DirectorZack Snyder (but “finished” by Joss Whedon)
Release Date(s)2017 (March 13, 2017)
Studio(s)RatPac-Dune/Atlas/DC Films/Warner Bros. (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: C-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: D+
[Editor’s Note: This is the original theatrical version of Justice League. For our review of Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021) click here.]
The events of Batman v Superman have left the world reeling. Superman is dead, Batman feels the guilt, and now an ancient evil has been awakened. No, not Darkseid, though that’s what you might have expected given the end of Batman v Superman. We’re talking Steppenwolf here – the Jack Kirby creation, not the 1960s rock band (though the band may have been just as good). It seems old Steppenwolf has come back to Earth seeking three “mother boxes” that together “form the Unity, all hail the Unity,” which will allow him to remake the Earth in his own image. Of course, Batman decides to put a team together to stop him. (Thank goodness Lex Luthor did all the legwork for him in the last film.) So now, with Alfred’s help, Bruce Wayne seeks out Wonder Woman and three guys we’ve barely seen yet to form the Super Friends. But even that’s not going to be enough, so someone’s gonna have to bring somebody back to life for a bit of super-punching and witty banter.
By now most of you will know of this film’s troubled production history, how the whole tone of the film was changed in mid-production, how Joss Whedon was brought in to rewrite and redirect some things after Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad both bombed critically, and how original director Zack Snyder had to leave Justice League following the tragic death of his daughter. It would be nice and hopeful to say that the resulting film doesn’t reflect that chaos and turmoil, but it would also unfortunately be a lie. The film just sort of wallpapers over its problems with a bit of CG and exposition, not unlike actor Henry Cavill’s now infamous mustache.
It’s not that Justice League is actually terrible. It’s just really, really, REALLY not especially good either. 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).
At least it looks great. Justice League was shot largely on 35mm photochemical film (in Super 35 format, using Arriflex cameras) to give it an organic look. (A little bit of digital photography was also done in the ARRIRAW codec at 2.8 and 5K with Arri Alexa cameras.) It was finished as a 2K digital intermediate, upsampled, given both HDR10 and Dolby Vision color grades, and the result is presented here on 4K Ultra HD at the 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio. This image is dense and earthy looking, a bit brighter than the previous films. There’s a nice light-to-moderate grain texture visible, but also impressive fine detail, especially in the characters’ costumes and suits of armor. Depth of field is good, with deep and detailed blacks, as well as bright highlights. Colors are rich and nuanced, with a great deal more pop and warmth than in the previous films (save for Wonder Woman, reviewed here in 4K). This isn’t quite a reference-quality image, but it’s certainly strong.
Primary audio on the 4K disc is reference quality, presented in English Dolby Atmos format. It’s a roomy but muscular mix, with plenty of dynamic bluster, strong low frequency heft and punch, and lots of smooth and lively panning. Dialogue and music have excellent clarity, and the height channels are constantly active with vertical extension and great overhead sound effects during the various action sequences. Wonder Woman leaping into and out of her fight to stop a London terrorist bombing is especially good, as is Steppenwolf’s frequent arrivals via some kind of energy vortex from the sky, not to mention his hordes of swarming insect men. Additional sound options include English DTS-HD Master Audio, English Descriptive Audio (US and UK versions), and 5.1 Dolby Digital in French, Castilian, Spanish, Portuguese, Czech, Polish, and Polish Voice-Over, with optional subtitles available in English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, French, Castilian, Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Korean, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Czech, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Polish, and Swedish.
The 4K disc itself is movie-only with no extras, but the package also includes the film in 1080p on Blu-ray. That disc adds the following extras all in HD:
- The Return of Superman (2 deleted scenes – 2:04)
- Road to Justice (14:10)
- Heart of Justice (11:52)
- Technology of the Justice League (8:14)
- Justice League: The New Heroes (12:24)
- Steppenwolf the Conqueror (3:03)
- Scene Study: Revisiting the Amazons (3:32)
- Scene Study: Wonder Woman’s Rescue (3:14)
- Scene Study: Heroes Park (4:57)
- Scene Study: The Tunnel Battle (3:32)
- Suit Up: The Look of the League (10:21)
The ironic thing here is that the Road to Justice featurette shows how DC’s “New 52” comic book relaunch was the perfect way to refresh and reintroduce these core characters. That is exactly the model Warner should have followed for the DCEU. In Heart of Justice, the actors and executives talk about these characters – what they’re feeling and how they’re thinking. As a viewer, you can’t help but wonder: Why the hell haven’t we been allowed to see more of this development on screen? Then there’s The New Heroes, in which we “delve into the hearts” of The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg. Again you wonder: Why do we have to be introduced to these characters in a damn featurette? Honestly, watching these extras is likely to just make you mad. But if getting a Movies Anywhere Digital code will help ease the frustration, there’s at least one of those in this package too on a paper insert.
You know what Justice League feels like? Disappointment. This should have been a great coming together of already familiar characters that fans have grown to love and care about, an experience that the characters themselves had earned over time. Instead, Warner and DC wanted their Avengers and they wanted it yesterday. Joke’s on them, I guess. Justice League is rushed and ramshackle, a mere shadow of the film it could have been. To be very clear, this isn’t a Zack Snyder problem. Snyder did the best he could in a bad situation (then Whedon took over and made it all worse). This is a studio problem and a serious one at that, a fundamental lack of understanding of how to organically build a vibrant and healthy cinematic franchise. Even so, word is that between fifteen and twenty more DC Extended Universe films are already in development. At this point, it’s hard to see why anyone would care. This is a very nice 4K Ultra HD release, though. So if you do care, this is definitely the version you’ll want to get your hands on.
- Bill Hunt