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Entries in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition [2016] (1)

Tuesday
Jul192016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition (2016)

Holy Update, Bat-Fans!

Well, this is a first. I’ve never posted a review update, but the “Ultimate Edition” of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice makes a fine exception.* The film hits Blu-ray and DVD today, and for physical-media fans who avoided watching the three-hour extended cut when it debuted on streaming platforms last month, Warner Bros have put together a nice (if sloppily presented) package that’s worth picking up.

You read that right. No, I didn’t care for the theatrical version when it opened last March. No, I don’t think the extra thirty minutes make Zack Snyder’s DC Universe catch-up game a better film. But BvS has its admirers and, for them, the “Ultimate Edition” will likely be a very welcome addition to their home video library. For the detractors, the main draw is the slew of special features, which, collectively, paint a fascinating portrait of a Film That Might Have Been and a Franchise That Might Still Be.

Let’s start with the movie itself. Besides a few seconds of dialogue added here and there, which help clear up some of the theatrical cut’s more puzzling elements,** the additional footage doesn’t do much to enhance the story—despite providing more characters and “D”-plots to allegedly lend more heft to plots “A” through “C”. We see more of Kahina Ziri (Wunmi Mosaku), the grieving Nairomian woman whose testimony helps bolster the government’s case against Superman as a planetary threat. Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) and Lois Lane (Amy Adams) get to do some genuine reporting and detective work. And there’s a really nice tweak to the penultimate scene in which Batman (Ben Affleck) pays Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) a visit in jail. It’s an allusion to the kind of insanity I hope we’ll see in next month’s Suicide Squad.

Mostly, though, the additional material only underscores the weaknesses of Chris Terrio and David Goyer's entire screenplay. It’s still unclear how Superman and Batman (and their respective secret identities, Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne) could have lived across the bay from one another for nearly two years and still never interacted—or at least have been so unaware of the other’s activities and intent as to be fueled by such distrust and misinformation. In the comics, sure, Bats and the Blue Boy Scout don’t get along, but that’s due to philosophical differences on how to approach the war on crime; not because they’re complete strangers.

We still don’t have a bead on why Lex Luthor hates Superman, or how he has the ability to run a multi-billion-dollar global tech company, when not ranting and mumbling in front of polite society is a problem. Doomsday still doesn’t work. Nor does "Martha!". And we're no closer to understanding why super-powered altruist Diana Prince, aka Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), sat out much of the twenty-first century’s conflicts—including a threat to the planet’s very existence only a year-and-a-half earlier—yet decided to jump off a plane and into the climactic fray. On a cellular level, Dawn of Justice simply doesn’t work.

However…

The thing about physical media, which streaming providers are still catching up to, is the special place in film aficionados’ hearts that’s reserved for special features. When BvS came out last month, those eager to see the longer cut pounced, perhaps without thinking (or caring) that they were just getting the film. Today, Dawn of Justice is available in a variety of physical-media formats, including 4k Ultra HD, DVD, and Blu-ray, and they all carry a small library of bonus content that’s worth checking out.

Depending on the extent of your comics fandom, the supplements may be revelatory or passe. I haven’t read comics regularly in about seven years, and was, even back in the day, only a slightly-more-than-casual hobbyist--which made the micro-doc “The Warrior, The Myth, The Wonder” a very welcome surprise. This terrific history of Wonder Woman features several creators discussing the importance of comics’ first, and still most prominent, feminist icon in their personal and artistic development. It’s not just talking heads from the movie raving about Gadot’s “kick-ass female superhero”, either: “The Warrior, The Myth, The Wonder” walks through the characters' various incarnations, laying out how her costume, motivations, and role in the DC Universe evolved, devolved, and re-emerged during her seventy-five years on the page.

Combined with “Uniting the World’s Finest” and “Gods and Men: A Meeting of Giants”, this feature establishes the Dawn of Justice crew as passionate advocates for these characters, their mythological roots, and their ability to provide hope and inspiration through fantastical adventures. Up-from-the-trenches DC executive Geoff Johns speaks eloquently about the darkness-and-light dynamics of Batman and Superman, and co-producer Deborah Snyder gets fired up about the importance of Wonder Woman in opening up DC to a more diverse audience. It’s puzzling, then, that the end result of this love's labor is a movie in which the two main heroes are grumpy, cynical jerks and the female hero isn’t integral enough (yet) to the story to even be considered a “main hero”.

On this point, the supplements go to great lengths to tease future DC movies, such as the Wonder Woman solo film, Justice League, and Suicide Squad. I was more than a little bored (and slightly depressed) last week, after watching the BvS “Ultimate Edition”, but the passion with which everyone involved with these future projects (especially the “everyones” who are in charge and don't have the last name “Snyder”) perked me right up. Call me a sucker, but I suspect Patty Jenkins and David Ayer might just be able to sweep up (or, at the very least, sweep under the rug) the bleak mess created by Man of Steel and its sequel.

Speaking of perky, the BvS Blu-ray’s extra material is more of a four-color visual feast than anything in the movie they were ostensibly created to promote. On a high-definition display, the blown-up, motion-enhanced comics panels explode off the screen, and I loved the smooth transitions between the expansive Michigan green-screen sound stages and the effects-drenched final footage. A lot of that artistry gets lost in the movie’s chaotic editing and lackluster, overstuffed story, but the behind-the-scenes extras provide a nice reminder that craftspeople make blockbusters—not just a writing/directing team of questionable taste.

The disc contains several other featurettes you may or may not find interesting, but these three really stood out to me. So until there's another way to view the extras,*** I'd say physical media is the way to go.

I began this review by calling the packaging "sloppy". Indeed, whoever approved it has a lot to answer for. The Blu-ray/DVD combo pack has facing and inside-cover push-button hubs, but the set comes with three discs: the DVD is on the inside cover, and the two Blus are stacked on the facing hubs. A flipper would have been ideal in this...um, case, but that's not the most egregious problem.

Discerning the discs' contents is confusing. The DVD contains only the BvS theatrical cut--no extra features. The extended, "Ultimate Edition" of the film is on one of the Blu-rays, but it, too, is extras-free. For the supplements, you have to go to the Blu-ray of the theatrical cut, which is easy to miss because "Ultimate Edition" appears in small type on the other disc. Since this pertinent information appears on neither the packaging nor the discs, I found the supplemental material only after playing a shell game of loading and unloading my player.

These are minor gripes, but ones that may, on some level, speak to a general eagerness on Warner Bros' part to simply get the movie out there. They've got more films to make, more worlds to build, and, hopefully, more lessons to learn.

*You can read my more plot-centric review of the theatrical cut here

**Why, for example, didn’t Superman know he was in the same room as a bomb?

***I'm going to pretend we're all adults here, and that we've ruled out piracy as an option.