Justice League

Haters be damned, Justice League is actually pretty good. I just wish it was great.

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The theoretically-can't-miss combination of DC's legendary "trinity" of heroes — Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman — has a far greater chance of failure when two-thirds of that crew is already on difficult footing. In the rightly reviled Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, an irrational, homicidal Dark Knight (Ben Affleck) sets his sights on a mopey, defeatist Man of Steel (Henry Cavill), resulting in tedium and the sudden death of the Man of Steel. It did however introduce audiences to the new Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), who has since captivated audiences with her own solo movie and who now elevates this team tale.

The powerful interplanetary villain Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) has returned to Earth, with plans of hellish transformation, so Bats and his Amazonian colleague need to build their ranks if they intend to save us all. They recruit Aquaman (Jason Momoa), the Flash (Ezra Miller), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher, his character retconned from the Teen Titans to the League back in 2011). Some resist the call to action at first, they bicker and crack wise but eventually learn to work together on the way to a decisive confrontation. It's a pretty well-worn path by this point in movie history, and the Hail Mary hiring of Joss Whedon — he the scripter/helmer of The Avengers, the team-up movie that Justice League wants so desperately to be — for late rewrites and reshoots could only accomplish so much.

The fight sequences can be unimaginative, specifically those scenes involving big bad Steppenwolf. He relies upon his go-to move quite a bit, whacking a hero who then goes sailing backward into a wall to leave a sizable dent — that is when the same treatment is not being meted out upon him. Nothing more original? Maybe read a comic book for inspiration? Stylistically, the movie is full of the sort of overblown CGI that helped make Batman v Superman so exhausting, while the dialogue ranges from fresh and clever to dreary and painful.

The thing is, despite its flaws, Justice League is not a trainwreck. Wonder Woman's meaningful character arc continues from her standalone adventure. Ezra Miller's Flash brings dependable comic relief throughout, imbuing this latest DC flick with a long-MIA sense of fun, and the story moves briskly across its two tight hours. It’s not quite the movie that the fans deserve, but it’s definitely watchable.

I could sort of guess which scenes were pinch-hit by Whedon, as they tend to exhibit a lighter tone dramatically as well as visually. Both the lush tones and the more subdued shades are strong, often vibrant, and quite pleasing to the eye, thanks in part to the wide color gamut and high dynamic range. Kudos to Warner for grading the movie in Dolby Vision, although my review was in HDR10. Justice League was captured in a combination of digital video and the Super 35mm film process, the latter being director Zack Snyder's preferred format, but there’s a fair amount of noise on display. The 4K clarity can be striking however, with ample detail shot-to-shot as well as particularly impressive moments like when a distant swarm of bug-men fills the sky, each one tiny and distinct, reminiscent of the hail of arrows in Snyder’s 300.

My issues with the audio on Batman v Superman notwithstanding, this track (by many of the same folks) is mostly a treat. The disc defaults to DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 for some reason, but I opted into Dolby Atmos and enjoyed the TrueHD 7.1 at its core. It is an aggressive soundfield that really sweeps us up into the action, further enlivened with little surprises like a certain ring of power zipping between the speakers. Half a point off for the dialogue though, which more than once was difficult to decipher.

As is too often the case these days, no audio commentary is supplied but there’s a cluster of predictable “gee-whiz” featurettes instead, about the costumes and such, on the bundled standard Blu-ray disc. Vast sections of the movie were reportedly excised, so the deleted scenes were the most anticipated bonus, and ultimately the most disappointing: brief and unenlightening. A Movies Anywhere digital copy code is tucked inside, too.

For Justice League aficionados who felt a bit let down, the timing is just right for the latest “issue” of CultureFly’s World's Finest: The Collection subscription box. Proffered by the same company that put together the nifty Game of Thrones box I wrote about in last year’s Holiday Guide to Blu-ray Gift Sets, this is another quarterly assortment of exclusive and remarkably useful gear but on the DC theme, this time the Justice League specifically.

Drawing from the comics first and foremost, the carton contains a Green Lantern planter (that’s fun to say fast), a Wonder Woman USB charging cable (a la the Lasso of Truth), some lovely Superman wall art, a snazzy Batman belt buckle (with secret compartment, naturally), and more.

The hero item is indubitably the Flash track jacket in (brave and the) bold red, emblazoned with the signature lightning bolt, all in a spring-appropriate weight. Typically subscription boxes contain t-shirts as the wearable, so this is a rather generous upgrade, pegged at a $70 value all by itself. But it’s also reversible, to reveal the uniform of Flash’s arch-nemesis... Reverse-Flash. Which might just make this the most meta article of clothing ever.

To find out more, see past boxes or to order, visit worldsfinestcollection.com.

Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray
Studio: Warner, 2017
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio format: Dolby Atmos with TrueHD 7.1 core
Length: 120 mins.
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Henry Cavill, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher

COMMENTS
jnemesh's picture

4K/UHD can do a lot of things, but it can't make a bad movie watchable. Skip this one. It's BAD.

mjwelters10's picture

I guess I am one of the few who liked BvS. DC heroes are ridiculously overpowered. I thought BvS was a good attempt to portray what would probably happen if someone as powerful as Superman showed up. I thought Batman's characterization was a logical extension of his years in the gutter and how he would respond to the vast power of this alien who has shown up and leveled so much of the city in his fight with another alien. The extended addition was far better than the theatrical since it filled out and gave more space to the plot.

I didn't think Justice League was bad. Rather, it was far better than I was expecting given the reviews. That doesn't make it great - it was just plane vanilla envelope - nothing special, but kind of fun to see the classic heroes together. I found the shift from the darkness to the brightness in terms of the actual picture as compared to BvS was a bit jarring. The move of the final scene to some backwater little town reduced the stakes too much. Far better to have civilians actually at risk as in Man of Steel if you want there to be some drama.

I think the more fundamental problem with the DC universe is that the heroes are overpowered compared to the Marvel heroes. That makes the Marvel heroes far more interesting. It's just too hard to make a compelling, character-driven movie about characters with this kind of power level if the characters are to be kept true to their all-round goodness that they historically had in the comics. Marvel's characters were more complicated and so didn't carry that expectation into their movies. Thus the power levels and historic characterizations of the heroes in Marvel makes for better cinema.

jnemesh's picture

Power levels are an issue, but not THE issue. The biggest issue with DC is that their characters were created in a different age. Superman is the embodiment of "Truth, Justice, and The American Way"...which was fine in 1940...not so much today. Batman is likewise dated, and isn't helped at all by Ben Affleck's lackluster performance. Don't even get me started on "Aquabro".

Marvel's heroes have ALWAYS been easier to empathize with. They are us...with all of our petty flaws and shortcomings...they just have powers to deal with ON TOP of everyday life! Superpowers didn't make Spiderman rich...he struggles to pay rent in addition to fighting crime! And anyone who has felt at any time like an outsider can relate to the X-Men and mutants in general, whether you are (were) like me and "just a geek" growing up...or especially if you are a person of color or LGBT...mutantkind is a strong allegory for those marginalized by society.

DC on the other hand has gods and goddesses, people imbued with power from magical rings bestowed upon them by mysterious forces, the King of Atlantis, and aliens with god like powers. Kind of hard to relate to those types...

Now, Marvel hasn't always knocked it out of the park (See Thor 2, Iron Man 2 (and 3), and a couple others...but it's at it's best when it boils down the story to stakes that are deeply personal (see Ant-Man and the TV show "The Gifted") instead of universe shattering. (which is why I am a LITTLE concerned over the new Avengers...)

If you can't make us care about the fate of the CHARACTERS, it's really hard to care about the decisions they make, or the movie itself really. This is why I walked out of Justice League halfway through. I only really cared about Wonder Woman, and she wasnt enough to make me want to sit through a movie with the rest of the cast. Cyborg was too mopey, Flash was too annoying, Supes didnt show up yet, but I had enough of him in the LAST two movies...and Batfleck (sigh).

It takes a LOT to get me to walk out of a movie, but this was bad enough that I didnt even feel bad doing it.

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