So, a re-review where I will focus on the director's cut differences that made a strong impact on me.
I thought BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN was terrific in its director's cut version. The theatrical cut had me saying, "I've seen worse!" This new version still isn't quite what I'm looking for in a superhero movie, but it's a very good piece of work. Aside from a few profanities and a few shots of a gun to Martha Wayne's head, this could have been released to theatres with a PG13 rating.
The main problems with the theatrical cut -- Superman being a cold and inscrutable figure who doesn't seem heroic and the plot being incredibly confusing -- both are addressed. Quite interestingly, it's the missing plot pieces that convey Superman's compassion and heroism.
In the theatrical cut, Lois is threatened while interviewing an African warlord and Superman rescues her -- but this somehow leads to the village being massacred and Superman blamed and accused of killing all these people -- leading to incredible confusion. Why didn't Superman save the villagers; why only Lois? Why is Superman being accused of murdering civilians? What did or didn't he do, exactly? Because we don't know where Superman stands on interfering and intervening, we have no idea who Superman saves or doesn't save. We have no idea if he cares about people or if he's just getting involved when it suits him -- so Superman trying to intimidate Batman into stopping his crimefighting feels more like Superman marking territory rather than trying to help anyone. Superman saving the little girl from the factory fire had a cold and distant face when people were thanking him; Superman hovering over a flooded town seemed dismissive and uncaring.
But the director's cut irons this out completely. A slightly extended sequence where it's shown that Lex's mercenaries killed the people in the village and burned the corpses before Superman arrived on the scene.
However, a witness mis-reports this, claiming the massacre took place after Superman came on the scene. Clark is shown to be horrified and confused by how his actions are being construed, which is reiterated later on in added scenes where Clark reacts to news coverage of Superman, uncomfortable with being accused of choosing who lives and dies -- which leads to him investigating Batman, who is making that choice by branding criminals who are always targeted for death in prison. Clark's investigation and his managing to find compassion for a rapist sex trafficker makes it very clear: Superman isn't here to fight or impose his values or create a public persona. He just wants to save lives.
It's not really that much extra material. A few short scenes here and there of Clark investigating the jailhouse murder of a Batman-branded convict. A few brief shots of Clark watching debates on Superman. Absent from the film, this material made Superman inhuman and removed. Restored, Superman becomes a hero -- and when we see him rescue a child but be solemn as people reach out to touch him, it's clear that he is uncertain about being a figure of such regard and concern. When we see him hovering over a flooded town, it feels like Superman is simply plotting the best course of action to determine how to save as many lives as possible.
This massive improvement is also especially vital later on -- when the Senate explodes. In the theatrical cut, there's an explosion, we see Superman look around blankly -- then there's news footage of Superman flying away from Washington like he didn't care to do anything to help. In the director's cut, we see victims being treated by paramedics and Superman flying another person down to the first responders -- and then looking at the body bags with grief.
With a Superman worth caring about, the rest of the film works: Batman gunning for Superman has real tension and danger to it now, Superman being pummeled and pulped by Batman and stabbed through the heart by Doomsday is a heartbreaking turn of events, and Batman's regret over misjudging Superman has weight as Superman truly does represent a decency of character Batman no longer believed in.
The clarity of the plot also makes the movie flow much, much better. In the theatrical version, it was unclear what Luthor's plan was. The broad strokes were obvious -- to manipulate Batman into killing Superman in order to act out Luthor's mistrust of anyone more powerful than himself -- but there were too many details without a clear context such as Clark and Bruce receiving letters and photos to manipulate them, the confusing incident in Africa, blowing up the Senate, etc..
Luthor then revealed he was behind all of it, but so much of the film was spent wondering what the point was of all these disconnected events and the theatrical film assigns blame without offering purpose. As a result, the theatrical film suffered from a sense of directionless randomness -- Lois' investigations and Clark's meanderings don't seem to amount to anything.
The director's cut, however, makes it absolutely clear from Africa-onwards that Superman and Batman are being manipulated against each other. Every development from Clark receiving photos of Batman's victims and being assigned to cover Lex's party to Bruce receiving clues about the Kryptonite and the Senate being bombed on the same day Bruce is made aware of his former employee's grief while eliminating evidence that Luthor created a false witness to the massacre -- it's all been to put Batman and Superman in each other's crosshairs and create a mounting enmity between the two.
And because I wasn't constantly doubting my interpretation of onscreen events or unsure of what the characters were doing or why, I was able to really enjoy this individual vision of Batman and Superman. Because I was so involved and compelled, the Martha-climax feels really well-earned.
While there isn't any additional backstory to why Batman has lost his way, the clarity of Lex masterminding Batman's madness is sufficient and there is a terrible sense of unease in this version with a now extremely heroic Superman fighting a noble but wayward Batman. The Doomsday attack, which in the theatrical cut was quite boring for me, was now a gripping sequence because now that I was invested in Superman, I felt every blow and blast he experienced and I was on the verge of tears when he died.
This is a good movie. It may not be the version of Superman that everyone wants, but it's exciting, thought-provoking, compelling and it makes strong choices that draw attention and engagement. This should have been the version released to theatres. It's not a fun, lightweight Marvel movie, but I think that if this version had been shown in cinemas, it would have made 800 million dollars easily in its first couple weeks. I can't imagine anyone going back to rewatch it for fun, but I can imagine people rewatching it to experience an epic journey again and to see how Luthor's plans fit together in such insidious and calculated fashion and to spend more time with Superman.
I think it's a real shame that Warner Bros. had so much faith in this film only to choke when they decided to rip half an hour out of it.