Thursday, August 29, 2013

Comics: I read XMen #4. It pissed me off. Here's why.

So, Marvel Now, Xmen 4.Once again I find the worshipful reviews of the latest issue (#4) of the new X Men run laughable.  *Spoilers Ahoy*

Maybe I'm completely off base, but nothing was right about this book to me.  Other than mostly good art (with the exception of some of the O faces, mostly made by Psylocke, more on that to come), there is really not much to redeem this book, and it's flaws far outweigh it's good points.  For Example:

Jubilee, who is a favorite of mine, fares better than most, and her mopey attitude could be chalked up to her trip down memory lane and her new responsibilities coming home to roost, but she still feels entirely too dour, only perking up and acting like herself on say two occasions.  Her dialogue reads like the kind of thing that belongs in Narration Bubbles, but apparently those are taboo now.  No marvel character can have a thought without voicing it, even if they aren't telepaths. Well, besides Deadpool and Hawkeye.  Man, I wish I was reading Deadpool and Hawkeye instead...

Where was I?  Ah yes.

Wolverine is presented as a doddering "Daddy Warbucks".  There is not one panel in which he is not standing around in street clothes grinning like a dope, and if I need to tell you what's wrong with all of this, welcome to the Marvel Universe, because this is clearly the only thing you have read about it.

Rachel has a cliched and out of character "Who Died and Made you Leader" Squabble with Storm, clearly for the purposes of manufactured tension and willfully ignoring Storm's long history of leadership (she was leader of many Xmen teams, a queen, and a goddess for crying out loud). 

Speaking of which, Storm comes across as a gruff "My Way or the Highway" type, also completely out of character, and she spends entirely too much time (as in any time at all) discussing with Rachel whether they can make a good team, sounding less like a group of friends who are working together out of necessity, and more like a Warcraft Pick up group squabbling over loot.  Not to mention how this conversation derails the concept of their book, a group that was thrown together by a crisis; they already sound like an old married couple, not even one issue later.

Rouge and Kitty might be the only characters who are not completely out of character, but they are also the ones with the least to do beyond resolving the Airplane plot and being bitchy to Psylocke respectively.

And speaking of, Psylocke gets the worst of it.  For starters, she is portrayed as a nymphomaniac, a title I would not have applied to her; she is one of the few female characters that writers allow to pursue her desires, so I guess that makes her a slut.  She refers to a virtual character in a Danger Room sim as "Hot to Death" in the middle of a rescue operation, which prompts Kitty to imply that "The Only action she's getting is with Danger Room simulations, no wonder she's wound so tight". Oh, and she keeps making faces like Kitty is doing something freaky to her from behind. Maybe I was wrong about Kitty up there.  But most ridiculous of all is the fact that she uses her powers to form a Purple Energy Crossbow with a grappling hook and rope to tether the Blackbird to a damaged airplane.  Seriously, it took her years to develop the focus needed to form anything more complex than a knife, and that was just a katana, aka a bigger knife.  Now, a few hours in the danger room and she's skanky Asian Green Lantern.   While other reviews I read praised this as creative, it struck me as incredibly lazy and dismissive of the established character. 

Not to mention that the airplane plot is utterly cliche to begin with, the kind of thing 80s or 90s Xmen books would have resolved in 3 pages at best.  The Jubilee plot makes a lot more sense, as she has a lot on her plate now, but other than some interesting reminders of her personal history with the Xmen, it is hamstrung by it's odd dialogue and 'Grampa Wolvie' angle.  It's like the writer had this scene all written out with no particular characters in mind, then plugged in Jubilee, because she's a major focus of the book, and then plugged in Wolvie because all he really knew about her was "Used to Hang out with Wolverine a lot" (Google Search hard at work), then peppered in a few references to her first appearance (Which I'm sure required a detailed Google search once again) and presto, heartwarming scene! 

I know this is a one-and-done Bottle-Issue, and it was likely rushed to make way for the upcoming War of the Atom event, but seriously, that's no excuse.  People need to quit pretending this book is good, cause so far, it really isn't. 

3 Psylocke/Rube Goldberg Contraptions out of 10.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Adventures in Redboxing 3: The Redboxening!

So I've been inspired to give this Review thing another go, and what better subject matter than three Red Box flicks selected by a well meaning comrade who is more concerned with release dates than content?

1:  The Grey

The Grey is a film that I wanted to see in the theater, so I was pleasantly surprised to see it among the new release grab bag that my associate picked up.  It tells the story of a group of oil drillers who's flight home to Anchorage Alaska crashes in the wilderness.  A handful of survivors are soon set on by a pack of wolves, and they must continue their struggle to survive.  But that's only the superficial veneer of the story, this film is really about nature and the frailty of human existence and facing the looming oblivion of the final end.  One of the better films I've seen recently, highly recommended.  9/10

2: Chronicle
Next on the docket was Chronicle, and I have to admit, if I had been excited to see The Grey, I had the absolute opposite attitude towards this film when it came out.  I wrote it off as a cliche'd found footage, teenage angst ridden, effects heavy snoozer, but I have to admit, I was almost completely wrong.  With the exception of the plot saturated with teenage angst and a few painfully obvious effects shots, it's a solid take on the idea of power corrupting with a lot of heart and some genuinely entertaining comic relief.  7.5/10

3: The Devil Inside

As if to score a Hat-trick of "expectations vs. the actual film" responses, The Devil Within was next.  And if The Grey was a film I was looking forward to that was better than I expected, and Chronicle was far better than I anticipated, then The Devil Within took my already abysmal expectations and limbo'd under them.  This film is not really a film, it's a vague framework for a few sub-par shock scenes.  It's shot in a documentary style that completely fails to be convincing, the acting is ridiculous, the characters are ludicrous, and the scares are laughable.  It would be a more productive use of your time to smash your toes with a tack hammer than to watch this... whatever this is.  1/10 for being Not as Bad as The Room.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

An Open Letter to Bioware: Mass Effect 3, it's Controversial Ending, and a polite suggestion on where to go from here.

Warning, I intend to talk about about the ME3 in detail, Spoilers and all, so if you haven't finished it, go do that first. 

First of all, I have to set the record straight on something.  Some have heard/read my initial response to the closing scenes of Bioware's final installment of this epic space adventure and assumed that the game is in some way not worth bothering with.  Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Mass Effect 3 is an absolute Masterpiece, and a prime example of why the argument that "Games Cannot be Art" is nonsense. The characters are compelling, interesting, sympathetic and excellently fleshed out.  The story is rich, humorous, entertaining, and often heartbreaking.  As far as game play goes, combat is rock solid and fun as hell to play, especially with the streamlined powers, improved cover, and much appreciated selection of weapons with wildly varying properties (like a pistol that fires proxy mines and a shotgun that you can charge).  I would recommend it to anyone who has a system that can play it, no joke.  For 98 % of my playtime, I was utterly enthralled with the game, to the point that I was doing damn little else besides playing it.


That 2 percent.  The Ending.  Say the last 3 scenes or so.  That bit of story that wrapped up the universe at large almost killed my enthusiasm for the series altogether.  A series that I've played religiously since the first installment and invested hundreds of hours in.  It's that jarring.  It's that... selfish, I guess is a word to describe it.  Whoever came up with the ending decided that this was the end, and nothing else besides their narrative mattered.  Which is fine, it's their story to end.  But... It doesn't really end it in any meaningful way.

Allow me to elaborate.  From frame one, the goal of Mass Effect 3 is very clearly Defined.  Stop the Reapers.  And as you progress through the game, your mission goes from insanely impossible to in the realm of possibility and finally a long shot that people are finally beginning to believe may pay off.  You collect a crew (An anemic 7 to ME2's 12, and that's assuming you got the DLC) which includes most of your ME1 crew and enlist the help of your other past crew members in support roles.  As the game progresses, it becomes more and more apparent that whatever happens, the solution to the Reaper invasion will cost a devastatingly huge number of lives and almost certainly be the end of Shepard.  The lion's share of the game is spent helping key members of sympathetic races to stabilize their systems and thus gain their undivided support.  The whole time, the goal is to bring every race into the fold and form the single most powerful force the galaxy has ever known.  With careful diplomacy, even the wholly synthetic Geth, the reluctant villains of the first Mass Effect game can be brought into the war effort.  The situation gets more and more desperate as the Illusive Man and Cerberus constantly antagonize Shepard and the galaxy at large, believing they can take control of the Reapers rather than destroy them.  All the while, a super weapon of ancient design, the Crucible, remains the best hope the Alliance has to end the reaper threat.  When it becomes clear that the Citadel is the Catalyst, the key to the Crucible, the Reapers move it to Earth at the center of Reaper controlled Space.  When Shepard at last returns to Earth, along with his assembled fleet, and a space battle of unfathomable proportions takes place.  It's a scene to rival any science fiction film to date.  As the battle between the fleet and the reapers rages on, Shepard returns to the surface and meets up with Admiral Anderson, who has been fighting there since the invasion began, and takes time to have one last conversation with all of his crew as he tours the ranks of the worn down Alliance Military. 

Then, in a final last ditch effort to open the Citadel and use the Crucible, Shepard and crew drive into the heart of the Ruin of London, fighting desperately through a no man's land that was once one of the great human cities, and at last come to the transport beam that can take them to the Citadel.  Hundreds if not thousands of soldiers are cut down, as the Reaper Harbinger flays the blasted out wasteland just to give Shepard and his/her crew a chance to make it to the Citadel.  Just as it begins to look like you might make it, Harbinger strikes your squad with a viscous blast.  At first, it seems hope is lost, until a battered Shepard, armor ravaged and flesh in tatters, rises once more.  Unable to determine if his squad, or indeed anyone from the assault, is alive, and barely able to lift his pistol, Shepard stumbles towards the beam, desperately shoots the last few husks and marauders between him and the beam, and collapses into it.  It's an incredible sequence of events and emotionally draining. 

Then... The end.  The one that has a lot of fans up in arms.  In an unusual area of the Citadel, littered with corpses, Shepard awakens and finds that he and Anderson are the only ones who made it to the beam.  As they locate a control panel, the Illusive man thwarts them, using his reaper-tech derived ability to indoctrinate humans to control Anderson.  The final confrontation with The Illusive Man ends up the only way it could, an argument about control that either ends with Shepard shooting him or The Illusive Man committing suicide if you convince him he was wrong about controlling the Reapers.  The Alliance docks the Crucible at the Citadel and a lift takes Shepard to a massive area where a VI calling itself The Catalyst explains that the old solution, the Reapers purging the most advanced organic lifeforms in the galaxy, will no longer work, as the knowledge that will be passed on and the resistance of the current species is too great.  It claims that the balance between Organic and Synthetic must be maintained, or the organics will destroy everything (How?  Why?  how do the Uber Powerful reapers not tip the balance?  Never explained.) 

The Catalyst offers Shepard a choice.

Unfortunately, no matter what choice you make, you will inevitably feel like it doesn't matter.  The Galaxy is Fucked no matter what you do.

(Bear in Mind, these are the so-called "Best" endings possible.  I'd hate to see the bad ones...)

Option One.  Control.  As it turns out, the Illusive Man was right that the Reapers could be "Controlled", but only Shepard could do it.  If you select this option, Shepard takes Control of the Reapers and basically cancels their invasion with a wave of blue energy, sending them back into intergalactic space, at least for now. 

Option Two.  Destroy. The original plan, and the one Anderson suggested, Destroy the Reapers outright.  However, it wont just kill the Reapers, but all synthetic life, including The Geth, EDI, and Shepard (who became part synthetic at some point?  When Cerberus resurrected him?  I guess I missed that.)  If you choose this option, Shepard blasts conduits with his pistol and ends the reaper cycle forever with a wave of red energy.

Option Three.  Synthesis.  The Metaphysical Evangelion ending.  Shepard can leap into the energy beam of the Crucible, and his combined Organic and Synthetic biology will overwrite the biology of every life form with a wave of green energy, organic and synthetic alike, making all life a hybrid of the two and thus eliminating the presumed need for balance. 

And all three follow the same basic story from there.

The effort of performing any of the 3 tasks appears to be fatal to Shepard (More on that in a bit).  The Blue/Red/Green energy beam required to reach all life in the galaxy overloads and destroys the Mass Relays.  For some unknown reason (it's never stated where they are going or why), the Normandy is attempting to flee the beam, but is overtaken.  After crashing on a primordial planet, Joker and two other crew members emerge from the Normandy, look around and smile (if you chose synthesis, it will be EDI and she will be huggin on Joker as they are both covered with circuits. Your love interest will always be there as well.)  Then... Credits.  After which you may, depending on your military strength or something, get a brief scene in the distant future of that same planet, where an old man (voiced by Buzz Aldrin!) tells his grandson legends of "The Shepard". Then a message appears that says that Shepard ended the reaper threat and became a Legend.  Now make his legend greater by playing DLC when it comes out!  (Shit you Not!)

Oooookay, where to start?  Why does every possible outcome of even the best endings mean a depressingly shitty end to an epic series, a snub to a cast of sympathetic characters fans have a vested interest in, and a blanket party for one of the richest sci fi universes since Star Wars?  I'm glad you asked.

Control.  This option sucks.  Just completely sucks.  It's the trite and cliched do-gooder solution.  Shepard sacrifices his life to send the reapers packing and solves nothing in the process. 

Sure, the reaper threat has ended.  For now.  But for how long?  Will the reapers remain controlled by a dead man for all eternity and never return?  And if not, how long until they do?  At best, another 50,000 years, the end of another Cycle.  At worst, just as soon as they come to their senses and rebuild the Mass Relays.  Who knows how long that is, building Mass Relays might be child's play to them.

And what about this "Balance" that suddenly became so fucking important in the last five minutes of a 100+ hour game series?  Given that Shepard got rid of the reapers forever, wont that still mean that the balance will go bad and Organics will obliterate themselves (Again, fucking how?!)? 

Destroy:  This option would be the obvious choice, except for one bullshit provision. 

All synthetics Die, including EDI (even though there is no indication that she died in the final scene) and the Geth, for no adequately explained reason.  Why the hell would the Catalyst and the Citadel have any power over Synthetic lifeforms of this cycle?  Did the Catalyst adapt it's program to included new synthetics in the event some guy blasted it's innards?  And if so, why?  If not to be a big Fuck You to the player.  Personally, the last thing I did before the Invasion of Cerberus and Earth was broker Peace between the Quarians and the Geth, in the process helping the Geth become truly Sentient Beings and welcoming them into the galactic community of enlightened races, as well as the Allied Fleet that would help me take back earth and use the Crucible to deal with the Reapers. 

So the inclusion of the "Kills the entire synthetic race you just liberated and convinced the rest of the galaxy to accept because the Catalyst said so" clause in the Destroy option takes the most sensible course of action and turns it into the biggest Dick Move in galactic history.  You would be worse than the goddamn Slimy Salarians, fucking over the Krogan with the Genophage after you didn't want to deal with them any more.

Synthesis:  This is the Option I actually took, but only because it seemed Less Dickish by a narrow margin and it's the "Hidden" one I did all that extra work collecting resources for.  It's not worth it.  I don't even have a particular gripe, other than it feels like the Tree Hugger option.  Two constantly warring lifeforms become one new form of life, like, so deep man!   Not to mention, been done, in a bunch of Anime Movies/series for a start (Eyes on Mars, Gall Force, Vandred, etc).  Not to mention that the Crash scene is all about Joker and EDI and how they can bump uglies now because they are the same life form or something.  The "EDI and Joker, sittin in a Tree" subplot was cute, but it's not what I want the last goddamn scene to focus on.  Also, shouldn't she be dead since the Normandy got fucked up by the beam and crashed?  Not to mention that the two lovebirds are making kissy faces at each other while your love interest (in my case Tali.  Poor, sweet, awesome, brave, and kind Tali) is standing right there, most likely devastated by the fact that the love of her life is almost certainly dead.

Which brings me to another point.  There is apparently some kind of dark magic that I wasn't aware of that you can perform to earl a 15 second bonus clip where what appears to be Shepard's body draws breath before the cut to the credits.  I'm sure the developers thought this was a great way to placate the fans who were pissed off about Shepard dying, nobly or otherwise.  "Look, he's alive!  Stop writing us angry emails now please!"  But in reality, it's just another poorly thought out Fuck You to the player.  Let me explain.

Lets just assume that Shepard somehow managed to live through his ordeal.  And lets assume that he gets medical attention and makes a full recovery.  Or lets say, just for funsies that Miranda puts together another Lazarus team and resurrects him again.  Great.  You know he's alive!  Guess who Doesn't?  Tali and the rest of the folks who got stranded on fuck knows what planet in fuck knows what system, in fuck knows what sector for Fuck knows what reason.   So consider this.  With the Mass Relays destroyed, this tragic couple will never be in the same system again, let alone the same room.  Assuming inter stellar communications aren't FUBAR'ed, the best they can hope for is to Holo Chat from light-years away.  What would that do other than constantly remind them that they will never be able to embrace one another again?  How long until one of them moves on or kills themselves in grief? 

And that's another point, how fucked are all the aliens who bravely volunteered to help the Alliance repel the Reapers, not to mention mankind.  We're talking probably hundreds of thousands of aliens trapped in the sol system with mankind.  Will everyone go to Earth?  If so, how will a planet that just got the ever loving shit kicked out of it support it's native population and accommodate a bunch of most likely pissed off aliens who will probably never see home again?  How pissed are the Quarians trapped in the Sol system not weeks after they got their home planet back, for example?  If you cured the Genophage, you will have a runaway Krogan Population before you know it, and that's to say nothing for the Krogans back on Tuchanka, a nuclear wasteland of a planet.  The Turians have entirely different body chemistry, could they survive long term on Earth?  The Asari are the only race among them that might accept their lot and become a part of Human society.  The Batarians certainly wouldn't.  Not to mention Aria's Mercs.  How long until they become Space Pirates?  And what becomes of all the devastated Council home worlds now that they are cut off from most of their colonies that supported them?  Massive famines and civil wars, that's what. 

In short, the ending is a fucking mess that feels like they threw it together at the last minute for some reason (The IGN leak, some have speculated). 

You know what this ending feels like?  Pointless and Tragic, in spite of the fact that the Reaper Cycle is broken, and that's a terrible way to end it.  I don't mind a sad ending, but only when it makes sense.  

Now, How do you fix it?  It's bafflingly simple, in my book.

First, forget everything after the Mass Relays are destroyed, and the Geth and EDI being lumped in with the reapers.  The Normandy outrunning the beam, Shepard not dead, Joker and EDI sucking face, that stupid plasticine forest they seemed determined to include, Buzz Aldrin, everything... Well, Buzz is okay I guess.  But Toss that shit, it fucks everything up.  In it's place have a montage of scenes based on What resources you unlocked in the process of building your army.  If you united the Geth and the Quarians, have a scene of Tali and the Geth working together on a plan to build new Mass Relays or ships that are capable of Mass Effect travel without the relays.  Krogans setting up homes on Mars or Luna.  Turians maintaining order against pissed off Batarians and Mercs, with Garrus and Zaeed in charge.  Asari helping preserve human culture and rebuild infrastructure, coordinated by Liara, the Shadow Broker.  Jack and her former students opening a school for Biotics.  Miranda working on a second Lazarus Project to bring Shepard back again.

You know what that ending feels like?  Hope. 

And that's what we really needed to make Shepard's death to save existence worthwhile.  Hope for the future of the universe we know and love, not the supposed future that will come about thousands of years from now on the planet where Buzz is.  We don't even need an actual Payoff of those events for them to be more meaningful than what we got.  Just the possibility that life in the Mass Effect universe might some day soon recover from the Reaper invasion is enough.

People have argued that expecting Bioware to change the ending is ludicrous because we would expect it for free.  Not at all, I'd be willing to pay a few extra bucks to have this mess cleaned up as part of the next DLC.  It can be done, it remains to be seen if it will be done.  Will the creators accept that the ending could be improved by these types of changes?  Or will they stick to their guns, ignore the, I'll say it, Anguish this cheap ending caused and claim artistic license as their reasoning?  I don't know, but for now, I for one consider everything past the Relays blowing up Non Canon, and that allows me to love this game again.  I just wish I didn't have to bullshit myself. 

But who knows, if Bioware makes another Mass Effect game, maybe they will clear up some of the craziness in the process, fingers crossed!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Horrible Bosses

Under 18's begone!

So a little while ago, the combination of constant heat advisories and crappy window air led me to take in a matinee of just about any movie, simply to escape the beastly weather.  I didn't really care what movie it was, but there was one that had caught my eye based on it's cast alone.  All I needed to know was that Jason Bateman of Arrested Development and Charlie Day of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia were two of the main characters to get my kiester in the seat.  I figured between them and Kevin Spacey, Donald Sutherland, Colin Farrel, Jason Sudeikis, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Aniston, and even Steve Weibe of Fistful of Quarters fame, how could you go wrong?

You may have noticed that I rarely cover comedies on here.  In fact, this might be the first straight comedy movie I've ever touched on.  There are a couple of reasons, first being that I very rarely see comedies in the theater.  I always end up inevitably let down by the theater experience when it comes to comedy, no matter how funny the movie is.  I find myself wondering why a Will Farrel flick would need digital sound and a screen that huge as much as laughing at the jokes.  The other reason I haven't talked about a comedy here is that, probably more than any other kind of movie, Comedy is highly subjective.  What's Rolling-in-the-Aisle hilarious to some is eyerollingly lame to others.  That said, Horrible Bosses is right up my Aisle.

The basic plot of the film involves three friends who are stuck in No-Win scenarios at their jobs.  Nick (Bateman) is a dedicated wage slave who gets stiffed on a big promotion because his boss (Spacey) wants a bigger office.  Kurt (Sudeikis) is the right hand man to the owner of a chemical company (Sutherland), until he dies of a sudden heart attack and his cokehead buffoon of a son (Farrel) takes over.  Dale (Day) is a dental assistant and engaged to a beautiful woman, but he works for a sexually voracious dentist (Aniston) who is attempting to blackmail him into cheating with her.  The three friends meet up at a bar after a particularly rough day, and in their drunken desperation, begin to concoct a scheme to eliminate the people ruining their lives.  Permanently.  After a chance meeting in a bar in the rough part of town, a former con named "Mother-Fucker" Jones (Foxx) opts out of taking care of their issue, but becomes their "Murder Consultant."

To say that the plot is dependant on the bosses being unbelievable charactures of what a bad boss might be is an understatement.  However, it's easy to forgive the over the top nature of the targets in this film when the chemistry between the 3 leads gets going.  Jason Bateman and Charlie Day play off each other excellently, and Jason Sudeikis rounds out the crew nicely, particularly when Dale complains about his bosses sexual advances and Kurt comments on how his problem dosen't sound nearly as bad as his or Nick's.  And while the bosses are ridiculous, it bears mentioning that they play it so well that it works pretty hilariously well.  Kevin Spacey plays the self centered jealous corporate fat cat to a T, Colin Farrel is a convincing drug addled comb-over sporting douche-bag, and perhaps most amazing of all, I actually thought Jennifer Aniston as a sexual deviant and manipulative man-eater was a highlight of the film.  And that's saying something, since I normally don't think much of her one way or the other.  Jamie Foxx split my sides every time he was on screen, like the days of In Living Color had come again.

As is to be expected in this kind of over the top comedy, the ending of the film is fairly ludicrous, but by the time you get to it, if you are like me, you will be laughing too hard to analyze it.  In closing, if you want a good gut laugh and don't mind crude humor or language with a dark streak a mile wide definitely check out Horrible Bosses.

8 "Throw Momma From the Train" References out of 10

Monday, July 25, 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger

So here we are, the series of Avengers Origin films is complete, and we have plenty of time to wait and contemplate the merits of them before the Avengers Film itself arrives next May.  The Iron Man films are well documented successes, Thor surprised a lot of people and confirmed my belief that a well done film about the character would be packed with awesome, but how has Cap's film turned out?  Did the future leader of (arguably) the Marvel Universes Premier Super Hero team have as strong a showing as his counterparts?  For the most part, I have to say yes.

Set primarily in the early 1940's, Captain America is the story of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a young man of diminutive stature who desperately wants to enlist in the US Army at the outset of World War II.  Due to his size and history of illness, he is turned down several times, as he falsifies his identity to try over and over to be accepted.  His determination to do his part attracts the attention of a Scientist (Stanley Tucci) who offers him a chance to join the army if he participates in testing his Super Soldier Serum.  Rogers agrees and after being put through his paces by a highly doubtful Colonel (Tommy Lee Jones), he undergoes the Super Soldier procedure, which remakes him into a Super-Human, the height of human potential.  Even as the procedure proves successful, a spy in the midst of the government officials gathered to witness it detonates a bomb, shoots the Scientist, and escapes with a vial of the Super Soldier Serum.  However, Rogers chases the man on foot and apprehends him, in spite of the fact that he flees via a stolen taxi and a submarine.  As the spy crunches his Cyanide Suicide tooth (Classic!), he taunts Rogers that two will rise to take his place, and says "Hail Hydra!" in his death throes.  As the film progresses, Rogers becomes a house hold name selling war bonds as Captain America, and is ridiculed by front line troops when he is sent to Italy, but gains their respect when he single-handedly rescues an entire unit of captured soldiers, including his old friend Bucky.  The film culminates in an epic showdown with the Hydra forces and a one on one fight with their leader, the Super Soldier prototype, Red Skull (Hugo Weaving).

Overall, I have to say that I was extremely impressed with the story, particularly how they incorporated Captain America's classic Golden Age origin into the film in the form of his USO stage show, to hilarious effect.  Also of note, Red Skull is very well fleshed out (pun intended) and he makes a delightfully wicked foil to Cap's selfless heroism.  I also really enjoyed the treatment of tertiary characters, Bucky and "Dum Dum" Doogan, for example.  The inclusion of Howard Stark, Iron Man's grandfather, could have been a simple Cameo, but they made him a very important character, flying Cap in on his first combat mission and designing his suit and, perhaps most importantly, the iconic Vibranium Shield.  Cap's relationship with Agent Peggy Carter, while obviously meant to be the romantic inspiration for Cap, as he is seen with her picture several times, is refreshingly conservative in a world of super heroes always getting the girl, and adds another layer to the character and the ending of the film.  The only problem I had with the story was, ironically, with Cap himself.  While they do a lot to show how he progresses from being unsure of his new abilities to kicking copious amounts of ass and leading an elite group of soldiers hand picked to fight Hydra, I couldn't shake the feeling that his leadership abilities that will make him the obvious choice to lead the Avengers one day were not very well demonstrated.  Maybe that's just me though.

Another note, and one I pointed out to my cousin Daniel during the movie, was that they managed to make Captain America's universe less believable than Thor's.  While it must be said that the inclusion of some Real-World future tech vehicles and weapons that the Germans were actually working on during WWII lent believability to the concept of Hydra being Hitler's "Deep Science" division, some of the other devices have to be described as Ultra Tech by 1940's standards.  It lent a futuristic feel to some of the later combat scenes, which seems odd for a movie set in the past.  And while energy weapons could be explained away by the fact that Red Skull was harnessing power from the same Cube we see in the Stinger at the end of Thor (Dun Dun Dun!), powered armor, Tanks the size of houses, and a massive Flying Wing took me out of the movie a bit.

That said, the visual effects were extremely impressive and well implemented.  Of particular note was the effects used to make Cap look like a scrawny weakling before the Super Soldier Procedure.  Costuming is excellent, from the period outfits, Cap's hilariously authentic comic book outfit, or his actual combat outfit, not to mention Red Skull and his varying and menacing outfits.  Sound is well done, and the plethora of period accurate propaganda songs is delightful.  As far as direction goes, Joe Johnston does a fine job of finding great framing for scenes.  There are not really any of the "What the Hell is Happening, all I can see is Camera Shaking" fight scenes that drive me bonkers, and overall, the action is entertaining and never too over the top (For a Superhero that is).  Oddly enough, one of the most effective scenes is actually the end credits, which is an animated montage of WWII Propaganda posters.  And if anyone left the theater before the end of the credits, big mistake.  Not only do we see a bit of Cap and Nick Fury, but also a teaser trailer for the Avengers film which was downright awesome. 

All in all, I have to say that I really enjoyed Captain America, it was a perfect Penultimate Avengers movie.  And while I have to admit that I enjoyed Thor a bit more personally, it really is an excellent film and worthy of the franchise. 

9 Punched out Hitler's out of 10.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Green Lantern

Okay, my procrastination is reaching critical mass here, I'm now writing a review for a film I saw weeks ago.  So if I get some details muddled, forgive me.

Any Old How, Green Lantern.  It's another in a long line of Summer Superhero movies, including notable releases this year such as Thor and X Men First Class.  Green Lantern is a long on storied DC Comics series beloved by fans.  And while several humans (and countless aliens) have donned the mantle of the titular character, Hal Jordan is probably the best known.  I've never personally kept up on Green Lantern lore (I'm kindof a Marvel / Manga guy) and in all honesty, I had to look up the character on the interwebs to remind myself what his powers were when I heard a movie was in the works way back when.  Still, the previews looked pretty solid and I'm a fan of Ryan Reynolds (He was the only good thing about the Wolverine movie, for example), so I determined to give it a shot, even after a few professional reviewers were less than kind to it.

The film features Hal Jordan, a Jet Fighter Test Pilot who encounters a crashed alien spaceship.  The dying pilot of the alien craft bequeaths a Green Ring and Lantern to Hal, saying that he has been chosen as his replacement.When a confused Hal puts on the ring and touches it to the lantern, he is suddenly clothed in the Garb of the Green Lantern Corps, an interstellar police organization that has agents that wield the Green Power of Courage as a weapon, manifesting green matter in the form of whatever the Lantern can imagine..  Even as Hal is adjusting to his new outfit, he is brought back to planet Oa, the headquarters of the Green Lantern Corps, where he begins training to be the Lantern assigned to Earth's galactic sector.  Meanwhile, on Earth, the dead Lantern's body is being studied by a socially inept acquaintance of Hal's who becomes infected by the force that killed the alien, a super-being known as Parallax, which once devastated the galaxy at large by spreading the Yellow power of Fear.

Green Lantern is a Film that tries to get the Batman Begins mix.  That is to say, it tries to please the hardcore fans, educate the novices, and set up a sequel that will move the series forward.  Unfortunately, it fails to hit any of these points masterfully, and in fact fails to subtly hint at anything, sequels included.

If there is one way that the problems with the film could be fixed, I would say that it is Editing.  Visually speaking, there is nothing wrong with the effects or casting, the acting is generally good, and the sound is well done.  However, the pacing of the movie is badly in need to tweaking.  The fact is that there are some scenes that hold the audiences hand too much, and there are others that force the audience to fill in imperceptible gaps.

For example, before any of what I spoke of in the plot synopsis up there occurs, we see Hal Jordan wake up late and ditch the lady in his bed, go to his nephew's birthday party, Pilot a Raptor Fighter in a dogfight with a computer controlled drone fighter, defeating the unbeatable drone fighter, freezing up when his risky maneuvers cause him to lose control of the fighter (an inexplicably long scene where he remembers his dad dying in an explosion after a failed test flight of his own), a lengthy debriefing with his superiors who berate him for his risky maneuvers and losing his jet in a test exercise, and finally a lengthy argument with the Love Interest character which establishes in great detail that they have known each other for years, had a rocky romantic past, and that her father designed the drone ship.  As well as scenes of the Alien Lantern fighting and fleeing from Parallax and a few pointless scenes that incorporate the pointlessly un-funny comic relief character interspersed throughout.  Most of these scenes needlessly hammer home points that were made either by the first line of several lines of dialogue or by simple inference. These scenes could have easily been tightened up in editing to improve the pacing and shorten the amount of time before Hal becomes a Lantern. 

On the other hand, there was a scene during the birthday party that ends with Hal carelessly launching a Hot Wheels onto a loop track and off a ramp.  It's literally a two second blip of film.  No comment on how much he loved Hot Wheels when he was a kid or even an emotional response to seeing or launching the car.  He simply presses the button and calmly leaves the shot.  At the time, I thought "What was the point of that?" and promptly forgot it ever happened.  It wasn't until I started contemplating this review that I realized that this momentary flash was meant to be the inspiration for one of the biggest action/special effects set pieces in the film, in which Hal creates a Life Size green Hot Rod and a track for it to run on out of Green energy. He created the first thing he could think of to avert disaster, but I could not for the life of me figure out why it was a car on a track.  Couldn't they have included a momentary flash of the scene from earlier that inspired it to make sure the connection struck home?  Like I said, Too Much or Too Little story telling, depending on the scene.  Why do we spend so much time examining the Alien Corpse which stops mattering moments later, but never really get a solid explanation of what's happening to Space Mumps Bad Guy's mind?

Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of things done right in this film as well.  Tension between Hal and Space Mumps is pretty well established, for example.  Also, there is one great scene that really stands out as an example of comics movies not being limited by the rules of comics themselves.  After a painfully unfunny scene with the so-called comic relief best friend character ends with the suggestion that Heroes "Get the Girl", Hal flies to the love interest's apartment and lands on her balcony in his Lantern suit, complete with "Identity Hiding" Eye Mask.  It has oft been pointed out how ludicrous it is to assume a secret identity can be maintained with the application of a tiny mask that covers about 10% of the face. The more egregious example is the Clark Kent Glasses worn by Stupor Man, but I could write a whole paper on why Stupor Man sucks.  When Love Interest (Seriously, does her name matter?) see's him, for a few long moments she looks at him as if she has no clue who this crazy person in a Green and Black body suit on her balcony is.  I think I may have actually said "You have got to be Shitting me." for all the theater to hear when it looked as thought the old Eye Mask gambit had struck again.  It would have been impossible to accept that she wouldn't recognize a childhood friend and love interest because he happened to be wearing a mask that Zorro would refuse to wear because it was too dainty.  But as soon as I said it, her eyes flashed wide and she shouted "Hal?!" then proceeded to berate him for scaring her.  Meanwhile, I proceeded to say "Oh thank god, she can't have been that stupid."  It is really a great example, in my book, of what fans of comics and their related media are really looking for.  Not the "It dosen't have to make sense, it's just a stupid comic" angle of Golden Age comics, or the "Gritty reality" of the Dark Age comics of the 90s, but the Silver Age feel.  Believable People with Unbelievable powers in a believable modern world.

Overall, Green Lanterns faults are mostly on the technical side, some better direction and editing would have resolved most of the nagging issues, and a slightly better script would have fixed the rest.  It's not perfect, but it far from terrible.  It's one of the few movies I've seen in 3D that didn't make me want to take the glasses off 5 minutes in, and in the end it's a fun movie.

6 Obvious Future Badguys out of 10

Seriously, the stinger at the end of the film was pointless because A) Lantern Fans knew it was coming before the first teaser trailer was over and B) His Name/motivations/etc were a dead giveaway to everyone else.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Witcher 2

Hey, I've not done a single Game Review.  What's the deal?  Here we go then, The Witcher 2.  To be fair, I'm only 1/4 of the way through the story, but I'm mostly going to talk about the mechanics anyway.

I'm clearly getting old.  There was a time when an extensive inventory and crafting system was exhilarating.  When managing what you can carry was a trifle or an added challenge.  When a complex combat system mixing spells and swordplay offered interesting variety.  These days, these things feel more like tedious busy work than intriguing game-play.  And in the case of The Witcher 2, these aspects are all too prevalent. 

To be fair, I've always been a little put off by limited space in inventory in games like this, going back to Diablo as one of the first games that really drove me nuts in this category.  The difference being that in games like Diablo, if I was a Barbarian, I knew I could sell any magic wands or staves or cloaks I acquired when I returned to a shop.  In the case of W2, most of what one loots is hunks of whatever it was looted from; hearts, eyes, teeth, etc.  The problem being, that there is no clear way to tell what parts of what monsters one might need in the future to make potions or craft weapons or armor.  Some are obvious; one will always need iron ore to make the next Steel Sword upgrade for example.  But others are fairly vague.  After working on a quest to kill a bunch of giant plant crab something or others called Endragoras or whatever, I had gathered my maximum amount of loot I could carry.  After slowly trudging my way back to town (yes, it's one of those games) I sold off a ton of stuff I didn't think I'd need, including a handful of Plant Crab teeth which I hadn't found a use for yet.  Then I stopped at the smithy later and found that the best Steel Sword required 15 of them to make for some reason.  I couldn't buy them back so I had to go pointlessly murder the now much less common crab spiders for their teeth. 

This brings up another point, the dual sword system.  Now, the idea of a monster hunter who carries two swords, a steel sword for slaying humans, and a silver sword for slaying monsters sounds pretty awesome at face value.  And the hero, Geralt looks pretty cool with two swords slung over his back, no denying it, and as far as a Fantasy Novel character device goes, it is a pretty interesting one.  The problem comes in when you implement it into the game.  For a start, you will find yourself very frequently upgrading your steel sword in the first chapter and not fighting a lot of humans til the close of the chapter.  Not to mention that there is only one Silver Sword upgrade in the first chapter, and it comes immediately before the end of said chapter, just in time for the afore-mentioned human bloodbath.  So for the whole first chapter, you will mostly be using the basic silver sword and upgrading your steel sword for really no good reason.  And it bears mentioning that if you use the wrong sword on a type of enemy, it will do almost no damage.  This makes sense and would not be a problem if there weren't instances where human bandits and monsters will stop fighting one another in order to collectively kick your ass, so you have to choose a sword, weed out the appropriate enemies, then switch swords and kill the others.  And again, this would not be that big of a problem if not for buggy and occasionally unresponsive controls.

The controls appear simple enough.  Press 1 to draw/sheath your Steel Humanoid slaying Sword, press 2 to draw/sheath your Silver Monster chopper.  Easy enough.  The only problem is at times, if you get surprised by an enemy, and just hit the mouse button, Geralt will draw whatever sword he was last using.  If it's the wrong one for the enemy, you will have a few moments when you will be vulnerable as you switch.  And that's assuming Geralt responds at all.  I've had plenty of times where I've found myself mashing the 2 button as a monster beats my face to a pulp and Geralt stands there getting pummeled with his Steel sword drawn.  So then I would try to press 1 to put the steel sword away, and he still stands there like a bloody bump on a log.  Another time, I was fighting a group of elves and as the last one died, I heard a distant scream like a large cat, announcing that some Nekkar's were on their way.  They were far off yet, couldn't even see them, so I pressed 1 to Sheath my Steel sword.  Nothing.   Tried it again as I spotted a Nekkar off in the distance.  Nothing.  Okay, I'll push 2 to draw my Silver Sword.  Nothing.  Getting closer, could really use my silver sword sooner than later, pressing 2.  Nothing.   They are about to start punching the guts out of me, back to 1.  NoF'ingThing.  They've reached me, and are stomping my gizzards flat, pressing 1,1,1,1,2,2,2,2.  Guess What, Nothing!  So finally I start swinging with my Steel Sword and Rolling to dodge their assault.  After I flail ineffectually against the nearest Nekkar and do almost no damage, I tried 2 one more time in a moment of grim jocularity.  The white haired Git finally switched swords.

I heard the Nekkars coming from a country mile off, and was at half health before Geralt decided it was a good idea to draw the appropriate sword.

And that's to say nothing of the combat system itself.  Don't even get me started on the incomprehensibly named spells.  But the swordplay mechanics are either brilliantly complex or idiotically simple, and I honestly can't tell which.  It doesn't help that W2 takes the tack that you must have just finished W1 on the hardest setting or you wouldn't be playing W2 (I never played 1 by the way), so it throws you into combat with almost no instruction and cheerfully watches you get mercilessly slaughtered several times by the first enemies you encounter.  I had to go down to easy mode just to get through the damn intro.

Another niggling point that drives me batty are the quick time events.  I'm already bored to death with the concept now that every action game since God of War has aped it, but it doesn't help that W2's variety is a tiny indicator in a strange, orangish sepia tone that almost always gets washed out by the backgrounds.  For example, at one point I had to rescue some elf girls from a burning building before we were all consumed by the flames.  I found the girls and one said "Release us" so I went over and clicked on her, then pissed away precious seconds before I realized that I was standing there not actually releasing her, because for some reason it was deemed necessary to attach a 'Click a whole bunch' Quick Time Event to this action.  Needless to say we all burned, and I was forced to repeat the cut-scene (skipable, but still had to load) and a combat sequence before climbing the tower and trying again.  All because I couldn't see the tiny little QTE bar.

Now don't get me wrong, there are a lot of good reasons to play W2, or I would have quit a long time before the end of the intro.  The visuals are downright gorgeous, and the voice acting is pretty good, with Geralt's occasional Batman voice and the repetition of lines from townsfolk being the only real issues.  The world is very deep and the story impressive.  Again, I feel I must warn any others who skipped W1, prepare to be confused, and it may not be a bad idea to find a plot summary on line to get up to speed, because again, the game assumes you are an old hand and will know exactly who's who and what's happening.  But, the story that unfolds is very interesting so far and worth the effort of bashing your head through some of this games failings.

And really that's the only problem.  At times, Witcher 2 feels very much like a game that does not want to be played.  As though it is actively trying to twart your attempts to advance by bugging out at all the wrong times, sending Geralt careening across the room to strike the one enemy standing 10 feet away and ignoring the other seven standing right next to him trying to spill his innards.  All in all, it's worth the annoyances.

Just remember to breath and count to 10.