Men in Black: International

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

 Street Date 9/3/19;
Sony Pictures;
Sci-Fi;
Box Office: $79.66 million;
$30.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, $45.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sci-fi action, some language and suggestive material.
Stars Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Rebecca Ferguson, Kumail Nanjiani, Rafe Spall, Laurent Bourgeois, Larry Bourgeois, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson.

The fourth film in the “Men in Black” franchise was supposed to freshen up the franchise with a new cast and creative team. But old habits are hard to break, and Men in Black: International ends up coming across as a bland rehash of the formula established by the original film.

It’s not the fault of the cast, who are doing their best to milk laughs out of the material. And the film looks great, with all the weird aliens, slick gadgets and kooky visual effects one would expect from a “Men in Black” movie.

The issue is that the “MIB” movies don’t seem concerned with the kind of worldbuilding needed to create a viable sci-fi mythology, like establishing a set of rules for how things work. Instead they rely on familiar gags and situations that hint at a bigger picture but ultimately don’t yield many consequences for the characters or the fictional organization they work for that is tasked with secretly defending the Earth from intergalactic threats.

The fourth film kicks off with not one but two flashbacks. In one, a young girl witnesses her parents’ memories erased by MIB agents, causing her to become obsessed with learning the secrets of the organization, which she finally stumbles upon decades later and earns a chance to prove herself as an agent. Played as an adult by Tessa Thompson, she’s dubbed agent M and assigned to the London branch, where MIB boss O (Emma Thompson) thinks something’s not quite right with the operation.

The London branch is run by High T (Liam Neeson), who a few years earlier (in the other flashback) joined agent H (Chris Hemsworth) in fighting off an alien invader named The Hive, and once you hear why they’re called that it pretty much telegraphs every potential plot twist in the movie.

Anyway, back in the present, M and H work together to investigate a potential new threat from the Hive, involving a pair of alien assassins who are looking for a superweapon on Earth, taking them on an adventure through exotic locales in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

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Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth work well together, as we’ve seen in the “Thor” and “Avengers” movies. But their pairing here seems more an attempt to coast off that buzz than come up with fresh ideas.

The shift to London, the globetrotting story and addition of Hemsworth as a suave secret agent are undoubtedly meant to give the film a “James Bond meets Men in Black” vibe, which might have been better served if the film embraced the tone such a mashup would imply, rather than lazily resorting to the familiar buddy cop vs. aliens boilerplate we’ve seen before.

The bonus materials on the Blu-ray, DVD and digital versions mostly reinforce the notion that this is merely the next iteration of a familiar franchise, with a half-hour of behind-the-scenes featurettes about the cast, stunts, production design and gadgets showing how “MIB” is being taken to the next level. But nostalgia isn’t left behind, as there’s a three-minute video recapping the earlier movies.

There’s also a bizarre three-minute NBA crossover video in which M and H discover a number of top NBA superstars are actually aliens. While these were produced as promos for the NBA playoffs around the time of the film’s theatrical run, without that context they play more as a prequel for a “Space Jam”-type movie.

The home video editions also come with a two-minute gag reel.

Exclusive to the Blu-ray are 11-and-a-half minutes of deleted scenes, some of which shed new light on elements in the movie. There’s also a pair of amusing faux commercials for “MIB”-style products, one for a consumer-approved memory-wiping neuralyzer, and another for a parody ancestry website for people to discover their alien heritage. However, the Alien-cestry.com URL just leads back to the Sony Pictures home page.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street Date 9/18/18;
Universal;
Sci-Fi;
Box Office $415.98 million;
$29.98 DVD, $39.98 Blu-ray, $44.98 3D BD, $44.98 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril.
Stars Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, James Cromwell, Toby Jones, Ted Levine, B.D. Wong, Isabella Sermon, Geraldine Chaplin, Jeff Goldblum.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom really cements the notion that the “Jurassic Park” films are perfect metaphors for the creative approach to the franchise as a whole. In particular, an overriding premise of the “Jurassic World” movies is that the more people see the dinosaurs at the center of them, the less awe-inspiring they become. So, the powers that be make up new dinosaurs to entice the audience, and when the theme park idea runs its course, it all gets blown up in order to change the setting.

The formula is so ingrained in the DNA of the franchise that the Fallen Kingdom Blu-ray even offers a featurette detailing all the tropes it borrowed from the other movies.

In this fifth “Jurassic” movie and the second of the “World” brand, the island that housed the dinosaur-themed amusement park in the previous film (and the 1993 original) is experiencing a catastrophic volcanic eruption that will wipe out all the genetically engineered dinosaurs that have been roaming free there the past three years.

As the U.S. government debates whether or not to rescue the animals (and decides not to, thanks to some prodding from fan-favorite character Dr. Ian Malcolm, played again by Jeff Goldblum in little more than a cameo), a private dinosaur fanatic recruits the two main survivors of the previous film, Owen and Claire (Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard), to help rescue some of the creatures and move them to a sanctuary island.

Little do they know that the mission is a ruse to capture a selection of the dinosaurs and sell them for nefarious purposes at auction at a massive Northern California estate. The centerpiece of the auction is the Indoraptor, which was designed with military applications in mind.

And, of course, one thing leads to another and the dinosaurs get loose and start killing everyone.

Just as Jurassic World revisited some of the core premise of the original film set at the theme park, Fallen Kingdom takes a few cues from the 1997 sequel, The Lost World, in that the first half takes place on the island, only to have greedy entrepreneurs send mercenary teams to capture the dinosaurs to bring them back to America to make money.

The movie also seeks to evolve the film’s ethical questions about cloning and genetic engineering by advancing the storyline off the island, something hinted at by the end of 2001’s Jurassic Park III but never followed up on until now. The filmmakers have called this the middle chapter of a trilogy so there are a few plot threads left to explore in the third installment.

The visual effects are of course top notch, and the film looks great in the first half as it shows off more of the island (now with volcanic ash and lava). By this point in the franchise, there are even recurring dinosaur characters, in the form of Blue the velociraptor (introduced in the last movie) and Rexy the T-Rex (the big beast from the original film).

The island sequences culminate in one of the most spectacular and emotionally charged shots of the franchise.

The second half of the film is much darker by design, as deadly dinos stalk their prey within the confines of a mansion as the human heroes try to keep them from escaping.

The Blu-ray includes a dozen or so short featurettes totaling about 75 minutes in behind-the-scenes material.

Among the most notable of these are a roundtable discussion with Pratt, Howard, Goldblum, director J.A. Bayona and executive producer Colin Trevorrow. This is the only part of the disc, the movie included, where you’ll get to see the film’s stars interact with Goldblum.

Another section offers 12 minutes of Chris Pratt’s production diaries, as he introduces us to various members of the production crew.

While most of the bonus material is on both the DVD and Blu-ray, about 22 minutes is exclusive to the Blu-ray. These include the featurettes “The Kingdom Evolves,” a discussion of the story; “Return to Hawaii,” about the state’s history with the franchise; “Island Action,” which looks at two specific action scenes from the island; “Aboard the Arcadia,” about working with animatronic dinosaurs; and “Start the Bidding!,” a look at the auction scene.

The remaining featurettes are similarly focused mostly on visual effects and stunts. One of the most interesting aspects of all of this is seeing how much the visual effects to depict the dinosaurs has advanced in 25 years while still remaining faithful to some of the tried and true methods of the past.