Blu-Ray Review: ‘Justice League’ Benefits From Non-Lowered Expectations.
When is a worldwide gross of $657 million a letdown? When you’re Justice League, and the expectation was for a more Avengers-like gross of over a billion and a half, considering that collectively, Superman/Batman/Wonder Woman/Aquaman/Flash/Cyborg are more iconic and recognizable than Captain America/Iron Man/Thor/Hulk/Hawkeye/Black Widow. And especially considering that the uncredited fill-in director for Justice League actually directed The Avengers. Some problems for the movie were unavoidable, as the studio and fans were demanding original director Zack Snyder take things in a less dark direction that he might have had planned, an dthen his daughter sadly died before reshoots could happen, leaving Joss Whedon to take over with both incongruent scenes and a contractually obliged digital mustache removal on star Henry Cavill.
None of this, by the way, is mentioned on the Justice League Blu-ray. That won’t be a surprise to anyone who has bought any of the previous DC Comics movies on home entertainment: there are never commentary tracks, and the extras lean heavily on emphasizing why the comics are important. One thing Warner Bros. doesn’t seem to have realized yet is that flaws are ultimately what make us beautiful — even in the context of their own heroes, Batman is appealing because he’s damaged, Wonder Woman is likable because she’s emotionally open, Superman’s primarily relatable in that despite his gifts, he can never do everything he’s needed for, and the other three are social outcasts. it wouldn’t hurt to admit to flaws, as Marvel sometimes does; even the Doctor Strange Blu-ray had Scott Derrikson copping to the Tilda Swinton casting controversy.
Justice League suffers from circumstances beyond its control, but it also cracks mainly under the weight of high expectations: in the end, it’s a perfectly fun couple of hours of superheroes punching aliens, and all the superheroes are well cast. It’s just what we’ve come to expect plot and thematic heft, even it’s theme not everyone likes, as Batman V Superman certainly showed; love it or leave it, there was definitely a philosophy and theme at play. Justice League begins with one: absent a role model of hope, the world is getting angrier and nastier, and the more we divide ourselves, the more likely we are to conjure demons with our anxieties, in this case literal fear-sniffing, flying zombie bug-men. And there’s certainly no subtlety in the Oedipal complex of a villain who constantly addresses his source of power as “mother.” But then none of these subtexts go anywhere, presumably because the suits insisted that wisecracks and flying punches should win the day. Would it be horrendous to suggest we could have all of these things?
Even if this is a minor Justice League mission, however, it is nonetheless a Justice League mission in live-action, with cool actors in awesome screen-costumes. The result may not be weighty, but slight isn’t a sin, and if you’re any kind of super hero fan, it’s at least a minor kick. On Blu-ray and 4K, the more talked-about special effects “sins” aren’t even that bad: the higher the resolution, the more things like the Gotham backdrop in the opening Batman/Parademon fight, or Henry Cavill’s upper lip, look okay. Which isn’t to say there aren’t signs of rushing to make a release date: some of the buildings when the team lands in Russia look a little shaky, and when the Flying Fox vehicle first takes off, the digitally inserted Alfred watching it leave has some unforgivable pixillation around his “windblown” hair.
Advocates for a Snyder cut are given slim pickings in two extremely short deleted scenes included. One confirms that the trailer shot of Alfred greeting an unseen visitor was indeed him talking to Superman; another shows a recently resurrected Supes declining a new black costume and Kryptonian armor in favor of the familiar red and blue. But speaking of which, it’s clear Whedon didn’t know how to light that particular costume. A featurette reveals that Cavill wears shiny metal muscle-shaped plates under stretched blue fabric, but Whedon’s reshoots (notably the mid-credits scene with the Flash, and the social media video at the beginning) overlight it to the point that it looks like a padded Halloween costume, where the blue “Snyder sheen” always made it look sleek and comic-booky. Also in that featurette? Gal Gadot donning the Batman cowl, which is… kinda hot.
The best behind-the-scenes stuff comes in a section called Scene Studies, which breaks down key action sequences like the tunnel battle, the Amazons versus Steppenwolf, and Wonder Woman saving the hostages. Mixing production visuals with storyboards, animatics, stunt rehearsals and the final onscreen version, they give a surprising perspective on what was and wasn’t a practical effect. In other extras, as is the norm for DC movies, major comics players like Jim Lee, Geoff Johns, and Dan DiDio talk about what the characters mean and how they’ve evolved. None are quite as eloquent as Ray Fisher, who, in a video introducing newest onscreen members Cyborg, Flash, and Aquaman, reads dramatically from older comics with the passion of the heartiest fanboy. Here’s hoping Black Panther‘s success means that Cyborg movie is still on.
And yeah, cool background on Steppenwolf and Jack Kirby, but how is it Marvel beat y’all to putting Kirby designs on screen with Thor: Ragnarok?
I’ll defend Justice League as popcorn entertainment, but I do wish that Zack Snyder had been able to take his murder-Superman trilogy to whatever unfettered conclusion he had in mind. Ironically, being more “crowd-pleasing” didn’t garner any additional praise for Justice League, but ended up making it feel compromised. I’d like to see all involved get another, bolder shot at glory.
[For what it’s worth, I genuinely like all the “DCEU” movies, with Man of Steel my favorite]
Original article at Forbes.