Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 - 4K Ultra HD Blu-rayOverview -
Set to the all-new sonic backdrop of Awesome Mixtape #2, the film's storyline continues the team's adventures as they traverse the outer reaches of the cosmos. The Guardians (Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord, Zoe Saldana as Gamora, Dave Bautista as Drax, Vin Diesel as the voice of Groot, and Bradley Cooper as Rocket) must fight to keep their newfound family together as they unravel the mystery of Peter Quill's true parentage. Old foes become new allies and fan-favorite characters from the classic comics will come to our heroes' aid as the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to expand.
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
If there is one thing James Gunn has demonstrated in the last few years of his two-decade filmmaking career, it's that when left to his own wildly-whimsical devices, he can catch lightning in a bottle. His first two theatrical features, Slither and Super, didn't leave much of an impression at the box-office, but both films are today well-regarded cult favorites, better appreciated for being clever insights at genre formula. In 2014, he amazingly managed to turn a relatively little-known and near-forgotten comic book series into a cultural phenomenon, surprising the expectations of everyone. Three years later, Gunn returned to write and helm Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, pulling off another miracle by being significantly better than anticipated or as lead to believe by the previews. Although it doesn't surpass the first movie, which for some is debatable, the direct follow-up nonetheless proudly joins the list of superhero sequels that are just as good as their predecessors. Gunn and his talented team maintain the same level of energy and humor as before, centered around the camaraderie and chemistry of a ragtag band of reluctant heroes.
Of course, as tends to be the curse of most sequels, much of the plot in this second installment is largely a rehash of what worked in the first movie. Only, those same plot points have been reshuffled and rearranged in such a way as to be barely perceptible. After opening with another musical dance number, the gang is once again hunted through the galaxy for stealing a valuable artifact. Only this time, Rocket (Bradley Cooper) is the one pinching a handful of batteries from a gold-colored race known as the Sovereign, and the ploy is used for generating tensions between the crew, forcing them to learn to work together at the opportune time while pushing the theme of family. Meanwhile, the arrogantly smarmy Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) continues fancying Gamora (Zoe Saldana) from a distance, but she's too proud to be admired and busy reeling from family problems, namely her sister Nebula (Karen Gillan). Michael Rooker, too, returns as the blue-skinned buccaneer Yondu chasing after Quill while also acting suspiciously forgiving of Quill's betrayals, which leads to resentment from his merry band of Ravagers.
Again, the sequel is largely constructed from recycled parts of its predecessor, but thankfully, this is not to the film's hindrance. In fact, the real success of Gunn's plot, the smart thing for making a good sequel, is that he expanded on the events and themes of the first Guardians. The story feels more like a continuation rather than a haphazard add-on to a franchise. Drax (Dave Bautista) is finally grasping humor and sarcasm but still struggles with the concept that his straightforward, blunt honesty could be inappropriate, with some of the movie's funniest moments coming from his interactions with the empath Mantis (Pom Klementieff). At the same time, Yondu and Rocket are given more prominent roles, allowing them to reflect on their "a-hole" attitudes and providing the story an unexpected pathos. Part of this new emotional center also comes from Peter meeting his father Ego (Kurt Russell), the physical incarnation of an ancient celestial that evolved into a sentient planet. Gunn builds and builds all this gooey emotional stuff to the point of gushing over, hitting audiences right in the feels with what is frankly one of the most heartbreaking, tear-jerking sequences in all of the Marvel universe.
However, Gunn balances all this sentimentalism, making that tearful moment as though out of nowhere, with a great deal of humor and a few fanboy allusions. Other than seeing Howard the Duck (Seth Green) in another silly cameo, teasing fans with the idea of the character being given a film all to himself, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is also populated by the likes of Sylvester Stallone as Stakar Ogord, one of the original members in the Guardians comics. His little spat with Yondu on Contraxia is a reference to the comics where Yondu first sported his "prototype" fin and was the leader of the Guardians. Later, other original members — Aleta (Michelle Yeoh), Charlie-27 (Ving Rhames), Mainframe (an uncredited Miley Cyrus), Krugarr and Martinex — also make brief appearances, hinting at the possibility of seeing more of them. There are plenty more Easter eggs throughout, but I'll leave the rest for viewers to hunt. In the end, the sequel is an excellent follow-up to the first movie, a lighthearted popcorn flick that lives up to the spirit of the summer blockbuster, one that is equally visually mesmerizing and exciting as it is fun and hilarious.
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment brings Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 to Ultra HD Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with a flyer for a Disney Digital Copy that can be redeemed via RedeemGuardians.com (according to Disney PR, this code is ONLY good for the HD version).
The package also includes an amusing, retro-like poster featuring David Hasselhoff. The dual-layered UHD66 disc sits comfortably opposite a Region Free, BD50 disc, and both are housed inside a black, eco-cutout case with a lightly embossed, glossy slipcover. At startup, viewers are taken to an interactive menu screen with full-motion clips and music playing in the background.
Marvel and Walt Disney Studios finally jump on board the riffraff 4K Ultra HD ship to save the galaxy with a gorgeous and often stunning H.265 encode in HDR10. Early reports suggested the studio's first foray into UHD and HDR could possible include Dolby Vision, especially after the director's enthusiastic praise of the format during the film's theatrical run, but, sadly, the studio was only able to ready the movie in HDR10 in time for its 4K physical media release (a Dolby Vision streaming version can be purchased separately via VUDU). Although this news comes with a loud disappointing sigh, the end result is honestly a remarkable and beautiful presentation that bests the Blu-ray in several areas.
To start, the 2160p video amazingly shows a welcomed uptick in definition and resolution, with some spots revealing a bit more than in HD. Shot entirely on the Red Weapon Dragon camera system, capable of 8K resolution but mastered in a 2K digital intermediate, the freshly-minted transfer displays sharp, fine lines in nearly every scene, including those taking place on Ego's planet. In the BD, these scenes, along with good amount of the CG imagery, were a bit on the softer, but here, the picture is consistently sharp. The elaborate architectural design of Ego's palace is easy to make out, and the surrounding alien foliage is clear and definite from a distance.
The hairs on Rocket are not only razor sharp but also move independently of each other, the cracks Groot's rough bark body are discrete, and the individual whiskers on the faces of Kurt Russell and Chris Pratt are striking. The loose wires and exposed pipes of Quill's ship are plainly visible while the most negligible scratch and imperfection everywhere gives the ship some character. The lettering in buttons are more distinct and legible, and the thick threading in the costumes is unmistakable, looking more aged than before. For more observant viewers, the makeup work of Gamora, Drax and Nebula will reveal the most trifling and insignificant detail, adding to their realistic appearance, while facial complexions beneath the makeup appear natural with lifelike textures.
It's not always perfect, as there still remains a couple blurrier spots compared to some of the best moments and there are minor instances of aliasing along the sharpest edges. Still, the movie looks awesome!
Even more impressive is the improved contrast and brightness, which is where the UHD wins hands-down over its BD counterpart. The overall picture quality is noticeably brighter, providing the whole production with a bit more pep and enthusiasm. Whether it's the fluffy clouds in the sky and Ayesha's white furry coat or all the lights blinking on any given ship, the video delivers some of the whitest whites available on any format, providing various objects with an intensely sparkling radiance. Compared to the HD version, the brightest highlights are tighter and better controlled, making it possible to make out the tiniest details without sacrificing the luminescent glow of those said objects. From the sun shining over Ego's planet or the intricacies and tiny moving orbs inside the Anulax Batteries or the individual stars blinking against the blackness of the universe, the presentation is simply gorgeous. Brightness levels are significantly better in HDR, delivering pitch-black shadows that never engulf or ruin the smallest object in the background. In fact, the encode comes with a stunning gradation of blacks, cleanly differentiating the various shades so that viewers can plainly make out the most negligible differences in each character's outfit.
As with the Blu-ray, one of the best aspects of the production is the vibrant cinematography of Henry Braham, and while the UHD doesn't provide a massive upgrade in this area, the 4K presentation is still the better and more faithful representation of the film's brash, comic-book style. Those same lush, sumptuous primaries oozing off the screen with giddy delight pop brighter with a bit more zest and animation than before. Yondu is a slightly deeper shade of blue that seems more realistic, Gamora shines a slightly brighter green while clearly revealing the silver-like scars around her eyes, and Nebula shows three different shades of purplish blue. More impressive is seeing that Drax's body is actually of a thickly textured, metallic gray color, and the Sovereign are practically made of gold, radiating with a stunning, intensely yellow glow. I also love that we can see Rocket's outfit is actually blue while the Ravager jackets are of a blood-red crimson color. Arguably, the best moment is on Ego's planet parading about with an extensive array of flamboyant, gaudy pastels, making the sentient world appear like a gorgeous phantasmagoric dream, but I personally was wowed more by the mesmerizing firework display of the Ravager funeral.
In another first for Disney Studios, the superhero sequel is also the studio's first home theater release with an object-based audio format, equipping our favorite band of guardian misfits with an awesome Dolby Atmos soundtrack and is only exclusively available on the 4K Ultra HD disc. Comparatively speaking, the track is not significantly different from its DTS-HD counterpart, which has more to do with the original recording than with any perceived faults in the codec. This version is a terrifically boisterous and rambunctious soundtrack with several demo-worthy moments for showing off to friends.
As mentioned in my Blu-ray review, two such moments that immediately come to mind are the Guardians' escape from the Sovereign's drone fleet and the savagely brutal fight between Nebula and Gamora on Ego's planet. In each of these scenes, the surrounds suddenly burst with life as the videogame drones speed in every which direction and flawlessly pan from the back of the room, to the sides and into the space above the listening area. Nebula arrives on an ear-piercingly loud ship heard in the back rears and convincingly moves into the rear heights, and every time she narrowly misses Gamora, the ships zooms across the screen and into the front heights with a high-pitched squeal and stunning accuracy. Of course, the sequence to beat is the climactic showdown between the Guardians, Ego and the Sovereign while at the sentient planet's core. As before, ships fly all around and the laser blasts of gunfire are discretely employed, whizzing by the side and overhead while hitting their targets with explosive echoes that ring everywhere, fully immersing the listener into an overwhelming hemispheric bubble. Quieter scenes, too, come with subtle ambient effects, generating and maintaining a terrifically satisfying 360° soundfield.
Much of the same can be said of the front soundstage where imaging is also continuously active, exhibiting superb detailing and clarity in the midrange. The loudest and most rowdy moments, of which there are several, benefit greatly from the extra breathing room, delivering even better precision and fidelity in the higher frequencies to keep the action playful and highly engaging with effective off-screen activity. Tyler Bates's musical score also enjoys having the extra speakers, revealing superior distinction and separation in the orchestration as it spreads across the screen and into the front heights, creating a splendidly spacious, half-dome soundstage. Amid all the rowdy merriment and comical chaos, the back and forth dialogue is very well-prioritized and consistently intelligible, never drowned out by the colorful mayhem. The bigger shocker is that somehow the low-end comes with a bit more oomph and authority during certain scenes. Explosions, gunfire and even punches feel heartier and more robust, providing the film with excellent presence and extraordinary depth, making this a must-listen lossless mix.
In an unexpected move, Walt Disney Studios has opted to release Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 as a bare-boned standard-def DVD, making all the special features exclusive to the Blu-ray and Ultra HD.
Miraculously, writer/director James Gunn catches lightning in a bottle for a second time with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, proudly joining the list of superhero sequels that are just as good as their predecessors. Although much of the plot feels recycled and repurposed from the first movie, Gunn and his talented team deliver an excellent follow-up, a lighthearted popcorn flick that lives up to the spirit of the summer blockbuster, as visually mesmerizing and exciting as it is hilarious and full of heart. The Ultra HD crash lands into home theaters with an exceptional 4K HDR10 video that bests its Blu-ray counterpart and an awesome, demo-worthy Dolby Atmos presentation. Although the supplements are sadly light and somewhat lackluster, the overall package is recommended for fans of the superhero subgenre and UHD enthusiasts.
Edward Zwick's Glory 35th Anniversary 4K UHD Limited Edition SteelBook Arrives on June 4By:
Turbine Reissues 3-Disc Pitch Black Director's Cut 4K UHD Set with Their World-Exclusive Atmos Audio Feb 29thBy:
Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West Coming to 4K UHD May 14By:
Brandon Lee's "The Crow" Ascends to 4K Ultra HD May 7thBy: