Injustice

4K ULTRA HD REVIEW:

Warner;
Animated;
$29.98 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for bloody violence.
Voices of Justin Hartley, Anson Mount, Laura Bailey, Zach Callison, Brian T. Delaney, Brandon Micheal Hall, Edwin Hodge, Oliver Hudson, Gillian Jacobs, Yuri Lowenthal, Derek Phillips, Kevin Pollak, Anika Noni Rose, Reid Scott, Faran Tahir, Fred Tatasciore, Janet Varney. 

While comic book superheroes have been likened to a modern form of mythology, stories about the characters tend to be constrained by a desire for them to inhabit a reality that for the most part mirrors our own.

This needs stems mostly from the nature of a recurring medium that allows the storytelling to remain topical to the times. Rather than exploring how the heroes could use their powers to impact problems on a global scale, most stories tend toward the heroes fighting evil counterparts of themselves, the supervillains, whose defeat allows humanity to continue along its own course while giving the heroes something to do.

Occasionally, though, the writers of these stories do explore how such characters could change the world if they were real, usually in the form of one-off adventures outside of ongoing continuity.

Marvel famously did this on a regular basis with the “What If…?” comics that were adapted into the Disney+ animated series. DC Comics did something similar with its “Elseworlds” branding, which had been preceded decades earlier by the “imaginary story” that put its characters in situations that didn’t have to return to the status quo for the next month.

Along those lines, Injustice asks what if the superpowered heroes of DC Comics decided to impose their own sense of justice upon the world.

The animated movie is based on the video game Injustice: Gods Among Us and its comic book tie-ins, the plot serving essentially as an excuse for a versus game that allowed various DC heroes to fight each other “Mortal Kombat” style.

The hero at the center of the story of Injustice is Superman, who learns Lois is pregnant with his child. Before he can celebrate, however, the Joker unleashes a scheme that involves tricking Superman into killing Lois and setting of a nuclear bomb that destroys Metropolis.

Consumed by the grief of losing his true love, Superman (voiced by Justin Hartley) and declares his intentions to impose order on the world so that such acts of evil can never happen again. Giving into his anger, Superman begins a killing spree against the Justice League’s enemies, anointing himself the world’s judge, jury and executioner and setting him down the path of tyranny. His change in philosophy fractures this Justice League, with some joining him on his new mission, while others, led by Batman (Anson Mount) vow to stop him.

The ensuing conflict is brutal, as the film earns its ‘R’ rating with bloody fight sequences that yield a high body count of heroes that normally couldn’t be killed off so casually.

Fans of the Injustice games and comics have voiced misgivings over the way the movie omitted many storylines and changed others while cramming as much as it could into a 78-minute running time. Those who are able to engage the film on its own merits, however, might find it to be an engaging superhero allegory that speaks to the heated political times in which we live.

The story plays into an underlying debate over security vs. freedom that has some obvious real-world parallels. At various points in the story, Superman decides to implement covert surveillance on all of humanity, while demanding an extreme version of gun control.

While the film isn’t afraid to go dark, it’s not without its lighter side and the occasional moment of levity. One highlight is the pairing of Harley Quinn (Gillian Jacobs) with Green Arrow (Reid Scott) in an oddly effecting partnership.

The Blu-ray includes one featurette, the half-hour “Adventures in Storytelling: Injustice — Crisis and Conflict,” a roundtable discussion of some of the films’ creators talking about the source material and the different themes explored by the story.

Also included is the two-part “Injustice for All” two-part episode of the “Justice League” animated series that originally aired in 2002.

Smallville: The Complete Series — 20th Anniversary Edition

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 10/19/21:
Warner;
Sci-Fi Action;
$154.99 DVD (62 discs), $179.99 Blu-ray (42 discs — 40 BD + 2 DVD);
Not rated.
Stars Tom Welling, Allison Mack, Kristin Kreuk, Michael Rosenbaum, John Glover, Erica Durance, Annette O’Toole, John Schneider, Justin Hartley, Sam Jones, Cassidy Freeman, Aaron Ashmore, Eric Johnson, Laura Vandervoort, Callum Blue, Jensen Ackles, Sam Witwer, Terence Stamp, James Marsters, Michael McKean, Ian Somerhalder, Jane Seymour, Brian Austin Green, Pam Grier, Helen Slater, Michael Ironside, Julian Sands, Tori Spelling, Rutger Hauer, Margot Kidder, Christopher Reeve.

Running from 2001 to 2011, first on the WB network and then CW, “Smallville” depicted the early years of Clark Kent before he became Superman.

Set in the fictional title town in Kansas where young Clark famously grew up, the show begins with Smallville being hit by a meteor shower, the remnants of the destroyed planet Krypton. Among the debris is the craft carrying the baby Kal-El, who is discovered by Jonathan and Martha Kent (John Schneider and Annette O’Toole) and raised as their son with solid midwestern American values.

As the years go by, Clark (Tom Welling) discovers his true self as his alien abilities blossom, setting him along the path toward his destiny.

To give Clark something to do in between the milestone events that edge him closer to becoming Superman, the show hit upon the clever conceit that the meteorites that crashed into Smallville would unleash cosmic radiation upon those near where it crashed. For Clark, the surviving chunks would become Kryptonite, the substance any casual pop culture fan knows is Superman’s weakness. However, the humans affected would gain strange abilities of their own, lending the show a monster-of-the-week format as high schooler Clark and his pals, most notably Chloe (Allison Mack), would deal with the strange cases that arose. This underpinning of the show’s mythology gave it a strong “Superboy” by way of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” vibe. The show also attempted to stay somewhat grounded in reality with its famous “no tights, no flights” rule, meaning it tried to stay away from cheesy costumes and fanciful superpowers (though it would backtrack on that a bit in the later years when the original creative team behind the show had left).

As something of a proto-Arrowverse, the show would also introduce several elements from Superman and the greater DC Comics lore into the show. In later seasons, Clark would encounter other young superheroes, teaming up with them to form an early version of the Justice League. Among them was the Green Arrow (Justin Hartley), whose popularity would inspire giving the character his own show, though “Arrow” was a reboot and not a spinoff.

Other friends of the teenage Clark included his first love, Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk), and a younger Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum), who was mostly interested in stopping the evil schemes of his father, Lionel (John Glover), while developing an evil streak of his own. Eventually Clark would also meet Chloe’s cousin Lois Lane (Erica Durance), long before she ever became an ace reporter, giving the show a chance to tell that story, too.

The series was often fun to watch and offered some clever takes on the Superman mythology. Later seasons would involve long story arcs involving more-traditional Superman villains such as Zod or Doomsday, and introduce characters such as Supergirl (Laura Vandervoort). However, the show seemed to be running in place it last few seasons as it kept putting off the moment Clark would actually become Superman, which was clearly the natural endpoint, resulting in a show that crawled to the finish line having stayed on a air a few seasons more than it probably should. This longevity forced producers to awkwardly cram in comic book elements from Superman’s adult adventures while retconning other plot developments that deviated from the lore (such as Lex dying after season seven when Rosenbaum left the show).

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The show was heavily influenced by the look and feel of the Richard Donner Superman movie, using its design for the Fortress of Solitude as a palace of ice, while sprinkling in John Williams’ iconic theme music when appropriate.

“Smallville” was also known for its extensive Easter Eggs of earlier adaptations of the source material, most notably in the form of its extensive roster of guest stars (a tradition carried on in the Arrowverse). Christopher Reeve, the movie Superman of the 1970s and 1980s, made a well-received guest appearance as a scientist who uncovers facts about Clark’s Kryptonian heritage, while Margot Kidder made a cameo as one of his colleagues (Durance’s Lois, it should be noted, takes a lot of influence from Kidder’s version). Helen Slater, who played Supergirl in the 1984 movie, play’s Kal-El’s Kryptonian mother, Lara (and she would go on to play Supergirl’s adopted mother in the “Supergirl” TV series). Jor-El, Superman’s Kryptonian father, would be voiced by Terence Stamp, who played the evil General Zod in the Reeve films. Annette O’Toole had played Lana Lang in Superman III.

Amy Adams, who would go on to play Lois Lane in Man of Steel, guest starred in an early episode as one of the meteor freaks of the week.

One episode in season five even features a “Dukes of Hazzard” reunion, brining on Tom Wopat as an old friend of Schneider’s Jonathan.

Ultimately “Smallville” lasted for 10 seasons and 217 episodes, establishing the record as the longest-running genre series (surpassing “Stargate SG-1” by three episodes, but later eclipsed by “Supernatural,” which lasted 15 years and 320 episodes).

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A complete-series DVD was released back in 2011, after all the seasons had been released individually on DVD, while seasons six through 10 had also been released individually on Blu-ray. Thus, the complete-series Blu-ray collection marks the Blu-ray debuts for seasons one through five (though season five had been released on HD DVD, as was season six).

The series was filmed with HD in mind from the start, so the early episodes look great in HD. However, some visual effects were completed in standard-definition, and those scenes have been upscaled, as have the first few seasons of the opening credits that weren’t originally completed in high-def either.

The discs come housed with each season in its own Blu-ray case packed into a nice slipcover. The box art for each season are rather Spartan, however, offering some season-specific images and a list of episodes and bonus features, but not indicating which episodes and extras are on which disc.

Those extras, carried over from the previous DVDs, include a smattering of deleted scenes, episode commentaries and featurettes. Some episodes have extended cuts, such as the pilot. While the extended version of the first episode does have a nice commentary from the show’s creators, it is presented as upscaled SD rather than the noticeably better quality of the HD print of the broadcast version.

The complete-series set also includes the two DVDs of extras previously released in the deluxe 2011 complete-series DVD set, including a series retrospective, a look a the 100th episode, and pilot episodes from proposed “Superboy” and “Aquaman” series that were never picked up.

However, there don’t seem to be any new extras, which is a shame given it’s been 10 years since “Smallville” ended and there is no shortage of retrospective material on the Internet. Michael Rosenbaum’s “Inside of You” podcast is a good source for a lot of discussions with the cast, though those might be a bit candid for an official studio release, given how much of the discussions relate to Allison Mack’s criminal troubles related to the NXIVM sex cult.

Heck, they even had a reunion panel at DC Fandome that could easily have been pre-recorded in time to include in the set. (The 20-minute clip can be found on YouTube.)

They also could have included the “Smallville” segment of the Arrowvere’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths” 2019 crossover that brought Welling and Durance back as Clark and Lois to get a peek at what they had been up to since the show ended (even though the finale featured a flash-forward). So to see that, fans will have to pick up any of the Arrowverse seasons featuring the “Crisis” bonus disc.

The Hunt

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Universal;
Thriller;
Box Office $5.81 million;
$29.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for some strong bloody violence and language throughout.
Stars Betty Gilpin, Hilary Swank, Ike Barinholtz, Glenn Howerton, Emma Roberts, Ethan Suplee, Amy Madigan, Reed Birney, Justin Hartley.

While conceived as a political allegory, The Hunt works just fine on its own as a straightforward comedic action thriller.

The film, about a group of wealthy left-wing elites who kidnap conservatives to hunt them for sport, is like a modern version of The Most Dangerous Game, meshed with The Purge and The Hunger Games for good measure.

The film uses misdirection to put the audience in the position of those being hunted, constantly guessing about what is really happening. After a brief opening in which a group of friends jokes about looking forward to “The Manor,” an assortment of people awaken in a forest, their mouths gagged. They discover crates in a clearing filled with weapons and the means to free themselves. But the games begin in earnest with a deliciously bloody body count.

One of them, Crystal (Betty Gilpin of Netflix’s “GLOW”) seems to be a step ahead. She wants to find the ringleader, Athena (Hilary Swank) and put an end to these shenanigans once and for all.

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In the primary featurette on the Blu-ray, the five-minute “Crafting The Hunt,” producer and co-writer Damon Lindeloff discusses how the film is meant to satirize how political opponents get locked into assumptions about the other side, threatening to plunge into a never-ending war rather than attempt to get along.

Rounding out the sparse extras on the Blu-ray are two more featurettes running just over two-and-a-half minutes. “Death Scene Breakdowns” is a self-explanatory video about how the filmmakers staged some of the scenes of gory violence. “Athena vs. Crystal: Hunter or Hunted?” details the making of a key fight scene involving Gilpin and Swank.

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A Bad Moms Christmas

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street 2/6/18;
Universal;
Comedy;
Box Office $72.11 million;
$29.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for crude sexual content and language throughout, and some drug use.
Stars Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn, Christine Baranski, Cheryl Hines, Susan Sarandon, Jay Hernandez, Justin Hartley, Peter Gallagher, Wanda Sykes.

With the popularity of 2016’s Bad Moms ($184 million worldwide box office against a $20 million budget) all but ensuring a sequel, the writer-director team of Jon Lucas and Scott Moore managed to have a follow-up produced and in theaters a bit over a year later. The quick turnaround is something of a throwback to the halcyon days of Hollywood, where quickie sequels were much easier to pull off.

Where the first film dealt with the rigors of balancing work, home and school, the sequel transplants the rowdy moms into a holiday setting, and cranks up the proverbial heat by bringing in their moms for a little added pressure.

I suppose the idea is to inform on what makes the core moms tick and possibly led them to snap in the first movie. While the story is driven by this newfound family angst, it often falls back on a string of sketches tied to family-related Christmas settings. The film offers a smattering of caricature and broad ruminations on the holiday season, with some gags that work better in concept than execution.

Christine Baranski in particular, as mom to Mila Kunis’ Amy, comes across like a less-intense version of Leonard’s mom from “The Big Bang Theory,” which may have been a primary reason they sought her out for this.

The best pairing is Susan Sarandon and Kathryn Hahn, if only because their characters are the ones with the fewest inhibitions — the apple not falling too far from the tree in that regard.

Fans of the raunchiness that set the original film apart need not worry, as the jokes are often as crude as they were in that one, if not more so.

Coincidentally, the same multigenerational premise was used for the guys in the Daddy’s Home sequel around the same time, with similar results.

The Blu-ray is rather sparse in its extras, offering a seven-minute gag reel, four minutes of alternate takes and a two-and-a-half-minute music video featuring the production crew dancing along to an R&B holiday song used in the film.