In their first step towards expanding their stable of DC superhero properties into a common cinematic universe, Warner Bros. pits their two biggest franchise characters against each other in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. This 3D Ultimate Edition Blu-ray release includes three different presentations of the film, each on a separate Blu-ray disc. It includes a 3D Blu-ray of the two hour and 31 minute PG-13 rated theatrical cut of the film, a 2D Blu-ray of the same theatrical cut of the film, and a 2D Blu-ray of the three hour and 2 minute R-rated “Ultimate Edition” extended cut of the film.
The Production: 3/5
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Gal Gadot, Diane Lane, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice picks up where 2013’s Man of Steel left off with the world still recovering from the Kryptonian invasion that ended with Superman defeating General Zod after a battle that destroyed large swaths of Metropolis and other cities around the globe. Superman (Cavill) is viewed as a hero by many, but eyed with suspicion by others including wealthy entrepreneur Lex Luthor (Eisenberg), influential US Senator Finch (Hunter) , and masked vigilante Batman (Affleck). Luthor’s manipulative tactics and obsession with all things Kryptonian combined with a jaded middle-aged Batman’s distrust and concerns about Superman’s destructive powers lead Batman and Superman towards the collision course suggested by the film’s title.
In attempting to duplicate the success of Marvel’s cinematic universe in general and the Avengers films in particular, Warner Bros. jumped to a multi-hero team-up story with their second film out of the gate. This saddles the film with a lot of baggage. It not only has to establish the Batman and Wonder Woman characters in this cinematic universe, but it also has to contrive a reason for Batman to find himself at odds with the Man of Steel. As if that were not enough, the film also awkwardly shoehorns in brief gratuitous introductions of three other heroes who will appear in a future Justice League movie.
The biggest challenge that the film addresses with only partial success involves the establishment of Ben Affleck’s Batman character. This iteration is a middle aged crime fighter who has become jaded, cynical, and somewhat sadistic after 20 years as a vigilante in Gotham City. There is a lot of ground to cover for audiences to move from almost any previous comic or cinematic iteration of Batman to the character in this film who literally brands criminals and concludes that he must kill any powerful being if there is even a 1% chance that they will be a threat. My trouble getting my brain around this version of Batman undermined my ability to buy into the reasons that he would come to blows with Superman which, as the film’s title suggests is the centerpiece of the whole enterprise. This flaw is still present in the Ultimate Edition extended cut of the film, but it is mitigated by scenes which more clearly illustrate how Batman and Superman are both being manipulated into a conflict with each other.
Setting concerns about the Batman characterization and gratuitous universe building plot baggage aside, the film is well cast and visually interesting. Affleck makes a good world-weary Dark Knight, Cavill hits the right square but not stupid notes as both Clark Kent and Superman, Gadot is a fittingly regal presence as Wonder Woman, and the unconventional choice of Jesse Eisenberg to play Lex Luthor pays off, yielding the only character in the film who appears to be having any fun at any point in time. Laurence Fishburne does what he can as Perry White, but he is written as such a clueless hack of an editor that I could not wait for any scene including him to end. He deserves better.
One area where the film does deliver the goods is in its super hero action sequences. The action and fight sequences in this film are top notch with great cinematography, fight choreography, stunts, and seamless special effects of the practical and digital varieties.
3D Rating: 4/5
All three versions of the film are presented in a 2.4:1 scope aspect ratio with no variation in the aspect ratio for the scenes that were shot in the IMAX format. The 3D presentation is MVC encoded. The 2D Theatrical and Ultimate Edition extended cuts are encoded with the AVC codec.
The look of the film is heavily stylized which makes assessing its video quality a bit tricky. It was shot in multiple film and digital formats ranging from Super 16 up to IMAX, and contrast and grain appear to be purposefully manipulated for stylistic effect by Snyder and cinematographer Larry Fong. The scenes intended to exhibit heavy grain resolve the grain accurately, so the encode is solid. It is lit and shot in such a purposefully unglamorous way, that it does not necessarily make for reference home theater demo material, but it appears very consistent with the presentation I saw in theaters.
I had avoided the 3D presentation of this film in theaters since I was wary of its prospects to impress based on previous disappointing 3D conversions of dark and stylized films. Based on the 3D presentation on this Blu-ray release, that was a false assumption on my part. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice features an above average 3D conversion with clever use of depth in many sequences. The prologue scene features shots of Ben Affleck moving through smoke which can be a tricky proposition to get right in a 2D-3D conversion process. It is handled impressively here. There were a few ghosting artifacts, more prevalent in the film’s final act, that prevented me from giving it a top rating for 3D presentation, but it was overall very solid and worth a look for stereoptic aficionados.
All three versions of the film feature a Dolby Atmos encoding of the English language soundtrack carried by a 7.1 Dolby TrueHD audio track on the disc. I was only able to listen through a 5.1 downmix of the undecoded Dolby TrueHD track. The mix is very aggressive in a number of ways, especially during the plentiful action sequences. The percussive music score, a collaboration between Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL blending traditional and electronic instrumentation, falls short of the best lossless presentations I have heard due to what sounds like some dynamic limiting/compression, but dialog and effects still sound very good.
Special Features: 4/5
The Blu-ray with the 3D Theatrical Cut of the film includes no promos or extras.
The Blu-ray with the extended “Ultimate Edition” of the film starts with a skippable promo for the Direct to Video Batman: The Killing Joke movie when first played, but has no special features accessible from the disc menu.
The disc including the 2D Theatrical Cut of the film includes the following skippable promos when it is first played:
- Suicide Squad Theatrical Trailer
- Warner Digital Movies Promo
It also includes the following collection of featurettes with an above average number of substantive interviews and behind the scenes footage mixed with the usual quasi promotional electronic press kit material:
Uniting the World’s Finest (15:04) is an overview of the DC Universe and how it is being adapted into a cinematic universe. It includes discussions of existing films and sneak previews of forthcoming ones. It is essentially a promotional puff piece, but worth a look for folks interested in pre-release footage of Suicide Squad or Wonder Woman. On-camera comments are provided by Director/Producer Zack Snyder, Gal Gadot (“Wonder Woman”) , DC Entertainment Chief Creative Officer and Executive Producer Geoff Johns, Ben Affleck (“Batman”), Wonder Woman Director/Producer Patty Jenkins, Jason Momoa (“Aquaman”), Producer Deborah Snyder, Ezra Miller (“The Flash”), Producer Charles Roven, Ray Fisher (“Cyborg”), Suicide Squad Director David Ayer, Sucide Squad Producer Richard Suckle, Will Smith (“Deadshot”), Jared Leto (“The Joker”), Margot Robbie (“Harley Quinn”), Executive Producer Wesley Coller, and Henry Cavill (“Superman”).
Gods and Men: A Meeting of Giants (12:25) Looks at the history of Batman and Superman including their past team-ups and rivalries in comics and other media, concluding with how they were finally brought together in a live action film. On-camera comments are provided by Affleck, Cavill, Johns, Roven, Laurence Fishburne (“Perry White”), Co-Producer Curtis Kanemoto, Deborah Snyder, Zack Snyder, Still Photographer Clay Enos, Coller, and Diane Lane (“Martha Kane”).
The Warrior, The Myth, The Wonder (21:15) is a deep dive featurette on the character of Wonder Woman, her 75 year history in comics and other media, and her current and upcoming depictions in motion pictures. Comments are provided by Jenkins, Deborah Snyder, The Essential Wonder Woman Encyclopedia Co-Author and Wonder Woman comic Artist/Writer Phil Jimenez, The Secret History of Wonder Woman Author Jill Lepore, Roven, Share the Wonder online network Moderator Jennifer B. White, Pet Marston (Son of Wonder Woman Creator William Marston), Zack Snyder, Johns, Wonder Woman Comic Writer Brian Azzarello, Wonder Woman Comic Artist Cliff Chiang, Artist and Wriet Molly Krabapple, Viola Davis (“Amanda Waller” in Suicide Squad), Lane, Journalist Quinn Norton, Media Literacy Educator Andrea Quijada, Musician and Author Amanda Palmer, 3rd Wave Fund Executive Director Rye Young, Saucy Magazine Founder/Editor Kristen Taylor, Robbie, Kanemoto, Cast Trainer Mark Rwight, Gadot, and Coller.
Accelerating Design: The New Batmobile (22:45) is an in-depth featurette hosted by Sal Masekela that focuses on the latest incarnation of Batman’s famous car. Masekala interviews the crew responsible for delivering the vehicle in the film from concept to realization on set. This team includes Production Designer Patrick Tatopoulos, Specialty Vehicle/Batmobile Crew member Dennis McCarthy, Concept Artist Ed Natividad, Set Designer (Vehicles) Joe Hiura, and Batmobile Crew Member Michael Scot Risley.
Superman: Complexity & Truth (7:08) focuses on the realization of Clark Kent/Superman in the movie as played by Henry Cavill. On-camera comments are provided by Cavill, Zack Snyder, Deborah Snyder, Costume Designer Michael Wilkinson, Stunt Man Albert Valladares,
Batman: Austerity & Rage (8:15) takes a similar focus on this cinematic rendering of Batman as played by Ben Affleck. On-camera comments are provided by Zack Snyder, Affleck, Wilkinson, Roven, Deborah Snyder, Jeremey Irons (“Alfred”), Property Master Doug Harlocker, and Stunt Performer Richard Cetrone, Johns.
Wonder Woman: Grace & Power (6:48) continues with the theme of the prior featurettes, this time focusing on the cinematic realization of Woner Woman as played by Gal Gadot. Comments are provided by Deborah Snyder, Gadot, Zack Snyder, Director of Photography Larry Fong, Twight, 2nd Unit Director/Stunt Coordinator Damon Caro, Fight Choreographer Ryan Watson, Fight Choreographer Guillermo Grispo, Wilkinson, and Harlocker,
Batcave: Legacy of the Lair (7:12) takes a brief look at the design of the batcave from concept to construction. On camera comments come from Deborah Snyder, Tatopoulos, Art Director Beat Frutiger, Zack Snyder, On Screen Graphics Artist Gladys Tong, Irons, Harlocker,
The Might and the Power of a Punch (5:15) focuses on the details of the battle that gives the film its title. It breaks things down blow by blow with quantitative explanations of the physics and technology involved.
The Empire of Luther (12:33) Starts with a brief history of the Lex Luthor character from his origins in the Superman comics of the 1930s through today, and then devotes most of its running time to discussions of his conception for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justive as played by Jesse Eisenberg. On camera comments come from:Johns, Zack Snyder, Jesse Eisenberg (“Lex Luthor”), Jimenez, Cavill, Rosen, Holly Hunter (“Senator Finch”), Fishburne, Production Supervisor Bill Doyle, Coller, and Amy Adams (“Lois”).
Save the Bats (4:37) is a brief featurette on bat conservation efforts that were supported by the filmmakers. On-camera comments come from Snyder, Affleck, and Amy Adams along with various crew members and children who participated in a bat house making event.
Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice delivers the goods when it comes to superhero action spectacle set-pieces, but stumbles in its efforts to lay enough track to create a convincing reason for its two primary protagonists to come to blows. This flaw is partially addressed in the R-rated Ultimate Edition extended cut of the film via scenes that more clearly illustrate how Batman and Superman are being manipulated into the titular showdown. Audio/Video presentation is very good with an aggressive sound mix, Atmos support, and a highly stylized but accurately rendered visual palette. Special features are plentiful with a mix of promotional and informative behind the scenes featurettes.