After all the trouble I went through to watch the Ultra HD Blu-ray of this film (read “I Understand Why Our Clients Get Frustrated”), I figured I had to tell you about the audio and picture quality.
If Zack Snyder’s goal was to make a dark, gritty, angry superhero movie set in a mostly nighttime world filled with angry, unhappy, and mistrusting people, he definitely succeeded with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The movie follows (or at least tries to) the dark and somber tone created by Chris Nolan in his terrific Batman trilogy starring Christian Bale, but where Nolan’s Batman films were mostly heralded as terrific, this film was largely panned, garnering a measly 27 percent on the Rotten Tomatoes meter.
We join the neighboring worlds of Gotham and Metropolis where Batman (Ben Affleck) is angry, Superman (Henry Cavill) is angry, Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) is angry, and the citizens are angry. The arch-villain, Lex Luthor (Jessie Eisenberg), seems disjointed and out of place and just trying too hard in most scenes. One of the film’s real treats is Wonder Woman, the impeccably cast Gal Gadot; however, one could easily argue that there was certainly enough story possibilities solely between Batman and Superman’s first onscreen meeting that another superhero wasn’t needed, and much of her storyline just slows the film. If DC wanted to introduce us to Wonder Woman, they could have just as easily done it in a reveal similar to The Flash and Aquaman, as Bruce Wayne searched through Lex’s computer files.
While the film was widely disparaged during its commercial release, the longer Ultimate Edition cut found on the Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray restores an additional 30 minutes to the film designed to solve some of its narrative shortcomings. I can’t offer any comparisons between the Ultimate Edition and the theatrical release as I’ve only watched the longer cut. (In for a penny, right…?) While I found the film mostly entertaining and it mostly held my interest over its three-hour run time, it certainly isn’t a “fun” movie in the vein of Marvel superhero titles, and is a bit slow and plodding in parts. There are very few lighthearted moments or really any fun to ease the tension or lift your spirits, and not as much action as you’d likely expect.
The 4K HDR transfer does the film proud, with tons of detail preserved in the film’s many, many nighttime scenes. Often characters are standing in shadows, or just in straight up darkness, but the Ultra HD Blu-ray preserves fine detail and delivers terrific black levels throughout with no banding or artifacting. Things like the texturing in Batman’s black gloves or the carbon fiber of his suit as he drives the Batmobile are visible even in the black-on-black-on-black canvas of this mostly dark film. Love it or hate it, this is definitely a movie that rewards viewing in a properly lighting-controlled environment and will help you to show off the HDR capabilities of higher-end TVs.
As you’d expect from a massive blockbuster action film, the Dolby Atmos soundtrack is dynamic and top-shelf. The sound design throughout the film is immersive and powerful, taking full advantage of Atmos’ capabilities and putting you right in the midst of the on-screen mayhem. Whether it is swirling wind, the whoosh! as Superman takes off over your head, the crackling of thunder and rain around the room and overhead, the collapse of buildings, or the deep, feel-it-in-your-gut low-frequency impact of each punch from the heroes, the audio never lets up. However, as great as the film looks and sounds, it actually isn’t filled with a lot of terrific demo-worthy scenes. Much of the movie is dialog to drive the plot slowly forward.
Below are my top five audio demo scenes from the movie.
(Warning: Spoilers ahead…)
Metropolis Destroyed, Chapter 1, 5-minute mark
This shows the events of Man of Steel from Bruce Wayne’s perspective as he races around Metropolis trying to get to his Wayne Financial building. The scene starts with some fighter jets racing overhead and a helicopter hovering. Bruce races through the city while buildings collapse all around the room, things shattering and exploding as Superman and General Zod go at it. Glass shatters and concrete erupts as the combatants hurl each other into and through buildings. The tires on Bruce’s SUV chirp and squeal from side to side, back and forth across the room as he races around corners with horns blaring and passing by along the sides of the room.
This scene lays the foundation of why Wayne is so angry at Superman and his seemingly reckless attitude toward humanity. At roughly the 8-minute mark, after the Wayne Financial building has collapsed, the cacophony subsides for a bit and you are immersed in the sounds of swirling dust and debris. Shortly after Bruce rescues a little girl from a large column, the metal girder and concrete straining and buckling in the front of the room, and you get a wonderful sense of the dust and debris wafting over your head and around you, showing off the subtler effects of a really immersive mix.
Police Raid, Chapter 2, 21-minute mark
A pair of Gotham police officers respond to a call at a house in—I was going to say “a bad part of town,” but are there really any good parts of Gotham? As the cops ease their way into the building you get lots of creaks and groans as the structure settles around you. As they move through the building there are drips of water overhead and then a loud crash and screams shrieking right over your head that will likely make unsuspecting viewers jump in their seat. The officers work their way upstairs toward the screams, the strain of music sounding like razor blades on piano wire mixing louder into the overhead speakers, adding to the tension. As the first officer enters the room, he sees a shadowy Batman tucked into a corner and tries to shoot him with his shotgun. The officer blasts off multiple rounds that punch holes in the walls all around and above you.
Batmobile Chase, Chapter 7, 1 hour 14 minutes
The scene starts with the bad guys loading a crate from a large container ship and the camera pans back to reveal Batman standing on top of a crane with a large-caliber sniper rifle. He shoots a tracking marker onto the truck, which zips overhead to chunk into the truck and then Batman jumps into the new Batmobile to pursue.
The Batmobile sounds awesome, and we are treated to no shortage of squealing tires and automatic weapons fire as a chase ensues with cars racing around the room, overhead, and all along the side and rear walls. There are several great sonic moments where cars slide from one side of the room, through the room to the other, or with debris crashing right overhead. Just before the 1-hour, 19-minute mark, Superman appears and kicks the Batmobile into a building. The meeting between Batman and Superman happens with the flames from the crashed Batmobile swirling around the room, and Superman taking off in a whoosh as he disappears up into the ceiling.
Batman versus Superman, Chapter 11, 2 hours 3 minutes
You can’t have a movie titled “Batman v Superman” without having the two titular characters battle, and this is the climactic battle the title promises. However, this scene kind of encapsulates what’s “wrong” with the movie. It’s just grim and not really any fun to watch. I mean, it’s hard to find any real entertainment value in watching Batman smash Superman’s head in with a porcelain sink or repeatedly poison him.
The scene opens with a massive thunderstorm with lightning strikes and rain pouring down all around the room. Superman glides down to face Batman, landing with a solid thunk. Superman walks toward Batman and trips a sonic alarm that puts you in a sphere of disruptive audio. A few feet further, Superman trips a machine gun trap. You hear the weapons engage and then rise from their concealed positions and then send streams of bullets around the room as they ricochet and bounce off Superman. Superman tosses Batman around like he’s nothing, and every crunch and thud will ruffle your pants with massive low-frequency extension.
Throughout the fight, the rainstorm and thunder crackle and crash overhead and around the room. Batman levels the fight by using krypton gas, which renders Superman temporarily mortal. They trade blows back and forth, knocking each other into and through walls and ceilings, the building’s destruction happening all around the room. The fight culminates with Batman swinging Superman around like a plane on a string, crashing him into columns, which collapse and crash around the room and high up the side walls.
Battling Doomsday, Chapter 13, 2 hours 31 minutes
The film’s climatic “boss battle” has Batman and Superman joined with Wonder Woman to take on Doomsday. The majority of the fighting is handled by Superman and Wonder Woman while Batman mostly tries to stay out of the way and serve as a distraction until they can retrieve the krypton-tipped spear, which is located underwater. When Lois goes to retrieve the spear, she is trapped by falling debris, creating a really nice submersion effect in the room with water bubbling up around the room and overhead.
The audio mix throughout the fight does a terrific job in localizing all the mayhem as the fighters battle back and forth. The battle rages around the room, with objects flying overhead and around all sides, and Doomsday’s red electricity crackling and exploding with anything and everything caught in the path of the battle obliterated. This scene will test your subwoofer to the limits with massive LFE levels throughout.
See also: Matt Pruznick’s review of the 4DX presentation of this film