While still frustrating, the Ultimate Edition proffers a more coherent film.
Like the theatrical cut, we open during Man of Steel’s final moments. Ben Affleck plays Bruce Wayne, rushing through the chaotic streets of Metropolis.
Overhead, Superman battles Zod—a Kryptonian bent on wiping out humanity. The two aliens crash through buildings and unleash arcs of laser-like heat vision.
As Bruce approaches Wayne Enterprises’ Metropolis office, Superman and Zod rip through the building like a bullet. The skyscraper topples. A massive cloud of debris envelops the bystanders.
Emergency responders freeze.
Bruce Wayne runs toward the destruction.
As the dust clears, Bruce snatches a little girl from the path of some falling debris. He crouches down and looks into her wide eyes. “It’s going to be okay,” he says. “We’re going to find your mom. Where is she? Where’s your mom?”
The girl points—arm shaking—toward the smoldering rubble that was Wayne tower. Bruce pulls the girl close and glares up—eyes full of rage—at Superman and Zod still zooming through the air.
That shot dispelled any apprehension I harbored about Affleck in the role. He may not be wearing the suit, but he’s Batman.
From here, the theatrical cut devolves into a mess of dead-end plot threads.
The Ultimate Edition rescues some. Holly Hunter plays a US Senator concerned with Superman’s unchecked role in global affairs. In the theatrical cut, she convenes a hearing, Superman arrives, and the Capitol explodes. The Ultimate Edition proffers more context, including a key scene between Hunter and Lex Luthor, played by Jesse Eisenberg.
Eisenberg’s character remains my biggest disappointment. The film depicts him as an ADD-raddled, crazy tech magnet, but Eisenberg’s performance felt like a muddled amalgam of the Joker and Luthor characters. He didn’t menace or generate sympathy. A colder, more sociopathic portrayal would have helped. Think Bryan Cranston or Claes Bang.
But I digress.
Luthor manipulates Superman and Batman into fighting one another because—well, the Ultimate Edition still lacks a substantial motivation. Luthor also births a giant monster because… well, that’s not clear either.
I said the Ultimate Edition was better, not perfect.
Along the way, we meet Wonder Woman, who the Ultimate Edition regulates to a supporting character versus the theatrical cut’s third lead. This affords more screen time to Clark Kent and his investigation of Batman, building the tension and conflict between the superhero titans. We still get awkward teases for Aquaman, the Flash, and Cyborg, but they’re less awkward, so that’s something.
But even with the extra half-hour, the film feels too short. I can’t imagine someone following the story without having read the comics.
How else to recognize the small, but important bits of characterization? Like how Joker’s murdering Robin lead to this film’s more brutal Batman. Or bigger bits, like uber-villain Darkseid’s Omega sigil in Bruce’s apocalyptic vision and how Luthor’s ramblings in the finale reference Darkseid’s Mother Box technology. Reading between the lines, Luthor was little more than Renfield to Darkseid’s Dracula.
But relying on the viewer’s prior exposure to the characters invites preconceived notions of who these characters should be. And I can’t imagine anyone familiar with the Superman mythos getting behind this version of Luthor.
Knowing director Zack Snyder saw Bruce’s journey as the saga’s through-line (like Tony Stark in Marvel’s Infinity Saga), he needed to start with a Batman movie. One that opened with Bruce closer to his heroic self and ended with Robin’s murder and Wayne Manor’s destruction. Then Man of Steel, then this film. Instead, we’re dropped into the saga midway, without the context to appreciate where Bruce Wayne is in his arc. Imagine a film showing Affleck’s Batman fall to this film’s rock bottom. In my mind, that’s an amazing watch.
One I’m sad we’ll never see.