Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Review
Three years on from the surprisingly strong success of the first Guardians of the Galaxy the crew returns, and this time they're packing a bigger budget, greater ambition, and even stronger self-confidence.
Wearing its heart on its sleeve with some off-beat performances, plenty of laughs and infused with a disco 70's soundtrack, Guardians walks tall to the beat of its own drum, the opposing force to the 'core' Marvel Avenger films, which continue to trek down a predictable and if I'm honest, rather joyless path.
Following the successful conclusion of a mission for an aloof alien species known as 'the Sovereigns' to protect a collection of priceless batteries from an imposing force, the Guardians become the hunted when Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) decides to steal a few for himself. With no shortage of weapons and spacecraft at her disposal, the Sovereign leader Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) is intent on exacting her revenge, which dovetails with a voyage of discovery for Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), when his long-lost father Ego (Kurt Russell) makes an impactful, but uncertain return.
Featuring a tightly knit ensemble cast led by Chris Pratt and Dave Bautista who jockey for the most laughs, alongside a newly miniaturized Groot who undoubtedly steals the show, and who manages to say quite a bit with variations of just three words, Guardians has quickly become a highlight in the Marvel staple, which coupled with its frequent cameos (including Howard the Duck) also helps lay the groundwork for future films - a future that probably doesn't feature the highest profile Marvel stars of today.
While he came to Marvel with only a few low-budget pictures to his name, Writer/Director James Gunn has not only quickly proven himself as a keenly competent operator with an enviable eye for detail, but also one of the most impressive directors that Marvel can call their own. Having already committed to writing and directing the third (and apparently for now) final entry in the series, it sure looks like Marvel's future glows quite bright indeed.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.39:1, encoded with H.265 compression and finished with a static HDR-10 grade.
Lensed on the RED WEAPON at an insane 8K resolution (the first film ever to do so) before being finalized in a 2K digital intermediate (as is common with most CG heavy films), Guardians is a film that's undeniably made to showcase what the Ultra HD Blu-ray format does best.
Upscaled to 4K, the transfer features a subtle, but welcome resolution bump over the 1080p version which helps to render finer details with a little more. For example, take a look at the fine lines on Drax' body, as well as the carefully layered textures on Rocket's down. Even on a multi-million-dollar comic blockbuster, the filmmakers take no shortcuts, and this 4K presentation really helps to illustrate the careful artistry.
Once again, it's the High Dynamic Range pass that really takes the 4K presentation to the next level, and Guardians wonderful production design and its aggressive palette are an obvious candidate to show off an HDR equipped display. With extra vibrancy and beautifully saturated colors, it's night and day compared to the Blu-ray and shames my cinema experiences from a few months ago. Disney might be new to the 4K game, but with Guardians they're throwing down the gauntlet to other film studios to up their game.
Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2's primary English audio track is an object-based, Dolby Atmos mix.
In another first for Disney's home entertainment division, Guardians has been granted a lossless immersive audio mix, that's been derived from what was heard in Dolby's high-end theatres. Unsurprisingly, it's a blast - seriously, it would happily blow your speakers if given half a chance.
Reflecting the fun of the film itself, audio mixers have really gone to town in producing an aggressive sonic experience that really aids in bringing the universe to life. Even in its frequent moments over-the-top bombast, Guardians is punchy and detailed, with crystal clear dialogue, wonderfully mixed vintage music tracks, and booming bass.
The Blu-ray features a downscaled 7.1 DTS HD Master Audio track, which in isolation is undoubtedly excellent but pales in comparison to the full immersive meal.
While the Guardians pack has quite a few extras to offer, none can be found on the 4K disc, but are relegated to the 1080p Blu-ray disc. Unfortunately, that also includes the enthusiastic Audio Commentary by Director James Gunn, who proves once again that these films are a personal labor of love.
The clear highlight of the Blu-ray includes the 37-minute-long Bonus Round: The Making of Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 documentary, which through three parts does a reasonable job of giving fans a peek behind the curtain. Sure, it's not the type of warts and all pulling back of the curtain that Marvel might have provided in the pre-Disney days, but it's nonetheless breezy and fun. Fans will also get a kick out of the brief Gag Reel and Guardians Inferno Music Video, which features members of the cast and crew (including David Hasselhoff) taking on a dodgy 70's disco track. Rounding out the disc is just over five minutes of Deleted Scenes which were probably excised for a good reason.
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