wringing, Affleck does a fine job as Batman, angling the character away from being an idealistic playboy and toward an angry, frustrated man that’s questioning how much of an impact years of fighting lawlessness has really had. It’s a grittier version than even Christian Bale played, and it’s good to see them jump past the origins and make Batman an established presence.
There’s actually quite a bit of time devoted to building tension and conflict. In fact, most of the first two hours (of a three-hour film) is spent working toward the inevitable showdown between Superman and Batman. There are some action sequences sprinkled in, most notably a mind-bending dream/vision of a future in which Superman has turned evil and Batman is essentially a freedom fighter.
Once things get going there is some intense fighting as well. The titular battle has its highs and lows — strong when the combat is grounded in some semblance of reality, a little artificial when Superman is whipping Batman around like a rag doll — but the follow ups are quite good, particularly the intensity of the warehouse rescue.
Given the success of the Marvel films, setting the stage for the DC Universe is also an important part of Dawn of Justice, which introduces Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) in what’s pretty much an extended cameo until the end. They also sprinkle in brief appearances of The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg to introduce them ahead of the upcoming Justice League movie.
We like Eisenberg, but his portrayal of Luthor is so manic and flighty that it feels like he has been tasked with combining that character with the Joker. Luthor was always supposed to suppress his true intentions and hide in plain sight. Instead, this version seems legitimately unhinged and has no clear long-term ambition other than ridding the world of Superman. It really misses the mark.
Although both the story and action elements are pretty good, the way they’re mixed together creates some odd pacing. The first two-thirds of the film are probably 90 per cent story, leading up to a final third that it is breathless action — we’re talking 30-plus minutes of nearly nonstop conflict. And seeing Wonder Woman attack with a sword a creature that just survived a nuclear blast comes across as a tad anticlimactic.
Lastly, and most importantly, however, are the plot holes, and there are several of them. Luthor’s methods and motivations are chief among them, such as the trail of bread crumbs he leaves for Lois to follow or his decision to create a world-destroying uncontrollable super creature — again, it’s like he’s bat shit crazy instead of insanely ambitious.
Oh, and why is there no follow up to Batman’s crazy “dream” in which future Flash travels through time to warn him about the need to protect Lois? Despite its seeming importance, the topic literally never comes up again, even when Batman meets Lois.
THE BONUS FEATURES
Both versions of the film (theatrical and Ultimate Edition) are included in the Blu-ray version along with a bunch of extras, many of which seemed aimed at prepping you for upcoming movies as you’ll learn more about Wonder Woman, Flash and so on. Clearly Warner Bros has big plans for the DC universe, and the featurettes here help set the stage for some of it.
Yes, there are problems in Metropolis/Gotham, but despite that we largely enjoyed Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition. It does some effective world building, has good action and features a better-than-anticipated performance from Affleck.