4K UHD - Image A- Sound A- Extras B
Blu-ray 3D - Image A Sound A- Extras B
starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Amy Adams
screenplay by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon
directed by Zack Snyder
by Walter Chaw Marrying the worst parts of Zack Snyder with the worst parts of Joss Whedon (who stepped in to complete the film after Snyder had a family tragedy), DC's superhero team-up dirge Justice League shambles into unnatural half-life with a message of apocalyptic doomsaying presented now without puke filters, so that it looks like a movie my mom watches on her television with the motion-smoothing turned on. The same trick has been attempted with a script burdened by Whedon's patented hipster-ese, which went stale about halfway through "Buffy"'s run, let's face it. The Flash's non sequiturs (Whedon's suggesting he's autistic (which isn't funny)), Aquaman's hearty, get-a-haircut bro-clamations ("I dig it!" and "Whoa!" and so on)--all of it is so poorly timed that it's possible to become clinical about what happens when a punchline is grafted onto a piece at the eleventh hour, and it doesn't help that no one in this cast is known for being even remotely funny or glib. Jason Momoa is a lot of things; Noël Coward ain't one of them. When Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) shakes her head bemusedly (I think) and says warmly (I guess), "Children. I work with children," you get that sick, embarrassed feeling that happens when you're watching a person you want to like succumb to flop sweat and overrehearsal.
It's not her fault, it's the film's for being awful without also being interesting. Justice Leaguethreatens to be interesting for exactly one minute when it shows a woman owner of a small grocery getting menaced by a couple of white guys. The implication is that the world is so fucked-up following the demise of Superman (Henry Cavill and his digitally-erased moustache) that hate crimes are back. And then the movie's not about that anymore. There's a good bit where the newly-resurrected Superman stops fighting something to save a building full of people--and then there's the only remotely emotional moment in the entire thing when you see Kevin Costner in a photograph holding a trout that is not Henry Cavill. The rest of it is disjointed, desperate casting-about--the filmic version of getting lost in the woods with idiots and it's getting dark. Batman (Ben Affleck) assembles the other superheroes from the poster to fight the bad guy from Thor 3 (there's also a mention of a goddess of death but Cate Blanchett was busy, right?) and CGI hench-things that are sort of like the Geonisian bug creatures from the Star Wars prequels. (Inspiring a reference to the Star Wars prequels probably not the desired result of the dumptrucks full of money engaged in the creation of this calamity.)
The consensus seems to be that Justice League at least isn't as bad as Suicide Squad, which is like comparing something favourably to eczema. Granted. Yes, you got me: it's better than skin disease. I would offer that Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman and Man of Steel were at least fascinating in their atrociousness while Justice League is so desperate to be pleasant (when its core is so obviously bleak) that the best thing you can say for it is that it's puzzling. Watch it in a theatre to witness half the audience tilt its head like a dog hearing a new noise. Consider that all that desperation shares time with two or three superhero origin stories crammed into whatever cranny's available, leaving the genesis of Cyborg (Ray Fisher) a garble right up until he bonds with Flash (Ezra Miller) over their being the team's "accidents," setting up a bro-bump that is never paid off because the script is a piecemeal slop-and-shuck. Flash has an imprisoned dad who something something garble garble, and then there's the pregnant moment where it appears as if Wonder Woman is going to make sexytime with Batman that caused half the opening-night crowd to physically recoil. Mark this as the instant that Affleck's romantic Q-score fell below Tom Cruise's. Anyway, there's a scene on Amazon Island and one in Atlantis; there's no fish-talking even though that's the whole deal with Aquaman (Momoa); and the bad guy is named after either a Herman Hesse novel people read in Intro to Cosmology or a band whose best song was "Magic Carpet Ride." Don't @ me.
And then of course there's a lot of punching that doesn't lead anywhere because nobody can be hurt, and Affleck shoehorned into a suit looking exactly like I do when I wear a sweater under a jacket that fit thirty pounds ago. It's fair to ask why these superbeings need to cling to the back of a vehicle to climb out of a hole but, you know, life is short enough as it is. Justice League is a hot mess, a film that was probably about something accidentally before it became about nothing on purpose. The thing to appreciate vis-à-vis Snyder's truncated run as the DC Cinematic Universe's showrunner is that he doesn't understand and maybe hates Superman. He captured the despair of our current state: the toxic masculinity, the triumph of mediocrity, the destruction of empathy and critical capacity. His Man of Steel and Batman v Superman predicted the Trump presidency and this new age of virulent anti-intellectualism and progressiveness-as-weakness. It was ugly as fuck and uncompromisingly pessimistic about the current state. They were films we deserved. Justice League is a late-game attempt to put lipstick and a dress on Ted Bundy. It's bent backwards across itself to be liked, forgetting that you first need to hire creators who are likeable. The most interesting thing about it will be the revelation that audiences might have actually gotten smarter since the election. God, you can hope, right? Originally published: November 17, 2017.
THE 4K UHD DISC/THE BLU-RAY 3D
by Bill Chambers Warner brings Justice League to home video in 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray 3D, and Blu-ray releases, the first two of which come with a backup copy of the latter. I'll start with the 4K version. The picture was shot with both 35mm and digital cameras in resolutions as high as 5K, yet, unlike Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which had a 4K D.I., the end result was mastered in 2K. The 1.78:1*, 2160p transfer has therefore been upscaled to reach 4K, but it's definitely sharper than the lower-res alternatives. A close-up of Wonder Woman starting at around the 9:06 mark practically individuates every strand of hair on her head, while the costumes, to their detriment, are so ridiculously detailed it's like looking at them under a microscope. Which, rest assured, is not the best way to observe these over-filigreed rubber monstrosities. In fact, one's appreciation of the visual effects--especially Henry Cavill's mesmerizingly stiff upper lip (only in studio filmmaking do you spend millions digitally removing a moustache instead of throwing a dime at the other production to buy a slab of yak hair)--only becomes more ironic with the UHD bump. Even though there is plenty of deep contrast on display, I suspect that HDR simply throws too much light at the image, revealing information that was meant to fall into shadow. HDR (that is, HDR10--the disc is additionally flagged for Dolby Vision playback) does finesse the colours significantly, diluting the thick teal overlay that bedevils the Blu-ray and giving extra pop to elements like Cyborg's corvette-red heartlight. It also, alas, overemphasizes an already-heavy-handed grain structure: The mid-credits tag, where Flash and Superman stand in a dirt road in broad daylight ready to race each other, swims to mind as a scene where the grain resembles a plague of locusts. So much light is hitting the water when Diana recounts the villain's dumb backstory to Bence Waynefleck by a lake that it was obviously very tricky to expose, and the sequence has a comparatively washed-out appearance in 4K UHD. On the other hand, HDR adds considerable juice to Flash's lightning bolts and other highlights created by superhero sorcery, as well as the setting sun of Smallville; the presentation boasts some of the brightest whites I've yet seen from the format, but it's nearly always justified.
If Justice League offers a state-of-the-art 4K experience, it is truly in its cheese element in 3-D. Though the film was postconverted into 3-D (by Canadian production house Gener8), a number of shots were patently conceived with 3-D in mind, such as the oranges that go flying in slow-motion during the opening credits; the single bullet fired towards hostages (and the camera) in the museum hijacking; or the explosive splintering of wood when the Amazons smash the temple columns to smithereens. New-style superhero cinema is mostly dudes in pyjamas hurling trash at each other anyway, lending itself to an old-school comin'-at-ya use of 3-D--and Justice League is no exception. Raindrops and floaty snowflakes meanwhile make for a reliable trigger of slack-jawed awe. The 1.78:1, 1080p Blu-ray 3D image is sufficiently luminous and vivid, with minimal crosstalk. (What little there is was possibly introduced by my display, an issue I discussed here.) This is easily the most demo-worthy 3-D I've sampled at home.
Across the board, Justice League features a Dolby Atmos soundtrack that downmixes to 7.1 Dolby TrueHD for plebes like me. Maybe this rocks the hizzy with height channels but I mostly found it to be fatiguing whenever the action ramps up (and each big set-piece sounds exactly the same: noisy). Your mileage may vary. I will say that dialogue is, yes, lamentably clear, and Sigrid's cover of "Everybody Knows" has striking warmth and presence. And kudos to Warner for not making the Atmos track a 4K exclusive to try to force an equipment-upgrade on consumers, like a few of the major labels are doing these days. HiDef supplementary material is relegated to the Blu-ray and does not address the behind-the-scenes shakeup, although the 15-minute "Scene Studies"--comprising the featurettes "Revisiting the Amazon," "Wonder Woman's Rescue," "Heroes Park," and "The Tunnel Battle"--confirms that Zack Snyder was responsible for at least four big sequences in the finished film. I admired stunt coordinator Eunice Huthart's enthusiasm in these but it's depressing to see that most of this movie was shot inside a hollowed-out green sponge. (Heroes Park was actually built for Batman v Superman but the FX team opted not to re-use it because they wanted more freedom of camera placement.) In a fascinating twist, the production got permission to shoot at the UK's historic Old Bailey but wound up having to recreate it in painstaking detail on a soundstage anyway due to the stuntwork involved. Some of the B-roll is kind of neat, I guess, like the halo around Flash's waist that allows Ezra Miller and his stunt double to do complex pivots. Plus it's nice to know that a number of Wonder Woman actresses were invited back to Themyscira for Justice League, since that's an area where the producers could've cut corners without viewers being any the wiser.
"Heart of Justice" (12 mins.) interviews DC stalwarts like Geoff Johns and Jim Lee about the iconic power and enduring significance of Justice League members Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman. It's nothing you haven't heard before, except that Cavill's dog is named Kal-El. The recent additions to the DC Cinematic Universe--Cyborg, Aquaman, and Flash--are profiled separately in "Justice League: The New Heroes" (12 mins.), hosted by Cyborg actor Ray Fisher, who has a Will Smith-ian charisma that is entirely unapparent from his Marvin the Paranoid Android act in Justice League. For what it's worth, this segment sold me on Cyborg and Aquaman (and even the casting of Jason Mamoa) better than the movie did. "Road to Justice" (14 mins.) is about the many turning points in the Justice League's conceptual evolution, including Len Wein's '70s print run, which comes in for praise from no less than Grant Morrison for predicting today's serialized television. I was delighted when they touched on TV's "Super Friends"; whither the Wonder Twins and their pet alien monkey, Gleek? "Steppenwolf: The Conqueror" (3 mins.) gives the hard sell to the shittiest big-screen comic-book villain since the shit cloud in Green Lantern, to no avail. Ciarán Hinds playing Steppenwolf in person instead of voicing a sub-Orc MoCap piece of garbage, now that could've been grand. Lastly, "Suit Up: The Look of the League" (10 mins.) and "Technology of the Justice League" (8 mins.) subject Michael Wilkinson's super-suits and Patrick Tatopoulos's super-gadgets, respectively, to a fatal amount of scrutiny in celebrating the intensive preparation that went into them. Rounding out the special features are two short, worthless deleted scenes involving Superman. Poor Superman. Poor me. There's a bonus digital copy of the film inside the keepcase, by the way. Both of them.
*As usual, Warner's back-cover boilerplate erroneously claims 1.85:1.