Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was colossal in every sense of the word. The movie pitted two of the biggest superhero icons against each other, and introduced a third character, the ageless Amazonian warrior princess Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). The comic series also brought to younger audiences a new Lex Luthor in the form of the awkward Woody Allen-esque Jesse Eisenberg. But Snyder’s choppy and plodding storytelling failed to impress critics even though the movie managed a sizable box office draw. An extended Blu-ray cut with 30 minutes of extra footage has been promised as salvation, but is it truly?
In an age that has seen the revitalisation of the superhero genre by such directors as Christopher Nolan’s near-genius Batman trilogy and the Marvel movies, Snyder’s attempts to maintain Nolan’s signature darkness while delivering a larger-than-life narrative fell short. Not only did Dawn of Justice reduce Batman and Superman to whiny man-children out to get each other but it did so in scenes devoid of purpose and emotion. The theatrical cut had little semblance of a narrative, with sub-plots either left half-baked or underdeveloped.
One of the reasons DC Comics fans were left reeling after the movie’s release in April was the poor characterisation of the superheroes. Dawn of Justice went to great lengths to portray Superman (Henry Cavill) as an unflinching and self-righteous demigod, while Batman (Ben Affleck) was reduced to a Superman-hating anti-hero. In the expanded version, both heroes are offered more respect and empathy.
A baffling aspect of the theatrical version was Superman’s apathy during the bombing at his Senate hearing. He’s a morally conscious protector who would never leave after people around him have been shot. In the extended cut, not only does he try to save the injured, but he makes meaningful statements to Lois Lane (Amy Adams) about his failure in spotting the explosive. One can understand why Snyder chose to make the cut – to emphasise Superman’s supposed involvement in the blast as is played out in the media – but the inclusion of the snipped moments give the story the complexity it meant to achieve.
Another welcome fix has been to the incoherent opening sequence. Lois is on a trip to Africa to interview a guerrilla group leader when trouble ensues, only to be resolved by Superman flying in to save his lady love. Superman’s action ignites a conversation about whether the all-powerful American hero is answerable to anyone at all. The woman who initiates this idea is Kahina Ziri, who in the theatrical version is seen in just one scene. Ziri is the reason Batman demands that Superman be held accountable. Restoring her character in full allows us to understand Lex Luthor’s involvement in framing Superman in the incident and bring the scrambled plot pieces together. It is his search for Ziri that takes Superman to Gotham City, and it is in Gotham that Superman’s Clark Kent avatar learns that Batman is branding his criminals. This knowledge increases the tension between the two and justifies their final battle to some extent.
The expanded version does its biggest service to the non-superhero on board, Lois Lane. The released movie did everything to reduce Lois to a damsel waiting to be rescued. If there’s one thing that the additional footage hasn’t forgotten, it’s that Lane’s a journalist. The only witness to Superman’s antics in Africa, she investigates the bullet from her journal that had a fleeting mention in the original cut, and she uncovers Lex Luthor’s involvement. Her research also introduces the scientist Jenet Klyburn, who fans know will play a part in future movies featuring the Justice League member Flash.
The additional 30 minutes would have given the movie an adults only rating in the US. Apart from a shot of Affleck’s bare bottom in the shower, we see him guzzling pills to deal with superhero-related stress. This is a more complex Batman, if it were possible. There is also a memorable shot of Lex Luthor caught by the police in a pool trying to make contact with an alien body. In his final confrontation with Batman, he is promised a spot at the Arkham Asylum, which gives hopes of a possible Lex-Joker collaboration. One can hope.
These layers add roundedness to the plot, but they do not add up to a greatly improved movie. At three hours, Dawn of Justice remains a tedious watch. Although the extended cut is more successful in humanising its heroes and villain, to be better than the original in this context is hardly a compliment.