Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 5/16/23;
Disney/Marvel;
Action;
Box Office $213.75 million;
$29.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for violence/action, and language.
Stars Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Jonathan Majors, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Douglas, Kathryn Newton, David Dastmalchian, Katy O’Brian, William Jackson Harper, Bill Murray.

With the conclusion of the “Infinity Saga” in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, the Marvel Cinematic Universe found itself in the unenviable position of having to crawl out from the shadow of the massively successful story arc that dominated its first decade of existence.

For the most part, the films and TV shows following Endgame were standalone adventures, wrapping up loose ends from established characters, or introducing new concepts and characters to the MCU without a clear path as to what the franchise as a whole would be building toward for its next major crossover event.

Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania, while completing a trilogy for the “Ant-Man” sub-franchise of the MCU, was also touted as the first big stepping stone to setting up the next major story arc with the arrival of Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors), a variant of whom was previously seen on the “Loki” TV series.

Kang, whose various iterations from throughout the multiverse seek dominion over all possible timelines, has already been announced as the next major Avengers villain for the upcoming films Kang Dynasty and Secret Wars, so establishing him in Quantumania, the 31st MCU movie, was seen as being of vital importance to future storylines of the MCU.

The prospect of such developments would also serve to elevate the importance of the “Ant-Man” movies, where before the character was something of a mid-level player in the MCU. But it also made sense given Ant-Man’s connection to the Quantum Realm, which was previously established to have a role in the MCU’s version of time travel and alternate realities.

With Peyton Reed returning for his third stint as an “Ant-Man” director, the MCU’s choice to write the screenplay was Jeff Loveness, who previously was best known for “Rick and Morty,” a cartoon comedy. And the results are a bit clunky.

While it’s fun to check in again Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), aka the Ant-Man and The Wasp of the title, and their Ant-Man family — Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer as Hope’s parents, Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne, the Ant-Man and The Wasp of the previous generation — the arrival of Kang gives the film a much darker tone than the light-hearted heist-movie sensibilities of the first two. The film is missing Michael Peña and the rest of Scott’s X-Con pals, who were a great source of comic relief from the first two movies. Instead, the film has to make due with some superfluous new characters mined from the depths of the Quantum Realm, where the main characters are transported following some misguided experiments.

The film also continues the MCU’s youth movement, with Scott’s now-teenaged daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton) becoming yet another hero with a Pym-particle-powered shrinking suit.

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Zipping Scott, Hope, Hank, Janet and Cassie through a portal of visual effects to the Quantum Realm, a fantastical civilization that exists as a hidden layer beneath our own, makes the set-up seem a bit like Tron, though with a world of biological weirdness substituting for the digital frontier.

The premise puts more focus on Janet, who was rescued from the Quantum Realm in 2018’s Ant-Man and The Wasp after three decades of being trapped there, thus making her privy to all its secrets. Her outsized contribution to the story provides credence to the argument that she might be considered The Wasp of the title. The film’s prologue reveals how Janet, just before her rescue, came across a Kang newly exiled into the Quantum Realm, and destroyed his only means of escape. Kang subsequently set up an empire to conquer the Quantum Realm, with Janet joining a resistance movement to his rule.

Thus, Janet and her family join the rebellion against Kang, who is now being assisted by MODOK, a killing machine inhabited by the broken body of Hank’s former protégé and rival, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), who was seemingly dispatched to microscopic oblivion by Scott in the first “Ant-Man.”

The visual effects, though colorful and flashy, are omnipresent and a bit overwhelming, while the superimposed face of Stoll onto MODOK’s giant head is just bizarre. The fact that there are so many creatures that live in the Quantum Realm, and so many who look human, just raises questions about what exactly it is, as it seems much more like an alien world than its previous depictions of a sub-atomic netherworld. Humans transported there can now breathe and act relatively normally, though there are at least still mentions of strange phenomena such as a “probability storm” that allows Scott to team up with different versions of himself who exist only as a facet of his potential actions — one of the film’s better sequences.

On the other hand, given that the Pym suits can still shrink and grow relative to what’s considered a “normal” size, it raises the question of if the Quantum Realm actually represents a sub-atomic layer of our world (in which all the characters would already be miniscule), or it’s just another alternate dimension. At one point Scott and Cassie use their suits to become giant versions of themselves, but the abundance of alien-world visual effects around them make it hard to get any sense of scale of how “big” they’re supposed to be.

The setting offers almost no boundaries for the story, aside from the audience’s awareness of the characters, and the performances are all top notch. Rudd is effortlessly likable as Scott Lang, Pfeiffer is commanding as Janet, and Majors is a compelling menace as Kang.

However, a lot of the discussion over the film’s underperformance both critically and financially will likely focus on Loveness’ experience as a screenwriter. This is his first movie, and the fact that he’s already lined up to pen the next “Avengers” films isn’t settling anyone’s doubts about the future of the MCU.

Granted, the studio previously turned over the “Infinity Saga” to a pair of TV comedy writers — the Russo Brothers — and the results paid off, so time will tell. But their first efforts in the MCU, a pair of “Captain America” movies, were far more effective entries in the canon than Quantumania.

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Reed and Loveness provide a feature-length commentary on the Blu-ray and digital editions of the film in which they discuss the storytelling process, and hearing their thought processes of connecting various elements from throughout the “Ant-Man” trilogy should better contextualize the film for a few viewers.

The commentary is the highlight of an extras package that is otherwise rather paltry for a Marvel movie. There are just two behind-the-scenes featurettes: the seven-and-a-half-minute “All in the Family” about the heroic characters of the film, and the 11-and-a-half-minute “Formidable Foes,” about the films’ bad guys.

Also included among the extras are a two-minute gag reel, plus two superfluous deleted scenes running a total of three minutes, with unfinished visual effects.

 

Ghostbusters: Afterlife

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 2/1/22;
Sony Pictures;
Comedy;
Box Office $128.06 million;
$30.99 DVD, $38.99 Blu-ray, $45.99 UHD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for supernatural action and some suggestive references.
Stars Carrie Coon, Paul Rudd, Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace, Logan Kim, Celeste O’Connor, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, Sigourney Weaver, Bob Gunton, J.K. Simmons, Bokeem Woodbine.

Somewhere out there, lost to the annals of time and space, is the ideal third “Ghostbusters” movie. While Ghostbusters: Afterlife might not achieve that lofty goal, the circumstances that led to its creation make it a valiant effort.

Following the 1984 original film and its 1989 sequel, plans for a third film eventually stalled out when the creative team couldn’t agree to a satisfactory story to tell. The 2014 death of Harold Ramis, who was one of the creative forces behind the franchise in addition to playing a key character, seemed to signal the end of attempts to continue the original storyline. The consolation prize for fans was the 2009 Ghostbusters video game, which franchise co-creator and co-star Dan Aykroyd referred to as essentially being a third movie.

In 2016 a third movie did come along, with director Paul Feig’s reboot of the original that severed ties with the continuity of the first two films, presenting a cast of talented female comedians whose characters invented the concept of and equipment for ghostbusting on their own, only to come across a villain who used similar equipment to summon ghosts. The remake, eventually dubbed Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, was largely rejected by franchise fans because it wasn’t rooted in a continuation of the lore, instead sticking original cast members into mostly awkward and bizarre cameos.

Then, director Jason Reitman, son of Ivan Reitman, who directed the 1980s movies, had a vision of a girl discovering ghostbusting equipment, leading her to discover her family’s legacy. This idea eventually germinated into Ghostbusters: Afterlife, a true continuation of the storyline from the original films.

The girl is Phoebe (Mckenna Grace), who along with her brother, Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), move to Oklahoma after their mother, Callie (Carrie Coon), inherits a derelict farm from her father, Phoebe and Trevor’s grandfather. While Callie tries to make sense of her father’s finances, Phoebe and Trevor discover their grandfather was one of the original Ghostbusters, who had settled in Oklahoma to combat supernatural forces that threatened to bring an end to the world. Along with some new friends and a teacher played by Paul Rudd, they take up his mission to avert the return of the evil forces.

Afterlife is far from a perfect movie and is at times almost too reverential to the 1980s films, with a third act that is essentially a re-creation of the end of the first film, relying more on nostalgia than originality. But it respects the lore, and that’s probably enough to earn the appreciation of longtime fans.

The “new generation” plot gives the younger characters an entry point into the mythology by making it a mystery for them to solve, which is a clever way to reintroduce the concept while also providing a touching way to address the absence of Ramis (though how it’s addressed in the film does raise a lot of questions that are left unanswered). However, longtime fans will see what’s coming from a mile away, as the retread elements of Afterlife really start to wear thin by the end.

In a way, this actually makes the existence of Answer the Call more infuriating, since its story arc of ghostbusting-like equipment being used to call forth the forces of darkness rather than stop them would have been a nice fit for a next-generation Ghostbusters movie and better served Afterlife. (In Answer the Call, the equipment isn’t ghostbusters gear per se, but similar hardware developed by a bad guy — the concept could have been adapted for a story about modifying ghostbuster tech).

So, what we are left with is a movie that is a bit of a double-edged sword. Up until some fan service in the third act, Afterlife works well as a standalone movie about a struggling family uncovering a lost legacy and learning who they are, playing more along Jason Reitman’s sensibilities as an indie filmmaker. But as a “Ghostbusters” movie, it’s more like a tribute band paying homage to the original, which might make it less appealing to viewers who don’t have the nostalgia for the 1980s films.

The Afterlife Blu-ray includes some thorough behind-the-scenes materials and a few featurettes aimed at the fandom.

The central making-of video is the 10-minute “Summoning the Spirit,” which starts with Jason Reitman’s concept for creating the film as previously mentioned, and picks up from there. Supplementary to this are a six-and-a-half-minute featurette about the visual effects.

For the fans, the eight-minute “We Got One!” looks at the many references to the earlier films layered into Afterlife. There’s also a six-minute guide to ghostbusting equipment, and a five-minute look at the return of the Ghostbusters’ car, the Ecto-1. The 10-minute “A Look Back” featurette offers a reminiscence with the surviving original cast members, while the four-minute “A Look Ahead” teases what might be yet to come.

Also included is a single deleted scene, running a minute-and-a-half, that offers a fun extension of a scene between Callie, Phoebe and one of the original cast members.

Animated ‘The Little Prince’ Heading to Disc Feb. 9 From Paramount

The animated adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic story The Little Prince arrives on Blu-ray and DVD Feb. 9 from Paramount Home Entertainment.

Featuring a voice cast including Jeff Bridges, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, James Franco, Benicio Del Toro, Ricky Gervais, Albert Brooks, Paul Rudd, Mackenzie Foy and Paul Giamatti, the film debuted on Netflix in 2016.

From the director of Kung Fu Panda comes this re-imagined take on the story. At its heart is “The Little Girl” (Foy), prepared by her mother (McAdams) for the very grown-up real-world. After her eccentric, kind-hearted neighbor “The Aviator” (Bridges) introduces her to an extraordinary world where anything is possible, she learns of “The Little Prince” (Riley Osborne). And so begins a magical and emotional journey.

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Special features include a 25-minute featurette on the making of the film, as well as a music video for the song “Turnaround” by Camille. The Blu-ray additionally includes access to a digital copy of the film.

Avengers: Endgame

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street Date 8/13/19;
Disney/Marvel;
Action;
Box Office $857 million;
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language.
Stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Karen Gillan, Danai Gurira, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chadwick Boseman, Tom Holland, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Tom Hiddleston, Pom Klementieff, Dave Bautista, Letitia Wright, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Evangeline Lilly, Tessa Thompson, Benedict Wong, Jon Favreau, Bradley Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow, Rene Russo, John Slattery, Tilda Swinton, Hayley Atwell, Natalie Portman, Marisa Tomei, Taika Waititi, Angela Bassett, Michael Douglass, Michelle Pfeiffer, William Hurt, Cobie Smulders, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Redford, Josh Brolin.

A satisfying ending is a beautiful thing.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe began as one of the boldest gambits in movie history: a comic book company financing its own movies, based on relatively unknown characters, with the hope of someday uniting them in a crossover.

While no one could have predicted that 2008’s Iron Man would be as big a hit as it was, the other early films of the MCU were much more modestly received, and it wasn’t until the first Avengers film in 2012, the sixth in the MCU canon, that the true potential of what they were trying to pull off came into focus.

With Avengers: Endgame, the 22nd film in the MCU, that effort has resulted in the highest-grossing film of all time worldwide. Say what you will about the corporate structure of Hollywood and the surging dominance of all things Disney, which owns Marvel, but the industry-shattering creative forces of producer Kevin Feige and his team simply have to be admired for their shear audicity.

Avengers: Endgame brings together just about every notable character to play a role in the previous 21 MCU films to close out a number of storylines that have been weaving through the films for 11 years.

Foremost among them was the aftermath of last year’s Avengers: Infinity War, which ended with one of the biggest cliffhangers in the history of cinema, as the villainous Thanos (Josh Brolin) assembled all six Infinity Stones and caused half of all life in the universe to disappear with a snap of his fingers.

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Like the best series finales, Endgame manages to capture the essential elements of what fans love most about these films, providing both a feeling of nostalgia and a sense of how far things progressed from the beginning to now, all while giving the characters a sense of closure that honors who they are and what they’ve fought for.

And yet, Endgame is not the end of the MCU. The currently in theaters Spider-Man: Far From Home provides a nice little epilogue to it, and Feige at Comic-Con showed off a roadmap of the MCU’s next phase. However, Endgame is certainly a well-earned conclusion for several chapters of it.

Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, and written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, Avengers: Endgame is a testament to narrative efficiency despite its three-hour running length.

The Marvel movies have hit upon a winning formula of consistency, and Endgame is really no different. There are certain things the audience expects of it, but that’s not to say it approaches these goals in expected ways. The screenplay manages to defy expectations in its plot twists but remains true to the characters and provides a number of emotional payoffs that will particularly hit home for fans who have managed to follow the story arcs through all the films. This is simply a level of catharsis that stems from a 20-film journey that simply cannot be matched by most other cinematic achievements.

Endgame perfectly balances its sense of seriousness and tension with appropriate levels of humor and fun, resulting in a brisk pace that keeps the viewer eager to see what comes next. The film also warrants multiple viewings just to absorb the level of detail layered into the film.

The story is something of a love letter to the fans in the way it ingeniously re-visits some of the previous MCU films from a new perspective, deepening those films in small ways retroactively. Yet it wouldn’t be an “Avengers” film if it didn’t also culminate in what has to be the ultimate big-screen superhero battle.

The Russos have become masters of visual storytelling, which is a rather important quality to have when the goal is to adapt a comic book. Endgame is perhaps the biggest comic book movie ever made in terms of its scope, and the Russos are especially adept at framing their shots for maximum impact. It comes as no surprise that the film looks great on Blu-ray, with bright colors and sharp visual effects.

Another challenge brushed off with aplomb is balancing the sheer number of characters involved in a story of this magnitude, especially given the assemblage of performers of the magnitude the MCU has the clout to get. The closing credits of Endgame include the names of at least eight Oscar winners, and five of them appeared together in one of the film’s key scenes. Needless to say, the performances all around do not disappoint.

The film’s effectiveness is also given a huge boost by a phenomenal musical score by Alan Silvestri, who is perhaps the greatest living film composer who has yet to win an Oscar. Unlike Infinity War, in which the primary musical identities were Thanos and the Avengers as a group, Endgame revisits several character themes from the previous films, resulting in a deeply satisfying musical narrative. This approach only heightens the emotional connection between the audience and the characters, particularly when it comes to Captain America (unsurprising, since 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger was Silvestri’s first MCU effort).

These are details that, when combined, make it easy to overlook those parts of the film (and the MCU) in general that probably shouldn’t be thought about too much, and instead appreciate what the film has managed to accomplish.

The Blu-ray provides a great feature-length commentary from the Russos and the screenwriters as they reflect on their long MCU careers, analyze the various moving parts of the franchise, and provide some great insights on the making of the film and the challenges of cleanly telling a story that is complicated by its nature. The Russos also offer a short introduction to the film.

There are also 36 minutes of featurettes, many of which shine a light more on the history of the MCU and how things evolved into this particular film. There are spotlights on the story arcs of Captain America, Black Widow, Thor and Iron Man (the latter also including Robert Downey Jr.’s screen test for the role). The Russos and their impact on the MCU is the subject of another featurette.

There’s a vignette that celebrates the many female heroes of the MCU. Also, the disc includes a seven-minute tribute to Stan Lee and a look back at his many cameos in the MCU movies.

Other extras on the Blu-ray include a funny two-minute gag reel and six deleted scenes, which offer a mix of fun and poignancy, especially the ones that make light of perceived plot holes from earlier movies. The excised footage features unfinished visual effects and runs about five minutes.

Digital versions available at Movies Anywhere and many digital retailers, such as Vudu, offer these extras as well as a six-minute featurette about the relationship between Captain America and his true love, Peggy Carter.

Ant-Man and The Wasp

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street Date 10/16/18;
Disney/Marvel;
Action;
Box Office $216.42 million;
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for for some sci-fi action violence.
Stars Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Peña, Walton Goggins, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Tip “T.I.” Harris, David Dastmalchian, Hannah John-Kamen, Abby Ryder Fortson, Randall Park, Michelle Pfeiffer, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Douglas.

The 20th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe arrived in a somewhat awkward position for the franchise. Coming off the dire circumstances of Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and The Wasp offers more of the lighthearted, fun romp first served up in 2015’s Ant-Man. It’s certainly a shift in tone for dedicated Marvel watchers, but also serves as a satisfactory palate cleanser for the despair that “Avengers” movie dished out.

Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man wasn’t in Infinity War, and this movie delves into what he was up to as Thanos was preparing to battle the rest of the Avengers. Under house arrest as a result of the events of Captain America: Civil War, Scott Lang (Rudd) is once again recruited by the father-daughter science whiz team of Hank Pym and Hope Van Dyne (Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly), who are now fugitives because Lang used their shrinking technology to help Captain America fight Iron Man.

Hank needs Scott’s help to locate his wife, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) in the quantum realm, where she vanished 30 years ago after going too microscopic to return. Hope, meanwhile, has become The Wasp, fulfilling the setup from the first film for her to don a shrinking suit of her own.

However, their efforts have attracted some unwanted attention in the form of a criminal (Walton Goggins) who wants to get his hands on their technology, and a girl (Hannah John-Kamen) who needs energy from the quantum realm to reverse the effects of an accident that is causing her to phase out of existence.

Scott, meanwhile, has to avoid getting caught by the authorities by making sure he’s back home before they stop by for an inspection, lest he be sent back to prison for 20 years.

Director Peyton Reed takes advantage of the size-shifting premise to present both some very funny gags and some inventive action sequences. Reed says in an introduction to the film and his feature-length commentary that one of his main goals on the sequel was to really take advantage of the different perspectives that shrinking and growing can offer, much more than he did in the first film.

The film also sets up how Rudd will make his way into the fourth “Avengers” film, leaving even more clues with which fans can speculate about how the whole Thanos saga will be resolved next year.

For the here and now, though, the Ant-Man and The Wasp Blu-ray includes more than 20 minutes of behind-the-scenes featurettes with some good insights about establishing the characters in this new story, plus how the production design team mixed practical and CG effects to create sets and sequences that immerse the viewer into a world where the scale of everyday items is often out of whack.

The Blu-ray also includes two deleted scenes running about a minute each, which are interesting on their own but weren’t essential to the overall story. Then there are about four minutes of gag reels, including a minute of Stan Lee’s outtakes trying different lines for his cameo.

The digital editions include an exclusive eight-minute retrospective on the concept artists of the now 10-year-old MCU, plus a minute-long commercial for a company at the center of one of the film’s key running gags. Vudu also offers a two-and-a-half-minute featurette about Reed.

‘Ant-Man and The Wasp’ Coming Home in October

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment will release Marvel’s Ant-Man and The Wasp digitally Oct. 2 and on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Oct. 16.

Paul Rudd returns as Ant-Man, the superhero with the power to shrink and grow, in the sequel to 2015’s Ant-Man. In his latest adventure, Ant-Man teams with The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) in an effort to rescue her mother from the mysterious Quantum Realm. Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Peña, Walton Goggins, Laurence Fishburne and Hannah John-Kamen also star.

The film is the 20th installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and earned $214.8 million at the domestic box office.

Blu-ray and digital extras include an introduction from director Peyton Reed; deleted scenes with commentary by Reed; a gag reel and outtakes; and the featurettes “Back in the Ant Suit: Scott Lang,” “A Suit of Her Own: The Wasp,” “Subatomic Super Heroes: Hank & Janet” and “Quantum Perspective: The VFX and Production Design of Ant-Man and The Wasp.

Extras exclusive to the digital version include the featurette “10 Years of Marvel Studios: The Art of the Marvel Cinematic Universe” and a commercial called “Online Close-Up: Magic University.” Digital extras will vary by retailer.

Best Buy will offer an exclusive collectible Steelbook edition of the film, while Target is touting a 4K UHD Blu-ray with a 40-page filmmaker gallery booklet.

Paramount Releasing ‘The Catcher Was a Spy’ on Disc and Digital Oct. 2

Paramount Home Media Distribution will release the stranger-than-fiction espionage thriller The Catcher Was a Spy on DVD and digitally Oct. 2.

Based on a true story, the film stars Paul Rudd as Moe Berg, a professional baseball player who became a spy during World War II. The cast also includes Mark Strong, Sienna Miller, Jeff Daniels, Guy Pearce and Paul Giamatti.