Action Blackhat

'Blackhat' Blu-ray Review: A cyber-thriller with its share of glitches

May 22, 2015Ben MK

"This isn't about money. This isn't about politics. I can target anyone, anything, anywhere."

Feature Rating:  

In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Chris Hemsworth plays Thor, the God of Thunder. But in the latest thriller from director Michael Mann, he wields a very different kind of power. In Blackhat, Hemsworth plays a convicted hacker named Nick Hathaway, who's sprung from prison so that he can use his specific skill set to assist in a joint investigation between the FBI and the Chinese government, as they try to pull the plug on a group of blackhat hackers intent on unleashing anarchy on a global scale.

Teaming him with his friend and former MIT roommate, Captain Chen Dawai (Wang Leehom), Dawai's network engineer sister, Lien (Wei Tang), and FBI special agent Carol Barrett (Viola Davis), Nick's mission takes him from Los Angeles to the far corners of Asia — Hong Kong, Perak and Jakarta — as he follows the breadcrumbs of bits and bytes, with each step bringing them closer to uncovering the identity of the culprit behind a fatal core meltdown at Hong Kong's Chai Wan nuclear reactor.

The result is a film that is at times frustratingly uneven, but still moderately engaging — provided you're willing to check your disbelief at the door. On the one hand, first-time screenwriter Morgan Davis Foehl's script revels in the clich├ęs that have befallen many a hacker-centric film in the past, and also suffers from a dire lack of tension, primarily due to the movie's disappointingly generic and one-dimensional villains. But on the other, it also leaves plenty of room for Mann's trademark firefights, which are just as gritty and visceral as they've ever been.

The main problem, however, is Hemsworth's Johnny Utah-ish portrayal of the film's main protagonist, a performance that threatens to derail the credibility of the story at nearly every turn. Make no mistake, Hemsworth does possess the charm, the charisma — and, yes, the biceps — to carry the film, but viewers will have to try not to think too hard if they're to buy him as the elite hacker Mann makes him out to be. It's a flirtation with the boundaries of plausibility that extends to the film as a whole, as Blackhat often sacrifices coherence in favor of delivering cookie-cutter high-tech thrills, an undercooked romantic subplot and bombastic action set pieces.

Audio/Visual Rating:  

Like the film itself, Blackhat's Blu-ray presentation is somewhat of a mixed bag, even though it's generally impressive for the most part. On the plus side, the image is crisp without diminishing the inherent film grain present within it, and colors (particularly reds, yellows, greens and the neon signage of Hong Kong) are well-saturated. On the downside, however, black levels aren't quite as robust as they could be, contrast levels fare better in brighter, day-lit sequences (with nighttime scenes often appearing murky) and there's some banding visible in the final frames of the movie (just prior to the closing credits). Audio-wise, the film's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is more balanced, delivering ample low-end support to bolster not only the action, but also the pulsing score by Harry Gregson-Williams, Atticus Ross and Leo Ross. Dialogue and action-oriented elements like explosions, whirring helicopter blades and automatic gunfire are also rendered with appropriate clarity and potency.

Extras Rating:  

Universal's two-disc Blu-ray combo pack release includes a DVD and an iTunes/UltraViolet digital copy of the movie, plus a handful of Blu-ray extras:

  • The Cyber Threat (13:02) - Mann, mathematician/consultant Christopher McKinlay, former supervisory special agent Michael Panico and author Kevin Poulsen discuss how vulnerable the United States is to hacking, touching on the film's story, how it portrays the hacker world authentically, and the kind of hacking that's presently going on right under our collective noses.
  • On Location Around the World (9:30) - Mann, production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas and members of the cast summarize their experiences filming in Hong Kong, Perak and Jakarta, talking about the unique characteristics of each location, as well as the film's production design.
  • Creating Reality (17:01) - Mann, the cast and nuclear hazard technical advisor Julie Atwood talk about the research that went into making the film authentic, including the detailed backstories created for the characters, the realism of the scenes set in the aftermath of the meltdown at the nuclear reactor, and Mann's attention to detail.

Blackhat is available from Universal Studios Home Entertainment as of May 12th, 2015. The Blu-ray features DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and DVS Dolby Digital 2.0 English audio, as well as Spanish and French DTS Digital Surround 5.1 tracks. Subtitles are presented in English SDH, Spanish and French. The film's runtime is 2 Hrs. 14 Mins.

* Reviewer's note: Portions of this Blu-ray review were adapted from my original review of the theatrical release, published on January 16th, 2015.

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