Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 7/26/22;
Disney/Marvel;
Action Fantasy;
Box Office $411.2 million;
$29.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of violence and action, frightening images and some language.
Stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Xochitl Gomez, Benedict Wong, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams.

Now deeply entrenched in its fourth phase, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is meandering a bit. While the first phase established a core group of heroes, and phases two and three built up to the battle against Thanos, phase four seems to be about introducing a new generation of Avengers to carry on in the aftermath of that fight.

Thus, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the 28th MCU film, features the debut of America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a teenager from a parallel reality who has the power to travel between the worlds of the multiverse. Living out her own personal version of “Sliders,” America accidentally opened a portal that caused her and her parents to be lost in separate worlds. Unable to control her powers, she continues to search for her parents and find a way home.

But wait, this is a Doctor Strange movie, isn’t it? The movie begins with America being pursued by a malevolent force that wants to steal her power. Defending her is an alternate reality version of Strange, as they seek a magical artifact that will defeat their attacker. When their quest seems hopeless and Defender Strange is killed, she manages to end up in the MCU, where our Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) carries on her fight.

Hoping to recruit some magical reinforcements, he turns to Wanda Maximoff, who is in a self-imposed exile following the events of “Wandavision” in which she dealt with the grief of Vision’s death by turning a small town into a sitcom reality and giving herself two sons, ultimately learning that she’s the embodiment of an ancient force called the Scarlet Witch.

Strange gets more than he bargained for asking for Wanda’s help, leading him and America on a world-hopping adventure that gives the film a chance to indulge the audience with all sorts of fun cameos.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Given that Strange had just appeared in Spider-Man: No Way Home, which offered its own dalliance into the multiverse, the natural assumption going in would be that this movie’s story would have carried on from those events, but Strange’s experiences with the multiverse in these consecutive appearances are largely just coincidental.

Still, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is fun for what it is, a mostly standalone adventure infused by director Sam Raimi with a strong dose of horror elements and some imaginative uses of the premise (though not using it quite enough), before finally giving way to some awkward post-credit sequences to set up future movies.

Follow us on Instagram

The Blu-ray includes a fun and informative commentary from Raimi, writer Michael Waldron, and producer Richie Palmer, as they discuss the challenges of making the film and other possibilities for the story.

Also included are three short behind-the-scenes featurettes. The 11-minute “Constructing the Multiverse” is a general retrospective on the making of the movie with interviews from the cast and filmmakers; the three-and-a-half-minute “Introducing America Chavez” focuses on the origins of that character and bringing her to life; and the five-minute “Method to the Madness” explores Raimi’s impact on the film.

Rounding out the extras are a two-and-a-half-minute gag reel, and three deleted scenes that run a total of about three minutes — one is a flashback to Strange’s days as a surgeon, while the other two expand on Bruce Campbell’s guest appearance as a street vendor.

 

Spider-Man: No Way Home

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street 4/12/22;
Sony Pictures/Marvel;
Action;
Box Office $803.82 million;
$30.99 DVD, $38.99, Blu-ray, $45.99 UH BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of action/violence, some language and brief suggestive comments.
Stars Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau, Jamie Foxx, Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina, Benedict Wong, Tony Revolori, Marisa Tomei, Andrew Garfield, Tobey Maguire.

The story of Spider-Man: No Way Home hinges on a plot device that could have been one of the greatest surprises in cinematic history. Instead, it was one of the worst-kept secrets in Hollywood that previous Spider-Man actors Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield would reprise their roles alongside current Spider-Man Tom Holland to fight a variety of villains from all the “Spider-Man” movies since the first film in 2002.

It wasn’t as if Sony’s marketing department didn’t try to keep it quiet. Images of the multiple Spider-Men were omitted from trailers, and Garfield resorted to blatantly lying in interviews in which he said he wasn’t involved, despite all the widespread rumors to the contrary, and in some cases photographic evidence.

Of course, the momentary shock value for such a reveal can only add so much to the viewing experience, and the film’s immense box office fortunes don’t seem to have suffered in the least. And knowing of the eventual Spidey super team-up doesn’t detract at all from the emotional resonance that elevates Spider-Man: No Way Home into more than just a fantastic superhero action movie.

Follow us on Instagram

The film is the 27th entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and picks up immediately following the events of 2019’s Spider-Man: Far From Home, as Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is publicly identified as being the masked webslinger.

As his life spirals out of control due to people knowing that he’s Spider-Man, Peter asks his Avengers cohort Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to reset everyone’s memories so they don’t remember his secret anymore. But the spell becomes unstable and breaks down the barriers between different realities, drawing in villains such as Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Dr. Octopus (Alfred Molina) and Sandman from the Sam Raimi-directed movies, and Electro (Jamie Foxx) and the Lizard from the “Amazing Spider-Man” films.

Rather than send them back to their universes only to die fighting their versions of Spider-Man, Peter endeavors to cure them first, a decision that backfires and results in profound tragedy.

However, the spell also brought Maguire’s and Garfield’s Spideys from those universes, giving Holland’s Spider-Man the allies he needs to stop the team of villains from doing more damage. It feels a lot like one of those “Doctor Who” anniversary specials in which previous versions of the Doctor joined the current one for a grand adventure.

The film works as a celebration of Spider-Man and his legacy in film, tying together the entire franchise in a way that not only continues the development of Holland’s Spider-Man, but also enriches the story arcs of Maguire’s and, especially, Garfield’s.

Spider-Man: No Way Home looks amazing, with several instantly iconic sequences, and seamless visual effects that really make it seem as if Molina and Dafoe were just plucked out of the earlier movies and placed into this one.

Another standout is the musical score by Michael Giacchino, who not only continues to develop the progression of his themes from the first two MCU Spidey movies, but gets to reuse his Dr. Strange themes as well. As if those weren’t enough, he also incorporates some of Danny Elfman’s themes from the Maguire films, and the late James Horner’s wonderful theme from The Amazing Spider-Man. It’s leitmotif on overdrive.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

The Blu-ray includes a solid hour-and-a-half of bonus materials, including seven behind-the-scenes featurettes. The six-minute “A Spectacular Spider-Journey With Tom Holland” tracks the journey of its star since he joined the MCU, while the seven-minute “Graduation Day” looks at the evolution of all the recurring characters. The five-minute “Enter Strange” examines the wizard’s role in the story, while the six-and-a-half-minute “Action Choreography Across the Multiverse” looks at the film’s stunt work. The eight-minute “Realities Collide, Spiders Unite” looks at how the film’s legendary team-up came to be, while the seven-minute “Weaving Jon Watt’s Web” focuses on the director’s experiences making the three MCU “Spider-Man” films.

The best extras are two panel discussions with the cast. The nine-minute “The Sinister Summit” features the villains of the film — Dafoe, Molina and Foxx. But the main event is the seven-and-a-half-minute “A Meeting of the Spiders” with Holland, Garfield and Maguire discussing their camaraderie.

A nearly five-minute featurette informs viewers of many of the references to previous Spider-Man films and comics that have been layered into the film.

Another fun inclusion are three in-universe story videos about Spider-Man from TheDailyBugle.net, running a total of about four minutes.

There are also two videos comparing the stunt previsualization with the final result, running three-and-a-half-minutes.

A section of promotional materials includes three short clips: Holland and co-star Jacob Batalon taking a lie detector about their experiences on the film, running two minutes; a minute clip of Holland’s press tour to Paris; and a minute of the filmmakers raving about the benefits of filming in the state of Georgia.

Rounding out the extras is a four-minute bloopers/gag reel.

In the 4K combo pack, all the bonus materials are on the Blu-ray disc. The 4K disc doesn’t include any extras.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Disney/Marvel;
Action;
Box Office $224.54 million;
$29.99 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $43.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences o violence and action, and language.
Stars Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Tony Leung, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Michelle Yeoh, Florian Munteanu, Andy Le, Ben Kingsley, Benedict Wong.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe meets Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, a sweeping fantasy epic with bold action and breathtaking visual flair.

For some perspective, the film centers on a character whose primary comic book was called Master of Kung Fu and was created to cash in on the martial arts movie craze of the 1970s. As the particulars of his origin and portrayal would be seen as highly problematic today, Shang-Chi’s backstory has been modified to better fit within the MCU, bringing together a few story threads introduced in earlier films to shine a light on a new corner of the franchise.

In the film, Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) is the son of Xu Wenwu (Leung), leader of a global criminal empire called the Ten Rings, an organization that appeared in 2008’s Iron Man, the very first MCU movie (Shang-Chi is the 25th).

Wenwu has survived for centuries thanks to 10 mysterious bracelets that imbue him with great power and aided him in building his fortune. In his journeys he learns of a mythical land called Ta Lo that supposedly houses magical beasts. In attempting to enter the village, he is bested in combat by its guardian, Ying Li (Fala Chen), and falls in love with her.

Years later, following his mother’s death, Shang-Li has turned his back on his father’s criminal ambitions and is living in San Francisco, where he goes by the name Shaun and tries to live a normal life with his best friend, Katy (Awkwafina). Those efforts are shattered when he and his sister, Xialing (Meng’er Zhang), are attacked by his father’s thugs and summoned back to the Ten Rings. Wenwu believes their mother’s soul is trapped in Ta Lo, and he wants their help accessing the village so he can save her.

The film also serves as a sequel of sorts to Iron Man 3 and the short film All Hail the King in continuing the story of Ben Kingsley’s Trevor Slattery character, the actor who posed as the terrorist leader The Mandarin and in doing so inadvertently appropriated Wenwu’s identity. Kingsley is a great source of comic relief and a welcome addition to the festivities.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

The Blu-ray includes a nice audio commentary with director Director Destin Daniel Cretton and writer Dave Callaham, who discuss developing and making the film. There are also two featurettes, the nine-minute “Building a Legacy” about the making of the film, and the seven-and-a-half-minute “Family Ties” about the characters and their role in the MCU.

The disc also includes 15 minutes of interesting deleted scenes, including an explicit tie-in to the original Iron Man movie, plus some additional moments of character depth.

Rounding out the package is a two-minute gag reel.

In the combo pack that includes both the regular and 4K Blu-rays, there are no extras on the 4K disc.

Follow us on Instagram!

Annihilation

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Paramount;
Sci-Fi;
Box Office $32.73 million;
$25.99 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality.
Stars Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Benedict Wong, Oscar Isaac.

Director Alex Garland is settling into a nice niche making deliberate, thought-provoking science-fiction films that defy the usual tropes of the genre.

His 2015 directorial debut Ex Machina made waves for its exploration of artificial intelligence and the nature of identity and what it means to be alive, and Annihilation deals with some of those themes as well.

Based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation is a sublime mix of alien invasion movie, psychological thriller and horror film. In the disc’s bonus materials, Garland discusses his apprehension in trying to adapt the source material, before settling on the strategy of, as he cleverly phrases it, adapting his subjective reaction to his reading of the book, rather than attempting a straight linear narrative.

The film stars Natalie Portman as a member of a team of scientists who explore a strange barrier that has surrounded an area of Southern swampland and continues to expand, distorting the biological processes of all life within it. The team encounters a litany of bizarre occurrences, such as different species of animals merging together. They find videos left by previous teams that explored the region, including Portman’s character’s husband, and watch their descent into madness. And the women soon realize the area is beginning to change them as well, adding urgency to the need to uncover what is happening and how to stop it.

The film is visually stunning, both for its reinterpretation of nature and also, in a twisted way, the very artistic ways the production crew has re-created the aftermath of some of the violent deaths of previous explorers. The film’s rich subtext and visual details will require multiple viewings to fully absorb Garland’s vision.

The Blu-ray includes six featurettes grouped into three categories, which all told equate to a comprehensive and insightful 75-minute behind-the-scenes documentary.