Sunday, August 17, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy Review

When Guardians of the Galaxy was announced, people were skeptical. Was Marvel really going to put out a superhero movie about a group of characters no one had ever heard of, including a talking raccoon and a sentient tree? Directed by a small name director? Starting the bumbling character from Parks and Rec? I kept seeing articles pop up all over asking if this would be Marvel's first true bomb. But then footage was released, and people loved it. The trailer came out, and the average public took notice. People saw a film with wit and charm. When it finally opened, it smashed August records. It did business almost equal to Captain America: The Winter Solider. And critics LOVED it.

There's so much to love about this film. It both fits in perfectly with the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but still feels like something drastically different and fresh. Right off the bat we're given a quick emotional scene that plants the seeds for the strong emotional core of the film. We see young Peter Quill lose his mother to cancer, then get whisked off by aliens. Jump to an Indiana Jones-like scene where grown up Quill is looking through some ruins while dancing to music playing through his Walkman. These two scenes set up the tone and the feel of what's to come perfectly. Director James Gunn makes a fantastic decision to link this Walkman and cassette tape playing in it to his dead mother, really defining his character quickly, while giving some the film to have a reason to have such and awesome, old-school soundtrack.

From there, our motley crew of heroes crosses paths with each other, than eventually comes together for a common cause. Each person in the group gets their chance to shine. While Gamora and Drax seem to have similar motivations, they do a nice job of differentiating them. The real scene stealers of the film are the two that people were most skeptical about: Groot and Rocket. It is such an achievement that they created two completely CG characters that are voiced by well known actors and made unique characters. If I wouldn't have known, I would have never guessed they were voiced by Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper. They have such a unique bond, and both are given time to have some really emotional moments. The whole arc of these rouges finding the heroism inside of them is nothing that hasn't been seen before, but everyone involved pulls it off perfectly.

On the villains' side of the film, the characters aren't quite as strong, but the performances are all solid. Lee Pace in particular really brings it to the role. Ronan the Accuser's motivations don't differ too much from those of Malekith in Thor: The Dark World, they both essentially just want to destroy things on a massive scale with some crazy, mystical artifact, but Pace really digs into the role and gives it the appropriate level of menace, while still leaving room for some comedic beats. It's also nice to see a little glimpse of Thanos' role in the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe. We know he was pulling the strings in Loki's attacks during The Avengers, but it's great to start to fill him in a bit more. It's very satisfying to see that Marvel has the patience to play the long game with Thanos (I was as surprised as other when they announced UltronI as the villain of Avengers 2 rather than Thanos), and I'm confident they know how to make this all pay off in the end.

I really can't think of anything I didn't like about this film. It's familiar, yet fresh; brisk, yet emotional, everything you could want from a blockbuster film. This is going to be some little kid's "Star Wars." Rocket and Groot will be his or her Han and Chewie. That's how big this film is. It's hard for me to say if this is my favorite Marvel film, because they are all finding a way of telling awesome stories in completely different genres. I would definitely say this one is in my top three. I was a little skeptical that Marvel announced another Guardians movie so quickly, as I thought it would be better to have them show up in someone else's movie (or maybe just swoop in to save the day at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron), but the cosmic corner of universe they've created here is so rich, and does a great job of fleshing out a lot of the things in the background of the other Marvel films. I feel like I'm getting repetitive by saying "I can't wait to see where it goes from here," but I really can't. Marvel is on fire, and I'm excited to see what they do with other properties, such as Dr. Strange. MAKE MINE MARVEL!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Snowpiercer Review

Right when I heard about this film I was excited about it, and boy did the Weinsteins make it a challenge to see it. This film is the English language debut of Bong Joon-Ho, director of the excellent monster film The Host. It's already been released in Korea and did great business, but for whatever reason, the Weinsteins wanted to cut the film by about 20 minute for American release. Luckily the director stuck to his guns, but the trade off was that the movie got a very limited release.

Luckily for me, part of the small release also meant that it was released on VOD at the same time as it was in the theatres. This was my first time renting a film in this way, and I really enjoyed it. While I would have much rather seen this on the big screen, it was great to be able to experience this film while it was new despite not being in a big market.

After all that hype and hoopla, did the film live up to its promise? I believe it did 100%. The film follows the passengers aboard the last train on Earth, carrying the all that remains of humanity after mankind's attempts to curb global warming causes a new Ice Age. The train is organized by class, with the lower class being crowded into the back cars, while the upper class live in luxury in the front section. The allegory is pretty simple, but the film uses some really wonderful world building to really flesh out the concept. While it may not be a completely believable scenario, the whole thing obeys its own logic and the weirdness of the train gives the film a surreal feel that enhances the atmosphere. The tone the film strikes is one of the strongest elements of the film. It manages to be dark and disturbing while still being a bit wacky and funny at times, all without making the tonal shifts feel out of place. Bong Joon-Ho did the same type of thing in The Host, and I think it works even better in this film.

I think that the strongest element of this film is the plot pacing. Snowpiercer does a fantastic job of withholding details from the viewer then revealing them later, without feeling like a cop out. One particular scene really stands out about halfway through the film. The film also isn't afraid to kill off characters throughout, giving the movie an unpredictable nature. There are even a couple late stage twists that give some of the characters some much needed depth. A lot of the characters are kind of archetypes throughout, so I can't help but wonder if revealing some character twists a little earlier might have given the story a little more punch, but I'm perfectly fine with the way things played out.

Contrary to what the Weinsteins thought, I think that this movie may have actually benefited from expanding certain concepts a little bit more to really flesh things out. One of the antagonists in the film seems to have a strong connection to one of the characters, but it's never really explained exactly what's going on between them, or what his deal is. I also think that a little bit more focus on how the upper class actually lives (ie sleeps and works) would have really gone a long way in giving the world that last bit of detail that would really put it on another level.

Even though it wasn't pushed as such, this is exactly what I think a summer blockbuster should be. It's got a lot of creativity, creates an interesting world with something to say, and never forgets to be thrilling. Even though there is a bit of a message in the film, it always remembers that it's a movie that has to be engaging in order to deliver that message. The film is so exciting, but really sticks with you due the world it presents you with. I really hope other producers see the potential of Bong Joon-Ho, and he is given a lot more leeway with his next film, because he's earned it.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Top 10 iOS Games

This is one of the few strategy games that I've checked out for iOS. It's like a reverse version of the board game Pandemic. You control a virus, and get to help it evolve and spread throughout the world. You have to decide what you want the symptoms to be, how it spreads and so forth, all in reaction to the world around it. It's engaging, and a game doesn't take overly long to play.

If I remember correctly might have been the first game that I got for my iPod Touch. It's basically a sim game where you run a game development company. You hire programmers, artists, etc and make them work on whatever type of game you want. You have to decide what you consoles you want to work with, and how quickly you want to start working on them. It gets a bit repetitive later in the game, but the theme is so strong that I was drawn  to it despite its flaws.

One thing iOS really excels at is making games with really quick gameplay loops that are easy to learn, but tough to master. Super Hexagon is a zen level example of that genre. Basically all you do is try to rotate yourself through this shape maze, but it gets really tough, really quickly. It's one of those you really need to play to see what's special about it, because the gameplay is just about perfect.

This is interesting because it's essentially a board game created exclusively for a digital platform. It comes from Firaxis, who was responsible for the newest XCOM games, so it's got a really strong sense of strategy. You basically build a haunted house, then send monsters into the town to try to scare the villagers while your opponent does the same. There's a good amount of strategy to it in regards to the type of units you can build, and it's very fun throughout.

Endless runners are a huge deal on mobile devices, and this is one of the sharpest. You're an Indiana Jones type running through underground caves fighting off various monsters you encounter. The game has a ton of charm, and there's enough things for you to get to continuously upgrade your character as you play. It's quirky sense of humor really makes it easy to come back to over and over.

This is the type of game I was hoping existed when I started playing iOS games. It takes complete advantage of the system it plays on and wouldn't play the same in another form. The game is basically a text adventure, but that sells it short quite a bit. You scroll through the text of the story, and it acts like a maze you are navigating. Sometimes you pick with direction you go first, often causing you to flip the actual iPhone as you are doing so. There are also a good amount of visuals throughout. You progress through the game by solving puzzles, the kind of old school puzzles that you need a pen and paper to solve. I haven't finished the game, but it's an absolutely refreshing experience that reminds me of the first time I read House of Leaves.

Another perfect gameplay loop type game. The game basically has three portions to each round. First, you cast your line and send your fishing hook down. While you are doing this, you try to dodge all the fish around you. Once you hit one, you start to reel it in. During this portion, you try to touch as many fish as you can to pull them up. And when your hook reaches the surface, they all get tossed up in the air. At this point, you have to shoot them out of the sky. It's massively entertaining, and there are enough things to buy in the game that make you get progressively better as you continue to play. It's an absolute blast to play.

This is the endless runner to end all endless runners. You just keep going, trying to avoid all the traps in the facility by flying up and down the screen with your jetpack. There are also some really cool vehicles you can get that give you different advantages throughout. Again, with the money you earn while playing you can buy upgrades, both gameplay and cosmetic, to give the game more variety.

Another great sim game, this one coming from the good folks at Double Fine. Basically you are the guy who coordinates a Justice League type superhero team. You hire heroes, send them out to do heroic things, like saving a bus full of children or fighting off robbers. There are different sections of the city that you can progress through, each with a different villain storyline involved with them. It's a lot of fun, and the theme works perfectly in the game. I wish there was still some new content coming out for the game, as I tore through it all quickly.

This game is a fully developed RPG that plays out entirely on iOS. The theme is that you are a group of people playing D&D, and the battles you see play out are the story you guys are playing. It's one of the few iOS games that I've really paid attention to the story. The game progresses at a great pace, though it does ramp up quite a bit towards the end. The battle system is amazingly solid, and the amount of character combinations you can create is amazing. I can't stress enough how fun this game is, providing a wonderful old school RPG experience in such a small little package.

Honorable Mentions: Dead Space, Plants vs Zombies 2, Papa Sangre II, Organ Trail, Hearthstone, Republique

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Constants and Variables: A Look Back at the Bioshock Universe - Part 1

A little while ago, I finally caved and picked up the Season Pass for Bioshock Infinite in order to play Buried at Sea. With the completion of that DLC, I have now finished every (single player) piece of material that has been released in this franchise. Without a doubt Bioshock is one of my favorite all time franchises, and one that really shaped a lot of my ideas of what makes a good video game. With the recent break up of Irrational Studios (who made another one of my favorite games of all time - Freedom Force), I thought it would be a good chance to look back, game by game, on the series of Bioshock as a whole before Take Two decides what they want to do with the franchise.

I've written about this game before, but it's definitely worth talking about again. I feel like this game was really the first to give me that next gen experience I was looking for when I got a PS3. I had played Dead Space and Uncharted at that point, and while those were great games, I feel like Bioshock was really the first one where I thought it would something that was not only better in terms of graphical quality, but had also brought a next gen level of thinking that was rarely seen on the PS2. The art design of the worlds was spot on, creating one of the most visually compelling worlds ever, which also managed to be an intellectually compelling world as well. I had never seen a game that incorporated elements of philosophy and created such a well thought out and morally challenging world. This is also one of the first games I played where you made moral decision that effected how the game played out and how it ended. While it wasn't completely successful in making that choice really change the game (you really ended up with the same amount of ADAM no matter which you picked) nor was it successful in making it a particularly interesting moral one (should I brutally kill an innocent little girl to make myself more powerful or not?), it was nice to have something that started that conversation about including morality into gameplay in a way that was organic to the world of the game.

The narrative of this game also did an amazing job of really upping the ante for the new generation of consoles. While your main protagonist isn't well defined (purposely so in the beginning), the stories of the denizens of Rapture draw you in. I still remember running across the first 'boss,' a doctor who went crazy performing drastic surgeries on whoever he could get his hands on. It was chilling and completely believable within the context of Rapture. Then of course there's the incredibly memorable Sander Cohen, the mad artist who made works of art from people. But there is rarely a video game moment that is more impactful than the big twist of the game. The way the infamous "Would you kindly?" scene plays out is one of the most masterful in the medium, and says some amazing things about the nature of the medium itself. Granted, the game's finale doesn't ever live up to this moment, but I guess it was trapped by the constraints of the medium as well and felt the need to give us a big dumb boss battle. That in no way detracts, in my opinion, from the overall power of the narrative, but it would have been something to really see them bring that game to a stronger close. I actually do think that the 'good' ending of the game where you end up setting the Little Sisters free is incredibly compelling and does a good job of engaging the player emotionally.

There's also just something so iconic about the image of the Big Daddy and the Little Sister that speaks to Bioshock's power. Seeing those menacing creatures for the first time, sullenly following and protecting the tragic Little Sisters is such a powerful sight. It was also a very interesting choice for you to be able to decide whether or not you wanted to engage the Big Daddy or just let them walk away. That decision went a long way to making you really believe that the world of Bioshock was something that would go on without you around.

I think this is the game in the series that I'm going to find myself have the most trouble talking about. It's not that I think that it's a bad game, I in fact like it more than most critic did. It's just that I don't find it particularly memorable. Part of what made the original Bioshock such a unique experience was that wonder of stepping into Rapture for the first time. Everything about it is a surprise, and everything excites you. With Bioshock 2, which I should note was not done by Irrational Games, you are just plopped back into the same world. Sure, you get to see new parts of the world and meet new characters, but none of them are as sharp as in the first one, and they certainly don't stick with you as much. It seems that some of the ideas that went into the making of the game were based on misconceptions about what made the first game work. This game cast you in the role of an early Big Daddy prototype, maybe based on the idea that people liked it when they got to put on the Big Daddy armor at the end of Bioshock? Part of what makes the first game so cool is that you are very underpowered compared to the Big Daddy's, and you have to think about your strategy in order to really beat them. In order to compensate for you being a Big Daddy, this time around the created the Big Sister, who was a Little Sister upgraded with Big Daddy technology that stalked you throughout the game to try to protect the Little Sisters. It was a neat idea, but really didn't feel as creative as it could have despite its mostly solid design.

While the story and environment didn't have the same spark as the first game, the gameplay got a big fine tuning. In the first one, you had to switch between using traditional weapons and using the plasmid powers, but in Bioshock 2, you could dual wield them, one in each hand, creating a smoother combat experience. This is something that Irrational would use when they returned to the franchise in Bioshock Infinite. The dual wielding really gives you greater options in combat and makes you think about the combinations of weapons you are using and how you can combine them effectively. Overall, while the game isn't as memorable as the original, the tighter gameplay combined with just enough of the magic of the original make this game a worthwhile experience, even if not a particularly memorable one. If you're a fan of the series and the world in general, then it's probably worth playing at some point.

Most critics that dismissed Bioshock 2 as not bringing anything new to the table were immensely surprised by the story DLC Minerva's Den. This game was developed by people that went on to create the critically acclaimed Gone Home, so there is a bit more focus on environmental storytelling and interesting twists and turns. You are once again a Big Daddy, but this time you are tasked with helping recover "The Thinker," an A.I. supercomputer that runs Rapture. One of the people who is assisting you over radio is the inventor, Charles Porter, who created the computer to try to emulate the personality of his deceased wife. By the end of the story, you discover that the Big Daddy you are playing as is Porter, who's memory has been wiped, and the voice on the radio is The Thinker itself, emulating you in order to better guide you to its own rescue. The game really capitalizes on the potential that DLC has to provide interesting side stories in already established worlds. While the gameplay continues to tighten up with a couple new plasmids and a few new enemies, the real achievement here is the story and how it is told. I was able to guess the twist by the clues planted, but only moments before it happened, which means they did a good enough job of foreshadowing it and hiding it just well enough.

With the Bioshock franchise now officially out of the hands of Ken Levine and Irrational, I'm sure we're going to get returns to the worlds he created, as it would be harder for other directors to come up with worlds like Rapture and Columbia that would be on the same level. Inspired by Minerva's Den, I think it would be cool if they released an "Anthology" game where the game was a series of 4 or 5 shorter tales that would be side stories taking place in the worlds. I would love to even see different developers get to take shots at the shorts. I think that would be a novel concept that would be widely accepted by the community of Bioshock fans, especially if you worked with some high caliber indie developers who could all work on their portion simultaneously. Imagine a Rapture story done by Amnesia creators Frictional Games (though I guess they are working on their underwater horror right now with SOMA), or a Columbia story done by Outlast creator Red Barrel. It's an approach that we see done with films and books, but haven't really seen too much in video games.

Join me later for a discussion of Bioshock Infinite and its two part DLC Burial at Sea.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past

For a while I've been saying that Marvel really has it all figured out with their movies because they do a better job of making comic book movies feel like comic books. They have a shared universe, set up a big cross over event, and have elements that really tie the films together, just like how comics work. It seems like Fox has taken a step in that direction with X-Men: Days of Future Past. Bringing together two timelines worth of X-Men and using the film to rework problematic continuity problems is exactly something comic books would do, and it works amazingly in this film.

They've got a lot of guts to try to pull off a movie like this, but their dedication to doing the source material justice makes them pull it off. It's not an exact adaptation by any means, but they do everything in their power to stay true to the original story, and encapsulate the themes at the core of every good X-Men story. In this film the X-Men of the first trilogy of film live in a dystopian future where they are hunted by deadly Sentinels. In a last ditch effort to fix everything, they send Wolverine back to the past in order to stop an event that sets the Sentinels creation in motion. Even though the future X-Men only are in about twenty percent of the film, that's still a ton of character to juggle, but it never feels like the film is too bloated. Too many mutants was one of the biggest problems with X-Men: First Class (there were so many of them that you didn't get to know), but the film wisely focuses sharply on the key players (Wolverine, Xavier, Magneto and Mystique) while making enough time to give all the other characters a least a 'moment' in the film. It's a really tough act to pull off, especially while working with such an intricate plot, but the film pulls it off with spades.

The film also does a great job of taking the pieces that worked from X-Men: First Class, particularly the historical perspective. Setting this story right after the end of the Vietnam War gives a lot of power to the story. America has just lost their first major war, then the "mutant threat" emerges. They can't be seen as weak again, can they? While the government was able to keep the mutant activities of the previous film under wraps, there is a scene in this film where mutants are publicly displayed for the first time, leaving no way to cover up their existence. The scene in question is awesome, grounded in a real life event and film with old 4:3 cameras to make it look like home movies from that era. There are some really fantastic twists and turns along the way, and with time travel being an element creating a 'new timeline,' it gives the film a big 'anything can happen' feeling. The film climaxes with a sequence that is both exciting and emotionally satisfying as a finale, which is exactly what you can hope for in an action film like this.

This film also features some of the best actions sequences of any X-Men film to date. Many of the new mutants chosen (as well as those brought back) were able to bring a unique visual action to their scenes. In the future, all the original X-Men were given lots to do with there powers (it was great to see a fully iced up Iceman), and the new ones gave a great dynamic element. I loved seeing Blink use her powers, creating action sequences that were reminiscent of the game Portal. The real highlight of the film though is Evan Peters' Quicksilver. While many initially dismissed him for his dorky looking costume, he stole the show. The use of his powers mixed with the writing of his character were spot on, creating a neat little counterpoint to other mutants in the film. He wasn't someone who was interested in the treatment of his race, but rather just used his powers like any kid would, to dick around and get in trouble. This leads to him helping the crew break Magneto out of his holding cell. There's a magnificent scene in there where you really get to see exactly what someone with his powers would be capable of. It will be interesting to see how the Avengers version of Quicksilver will work, as he's got a lot of live up to here.

The film wasn't perfect. Even thought there were a lot of problems solved by using time travel to erase some of the poor decisions of previous films, things don't exactly line up. The point Wolverine is transported back to doesn't exactly line up with what we learned in Wolverine: Origins, and since he didn't travel back far enough to erase that film, there are some problems that exist. But you know what, comic books often pick and choose what parts of their continuity they want to sweep under the rug, so I'm willing to let it slide, but it is noticeable.

Overall, this film was awesome. I'm glad they got the band back together with the original X-Men cast and were able to give them a proper send off that they deserved while still finding away to push the new cast of the X-Men forward in interesting ways. There was a ton going on in this film, but it never got overwhelming, and no part of it really felt like it got short changed. After the end credits tease, I'm excited to see where this franchise goes, as it looks like it will focus on the threat of another mutant rather than focusing on the human/mutant conflict like every other film.

Monday, May 5, 2014

All New Marvel NOW!

It's hard to believe that with all the great Marvel titles that started in Marvel Now that they still have more great titles to launch. While this new wave of "All New Marvel Now" wasn't quite the huge shake up that came to the big titles during Marvel Now, they have taken several of the more underused characters and launched titles with very interesting creative teams. Here's the list of titles that I've started picking up.

Writer Charles Soule has really taken the world by storm over the past year. At this time, I believe he is writing seven books (including Letter 44, which is now being developed for a TV show on SyFy), and none of them seem to be suffering in quality. She Hulk is the first book of his I've started to read, and I have to say I'm impressed. This series has the same breath of fresh air feeling that Matt Fraction's Hawkeye started out with. It follows She Hulk's legal adventures, which of course seem to cross over into the superhero realm. The humor is great, and the legal elements that come into play seem authentic and well thought out (Soule is a practicing attorney, so he's perfect for that). The art by Javier Pulido is spot on as well. He does some really amazing work with his story telling, and the art is perfectly crisp. This team is dynamite, and they really surprised me with this one. I can't recommend it any higher. 

Moon Knight has always been one of my favorite underused characters at Marvel, so any time he's got a new series coming out, I'll definitely give it a look. When I heard that the creative team this go around was Warren Ellis and Declan Shelvey, I couldn't have been happier. Ellis is always one that comes up with a unique take on characters, and Shelvey impressed me with his work on Deadpool: The Good the Bad and the Ugly. After two issues, Ellis seems to be going for a one and done story structure with each issue, which he excels at. Each issue so far has been a story of a soldier who has gone off the deep end after being abandoned by his own people, which mirrors Marc Spector's mercenary past. While the issues have been a bit light on character development, Ellis did introduce a few interesting ideas that could be explored. First, is the idea that even though he's considered a dangerous vigilante, there are still a few cops that will work with him on investigations as long as he dresses up differently and is referred to as "Mr Knight," which gives the first issue a great visual signature. The second idea is that the reason that he's had multiple personalities in the past is that Khonshu, the god who bestowed him with power, has different aspects to him, causing Spector to manifest different personalities. The series also has amazing visuals, as both Shelvey has a ton of drawing talent, and Ellis has the ability to write a script that plays with formatting in unique ways. I'm pretty excited about the possibilities this series provides.

My other favorite underutilized characters at Marvel is Iron Fist. I got to love the character during Fraction/Brubaker/Aja's run on the character, and have always checked out things with him in it since then (I especially liked Fraction's Defenders, even though that was cut short). When I saw they announced a new Iron Fist series, I knew I would pick it up regardless of who was on it. Kaare Andrews ended up being named both writer and artist. I was familiar with his work in Spider-Man: Reign, but not much else. After only one issue, the tone of the series is a bit different than I'm used to. It's a bit more dark and brooding than other takes I've seen, which isn't really a surprise based on the tone of Reign. He takes some time to retell the origin of Iron Fist, which is pretty dark, so hopefully this tone works out. Even if the story is still finding its footing, the art and action are top notch. In an interview I listened to, Andrews spoke of his love for martial arts films, and you can definitely see that in the dynamic layouts he creates. It sounds like the series will be heading back to K'un-Lun, which provided a lot of interesting material in Brubaker/Fraction's run, so hopefully things will kick into gear with the next issue. 

While this isn't strictly a new title in the All-New Marvel Now, its a the start of a new volume, continuing under the writing of Kelly Sue DeConnick. I had heard a lot about this title in the previous volume, so this seemed like a perfect point to jump on. This series has built up a very devoted fan base, and after reading the first two issues, it's easy to tell why. Kelly Sue writes with such a natural voice, really making the characters feel charming and believable. While there was a bit of catching up to do not knowing all the details of the previous volume, I was able to be pretty caught up on the life of Carol Danvers before it was sent off in a new direction. Another of the big reasons I was interested in picking this up was because the new focus of the series is sending Captain Marvel into outer space. Marvel has always had a very interesting comic side of their universe, so I'm glad to finally find a series to fully experience that in. The book has a very classic super hero feel to it, where the mix of action, humor and character is just right. The plot doesn't have me super hooked yet, but there's enough charm to the book to keep me reading for some time.

I never really saw myself reading a Silver Surfer book, but the creative team was one I couldn't pass up. The combination of Dan Slott, who has written some wonderfully fun stories in his excellent run on Spider-Man, and Mike Allred, who has a unique art style that fits perfectly with the comic setting of the book, compliment each other perfectly and have set the stage for some really interesting adventures. Slott is an avid Doctor Who fan, and writes Silver Surfer with the same sense of wonder and whimsy, even going as far as giving Surfer a "companion" that he travels with. Allred creates some absolutely wonderful visuals that really breath life into the crazy space settings that Slott takes us to. From the first issue, it seems like we've got a really great set up to take us to some of the stranger places of the cosmic side of the Marvel Universe. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Thor: The Dark World left me less than impressed, but that didn't dampen any of my excitement for upcoming Marvel films. I had a big fondness for the vibe captured with Captain America: The First Avengers, and was looking forward to seeing them pay off on the fish out of water aspect of the character. Captain America: The Winter Soldier not only delivered on that promise, but created a film that many (rightfully) referred to as Avengers 1.5. This film not only was important to moving forward the character of Steve Rogers, but also moved forward the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe in important ways.

The backbone of the film picks up on elements touched on in Avengers; SHIELD may not be quite as trustworthy as we think. Since the events of Avengers, Cap has been running missions for SHIELD along side Black Widow. Sadly, that's really all he knows. The world he knew is long gone, and he's a soldier looking for new orders. The first mission we see (which features a non joke version of Batroc, who is not referred to as a Leaper), we understand that there are some fishy things going on with how SHIELD works. Black Widow has her own secret orders that put the rest of the mission in jeopardy, and she doesn't really even know what she's doing. Shortly after, there is an attempt on Fury's life by a mysterious agent with a metal arm known as the Winter Soldier.

I'm going to try really hard to review this film without given away any of the big moments. Even as a long time comic reader, this movie found ways of surprising me. I would say this is the most tightly plotted of all the Marvel films, and the most shocking as well. It's cool to see them go places that they might be hesitant to go in the comics, but since they don't have the baggage of decades of continuity and have the ability to more tightly plan their creative output (they are only putting out two films a year compared to fifty some monthly comics), allowing for the stories to be a breath of fresh air. There was one surprising character appearance in the film that made me giddy with the innovative and visually unique way they handled a rather campy character. With Guardians of the Galaxy taking place in space (and reportedly tying more into Avengers 3), this movie is pretty much the last stop before Avengers: Age of Ultron, and it definitely puts the Marvel Cinematic Universe in an interesting place.

This movie also might be the most thrilling of the Marvel movies yet. The pacing of the film is great, and once the movie gets going it never lets up. The action and fight scenes are awesomely choreographed and well shot, allowing them to play out in the most exciting manner possible. I was really on the edge of my seat and gasping through many of the sequences. Overall, it seemed like this movie did a great job of engaging the audience, as everyone in the theater was reacting exactly as they should. There were even some "Oh my God"s in the audience when the identity of the Winter Soldier is revealed.

Despite this being such an action and plot heavy movie, there are excellent character moments throughout. There's an awesome sequence in the beginning where Captain America walks through a museum exhibit about himself that not only does the job of catching up the viewer on who he is and what happened to him during WWII, but also gives him some time to think about the people important to him. The scene where he sees Agent Carter is wonderfully heartbreaking, and his interactions with the Winter Soldier do an awesome job to show exactly who he is as a person. Black Widow gets some time to shine, as she realizes maybe her shady work for SHIELD isn't exactly helping her redeem her past. The new character of The Falcon allows Steve a connection to modern soldiers. He is an interesting character who's skills give the movie a nice new visual dynamic.

I really am having trouble thinking of any negative aspect of t his film. It's got a tight plot, great action, good character moments and surprises around every corner. I'm a huge fan of what Marvel's been doing with their movies, and this may be their best film yet. I absolutely cannot wait for this film to come out on DVD so that I can enjoy it all over again. There is a confidence that has been evident in Phase Two of Marvel's films, and it leaves me even more excited for Guardians of the Galaxy this August.