- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 14, 2018

I have waited a lifetime for a great live-action movie starring DC Comics’ mightiest team of heroes. Well, after watching the debut of Justice League(Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, rated PG-13, 121 minutes, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, $29.99) in ultra-high definition splendor, I’m unfortunately going to have wait longer.

I’ll admit to making a grave mistake by watching “Thor Ragnarok” a week before. Very few superhero films can compete with director Taika Waititi’s joyful appreciation of Thor’s comic book roots, through deference to source material, humor and hair-standing-on-end action.

Fans and I also already know Warner Bros. is currently struggling with transforming DC Comic’s stars into box office home runs.

Its cinematic universe is often depressing and oppressive. If it weren’t for “Wonder Woman,” the studio would have a hard time building a case that it has satisfied DC’s rabid fan base — anyway, not since Christopher Nolan brought the Dark Knight back to the screen over a decade ago.

However, I digress. “Justice League” presents a team of the world’s greatest superheroes — Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Flash (Ezra Miller), Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and Aquaman (Jason Momoa) — assembled by the grumpy Caped Crusader to fill the gap left by the death of Superman (Henry Cavill), seen in “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.”

They are on a mission to stop Steppenwolf (the uncle of the baddie Darkseid). Steppenwolf, a generic, interdimensional supervillain wielding an ax, wants to destroy everyone and everything on earth using Mother Boxes (a trio of energy-transferring, terraforming cubes). So, what’s new?

The team realizes that they need to resurrect the Man of Steel to succeed. The big guy does return in the most uninspired, though slightly creepy, way possible and not following any comic book canon that I was aware of. The plot basically requires viewers wait around for Superman to handle the crisis while the fledgling Justice League flounders.

That’s predictable and boring, and viewers will also find plenty to be depressed about watching the movie with only rare injections of humor, mainly by Flash and Aquaman.

Specifically, early on, Superman’s funeral leads to a disheartened Ma Kent (Diane Lane) and Lois Lane (Amy Adams).

Cyborg is emotionally crushed about his current state of being. Batman broods and grieves Superman. Wonder Woman still mourns the death of Steve Trevor. Aquaman has serious abandonment issues, and the Flash must deal with an imprisoned father accused of killing his mother.

Still, viewers ultimately get a functional origins film, all the requisite moving pieces in place, thanks to director Zack Snyder and a last-minute assist from Joss Whedon.

However, “Justice League” is just never fun or magical and, most importantly, the hero chemistry is sorely lacking throughout.

Now, despite my gripes, all is not terrible. Meeting Aquaman was an epic moment. The swarms of Parademons attacking the heroes was pretty cool. Members of the Green Lantern Corps very briefly fighting Steppenwolf was slick. Batman driving his Knightcrawler (literally a crawling tank) was enjoyable to watch, and Miss Gadot really was a Wonder Woman to watch onscreen again.

It’s worth noting that Steppenwolf, Parademons, Boom Tubes (interdimensional transportation devices), Mother Boxes and all Fourth World mythology in the film was concocted by the brilliant mind and magical penciling fingers of comic book creator Jack Kirby.

Yet, his illustrative themes are not really seen in production design or character modeling unlike the way his work was embraced in, you guessed it, “Thor: Ragnarok.” Yes, I’m obsessed.

As a card-carrying fan boy, I kept rooting for my Justice League to explode on the screen. Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan brilliantly gave new cinematic life to the Batman and Richard Donner’s “Superman” is the gold standard for a living Man of Steel.

Can it be so hard for DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. to combine might and pull off a great “Justice League,” especially with an estimated $300 million to spend?

Time to go back and watch any movie from the Marvel Cinematic Universe to find some answers. I’m firing up “Thor: Ragnarok” now.

4K UHD in action: One can grit one’s teeth about the story but watching the film was pure joy — thanks to its upscale to ultra-high definition, its color-bursting dynamic range enhancements and screen-overloading 1.85 aspect ratio.

Moments to visually savor include: a bubbly underwater fight between Aquaman and Steppenwolf; Superman and Flash duking it out amid blue tinges of lightening; the introduction of the Knightcrawler; and Cyborg’s glowing red eye and metallic suit made of undulating, crystal-shaped body pieces.

Details not missed include: the oxidizing golden Statue of Justice at the Old Bailey building in London with Wonder Woman perched atop it; the tiny freckles on Miss Gadot’s face; the bright green grass of Themyscira; the dimples on Batman’s leather cowl; a field of corn husks with each vein clearly visible; and florescent green Parademon’s blood on Flash’s chest armor.

Now, despite the gorgeous stuff, it was unfortunate that the highly computer-generated Steppenwolf looks almost fake under the UHD microscope.

Special effects creators will really need to watch this development as televisions further accentuate the highest, UHD resolutions.

Best extras: Viewers must load the Blu-ray version of the film to find a selection of featurettes offering roughly 75 minutes focused on the production. The interviews are with most of the cast and crew, sans any directors.

Most maddeningly for its brevity, but appreciated, is a 14-minute overview of the origins and evolution of the Justice League from comic books to animation (“Super Friends” and full length cartoons) and movies. It’s great to hear from pop art creator Jim Lee, animation innovator Bruce Timm and comics writers Grant Morrison and Marv Wolfman.

Viewers will also salivate over the collection of wonderful artwork covering the team’s sequential art history from classic illustrators such as Mr. Lee, Mike Sekowsky, Howard Porter, J. M. DeMatteis, George Perez and Alex Ross to just name a few.

I also enjoyed 12 minutes with Mr. Fisher as he highlighted the origins of the characters Cyborg, Aquaman and Flash, even reading from such classic comic books as “DC Comics Presents No. 26,” “More Fun Comics No. 73” and “Showcase No. 4” that introduced the heroes.

Best of the pure production fodder is 10 minutes with costume designer Michael Wilkinson as he offers an enthusiastic and detailed look at building some mixed media costumes for the Justice League team.

On a sad note, Jack Kirby is barely mentioned throughout the segments with his work only explored in an easy to glance over, 3-minute overview of Steppenwolf. Are you kidding?

Additionally, most notably missing from the extras, besides an optional commentary, are any deleted or alternate scenes from Mr. Snyder’s original vision for the film. Viewers do get a couple of short, alternate glimpses of Superman returning to life but nothing worthy of inspecting.

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