Blu-ray Review: Justice League

By , Contributor
When Justice League hit theaters in November 2017, fans of the DC Extended Universe film series hoped it would continue the corrective effect of Wonder Woman. Over the summer of 2017, that megahit offered hope that the rocky footing of DC's live-action film series was steadying. Wonder Woman impressed critics and fans alike. Gal Godot, introduced as Diana Prince in the heavily-criticized Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, was back for Justice League and Warner Bros. made her the focal point of their campaign as they promoted DC's would-be answer to Marvel's The Avengers.

Of the five DCEU films released so far, Justice League—plagued by a troubled production that saw the exit of director Zack Snyder due to a family tragedy—was the most expensive to produce. It also wound up being the weakest box office performer. It's now available on Blu-ray (also Blu-ray 3D and 4K UltraHD) for all who missed it—or for those with a desire to further examine what is not working in the DCEU.

No snark here. As someone who truly enjoyed BvS (particularly the longer Ultimate Edition home video cut) as well as Wonder Woman and (to a lesser degree) Suicide Squad, I was rooting for Justice League to buck the odds and emerge as the rip-roaring good time it's trying hard to be. After being severely disappointed following an opening-weekend theatrical screening, it was high time to give the movie another shot at home. And it does have some very nice elements. But ultimately JL winds up failing to ignite. 
 
justice_league_gordon.jpg What works: as introduced in BvS, Jeremy Irons continues to be a welcome presence as Alfred, Bruce Wayne's (Ben Affleck) ever-faithful butler. More so than in any previous incarnation, Alfred is a real hands-on player here and Irons makes his technical know-how believable. J.K. Simmons (previously part of Sony's Spider-Man series as a memorable J. Jonah Jameson) debuts in the DCEU with a brief but punchy appearance as a bewildered Commissioner Gordon ("How many of you are there?" an incredulous Gordon asks when confronted by a not-yet-fully-formed Justice League). Of the main characters, Jason Momoa has some nice moments of macho bravado as Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman. And Ezra Miller makes the most of his comic relief role as Barry Allen, aka The Flash. And it's cool hearing snatches of the 1989 Batman theme incorporated in Tim Burton's new score.

But the bottom line is Justice League suffers from a disposable, flyweight story about a big, bad villain dead-set on destroying the entire world. The bringing-together of DC's superhero team couldn't have happened under more cliched circumstances. The heavy here is Steppenwolf (a sub-video game-level CG creation voiced with faux gravitas by CiarĂ¡n Hinds) and we've seen this type of baddie way too many times. Be it Malekith in Thor: The Dark World or Apocalypse in the most-recent X-Men outing, this is the most generic form of all-powerful evil entity to show up in a comic book movie. As Steppenwolf collects the "mother boxes" (kind of like Marvel's Infinity Stones, I guess) that will allow him to reign supreme, no viewer could possibly be blamed for needing a caffeine infusion just to stay awake for the full running time. 

justice_league_bruce_wayne.jpg Director Snyder was unfairly criticized for his BvS, which was actually quite expansive in scope. Who knows how much of Justice League retains his vision and how much has been altered by his fill-in, Joss Whedon (not credited for his extensive re-shoot directing, but the recipient of a screenwriting credit). Suffice it to say that neither BvS or Man of Steel felt like ersatz Marvel. And Justice League does. It would be easy to blame Whedon (responsible for one of the MCU's best films, the first Avengers, and one of its worst, the second Avengers), but ultimately Justice League feels like the product of way too many cooks in the kitchen. The DCEU's best-received film, Wonder Woman, followed the Captain America movie template (shifting WWII to WWI, but retaining a similar retro look and feel) to winning, if not especially original, effect. Justice League attempts to juggle action thrills and laughs with the grace of Marvel's best, but the whole thing feels depressingly like an also-ran.

Stay tuned for the customary post-credits scene in which we glimpse the movie Justice League might've been had it taken an entirely different direction. For all its climactic Doomsday bombast, BvS was powered by the machinations of an all-too-human villain, Jesse Eisenberg's conniving Lex Luthor. Yes, Justice League laboriously resurrects Superman (Henry Cavill), who perished at the close of BvS. It does so without any emotional heft, perhaps appropriate given how emotionally inert Cavill's take on Kal-El continues to be. But the post-credits scene in Justice League gives us another taste of Eisenberg's inspired Luthor madness. At any rate, the Steppenwolf adventure is what we're left with and it's just not enough. Oh, and Ben Affleck is back as Bruce Wayne—but rather than being allowed to lead the team, the film treats Batman almost as a spectator whose along for the ride.

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment brings Justice League to Blu-ray with all the expected technical excellence. There's plenty of audio options to choose from: Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD 7.1., and DTS-HD MA 5.1. Justice League looks and sounds every bit like a film that cost several hundred-million dollars should. The extra features are bound to disappoint. That's largely because unlike the BvS: Ulimate Edition that restored some 30 minutes of unseen footage that truly elevated a flawed film, Justice League's touted "bonus scenes" (announced by a sticker prominently placed on the Blu-ray slipcase) amount to TWO MINUTES. Yes, there are two minute-long scenes dealing specifically with the return of Superman—and that's it.

Better are the featurettes: "Road To Justice" (a too-short recap of DC's Justice League sage; 14 minutes), "Heart of Justice" (focused on the main trio of headlining heroes; 12 minutes), "Technology of the Justice League" (eight minutes), "Steppenwolf the Conqueror" (yawn; at least it's only three minutes), "Justice League: The New Heroes" (self-explanatory, featuring Ray Fisher who portrays the least-interesting new addition Cyborg; 12 minutes), and "Suit Up: The Look of the League" (all about the costumes; 10 minutes).

The unfortunate truth is that the DCEU has staggered forward with all the grace of a train wreck. Justice League could've continued the improvement shown by Wonder Woman, but it falls flat on too many levels.
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Chaz Lipp is a Las Vegas-based musician and freelance writer. His new jazz album 'Good Merlin' is now available.

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