Release Date(s)2021 (May 25, 2021)
Studio(s)Warner Bros. Pictures/DC Films/Atlas Entertainment/The Stone Quarry/HBO Max (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: C+
[Editor’s Note: This is a UK import release. The 4K discs are compatible with UHD players worldwide. There are no Blu-ray Discs in the package.]
The events of Batman v Superman have left the world reeling. Superman is dead, Batman feels the guilt for this, and now an ancient enemy has been awakened. Five thousand years ago, the evil Darkseid attempted to conquer the Earth but was defeated by an alliance of humans, Amazons, Olympians, Atlanteans, and members of the Green Lantern Corps. In his retreat, Darkseid was forced to leave behind a trio of powerful Mother Boxes, which Earth’s heroes have kept hidden and guarded ever since. But now, Superman’s death has activated these Boxes, so Darkseid sends his minion Steppenwolf to Earth to find them. If he succeeds, he’ll use the boxes to form the Unity, which will enable Darkseid to return and subjugate the Earth once and for all. So Batman races against time, hoping to build a new alliance of heroes to face this threat. With Alfred’s help, he seeks out Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, and Cyborg, hoping they’ll join his cause.
Long before Justice League’s theatrical release in November of 2017, its production was a troubled mess. When original director Zack Snyder was forced to step away in the wake of a family tragedy, Joss Whedon (Firefly, The Avengers) was hired by Warner Bros. to take over. But Whedon subsequently proceeded to rewrite and reshoot most of the film. The result (reviewed here on The Bits) wasn’t actually terrible, but it was definitely not good. From that review:
“This feels like a Cliff’s Notes production, with pieces of six different—and sadly better—films cobbled together into a single story. Each of those pieces is good individually, offering some genuinely nice moments, but they don’t add up or resonate together. They don’t build upon each other emotionally. The film never becomes more than the sum of its parts. What Warner and DC really needed to do here was to make six individual films, to give each of these characters the proper introductions they deserved, and only then put them all together. In short, they should have followed Marvel’s example. Instead, they’ve created an executive-level mess of Kryptonian proportions (see: Metropolis post-Man of Steel).”
Of course, everything changed in 2018, when AT&T completed its purchase of Time Warner for a whopping $85 billion. Looking back from the perspective of 2021, that purchase was an unmitigated disaster. But perhaps the one good thing to come of it is that, in response to an online campaign by fans, Zack Snyder was given the chance to come back and revisit this film, more or less as he originally intended, as an exclusive release for the new HBO Max streaming service.
Weighing in at a whopping 242 minutes, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is twice the length of Whedon’s version. Gone is the awkward romantic flirtation between Batman and Wonder Women, as well as much of the ill-fitting humor. Aquaman, Cyborg, and the Flash each have more-developed backstories. (Cyborg in particular benefits from the additions.) We actually get to see Darkseid in the story now—he was completely missing from Whedon’s film. The VFX have been enhanced, some of it upgraded while the rest is completely new. (Steppenwolf is much more visually striking and detailed now.) We get to see extensive new flashbacks, including major action sequences, and there’s a new post-credit sequence featuring the Martian Manhunter. Better still, all of the cheesy footage of Henry Cavill’s Superman that Whedon reshot (and that required notoriously-bad digital moustache removal) is gone, leaving that character’s arc far more compelling. The result of these changes (and others far too numerous to list in detail), while certainly overlong and occasional overwrought, is a vastly better viewing experience.
With a couple of qualifications, that experience looks damn great on physical 4K Ultra HD as released by Warner Bros. on the format inteternationally. Zack Snyder’s Justice League was shot mostly on 35 mm photochemical film (in 4-perf Super 35 format, using Arriflex cameras and fast Leica Summilux lenses) to give it an organic look, with about 4 minutes of digital photography shot by Snyder specifically for this release (using the Red Monstro camera with Canon lenses in the 8K Redcode RAW codec). It appears that this extended cut was finished as a full 4K digital intermediate (unlike the theatrical cut, which was completed in 2K only), though some of the VFX may still have been rendered in 2K then upsampled. While Snyder and DP Fabian Wagner planned for the wide theatrical release of Justice League to be presented in a 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio, 4-perf Super-35 actually offers a full 1.33 frame (see the figure below), which the director had intended to take advantage of for IMAX exhibition. So for this new 4K UHD release, Snyder has given us that complete 1.33 framing. It takes a bit of getting used to at first, but when viewed on a large screen it does draw you in. (Remember, you’re actually seeing all of the filmed image now—more than ever before, not less). The film has also been completely re-graded to look far less candy-colored, more in line with Man of Steel and Snyder’s recent 4K remaster of Batman v Superman (see our review of that disc here). Unlike the previous 4K release though (not to mention the HBO Max presentation), there’s no Dolby Vision option—the high dynamic range is available in HDR10 only. In any case, the resulting 4K image is dense and earthy looking, with light-to-moderate grain and impressive detail, especially in the characters’ costumes and armor. Depth of field is good, with deep and detailed blacks, as well as bold highlights. Colors are nuanced and accurate, a bit more desaturated but also much more striking than they were before. The metallic shimmer of Steppenwolf’s armor is impressive, for example, and energy blasts crackle with color that stands out more against the gloomy backgrounds. Of course, fine detailing is a little bit reduced given that the image is now using less of your display real estate. On the other hand, the film has been split over two Ultra HD discs, so video data rates are much improved. All in all, most diehard fans will probably find this image more to their liking. The changes do add up to a slight visual improvement upon the previous 4K release. At the very least, the film definitely looks different than it did before.
Primary audio on the 4K disc is delivered in near-reference quality in English Dolby Atmos format. It’s a roomy but muscular mix, with great dynamics and plenty of bluster—not quite as much as the aforementioned Batman v Superman delivers on disc, but it’s close—and a completely new score by Junkie XL (officially the longest in cinema history, and replacing Danny Elfman’s work in the theatrical version) sets the mix apart. Bass is muscular, with lots of smooth and lively panning in the surrounds. Dialogue and music have excellent clarity, and the height channels are constantly active with vertical extension during action sequences. Wonder Woman leaping to (and from) her fight with London terrorists is especially good, as are Steppenwolf’s frequent entrances via energy vortex from above, not to mention the constant swarming of his legion insect-men. Additional audio options include French and Germany Dolby Atmos, 5.1 Dolby Digital in English, English Descriptive Audio, French, German, Castilian Spanish, Latin Spanish, Czech, and Polish, 2.0 Dolby Digital in German for the Hearing Impaired, and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio in Italian. Optional subtitles are available in English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, French, German for the Hearing Impaired, Italian for the Deaf, Castilian Spanish, Dutch, Mandarin, Simplified Chinese, Korean, Latin Spanish, Czech, Danish, Finnish, Greek, Hungarian, Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, and Swedish.
This UK release includes the complete film in 4K on two UHD discs. (The film is also available separately in the UK in 1080p HD on two Blu-rays, which we believe are All Region, for those who wish to import them). The 4K discs contain only a single bonus feature (unless you count the fact that the very existence of this version of the film could be considered a bonus):
Road to Justice League (HD – 25:40)
It’s important to note that this is not the same as the shorter Road to Justice featurette on the original Justice League Blu-ray. It’s more comprehensive and features Snyder and others offering comments specifically related to this longer version of the film. It’s notable that he refers to his work with DC as a film “trilogy,” as he talks about his creative approach, the way he actually makes the movie in his head (and on paper) before he ever arrives on the set, etc. We learn that in almost every shot and scene, there are visual references and deeper meanings—a Joseph Campbell quote written in Kryptonian script on the “S” on Superman’s costume, for example. He also looks back at each installment in his trilogy and talks about how they build upon each another and ultimately fit together. Love him or hate him, it’s very clear that Snyder knows exactly what he’s doing. He has a strong perspective on this material—there’s method to his madness—and I for one really appreciate it compared to DC and Warner’s current and more haphazard creative approach to these films.
Apparently, there’s also a new Zack Snyder’s Justice League: Justice is Gray version of the film that’s presented entirely in black and white (you can watch it now on HBO Max), but it’s not included in this package. Nor, given the UK release, do you get a Digital code. What’s also missing here (that would really have been appreciated) is a feature-length commentary with Snyder like the one available on his remastered Batman v Superman release. But that’s a wish for another day.
While Joss Whedon’s Justice League was a massive disappointment, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a bolder, far more visionary, and yes... excessive experience. (Unquestionably a Snyder film, how could it be anything else?) But there’s an elephant in the room that needs to be addressed here (no, not the Whedon thing, though that’s a problem too): Warner Bros. and DC seem to have no understanding of how to build a vibrant and healthy cinematic superhero franchise organically, and AT&T’s disastrous leadership has only made that situation worse. The studio has sadly doubled down on their position that Whedon’s film is official DCEU canon, and that Snyder’s sequel plans will never see the light of day. What’s more, an apparent desire by Warner Bros. to prolong HBO Max’s exclusivity to this film in the States means that US fans will have to wait until September for the chance to own Zack Snyder’s Justice League on disc (short of importing this UK release, of course). It officially streets in the States on September 7 in a package that includes the film on both 4K UHD and Blu-ray (four discs in all) with the same A/V specs and featurette but still no Digital copy. There will also be a Zack Snyder’s Justice League Trilogy 4K/BD box set as well. In the meantime, those willing to jump through a few extra hoops to import this UK release will likely not regret it. At long last, Justice League can no longer be considered an injustice. This UHD release is strongly recommended for Snyder fans and 4K fans alike.
- Bill Hunt