Zack Snyder’s Justice League

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Warner;
Action;
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $44.95 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for violence and some language.

Stars Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Amy Adams, J.K. Simmons, Amber Heard, Connie Nielsen, Diane Lane, Harry Lennix, Billy Crudup, Willem Dafoe, Joe Morton, Kiersey Clemons, Jared Leto, Jesse Eisenberg, Joe Manganiello, Peter Guinness, Ray Porter, Ciaran Hinds.

The 2017 theatrical version of Justice League foisted upon audiences was undoubtedly a compromised film, the result of a now infamous clash between creative vision and studio sensibilities.

Warner Bros., having been lapped in the superhero shared universe race several times over by rival Marvel, was looking to catch up quickly with its own DC Comics-based franchise. But the studio lost faith in director Zack Snyder, whose efforts in building the universe from the ground up — 2013’s Man of Steel and 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice — were met with mixed reaction at best. The studio brought in Avengers director Joss Whedon to help “guide” Snyder in completing the third installment of his trilogy, Justice League, which would see Batman and Wonder Woman recruit additional superheroes to help fight an alien invasion.

Snyder, wary of the studio’s attempts to rein him in, ultimately left the film following the death of his daughter — to whom the new longer cut is dedicated.

Whedon, under a mandate to deliver a taut, two-hour action film, re-wrote Chris Terrio’s screenplay and oversaw extensive reshoots that it is clear now were intended to bridge story points between the action scenes that Snyder had shot. Whedon, known for infusing his projects with witty banter and offbeat humor, also added levity to Justice League to the point where it was much lighter in tone compared with the world established in Snyder’s earlier films. Whedon’s version ultimately did the job of telling the story it needed to, but didn’t satisfy many viewers who had bigger expectations based on what had come before.

And thus, the “Release the Snyder Cut” movement was born, fueled by rumors that the studio was sitting on a longer version of the film turned in by Snyder before he left. While Snyder had created a rough cut of the film before most of the visual effects were completed, the so-called “Snyder Cut” of Justice League was hardly in a state to be seen by the public, and thus its release was little more than a pipe dream without a studio willing to dedicate the resources to finish an alternate cut of a film it had already wrote off.

Then came the deep pockets of HBO Max, the new streaming service from Warner’s parent company, which had not only the deep pockets to finish the Snyder Cut, but also the desire to cash in on the hype surrounding it. The cost to complete Snyder’s version was reportedly north of $70 million (the 2017 theatrical release earned $657.9 million globally against a budget that ballooned to $300 million).

The obvious parallel here is with the Richard Donner cut of Superman II, but the Snyder Cut make that project seem like a lark.

Snyder’s four-hour director’s cut of Justice League plays like a completely different film, treating the story like the epic the theatrical version showed little interest in being.

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Now, admittedly, it’s unlikely that this version of the film, absent studio meddling, would have seen the inside of theaters back in the day either. For starters, a four-hour superhero movie based on Snyder’s take on the characters would have been a big ask of the audience, and he surely would have trimmed it to something in the range of two-and-a-half to three hours, just like he did with BvS (with the longer, better cut available on home video). Certainly, there are several scenes in Snyder’s Justice League that will give it a reputation for indulgence but could easily be cut for a theatrical release, but play better in a streaming format where binging serialized TV shows for six, seven, eight hours at a time (with breaks here and there) is commonplace.

Indeed, the original plan for Snyder’s Justice League was to present it as several episodes, like a TV show, but vagaries in Hollywood contract law supposedly led to the decision to deliver it as a single movie, albeit segmented into six succinctly labeled chapters and an epilogue.

Regardless, the film flows just fine even at four hours, and there is no confusion about what is happening or why the characters are motivated to do what they do. Snyder’s vision is to present the superheroes of today as the modern extension of the legends of old, drawing a direct line between classic mythology and their comic book counterparts.

The big beneficiary of all this is Ray Fisher’s Cyborg, who is given a fully fleshed out backstory that is barely touched upon in the theatrical cut, as well as a full character arc as he learns to accept and understand his powers.

Of course, if Warner had been patient enough to follow Marvel’s formula, Cyborg likely would have gotten his own origin movie before this, negating the need to devote so much screen time to it here. But that’s neither here nor there at this point.

The Snyder Cut is revelatory when compared with the Whedon Cut, which replaced a number of scenes with reshot versions that were similar but not as good, probably to add more of that Whedonesque humor. Fantastic scenes of endearing character interactions that would have added depth and meaning were removed entirely. Instead, Whedon added scenes showing a family imperiled by Steppenwolf’s plan who had to be saved by the League in the final battle. There’s no distracting family in the Snyder Cut, which instead takes the opportunity to foreshadow storylines that were intended for future sequels.

Another change Snyder made was reverting to the musical score by Tom Holkenborg, who continues the musical style established in Snyder’s previous entries. Whedon had replaced it with a more conventional but still serviceable score by Danny Elfman, who reused a number of more iconic themes for the characters from earlier franchises that played on audience nostalgia for the characters as a way to shortcut any development of them as specific to the Snyderverse.

Also, since he’s using his original footage and ignoring the reshoots, Snyder didn’t have to use digital effects to remove the mustache Henry Cavill couldn’t shave off while filming Mission: Impossible — Fallout, famously leading to his awkward-looking mouth in the 2017 version.

Another advantage Snyder’s cut has is that we’ve gotten to explore the DC universe a bit more since 2017, most notably with the 2018 Aquaman movie that really fleshed out Jason Momoa’s character and backstory, and gels nicely with his development here.

Snyder also took the opportunity to fix his presentation of the films’ villains. The CGI for the primary antagonist, Steppenwolf, has been reworked to be much more menacing and looks a lot better. Snyder also gives the audience a chance to see Darkseid, the legendary DC comics warlord who serves as Steppenwolf’s master and was reduced to just one mention of his name in Whedon’s cut.

Steppenwolf’s plan, as in the theatrical cut, is to collect the three “Mother Boxes” on Earth that when united will allow him to re-create Darkseid’s homeworld of Apokolips on Earth. The Mother Boxes were left behind when Darkseid’s first invasion of Earth was repelled thousands of years earlier, and thought lost until Superman’s death at the end of BvS caused them to reactivate, drawing Steppenwolf to them.

We also get an expansion of the nightmare future hinted at in BvS, in which Batman leads a rebellion against a Superman who has become a tyrant ruling over the wasteland Earth has become as a result of Darkseid’s invasion. This particularly impacts the scene of Superman’s resurrection, which plays very differently now that we have the expanded context behind it. Rather than Superman’s revival serving as another plot device in the battle against Steppenwolf, here it is re-framed as a complex ethical question about whether bringing Superman back to life in order to win the battle of today will ultimately lead to the very dystopia his resurrection is meant to prevent — and whether Batman’s desire to atone for his guilt over Superman’s death in BvS is blinding him to this potential outcome.

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Snyder presents his version in the 4:3 format most viewers will associate with the standard square ratio of classic non-widescreen TVs. That means vertical black bars to the right and left of the movie. While this might look odd to viewers accustomed to widescreen, Snyder’s framing actually presents more of the image as originally filmed. The square frame was chosen with Imax exhibitions in mind, since true Imax screens are higher than a typical theater. A standard “widescreen” print of the film is then made by cropping from the top and bottom of the picture. By eschewing this process, Snyder is instead offering us everything in the frame he shot.

Time will tell if we get any follow-ups to plot points developed in Snyder’s Cut that otherwise fell by the wayside in Warner’s DC universe. But even if we don’t the complete Snyder Cut on its own is a triumph of a filmmaker’s singular vision, and the story surrounding it a fascinating glimpse into the process of the Hollywood machine and the often-conflicting instincts of those in charge of it.

The 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray Disc versions offer the film spread over two discs. The first disc of both the 4K and regular Blu-ray versions contains the set’s lone extra: a 24-minute featurette of Snyder reflecting on his experience making his trilogy of superhero movies, and the fan effort to bring it to fruition with his vision of Justice League.

Also, the discs do not include a code for a digital copy of the film, so the digital version remains exclusive to HBO Max. The disc does include an insert with an ad touting HBO Max and the black-and-white version of the movie, Zack Snyder’s Justice League: Justice Is Gray.

Originally published as a streaming review March 18, 2021.

Thriller ‘Vivarium’ Available Now on Digital, on Disc May 12 From Lionsgate

The thriller Vivarium is available now on digital and on demand and on Blu-ray (plus digital) and DVD May 12 from Lionsgate.

The film, which had its world premiere at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, stars Academy Award nominee Jesse Eisenberg (Best Actor, The Social Network, 2010) and Imogen Poots.

Tom and Gemma (Eisenberg and Poots) are looking for the perfect home. When a strange real-estate agent takes them to Yonder, a mysterious suburban neighborhood of identical houses, Tom and Gemma can’t wait to leave. But when they try to exit the labyrinth-like housing development, each road takes them back to where they started. Soon, they realize their search for a dream home has plunged them into a terrifying nightmare.

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Special features on disc include audio commentary with director Lorcan Finnegan and executive producer Brunella Cocchiglia and the featurette “Creating the Suburban Nightmare of Vivarium.”

Zombieland: Double Tap

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 1/21/20;
Sony Pictures;
Comedy;
Box Office $73.09 million;
$30.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, $45.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for bloody violence, language throughout, some drug and sexual content.
Stars Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Zoey Deutch, Avan Jogia, Rosario Dawson, Luke Wilson, Thomas Middleditch.

The original Zombieland in 2009 was such a delightful surprise that most fans considered a sequel to be an inevitability. Yet the years without one started to pile up, save for a pilot episode in 2013 of a TV adaptation for Amazon Prime Video that wasn’t picked up.

Ruben Fleischer, director of both the original film and this 10-years-later follow up, recalls in his commentary that plans for the sequel stalled because the creative team wasn’t satisfied with the script, so it was put on hold. Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick at least tried to resurrect the concept on Amazon, albeit with a new cast, before moving on to pen the “Deadpool” movies. Fleischer himself went on to direct Venom.

Eventually, though, they found a concept that works, and here we are with the hilarious Double Tap, dropping back in on the post-apocalypse to see how the core quartet of Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) have adjusted to a decade of life fighting zombies.

Pretty well, it turns out. They’ve taken up residence in the abandoned White House, while Columbus and Wichita have graduated to a full-fledged romantic relationship. That leaves the now grown-up Little Rock a bit restless to find a boyfriend of her own, so she hits the road with a pacifist musician named Berkeley (Avan Jogia), who promises to take her to a walled off commune where weapons are banned and the residents hide out from the zombie hordes by getting stoned in a village atop a skyrise.

So the rest of the group sets off to find her, joined by Madison (Zoey Deutch), a ditzy blonde they find living at the mall.

The zombies have also evolved into different sub-groups, some smarter than others, some harder to kill than others, which ups the danger factor of their road trip.

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The joy of the “Zombieland” movies is that they fully embrace the blood, gore and dystopian flavor of the genre, while at the same time spoofing the hell out of it. This time around, the movie even engages in a bit of self-parody, such as when Columbus and Tallahassee encounter another duo (Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch) whose personalities are eerily similar.

The casting of Middleditch as a doppelganger for Eisenberg is but one example of the film’s meta-humor, owing to Eisenberg’s performance as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, and Middleditch as the tech startup CEO on HBO’s “Silicon Valley.” The similarity in their characters is so pronounced that Fleischer even calls Eisenberg “Tom” at one point in his commentary. Oops.

There are quite a few running gags at play in Double Tap, from an expansion of the survival rules introduced in the first film, to the elaborate “Zombie Kill of the Week” cutaways, to the search for the ideal post-apocalyptic vehicle, to reflections of the past 10 years from the point of view of a society frozen in 2009. And the filmmakers have filled the screen with enough clever background details that it may take several viewings to fully appreciate.

At its core, though, as with the first film, Zombieland: Double Tap is anchored by the winning chemistry of its cast and the audience’s eagerness to spend more time with them.

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The Blu-ray is loaded with some great bonus materials, starting with the aforementioned director’s commentary, which offers some good behind-the-scenes information.

The making of the film is also the focus of five featurettes totaling nearly 35 minutes, covering the creation of the film’s memorable vehicles and sets, to the new cast members, and a look at making the fantastic mid-credits sequence that calls back to a memorable cameo from the first film.

Another two-minute video gives viewers a director’s-eye view of one of the film’s notable fight scenes.

Fans should be especially thrilled by the nearly 13 minutes of deleted scenes on the disc, which offer some great character moments that didn’t quite work for the film’s pacing but offer some interest tidbits on their own, particularly when it comes to the Columbus/Wichita relationship.

Rounding out the extras are an amusing five-minute blooper reel and a 30-second PSA using the film’s premise to encourage viewers to prepare their own emergency survival kits.

 

 

Sony Pictures Sets Home Release Dates for ‘Zombieland: Double Tap’

Sony Pictures has set home release dates for Zombieland: Double Tap, the zombie comedy sequel that hit the big screen earlier this year — 10 years after the original Zombieland.

The film, which grossed an estimated $72.2 million in North American movie theaters, will be released on digital Dec. 24 and on Blu-ray Disc, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Jan. 21, 2020.

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Bonus materials for the home edition include audio commentary by director Ruben Fleischer, a blooper reel, nine alternate and extended scenes, and several behind-the-scenes featurettes about the making of the film.

Returning cast members include Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin  and Emma Stone. They are joined by newcomers Rosario Dawson (TV’s “The Defenders”), Zoey Deutch (TV’s “The Politician”), Luke Wilson (Old School), Avan Jogia (Shaft), and Thomas Middleditch (TV’s “Silicon Valley”).

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Set one decade after the events of the first film, Zombieland: Double Tap finds Tallahassee (Harrelson), Columbus (Eisenberg), Little Rock (Breslin), and Wichita (Stone) working together to kill zombies from their new home in the now-vacant White House.

A full list of bonus materials:

  • Extended bloopers and outtakes
  • Alternate and extended scenes
      • “The Beast is Gone”: Tragedy falls upon Tallahassee.
      • “Van Rides”: A vehicle says a lot about a person.
      • “Would Have Never Met”: Wichita and Columbus discuss what their lives would have been like if not for the zombie apocalypse.
      • “In Bed”: Tallahassee gets randy
      • “Breakfast at Babylon”: Cruelty-free breakfast and conversation.
      • “Car Ride”: Road trips were made for family bonding.
      • “Melting Gun”: Tallahassee says goodbye to another friend.
      • “There’s a Party Tonight”: Hanging out with a bunch of hippies.
      • “Alternate Proposal”: Love is the perfect mix of cool and uncool.
  • “The Doppelgangers”: From stunts to special effects, this in-depth piece breaks down doppelgangers Flagstaff and Albuquerque through interviews, demonstrations, and multiple cameras.
  • “The Rides of Zombieland”: From the Beast to Big Fat Death (and a hated Pontiac Trans Sport in between) this short focuses on the cars the zombie killers use to get around.
  • “Rules of Making a Zombie Film”: A documentary on the rules of making a zombie film.
  • “Making Babylon”: Explore the climactic third act location in the film. known in Zombieland as Babylon.  Part fortress, part freshman dormitory, Babylon is the safe-place for a generation of misguided peace-loving retro-hippies.
  • “New Blood”: Profiles on new cast members Rosario Dawson, Zoey Deutch, and Avan Jogia.
  • “Single Take Doppelganger Fight”: Director Fleischer shares the camera monitor during the Doppelganger fight sequence.
  • Commentary with Fleischer.
  • “Zombieland Ad Council”

‘Zombieland’ Heading to 4K Ultra HD Oct. 1 From Sony

Celebrating its 10th anniversary, Zombieland will come out on 4K Ultra HD Oct. 1 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment in time for the theatrical debut of its sequel, Zombieland: Double Tap.

Directed by Ruben Fleischer and starring Academy Award nominees Woody Harrelson (2017, Best Supporting Actor, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, 2017), Jesse Eisenberg (2010, Best Actor, The Social Network) and Abigail Breslin (2006, Best Supporting Actress, Little Miss Sunshine) and Academy Award-winner Emma Stone (2016, Best Actress, La La Land), the film follows a shy student trying to reach his family in Ohio, a gun-toting tough guy trying to find the last Twinkie, and a pair of sisters trying to get to an amusement park, who join forces to travel across a zombie-filled America.

Remastered in 4K with High Dynamic Range, the release includes a Dolby Atmos audio track, along with the original theatrical 5.1 audio.

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The 4K UHD release features a new special feature with the cast offering a look back at the original film; a behind-the-scenes featurette; and “Shootin’ Zombies with Ruben Fleischer.” Special features on the Blu-ray include “Beyond the Graveyard Picture-in-Picture Track”; audio commentary with filmmakers and cast; the “In Search of Zombieland” featurette; the “ Zombieland is Your Land” featurette; deleted scenes; and visual effects progression scenes.