As more and more people are compelled to practice social distancing and encouraged to stay home, as movie theaters temporarily shutter their doors, and as studios continue to pull their scheduled 2020 films off the release calendar, we’ve decided to reformat this weekly Critics Consensus column to focus on titles that are newly available on the home entertainment market. With that in mind, our list of digital new releases this week includes Margot Robbie’s “solo” DC Movie, Guy Ritchie’s latest crime caper, a recent Vin Diesel actioner, and a couple of early digital releases, among others. See below for the most notable titles hitting VOD this week.
Margot Robbie made her debut as Harley Quinn in 2016’s Suicide Squad, which most people agreed was an ill-conceived and poorly executed mess that only served to illustrate why Robbie should get her own movie. That movie, Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), opened back in early February, and in truth, it was more of a team-up than a strict solo joint, with Robbie’s Harley forming her Birds of Prey alongside a gang of fearsome women to take on a sadistic crime boss. Nevertheless, it was a hit with both critics and audiences, and with all the theater closures and self-quarantining, Warner Bros. has released the film to the digital market a little early. Critics say it’s colorful, briskly paced, full of stellar action, and a great showcase for Robbie’s endless charisma, and it’s available for digital purchase now.
Before he took on big budget blockbusters like Sherlock Holmes and Disney’s live-action Aladdin remake, Guy Ritchie was best known for his intricately plotted, uniquely stylized British crime capers, like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. Fans were therefore understandably excited for Ritchie’s latest film, The Gentlemen, which looked to be a return to form for him, and most were fairly satisfied with what they got. Matthew McConaughey takes center stage as an American marijuana kingpin in London who decides he wants to go straight, which attracts the attention from a number of interested parties who either want to buy him out of his empire, expose his secrets, or dispose of him and take over. Shenanigans, of course, ensue. Critics say the film isn’t quite up to the standard of his earlier work, and there are a few problematic elements here and there, but it’s still a largely entertaining romp with some great performances, specifically from co-stars Hugh Grant and Colin Farrell.
The last time we got a major wide release in movie theaters was two weeks ago, when we had three, and one of them was this superhero movie starring Vin Diesel. Based on the Valiant Comics title of the same name, Bloodshot follows a soldier who is brutally murdered while on vacation but resurrected through an experimental nanotechnology that also grants him superhuman abilities. As he embarks on a path of revenge, he comes to learn that all may not be as it seems. If any of the plot feels familiar, that’s probably because it’s the kind of baseline revenge thriller narrative we’ve seen play out in countless other films, and critics didn’t feel that Bloodshot had quite enough to set it apart from the others. It may provide a few thrills here and there for viewers who aren’t asking for much, but let’s just say this one was probably destined to hit the digital market sooner rather than later even if current circumstances hadn’t been what they are.
Despite the star power of Robert Downey Jr. in the lead role and a voice cast that includes Tom Holland, John Cena, Octavia Spencer, Emma Thompson, and Selena Gomez, among others, and despite the advancements in modern CGI technology, Dolittle still managed to earn one of the lowest Tomatometer scores of the year so far. Conventional wisdom seems to be that if you’re a young toddler, you won’t mind the juvenile, slapsticky humor so much, and all the funny talking animals should keep you distracted enough not to care about the muddled storytelling; if you’re any older than that, though, good luck. Either way, if you’re in need of something new to keep the little ones occupied while you try to get some work done at home, this one is available for digital purchase now.
In most cases, an inspirational sports movie opening in early March isn’t likely to be a winner, so to speak, even if it does boast a big name like Ben Affleck on the marquee. That’s why it was kind of a nice surprise when Gavin O’Connor’s new drama The Way Back turned out to be more than just another Inspirational Sports Movie. Affleck plays an alcoholic former high school basketball star who now works in construction, but is forced to face his past and present demons when he’s asked to fill the coaching slot at his alma mater. Whether or not it was due to his own personal (and rather public) troubles with addiction — he began filming The Way Back just a few days after coming out of rehab — Affleck turns in a deeply affecting performance here, and O’Connor wisely sidesteps some of the genre’s most glaring cliches. This one is another early access release.
It’s well known that working with animals is difficult, and it’s probably more of a hassle if one is the star of your film. The good people behind the latest adaptation of the Jack London novel The Call of the Wild decided to forego all that unpleasantness and make Buck a CGI character instead. Critics say it kind of works, mostly because the storytelling is earnest and because Harrison Ford does surprisingly great, understated work in a role he quite frankly could have sleepwalked through. It does play in some heavy themes, but it’s a decent family-friendly adventure, which isn’t as easy to come by as it might seem.
This small, faith-based drama was also released the same weekend when Bloodshot came out (the third wide release that week was The Hunt, which arrived on digital last week), and it largely plays out like a Christian Nicholas Sparks movie, even though it’s based on a true story. K.J. Apa stars as real-life Christian music megastar Jeremy Camp, who moves to California, meets and falls in love with his first wife (Britt Robertson), and finds his — and her — faith tested when she’s diagnosed with terminal cancer. Critics say I Still Believe bears a lot of the trademarks of the romantic drama genre, and everything about the story is so sanitized that it almost doesn’t feel like it takes place in real life. That said, it also has its share of genuinely moving moments, and at the very least, it doesn’t spend its time trying to fight any specific religious battles. This one is available early as well.
This drama is one of two early surprises this week, along with The Call of the Wild, that are expected to become available on Friday. It’s a remake of the 2014 Swedish film Force Majeure, brought to you by writer-directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (who together won a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for The Descendants back in 2011), and it stars comedy powerhouses Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. The story centers on a married couple (Ferrell and Louis-Dreyfus) whose relationship suffers when the husband abandons the family during an avalanche scare, and critics say the new version doesn’t quite have the same bite as the original, in part because Ferrell’s husband character is a bit too much of a dolt to dislike, undermining the satire at its core. It’s probably worth seeking out the Swedish film instead, but if you just want to see Ferrell and Louis-Dreyfus spar on screen, it should be available on Friday.
Thumbnail images by Warner Bros., STXFilms, and Graham Bartholomew/Columbia Pictures