Release Date(s)2016/2021 (March 23, 2021)
Studio(s)DC/RatPac-Dune/Warner Bros. (The Warner Archive Collection)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B
Unpacking Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a complicated task. The film has been enormously polarizing, more so even than Snyder’s Man of Steel. The good news is, this Ultimate Edition—which includes 31 minutes of additional footage—is a better film than you experienced in theaters. The bad news is, it’s 182 minutes long, relentlessly dark and depressing, and it serves more as an over-stuffed preview for Justice League than an entertaining story in its own right.
It opens with Batman (Ben Affleck) and much of humanity blaming Superman (Henry Cavill) for the destruction of Metropolis. An investigation by Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) uncovers a sinister effort by Lex Luthor (Jessie Eisenberg) to orchestrate and amplify that blame. It seems that Luthor wants Superman dead, and he’s hoping Batman will make that happen. In the event he fails, Luthor has a back-up plan to use General Zod’s body—and the Genesis Chamber aboard the crashed Kryptonian ship—to engineer a monstrous and destructive alien force known as Doomsday.
As a follow-up to Man of Steel, Batman v Superman is a film that nobody wanted (certainly not DC fans or those who actually enjoyed Man of Steel). But in their greed to emulate the box office and merchandising success of Marvel, Warner Bros. decided to fast-track the birth of their superhero franchise. Rather than taking their time to introduce each character organically, they rush one overstuffed and under-baked blockbuster after another into theaters.
Batman v Superman does at least answer one of the criticisms of Man of Steel, specifically that it never addressed the fallout of the destruction of Metropolis; Batman’s motives are grounded in the fact that hundreds of Wayne Enterprises employees were killed in the battle with Zod’s forces. And this Batman has already suffered too many losses, leaving him brittle and bitter. Wonder Woman (Gal Godot) is introduced just in time to potentially lighten things up, but we barely get to know her. Instead, it’s Lois Lane who drives much of the story early on, as her investigation into Luthor parallels Batman’s own. But Cavil’s Superman gets short shrift here. His arc is helped at least by new Ultimate Edition scenes with his parents (played once again by Diane Lane and Kevin Costner). The Ultimate Edition also fills in some of the theatrical cut’s story gaps, and takes its time setting up Batman and Superman in opposition to one another, but it magnifies some of the theatrical cut’s problems too.
Like all of Snyder’s films, Batman v Superman features a parade of slow motion “impact” shots and flashbacks—so many, in fact, that they lose some of the power they might have had if used more sparingly. This film is just too damn long, and nearly half of it is unrelenting destruction. Worse yet, the dialogue exchanges tend to be brief, glib, on the nose, servicing the plot instead of the characters. And key logical gaps remain. Having grown up in America, wouldn’t Superman know who Batman is? Surely The Dark Knight’s exploits vs. The Joker would have made the national news. Wouldn’t Superman have seen the Bat Signal above Gotham during his time in Metropolis? It’s just across the bay. And how is it that Bruce Wayne seems unfamiliar with Lex Luthor when their respective global empires are headquartered in neighboring cities? Anyway...
Batman v Superman was shot both digitally (in the ARRIRAW codec at 3.4K) and photochemically (on Super 16, Super 35, and 65 mm film) using a variety of cameras and lenses, and it was finished as a native 4K Digital Intermediate. Depending on the theatrical venue, it was exhibited in either 2.39:1 widescreen or a variable ratio that shifted between widescreen and 1.33 for select IMAX sequences. While the 2016 home release of Batman v Superman was handled by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, Zack Snyder’s newly-remastered Ultimate Edition is technically a Warner Archive Collection title. And unlike the original 4K package, which included the 152-minute Theatrical Cut on Blu-ray and the Ultimate Edition on UHD—each in widescreen only (see our review here)—this release includes a single UHD disc that preserves the variable aspect ratio presentation in 4K. The film’s widescreen footage was always of excellent quality, with good image detail and moderate grain, but the newly-inserted IMAX footage offers a striking uptick in clarity and texturing. The large-format imagery really does draw you and the transitions aren’t as jarring as you might expect. What’s more, Snyder has completely regraded the entire film for high dynamic range (in HDR10 only, though Dolby Vision is available on HBO Max) to adjust the palette more to his liking. The color is somewhat less vibrant now, but no less nuanced. The image is a little more steely and sepia-toned, with greater contrast. Warm yellows become paler golds, forest greens have replaced brighter emeralds, blue skies are now more gray. Shadows are deep yet detailed, while the brightest areas of the frame are a little bolder. The film definitely looks better here than ever before, especially those IMAX scenes. This is a very pleasing 4K image.
Audio is available here in the same English Dolby Atmos mix as before. The soundstage is big and wide, with smooth and enveloping use of the surrounds, nice vertical extension, and tremendous low-frequency effects. Dialogue is generally clean and clear, though a few lines are a bit more difficult to discern amid all the explosive carnage. Composer Hans Zimmer broadens his score from the thumping bombast of Man of Steel with the help of Junkie XL, though the result is over-the-top in its own way, punctuating scenes and key imagery with blustery themes and fanfares (Wonder Woman’s among them). Additional options include English Descriptive Audio as well as 5.1 Dolby Digital in French, Italian, and Castilian Spanish. Subtitles are available in English (for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing), French, Italian for the Deaf, Castilian Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Latin Spanish, Arabic, Czech, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Polish, and Swedish.
There are only two special features on the 4K disc:
- Introduction by Zack Snyder (HD – :31)
- Audio Commentary by Zack Snyder
Snyder’s introduction basically just lets you know that he’s fixed the color and restored the film’s variable-aspect framing. But the audio commentary is terrific. In fact, I much prefer it to the EPK featurettes from the original disc. Snyder talks at length about his approach to the film’s iconography and themes, and his effort to ground the story and characters in Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s journey” mythology. Once he calls attention to it, you can see that he’s dropped little hints and Easter eggs to this effect in nearly every scene, visually quoting from classic paintings, religious imagery, Frank Miller comics, and the like. He also discusses the story and backstory in depth, and helps to fill in details that you might have missed or that might not have been clear before. It’s a great listen. Note again that Warner Archive’s 4K package does not include the film on Blu-ray Disc, but you do at least get a Digital code on a paper insert.
Batman v Superman isn’t the atrocity that some critics (and fans) would have you believe, though it’s fair to say that this Ultimate Edition is somewhat more compelling than the version seen in theaters. The story at least makes sense now and feels far less incomplete. Still, one can’t help thinking that there was a better film to be made here, had this sequel been less burdened by Warner’s haste to get to Justice League. Snyder’s remastered 4K Ultra HD looks damn great though, and his audio commentary is a treat. So if you’re a fan of Batman v Superman, this is definitely the version you’ll want to seek out and keep on disc.
- Bill Hunt