If a physical copy weren’t in my hand, it would be hard to believe that director Zack Snyder’s original vision for Justice League was anything more than rumor mixed with fan desire. After a horrific personal situation resulted in the director leaving production on 2017’s Justice League, the released version was mostly met with scorn and derision by Snyder’s devoted fans while the rest of us (general audience or just comic fans) found the film lacking but fine. Those who tracked the film from start to finish knew that Snyder’s vision would be difficult to accomplish after Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) didn’t meet Warner Bro. Pictures’s expectations resulting in the theatrical edition of Justice League not only going through rewrites under its new director, Joss Whedon, but also a mandate stating its runtime could be no longer than two hours. But those who had seen the assembly cut, his storyboards, or his script knew that Snyder had something very different in mind than what audiences saw and, after an extensive and unrelenting outpouring of global support, Zack Snyder’s Justice League debuted on WB’s streaming service HBO Max on March 18th with a “Justice is Gray” monochrome edition releasing soon after. Now, months after UK fans could own the film without streaming it, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is available on home video in 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD options in the US. Though bare-bones in terms of bonus materials, the sheer fact that this iteration is finished and is actually available for home viewing in physical form is an astonishing thing unto itself and, I suspect, deeply gratifying for those who fought for it.
If you’re looking for a review of either the original theatrical release or initial Snyder Cut streaming release, head to those reviews for a more spoiler-free experience. Moving forward, specifics of the film will be shared.
Following the events of Dawn of Justice, the world mourns the death of Superman (Henry Cavill) and Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) prepares for a war he believes is coming. What he doesn’t realize is that it’s already begun as Superman’s death scream travelled the world, waking the three previously dormant Mother Boxes, signaling that Earth is without its greatest protector. Sensing their awakening, Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds) arrives to collect each of the devices so that he can terraform the world in the name of his master, Darkseid (voiced by Roy Porter). With timing quickly running out, Bruce assembles the best the world has to offer: speedster Barry Allen (Erza Miller); the aquaman Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa); a man reborn thanks to a Mother Box, Victor Stone (Ray Fisher); and Wonder Woman herself, Diana Prince (Gal Gadot). 5,000 years ago, the forces of Darkseid were turned away by the combined might of Earth: Gods, Amazonians, Atlanteans, Humankind, and even a single Green Lantern. It’s going to take everything these five warriors have to prevent Steppenwolf from decimating everything, but there’s a chance as long as they remain united.
Having already written at length about the film itself, what follows will focus more on the physical release to help set expectations for interested buyers.
As mentioned, the physical comes in three flavors: 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD. The 4K UHD edition includes the Blu-ray, as well, but the Blu-ray and DVD editions only include that format. None of the physical releases include a digital option (you’ll need HBO Max for that) and neither the 4K UHD or Blu-ray formats include the “Justice is Gray” edition. Again, you’ll need an HBO Max subscription. The film is broken into two-parts with Prologue through Part 4 on Disc 1 and Part 5 through Epilogue on Disc 2. When finished with Disc 1, you will receive a prompt for Disc 2 to complete the film and, at least with the 4K UHD disc, shortly after putting in the disk, the film skips the menu and starts Part 5. This is the same for both the 4K UHD and Blu-ray editions, but I have no means of confirming at this time for the DVD edition. There is one featurette, “Road to Justice League,” which runs 24 minutes and is available solely on Disc 1 of both 4K UHD and Blu-ray editions and is one of several featurettes on the streaming edition. The featurette is a guided look back on the Snyderverse from Snyder himself, with additional information from producer/wife Deborah Snyder, the cast, and members of the creative team. Of the many things you’ll get to see, beyond Snyder at work, is just how much green screen is used in the film. The sequence with the Amazons is so steeped in CG that aspects look a little off. There’s also a small piece dedicated to showing the cast interacting, highlighting just how charming they are together; but, for me, the best piece of the entire featurette is getting to see parts of the audition/chemistry tests. For instance, did you know that Momoa auditioned for Bruce Wayne? Yeah, me neither. Though it is brief, “Road to Justice League” does feel like a fairly complete look back at the films Snyder was able to make, even though his fully-realized five-film arc will likely never be completed. Yes, ZSJL was “not supposed to happen” either, but this feels different. Given what we now know of Snyder’s arc, I’d certainly like to see it completed. Since that is unlikely, I’ll just focus on a wonderful note of positivity in this extended director’s cut just before the epilogue kicks off. Sadly, this featurette is the only portion of the release with any thoughts from Snyder himself. Given that the 2021 Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition 4K UHD release was remastered in the same IMAX ratio as ZSJL and it included an introduction and commentary track from Snyder, perhaps there is hope of a future edition including more BTS materials.
That covers the package and on-disc details, which leaves the presentation itself. The 4K UHD includes HDR and an Atmos track, while the Blu-ray (for obvious reasons) only includes the Atmos. The HDR really brings out the depth of colors, especially in the sequence with Barry resetting time. If I were to pick one moment that felt the most “comic book” out of a film with tons of them, that one would be the best in terms of capturing the character and how artistic and beautiful comics can be. Where the HDR can be a problem is in either heavy CGI scenes or in overly dark scenes, like the attack on Steppenwolf’s base. 4K doesn’t present as well via a digital source versus film and, as a whole, ZSJL is a CG smorgasbord, so while the HDR does make a beautiful film moreso, it can also make the more false moments break through and distract. Similarly, because so much of that attack sequence is dark, there’s no daylight anywhere and no red hue once the tower is destroyed, that the heroes beating parademons against buildings, structures, or with weapons tends to blur together unless highlighted by the red gleam of pulse fire or a reflection of a weapon. I don’t recall this being an issue with the HBO Max stream which also offers 4K UHD HDR presentation for compatible home theaters; however, streaming isn’t going to offer as pristine or accurate a presentation as a physical disc due to compression of data going through the stream from one end to the other, as well as the added issue of possible buffering. Physical formats don’t have to worry about such things, which is why so many cinephiles prefer physical or digital, despite how much space the discs inevitably take up. Fidelity trumps all.
The setup used to review the home release isn’t Atmos compatible, but the Dolby 5.1 came through beautifully and clearly. Most wonderfully, once set, I didn’t need to touch the volume at all except to adjust when my nine-month-old woke from his food coma angry. It’s rare these days to get a home release mixed so well that one doesn’t need to adjust the volume for talking versus action scenes, so that was a delightful surprise given the mix of overlapping sound: score, dialogue, and action. One thing about this home release that is absolutely worth mentioning is the wide array of options for subtitles. I haven’t seen so many international options on a release in some time and I can’t help but surmise it’s due to the international desire to see the film.
Unlike other home releases where folks might, for example, be uncertain if they’ll watch a film again after seeing it initially or may watch a while for a sale, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is largely going to be a Day One purchase for the devoted few. If you donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFPS), if you chipped in for Comic-Con banners, or if you merely tagged all your social posts with phrases like #ReleaseTheSnyderCut or #UsUnited, chances are you already bought the UK 4K UHD release or pre-ordered the US edition once preorders were confirmed. All a write-up like this can do is help manage expectations by shedding light on what’s under the hood. Personally, I was shocked to finish ZSJL back in March and wanted to dive back in again. Even months later, this film remains exciting and interesting in unexpected ways. It doesn’t in any way make the previous two films, Man of Steel (2013) or Dawn of Justice, improved in any way, but Snyder’s vision is much more clear and I didn’t expect it to be that way. To be fair, director’s cuts aren’t always the best version of a release, but this one is certainly the exception. Even where the weaknesses lie, and there are a few sporadically throughout (I discuss this in the initial release review), the experience is not weighed down as they don’t feel as important to the overall enjoyment on rewatches. And rewatches I will want to have.
For a closer look under the hood before you buy, check out this brief video detailing the physical release and its included parts:
Zack Snyder’s Justice League Special Features:
- Road to Justice League (24:40)
Available for streaming on HBO Max beginning March 18th, 2021.
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD September 7th, 2021.