Black Widow

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 9/14/21;
Disney/Marvel;
Action;
Box Office $183.1 million;
$29.99 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $43.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of violence/action, some language and thematic material.
Stars Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, Rachel Weisz, O-T Fagbenie, William Hurt, Ray Winstone, Olga Kurylenko.

The 24th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe canon finally puts the focus on Black Widow, the enigmatic member of the Avengers whose primary character arc has been seeking redemption for past misdeeds from her life as a Russian spy and assassin.

The film is mostly set in between the events of 2016’s Captain America: Civil War and 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War, when Black Widow, aka Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) is on the run after betraying Black Panther during the feud between Iron Man and Captain America that shattered the Avengers superhero team.

We also learn more about Natasha’s backstory, thanks to an opening flashback to her youth when she was posing as the daughter for a family of Russian sleeper agents in Ohio. When the mission ends, she and her “sister” Yelena are sent to the Red Room, a secret Russian program that has been re-conditioning young girls into deadly secret agents for decades.

Natasha believes she destroyed the Red Room when she defected from Russia, but soon learns from the adult Yelena (Florence Pugh) that not only does it still exist, but it has refined its methods for brainwashing its army of girls. Yelena has come across a chemical that can restore their free will, but is now on the run herself, pursued by the Taskmaster, the Terminator-esque enforcer of the Red Room.

To stop the Red Room once and for all, Natasha and Yelena must recruit their former “parents” (David Harbour and Rachel Weisz) for an explosive family reunion.

In both style and story, Black Widow positions itself as a sequel to Civil War and a spinoff of the “Captain America” movies. Director Cate Shortland takes a lot of cues from how the Russo Brothers established the espionage thriller tone of their corner of the franchise in both Civil War and 2014’s Captain America: Winter Soldier.

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While Black Widow has a wealth of comic book source material to draw from, it plays less like a superhero movie and more like a female-centric homage to James Bond, with story points and action sequences that seem directly inspired by the long-running spy franchise (aside from an opening sequence that is more in line with “The Americans”).

This seems to have set off a divide among online fans. A number of comic book fans have been complaining about unfulfilled expectations about adapting the comics lore. Meanwhile, those who might not be as familiar with the comic books and are fans because of the movie side of things are more likely to see this as a fun action thriller, though it’s hard to deny it resorts to some narrative shortcuts in its final act.

Still, it’s a fun movie that looks great and offers some fantastic action. Johansson does a nice job fleshing out a character mostly relegated to a supporting role before now, but the MVP of the film is Pugh, whose Yelena character is now well established to carry forward in the MCU.

Be warned, though. This being the new era of MCU on Disney+ means that viewing the Disney+ Marvel shows will give a better appreciation of how the post-credits scene pushes the new phase of the MCU forward.

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The Blu-ray includes a one-minute introduction to the film from Shortland, who discusses how she wanted to explore Natasha’s character  by giving her a family. To this end, the five-minute featurette “Sisters Gonna Work It Out” explores the relationship between Natasha and Yelena, and the actresses who play them.

The nine-minute “Go Big if You’re Going Home” featurette covers more of the making of the film in general, giving a glimpse of the film’s on-location shooting, its visual effects and its complicated stunts.

The Blu-ray also includes a three-minute gag reel, plus 14 minutes of deleted scenes that offer a few quiet character moments but mostly expand upon concepts that are already in the film.

The extras are contained on the regular Blu-ray Disc of the film included with the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray combo pack. The 4K disc offers just the movie.

Originally published as a theatrical review July 12, 2021.

Indiana Jones 4-Movie Collection

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Paramount;
Adventure;
$47.99 Blu-ray, $90.99 UHD BD, 5-disc set.
Rated ‘PG-13.’
Stars Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Denholm Elliott, John Rhys-Davies, Kate Capshaw, Ke Huy Quan, Sean Connery, Julian Glover, Alison Doody, Shia LaBeouf, Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent, Cate Blanchett.

 This latest collection of the “Indiana Jones” films contains some of the greatest action-adventure films ever made, and also Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Timed to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the first Indy adventure, 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, the set for the first time offers the four films of the franchise on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. Raiders, as well as 1984’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, 1989’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, have been remastered from the original negatives and are presented here in stunning 4K resolution, with upgraded color timing and sound mixing as well. The films, particular the earlier ones, have never looked this vibrant on home video before.

Raiders is undoubtedly on the short list for any discussion of the greatest action movies of all time. A throwback to classic adventure serials, the film was conceived of as an homage to classic pulp storytelling by creator George Lucas, who then brought on pal Steven Spielberg to direct.

The first follow up, Temple of Doom, was much more grim in tone, no doubt a subconscious manifestation of the personal troubles the lead filmmakers were dealing with at the time of its production.

Last Crusade follows more in the Raiders mold, bringing on Sean Connery as Indy’s father as a subtle nod to Spielberg’s desire to make a James Bond film. The film is perhaps a bit of an overcompensation for criticisms of how dark the second movie was, indulging more in humor than the previous movies.

Crystal Skull pays homage to classic sci-fi ‘B’ movies that tries to recapture the magic of the original trilogy 19 years later, but ends up feeling more like one of those reunion movies TV shows used to do, checking in on what the characters are up to years later.

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While the new remasters would be reason enough for fans to pick up this set (if they can find a copy — supplies were rather scarce its first few days of release), there are a few drawbacks to the set. The cardboard used in the packaging is rather flimsy and subject to crimping from overhandling, though it does come with a nice folded insert with a map of Indy’s adventures on one side and a collage of the four films’ theatrical posters on the other.

Also, the Ultra HD set contains only 4K discs for each of the films, no regular Blu-rays, though redemption codes for digital copies of each film are included. There is a separate Blu-ray collection available, but this appears to be little more than a re-issue of the 2012 Blu-ray collection, now with digital copies. The Blu-ray versions appear to be the same as from 2012, and not the remastered versions.

Each film’s 4K disc also includes a few trailers, but nothing else in the way of extras. As with 2012, the 4K set includes a bonus disc, which is a regular Blu-ray compiling a number of featurettes for each film. This is the exact same disc as the 2012 set, so the new collection really is basically just a 4K upgrade of the 2012 set with worse packaging. Given the number of extras from earlier DVD releases and the standalone Crystal Skull Blu-ray that weren’t included on that bonus disc, it’s a shame they were also weren’t included on this set.

However, with production on a fifth Indy film, there’s always a chance that a future five-film Indy set will be more of the true archive edition that fans would embrace.

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‘King of Thieves’ on Home Video March 26 From Lionsgate

Lionsgate will release the crime caper King of Thieves on Blu-ray, DVD and digital March 26. The film is currently available on demand.

Based on the true story of the Hatton Garden Heist, King of Thieves stars Michael Caine as a once notorious thief who assembles a misfit gang to pull off a burglary worth £200 million worth of stolen jewels and money. But when the investigation closes in, the cracks between the eccentric gang members begin to show.

The cast also includes Jim Broadbent, Tom Courtenay, Charlie Cox, Michael Gambon and Ray Winstone.

The home video edition includes a “King of Thieves: A Bloody Good Idea” featurette.