The Reopened Monthly Review of May 2021

Cinemas are back! And in the two weeks (and a bit) since they reopened here in the UK, I’ve been… not at all. Well, I have something of an excuse: I started a new full-time job halfway through this month — on the same day cinemas were allowed to reopen, in fact — which means I can no longer go slipping off there on a quiet weekday afternoon. I shall miss that. Anyway, there’s still evenings and weekends, once I’ve finally settled into my new routine and can motivate myself to get out. Indeed, it’s also affected my viewing at home: the record-setting pace I established earlier in the year, which had slipped slightly by the end of April, has not been regained. All is not lost, however, as May 2021 still managed a couple of firsts. More on those in a minute. First, my viewing list…


#95 The Awful Truth (1937)
#96 Page Eight (2011)
#97 Carefree (1938)
#98 Baby Done (2020)
#99 An American Pickle (2020)
#100 Cinema Paradiso (1988), aka Nuovo Cinema Paradiso
#101 I Care a Lot (2020)
#102 Strange Confession (1945)
#103 Twister (1996)
#104 Spontaneous (2020)
#105 Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)
#106 Stuart Little (1999)
#107 Drop Zone (1994)
#108 The Aeronauts (2019)
#109 Good Boys (2019)
#110 Crank (2006)
#111 Official Secrets (2019)
#112 Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)
#113 Defending Your Life (1991)
#114 Testament of Youth (2014)
#115 Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021)
Cinema Paradiso

Spontaneous

Official Secrets

.


  • I watched 21 new feature films in May.
  • Those included reaching eponymous goal, with #100 being this month’s Blindspot film (more on that in a mo). I got to it on the 5th, which ties with last year for the earliest ever… except 2020 was a leap year, meaning May 5th was the 126th day of the year then, whereas in 2021 it’s the 125th — so, in that respect, this is a new record. Hurrah!
  • I didn’t make it to my new goal of 120 films, though, so May 2020 clings on to that record for the time being.
  • May 2021 has some other achievements to its name, however. For instance, it makes 2021 the first year where I’ve watched over 20 films in each of the first five months of the year. Coincidentally, it’s also my 30th month ever with 20+ films.
  • In terms of averages, that figure surpasses the May average (previously 16.1, now 16.4), but falls just short of the rolling average of the last 12 months (previously 21.8, now 21.0 — so, er, it’s actually bang on it now), and of the average for 2021 to date (previously 23.5, now 23.0).
  • But back to achievements, because, as regular readers may remember, since July 2017 I’ve been tracking the days of the year on which I’d never watched a new film as part of this blog. When I began, I had eight still to check off. It’s taken almost four whole years, but the quest is finally complete: I watched a film on the last outstanding date, May 23rd. What did I choose to mark the auspicious occasion? Plan 9 from Outer Space. A silly film for what is, frankly, a fairly silly achievement. But it’s done now, so I can move on… to making sure I’ve seen at least two films on every date! (Not really.) (But now that I’ve mentioned it… Oh dear.)
  • This month’s Blindspot film: an appropriate choice for this year’s #100, because Cinema Paradiso is all about the love of cinema. Doubly appropriate this month, then, with them reopening.
  • Unfortunately, I watched nothing from last month’s “failures”. A double failure!



The 72nd Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
There’s a few different options this month: films I admired a lot, but would come up short of saying I loved; films I enjoyed a lot, but can certainly recognise their flaws. In the end, I’m coming down in favour of Official Secrets, if nothing else because I think more people should see it. It arguably comes up a little short to be a ‘great movie’, but it’s an important story, well told.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
Sometimes you watch a “bad movie” cult classic and, even though it is technically a terrible movie, you have a great time — I’m thinking of The Room or Love on a Leash here. Theoretically, Plan 9 from Outer Space should fall into that camp. For some people, it does. But not for me — I just thought it was rubbish.

Best Recycling of a Musical Theme of the Month
Okay, the recycling wasn’t actually done by this film — this is the original. But Drop Zone features a throwaway music cue by Hans Zimmer (it plays over a minor bit of action business) that would later be repurposed to much great acclaim: it’s the main theme to Pirates of the Caribbean. That’s become a very popular bit of film music, which is in part thanks to the film being so popular, thereby widening it’s audience, but it’s a great cue in and of itself. It’s far and away the best bit of score in Drop Zone — the rest is wholly forgettable; indeed, it’d be better if they just played “the Pirates theme” over everything… which is kinda what they eventually did in Curse of the Black Pearl, so I guess Zimmer and co learnt their lesson.

Special Award for Achievement in Director’s Cut-ing
Normally when I view a variant cut of a movie — be it a Director’s Cut, an Extended Edition, or whatever — it’s not really that different to the original version; and when that’s the case, it doesn’t get a new number in my viewing (because I’m counting how many new films I’ve seen, obv). But, now and then, one of these cuts does manage to be different enough that I feel it warrants being counted as a new film. I suppose some people would always argue with that, but I feel that if you’ve added or changed enough material that the viewing experience feels different (for good or ill), then that makes the viewing more than just a rewatch. Now, some filmmakers are more prone to revised cuts than others — Ridley Scott, famously, or Peter Jackson — and I notice this when I work out which directors I’ve reviewed the most films by on this blog, because I count those different-but-not-that-different cuts as “bits”. So, for example, Ridley Scott tallies “14 and 3 bit” films; or Peter Jackson has “8 and 3 bits”. But one director has avoided “bits” with impressive regularity, and that person is Zack Snyder. Although I’ve covered extended cuts of three of his movies now (Watchmen, Batman v Superman, and Justice League), his tally has “0 bits”. When Snyder does a variant cut, he really makes it matter.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
It’s a true rarity this month: the victor was April’s monthly review! I’ve been published one of these every month for many years now, but I’m not sure one has ever topped the chart before (but I can’t be bothered to dig through 71 previous Arbies to find out right now).



My Rewatchathon continues to slip behind target, from four short at the end of April to five now. I had intended to finish the Indiana Jones series this month, and also to see Godzilla vs. Kong on the big screen when cinemas reopened, which combined would’ve left me considerably less far off target… but neither of those things happened, so here we are. Maybe next month.

#14 Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
#15 Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
#16 Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

A selection of things I’ve been meaning to rewatch for a very long time, here. First up, Singin’ in the Rain, a musical classic that often sits surprisingly high in polls like Sight & Sound’s — not that it’s not a great movie, but it doesn’t seem to fit with the sorts of things around it at the top end of those kinds of polls. For me, as great and lovely as the film certainly is overall, it still has the occasional minor longueur; and, sure, there are three or four or maybe even five great songs, but also a handful of minor, very forgettable ones; and I’m never a big fan of an extended ballet interlude, although this is definitely one of the better ones. But, as I said, overall it is really good — I’m focusing on the drawbacks because it was a film that I’d wondered if it should’ve been in my 100 Favourites, but I think it was right to just miss out.

As for films that did make my 100 Faves, I’ve been meaning to rewatch the Indiana Jones movies for years. I’m not entirely sure when I last saw them, but it’s been over 13 years, minimum (did I re-watch the trilogy in the run-up to Crystal Skull’s May 2008 release? Maybe (that sounds like the kind of thing I might’ve done), but I can’t remember). I even bought the Blu-ray set when it first came out, which was 8½ years ago, but I’ve never got round to playing it. Now, the series is out in 4K next week, so I thought I ought to watch my darn 1080p discs before I inevitably upgrade (I’m a hopeless case). I grew up loving the Indy films, which is perhaps why I haven’t rewatched them a lot in recent years — they’re so familiar, it’s not ‘necessary’ — but, actually watching them again after so long, it’s reminded my why I should watch them more often: they’re really great.

Also, that long gap means this is the first time I’ve seen Temple of Doom uncut: on its original release in the UK, they cut out over a minute to secure a PG certificate from the BBFC, and that shortened version persisted even until the DVD release, with the uncut version (now rated 12) only debuting on Blu-ray. Temple is the only Indy film not already covered on this site (I reviewed Crystal Skull (twice) while it was still in cinemas, and Raiders and Last Crusade were part of my 100 Favourites series in 2016), so I’ll give it the Guide To treatment sometime. In the meantime, my Letterboxd post is likely a preview of my summary and score.


For the first time in a fair old while, we begin with new releases on the big screen — though, of course, none of these were interesting enough to tempt me out. But, c’mon, Peter Rabbit 2? No thanks. As for the rest of the newest releases, things like Mortal Kombat, Spiral: From the Book of Saw, and Cruella are all movies I’ll happily watch in a few months — or maybe a few years — at home. There was also The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, which is apparently the seventh film in the Conjuring universe, something which has apparently sprung into existence without me even noticing. I don’t intend to play catchup.

Netflix continued to offer some at-home alternatives, of course, include Zack Snyder’s zombie/heist mashup Army of the Dead and Amy Adams thriller The Woman in the Window. The latter slipped down my viewing pecking order thanks to all the negative reviews, while the former, I kinda want to make time to see Snyder’s first zombie flick first. Maybe soon. Also on Netflix, Oxygen sounds up my street as a single-location sci-fi thriller, and, from the back catalogue, Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell made what I feel is a rare streaming appearance — I’ve been meaning to try to see that for years. Amazon Prime didn’t have quite the same calibre of additions, it must be said. I mean, another Liam Neeson actioner, Honest Thief — at this point I don’t even know if that’s a genuine premiere or just one I hadn’t heard of finally landing on streaming. They did add Upstream Color, though; which, like Drag Me to Hell, I’ve been waiting a long time to appear on a streamer. And now that they have, I haven’t watched them. Typical.

I’ve still got a MUBI subscription ticking over, even though I don’t really watch it — there’s a pile of stuff on there I want to see, and I keep telling myself if I don’t cancel then I might watch it eventually, but it’s all, y’know, MUBI-type stuff, so I’m not often in the mood. But additions of particular interest during May included Park Chan-wook’s Thirst and a trio of Francis Ford Coppola movies in The Outsiders, Youth Without Youth, and Tetro. And talking of things I should cancel, I still have Sky Cinema lingering from the Oscars. Like MUBI, they have a bunch of stuff I kinda want to see, although, frankly, it’s mostly lower brow — Angel Has Fallen, Scoob!, the new versions of Charlie’s Angels and The Witches, and so on. Their most recent additions haven’t been up to much, either — Riverdance: The Animated Adventure, anyone?

Over on the free streamers, something else that I’ve wanted to see for a very long time but is never available to stream: a perennial feature on the mid- to lower-end of “greatest film of all time” lists, Paris, Texas, which is currently on All 4, alongside Capernaum (which is on the IMDb Top 250) and One Cut of the Dead (which I’ve seen but really should’ve reviewed). As for iPlayer, the most interesting stuff has been films they’ve had on before that I’ve never quite got round to — Margin Call, Guys and Dolls, the 1958 version of Dunkirk, and so on.

Finally, purchases. A smaller haul than has sometimes been the case, but that’s only by relative standards: I could still name 16 films I’ve bought on disc this month but not watched yet. They include the six titles in Indicator’s third Columbia Noir set; their release of Ridley Scott’s Someone to Watch Over Me; a bunch of classic French films that were randomly cheap on Amazon: Le Corbeau, Quai des Orfevres, and Le Trou, the latter of which is on the Letterboxd Top 250; as is The Ascent, a Criterion title that I also picked up randomly cheap on Amazon. Also randomly cheap on Amazon: the highest grossing film of 2020, Chinese war flick The Eight Hundred; and cheaper than elsewhere, Arrow’s Tales from the Urban Jungle, a two-film set that I was glad to get for a bargain because I already own one of them (The Naked City, although it’s a better transfer here) and didn’t especially like the other (Brute Force, which I do owe a rewatch). Rounding out the aforementioned 16 were two new Eureka releases of Eastern actioners, from very different eras: 1972’s One-Armed Boxer (a riff on The One-Armed Swordsman, a film I loved, with the same star, Jimmy Wang Yu, also serving as writer and director); and, from 2000, Tsui Hark’s Time and Tide. (And, though technically not relevant to this section, I’d like to point out that I actually watched a couple of things I bought this month, too; namely, Defending Your Life and Zack Snyder’s Justice League.)


We’ll be halfway through the year already!

Justice League (2017)

2017 #157
Zack Snyder | 120 mins | cinema | 1.85:1 | USA / English, Russian & Icelandic | 12A / PG-13

Justice League

This review contains spoilers, but only for stuff everybody knows.

DC’s answer to Avengers Assemble begins with a doom-laden cover of Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows (a Zack Snyder music choice if ever there was one), and there’s a lot that “everybody knows” about the troubled production of this long-awaited superhero team-up. Everybody knows that the so-called DCEU was deemed to be in need of a course-correction after Batman v Superman. Everybody knows that this was to take the form of making this film tonally lighter, something Snyder and co said was always the plan. Everybody knows Snyder eventually had to leave the project for personal reasons. Everybody knows Joss Whedon was brought in as his replacement. Everybody knows that meant reshoots and an attempt to lighten the tone further. Everybody knows that was a recipe for a conflicted movie…

For those who are thinking “I didn’t know any of that” and aren’t so familiar with superhero things on the whole anyhow, Justice League is set in the aftermath of Superman’s self-sacrifice at the end of Batman v Superman, which has given Bruce Wayne aka Batman (Ben Affleck) a change of heart: he wants to make the world a better place. When he discovers than an alien invasion is imminent, he teams up with Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) to put together a team of metahumans (read: people with superpowers) to fight it. That team includes Barry Allen aka the Flash (Ezra Miller), Arthur Curry aka Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and Victor Stone aka Cyborg (Ray Fisher) — and, following an opportunity to revive his cold dead corpse, Clark Kent aka Superman (Henry Cavill).

The new trinity?

Justice League has certainly provoked a mixed reaction from critics and opening weekend audiences. It was always going to: Batman v Superman has been very divisive, with critics largely hating it but a dedicated fanbase to be found without too much digging. Justice League compounds that issue by trying to appease critics, risking alienating fans in the process. The end result inevitably falls somewhere between the two stools, which means there’s no predicting what any one person will make of it — following social media the past couple of days, I’ve seen every possible combination of people who loved, liked, hated, or were indifferent to previous DCEU films and now love, like, hate, or are indifferent to Justice League.

So, my personal reaction is that I enjoyed it. On the whole it’s not as thought-provoking as BvS, but is instead a fun time with some good character bits thrown in. From early reviews I feared the whole story would be choppily edited, and the opening act is indeed a bit disjointed and jumpy, but the closer it gets to the team being assembled the more it settles down. Once they’re together, it’s a fairly straightforward action-adventure movie, with the heroes in pursuit of the villain to stop his world-ending plan. Unlike BvS it’s not full of portentous (or, depending on your predilections, pretentious) themes to ponder, but it’s still a reasonably entertaining action movie.

Bruce and Diana

As for those character bits, it completes arcs for Bruce and Diana that have played out over their past couple of movies, both of them opening up to the world and their place in it. Moments that emphasise Bruce being old and tired and Diana stepping into the role of leader seem to have been added during reshoots, no doubt indicating the future direction the DCEU is now reported to go in — Affleck stepping away in the not-too-distant future; the popular Wonder Woman becoming central to the universe. (As a Batman fan, I hope this doesn’t kill off the raft of Bat-family films they’ve been planning. We’ll see.)

For the new team members, it does a solid job of introducing the Flash and making him likeable — he’s under-confident but good-hearted and funny. Fans of the currently-running TV show may find he’s “not their Flash”, and his costume is one of the worst ever designed, but I’ve never been that big a fan of the series and I can live with the costume. Cyborg gets a mini-arc that works well enough, considering he’s mainly there to be a walking talking plot resolution. Aquaman’s also OK, but a good chunk of his part feels like a tease for his solo film — which, by total coincidence, is the next DCEU movie. This all might’ve been more effective if DC had gone the Marvel route of introducing everyone in solo films first, but the film makes a fair fist of the hand it was dealt.

Flash! Ah-ah!

And as for Superman… well, that’s a whole kettle of fish. Firstly, it’s the worst-kept open secret in the history of movies. The final shot of BvS was a clear hint he’d return, so there’s that for starters. Then early promotional materials included him; behind-the-scenes photos referenced him; when reshoots rolled around, the fact they’d have to deal with Henry Cavill’s Mission: Impossible 6 moustache was big news. Despite all that, they left him off all the posters and out of every trailer. Would it have made a difference if they’d publicly acknowledged he was back? Who knows. Let’s judge what we were given.

In short, he’s not in it enough. The story of his resurrection is a decent idea, but the film has to rush and condense the arc of his return, presumably because Warner were pushing for a lighter tone and brisk running time. How his return affects him does complete the overall story that started in Man of Steel and continued through BvS — the story of how an ordinary young man with extraordinary abilities develops into the paragon of virtue that Superman is to many people. Honestly, I believe this was (more or less) Snyder and co’s plan all along, and those haters of Man of Steel and BvS who now say that “Justice League finally got Superman right” have perhaps misunderstood how something like character development works. (Should that entire character arc have been contained in the first movie? I think that’s a different argument — in our current franchise- and shared-universe-driven blockbuster era, character arcs are routinely designed to play out across a trilogy.)

There are no official photos of Superman from this movie, so here's a photo of Lois Lane looking at a photo of Superman
There are no official photos of Superman from this movie,
so here’s a photo of Lois Lane looking at a photo of Superman.

Much attention has also been focussed on the ridiculousness of the moustache removal — both how funny it always was, and how poor the end result is. Honestly, I don’t think it’s as bad as you may’ve heard. I’d wager most people won’t even notice, especially if they’re not looking for it. It’s the kind of thing film buffs see because they’re looking and, yeah, sometimes it’s not great. Personally, I didn’t even think it was the worst computer-generated effect in the movie. Main villain Steppenwolf looks like a character from a mid-range video game, and has about as much personality as one too. There’s terribly obvious green screen all over the place, which is undoubtedly the result of reshoots — sometimes it crops up mid-scene for no obvious reason, other than because they’ve dropped in a new line. Other effects — stuff they’ve probably been working on since principal photography — look fine.

Naturally the effects drive all of the action, for good or ill. Some have said these sequences are entirely forgettable, which I think is unfair. There’s nothing truly exceptional, but how many movies do manage that nowadays? I’d say what Snyder offers up is at least as memorable as your typical MCU movie, which is presumably what critics are negatively comparing this to. The everyone-on-Superman punch-up is probably the high-point, with an effective callback to “do you bleed?” and a striking moment when Superman looks at the Flash (that sounds completely underwhelming out of context…) I also thought the desperate escape with the Mother Box on Secret Lady Island was a strong sequence. The big tunnel fight has its moments, but needed more room to breathe and a clearer sense of geography. The climax is a great big CGI tumult, which clearly aims for epic but is mostly just noise — again, with one or two flourishes.

AQUAman

Another late-in-the-day replacement was Danny Elfman on music duties. It’s proven controversial — turns out there are a lot of fans of Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL’s work on the previous Snyder DCEU films. Personally, I think Elfman’s score largely works — its numerous callbacks to classic themes are better than Zimmer’s musicless thrumming. There’s a massive thrill in hearing Elfman’s iconic Batman theme again, and John Williams’ even-more-iconic Superman theme. In his work on Man of Steel and BvS, Zimmer never produced anything even close to that memorable. Elfman’s style works other places too: an early scene where a bunch of criminals take a museum hostage immediately brought to mind the feel of Tim Burton’s Batman for me, mainly thanks to Elfman’s score. That’s no bad thing in my book.

The biggest point of discussion swirling around the film this weekend, in many circles at least, has been “which bits were Snyder and which were Whedon?” According to one of the producers, the final movie is 80-85% what Snyder shot during principal photography, making 15-20% what Whedon added during reshoots. Not a huge amount, but also not inconsiderable. Personally, while I felt some Whedon additions were glaringly obvious, it also felt to me like a shot or line here and there rather than whole chunks of the movie. I think they’ve done a better job of integrating it than some have given them credit for. I put this down to some people thinking any humourous line must be a Whedon addition, but we know that isn’t the case — they were showing off lighter stuff during press set visits and in the initial footage previewed at conventions, both of which were long before Whedon became involved in re-writes, never mind reshoots. The lighter tone was intended from the off, Whedon just added even more of it.

Born 'borg

For those interested, someone who worked on the film has posted a very long list of changes, attributing various bits to Snyder and others to Whedon. There’s also this tweet, which says Snyder’s original cut went down badly with WB execs (hence why Whedon was sought out) and that the vast majority of Superman’s role was reshot to change it entirely — supposedly all that remains of Snyder’s Superman are his action beats (though Whedon added some more), the final scene with Bruce (“I bought the bank”), and maybe one or two other individual shots. This, then, would be Whedon’s biggest contribution to the film. Some love him for it, others not so much. There seems little doubt this is a lighter, more fun Superman. I liked him, though it can’t hurt that I have a bit of a soft spot for Henry Cavill.

Generally speaking I’m a fan of Whedon — I grew up with Buffy; I’m certainly a Browncoat — but I think his additions (assuming those accounts are accurate) are a mixed blessing. Most vital is all the character stuff he’s slotted in, some of which really adds to the movie — Batman’s pep talk to the Flash about “save just one person” was a highlight, I think. The jokey dialogue sometimes lands, sometimes feels forced — the obvious insert of Batman complaining “something’s definitely bleeding” feels incongruous. I’ve seen some complain that he added too many pervy shots of Diana’s ass in that short skirt or those tight trousers, but then whenever I noticed such shots they were in footage that’s been attributed to Snyder, so who knows.

Well if you wear a skirt that short what do you expect to happen?

Everything to do with the Russian family was certainly Whedon, which I’d rather suspected. I mean, there are civilians there to add stakes to the final battle, so that it’s not just the villain being villainous in the middle of nowhere, but why is it that just one family lives there? Because they were added during reshoots and there was probably neither time nor money for crowds of people, that’s why. Their subplot could’ve been integrated better (it felt like they kept just popping up for no reason), but I liked the eventual pay-off with the Flash and Superman saving them — the Flash saving one carload while Supes flies past with an entire building is the kind of humour I think works in this film.

Justice League is a different movie for Whedon’s involvement, that seems unquestionable. Is it better or worse? That’s partly a matter of personal taste. As my taste stretches to include both directors’ works, I can see positives and negatives every which way. My ideal cut of the movie would likely keep some of Whedon’s additions but lose others, as well as reinsert some Snyder stuff they cut. There’s no pleasing everyone, eh? (If you want to see some of what was definitely cut, there are various shots in the trailers, and someone’s leaked eight short clips from Snyder’s version — mostly of unfinished CGI, but one reveals what Iris West’s role was. (If those clips are even still there by the time you read this, of course…))

The Batman

Finally, the post credits scenes. It’s obvious that the first is a Whedon addition (confirmed by the above breakdown) — it’s just a little coda that doesn’t add anything other than some fun. The second scene, however, is an odd one, because it feels like it’s teasing a movie that’s been uncertain for a long time. If it’s setting up The Batman (because Deathstroke was meant to be that film’s villain), well, we know director Matt Reeves is massively reshaping whatever Affleck had planned, quite possibly ditching Deathstroke altogether. If it’s setting up Justice League 2 (because Lex Luthor’s back with a team-building plan of his own), well, who knows if that’s even happening anymore? It was originally planned this movie would be Justice League Part 1 and be closely followed by Justice League Part 2 — presumably that’s why Steppenwolf is the villain, because he was meant to lead into Darkseid (it’s long been reported that a cliffhanger ending to set up just that was cut by Whedon) — but I believe Part 2 has gone MIA from the schedule, and with Affleck now making definitive noises about wanting out of the franchise… Well, who knows what’ll happen.

Back in the present day, Justice League is set to underperform at the box office this weekend: predictions have been revised ever downwards over the past few days, to the point where it’s now at under $100 million — which is kinda funny because it feels like everyone’s talking about it. I guess that’s the difference between “film Twitter” and movie blogs compared to regular folks. Movie Nerds v Regular People: Box Office of Justice, or something. Funny thing is, for all the hatred these DC movies have attracted, they don’t half get people talking. As I saw someone point out on Twitter the other day, you may not’ve liked Batman v Superman, but it’s more than 18 months later and you’re still talking about it. I can’t even remember which Marvel movie was out 18 months ago without looking it up. This is no doubt a simplification — not everyone’s still arguing about BvS, and one of the reasons Marvel movies don’t stick so long is that they produce so darn many of them — but I do think Marvel films give you fun for a couple of hours, and you can call them to mind again if prompted, while DC films stick around, turning over in your mind, love it or hate it. At least for some of us, anyway.

All in

With Justice League, there’s the added complications of its multiple directors and fraught production. Should we judge a film for what it could have been or for what it is? The latter, surely. The former is definitely an intriguing proposition, but not what’s in front of us (and, as the likes of Blade Runner, Alien³, and Superman II have shown, maybe one day we’ll get a chance to judge that movie anyway). Nonetheless, how much should we take into account the behind-the-scenes issues? Should we just pretend they don’t exist? I guess for a lot of regular moviegoers this isn’t even an issue, but for many of us film-fan types it’s hard to put aside the knowledge that this movie was the product of two directors with very different styles and very different production timeframes.

I don’t have any easy answers, I’m afraid. All I know is that Justice League is far from perfect, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

4 out of 5

Justice League is in cinemas everywhere now.

100 Films @ 10: Most Effective Director’s Cuts

Whether they be director’s, extended, ultimate, or any number of strung-together adjectives someone in marketing thought sounded exciting, direct-to-home-media alternate cuts of movies are all the rage nowadays. They have been for quite a while, actually — thanks no doubt to the booming sales of the DVD era — so for today’s top ten I thought I’d run down some of the most effective. I don’t necessarily mean the best (these aren’t “the ten best films that happen to have extended editions”), but rather the ones that have the biggest positive impact on the end result — which is sometimes the same thing, of course.

I know the initially stated point of these top tens was to look back over the last ten years, but this time I’ve widened the remit to include all extended cuts, mainly because that only added one title. Losing out because of that is X-Men: Days of Future Past – The Rogue Cut, which does contain significant changes, especially to the climax, but didn’t really belong because I actually think the theatrical cut is smoother.

10
Léon
Version Intégrale

To undermine my introduction right away, the extended version of Léon doesn’t actually make massive changes to the movie. Some of the additions bolster character development, but the film wasn’t shortchanged on that in the first place. It is great though, but it’s also just more greatness. Does that mean it shouldn’t be here? Well, if you’re watching the US Blu-ray, it’s the longer version that has the proper title card, which is reason enough to prefer it in itself.

9
Watchmen
Director’s Cut

There are three cuts of Watchmen, but it’s the middle one that is director Zack Snyder’s preferred version of the film (aptly, given its subtitle). I’ve still not got round to the semi-experimental Ultimate Cut so can’t truthfully comment on whether Snyder’s right, but when I reviewed the Director’s Cut I asserted that, thanks to “a little extra room to breathe and a few worthwhile extensions, and in spite of the odd tweak that doesn’t work, this is the superior cut of the film.”

8
I Am Legend
Alternate Theatrical Version

The extended cut of I Am Legend has one of the most meaningless subtitles of all — it wasn’t released theatrically, so how is it an “alternate theatrical version”? That said, “alternate” is definitely a more apt descriptor than “extended”: although this version is longer, the biggest change is a completely different ending. That makes a difference to the film’s tone, as well as paying off some subplots. But it only changes the movie so much — those misguided CGI creatures are still there, after all.

7
Salt
Director’s Cut

This middling action-thriller starring Angelina Jolie is not the first film that’s going to come to mind to most people (for any reason, ever), but it exists in three different cuts that make some striking differences. I discussed them in depth in my review, but on balance the one they labelled the Director’s Cut is best.

6
Alien³
Assembly Cut

The second Alien sequel was a fraught production for a number of reasons, which wound up in an obviously-compromised theatrical version. A little over a decade later (doesn’t sound so long with hindsight, does it?) the original “assembly cut” was released — not a director’s cut because, understandably, David Fincher wants nothing to do with the movie. The different version doesn’t save the film entirely, but it does clarify some of it, thereby improving it.

5
The Lord of the Rings
Extended Edition

From Fellowship onwards, the extended versions of Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic are the preferred versions, deepening characters and expanding the rich world of the story. But by the time of the third and final movie, they’re essential: in a rare misstep, Jackson chose to completely excise one of the trilogy’s primary villains, Christopher Lee’s Saruman, from the theatrical version of Return of the King, so only in the extended version is the storyline of a major character actually resolved. That film won Best Picture nonetheless, which is why these aren’t ranked higher: the extended cuts are better, yes, but the theatrical versions are an incredible cinematic achievement regardless.

4
Sucker Punch
Extended Cut

Zack Snyder again, with another director’s preferred cut only debuting on the home release. This time he had to cut the film for censorship, revising it multiple times until the MPAA gave it the necessary PG-13. In the process, he removed several lines and scenes that helped to clarify what the hell was going on, which is rather helpful in such a crazy-ass movie. I’ve never bothered with the theatrical cut, but — in its extended form if no other — I think it’s something of an underrated movie.

3
Blade Runner
The Final Cut

Arguably the daddy of all alternate cuts, Blade Runner’s so-called Director’s Cut wasn’t really anything of the sort — Ridley Scott was busy and couldn’t be properly involved, merely providing notes for a studio after a fast buck. Years later, he was able to do it properly, resulting in the aptly named Final Cut… which is kinda just a polished version of the earlier Director’s Cut, but there you go. (Incidentally, there are some people who prefer the theatrical version. I’ve still not got round to it myself, but… well, there are also some people who prefer the theatrical cuts of Lord of the Rings. What I’m saying is, there’s no accounting for taste.)

2
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Ultimate Edition

Guess who’s back? Zack Snyder’s third entry on this list is his most effective revised cut he’s yet done. There are aspects of Batman v Superman that mean some people will never like it, but it’s hard to argue that the Ultimate Edition isn’t an improvement, clarifying plot details and character motivations left, right, and centre. Seriously, though, what is it with Zack Snyder and cutting scenes that explain the plot?! At least when he does a director’s cut (which is most of the time) he really makes use of it.

1
Kingdom of Heaven
Director’s Cut

Guess who’s also back? The other great proponent of the director’s cut, Ridley Scott — though he’s more prone to using and abusing the term than Mr Snyder (the director’s cut of Alien is, famously, nothing of the sort). I’ve never seen the theatrical version of Kingdom of Heaven so can’t actually vouch for this myself, but, by adding a massive 45 minutes of material, Scott’s lengthier cut turned a theatrical dog into a film some regard as a masterpiece. I can’t think of another director’s cut that has ever instigated such a thorough reappraisal of a film’s critical standing.

Tomorrow: ten good scenes and no bad ones.

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (2010)

2016 #104
Zack Snyder | 93 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9 | USA & Australia / English | PG / PG

Legend of the GuardiansLegend of the Guardians is pretty odd.

It’s an action-fantasy movie… starring owls. It’s animated, but in a dark, realistic way (think Rango with less cartoonishness and less light). It’s based on a kids’ book series… but directed by Zack Snyder, clearly reining in his R-rated impulses (violence occurs just off screen, leading to “did that happen?” confusion). The story has been relocated to Australia, the cast filled with well-known antipodean actors and their accents.

The cumulative effect is kind of surreal, retaining too much Snyderness to function properly as the kind of movie it wants to — perhaps should — be.

3 out of 5

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

2016 #128
Zack Snyder | 183 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | USA / English | 12 / R

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice - Ultimate EditionThe Batman v Superman Ultimate Edition has been available via various means for a month or more now, but has only hit disc in the UK this past week (and I waited for it, because I’m a good boy). This extended cut adds half-an-hour of material, give or take (comparing the two Blu-rays tells me the difference is just under 31 minutes; Movie-Censorship.com says it’s just under 30 minutes) — material that is unlikely to completely transform anyone’s opinion of the movie, but at the same time definitely does improve it. That means two things: firstly, most of my original review still applies; but secondly, and crucially, some of it doesn’t.

If you hated the movie’s overall dark tone, or its depiction of either of its titular heroes, or the over-CGI’d climax, or the way it shoehorned in teases for DC’s future movies, this cut fixes none of that. I mean, of course it doesn’t — they didn’t remake the movie. If you thought the storyline wasn’t clearly explained, or that Superman’s half of the story needed more screen time, or that you’d really like to have to wait even longer before the title fight, then this is the cut for you.

As per Movie-Censorship.com, there are 99 changes. Yes, 99. That’s made up of 18 wholly new scenes and 60 extended ones, plus 19 scenes with alternate footage and two slight audio tweaks. The clearest effect of these additions is in filling out the events in Africa near the start of the film and Lois Lane’s subsequent investigation into them, as well as showing Clark actually investigating Batman, rather than just having Perry constantly tell him off for doing it. In the process, it massively clarifies who the overall villain is and what connects all the many disparate plot threads, so that it’s a logical reveal rather than an end-of-act-two declaration that some viewers completely missed. Let’s take each of those in turn.

You may have read that the photographer with Lois in Africa is Jimmy Olsen, identified in the credits but not on screen in the theatrical cut. In this version he is named on screen, but that’s not the important part. More is done to establish why Lois is in Africa, what she’s hoping to achieve, and lay the seeds for why it’s all going to go wrong. This is achieved in such a short space of time that it seems ludicrous it was cut out, leaving theatrical viewers playing catch-up when a couple of extra moments would’ve explained it clearly. (Of course, there may be an element of re-viewing bias in this: I already know what’s happening so of course I cottoned on to everything sooner.) When things do go south, more material makes it explicit what happened — what the bad guys do to frame Superman, essentially. It’s possible some of this material was cut to achieve the PG-13 rating, but in doing so they left out bits and pieces that are referenced later, heightening the sense of confusion for theatrical viewers — how are we meant to know a woman testifying to a congressional hearing about “burned bodies” is a reference to events we just witnessed if we don’t see anyone burning any bodies?

This kind of increased clarity follows throughout the film. The fleshing out of Lois’ investigations is what leads to us understanding the overall scheme better when it comes to a head. It’s also where you’ll find Jena Malone’s character. There was much speculation about who Malone was playing, especially after she was cut and director Zack Snyder claimed it was because her character was of greater significance to the DC movie universe than this movie in particular. Turns out she’s… some lab tech. That’s it. Now, her role seems disproportionately small considering the level of actress cast, so maybe she has some secret identity that will be revealed in Justice League; but on the BvS level, she actually helps explain some of the plot, and therefore is much more relevant to BvS itself than that awful Flash cameo or the terribly clunky scene with the meta-human files. If Snyder really wanted to ring-fence the universe-building into the Ultimate Edition, those are the scenes he should’ve excised from the theatrical cut.

Less vital to the overall plot, but which certainly contributes to the titular conflict, is that Clark’s investigation into the Batman is seriously beefed up. It makes Clark/Superman feel like more of a leading character in a film that was, at least as originally conceived, his sequel. In some respects this storyline is a more understandable excision, because Superman’s dislike for the Batman and his methods isn’t entirely unclear in the theatrical cut. Equally, it does flesh it out better and connect up some of the dots, like why he intervened when Batman was trying to steal the Kryptonite at the docks (essentially: a Bat-victim’s girlfriend said Batman needed stopping. Maybe not a great reason, but hey, it’s a reason). It’s a case in point of how this film simply has too much going on. To create a workable version it’s had to be three hours long — that’s the length of two movies, and it does feel like two movies’ worth of material. Not back-to-back movies — you couldn’t cut it in two at the middle and be left with two independent films — but two movies that occur concurrently; intercut. I mean, there are even two big action climaxes, back to back.

In my original review, I noted that there was an “almost-throwaway sliver of dialogue that indicates Lex put all of this together, [but] the way it’s presented in this cut makes it come a little out of nowhere.” I believe some viewers missed that reveal entirely. The primary achievement of the Ultimate Edition, then, is making this story clear. It’s still something of a reveal that Lex is behind everything, but we get there through investigations and deductions that the characters make, rather than arriving at the end and Lex simply declaring, “b-t-dubs, everything you’ve just seen? Totally planned it all.” Personally, I thought Lex’s plot was already fairly clear; not crystal, by any means, but you could get there. I mean, you had to pay attention — probably more attention than most people expect to have to pay in a Zack Snyder blockbuster — but it was there. So it’s tough for me to say exactly how much clearer the Ultimate Edition makes it. It does feel more streamlined, with obvious new bits that help clarify certain points. I don’t think it sinks to the level of spelling it all out slowly and carefully in case you missed it, but it does make it more explicit; and, as discussed, it does that by showing more of Lois’ investigation, so it feels like her role is more substantial too. She felt a little cursory in Man of Steel — “it’s a Superman movie, we have to put Lois Lane in” — whereas here she has a bigger role than her boyfriend… at least until the punchy-punchy climax, of course, when his superpowers win out.

Also in the Lex camp, his mystifying line to Batman about aliens coming (or something) is somewhat explained by a short scene (which was made available online after the theatrical release and is now cut into the film) where he’s shown in front of some kind of creature that disappears when troops turn up to arrest him. I say “somewhat explained” because that’s literally the extent of the scene — there’s not even the vaguest explanation of who the creature is, or what the creature is (another Kryptonian mutant? An alien entity? A man in a suit?), or how it got there, or why it got there, or what it’s doing with/to Lex… It’s just another vague tease, which non-fans must either shrug and ignore, or scurry online to find a forum thread or news article or tweet where knowledgeable fans can tell them what the hell they just witnessed and why it’ll be relevant next time.

That was one of the more sensible removals from the theatrical cut, then. Otherwise… well, I’m not the first to say this, but it’s really bizarre that Snyder seems to have consciously chosen to cut out scenes that actually explain the plot. As I’ve said, it was followable in the theatrical cut, so maybe he just got blinded by the fact he’d seen the movie a thousand times while editing and so it all still made sense to him? Nonetheless, watching the extended cut enhances the feeling (which is there in the theatrical if you know a longer version exists) that the methodology for shortening the movie by half-an-hour was to just select scenes at random and delete them. How else do you explain losing chunks of Lois’ and Clark’s respective investigations while that awkward scene of Perry wondering where Clark’s gone remains in both cuts?

One thing that is pretty apparent about Snyder’s intentions is that he really wanted to make a Batman movie, and I suspect Man of Steel was his way in to getting to do that. Despite launching out of the events of Man of Steel, and engaging with issues of what it means to be Superman (therefore continuing MoS’s theme of “what would it be like if Superman was real?”), and having Lex Luthor as the main antagonist, BvS feels like a Batman-driven movie more often than it does a Superman one. Personally, I get it — I’m more of a Batman fan than a Superman fan too, so that approach warrants little complaint from me — but I can see why Supes’ fans would be miffed.

Another Snyder-related point comes to mind thanks to the numbering system I use for this blog. Most extended cuts of films I’ve already seen don’t merit a new number — i.e. this would be #127a — because they’re usually not significantly different to the existing versions, just adding some character beats, bonus action moments, or extra gags. They’re not fundamental enough to consider it a “new movie”. To be honest, because the extended BvS mostly serves to clarify the plot that was present in the theatrical version, I might’ve just gone with my usual numbering if it weren’t for, (a) everyone else saying how different it is, and (b) the fact a 30-minute extension amounts to 20% more film — no one can call that an insignificant addition. Interestingly, one of the few other extended cuts I gave a new number to was the Watchmen Director’s Cut. And I never bothered to watch the theatrical version of Sucker Punch, but from everything I read I’m sure the extended cut is substantially different and substantially improved. When Snyder does an extended cut, he means it. It’s not just “here are ten minutes of scenes I had to delete but rather liked”, it’s a revised version of the film — and it’s always a better version.

Other, more minor changes in this cut include increased violence, though personally I barely noticed it. Some people seem adamant this should’ve upped it to a 15 certificate, but I think you can justify saying it stops just short of that. Quite what the MPAA saw that merited an R, I’m not entirely sure. More interesting to my weirdly-obsessed mind is that the film actually includes the “Ultimate Edition” title on screen, both during the opening credits and at the end (where it’s technically titled “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition” without any additional punctuation). How many other extended cuts actually change their title card to reflect that fact? Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any.

As someone who genuinely enjoyed Batman v Superman’s theatrical cut, it’s hard to say how much better the Ultimate Edition is for viewers who were less convinced. However, I do think it’s a question of “how much better” rather than “is it better”, because this is certainly a superior version of the film — the fact it’s now over three hours long notwithstanding. The new cut won’t ‘fix’ the movie for viewers who object to the inherent tone and style of the piece, but if you’re open to that, this cut does improve the storytelling and character arcs for a smoother experience overall. I do understand some of the reasons people dislike this movie — the way it modifies characters from their traditional depictions; the overall serious and dark tone — but they’re not opinions I share. It’s certainly not a perfect movie, though: the climax descends into CGI-fuelled mayhem (though the reduced scale of a TV screen makes it more followable); the desire to counter accusations levelled at Man of Steel’s destructive climax gets old fast (the film is at pains to constantly tell us that such-and-such an area is deserted for this-and-that reason); the meta-human set-ups are clunky and distracting; and your mileage will vary on the revisionist versions of Superman and Lex Luthor (I didn’t love Eisenberg’s take on the character, but I don’t mind it either).

I gave the theatrical cut 4 stars, which doesn’t leave me much room for manoeuvre here. Is the Ultimate Edition a whole star better? Maybe it is. I enjoyed it enough that I’m almost kind of tempted to go for the full 5… but that would be pushing it. I’m not sure any movie is perfect, but even for someone who likes it Batman v Superman has enough niggles to discount it. Still, I think it’s an enjoyable, interesting movie, that provides a welcome tonal counterpoint to the efforts of the other superhero shared movie universe. Variety is the spice of life, after all.

4 out of 5

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – Ultimate Edition placed 10th on my list of The 20 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2016, which can be read in full here.

The next film in the DC Extended Universe, Suicide Squad, is in cinemas from today.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

2016 #65
Zack Snyder | 151 mins | cinema | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 12A / PG-13

With Warner Bros’ universe-launching superhero epic now in its second weekend (unless you live in Myanmar or Poland, anyway), you’ve probably more than had your fill of spoilerphobic reviews. So allow me to provide a spoiler-filled one. (There are a fair few of those around too, of course, but not all reviews can be beautiful or unique snowflakes.)

Despite being a sequel to Man of Steel and featuring a Superman-heavy supporting cast (from Batman’s world we have Alfred; from Superman’s we have Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, Lex Luthor, Martha Kent, and (spoiler for something that was in the trailer) Doomsday), Batman v Superman is really a Batman movie. It begins with the latest recap of his origin story — pretty much a prerequisite for any new big-screen incarnation of the Dark Knight. But don’t give up on the film within the opening minutes, because BvS is actually going somewhere with this — the Bat’s backstory has a role to play in the climax. Anyway, after that we get a recap of the end of Man of Steel: as Zod and Supes turn Metropolis into rubble and slaughter untold thousands in the process, we see Bruce Wayne driving and running through the collapsing city streets, heading for a Wayne Financial building where he does superhero-y stuff like save a little girl’s life, and fix the flying Kryptonians with a glare that says, “you are my new enemies.” Central conflict, right there.

I say this is a Batman movie, but in many respects it’s actually a Bruce Wayne movie. Is there a difference? I suppose you could argue not, what with Bruce being the man inside the Batsuit, but I would say a “Batman movie” concentrates on what he gets up to in that suit — fighting crazy villains, essentially — while a “Bruce Wayne movie” would be more about the man, his decisions, his emotions. Now, I’m not about to claim BvS is big on its characters’ inner lives, but if it really taps into the thoughts and feelings of anyone, it’s Bruce. This is a Batman who has perhaps lost his way, scarred by too many tragedies in his life. There are unmissable references to his 20-year crimefighting career; to good people turning bad; the Joker-graffitied Robin suit… This isn’t fan-pleasing/teasing background detail, it speaks to Bruce’s mindset. He’s become the kind of person who believes lines like, “if there’s a 1% chance he’s our enemy, we must take it as an absolute certainty.” He’s a bit of a right-wing nut, basically. If you want to find a character or emotional throughline to the movie, it’s Bruce learning to be a better hero again.

Of course, this being a Zack Snyder film, it often does a muddled job of presenting this kind of material to us. There’s also a heavy vein of what it means to be a hero, with Superman under constant scrutiny for his actions, with questions being asked about what rights he has to act the way he does, and whether methods are needed to stop him. These are potentially interesting themes to tackle, provided you buy into the whole superhero genre in the first place — they don’t really have any real-life equivalent, if that’s what interests you in movies; they’re predicated in the thought process of, “if Superman was real, what would it be like?”

So assuming we consider these as valid things to dig into, it’s a shame the film does a muddled job of it. There’s some grandstanding and speechmaking, and some heavily portentous dialogue, but what is it really saying? Good luck finding out. Maybe repeat viewings and some proper consideration will reveal more depth tucked away there. Certainly, I’ve been a bit annoyed with some of the glib online criticism of the dialogue and the ideas presented through it; commentary that chooses to focus on one sentence that comes at the end of a discussion, so the clever-clever internet person can laugh at the silliness of that line’s question or observation, ignoring the fact that there was a whole range of dialogue before that one line, and in that dialogue the idea was more fully considered or explained. But no, it’s easier to take a soundbite and analyse it as, “lolz, shit dialogue, dude.” I’m not saying BvS has a script of Oscar-worthy, polished, believable, insightful dialogue, but it’s not that poor, either.

But if we are criticising the screenplay, let’s turn our attention to the story and its structure, which leaves something to be desired. This isn’t just the writers’ fault, of course, because myriad things affect a film once the screenplay is signed off. In the case of story structure, editing seems a likely culprit — not the actual cutting together of individual shots to craft a sequence or scene, which is as good here as in any action blockbuster, but in terms of storytelling. Frankly, that’s a bit of a mess. Or a lot of a mess, maybe. Whole scenes serve literally no purpose or are clearly in the wrong place — the bit where Perry wanders up to Clark Kent’s desk and wonders if he’s clicked his heels and disappeared back to Kansas, for example. What purpose does it serve? None. But where it might have a role is where it clearly belongs: a couple of minutes later, right before the scene where Superman is in Kansas, chatting to his mom. Why is it not right before that scene? It’s like someone accidentally dragged it out of place on their computer editing timeline and never noticed. Sure, this is a minor point in the grand scope of the film, but it belies a sloppiness to the entire storytelling.

That extends all over the place. Someone clearly thought the movie was short on action — it has a lot of plot to get through, and whereas once upon a time it would’ve just got on with that plot and happily let all the action sit at the end, that’s not allowed these days. So, unable to find a combat or chase within the real narrative, Bruce has visions of a possible future where Batman wears some kind of dusty trench-coat and battles Superman-symbol-emblazoned soldiers in a Mad Max-esque landscape. In itself it’s a neat, fanboy-pleasing “alternate world” idea, and it’s an exciting sequence with some excellent action choreography, and it certainly looked good in the trailers, but in the film it’s a total aside from anything.

The only purpose it might serve is teasing the future — what is the giant Omega symbol? What are those flying devil-creatures? DC fans know that’s all related to alien supervillain Darkseid, and late in the film Lex Luthor makes a veiled reference to imply that some such alien badass is on the way. Yep, it’s Marvel-style foreshadowing, where every film is just a stepping stone to the next. Except BvS does it even more heavy-handedly than Marvel. As I said, the dream/vision is utterly unnecessary; Lex’s line is nonsensical (how does he know?); and the way other members of the Justice League are teased… You know, I don’t even want to discuss it. It’s a bad Marvel post-credit scene shoehorned into the middle of the movie. It feels like someone accidentally cut a teaser trailer into the actual print of the film. It’s not even so bad it’s good, it’s just tacky. And, I have to say, though I’m not the biggest fan of The CW’s Flash TV show (I think it’s been massively overpraised by some of superhero fandom), Cheery TV Barry Allen seems a much more likeable, comics-accurate version of the character than the movies’ Hipster Beard Barry Allen. Maybe it’s just the beard, I don’t know; but even if it is just the beard, it’s a hipster beard, and it’s wrong.

For a movie that critics stuck it to*, there’s an awful lot to say about BvS — genuine stuff, not just facile observations on hipster beards. This is not a film that needs an extra 30 minutes in an Ultimate Edition. It does need scenes re-arranging; it does need focusing in on its various plots — because there is actually a throughline here; a story that connects all the disparate strands together. Some people will miss it because those strands are so varied and so haphazardly put together, but there is a character who has an overarching plan and has engineered a lot of what’s going on — and as this is a spoilersome review, I can say that character is Lex. It surprised me a little that there was method to the madness; that someone had been orchestrating all these disparate elements. Surprise is good; surprise that makes you rethink the film even better — but you’re meant to rethink to look for clues you missed, not rethink to see if that even fits with everything we’ve seen. That’s because even if you do latch on to the almost-throwaway sliver of dialogue that indicates Lex put all of this together, the way it’s presented in this cut makes it come a little out of nowhere. However, I believe it’s a plausible explanation of events (within the realms of the version of the genre these films are in), and would tie the whole thing together neatly, were it just a little clearer.

So, saying “there’s an awful lot to say about BvS” and then not saying it is a cop-out, but we’re 1500 words deep into this review and I haven’t mentioned: the role of Lois Lane; the role of Wonder Woman; the role of Alfred; how good Ben Affleck is; how wasted Henry Cavill is; Jesse Eisenberg’s performance, for good or ill; what, if anything, the film is saying about government oversight and/or domestic terrorism; the car chase (purely as an action sequence, I liked it); the presence of Doomsday; the battle with Doomsday; the death of Superman and its almost-immediate sort-of-retraction, and whether that was a good idea or not, or if it even matters; why the “Dawn of Justice” subtitle is an accurate addition to the title, but also a pain in the ass to the “Batman v Superman” part; heck, I’ve said nothing of that titular duel itself. When it comes, the fight is inspired by — but not completely adapted from — Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, which should surprise precisely no one as, a) Snyder is an avowed Miller fan, and b) if you’re doing a Batman vs. Superman smackdown, that’s the one to do.

(I also wanted to write something about the film’s lack of attentiveness to cityscapes, because that’s something that interests me and I’ve not seen anyone else discuss it; but I’ve only remembered this after the entire review is finished, illustrated, and scheduled for posting, so it’s quite late at night to get my brain in gear and add it. But if anyone’s actually interested, there’s always the comments section.)

As to those other points… look, I don’t want to get too off-topic, but there’s a rant to be had about discussions of films stopping at opening weekend. “It was cool” / “it wasn’t cool”; “it was fun” / “it wasn’t fun”; “it was an irredeemable piece of crap and I hope it kills off the franchise” / “I can’t wait for Wonder Woman” — followed by, “done now, when’s Civil War out?” Hey, hang around for a minute! There’s stuff here. I know critics just want to barrel on to what’s next because they didn’t like it, but maybe if they stopped to discuss it they’d find there’s more to unpack than they’d like to think? Because yeah, you can see the movie as one long mess before Batman and Superman finally fight, at which point it degenerates into a mess of CGI and aural bombast (seriously, there’s too much noise during the climax), and ends with characters stood around having conversations where the pre-first-draft filler dialogue said, “Give audience an idea what future film(s) will be about while saying absolutely nothing concrete about what future film(s) will be about.” But in that mess (the mess I mentioned at the start of that last really long sentence, remember? OK,) there is stuff going on; there are ideas the filmmakers want to put across, possibly with the intention that they’ll actually be thought about.

And I know it’s just a superhero movie, and I know they’re just ideas about superheroes, and I know if you get into discussions of its representation of women or the legal/political system or any other real-world-connected points then you’re getting into a minefield that the film may not have fully-considered ideas about… but for all his faults as a filmmaker — for all his focus on visual Cool — Zack Snyder has now made at least three films where, buried beneath all that surface noise (both visual and aural), there are things to think about, but because that surface is so polished that it suggests the film must only be skin-deep, the ideas get ignored. The other two films, for what it’s worth, are Watchmen (where, yes, he’s given a leg-up by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ uncommonly thoughtful graphic novel) and Sucker Punch — a movie even more dismissed than BvS has been, but which I maintain has a lot going on.

I’ve even lost myself at this point, so I’ll call it a day. Batman v Superman is a long way from being a perfect movie, and anyone who likes the lightweight fun of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is going to be ill-served here. (Oh man, there’s a whole other semi-off-topic discussion. Ten to fifteen years ago, the only things that could be Cool were dark-and-moody, self-serious, po-faced, grim-and-gritty films/games/whatever; nowadays, you do that and you get lambasted for not being colourful and humorous. Back then, I was miffed that everything had to be the former and when anyone did the latter it got shat on, and now I’m miffed that everything has to be the latter and when anyone does the former it gets shat on. I’m not contrary, I just think we can have, can enjoy, and can accept, both.)

As I was saying: not a perfect movie, but one with a lot of material to provoke thought about both the inherent concepts of superheroes and, external to that, the genre itself, especially the way it’s presented in cinema. I’m not going to slag off the Marvel movies, because they are fun, but the entirety of the big-screen MCU** put together hasn’t given us even a fraction of as much stuff to consider, dissect, analyse, and process as this one bold, messy, controversial movie. I kinda love it for that.

4 out of 5

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is still on release everywhere. The 30-minutes-longer Ultimate Edition is scheduled to be part of the DVD/Blu-ray release, probably in July.


* I won’t trot them all out here, but there are interesting (if you’re into that kind of thing) stats about its critical drubbing vs. its box office performance — essentially, it’s far and away the worst-reviewed super-high-grossing movie ever, as if some omniscient power felt the point really needed ramming home that critics no longer matter to franchises that have what-they-call “pre-awareness”. ^

** “Big-screen” because, in fairness, Daredevil and Jessica Jones are a whole different kettle of fish. ^

What price a ‘Definitive Cut’?

Provoked by, of all things, the Blu-ray release of The Wolfman (this started out as the opening paragraph of my review of that — oh how it grew), I’ve once again been musing on one of my ‘favourite’ topics. No, not “what’s TV and what’s film these days?”, but “which version of a film is definitive these days?”

I apologise if I’ve written extensively on this before; I think I’ve only had the odd random muse in a review, at most. So, much as I got the TV thing out of my system (a bit) in that editorial, here’s an attempt at the “definitive cut” one:

The age of DVD has managed to throw up all kinds of questions about what is the definitive version of a film. Never mind issues of incorrect aspect ratios, fiddled colour timing, or excessive digital processing — these are all potentially problems, yes, but usually quite easy to see where the correct version lies. The question of a ‘definitive version’ comes in the multitude of Director’s Cuts, Extended Cuts, Harder Cuts, Extreme Cuts — whatever label the marketing boys & girls slap on them, Longer Versions You Didn’t See In The Cinema is what they are. But are they better? Or more definitive? Does it matter?

So many consumers hold off for the DVD these days, especially with the added quality offered by Blu-ray, that the old answer of “what was released in the cinema” doesn’t necessarily hold true any more. Filmmakers know some will be waiting for the DVD, so are less concerned with releasing a studio-mandated, shorter, mass audience friendly cut into cinemas when their fuller vision can be found on DVD. Equally, the PR people know that “longer cut!” and “not seen in cinemas!” and other such slogans can help sell DVDs, and so may be forcing needless and unwelcome extensions onto filmmakers. Then there’s all those older directors who think they’re doing a good thing finally getting to tamper with their film 30 years on, who may well be misguided.

Some make it nice and clear for us. Ridley Scott, for example, is particularly good at this: Blade Runner has taken decades to get right, but The Final Cut is quite obviously the last word on this; he was well known to be unhappy with the theatrical version of Kingdom of Heaven, and was vindicated when the aptly-titled (for once) Director’s Cut received much improved reviews; conversely, he’s been very clear that the Director’s Cut of Alien and Extended Cut of Gladiator are not his preferred versions, just interesting alternate/longer edits.

On the other hand, Oliver Stone has now churned out three versions of Alexander [2015 edit: now four], each with significantly differing structures and content. None have received particularly good reviews. Is one the definitive cut? Or is it just a very public example of the editing process; what difference inclusions, exclusions, and structural overhauls can (or, perhaps, can’t) make?

The issue is somewhat brushed aside by two things, I think. Firstly, most stuff that suffers this treatment is tosh. Who cares which version of Max Payne or Hitman or Beowulf or either AvP or any number of teen-focused comedies is ‘definitive’ — no one liked them in the first place and they’ll be all but forgotten within a decade or two, at most (well, not AvP, sadly — its connection to two major franchises will see to that).

Secondly, more often than not both versions are available. Coppola may have vowed never to release the pre-Redux Apocalypse Now ever again, but the most recent DVDs [and, later, Blu-rays] include both cuts — listen to him or go with the original theatrical cut, it’s your choice. The same goes for Terminator 2, or indeed a good deal of the rubbish listed above. Rare is the film that doesn’t fit into one of these two camps, or the third “it’s been made clear” one.

So, with all that said, does it even matter? If we can choose which version we prefer, is that the right way to have things? Because, having gone through the options and examples I can think of, it’s not often that there’s not an easy way to resolve it — by which I mean, if the film is good enough to want the clarity of “which version is final”, we tend to have a way of knowing; and if the film’s tosh, well, what does it matter which we choose? There’s every chance no one involved in the production cares anyway.

There remains one argument for clarity, I think. How does one guarantee that, in the future, the ‘correct’ version remains accessible? With new formats always coming along, there’s no assurance that every cut of a film will be released; with TV showings, there’s no assurance the preferred version will always be the one shown (though there’s another argument for how much the latter matters considering they already mess around with aspect ratios and edits for violence/swearing/sex/etc.) But then, even if a filmmaker makes it clear that their preferred version is the one that only came out on DVD/Blu-ray, what chance is there that unscrupulous disc / download / unknown-future-format producers or TV schedulers won’t just revert to the theatrical version by default?

Sometimes one longs for the simpler age of a film hitting cinemas and that being that. We wouldn’t have had to suffer Lucas’ Star Wars fiddles, for one thing. But then nor would Ridley Scott have been able to redeem some of his films, or Zack Snyder treat fans to an improved Watchmen, or Peter Jackson truly complete The Lord of the Rings. If some level of uncertainty is the price we have to pay for these things, then it’s one even my obsessive nature is willing to pay.

There are 20 different films featured in this post’s header image.
Anyone who can name them all wins special bragging rights.