Zack Snyder’s Justice League could have easily been simple fan service, but director Snyder delivers in providing a much more cohesive storyline (with a 4-hour running time) than the previous maligned 2017 theatrical release.
The Production: 4/5
Superman’s (Henry Cavill) death has triggered three Mother Boxes on Earth to send out a signal calling Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) back to the planet along with a team of Parademons. Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) team up and recruit others with abilities, including The Flash (Ezra Miller), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and Aquaman (Jason Momoa). After their first encounter with Steppenwolf, they realize their going to need some more help. Having the third Mother Box in their possession, they attempt to resurrect Superman as a last resort.
In Zack Snyder’s Justice League, the plot is very similar to the maligned and often confusing 2017 theatrical cut. And for the most part, you would be correct. Except that director Zack Snyder, who left during post production due to his daughter’s suicide (although some have speculated that event was the straw that broke the camel’s back after lots of studio interference demanding a 2-hour run time), was allowed to return three years later to complete the film closer to his initial vision after a rather successful social media campaign by fans (#ReleaseTheSnyderCut). This could have easily been fan service that also worked as a marketing ploy by Warner Media’s HBO Max to lure more subscribers, as the finished film has been an exclusive since it debuted on the service on March 18, 2021. For the last 5-6 months, that is what I thought, but was still curious to see what Snyder had up his sleeve. The movie still has problems, in that it still feels like a reverse-engineered Avengers, but the story no longer feels rushed, and all of Joss Whedon’s additions (including the Russian family subplot) have been removed, for better or worse. The introductions of Aquaman, The Flash, and in particular Cyborg have been expanded extensively (in fact, Cyborg has a much larger role and character arc in the film than in the 2017 version). Steppenwolf also is not acting alone in his plot to destroy Earth, as we find his driving force is to me accepted once again by both Darkseid (Ray Porter) and DeSaad (Peter Guiness), two characters completely missing from 2017.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a completely different movie experience, with a more fully realized version of Steppenwolf capable of emotions and much more menacing, the action is bloodier (without getting overly gory), and visually less colorful (colors are so muted that the film almost appears to be black and white). There are a few things that don’t work, though. While the pacing is less chaotic than the 2017 theatrical, there are some moments where the film drags, the most notable being the Joker sequence (with Jared Leto reprising his Suicide Squad role) during the Epilogue that brings the film to a screeching halt. I understand Snyder’s intention behind using the 1.33:1 aspect ratio for IMAX presentations of the film to give it a broader epic scale, but it works against him in a home environment, giving us a much smaller image to view.
The four hour running time may be off-putting to some, but Snyder has framed this epic tale more like a limited series, breaking the film up into seven parts, each running 30-40 minutes in length and ending in a cliffhanger. Although the main menu gives the viewer the option to select the part they want to view, selecting Part 1 omits the opening credits and prologue, so viewers wanting to screen Justice League in chunks, it is recommended they simply hit PLAY to start off, and use the PART SELECTIONS submenu in case their player forgets where they left off.
3D Rating: NA
Zack Snyder’s Justice League was shot mostly on 35mm film on Arriflex and Arricam cameras with some reshoots in 8K digital resolution on Red Monstro cameras, then completed as a 4K digital intermediate in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio with Dolby Vision HDR for its intended premium theatrical engagements and streaming on HBO Max. Warner’s 4K UHD Blu-ray release uses HDR10 high dynamic range, which actually assists with the muted colors, their shadings, and deeper contrast revealing more defined shadow details. The HDR also helps keep those black bars on the sides (due to the pillarboxing of the 4:3 image) really black. Detail is exquisite, too, particularly on costumes, facial features, and backgrounds. The film is spread across two discs to maximize bitrates.
The default Dolby Atmos track is reference-quality through and through. This is a very immersive track, with heights used to enhance flyovers by the Parademons, rainfall, Thomas Holkenborg’s (aka Junkie XL) score, etc. and extending to the rear surrounds. LFE is used heavily to accentuate explosions and other room-shaking effects, adding a nice low-end overall to the film. Dialogue is clear and intelligible throughout, well-prioritized and never getting lost in the mix of effects and music. A redundant, lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 track has been included.
Special Features: 2/5
This is a 4-disc set (two UHD, two Blu-ray), with the lone special feature found on disc one of either format. No digital copy has been included, but an insert has been included to remind you that Zack Snyder’s Justice League: Justice is Grey is still only available exclusively on HBO Max. And don’t be fooled by the QR Code on the insert – it’s not for a free trial, it only takes you to the HBO Max website to sign up for the service.
Road to Justice League (1080p; 24:40): An interesting look at Snyder’s DC trilogy (Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, Justice League), which also thanks fans for their campaign to make this version possible.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League really surprised me, as I went in with low expectations, expecting something to be indulgent and strictly fan service. While it is not completely innocent of those qualities, it is a vast improvement over the 2017 theatrical release (ghost-directed and written by Joss Whedon).
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