This week marks the digital HD release of Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment’s Suicide Squad, the third film in the burgeoning DC Extended Universe. While generally well-liked amongst fans (read the Comics on Film review here), critics hammered writer/director David Ayer’s effort a little harder than even Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Similarly to BvS, though, Warner Bros. has made an “extended cut” of the new film available beginning this week, featuring a little bit more footage with Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, and Jared Leto’s incarnation of the Joker. Overall, the effect of the new footage is marginal at best, and doesn’t illuminate a whole lot of apparently cut scenes like many fans were hoping it would. However, extended/alternate cuts are not new to superhero films, and there are five particular instances of note that actually made a fair amount of difference in the perception of the final film.
Let’s take a look at a few of these instances, shall we?
5) X-Men: Days of Future Past – The Rogue Cut
Perhaps 2014’s most unexpected critical hit in the genre, Bryan Singer’s return to the original 21st century superhero film franchise went a long way in correcting a lot of missteps made by previous directors in some of its preceding installments. By reshaping the continuity of the entire series and, in turn, reviving (or re-powering) many players taken off the proverbial “board,” Days of Future Past was a smart and engaging unification of the original cast introduced in 2000’s X-Men, and the newer cast introduced in 2011’s X-Men: First Class.
When fans learned of the fact that actress Anna Paquin’s Rogue was initially going to be included in the film before being cut from the theatrical release, a fair amount of them were disappointed. Rogue tends to be a popular X-Man after all, and Paquin was one of the original performers who brought Singer’s first X-Men film to life. Shelving her performance seemed like an odd choice, considering that her character has a pretty high profile most of the time.
So, the “Rogue Cut” was looked upon with a fair amount of interest as soon as it became clear that it was coming. While Days of Future Past remains mostly intact as the solid piece of mutant cinema, the addition of the Rogue character and an entirely new subplot involving her intervention in the corrupted Sentinel-dominated future made for yet another solid addition on top of an already satisfying film. “Cut for time” would seem to be the most applicable phrase associated with these elements being excised from the theatrical version. While it’s not as much of a game-changer as some of our other choices, it does add some welcome new material to the proceedings.
4) Daredevil: The Director’s Cut
Director Mark Steven Johnson’s take on Marvel’s Man Without Fear is not a particularly well-regarded entry in superhero cinema, and it’s pretty easy to see why: some overwrought staging, a relatively uninspired romance and an only peripherally sympathetic hero tend to cover up the elements that actually did do right by the character. On top of that, the overall campiness brought about by the film’s version of Bullseye unfortunately tends to overshadow the inspired and even excellent choice of actor Michael Clarke Duncan as Wilson Fisk, aka the Kingpin.
Nevertheless, the R-rated “Director’s Cut” of 20th Century Fox’s Daredevil does a surprisingly solid job in making the film better. From a deeper look at the activities of law firm Nelson & Murdock that features a very entertaining performance by Coolio, as well as ol’ Hornhead making some decidedly more heroic decisions than he did in the theatrical cut, these two factors and a few more help to elevate this version of Daredevil above its theatrically-released counterpart.
If you already find yourself predisposed to hating the 2003 Daredevil film with a burning passion, the Director’s Cut likely won’t end up doing too much for you. If, though, you’re more ambivalent than outraged, you may just find a slightly better movie worth a little more of your time.
3) Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – Ultimate Edition
The first of two Zack Snyder-directed films appearing on this list (and the second of two Ben Affleck-starring roles), we already went over the five best changes that the “Ultimate Edition” of this year’s most polarizing superhero film added to the experience. While the expectations of some fans were likely a little too high for this longer version of a largely critically derided film, the addition of 30 minutes to its existing two-and-a-half hour runtime is not a small chunk of material. While Dawn of Justice still has a fair amount of issues, the so-called Ultimate Cut does do a fair amount to mitigate some of the film’s larger problems.
Seeing Clark Kent actually conduct some investigative reporting was certainly one of them. In the original cut, it never really felt like the conflict between the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel was particularly well fleshed out. By observing Clark actually find out why he shouldn’t like Batman or his methods, we better understand – not significantly, but just enough more – why he would be so dead-set against allowing him to continue operating.
Add to this some additional breathing the film is allowed to have in showing us why Lex Luthor is the ultimate manipulator, and you have a better – though still flawed – final product. Even nearly eight months after its initial release, tempers still tend to run high about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The bottom line here, though, is that if you already really hated the film, 5/6 of its extended edition still contains what you’ve seen before. The additional sixth may end up striking a better chord, but don’t expect it to completely change your perceptions of the movie overall.
2) Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut
Another polarizing Snyder-directed superhero film was his 2009 adaptation of, perhaps, the single most critically-acclaimed comic book series of all time: Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen. While not as pronounced as the vocalizations would be surrounding Batman v Superman, you’re likely to find hardcore lovers of the original comic book story in equal amounts who both love and hate Snyder’s effort here to adapt it. Looking back, the theatrical version of this film is clearly the one most handicapped by the transfer to the medium of film. I also seriously doubt that Snyder intended that version to be the final word, since there’s not just one extended/director’s cut of this movie: there are two.
The “Director’s Cut,” released at the same time the theatrical version made it to home media, contains a significant amount of material that brought the film a lot closer to the way that the book plays out. Adding an additional 23 minutes to the already long runtime of the theatrical version, additional scenes included Rorschach’s confrontation with the police in the Comedian’s apartment, a longer look at the reunion of the heroes, a bigger look at Dr. Manhattan’s and the Comedian’s involvement in the Vietnam War, and most pivotally, the murder of original Nite Owl Hollis Mason. For fans of the book, the inclusion of Hollis’ murder seemed especially gut-punching, especially when looking at the way Snyder shot it: almost like he got to relive his glory days in the Golden Age one last time.
The “Ultimate Cut,” which would be released near the end of 2009, included all of the previous footage from the Director’s Cut but added in the animated film The Tales of the Black Freighter. In the original book, Black Freighter was a comic book within the comic book, telling an oddly parallel story to the book’s primary events. Originally released as a separate animated film, the Ultimate Cut incorporates it into the main movie, making for a similar – though not identical – kind of experience. Overall, if you’re a fan of the original book but have only seen the theatrical cut, set aside a day (because that’s just about what you’ll need) and give the “Ultimate Cut” of Watchmen a try. If you love the characters, it’s likely well worth it.
1) Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut
Being distinguished as one of the more unique instances of an alternate cut in modern movie history, the Richard Donner Cut of 1980’s Superman II came about from an unprecedented fan write-in campaign to see the film constructed, and arrived 26 years after the original version of the movie directed by Richard Lester bowed in theaters. While the Donner Cut and the theatrical version of the first Superman sequel are, in essence, still the same movie, the biggest departure that arises from the restoration of Donner’s vision is a complete and very noticeable change in tone.
As we’ve detailed before, the behind-the-scenes difficulties between Donner and the producers of the massive Superman project – Alexander & Ilya Salkind and Pierre Spengler – caused the Omen director to be fired before he had the chance to finish the sequel. This caused the Salkinds to hire Richard Lester, who unnecessarily reshot many of the film’s already completed scenes in order to qualify as the sole director credit under the rules of the Director’s Guild. As a cost-cutting measure, the Salkinds also removed scenes featuring Marlon Brando as Superman’s biological father Jor-El in order to avoid paying the iconic actor portions of the film’s grosses. Donner would go on to lament his removal from the second film and the series overall, commenting once that had he remained on as director, he and Reeve could very well have made several more Superman films together. If only.
While Donner had only actually completed shooting about 80% of his version of Superman II, the write-in campaign caused the studio to solicit his input and the skills of editor Michael Thau to actually bring as close an approximation of the original vision of the film to life. This is accomplished with some necessary shortcuts: in place of a couple of unfinished scenes are some slightly shabby-looking screen tests with Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder, as well as the re-use of the spinning the world backward. That ending was originally supposed to be the end of the second film, but was instead moved to the first one to end it with a visual spectacle.
Overall, while technically an unfinished film, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut is a worthier follow-up to the original film than the theatrical version of the sequel, because like the original, it treats the material with more respect. Lester never really concerned himself with that, as clearly evidenced by the Superman film he made solely on his own in 1983 co-starring Richard Pryor and Robert Vaughn.
What’s your favorite alternate cut of a superhero movie? Leave your pick in the comments below, and we’ll see you next week for a new edition of Comics on Film!