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Push (4K Ultra HD)

Lionsgate Home Entertainment // PG-13 // April 10, 2018 // Region 0
List Price: $22.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted April 7, 2018 | E-mail the Author
Push's Field Guide to Psychic Supersoldiers

  • Pushers: No, not the "hey kid, you wanna fly? I got somethin' that'll really make you fly" kind; they can inject thoughts directly into a victim's brain. Whatever they push – now you get it! – into someone's cerebral cortex effectively becomes the truth
  • Sniffs: Psychic bloodhounds, and, yeah, they actually do sniff
  • Stitches: They can heal you, but it hurts like a mother&*^%er. Be nice 'cause they can un-heal you too
  • Shifters: Can temporarily create the illusion of transforming one object into another. Handy for psychic grifting
  • Bleeders: Their bug-eyed sonic screaming has been documented to make fish explode
  • Watchers: They could've just called 'em "precogs" instead, but that doesn't really fit with the naming convention
  • Movers: Telekinetics. Y'know, they can move things with their minds, hence "movers". Sure, sure, they can push things with their minds too, but that name was already taken
  • Wipers: The skilled ones, anyway, can delete individual memories from someone like so many files on a hard drive
  • Shadows: Watchers psychic-see no Shadows. Sniffs psychic-smell no Shadows. They can disrupt the abilities of clairvoyants within a limited radius

There was no doubt a time when the existence of psychic abilities astonished governments the world over. Those days are gone. Seemingly every world power has established its own covert group to capture, classify, and study those who wield such gifts. In the United States, what few know of this cabal call it The Division, and to them, psychics are disposable. Their scientists have concocted a steroid to significantly enhance a seemingly endless variety of mental powers, and untold hundreds of test subjects from failed experiments lay dead. There are so many out there that The Division sees little point in tailoring this psychic steroid to their captives; they'd instead prefer to inject one victim after another until someone actually survives.

At long last, someone has: Kira (Camilla Belle). As one search comes to an end for The Division, another begins, as she escapes their clutches with a steroid sample that competing governments would wage war to get their hands on. As a pusher, Kira's superhuman gifts empower her to implant suggestions and false memories into others' minds, so she has little trouble making her way to the other end of the world. The feds have a small army of clairvoyants attempting to track her every move, but that's practically a formality; Agent Henry Carver (Djimon Hounsou) doesn't need psychics to predict where Kira is headed.

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Nick (Chris Evans) has been laying low in Hong Kong for a while now. The Division designates him as a mover – a telekinetic – although a near-total lack of training means that the guy struggles to so much as turn a back alley dice game his way. It used to be that Nick was only on the radar of the gangsters in Hong Kong's underground gambling scene to whom he's deep in the hole, but that was before Cassie's plane touched down. Only being 13 years old and all, Cassie (Dakota Fanning) hasn't exactly mastered her abilities either, but this fledgling watcher's sketchbook is filled with psychically-induced doodles suggesting that Nick is the savior she's been waiting for. Find the girl. Get the suitcase. Save Cassie's mom from the sinister clutches of The Division. So, Cassie and Nick are chasing after Kira and the case, the whatever-the-Chinese-equivalent-of-the-Yakuza-is-called are doggedly hunting them down to enhance their hypersonic screams, and fellow pusher Agent Carver and The Division are hot on their psychic trail as well. Thankfully, Hong Kong has long been a haven for metahuman outcasts, and Nick is well-connected enough to assemble a team to help out Cassie and Kira. Brainvengers assemble!

Push is a comic book adaptation minus the comic. I'm not sure I'd call it an original concept, exactly, but there isn't one long-running comic book or series of YA novels that Push is specifically based on. When I first watched the movie the better part of a decade ago, I couldn't shake the feeling that screenwriter David Bourla had spent years developing a dense mythology for the Pushiverse and crammed every last idea he had into this script. Back in 2009, I groaned that its opening moments were weighed down by heavy-handed narration and clunky, neverending exposition, and while it may have just been a coincidence, there were a whole lotta similarities to the early run of Heroes.

Rewatching Push for the first time since then, I unexpectedly, genuinely had a blast. In this age of competing cinematic, comic-based universes, it's a welcomed change to see superpowered battles royale without capes or cowls. These aren't superheroes with their chests puffed out; just otherwise ordinary people trying to eke out a quiet life for themselves and to take care of those they care about. As monstrous and unforgiveable as The Division's atrocities are, they're not moustache-twirling villains. Like the best antagonists, I'm sure Agent Carver thinks of himself as the hero of this story. He's not megalomaniacally amassing god-like power for himself but trying to strengthen America as a nation and keep our homegrown weapons of untold destruction out of our enemies' hands. Evil that doesn't recognize itself as such is more interesting than "mwah-hah-ha, the world is mine!" That it's set in Hong Kong is also chief among the film's strengths. There's an element of uneasiness as so few of these characters are truly at home here, and it's certainly a more intriguing backdrop than New York or one of its DC equivalents.

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Push is constantly tossing out a steady stream of new superpowers, and these abilities and the characters that wield them are very effectively, efficiently woven into the story. I never found myself confused about who has what ability or which classification signifies which powerset. Paul McGuigan's direction straddles that line between stylish and obnoxious, with a somewhat campy edge that winds up working to the film's benefit. I mean, you have bug-eyed lollipop mobsters with banshee shrieks, for crying out loud. Especially considering that we aren't talking about a $250 million summer blockbuster, some of the superpowered battles are really well-staged, particularly the climactic battle with three separate metahuman factions squaring off at once. I'm terrified to even venture a guess as to how many superhero movies I've watched since Push first wound up on home video, but seeing a mover at the peak of his abilities fend off all comers honestly impressed me about as much as anything from the Marvel or DC set.

Dakota Fanning steals every scene she's in as spunky tween precog Cassie, consistently swinging for the fences even in that not terribly convincingly sequence where she plays drunk. (No, really! She precognitively sketches better with a few drinks in her.) Her co-stars are, by and large, capable enough. Though Chris Evans had twice played the Human Torch and would quickly go on to star in a long list of comic book adaptations including The Losers, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and, yeah, pretty much everything under the Marvel banner, this was fairly early on in his superhero career. It's far from a breakout performance for Evans, but his humor, vulnerability, and determination set this apart from some Just Another Superhero Roleā„¢. His mind is a critical element in the way things unfold, but that's not always thanks to psychic powers. More plot device than character, Camilla Belle doesn't make much of an impression when she's not in fight-or-flight mode, and Djimon Hounsou looks the part but never sounds comfortable delivering as much dialogue as he's saddled with here.

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Push is at its best when it's reveling in psychic warfare and unleashing these abilities in new, inventive ways. It's not that I'm surprised that the most thrilling sequences are at the beginning and end of the film, but I am a bit taken aback by how low-key the action is in between. The middle stretch of the film features some very inspired and remarkably clever scheming, but Push would've benefitted from some more kinetic psychic battles to break up all that plotting and planning. There are floating CG pistols and some telekinetic flinging around, sure, but going all-in on intrigue without something to keep the adrenaline pumping leaves the pace lagging somewhat. It's not exceptionally clear what any of these factions plan to do if they come out on top of this round of Catch the MacGuffin. Even the final moments of the film leave that as a big, fat question mark, limply setting the stage for a sequel that was never to be.

This is the sort of movie I can nitpick the hell out of: unclear endgames, the government's needless slaughter of their own psychic army, uneven pacing, and an inability to elevate some characters beyond their abilities and convenience to the plot, for starters. By no means am I arguing that Push is a great quasi-superhero flick, but damned if I'm not walking away having dug it just the same. Best suited for streaming or renting, but mildly Recommended for anyone jonesing for a superhero fix in the off-months.

When I first reviewed Push on Blu-ray nine years ago, I was awestruck by its high definition presentation, but...well, a lot can change over the course of a decade. Expectations rise, equipment gets upgraded, and all that.

The original Blu-ray release doesn't impress me nearly as much as it once did, nor is Push's Ultra HD spit and polish a dramatic improvement. There's little appreciable difference in definition or detail. After doing A/B comparisons of several sequences, I felt as if I could better discern the very fine woven pattern in Agent Carver's suit, but the list essentially ends there. I expected film grain to be better resolved on this release but can't say I found that to be the case in practice. Neither presentation stands out as particularly sharp, at least not with any consistency, although that is to at least some extent a deliberate part of Push's visual aesthetic.

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The film's regrade in Dolby Vision is a mixed bag. Contrast is, well, pushed. The neon that lines the streets of Hong Kong and brighter colors dotting the metropolis' skyline are more impressive here, but they don't leap off the screen the way that other Ultra HD releases have spoiled me into expecting. There are some moments where its colors look immeasurably better in Dolby Vision. Take the introduction of this bustling stretch of Hong Kong just before Cassie drags Nick out for a bite to eat. Those shots look dull and washed out on Blu-ray, but in Dolby Vision, they're bright, vivid, and more immediate. Then again, the initial encounter with the bleeders a few minutes later looks more natural on Blu-ray to my eyes and somewhat overcooked in UHD.

Ultra HD eye candy it's not. We're not talking about the sort of night and day improvement where I pump my fist and shout "this is the definitive presentation of Push you've been aching for," and its 2K digital intermediate looks to be showing its age and then some. For anyone who's intrigued by Push but never got around to picking it up on home video, this UHD release is undoubtedly the way to go. As for those who already have it on Blu-ray, this is far from an essential upgrade, at least on the visual side of things.

The step up to Dolby Atmos, on the other hand, is anything but an indifferent shrug. Push's sound design demands to be experienced on a proper home theater rig. Imaging and directionality impress from just about the very first frame, with the sounds of a vacuum cleaner and a ticking watch smoothly panning from the front mains to the rears as the camera breezes through a hotel hallway. Immersion is very much the name of the game, taking pains to create a sense of place even in the most low-key of sequences. The psychic assaults seize hold of every available speaker, from near-deafening premonitions to telekinetically-enhanced gunplay. As outstanding as I found the 24-bit lossless audio to be on Blu-ray, this Dolby Atmos presentation must've been pumped with its own cocktail of psychic steroids. The bleeders' sonic screeches aren't meant to be a treat for the ears, but they're so much more impressive here. Nick being telekinectically flung into the ceiling certainly takes advantage of the height channels. Even with all these waves of psychic energy and a thunderous low-frequency assault, dialogue remains skillfully balanced in the mix, even if it does strike me as sounding a bit dated. In every other respect, though, Push sounds phenomenal.

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Also included – the same as the original Blu-ray release – are an audio commentary and a Dolby Digital 5.1 dub in Spanish. Subtitles are served up in English (SDH) and Spanish. Another carryover from the nearly decade-old Blu-ray disc is the use of plain-jane, player-generated subs when detailing times and places, which winds up looking awfully low-rent.

It's appreciated that all of Push's bonus features have found their way onto Ultra HD Blu-ray rather than forcing viewers to change discs. Even more intriguingly, Lionsgate has assembled an exclusive extra that isn't available on Blu-ray.
  • Breaking Down the 9 Types of Psychics (2 min.; HD): Don't get too excited about the exclusivity of this featurette, though. The presentation is fairly lackluster – I'd struggle to even refer to it as HD, although it is technically 1080p – and it's really just some overly earnest narration over excerpts from the film. As advertised, this is a rundown of each of the nine classifications of psychics. Two minutes, and you're done.

  • Deleted Scenes (3 min.; HD): Aside from a short snippet detailing where Cassie scored her booze, Push's deleted scenes largely revolve around the stitch played by Maggie Siff and how exactly she re-enters (and is tossed out of) the fray. They're all pretty unnecessary, and director Paul McGuigan says as much in his optional commentary.

  • The Science Behind the Fiction (9 min.; HD): Referring to it as "science" seems kinda disingenuous since it's just taking the word of a former special ops consultant who insists that the psychic abilities showcased throughout Push are all very much grounded in reality, but...yeah. Paul McGuigan and Special Ops Guy touch on all the pushers, sniffs, precogs, and healers, delving into experiments on them by governments the world over and some of the real-life military incidents their superhuman talents apparently played a key role in shaping.
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  • Audio Commentary: Paul McGuigan pals around with actors Chris Evans and Dakota Fanning for this chatty, laidback commentary. By and large, it's one of those chipper "everyone and everything was amazing, and I loved this and this and thisandthisandthisandthisandthis" tracks, but there are still a few decent notes scattered around in here: hitting up The Dark Knight crew for some of their helicopter shots of Hong Kong, why they lugged their cameras all the way to the Far East, how they shrugged off soundstages for pretty much the entire shoot, and coordinating and staging the stunning superheroics in the climax. I can't help but smirk at hearing the cast mention how continually confused they were about the progression of the story, even when they were kneedeep into production. It's fairly lightweight but personable enough to still make for a worthwhile listen.

Push scores a glossy slipcover on its way to Ultra HD Blu-ray, and an UltraViolet digital copy code and Blu-ray disc are riding shotgun.

The Final Word
When I first reviewed Push nearly a decade ago, I found the visual presentation to be breathtaking while the movie itself was no great shakes: wholly uninvolving, mired in exposition, sagging in the middle, and clumsily rushing to wrap everything up in the last minute or two. Re-reading now what I wrote back in 2009, I hardly agree with a word of it.

In no way can Push stand shoulder to shoulder with anything the Marvel Cinematic Universe has delivered in the years since, no, but I found myself far more intrigued by the psychic mythology it's concocted, I'm more charmed by its streak of camp, and the scheming upon scheming drew me in more effectively. Flawed though it may be, I'm better able to appreciate Push for what it is rather than condemning it for what it isn't. Before, I shrugged off Push with a Rent It; now, I think I'd bump that up to a hesitant Recommended.

To anyone who'd long ago picked up Push in high-def, I can very much see the appeal of upgrading to Ultra HD Blu-ray if you have an Atmos setup, but I don't feel that the visual end of things alone is enough of a selling point. On the other hand, the price sure is right – $15.99 at Deep Discount as I write this – so you're not risking much if you do feel like rolling the dice.

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Yeah, yeah, I'm groaning too. Sorry.
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