What do we do when we take some time off for the holidays? We play videogames, and we watch movies – and sometimes the two come together! Today we’re discussing two 4K BluRay releases we enjoyed over the holidays – here are Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Free Guy.
Free Guy (4K)
This one was hard to pass up, as it felt like it was made for outlets like us. We review videogames and regularly check out new movie releases as well – Free Guy brings both worlds together with a story about an NPC character called Guy (Ryan Reynolds) who suddenly figures out the reality of his situation and starts to realize he wants more from life than to live his life as a happy bank teller whose daily routine always gets interrupted by a bank robbery.
As he realizes that his life is just that – a routine – he also notices that others in the world don’t seem to stick to a routine. These are, of course, the human players in the game, and he finds himself infatuated with one of them – MolotovGirl, played by Jodie Comer. This starts off a chain reaction of events, because just as Guy is becoming more aware of things we also discover that in the real world they’re about to shut down the game world to make way for a sequel.
It’s quite a bit like The Truman Show in a way, though far less dramatic and with more emphasis on over the top action, humor and videogame references. It’s what makes the in-game portion of the film (which thankfully is the majority) easily the best part of Free Guy, as the real world feels relatively shallow in comparison thanks to almost caricature-like characters that have less depth than some of the NPCs that we meet – which include a few really fun sequences with Channing Tatum.
This is a film that emphasizes fun, and succeeds at it because it uses videogames as a setting for an environment in which anything is possible. Visually, that translates well thanks to the HDR10-enabled 4K transfer of the film too. As you’d expect there are a lot of CGI elements to scenes and sequences, and because Guy’s world is essentially an open world 3D action adventure a lot of it really pops due to impressive detail and color use. The film will also switch to a first person perspective at times, which even gives it a “made for 3D” feel that works well on the flat screen too.
The over the top nature of some of the action sequences (there’s one early on that’s a great example of what to expect) also comes across very well due to the quality of the audio mix included on the disc, which supports Dolby Atmos to take advantage of the latest standards in surround sound mixing. With cars and projectiles constantly flying into and out of the screen from different angles, the sound wraps itself all around the viewer, making for an audiovisual spectacle at times.
The home release of Free Guy also comes with a selection of special features, though what we would have enjoyed most is missing – a commentary track, which would have been a lot of fun if they had used it to – for example – point out some of the many videogame references in the film. What we get instead are the usual trailers, deleted scenes and gag real, along with three or four mini features that are all fairly short. Still, the main feature is what matters most, and it’s a must-see film for film lovers who also enjoy videogames.
Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings (4K)
The release of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings in theaters was an interesting one for a number of reasons. How would it do in light of a global pandemic? How were Marvel films going to turn the page after the massive success of the Avengers films? Would the audience take to a new kind of hero?
In Shang-Chi, we meet protagonist Shaun (Simi Liu), who lives his life as a college graduate and spends a lot of time with his friend Katy (Awkwafina) as they both work a job parking cars. It doesn’t take long before we find out that Shaun is actually Shang-Chi though, and destined for greatness. His father wields the legendary Ten Rings of Power, which have made him immortal, but the death of Shaun’s mother drew a rift between father Xu Wenwu and his children. Now, Shaun must reunite with his sister Xialing in order to stop their father from unleashing a great evil into the world.
And while many were expecting that world to be a bit of a clean slate, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings does reference the previous Marvel films in a number of ways. We even see Benedict Wong reprise his role from the Doctor Strange, Avengers and Spider-Man films, and the plot doesn’t ignore that <<spoiler alert for the rest of this paragraph if you did NOT see Avengers Endgame>> Thanos wiped out half the universe’s population either, so our guess is that this new franchise will eventually meet some more familiar characters as it evolves.
For now, however, it’s an origin story, and Shang-Chi stands out due to its abundant use of martial arts in its action sequences. From the Jackie Chan-like urban sequences early on in the film to the Crouching Tiger-esque scenes we see later, it’s a visual change of pace that brings its action scenes back to a human level instead of just relying on a ton of CGI special effects – though there’s plenty of that to be seen as well. There’s also a change in tone in the literal sense, as the frequent use of Chinese in the film adds a layer of authenticity and gives viewers the sense that it’s infused with culture and history even though it’s a comic book adaptation.
Visually, it’s not as over the top as the last two Avengers films were, but that’s to be expected in an origin story. The film does benefit a lot from the use of 4K though, which highlight details in facial features during closeups and make the wonderfully varied wardrobe choices all stand out as well. The scenery also jumps between the urban street environments of San Francisco and the neon-infused underground of Macau, while also journeying to the fantastical hidden world where Shang-Chi’s mother grew up – it’s a showcase for HDR with all of the different color schemes and atmospheres, making this a visually impressive film indeed. A few special effects feel designed with 3D in mind, so if you have access to a 3D display you might want to seek that version out instead.
The audio doesn’t fare as well as the video, even though a Dolby Atmos track is included on the disc. For some reason the audio mix felt a little on the soft side, and we had to crank the volume up a bit more than we’re used to. That’s not a big issue, but even at this higher volume you’d expect certain scenes to be a lot more punchy and thunderous – but the subwoofer didn’t have to work all that hard even when a San Francisco bus gets chopped in half during the earlier action scenes in the film.
As with Free Guy, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings isn’t overflowing with special features. Two featurettes and a gag reel amount for only 20 minutes of extras, although you do get almost 15 minutes worth of deleted scenes. The highlight, however, is the included audio commentary from director Destin Daniel Cretton and co-writer Dave Callaham. With a ton of insights about the making of this film as well as how it ties into the larger Marvel universe and which works inspired it, it’s the clear highlight among the special features included.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings might not live up to Avengers: Endgame, but it also doesn’t disappoint. It’s an origin story that shows us that not every Marvel film has to rely on Iron Man, the Hulk, Captain America or the X-Men, and we’re curious to see where they take things from here.