Combustible Celluloid
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With: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Amy Adams, Diane Lane, Henry Cavill, Robin Wright, Jeremy Irons, Connie Nielsen, Amber Heard, Kiersey Clemons, Billy Crudup, J.K. Simmons, Ciarán Hinds, Joe Morton, Jesse Eisenberg
Written by: Chris Terrio, Joss Whedon, based on a story by Chris Terrio, Zack Snyder
Directed by: Zack Snyder
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action
Running Time: 120
Date: 11/17/2017

Justice League (2017)

3 Stars (out of 4)

A Team Come True

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Well, this is a happy surprise. After the sludgy, lumbering, overly-serious smash-fests Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and the misfire of Suicide Squad, it looked like the DC Extended Universe was down for the count.

But then came this summer's inspiring, uplifting Wonder Woman and now a truly joyous, lovable Justice League, which opens Friday in Bay Area theaters. It's like a great comeback in the World Series.

A huge reason for the success of Justice League lies in a change of pitchers. When director Zack Snyder suffered a personal tragedy back in March, he eventually made the difficult decision to step down.

Joss Whedon, whose work on the ensemble of Marvel's The Avengers (2012) was so remarkable — not to mention the liveliness of his writing and the clarity of his directing — replaced him.

The result is not exactly cohesive — it's as if Orson Welles were called in to re-shoot an Ed Wood film — and it's easy to guess which scenes are Whedon's and which are Snyder's.

Any scenes that contain laughter or joy, or moments of humanity, are probably Whedon's. Anything that includes digital globs bashing one another against walls is probably Snyder's.

Yet it works wonderfully. It has the feel of something handmade and patchwork, of different personalities stacking ideas on top of one another. Perhaps the two opposites coming together have created a movie that all superhero nerds can love.

The story has a dull digital supervillain called Steppenwolf, employing an army of big bugs straight out of Wreck-It-Ralph, and coming to take over the world. To do so, he must gather three "power boxes." It's pretty basic bad guy stuff, and the movie's biggest drawback.

But the good news is that he inspires Batman (Ben Affleck) to form a team. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is already on board.

They recruit a silly, eager Flash (Ezra Miller), whose socially awkward comments are pretty funny. A hard-drinking, badass Aquaman (Jason Momoa) takes a little more coaxing. And Cyborg (newcomer Ray Fisher) is still adjusting after technology from one of the power boxes was used to save his life.

Superman (Henry Cavill) appears in a delightful, winning flashback/prologue.

Incidentally, no one here calls anyone by their superhero names. It's a first-name basis: Bruce, Diana, etc. It's like a club that any misfit could join.

The first three films in this series favored a gray, grimy look, wherein the bright red and blue uniforms looked like they needed a wash. Justice League turns up the lights and brings back boldness and brightness. Brooding and depression are gone.

Whedon also hired Danny Elfman to compose a more old-fashioned, trumpeting superhero score; he pays homage to his own 1989 Batman theme as well as John Williams's legendary 1978 Superman theme.

Even non-superhero Lois Lane (Amy Adams) becomes more human here, and not just a victim to be rescued. As the movie ends, she writes up her latest, sure-to-win-a-Pulitzer story, saying that "darkness is not just the absence of light; it's the conviction that the light will never return."

With Justice League, the light has returned.

Warner Home Video's Blu-ray release comes with a bonus DVD and digital copy. The video transfer looks excellent, capturing both Whedon's boldly colored footage as well as Snyder's grim footage and finding a happy medium. Sound is also fine, although I've heard complaints about wasting disc space for two tracks, a Dolby Atmos track and a 5.1 track, but most casual viewers will be pleased.

Extras include two brief deleted scenes, several studio-produced featurettes, with some comics history, which is fun. Ciarán Hinds appears in one extra, but there's very little mention of Snyder or Whedon and all the post-production "fixing" that occurred; it has all been swept under the rug. In any case, hopefully folks will give this a second chance now that expectations are not in the way.

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