The Flash

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 8/29/23;
Warner;
Action;
Box Office $108.13 million;
$29.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray, $44.98 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for partial nudity, action sequences of Violence, some strong language.
Stars Ezra Miller, Sasha Calle, Michael Shannon, Ron Livingston, Maribel Verduì, Kiersey Clemons, Antje Traue, Michael Keaton.

Director Andy Muschietti’s The Flash would probably have been better regarded as a fun superhero movie if it weren’t dragged down by the baggage of the so-called DCEU.

On the one hand, it’s a solid portrayal of the character that, while taking some liberties with the source material, doesn’t deviate so much from the comics that he’s unrecognizable to fans. On the other hand, the film’s connection with the larger DC movie continuity serves as a beacon-call for hate-watchers to pick apart all the ways it doesn’t make much sense.

That dichotomy is likely to serve as the defining parameter of the ultimate legacy of The Flash — a film that’s entertaining on the surface and offers some genuine emotional beats, but doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny.

It’s also a bit unique among the superhero genre in that it’s one of the rare solo-titled adaptations that doesn’t offer a standalone depiction of the character’s origin story. To be honest, it’s actually not much of a solo movie, with all the various Justice League characters that keep popping up.

Instead, the screenplay finds clever ways to present the Flash’s history to the audience by deconstructing his origin story in a way to serve the larger plot.

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Loosely based on the “Flashpoint” storyline from the comics, the film finds Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) feeling helpless in trying to find the key evidence to prove that his dad didn’t murder his mom when he was a kid. When he discovers his super-speed abilities allow him to travel through time, he decides to change history by saving his mom. However, this fractures the timeline to the point where other superheroes no longer exist, leaving the Earth vulnerable to General Zod’s attack (from 2013’s Man of Steel).

Teaming with his younger self, Barry then seeks the aid of this new timeline’s Batman, which turns out to be the Michael Keaton version from the 1989 movie, though now older and retired but seeking a return to action. Hoping to find Superman to fight Zod, they instead uncover Supergirl (Sasha Calle), and set about to restore order.

And that brings us back to the film being anchored to its baggage. With its multiversal time-travel plot, The Flash is essentially a big “what if” scenario for the DC Extended Universe. And since fans already know the DCEU is becoming defunct thanks James Gunn’s new creative direction for a DC-based movie continuity, the Flash’s meddling through time won’t have many consequences going forward.

Having Flash revisit the events of Man of Steel might have served as a poignant capper to the DCEU continuity. But this isn’t quite the end of the DCEU, as there’s still another “Aquaman” movie set for release, which The Flash does pay lip service to setting up. The original intent was supposedly to use Barry’s time meddling in this movie to set up a modified DCEU with Michael Keaton’s Batman, which would then carry over into the Batgirl movie, but when those plans were scuttled the film reshot its ending to rely on nostalgia-based sight gags.

This is not a movie for viewers unfamiliar with what has come before, either in the DCEU or previous DC-based movies and TV shows, as the nostalgia-bait references are laid on fast and thick. There’s even a payoff to what might be one of the biggest Hollywood inside jokes depicted in a movie, stemming from a Kevin Smith anecdote about his work on a Superman movie in the 1990s.

There’s also the matter of the film’s real-world baggage in the form of star Miller’s well-publicized personal and legal troubles, which likely turned off a huge portion of the audience and would make future Miller-based “Flash” movies problematic at best even if this film didn’t lose hundreds of millions of dollars in box office cash. For those able to compartmentalize those issues, Miller actually turns in a good performance as the two Barrys playing off each other. Serving as a superhero mentor to his younger self, in the same way his Justice League cohorts encouraged him, forces Barry to experience some vital self-examination, while his immature counterpart provides the film an opportunity for self-parody.

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Warner’s release pattern for The Flash home video editions represents a departure from the combo packs the studio usually offers, which is disappointing if it represents a policy shift at the studio.

Instead of 4K + Blu-ray or Blu-ray + DVD combo packs, the film’s wide release is standalone 4K, Blu-ray or DVD, each with an add-on digital copy. Fans looking for multidisc combo packs will have to turn to retail exclusives, with Best Buy and Walmart offering 4K+Blu-ray sets, and Target a Blu-ray + DVD pack.

The distribution of the extras is confusing as well, as only the 4K disc offers the full array of bonus materials.

Available with the 4K disc, Blu-ray and digital versions of the film are a handful of pretty good behind-the-scenes featurettes, including the 37-minute “Making the Flash: Worlds Collide,” the eight-and-a-half-minute “Let’s Get Nuts: Batman Returns, Again,” and the six-and-a-half-minute “Flashpoint: Introducing the Multiverse.”

Also included is the 16-minute “Supergirl: Last Daughter of Krypton” mini-documentary about the character’s history and legacy.

However, the most intriguing extra is the entire six-episode “The Flash: Escape the Midnight Circus” podcast, which is basically a radio drama of another Flash time travel adventure, running about 93 minutes in total, with Max Greenfield as The Flash. There’s also a two-minute “Midnight Circus” behind-the-scenes featurette.

Exclusive to the 4K disc and digital versions are four featurettes (“Saving Supergirl,” “The Bat Chase,” Battling Zod” and “Fighting Dark Flash,” about six to seven minutes each) and 10 deleted scenes running about 14 minutes total. Many of the deleted scenes expand on character interactions in the film and fill in some minor plot gaps, but are also interesting because the visual effects aren’t finished, so we get to see Ed Wade as the second Barry before being digitally replaced by Miller.

The 4K disc also includes the 38-minute “The Flash: The Saga of the Scarlett Speedster,” a must-see documentary for any fan of The Flash as it delves into the publication history of the character and his pop culture legacy. The digital version of this extra is available exclusively at Amazon Prime Video.

 

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Warner;
Action;
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $44.95 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for violence and some language.

Stars Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Amy Adams, J.K. Simmons, Amber Heard, Connie Nielsen, Diane Lane, Harry Lennix, Billy Crudup, Willem Dafoe, Joe Morton, Kiersey Clemons, Jared Leto, Jesse Eisenberg, Joe Manganiello, Peter Guinness, Ray Porter, Ciaran Hinds.

The 2017 theatrical version of Justice League foisted upon audiences was undoubtedly a compromised film, the result of a now infamous clash between creative vision and studio sensibilities.

Warner Bros., having been lapped in the superhero shared universe race several times over by rival Marvel, was looking to catch up quickly with its own DC Comics-based franchise. But the studio lost faith in director Zack Snyder, whose efforts in building the universe from the ground up — 2013’s Man of Steel and 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice — were met with mixed reaction at best. The studio brought in Avengers director Joss Whedon to help “guide” Snyder in completing the third installment of his trilogy, Justice League, which would see Batman and Wonder Woman recruit additional superheroes to help fight an alien invasion.

Snyder, wary of the studio’s attempts to rein him in, ultimately left the film following the death of his daughter — to whom the new longer cut is dedicated.

Whedon, under a mandate to deliver a taut, two-hour action film, re-wrote Chris Terrio’s screenplay and oversaw extensive reshoots that it is clear now were intended to bridge story points between the action scenes that Snyder had shot. Whedon, known for infusing his projects with witty banter and offbeat humor, also added levity to Justice League to the point where it was much lighter in tone compared with the world established in Snyder’s earlier films. Whedon’s version ultimately did the job of telling the story it needed to, but didn’t satisfy many viewers who had bigger expectations based on what had come before.

And thus, the “Release the Snyder Cut” movement was born, fueled by rumors that the studio was sitting on a longer version of the film turned in by Snyder before he left. While Snyder had created a rough cut of the film before most of the visual effects were completed, the so-called “Snyder Cut” of Justice League was hardly in a state to be seen by the public, and thus its release was little more than a pipe dream without a studio willing to dedicate the resources to finish an alternate cut of a film it had already wrote off.

Then came the deep pockets of HBO Max, the new streaming service from Warner’s parent company, which had not only the deep pockets to finish the Snyder Cut, but also the desire to cash in on the hype surrounding it. The cost to complete Snyder’s version was reportedly north of $70 million (the 2017 theatrical release earned $657.9 million globally against a budget that ballooned to $300 million).

The obvious parallel here is with the Richard Donner cut of Superman II, but the Snyder Cut make that project seem like a lark.

Snyder’s four-hour director’s cut of Justice League plays like a completely different film, treating the story like the epic the theatrical version showed little interest in being.

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Now, admittedly, it’s unlikely that this version of the film, absent studio meddling, would have seen the inside of theaters back in the day either. For starters, a four-hour superhero movie based on Snyder’s take on the characters would have been a big ask of the audience, and he surely would have trimmed it to something in the range of two-and-a-half to three hours, just like he did with BvS (with the longer, better cut available on home video). Certainly, there are several scenes in Snyder’s Justice League that will give it a reputation for indulgence but could easily be cut for a theatrical release, but play better in a streaming format where binging serialized TV shows for six, seven, eight hours at a time (with breaks here and there) is commonplace.

Indeed, the original plan for Snyder’s Justice League was to present it as several episodes, like a TV show, but vagaries in Hollywood contract law supposedly led to the decision to deliver it as a single movie, albeit segmented into six succinctly labeled chapters and an epilogue.

Regardless, the film flows just fine even at four hours, and there is no confusion about what is happening or why the characters are motivated to do what they do. Snyder’s vision is to present the superheroes of today as the modern extension of the legends of old, drawing a direct line between classic mythology and their comic book counterparts.

The big beneficiary of all this is Ray Fisher’s Cyborg, who is given a fully fleshed out backstory that is barely touched upon in the theatrical cut, as well as a full character arc as he learns to accept and understand his powers.

Of course, if Warner had been patient enough to follow Marvel’s formula, Cyborg likely would have gotten his own origin movie before this, negating the need to devote so much screen time to it here. But that’s neither here nor there at this point.

The Snyder Cut is revelatory when compared with the Whedon Cut, which replaced a number of scenes with reshot versions that were similar but not as good, probably to add more of that Whedonesque humor. Fantastic scenes of endearing character interactions that would have added depth and meaning were removed entirely. Instead, Whedon added scenes showing a family imperiled by Steppenwolf’s plan who had to be saved by the League in the final battle. There’s no distracting family in the Snyder Cut, which instead takes the opportunity to foreshadow storylines that were intended for future sequels.

Another change Snyder made was reverting to the musical score by Tom Holkenborg, who continues the musical style established in Snyder’s previous entries. Whedon had replaced it with a more conventional but still serviceable score by Danny Elfman, who reused a number of more iconic themes for the characters from earlier franchises that played on audience nostalgia for the characters as a way to shortcut any development of them as specific to the Snyderverse.

Also, since he’s using his original footage and ignoring the reshoots, Snyder didn’t have to use digital effects to remove the mustache Henry Cavill couldn’t shave off while filming Mission: Impossible — Fallout, famously leading to his awkward-looking mouth in the 2017 version.

Another advantage Snyder’s cut has is that we’ve gotten to explore the DC universe a bit more since 2017, most notably with the 2018 Aquaman movie that really fleshed out Jason Momoa’s character and backstory, and gels nicely with his development here.

Snyder also took the opportunity to fix his presentation of the films’ villains. The CGI for the primary antagonist, Steppenwolf, has been reworked to be much more menacing and looks a lot better. Snyder also gives the audience a chance to see Darkseid, the legendary DC comics warlord who serves as Steppenwolf’s master and was reduced to just one mention of his name in Whedon’s cut.

Steppenwolf’s plan, as in the theatrical cut, is to collect the three “Mother Boxes” on Earth that when united will allow him to re-create Darkseid’s homeworld of Apokolips on Earth. The Mother Boxes were left behind when Darkseid’s first invasion of Earth was repelled thousands of years earlier, and thought lost until Superman’s death at the end of BvS caused them to reactivate, drawing Steppenwolf to them.

We also get an expansion of the nightmare future hinted at in BvS, in which Batman leads a rebellion against a Superman who has become a tyrant ruling over the wasteland Earth has become as a result of Darkseid’s invasion. This particularly impacts the scene of Superman’s resurrection, which plays very differently now that we have the expanded context behind it. Rather than Superman’s revival serving as another plot device in the battle against Steppenwolf, here it is re-framed as a complex ethical question about whether bringing Superman back to life in order to win the battle of today will ultimately lead to the very dystopia his resurrection is meant to prevent — and whether Batman’s desire to atone for his guilt over Superman’s death in BvS is blinding him to this potential outcome.

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Snyder presents his version in the 4:3 format most viewers will associate with the standard square ratio of classic non-widescreen TVs. That means vertical black bars to the right and left of the movie. While this might look odd to viewers accustomed to widescreen, Snyder’s framing actually presents more of the image as originally filmed. The square frame was chosen with Imax exhibitions in mind, since true Imax screens are higher than a typical theater. A standard “widescreen” print of the film is then made by cropping from the top and bottom of the picture. By eschewing this process, Snyder is instead offering us everything in the frame he shot.

Time will tell if we get any follow-ups to plot points developed in Snyder’s Cut that otherwise fell by the wayside in Warner’s DC universe. But even if we don’t the complete Snyder Cut on its own is a triumph of a filmmaker’s singular vision, and the story surrounding it a fascinating glimpse into the process of the Hollywood machine and the often-conflicting instincts of those in charge of it.

The 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray Disc versions offer the film spread over two discs. The first disc of both the 4K and regular Blu-ray versions contains the set’s lone extra: a 24-minute featurette of Snyder reflecting on his experience making his trilogy of superhero movies, and the fan effort to bring it to fruition with his vision of Justice League.

Also, the discs do not include a code for a digital copy of the film, so the digital version remains exclusive to HBO Max. The disc does include an insert with an ad touting HBO Max and the black-and-white version of the movie, Zack Snyder’s Justice League: Justice Is Gray.

Originally published as a streaming review March 18, 2021.

‘Scoob!’ Getting Virtual Star-Studded Premiere on Twitter May 15

Warner May 15 is mounting a virtual premiere event for the premium VOD release of the animated feature Scoob! via Twitter.

The Twitter #ScoobMovieNight premiere event, hosted by the big dog himself, starts at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT, and features Scoob! moments with stars from the movie, including Will Forte, Gina Rodriguez, Zac Efron, Amanda Seyfried, Kiersey Clemons, Ken Jeong, Tracy Morgan, Frank Welker, Iain Armitage, Arianna Greenblatt, Mckenna Grace and Pierce Gagnon, and director Tony Cervone. Lennon Stella will exclusively premiere an acoustic version of lead single “Summer Feelings,” while Thomas Rhett, Kane Brown and Ava Max will be on hand to showcase their newly released single “On Me.” Both are from “Scoob! The Album,” the movie’s official musical companion also arriving May 15 and available to pre-save now here.

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TikTok dance videos from the #ScoobDance challenge have racked up more than 3 billion views, according to a studio release. Other marketing includes Scoob trivia questions and a Scoob-themed PSA from Best Friends Animal Society (bestfriends.org) about helping homeless dogs and cats.

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Following the preshow, fans across the U.S. and Canada can rent or buy the feature and share Tweets about it using #ScoobMovieNight. The feature will be available for a 48-hour rental via PVOD at $19.99, or premium digital ownership at $24.99. Consumers can visit https://www.watchscoob.com to preorder a copy.

A family activity pack is available at https://www.scoob.movie/homepremiere.php

Scoob! reveals the never-before-told story of Scooby-Doo’s origins. It shows how one of history’s most famous friendships began when a homeless puppy met a lonesome young boy named Shaggy, and how the two of them joined forces with aspiring young detectives Fred, Velma and Daphne to become the celebrated Mystery Inc. With hundreds of cases solved and adventures shared, Scooby and the gang face the biggest and most challenging mystery of their careers: a plot that will unleash the legendary ghost dog Cerberus upon the world.