At Least 'Justice League' Had the Visuals Right

This is not a movie review. While I'm definitely ready to offer some opinions on the film, I'm not here to review the movie. You can find plenty of reviews already out there and there certainly won't be any spoilers found here. Rather, this is an appreciation article for one aspect of the "Justice League" movie (and other DC superhero/Zack Snyder films) that is done very well. Visually, "Justice League" looks pretty damn cool. It looks and feels dark and moody, like the pages of a comic have been brought to life. For everything that they don't get right, the visual mood of the DC superhero movies are stellar.

I said I was ready with some opinions, so let's get those out of the way first. "Justice League" isn't really a good movie. It's a mess with a lot going on and the audience can tell that somewhere along the line things got out of control. Whether it was the script, the direction, demands from the studio, the editing and cutting, or some combination of all these factors that didn't work and the movie isn't great. If we're honest though, there are worse movies out there. Despite all this, it looks very cool and from a purely visual standpoint they really get the tone spot on. 

If you've seen Snyder's films before (a few that immediately come to mind include "300," "Sucker Punch," "Watchmen," and "Man of Steel") you know that he has a very distinct visual style that accompany his movies. Kudos to him and his team at least for the consistency. Dark, gloomy, moody, high contrast films with distinct color toning and a penchant for color pop. Stylistically you can usually identify a Snyder film from the visuals alone. This is something that many photographers and videographers aspire to; having a recognizable visual style. Think of it like the style itself being so recognizable that it's basically functions as your watermark. 

"Justice League" and the other DC superhero movies look great. The colors work, the contrast works, the darker tones and gloomy vision all work well together. Regardless of whether or not the other aspects of the movies work, the visuals are definitely on point. When we start talking about grandiose cinematic universe and multiple interconnected movies, spin-offs, and sequels spread over many years the idea of having a strong visually identifiable style is a pretty attractive one.


As for whether or not these films are any good, despite any attractive visual flair, that's pretty subjective. Generally speaking, some will be good and some won't. As for whether any one studio's grand cinematic universe will leave a lasting impact only time will tell. It can be hard to look at the smaller components of the bigger picture sometimes, but try and separate the visuals from the rest of the movies. Do you like what you see? Do you think that if everything else fell into line too, would there be something epic here? If you've seen "Justice League" (or really anything else from the DC universe or from Snyder) leave a comment below. Let me know how you feel about the visuals in these films. If you can, try to concentrate purely on the visual components. What makes your eyes happy?

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I certainly don't have an issue with every color grade they have done in each scene (unlike Ozark which is so bad I literally cannot watch the show without thinking about it), but I do still have a problem with a few of the scenes in the trailer (I do like all of your screenshots). To me, some of the shots in the trailer are overdone, almost to the point that it appears to be a cartoon. Maybe you could make the argument that it is supposed to look like a comic book, and maybe I'm just getting too old, but the pinnacle of superhero movies to me was the Dark Knight series. Nothing about that series feels like a cartoon and the color grades were consistent throughout and set a mood without being over the top.

Ryan Mense's picture

LEE! I'm working through Ozark right now and haven't really noticed anything off visually (but I'm not a video person, so for me I've just been smothered the uninspired screenplay), but now I have a feeling I'm going to be looking for it and it's all I'm going to see. You owe me a better show to watch now.

I'm honestly shocked that you haven't noticed. It is literally the worst color grading of all time. It's like they added a blue overlay to every scene at the very last second. You know the color grading is bad when they have to remove it from the cover image because you have literally removed every hint of a natural skin tone from the actual show.

Ryan Mense's picture

I mean I noticed it has *a* color grade to it, it just didn't trigger anything in me that said it's "bad." But yeah, looking at that image grid against the white page here it's very extreme.

It actually was shot on film.

I assume it was. It was shot mostly inside a green screen studio and not actual sets. And I do not find the look too terrible. But that is my opinion.

Chris K.'s picture

There’s times I felt in Ozark that the blue really helps to convey the tones they are going for-to me I never felt that it was too distracting.

I read somewhere that they shot the entire show at 4400k-so it’s a decision which the look was made in camera and not in the color grade

Andress Kools's picture

NFS: The blue-tinted color palette wound up being something of a defining trait. Did you use any gels or filters to achieve that look?

del Pino: No, not really. The only thing we did was that we shot everything at 4,400 Kelvin temperature, interiors and exteriors, day and night likewise. And because we tried different color temperatures when we were doing tests, we saw that using that setup would give us the most ability to keep that consistent cooler grayish/blueish palette. But no filtration.


David Love's picture

The show was depressed one day and another show asked, "Hey, why you so blue?"

Matt Rennells's picture

That's what happens when you're trying to make a lake outside of Atlanta look like southern Missouri. There are a lot of blue tones in that area, but there are also just as many greens and browns. I know it is probably a purposeful decision, but I wouldn't say that it is overly noticeable unless you're looking for it. Being in the field as you are, I just have to turn off that part of my brain to enjoy just about any visual media, so I guess I looked past it.

Evan Kane's picture

I think that a lot of people would agree that The Dark Knight was the perfect blending of super hero and real world with scenes that are visually believable in every frame.

I also think that the studio knows this and has been actively looking to cement their current universe with a new and very distinct (almost cartoonish or "comic-booky") look.

I'll have to watch a couple scenes from Ozark, that's one that I'm not familiar with at all haha!

David Love's picture

Awesome, put him in charge of color and keep him away from scripts and directing.

Evan Kane's picture

Haha, a decent idea :P

I have been scanning articles about the JL visuals since it was released last November. Thanks for this write-up! Almost everything about it was spot on!!!!

We watched it on iMax & we were literally blown away.. the tone, colors, depth of field, etc. Snyder is truly a Master Visual Director.

Then i read somewhere that most movies were filmed normally then postprod in 3D, while the JL was deliberately filmed by Zack on a different aspect ratio just for iMax.

JL was spectacular & a cure for eye sore!!

Cant wait for the dvd to be released on Feb (hoping for a Directors cut) so i can replicate my 3D experience on 3D TV!!!

Evan Kane's picture

Now if only they can get a script and final cut that is on par with the visual direction haha! Then we would have something special :P

Erick Nguyen's picture

I think the movie base on Injustice God Among Us series - the first and second movie was building up for later. and the comic is very dark.

Evan Kane's picture

I think I've heard that before too Erick. It sounds pretty interesting to me.

Jonathan Brady's picture

I actually enjoyed the movie but I never go into any movie with huge expectations. I just want to be entertained.
HOWEVER, the atrocities they committed to Henry Cavill's face (trying to CGI out his beard and mustache) I'll never be able to unsee. It literally ruined several scenes for me. I just couldn't stop staring at how awful it was.

Evan Kane's picture

That's too funny! I actually didn't notice that until I saw people talking about it online :P

Jonathan Brady's picture

Its ironic, I didn't read or hear much about JL prior to seeing it, and certainly nothing about the CGI disaster that was his face, it just jumped out at me THAT bad. Then I googled it and found I wasn't alone.
I saw it in the very first scene where he was talking to that kid. Then, in numerous other scenes. They really should have figured out a different solution. Having him shave and put on a fake beard for his other project stands out as the number one alternative to me, but maybe I'm just crazy for taking what seems like the easy path... LOL

Pascal Photographos's picture

I agree the DC cinematic universe hits a nice tone. Only Wonder Woman (arguably the best in the series, by far) looked a little greenish from time to time, but never to a point that I found it disturbing. Conversely, the Marvel cinematic universe just looks bland.