Justice League: Crisis on Infinite Earths — Part One

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 1/23/24;
Warner;
Animated;
$29.98 Blu-ray, $47.99 UHD Steelbook;
Rated ‘PG’ for action/violence throughout and brief language.
Voices of Matt Bomer, Darren Criss, Stana Katic, Jensen Ackles, Meg Donnelly, Jimmi Simpson, Zachary Quinto, Jonathan Adams, Ike Amadi, Geoffrey Arend, Zack Callison, Alexandra Daddario, Matt Lanter, Aldis Hodge, Nolan North, Lou Diamond Phillips, Ashleigh LaThrop.

The first indication that this newest DC Universe animated adventure strays from the norm comes right off the bat, as Matt Bomer is the only credited cast member in the opening titles.

Bomer plays The Flash in this film and its precursors in the cycle of continuity that began with 2020’s Superman: Man of Tomorrow, and thus has been dubbed the “Tomorrowverse.”

The opening chapter of what is being presented as a Crisis trilogy is the eighth movie in the Tomorrowverse, and adapts the famed 1985-86 “Crisis on Infinite Earths” comic book crossover published by DC in which pretty much all of its characters battled a universe-destroying force.

Though most of the voice cast from the earlier films also return for this team-up adventure, that Bomer’s is the only one credited up front really speaks to how much this first installment has been crafted as a story centered on The Flash, a character whose fate was also closely intertwined with the plot of the original comics.

The film begins with The Flash, aka Barry Allen, zipping back and forth through time to key moments in his life, from the lab accident that bestowed upon him the powers of super-speed, to forming the Justice League with his fellow heroes, to meeting and marrying Iris West (Ashleigh LaThrop). The reason for his time jumps is tied to an evil force that threatens the multiverse — a wave of anti-matter energy is destroying parallel realities, and The Flash is transported to one where Earth is ruled by evil versions of his superhero pals.

His inability to save that reality gives him greater insight into the bigger threat when he is summoned to a space station where heroes from across the multiverse are being gathered to combat the problem.

Their plan is to build towers on each Earth that will be connected to a central device where The Flash can use his super-speed to vibrate all the Earths fast enough so that the antimatter will pass through them without doing any damage.

While the film is unavoidably loaded with familiar superhero tropes, it keeps viewers guessing with some interesting plot twists that effectively ground the action as essentially a love story between Barry and Iris. In this regard it strays a bit from the source material in order to give The Flash an even more integral role in the plot. The flashbacks also revisit some key moments from the earlier films while answering a few dangling questions about how certain events actually unfolded.

What’s also nice about the structure of the film is that the filmmakers haven’t just made an ambitious four-hour epic split up by the studio into three chunks for distribution. The first Crisis film tells a complete and satisfying story on its own while also laying the groundwork for the direction of the next sequel.

The 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray discs include two featurettes. The first is called “Crisis Prime(r),” a name that suggests it might be about the source material to help give viewers context as to the slew of new characters that arrive. However, the 10-minute video turns out to be just the filmmakers recapping the previous seven movies to point out how they were planned to lead into this one.

A discussion of the source material does occur in the eight-minute “Selfless Speedster,” which delves into how the filmmakers deconstructed the original comic storyline in order to put The Flash front and center in the first of the three “Crisis” movies.

Black Adam

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 1/3/23;
Warner;
Action;
Box Office $167.87 million;
$34.98 DVD, $39.98 Blu-ray, $49.98 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of strong violence, intense action, and some language.
Stars Dwayne Johnson, Aldis Hodge, Noah Centineo, Sarah Shahi, Marwan Kenzari, Quintessa Swindell, Bodhi Sabongui, Pierce Brosnan.

Turmoil surrounding the DC Comics film franchise put Black Adam in an unenviable position. On the one hand, it has the baggage of being connected to a cinematic universe many fans aren’t satisfied with. On the other, it was released just before creative changes at the studio fueled speculation that the whole franchise would be rebooted, which isn’t exactly an incentive for the remaining fans of the DC universe to rush out to see it.

The film was a passion project for star Dwayne Johnson, who said Black Adam was his favorite character growing up.

In the comics, Black Adam was the arch-enemy of Shazam — a malevolent force from ancient times whose powers derive from the same magic as Shazam. In more recent times he has been depicted as less of an all-out supervillain and more of an antihero. His existence is alluded to in the 2019 Shazam movie, though he doesn’t make a full-fledged appearance.

Black Adam’s own film thus depicts his origins as the champion of the fictional Middle East nation of Kahndaq, which in ancient times was ruled by a tyrant who enslaved his people to mine for a powerful ore. The Council of Wizards sought a hero of the people to imbue with their powers, but they were instead corrupted by Teth-Adam (Johnson), who used them to seek revenge against those who wronged him. As punishment, Adam was imprisoned by the wizards within the Rock of Eternity.

In the present day, 5,000 years later, Kahndaq is controlled by a criminal conglomerate known as Intergang, which similarly exploits the nation’s resources in search of the legendary Crown of Sabbac, which would give them untold power. A group of resistance fighters led by Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi) hopes to find the crown first to keep it from falling into the wrong hands, but in doing so end up freeing Adam from his tomb and unleashing him upon the modern world.

As a safeguard, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) from some of the other DC films enlists members of the Justice Society to neutralize Adam. The team is led by Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), whose cinematic depiction is something of a combination of Marvel’s Falcon, Thor and Iron Man; Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), who is basically DC’s version of Doctor Strange, but also has visions of people’s futures; Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), the Ant-Man equivalent who can grow very large; and Cyclone (Quinessa Swindell), who can manipulate wind not unlike the X-Men’s Storm.

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Adrianna and her son, Amon (Bodhi Sabongui), want to help Adam rid their country of Intergang, putting them in conflict with the Justice Society, who claim Adam’s power is too dangerous. Meanwhile, agents of Intergang plot to steal back the crown to unleash the powers of the ancient demons that can defeat Adam.

So, the set-up is a bit similar to 1999’s The Mummy, though Adam’s personality is much more complex. Seeing Adam acclimate to modern technology is amusing, especially as Amon tries to tutor him in how to be a superhero (complete with a coming up with a catch-phrase). On the other hand, Adam’s instinct to kill his enemies first and ask questions later cause quite a bit of friction with the Justice Society.

Stylistically, director Jaume Collet-Serra imbues the film’s confrontations with the sensibilities of a spaghetti western, a conscious choice he discusses in the bonus materials. The film also benefits from the undercurrents of a flashback structure that tells the parallel story of Adam in both ancient and modern times, representing thematically how the meaning and interpretation of historical artifacts can be misconstrued.

The film maintains its distance from the Shazam side of the DC franchise, aside from the fact that their powers derive from the same source (and Djimon Hounsou reprises his role as the wizard who guards over the magic). This also means several characters say the word “Shazam” to activate the powers, which makes it a bit weird that no one would mention that being the name of another superhero (particularly Amon, who has a sizeable collection of superhero merchandise, including a Shazam action figure). But it would probably be a bit less confusing if the hero known as Shazam were still allowed to go by his original moniker from the 1940s, Captain Marvel, before rights issues involving the ownership of different comic book companies made that name the purview of Marvel Comics.

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Still, as its own standalone movie, Black Adam is a slick-looking adventure with a lot of delicious visual effects that stay true to their comic book influences. Most of the supporting characters arrive with exposition-heavy explanations of their powers, hinting at complex backstories that make them seem like they wandered in from other movies that were never made. And that ultimately is what Black Adam feels like — an addendum to the larger DC franchise cobbled together from components of other characters’ stories. It’s entertaining for what it is, making it disappointing to think there won’t be much follow-through on the story points it establishes.

The Blu-ray includes more than 70 minutes of behind-the-scenes materials, in the form of 10 separate featurettes covering everything from the history of the characters, to the development of the film, and the design of the costumes, sets and visual effects. In the 4K combo pack, the extras can be found only on the regular Blu-ray.

 

Green Lantern: Beware My Power

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Warner;
Animated;
$24.99 Blu-ray, $29.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for some strong violence, bloody images and partial nudity.
Voices of Aldis Hodge, Jimmi Simpson, Ike Amadi, Brian Bloom, Jamie Gray Hyder, Nolan North.

Set against the backdrop of an interstellar conflict, Beware My Power is an animated “Green Lantern” movie that puts the focus on the character of John Stewart, one of the first major black superheroes to appear in DC Comics.

The film begins with the mystery of what happened to Hal Jordan, the best-known Green Lantern of Earth. His power ring ends up going to Stewart (voiced by Aldis Hodge), a former Marine sniper.

Searching for answers, he ends up at the headquarters of the Justice League, where Hal’s buddy Green Arrow (Jimmi Simpson) starts showing him the basics of being a Green Lantern. They set off to try to learn what happened to Hal, a quest that puts them at the center of a war between the worlds of Thanagar and Rann.

Beware My Power gets off to a promising start, as Stewart is compelling as a new hero with big shoes to fill, and Green Arrow serving as the primary source of comic relief. However, the story gets very convoluted by the end as the writers start to cram in a number of references to major comic book storylines.

The Blu-ray includes a 31-minute featurette about the history of the John Stewart character, who is marking the 50th anniversary of his debut as one of the secondary Green Lanterns of Earth.

Also included is the “In Blackest Night” two-parter from the 2001 “Justice League” cartoon, where Stewart was presented as the primary Green Lantern.

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The Invisible Man (2020)

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Universal;
Horror;
Box Office $64.91 million;
$29.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray, $44.98 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for some strong bloody violence and language.
Stars Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer, Michael Dorman, Oliver Jackson-Cohen.

Writer-director Leigh Whannell’s new version of The Invisible Man is a masterfully crafted example of using a relatively simple premise to build suspense while keeping the audience guessing.

The script is centered on the concept of the “invisible man” as a metaphor for the constant fear experienced by someone who escapes a traumatic situation only to wonder if they will eventually be found and hunted by their abuser.

Elisabeth Moss gives a compelling performance as Cecilia, who in the opening scenes carries out an elaborate plan to leave her boyfriend, Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), in the middle of the night while he sleeps. We never see their relationship in play, only hear about it second-hand from her, which immediately puts us in her head and begins the mind games that make the film so effective.

Cecilia gets word that Adrian has died, and begins to ease out of her fears once she learns he left her a $5 million inheritance. Yet she can’t shake the feeling that he’s somehow still haunting her, surmising that as a leading scientist in the field of optics he was able to construct some sort of invisibility suit.

Her friends and family begin to doubt her sanity, and even the audience is left to wonder what’s really going on, and how much of her troubles are either in her head or a result of her losing touch with reality.

Even when the film peels back the curtain about what’s really going on, we’re still left guessing as to who is doing what, who is planning what, and whether there’s another layer of manipulation we have yet to comprehend.

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And to think, the studio’s original plans for the film would have had it be a more conventional remake starring Johnny Depp as the title character, fitting into the shared “Dark Universe” of Universal movie monsters before that franchise became a non-starter after the awful 2017 version of The Mummy snuffed it out.

Instead, it was re-conceived by Whannell, co-creator (along with James Wan) of the “Saw” and “Insidious” franchises, and placed under the auspices of producer Jason Blum and his Blumhouse Productions, experts at crafting low-budget suspense thrillers for big returns (even before the coronavirus lockdowns cut short its theatrical run, the film grossed $126 million worldwide against a budget o $7 million).

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The Blu-ray includes a terrific solo commentary track by Whannell, which is one of the better examples of such an accompaniment nowadays. Both witty and effusive, Whannell delves into the challenges of shooting the film in Australia to make it look like America, while setting up shots to cover the empty spaces where someone we can’t see might be standing.

The Blu-ray also includes nine deleted scenes totaling about 13-and-a-half minutes. The scenes are pretty good on their own and even inform some of the scenes in the final film, but why they were removed is understandable.

There are also four making-of featurettes that pack a lot of insight into less than a half-hour of screentime. The primary one is the 11-minute “Director’s Journey With Leigh Whannell,” which serves as a basic behind-the-scenes featurette and is a good companion to the commentary.

The four-minute “Moss Manifested” puts the spotlight on Elisabeth Moss and her interpretation of the role, and the five-and-a-half-minute “The Players” focuses on the rest of the cast.

Finally, “Timeless Terror” examines how Whannell reimagined the story and imbued it with modern themes.

‘What Men Want’ Due on Digital April 23, Disc May 7 From Paramount

The comedy What Men Want, starring Taraji P. Henson, will come out on digital April 23 and Blu-ray combo pack and DVD May 7 from Paramount Home Media Distribution.

The film earned $50.1 million in theaters.

Ali Davis (Henson) is a successful sports agent who’s constantly boxed out by her male colleagues. After a wild night out with the girls, she mysteriously gains the ability to hear men’s thoughts. With her newfound power, Ali looks to outsmart her colleagues as she races to sign the next basketball superstar, but the lengths she has to go to will put her relationship with her best friends and new love interest to the test. The film also stars Aldis Hodge, Richard Roundtree, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Erykah Badu, Max Greenfield and Tracy Morgan.

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The digital and Blu-ray combo pack (with a digital copy) releases include more than an hour of bonus features, including a gag reel, deleted and extended scenes, a spoof infomercial featuring Badu, and interviews with the cast. The Blu-ray also features a commentary with director Adam Shankman.