Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 10/31/23;
Paramount;
Action;
Box Office $172.14 million;
$25.99 DVD, $31.99 Blu-ray, $37.99 UHD, $44.99 UHD/BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of violence and action, some language and suggestive material.
Stars Tom Cruise, Hayley Atwell, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Vanessa Kirby, Esai Morales, Pom Klementieff, Henry Czerny, Shea Whigham, Greg Tarzan Davis, Cary Elwes.

The last few “Mission: Impossible” movies have pretty much set the standard for espionage actioners the past decade. However, Dead Reckoning, the seventh film derived from the premise of the 1960s TV series, feels more formulaic than the franchise has for a long time.

While it still features some terrific action scenes and excuses for star Tom Cruise to do many of his own stunts, Dead Reckoning offers the thinnest story of the franchise since the third film. Of course, ostensibly all the plots for films such as this are crafted as an excuse to string together a series of action sequences, but the seams for Dead Reckoning are showing a bit more than usual, which isn’t ideal for a film that, at 163 minutes, is not only the longest “Mission,” but also the first half of what is meant to be an epic two-parter.

The antagonist is an elusive artificial intelligence program called “The Entity” that has somehow become sentient. What it ultimately wants to do isn’t exactly clear, but its immediate concern is finding a special key that can apparently be used to gain access to the computer that stores its base code. The key is thus the film’s MacGuffin, the object being sought after by all the major characters that puts them in conflict with one another, from Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and his IMF team, to the Entity’s handpicked mercenary, Gabriel (Esai Morales), and all parties in between, including a thief (Hayley Atwell) in above her head, to CIA operatives tracking Ethan for once again going rogue on a mission.

It’s all well and good, and an entertaining adventure on the whole that looks and sounds great on disc, though some of the character arcs are questionable, and the action beats seem to take more than a few pages from the book of Bond. The finale on board a train is also well realized, though it does bring to mind similarly staged sequences from the film Under Siege 2 as well as the “Uncharted” video games.

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The film’s HD disc configurations include a standalone regular Blu-ray Disc, a standalone 4K Ultra HD disc, and a Steelbook containing the film on both 4K and Blu-ray discs. The only extras included with the film discs are an audio commentary with director Christopher McQuarrie and editor Eddie Hamilton, and an isolated track of Lorne Balfe’s musical score. The filmmaker commentary is informative but tends to lean heavily toward the technical side.

The Blu-ray, 4K and Steelbook all come with the same bonus Blu-ray of additional extras, amounting to just six short featurettes totaling 31 minutes of behind-the-scenes material. Each of the videos focuses on a different setting or stunt: “Abu Dhabi,” “Rome,” “Venice,” “Freefall” (about Cruise’s well-publicized motorcycle jump off a cliff), “Speed Flying” and “Train.” These are pretty typical of promotional videos for movies such as this, though it is interesting to see some of the raw footage of the action sequences before visual effects were used for things such as removing cameras and replacing motorcycle ramps.

Digital versions of the film also include a nine-minute montage of deleted footage and a 10-minute featurette about editing the opening submarine sequence. Both are available with an optional commentary from McQuarrie and Hamilton.

Without the commentary, the deleted footage plays with a sample of Balfe’s score and no other sound or dialogue, as the footage is offered without any context aside from the viewer’s presumed knowledge of the film itself.

The editing featurette includes footage of the finished scene next to earlier footage and unfinished visual effects to provide some contrast between them as a demonstration of how the post-production process completes a film.

That these two pieces that total just 20 minutes are digital exclusives and weren’t included on the extras Blu-ray is something of a headscratcher, as surely the disc would have room for them given how scant what’s on there actually is.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 8/1/23;
Disney/Marvel;
Sci-Fi;
Box Office $358.95 million;
$29.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of violence and action, strong language, suggestive/drug references and thematic elements.
Stars Chris Pratt, Zoë Saldaña, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Sean Gunn, Chukwudi Iwuji, Will Poulter, Maria Bakalova, Linda Cardellini, Nathan Fillion, Sylvester Stallone.

The release of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 represents the end of an era for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With writer-director James Gunn jumping ship to lead rival DC’s production slate, the MCU loses one of its strongest creative voices, and the results are becoming evident.

As the MCU flounders trying to regain the narrative momentum it had prior to Avengers: Endgame, Gunn’s concluding chapter to his “Guardians” trilogy caps off what is probably Marvel’s last reliable sub-franchise in terms of consistent quality. (Losing a key player off the bench should make Disney all-the-more desperate to secure a deal with Sony for more Tom Holland “Spider-Man” movies, but time will tell).

Picking up after last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, Gunn’s latest tale of the ragtag group of offbeat interstellar adventurers delves into the backstory of the wisecracking talking raccoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper). Rocket turns out to be the result of the cruel experiments of the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), a megalomaniacal geneticist cursed with delusions of godhood who dreams of creating perfect societies. As Rocket was his only creation to ever develop the gift of technological inventiveness, the Evolutionary wants to study him to learn how to use that spark of insight to create the perfect life form.

However, when Rocket is critically injured by the efforts of the Evolutionary’s minions to capture him, the Guardians’ only hope to save him is to steal the Evolutionary’s proprietary technology, setting up a cataclysmic final battle that could destroy the entire team.

The premise provides not only for some emotional character dynamics, but allows Gunn to indulge his penchants for inventive but unconventional visual designs. The film is equal parts bright and colorful and gooey and grotesque, providing for a splendid 4K experience. And of course there are plenty of opportunities for laughs despite the heavy subject matter.

The “Guardians” movies are also known for their iconic needle-drop soundtracks of classic 1970s rock, and while the third film isn’t as memorable in that regard, it still offers a great array of tunes, this time expanding the selection into the 2000s.

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Gunn in the bonus materials delves into how each film in the trilogy relates to the theme of family. With Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord’s mother and father weighing heavily on the events of the first two films as the Guardians come together to form their own ersatz family unit, the third film deals with each coming to terms with their own sense of self — particularly Rocket, whose story is told in flashbacks as he lies dying on a medical bed.

The highlight of the extras is the full-length commentary with Gunn, who provides a lot of insight into the story and characters, and how much it meant for him to be able to close out a franchise that has defined his life for a decade.

Fans will also be interested in checking out the deleted scenes. There are eight included on the Blu-ray, each running about a minute. They include a number of interesting character interactions, including what might be Kraglin’s funniest line (as delivered by James’ brother Sean Gunn) in the series. Also included is the cameo appearance by Pete Davidson that was ultimately cut for stalling the momentum of the final act (the commentary details how Davidson ended up being given a CGI alien head after his dialogue was cut).

There’s also a fun five-minute gag reel, and two behind-the-scenes featurettes that contextualize the making of the film within the trilogy as a whole. The nine-and-a-half-minute “Creating Rocket Raccoon” looks at the process of bringing the character to life, while the 11-minute “The Imperfect, Perfect Family” focuses on the legacy of all the characters.

All told, the behind-the-scenes footage is a bit sparse considering what was being released online during the film’s theatrical run. And it would have been nice if the studio found a way to include the Holiday Special as part of the package, given how much it sets up this film. But maybe it will find its way onto disc eventually as part of a “Guardians” boxed set, since keeping it relegated to a Disney+ exclusive just accentuates the hole that exists in fans’ physical media collections.

The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special

STREAMING REVIEW:

Disney+;
Sci-Fi Comedy;
Not rated.
Stars Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Pom Klementieff, Karen Gillan, Sean Gunn, Kevin Bacon, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Maria Bakalova, Michael Rooker, The Old 97’s.

Checking in on the Guardians of the Galaxy’s adventures within the Marvel Cinematic Universe is usually a fun time, and their new Disney+ holiday special is no exception.

Written and directed by the Guardians guru himself, James Gunn, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special avoids the cheesy pitfalls of most Christmastime larks, while still managing to inject a dose of sweet sentimentality thanks to Gunn’s offbeat sense of humor and a story that stays true to the characters.

It also serves as a bit of a preview for next year’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, as it was made as a side project during production of the film. It quickly gets the audience up to speed on what the Guardians have been up to since their last appearance in Thor: Love and Thunder, as well as introduces Maria Bakalova as the voice of Cosmo the Spacedog, heretofore a background character but sure to be an audience favorite.

Just because the Guardians are the stars doesn’t mean the special isn’t packed with Christmas cheer. The focus is primarily on Mantis and Drax (Pom Klementieff and Dave Bautista), who decide that their leader, Peter “Star-Lord” Quill (Chris Pratt) needs some cheering up, as he is overwhelmed with work since the Guardians took over administration of Knowhere, the space colony inside a giant alien head as seen in the first “GOTG” film. Their plan is to travel to Earth to kidnap Kevin Bacon, one of Quill’s childhood idols, whom they believe is a true hero and not just a movie actor. Drax and Mantis are a good pairing within the group, and their misadventures on Earth as they search for Kevin Bacon (who plays himself) are hysterical.

Gunn has delivered one of the MCU’s better forays into television, complete with a hilarious new Christmas song (imagine the holiday as interpreted by weird aliens), and a soundtrack infused with solid holiday tunes.

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