Video Game Review: God of War (2018)

Despite a move to another realm filled with a new pantheon of gods, a behind-the-shoulder camera view, a dope ax and the addition of a son, God of War in 2018 is pretty much the God of War you know and love. Even its reliance on the pastiche of other game mechanics being stitched together to form its gameplay is given a modern reboot with a RPG-ish upgrade elements. Who knew that Kratos would need armor and a skill tree coupled with a father/son journey to become relevant again?

All that aside, God of War really relies on the ability for you to sympathize with Kratos and Atreus as they go on an epic journey to spread the ashes of their beloved wife and mother Faye. The father/son foundation ties in to other narrative elements of the various paternal/child bonds and the dichotomy found throughout the games run-time. Few pantheons can really exploit this fucked up familial milieu better than the Norse mythology, and though there is a fear of it feeling “played out” these days, does a fairly decent job of providing color and an interesting new setting for Kratos to stomp around in and maim it’s denizens in.

The over-the-shoulder, “never cutting away from Kratos” camera is the apex of what director Cory Barlog’s vision for this new God of War and this is the main point of contention I have with the game. The entirety of God of War feels as though it is made up of compromises and concessions to Barlog’s vision for the game in regards to this camera system, regardless of how much it affected game play or not. The combat being chief among them.

God-of-War-4K-gameplayIn what feels like a modern heist of the Arkham series, the over-the-shoulder camera fits in nicely with the new look vibes of God of War, and isn’t much of a problem as you explore the environments, solves puzzles and the like. That is until you begin to realize that you kind of have to look everywhere as there are things hidden in the ceiling or just out of view of the camera, as it seems the default is persistently pointed downwards, presumably to emulate Kratos’ eye line. Several times early on in the game, I’d miss puzzle elements or hanging items because the camera failed to give me an operative view of the environment.

Unlike the Arkham series, the camera stays fixed up Kratos’ ass and it becomes nigh impossible to get a good read on the area when you’re in combat. It what feels like a concession, little guide arrows pop up behind Kratos and change color depending on closeness and imminence of attack. Further, Atreus (and later on disembodied head Mimir) will call out enemy positions. This is more annoying than helpful, as often, Kratos is swarmed in combatants and being told you have enemies coming up on your right flank as you’re in the midst of a crowd controlling combo serves no real purpose in that moment and you take needless damage.

And look, I don’t mind that the enemies you fight don’t follow Kung Fu movie rules and wait their turn for you to beat they ass, I just wanted the camera to pull back from Kratos a bit, so I could position him better. The camera being so close to the action allows for that classic visceral combat that God of War is known for and it adds that intimacy that makes some of the better kills stand out, but with the sparse bench of enemy types in this game, it wanes rather quickly and it’d be nice to just have the camera pull back.

The camera is also a hindrance in the boss fight with a giant dragon about halfway through the game. The camera tilts upward to offer a better vantage in the battle, but then you can’t see when items like health fall the ground. Even the Resident Evil 4 style beacons shooting up off them doesn’t really help in navigating their relation to Kratos and I found myself just massing the “O” button stomping around in the vain hopes of getting some much-needed health.


The camera issues persist even in the light “open-world” exploration elements, where I had to really work the right stick to navigate the hub world or find pertinent caves and streams that would take me to the next area. I haven’t had this much issue with a video games camera in nigh on a decade, so it’s nice to see that come back around in the 2018.

While the story of God of War focuses on Kratos and Atreus as they strengthen their tenuous familial bond throughout the journey, fathers and mothers and their various progeny seems to make up the bulk of the surrounding narrative as well. With the primary antagonist Baldur being the son of Freya and the late game revelation of their strained relationship. The other set of antagonists, Magni and Modi, are the shitheaded sons of Thor that seem to be doing the bidding of Baldur. All the way to Odin, the “all father” being a more understated role in all of this, but still having his presence loom large over the game proper.

With all of the family drama teeming in the narrative, sadly the vast majority of it happens in the deep margins of the story, or in the case of Freya and Baldur, the last few moments of the game. It loses its effect in the face of what is supposed to be the main draw of the father and son journey. Nevertheless, this means that you have to really be on board with dad Kratos and want him to become a good father to Atreus, even though he is carrying the supposed heavy burden of his past, which is the meta-narrative if you’ve been a longtime fan of the God of War series.

Moreover, while yes this is a soft reboot of the franchise, seemingly giving Kratos a new pantheon of gods to kick in, it’s basically God of War 4, trappings and all. It does little to reestablish the franchise in a meaningful way, preferring to continue the copying of elements from others games and cramming them all in one God of War flavored place. Adding light role-playing elements, leveling up Kratos, picking up various colors of loot and padding out the story with side quests could be considered new and fresh if you have never played anything but God of War, which is silly. Therefore, it stands to reason that the hook of the Kratos/Atreus story is where the game is going to hang its hat.

https _blueprint-api-production.s3.amazonaws.com_uploads_story_thumbnail_70888_02d19f65-a88e-4cde-8f08-a2711cd556eeWhat if you don’t cotton to it though? Outside of a couple of choice “set piece” scenes, the story of God of War is one you’ve seen time and again, though this time with a character many players are familiar with his particular baggage. This meta layer is nodded to several times and does make the narrative more worthwhile if you are a fan of the series.

While great care was taken to make Atreus a character you relate with and become fond of, I found several times in the story some level of dissonance pop up with his characterization. This being a video game, it’s bound to happen as characters that are designed to be helpful can’t shut down completely as that would rob you of the precious gameplay benefits. But it was a bit jarring in the back half of the game when he becomes an asshole for a couple of hours, then gets set straight by Kratos and is then back to his cheery helpful self again as if that bit of character growth didn’t stick or something?

This is where the other point of contention arises in the games pacing issues in the last third of the game.

It’s as if the games developers really wanted to nail down the father/son narrative as a foundational element in the beginning, even if it made the late game story bits turn out a bit shallow. Maybe the back end of the game is where I should’ve focused on the side quest sojourn instead of in the early to middle. Especially seeing that Kratos doesn’t unlock his entire skill set, and the ability to fast travel anywhere, until the last third of the game.


Considering that I pretty much wrapped up the majority of side quests, I made a beeline from the end of act two to the end of the game. This is the point where the story’s pacing issues really bore fruit, as Atreus goes through his petulant phase, there’s two set piece level brawl boss fights with Baldur, a return to a couple of previously visited areas and then the endgame. None of it has nearly the impact that it should have, and it feels largely underdeveloped, as if the developers just ran out of time to really flesh it out. Which is odd considering that God of War isn’t a short game by any stretch of the imagination.

This under baked notion also pops up in the other realms Kratos and Atreus visit throughout the game. With two of the five realms being overblown combat arenas and Jotunheim just being a linear path to the top of a mountain set piece for end of the game narrative business. While the main thrust of the campaign takes place in Midgard, and it is indeed chock full of places to explore and things to do, it would’ve been nice if all the realms visited in the game had more going on in them aside from looking very pretty.

If you find the notion of Kratos “redeeming’ himself by bonding with his son, coming to grips with how much of an asshole he was in the past and trying to guide Atreus down a better path kind of vanilla and uninteresting, then God of War kind of leaves you hanging, as Balrog’s vision has no room for anything but slavish adoration for the narrative arc of the Kratos and Atreus adventure. In this the game retains its place in the God of War series as being full of set piece boss fights, visceral combat and being a showpiece for the PlayStation 4 console.





Video Game Review: God of War (2018)

Video Game Review: Secret of Mana (PS4)

Nostalgia is a bitch.

And so it goes with SquareEnix releasing the Secret of Mana remake for PS4 and PSVita. From the announcement, I was very aware that this wasn’t going to be what everyone wanted it to be. I mean, come on, we’re talking modern SquareEnix here. With the occasional “update” showing off less than stellar voice acting, coupled with stiff gameplay, it was little surprise that this remake of Secret of Mana wasn’t so hot.

If you’re a fan of the Mana series, then you are completely aware just how abusive that relationship can be and how disappointment is just baked in these days. Even with the same director, Koichi Ishii, at the helm of most of franchise, the Manaverse isn’t really that good outside of Secret of Mana and Seiken Densetsu 3. With this remake, the legacy continues unabated.

What struck me most about playing Secret of Mana was that, warts and all, it’s stupefyingly faithful in its adaptation. I wish I could say I found it endearing, but more found myself just being stymied as to the “Why?” of it.


Why go through all the effort to maintaining the stiff, rigid nature of the movement from the old game? Every time I would saddle up to an NPC, I would have to wait for the entire party to slot in to place. When I would use the cannon service to move about the world, I would have to watch the rigid; 90 degree based grid movement as the party marched up the stares and then glided in to the cannon. The shopkeepers, who looked to just be jigging about in the old game, have been given updated animations that look like they’re having seizures and shitting their pants. Moreover, so many more just baffle the mind!

The game is sold as being “lovingly” crafted from the ground up, but I don’t think anyone would have been too upset that the characters moved about freely, hell, they adjusted the combat to be 360 degree movement instead of the stiff cardinal direction based of old. Outside of combat and interacting with NPC’s the game still maintains the fluidity of the old game, and in some cases adds to it, making it feel fresh…like you’d think a remake should.

But some of the decisions made in this game are mind-boggling!


The Action Grid, something the old game used to help mitigate the horrid nonplayer AI, is reduced to a fistful of options that do nothing to help those who wish to play Secret of Mana solo. In addition to this, the AI is much stupider in the remake, meaning you have a lot more of that classic babysitting to do if you want to have a good time. If you don’t tell your AI companions what to do, they’ll just chill out and stare at the wall or something.

In what you would think was an olive branch to modernization, an autosave function is introduced. It’s in the playing of the game, and the numerous times it crashes, that you realize that the feature was introduced as a lazy stopgap, instead of fixing and addressing the issues that cause the problem in the first place.

A lot talk around this game is the nostalgia-fueled disappointment that it’s not the Secret of Mana we all remember. Which is valid, and I empathize with those like Game Informer’s Kimberly Wallace, who talked about the fond memories she had playing the game multiplayer with her grandpa. I too, have a similar story, playing through the entirety of the game with my babysitter, back when the game came out. But there was a lot more surrounding the game than just the fun multiplayer of the game.


In fact, it’s been in the recent years replaying of the game that I discovered that Secret of Mana just isn’t a good solo JRPG experience, and I’d dare add that I think a lot of people that would play it multiplayer today would find it a bit…lacking. Because the game was of a time, and for a lot of us, myself included, it was the first JRPG we ever got a hold of that didn’t bore the shit out of us or bulldoze us with mechanics and game systems too dense for adolescent comprehension.

If I recall at the time, Nintendo Power ran a hybrid third person narrative/strategy guide that really fleshed out the gappy, threadbare plot of the game and gave the player some direction in a game largely devoid of it. In later years, we would learn of Secret of Mana’s storied development and how much of it had to be scrapped to fit on a tiny SNES cart instead of the CD based system it was planned for. You could also say a rushed English translation didn’t help things either.

Multiplayer RPG’s have also come a long way, and when you have something like the Diablo series out there to take the place of something like a Secret of Mana, going backwards just doesn’t scratch that itch anymore. Especially considering how even this remake includes the late game obtuse difficulty spike.


Again, the decision-making on display leaves a lot to be desired. Building the game from the ground up, SqaureEnix could’ve balanced out the entire gameplay experience. Instead, they do that here and there with some of the enemies, namely the werewolves that would mercilessly kick your ass all over the place if you weren’t careful. Now, they present little issue, meanwhile the Chobin Hoods remain the most lethal ass snipers in all the land…growing even more proficient with the addition of total 360 degree movement.

Then again, it’s hard to judge just how well balanced the game really is. I regularly play through Secret of Mana every so often and know its wrinkles and bullshit well. With the new game being a one-to-one remake, I breezed through bosses and enemies like it weren’t no thing. Even assholes like the Spiky Tiger, which was a hell of wall in the old game, presented absolutely no challenge.

I don’t envy SquareEnix when they decided to remake Secret of Mana, but I wonder whom they were aiming the games release at. Old gamer fogies like me? I absolutely had no problem forking over the ridiculous $40 asking price, because I love Secret of Mana and wanted to see just how badly SqaureEnix would mangle it. Then they just literally remade it, warts and all, and I can’t be too upset about it. Though I do wish the game didn’t look and feel so cheaply made and rushed. But what can you expect from modern day SquareEnix, tender love and care for their old games and their respective fan bases?

Nevertheless, I do wonder what the kids these days think about the game. They hear legends from the olds about how revolutionary Secret of Mana was, and at the time, it was absolutely true. Robbed of that context, and most of the modernization a remake would likely bring, they surely can’t be that impressed with what ma and pa gamer were prattling on about.



Video Game Review: Secret of Mana (PS4)

The Best of 2017

2017 was a stellar year for entertainment of all kinds! So much so that narrowing down a list to just a scant few seemed impossible, but here it is.


Transformers: The Last Knight

I don’t know if this movie broke my mind, or some earlier film did so, but I thoroughly enjoyed the fifth Transformers movie way more than any human possibly could have. Typically, when I participate in the summer blockbuster season, I take my brain out and just enjoy the flashing lights and loud sounds. No movie before has been that and so much more! This is also coupled with my new “coping mechanism” for dealing with movies these days: “Fuck you, that’s why!” This answer covers any question that your pitiful human brains desire for filmic competency and linear structure may come up with. This mechanism is applicable to all movies as well as one with such greatness as Transformers: The Last Knight.

Why is there a protracted King Arthur scene, nay other film narrative all up in the beginning of this movie? Fuck you, that’s why! and they introduce a dope ass dragon Transformer! Because…fuck you, that’s why! Why is Bumblebee fighting Nazi’s in a heretofore unexplained historical tinged flashback that would possibly retcon the entire “canon” of the films? Fuck you, that’s why!

Transformers: The Last Knight is Michael Bay at his finest, or at his worst, you can never really tell from one frame of this movie to the next. All the elements of a Bay film are here: hot girls, sweet looking cars, loud noises, flashing lights, dumb plot that loosely  threads the disparate tax write-off location based elements together. That the movie then tries to place the entire Transformers films in to some sort of cinematic universe is itself as brazen and dumb as to actually be genius!


The Young Pope

There wasn’t a single television show this year that captured my entire being so much as The Young Pope. A ten-hour long foreign film that explores faith, humanity, tradition and mythology. Like most religions, it can be impenetrable to those who try to take on its singular elements without wholly giving over to its charms. Moreover, like most things that have to be taken on faith, The Young Pope cruelly refuses to answer the questions it poses or fails to even bother help you comprehend the larger picture its painting. Few shows demand patience and reward it like this show does, and that’s what makes it so great.

And to say nothing of just how beautifully shot the entire series is. The Young Pope is a visual powerhouse that delivers on how awe-inspiring Rome can be and why it is the seat of the Catholic Church. Jude Law is commanding in his role as the titular character and is supported by a great cast of known and unknown actors, with no real weak links to be found.


Super Mario Odyssey

In a surprising toss up between this and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey came out on top.

It was a revelation to me seeing as I’m not the biggest 3D Mario fan. I don’t actively hate  them, but have always found that I enjoyed Mario more in his 2D outings and less so when I was trying to jump on a goomba….a goomba of all things…and would misjudge by just a hair and get hit by it. On the other hand, this same misjudging would lead to a fall off a platform, and other frustrations that always kept me on the outside looking in on 3D Mario games.

And look, Super Mario Odyssey still had those frustrating elements that kept me from truly enjoying past 3D Marios, and I had a goodly amount of bullshit “not-my-fault” deaths, but I think the capturing element is what truly made me enjoy the game so much. It broke up the monotony of “Woo-hoo!”-ing, hopping and bopping my way as Mario, misjudged and mistimed leaps and all. The captured creatures and enemies broke up the gameplay in such a way that I was still Mario 80% of the time, but I didn’t get frustrated banging my head against a particularly trying element as I could usually capture a nearby enemy and find something else to do for a moment.

The game is expertly paced as well, with the lesser kingdoms not demanding much of your time, and none of them really commanding much in the way of collecting to move on from it to perhaps a better kingdom more worthy of exploring. I was pleasantly surprised time and time again by what Super Mario Odyssey had on offer and that there was plenty of platforming to be found, though I do wish the 2D platform sections were more plentiful and challenging instead of the delightful aperitif it more often turned out to be.


Final Fantasy Tactics

For years…nay decades I’ve always been one of those guys that would roll their eyes every single time a strategy-RPG would come out and those certain denizens of The Internets would cry that it wasn’t Final Fantasy Tactics (FFT)…and nothing ever would be…ever!

I’ve never been much of a Strategy-RPG man, but as I’ve gotten older, and presumably, more patient in my gaming tastes…not to mention how haphazard Japanese RPG’s can be these days, I decided to give FFT a turn.

Lucky for FFT that I have a hard rule for playing JRPG’s: play at least ten hours. That’s about the length of a typical JRPG “tutorial” and when the game finally trusts you to play it. FFT was no different, and in fact, at around the ten-hour mark it busts out one of the hardest skirmishes at Dorter Slums. I found it so hard I had to restart the entire game, play those early hours again, and was finally able to best it….barely.

After that point the game rarely stat checks you or offers much of a challenge, the only real difficulty coming from poor ally/enemy placement and wonky AI. By the time I finished the game I had a pain train team that was nigh unstoppable and dealt awesome damage so the end game and beyond offered nothing of note challenge wise. I can’t tell you if I actually got better at the game and its bullshit or the game stopped trying, but I never ran in to anything nearly as frustrating as the beginning dozen or so hours.

FFT boasts such a great, compelling story and gameplay that I’m surprised SquareEnix hasn’t remade it several thousand times. And woe be to you who wish to find something similar to play after you finish FFT as literally nothing compares…I have become one of those fans now!


Big Boi: Boomiverse

Here is I was lamenting the sad state of hip-hop when Big Boi heard my cries for a fresh modern romp through the dirty south and released Boomiverse this past summer.

In a time when rap is apparently just mumbling over a beat during the third verse of a female pop singers umpteenth diss song, or just making noises, Boomiverse is a throwback to a time where rappers spit about real shit that mattered: big booty‘s, money and sex!

Tracks like “Chocolate”, “Freakonomics” and “Kill Jill” were truly great and I even found “Mic Jack” to be awesome even though Adam Levine shows up to try and ruin it.

I hardly ever find an album worth of extolling come years end but Big Boi’s third solo outing was too excellent not to say something about it.



The Best of 2017

Culture Review: Justice League

That I didn’t even know that Justice League was set to release upon the masses until about two weeks out should inform you to my “Hot Take™”. Look, I’m a nerdy white guy in my mid-30’s, of course I am compelled to unfurl my Hot Take™! I did not do my due diligence in reading reviews or giving a shit as to when the movie was coming out. I honestly thought it was going to be like next March or something! After Suicide Squad, I swore to the Batman on high that I would only watch movies with him in them. Which meant I still had to see Suicide Squad, which was a very big harbinger of things to come in the…DCEU?

I skipped Wonder Woman earlier this year because I don’t care about Wonder Woman, and was done doing my capitalist duty of “voting with my dollar”. It looked dumb, derivative and devoid of anything that would compel me to see it…and I was right. A recent viewing led to more head scratching as I saw nothing in the film that was being heralded as this giant turn around for the DCEU. Instead, it was just the plot of Captain America: The First Avenger, but with Wonder Woman in it.

This is also compounded by the notion that the DCEU is apparently the whipping boy for critics and their collective derision of superhero movies and Zack Snyder in particular. The same derision is extended to the likes of Michael Bay. It’s not without merit, but I’ve hardly found myself siding with critics any reviewers of any kind recently.


Far from reviewing a piece of media…criticism these days is just an essay on the personal relationship a critic has with said media. I don’t get a nuance take on the film or why it’s found wanting or worthy of the one-and-a-HALF start review with text that doesn’t really back it up. I read a chunk of text, seen through the prism of whatever bugaboo the writer has and nothing more.

Of course, a feminist social justice flavored critic isn’t going to like the way that Gal Gadot is objectified in the film. Not even bothering to give examples, it’s just in there you guys…believe it! So much so that I humored the reviewer and looked for these nebulous male gaze fountain shots in the film. I guess that scene where Wonder Woman’s ass is framed in the foreground as she waits for Bruce Wayne from above her to deplane is one of the many culprits? I was even on the look out for the obvious camera pan from her ankles all the way up her leg to her ass then her boobs and then her face shotnothing. I mean, I am a man after all so my objectivity glasses aren’t up to par…but that I wasted any of my time trying to suss out said scenes shows just how inept our current critical class is.

Then you have the movie nerds, who with microscopic film vision, can somehow tell which scenes in the film have the weird Superman upper lip nonsense going on. In addition, they can tell with maximum assuredness which scenes were Zack Snyder flavored and which ones where Joss Whedon. No lies! It’s like they’re an insider or something…and were there or something…instead of…reality in which they weren’t and that aside from that pic Superman’s face that has been made a meme couldn’t tell you which Superman lip was CGI-ed or not!


Moreover, what of the box office floppingness of the whole damn thing! The fact that the movie would need to clear three quarter of a billion dollars to break even is just plain silly. That it only made $90 million in its first weekend…DOOM! Well…DARKSEID!!!!
That speaks more to the absurd stakes of modern movie making…where an average superhero movie clearing the production budget of literally every other non-superhero movie in the calendar year is seen as a flop.

What’s more demoralizing is that Justice League was trying so hard to sprinkle some Marvel magic onto itself and play with the big kids, when what it was doing was just fine.

Yeah, maybe it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but there are more people like me out there that appreciated the darker tone that Zack Snyder was infusing in to the DCEU. Was it an odd fit for Superman…kind of…but what can you do in the 21st century to add wrinkle to a character like that? Really? Even the notion of saving Lois Lane all the time is absurdly dated…but that’s about all she’s good for…as the movies have borne out. Why not give him a little edge?

Most of us knew that Man of Steel was the aperitif of what Snyder really wanted to get up to….The Batman. And what titillated a nerd like me was that he was seemingly fan of the Frank Miller old ass bemuscled refrigerator box with a bat cowl Batman, who gave zero shits and beat the shit out of everyone. What’s not to love?



Nevertheless, all the doom and gloom of the Snyder DCEU wasn’t palatable…to some? I don’t know why Justice League is such a retread of the Marvel magic I guess we all love apparently? It’s a bummer! While not as cloying or uninteresting as the two Avengers movies…Justice League has a little too much Whedon twee bullshit in it. Everyone has a quip, there’s humanizing “comedy” scenes that are most definitely the accursed reshoots mumbled about on The Internets just sort of jammed in here and there. There’s about as much time with the heroes out of costume as in…and for some reason…a Zack Snyder film is constrained to an under two-hour run time. Yet, it works.

The movie also clearly needed more time in the oven. The CGI, while not as aggressively horrible as it is in most Marvel movies, isn’t up to par. In particular, a scene where Cyborg turns to his right to shout some lines looked super bad. Here’s hoping that patch that up before a home release.

That all being said, if you’re just going to copy The Avenger template you can’t help but not do better the third time round, right? The main villain is vaguely less forgettable than any other Marvel bad guy. The villainous ubiquitous minions of the film can absorb host bodies and double their numbers…or seemingly, there are plenty with which to give our heroes something to do. Hell, there’s an even a small family in the middle of the “showdown area” that you can…root for?…and ultimately saved by the heroes. Mercifully, there aren’t many scenes of the Justice League posed butt-to-butt quipping about some plan of action or other vague bullshit “Hey, let’s wait for Superman to get here and sort this out” scene.


That’s the true letdown of Justice League: it transcends in to the same vanilla ass cookie cutter nonsense as the Marvel superhero movies. Well, now they at least have discovered neon what with Guardians of the Galaxy allowing them to go a little weird because it focus tested “Okay” with dumdums. At least with Zack Snyder the DCEU had an aesthetic and voice. The films in it were of the same ilk as the ones that came before it: they were films with superheroes in them, not superhero movies. The reason that the Tim Burton and Chris Nolan Batman movies stand the test of time is that they are films primarily. The Marvel movies are going to be the ubiquitous 90’s action movies that become cable filler. You don’t need to have watched any of them to understand them…they make loud noises and flash bright colors at you and end. That’s why you can’t name more than two Marvel movie directors…because they don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. There’s no vision and the only cohesion is the tone and color palette from movie to movie. Socket in superhero, socket in villain, socket in watered down narrative from comic books, socket in vague connective tissue to extended universe. Press print button.

My Hot Take™ is the DCEU’s only problem is executive malfeasance from Warner Bros. It’s what jammed up Suicide Squad last year, kicked in Wonder Woman a little earlier this year and did a bang up of job neutering Justice League. For good…or for ill WB should stand by its creators and let them hash it out. Why try to copy Marvel? They took the time to establish this juggernaut extended universe and they flushed a goodly amount of turds along the way. Making Justice League look and feel like any other Marvel movie isn’t a corrective it’s injurious.


Culture Review: Justice League

Movie Review: Logan

Just how low is the bar for comic book movies when something like Logan comes along and is lauded as some great and wonderful thing, when it’s just as turgid and banal as most of the X-Men movies its pretending not to be?

Logan eschews the Wolverine moniker that’s been stapled to these Hugh Jackman led films about the titular hero and his mutant rage induced deeds across time. I guess this is a nod in the change of “tone”, the hard “R” rating that allows to show all that glorious Wolverine carnage and allow actors to say “Fuck!” or “Shit!”. Yep, pretty much it. Oh, and a lady shows her boobs in a scene. Hooray…and totally worth it.

20th Century Fox looked to give Logan a wide a berth possible by just calling the film Logan. If it fails, then it won’t do much to the stellar X-Men film franchise. But if it does succeed, we can now go on to this heretofore unknown realm of a “R-rated” superhero films? If they are as boring, bland and cliché ridden as this film, then I’ll pass.

Logan has peak and valley pacing that makes itself quickly apparent, on top of it’s trope-addled script and hamfisted nostalgia boner churning you’d come to expect from a comic book movie.

The cliché train barely pulls out of the station as we’re introduced to Wolverine, now just Logan I guess, visibly older and riddled with movie cancer (coughing up blood every two minutes). Apparently his sweet adamantium covered bones are poisoning him and since he’s older now, can’t quite heal fast enough. But that’s cool, he wants to die anyways.

In the mean time though, he’ll be a chauffer.

It is during one of these driving gigs he is accosted by a woman who wants to enlist Logan’s help. What’s that help you ask? Well, she wants Logan to take a feral little girl named “Laura” (Dafne Keen) to some place called Eden. Meanwhile, a bad guy with a robot arm (Boyd Holbrook) wants Laura returned to the evil scientists or the bigger bad more like. Basically the same old X-Men story we’ve seen again and again, and then Logan adds in clichés and tropes from other movies, cobbling together something different, but not altogether good.

Not that liberally borrowing tone and pacing from other films is necessarily a bad thing. But it becomes tedious when viewing Logan, the quiet moments are there for some sort of resonance that is never earned. Putting a like-minded little girl in a film doesn’t suddenly make Wolverine more relatable. Making them father/daughter less so. Adding some sort of old man wisdom fueled all knowing “familial love is the best” subtext with having Professor X (Patrick Stewart) be some sort of father figure to Logan and also this sheppard of “Logan is actually a good guy” doesn’t cement that notion anymore.


More damningly is that Logan resides in this meta-universe where X-Men comics are a thing, and that the movie is basically ripping off the classic western Shane. Some would say “quoting” or “referencing”, but I get the idea that the filmmakers thought the comic book nerds and young people would have no real reference so “quote” away! Logan leans heavily on this “last of his type””part of a dying breed” trope so hard, that the notion that an old man and a little girl can “fix him what right” so absurd in the first place.

It’s where I start chaffing with the whole kid and old man element of the film. Perhaps I’ve just grown too cynical and I am beyond tired of comic book movies no matter what they try to stand apart from others in the “genre”. I preferred the direction the last Wolverine film, The Wolverine, over this one.

Director James Mangold mistakes slow and turgid with expansive and engaging. Thinking that if he just holds the camera in tight on an emotional scene with swelling orchestral music that that somehow deepens the film on something it never earned to begin with.


The “R”-rating allowed visceral elements of Logan get washed away by their utter frequency and sameness. This is doubly so if you’ve been following the X-Men film franchise, wherein Wolverine is wedged in to every one of them to…well…Wolverine his way through a scene. Seeing blood spatter and limbs fly is effective once, but over and over and over…on top of adding a young clone Wolverine and “Laura” a little girl Wolverine type to the mix, just makes it tedious. Then add gun fights and children with super powers being chased by men in black fatigues and body armor, you got yourself a classic, boring ass X-Men movie!

This has been a problem 20th Century Fox has had with it’s comic book movies, they’ve been safe. Even the much lauded Deadpool was mired in telling an origin story and added a lover interest to make the character…more relatable? This “R” rating has done nothing to elevate either Logan or Deadpool. It’s allowed a freedom of sorts, but the most part its been squandered adding more blood and potty mouthed characters.

What’s even more alarming is that the Metacirtic user score for Logan is 9.0.…what the shit? Well, I guess the masses have spoken.


Logan doesn’t transcend the comic book movie in to real movie excellence, regardless of its efforts to the contrary. The film is well acted, and shot beautifully, but that’s about the extent of it. The films up and down pace grows tiring after the second fight scene in to third quiet driving scene shows up. The grounded film making only works if the character on study is worth investing in. Wolverine as a character in the comic has plenty of that to draw readers in, the film version of him does not. There appears to be a purposeful drawing away from X-Men references to ground the film in realism, so there’s one Jean Grey reference, but no real reference to the last film and the things Logan went through in that one…let alone X:Men Origins and the other twelve times Wolverine showed up some where.

Just giving Wolverine “movie cancer”, lifting plots of classic westerns and tasking him to takecare of an old man and a kid just isn’t enough. Having him learn a life lesson just as he’s about to die isn’t either. That being said, it isn’t the worst of the X-Men film franchise and I wait with breathless anticipation for a new actor to be cast as Wolverine and the eventual relinquishment of rights back to Marvel so they can just reboot the whole damn thing.

Movie Review: Logan

Movie Review: Star Trek Beyond

It seems like every couple of years an executive at Paramount Studios looks over the books, sees that they are a few hundred million dollars light of easy money, and then proceeds to green light another Star Trek movie. That is about as passionless all of these modern day Star Trek movies have felt. Top that off with franchise janitor extraordinaire J.J. Abrams and his cadre of Orci, Kurtzman, and Lindelof, and you are guaranteed some success at the box office.

Nevertheless, it is in that Abramsization that a lot of the soul of the Star Trek series was washed away in lieu of a glossy sheen, vacuous scripts, weak villains and lots and lots and lots of lens flare. Star Trek Beyond attempts to transcend that with a new director Justin Lin and a script by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, and it largely succeeds.

Gone is the egregious lens flare, the extreme close ups of peoples faces for no real reason, the glossiness of the future is toned down, and there’s actual Star Trek in a Star Trek movie instead of a bland action movie dancing around in a skin of stitched together Star Trek tropes and the other (better) movie plots stealing nonsense.

In addition, no Spock ex machina to be found! Hooray!st1Sadly, it all seems a bit too little too late, as aside from what was stated earlier, there’s largely nothing here on display either. Star Trek Beyond is the kind of summer movie that you see and then as you’re walking out of the theater is slowly leaves your brain. Therefore, when you decide to reflect on it, or hell, even try to recommend it to someone, there’s nothing noteworthy to say about it. Which is great for a movie in the summertime, but not so much if you’re a Trek fan?

However, that’s been the issue with this entire crop of modern day Star Trek movies, they’re largely empty affairs that are only meant to keep the Star Trek franchise name relevant and nothing more.

If you’re the kind of Star Trek fan that loves masturbatory shots of the Enterprise, you’ll find much to love about Beyond, as there are several shots lovingly draped around the ship as it docks, and later on, rebuilt. There’s also a fair amount of space action, but it’s largely one-sided affairs with the villain possessing a hive-like swarm of ships at his command that are meant to overwhelm and destroy, not hang out and chit-chat with humans.

The acting continues to be the strongest part of this franchise as by now all the actors have their parts down, and what I suspect a lttle nuance, with Chris Pine affecting a little Shatner in his captain logs. Keith Urban’s accent is still a little all over the map, and I swore I heard him try a little southern in an end scene. Idris Elba falls in to the age’s long Star Trek trap of trying to act around a lot of makeup and mouth prostheses that make his lines indiscernible at times.st2Elba is fairly standard as the movies antagonist, Krall, an entity bent on destroying Starfleet Academy for betraying him long ago. His primary point in the plot is to serve as a duality with Captain Kirk’s own burgeoning dissolution in the idea of his five-year captaining of the mission he is currently on. Days are blurring together, the alien races are unfriendly to the notion of Starfleet’s goal of planetary unity and he decides to apply for a vice admiral opening. This even goes to the hilarious symbolic heights of an end fight between Kirk and Krall who is wearing a yellow uniform top. This would be something worth knocking the film for had the last film not had that ham-handed Kahn scene.


At a little over two hours, Beyond moves at a good clip, but still maintains its Star Trekyness in a sort of shorthand. Beautiful actresses in alien makeup, some macguffin that will do cataclysmic damage to something important, Captain Kirk self-sacrifice nonsense, Spock wet blanketing, Bones curmudgeon grumbling through scenes, Scotty bungling through cramped spaces, you get the idea. Nevertheless, that it stays compelling and not bog down the film is a credit to Justin Lin’s deft hand at directing.

I do hope that Simon Pegg and Doug Jung have a bigger hand in the scripts going forward, which looks to not be the case currently. Pegg and Jung were able to sprinkle just a little more Star Trek in to the modern day franchise that has been sorely lacking.

The more tired elements of the film are more a modern day movies problem than the films. Too many movie fights are the same tired martial arts laden affairs that are just there to provide “action” or make a character look “badass” or some other nonsense that fits poorly in the Star Trek franchise. Sulu is given more “dimensionality” by being gay now, which is somewhat useless and serves no real plot point. It perhaps giving the film stakes as his family lives on the station that Krall is going to destroy isn’t bothered with or even mentioned by the character. Just a picture of a little girl on the console and a couple of shots of Sulu’s husband running around looking scared as it is beset by Krall’s minions is it.st3In fact, a lot of the drama and deeper plot elements set forth in the first moments of the film are quickly jettisoned in favor of the main thrust of Krall’s plan and the action therein, never to be heard from again. Perhaps the next movie will pick those up for further examination? Probably not.

Star Trek Beyond isn’t nearly as flashy as its predecessors are, but it’s certainly just as entertaining in addition to being much more of a “Star Trek” movie. Justin Lin is proving to be a fantastic director with an ability to bring a clean action movie aesthetic (ridding the modern day Star Trek franchise of it’s glossy extreme close-ups and nausea educing shaky cam action), and still allow quieter moments to resonate in the film. Here’s to another three-year wait for the inevitable sequel.

Movie Review: Star Trek Beyond

Movie Review: Ghostbusters (2016)

I was never going to like Ghostbusters, but not because of all the reasons stated on social media why a person like me wouldn’t like it: ‘cuz there’s women all up in it, that all four Ghostbusters were women, and on and on. Once I really think about it, who wouldn’t love this movie? Everyone just loves being told how to appreciate or approach a piece of pop culture, be it a movie, piece of music or art. The best ways are always the most linear ways!

I knew I wasn’t going to like Ghostbusters from the moment Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy were attached. That match made in cinema heaven has been tops with the mouth breathing moviegoers for the past five years or so. I didn’t care for The Heat or Spy when I saw their respective trailers, and when the Ghostbusters trailer descended upon my eyeballs earlier this year it played out the same way. I also initially avoided Bridesmaids for the same reason; until enough good word of mouth got out that I watched it very later on.


Paul Feig’s movies aren’t just for me, and I acknowledge this. Nevertheless, what about when he comes to Nostalgiatown and starts another mine colony in my childhood? Can I not then voice that I would rather he didn’t and just keep making insipid “White bitch bumps in to shit and falls over” “comedies” without being labeled a misogynistic asshole?


For me, watching Ghostbusters was more a social experiment than anything else was. How bad could it be? Well…not that bad.

Not because it’s not a mediocre movie, which it is profoundly so, it just hearkens back to the idea that I’ve floated many times in my reviews: there just aren’t all out bad movies being made anymore.

Hollywood isn’t in to experimenting to the hundreds of million dollars level, and there is no way that any movie being made these days is going to be handled ineptly or incompetently. Movie studious aren’t in the habit of just handing a movie over to someone who just “feels like” making a movie. So, movies these days are at least competently made.

As a reviewer, you then have to look at other areas of the film. That’s where the bulk of critique, at least for me, falls on the script, then the flow of the film, and finally the acting. Ghostbusters tries to be clever all coming out in the summer trying to negate its vacuous plot. This goes further in that if it’s indeed a “summer blockbuster” it is certainly lacking in the BIFF! BANG! POW! Of your standard summer fare. However, that’s because Paul Feig notoriously doesn’t direct action well.

Which is the largest problem I have with Ghostbusters: it just hangs around….talking. Which, to the films credit is to Paul Feig’s directing strength. But there’s a lot of static jibber-jabber scenes that clog up the films run time and really do nothing aside from allowing some of the most egregious product placement since the last Michael Bay movie. A pizza break prominently features a couple of gigantic Papa John’s boxes, Kevin’s (Christ Hemsworth) interview where he shows them potential logos houses a 7-Eleven gag, there’s a Twinkie ad later in the film with the caption “That’s a big…”, and so on. Yeah sure, this isn’t some new fangled concept of blatant product placement, but I don’t think I’ve ever beheld it being so loud and in your face before.

Ghostbusters is that kind of broad modern day comedy that spends more time reflecting on how funny it is and the characters making note of it. As if the screenwriters were unsure of a bit and needed to indulge in a script based self high-five. There are a few times were characters literally say, “That’s funny.” to a joke.

Oh yeah, the ONE scene where the actually bust a ghost!

There’s also this odd thing that the movie does where it will cut to what is apparently going to be an improv scene, typically involving McCarthy and Wiig banally riffing, then it will cut right back in to the scene as if nothing happened. It’s really odd and it feels like something that could’ve been cut out of the film altogether.

For a movie pretending to be a “summer blockbuster” Ghostbusters takes it sweet time about things. Clocking in at nigh on two hours, it feels padded with the aforementioned “improv scenes”, needless cameos (an Ozzy Osbourne cameo…in2016!), and weird little side scenes that really do nothing for the film.

One in particular would be when the “bad guy” Rowan (Neil Casey) possesses Kevin and uses “ghost magic” to make a police force lock itself in to some sort of goofy poses. Why? It serves no real purpose, other than to give Matt Walsh and Michael Kenneth Williams more screen time. On top of this, those officers were surely crushed when Rowan turns in to a giant evil Ghostbusters logo. Nope, they’re fine, even one of the troops on a tank kept position throughout the entire decimation of New York! Ghost magic must be a hell of a thing!

The bad guy!

Speaking of Rowan, what a turd of a character. Basically a mysoginerd hell-bent on “cleansing” the world because he has been picked on all his life. The film just blatantly tells us he’s creepy. He’s always addressed as being weird, creepy or a freak, but there’s nothing outside of that that would support those claims. If anything, Rowan is just a dick that just so happens to also hate women, but that is also inconclusive, as he apparently hates all humanity with the same passion.

When he turns in to a giant evil Ghostbusters logo, after a sorry nod to the “choose the form of your destroyer” from the original film, the Ghostbusters shoot him in the crotch to get him to let go of a some buildings and get sucked back in to…ghost world? Why? You could just shoot him in the face to get the same effect?! The characters even reference this notion with Patty (Leslie Jones) saying something along the lines of that’s where they were “supposed to aim”. Yet again, this is the type of movie comedy they chose to make.

Ghostbusters could’ve been a better film had it not tread in the ground of all the reboots and remakes before it. It doesn’t try to really stand on its own. The all-female thing is apparently the only true fresh take it had in its arsenal. It falls in to the reboot/remake trap of trying to wink and nod to fans of the original with throwaway gags and references (oh look a bust of Egon in a scene!) instead of trying to stand on its own. The script cannot decide if the characters address each other by their last names, as they did in the original film, or by their first names. There’s a dizzying vacillation in the film, and it seems as though the movie just needed one more pass before filming to make the references fit better.

Ghostbusters isn’t a horrible dogshit social justice pushing agenda film. It’s a Paul Feig movie which if that is what his films mean these days I guess the haters were right. It’s a summer film for the mouth breathers, like the ones in the audience at my viewing, who are eagerly anticipating the cameos, and clapped and cheered at the end credits. There’s a better movie in there somewhere, but we’ll never see it. Hopefully, the inevitable sequel will be able to stand on its own better now that it has done its poor imitation dance of the original.

Movie Review: Ghostbusters (2016)