The Justice League Blu-ray ignores the super-sized elephant in the room.

Feature Don Kaye

Mar 20, 2018

The Blu-ray release of director Zack Snyder’s Justice League is notable for the very little of Snyder we actually see in the disc’s bonus features: he’s sort of a ghostly presence, glimpsed directing scenes here and there in the behind-the-scenes production footage but not really present at all. But we still see more of him than Joss Whedon, who stepped in to rewrite and reshoot a substantial portion of the film after Snyder left the production due to a terrible family tragedy.

Whedon is not visible on the Blu-ray, and the extensive overhaul that Justice League underwent during his tenure on the film — a retooling meant to make the film lighter and jokier in contrast to Snyder’s darker Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice — is not addressed at all despite being documented exhaustively by the press. Yet the shadow of the turbulent process that brought Justice League to the screen hangs over the Blu-ray and makes it seem as curiously incomplete as the movie itself, which isn’t the complete disaster that many feared but also feels very much like something assembled as professionally and coherently as possible out of damaged or disorganized components.

With Snyder himself not featured much on the Blu-ray, fans shouldn’t be surprised or disappointed to learn that there is also no discussion of or tantalizing references to the already mythical “Snyder cut” of the film. The disc contains just two brief deleted scenes, both related to the resurrection of Superman (Henry Cavill): one shows him in his Fortress of Solitude after he’s brought back to life, considering and rejecting a black suit in favor of his traditional costume, while the other is the deleted trailer scene in which Supes stops by the Wayne lake house to say hi to Alfred (Jeremy Irons).

Despite rumors that as much as 45 minutes of Snyder’s footage was left out of the finished film, the Blu-ray offers up less than five. That suggests that even if some of the unseen Snyder footage might be interesting from a narrative point of view, it never got far enough into post-production to be completed in a way that would be viewable. While Snyder most likely put together a rough assemblage of all the material he shot at some point (a common enough practice), that would be still probably be a far cry from any sort of “cut” that the director himself would hold up as his final vision, or something close to it.

Breezing through the bonus content on the Blu-ray, one almost wishes that the studio would just say “the hell with it” and put the whole story out there for us to see. Fans already know about the difficult birthing process that Justice League went through; official documentation of it might actually engender increased awareness of just how complicated the making of any film is and the kinds of pressures faced by filmmakers. That could in turn generate empathy or even a slightly more generous attitude toward folks like Snyder and Whedon — who are, in the end, just trying to do a good job even if their motivations or decisions end up not being the best for the film.

But who’s kidding who? Even though some of the best film documentaries — on home video or otherwise — have been the ones showing us the process warts and all (docs on Apocalypse Now, Jaws and Brazil come to mind), there’s just way too much at stake now. The studios would rather put out a promotional package trying to sell you on how incredible their movie and/or franchise is and what a noble job everyone did to make it, even though you have obviously already bought the damn thing since you’re watching the bonus features telling you this.

The Justice League’s bonus features begin with “Road to Justice,” a potted history of the team from the comics to the animated versions to the film, featuring the usual DC suspects/luminaries like Dan DiDio, Jim Lee, Bruce Timm, Geoff Johns and so forth. Standard featurettes on the costumes, the League’s onscreen tech, the Trinity (Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman) and the new members (Aquaman/Flash/Cyborg) all follow, as well as a close-up look at the villain Steppenwolf — although why anyone would want to draw even more attention to one of the most generic antagonists in any superhero movie to date is mystifying (although the wholly CG character’s rendering and the voice work by Ciaran Hinds is better than it initially got credit for).

Five scene studies, in which specific sequences such as the tunnel battle and the Amazons’ fight with Steppenwolf are broken down and analyzed, are also included. These result in fairly interesting looks at how such visually complex showstoppers are assembled — and again, it’s a tribute to the professionalism of all involved that they managed to get it done (some noticeably shaky CG shots aside) despite the behind-the-scenes turmoil.

As for the movie itself, my own initial response to it has not changed too much on seeing it again — unlike Batman v Superman, which diminishes every time I watch it. Justice League does feel unfinished and undercooked, but it’s still reasonably entertaining, fast-moving, and delivers whatever superhero fun it contains through its cast and their chemistry.

Ben Affleck is solid in his second outing as Batman, with the addition of a few one-liners this time out, while Gal Gadot’s glorious Wonder Woman proves to be as much the heart of this movie as she was her own. Ezra Miller’s Flash is the welcome audience surrogate of the story, awkward and skittish yet ultimately courageous, and a nice foil for Jason Momoa’s gruff, impatient Aquaman. I was most surprised by Ray Fisher’s intensity as the haunted Cyborg, a character we should see again even if the ever-shifting vagaries of the DC Universe have left his solo film in limbo.

Each of the heroes has an arc, their internal squabbles are believable (and funny) and it’s cool to see them together in costume even if the film never delivers the same kind of iconic moment that Whedon’s The Avengers did with its famous circular shot of the team. Justice League, upon repeated viewings, isn’t a bad movie — it just seems like the bare bones film-by-committee version of the epic it wants so badly to be. You won’t find that epic — or a “director’s cut” of it — on this Blu-ray, if ever.

Justice League is out on Blu-ray, DVD and digital now.