Saturday 29 April 2017

Movie Review - Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

The Guardians of the Galaxy are arguably far from Marvel's most well known superheroes - but that didn't stop their 2014 live action debut from launching into incredible fame, setting numerous box office records of it's own and widely being considered one of the best entries to the titanic money making machine that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sequels were lined up before the original even arrived - and the first of an undoubtedly long chain has now arrived in the form of the snazzily titled Vol.2.

Continuing on from the original, Vol. 2 sees the eponymous heroes caught up in a mission to save the universe once again, linked to a sudden reunion Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) has with his long lost father Ego (Kurt Russell). Such chaos coincides with a number of sub plots also building upon the original's own, including the established sister rivalry (to put it lightly) between one Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan), as well as the usual controversial antics of the foul mouthed Rocket Racoon (Bradley Cooper) and loveable Baby Groot (Vin Diesel).

There's a lot going in this much anticipated sequel for sure, and said story is told with just enough humour to avoid it becoming a little too serious yet also not too stupid. The setting, the concept, just as was the case with the original, is perfect to adopt this light hearted, zany tone; the only issue is, outside of said gags, there isn't much else for the film to really brag about. The plot is there in some ways, but it's largely presented with a poor pace and uneven structure, causing characters to be shoved to one side at sporadic moments for fairly long periods of time, thus making the overall narrative feel drastically unfocused. Even at it's core, the story in general seems fairly underwritten - a real shame considering some of the interesting ideas within it.

One would of course expect heaps of action from a high budget superhero flick such as this - and those wishing to see it will be far from disappointed. Guardians Vol. 2 has set pieces galore, all providing exhilarating thrills and showcasing some stunning special effects. But gripping as they are, another awkward truth is that said action scenes can often feel a little bloated, primarily the film's painfully overlong final battle. If you're checking out Guardians in the forever gorgeous IMAX format, you may need to prepare for some serious ear rape during the clIMAX (sorry), and a huge feeling of relief when the volume finally drops at it's eventual conclusion.

This sequel still has plenty to enjoy - the effects are as astounding as one would expect, the performances are generally top notch, and the script is buzzing with some of the best humour I've seen in a modern blockbuster. It has to be said that I can't remember the last time a film made me laugh this hard; even the original Guardians, which mastered such comedy just as beautifully. Truly, one of the most compelling things about the film is it's superb level of wit, rendering it a fun experience that embraces it's cheesy premise. Sadly, the story around all this doesn't reach such impressive heights. Such downsides most likely won't stop most MCU fans getting a kick out of it, however - if only for the superb sense of humour and fun the film exudes from beginning to end.

Sunday 16 April 2017

Worst to Best - Sonic the Hedgehog

Sonic the Hedgehog may be the star of a number of great and dreadful games these days, making his modern reputation much less compelling than it was when he debuted to show Sega and their 16 bit Genesis console a force to be reckoned with. 

Arguably his most memorable efforts lie within the original trilogy launched for the Gensis between 1991 and 1995 - and so, without waffling on, let's rank each one from the least ambitious to the most memorable in what may be quite an obvious list for many, but one I've still been keen to go ahead with.

#4 - Sonic the Hedgehog 4 (2010, 2012)

Advertised as the sequel fans have been waiting 16 years for, Sonic 4 was released in two parts across multiple systems - Episode I in 2010 and Episode II in 2012. Episode I's launch was backed by a fair bit of hype considering the game's promises to recapture the tone of it's Genesis predecessors - and while it's critical reputation is far from negative, many fans don't quite see it as the successor the originals deserved when looking back years on. Sonic 4 is a worthy effort to emulate the classics without mindlessly cashing in on their fame, but it doesn't quite capture their magic, mainly due to some incredibly frustrating level design.

Now, such flaws that are present in both episodes are also flaws the orignals themselves carried at times - it seems these are glossed over simply because of their classic status. When all is said and done, both episodes of Sonic 4 are enjoyable and fast paced platformers, just forgettable for the most part and content to recycle ideas from the originals with new perks rather than designing new concepts from scratch. The visuals may seem cheap to some, but I liked it's simplistic nature, though would've much preferred the useage of Sonic's traditional design. Either way, both episodes are decent platformers, though Sonic Mania looks much more like the true sequel we've been waiting over two decades for.

#3 - Sonic the Hedgehog (1991)

The original Sonic the Hedgehog is a unique and highly addictive platformer for it's time, even if certain aspects haven't aged as well as others. What's immediate from the get go is, as with most games in the series, the vibrant visuals and memorable music, introducing us to some of the most iconic themes of the series that remain impactful even today. Level design is where things truly come to fruition when it comes to assessing the game's innovative appeal back in the day - a balance of challenging platforming and fast paced gameplay is achieved, which makes this far more than running to the right as fast as possible.

The game's key flaw lies with it's difficulty, which can sometimes feel unbalanced - Labyrinth Zone is of course what comes to mind when we discuss such a thing. It's good that the experience never feels too easy, but don't be surprised if you have to repeatedly spam the level select code even if you're far from new to the game. That aside, it's still ranks as one of the Genesis' best titles, and the merit it holds of launching the blue blur's career is enough to make it a treasured classic for sure.

#2 - Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994)

Often considered the best of the series' best installment by many, Sonic the Hedgehog 3 also ranks as one of the highest scoring games of the entire franchise - for good reason. Building upon the much loved formula in a number of ways, Sonic 3 is a huge step forward from it's predecessors in terms of visual prowess for a start, featuring vibrant, detailed environments dotted with superbly animated sprites. Things are also more interesting from a narrative perspective, as this is where we were of course introduced the beloved Knuckles the Echidna, who seeks to protect Angel Island from Sonic after being fooled into thinking he's the villain by the tenacious Doctor Robotnik.

The gameplay is what fans have come to love - speeding through beautifully structured levels, but never bereft of detailed platforming segments that require a lot more skill than it may initially seem. This introduces a fresh level of diversity and challenge into the core format, and although it can be frustrating like it's predecessors, this doesn't stop it from being a superb experience from start to finish. Of course, another memorable trait is the ability to play as the aforementioned Knuckles, with his gliding ability making way for a multitude of new ways to tackle the most challenging stages. Whilst I don't consider it my favourite of the series, it comes very, very close, and Sonic 3 is still one of the Genesis' best games without a doubt.

#1 - Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992)

Probably one of the first games I ever played as a kid (alongside countless other Genesis titles), Sonic 2 remains my fave of the series to date due to it's amazing improvements over an already superb formula that the original comfortably established. The game introduced Sonic's beloved friend Tails to the series, with him appearing as an in game sidekick that either the CPU or a second player can control. It's a shame he doesn't fully work out either way though, in hindsight, with the AI being fairly dumb and the game being a little too fast to follow for the second player should they choose to join in.

But Sonic 2 remains one of my fave games to date for a number of reasons, be it it's colourful visuals, superb soundtrack, and it's varied, creative level design that's both challenging and great fun. There's a stronger emphasis on speed than in the original, and the difficulty, while still a bit harsh at times, is noticeably more balanced, with a reduced focus on beginners traps and difficulty spikes. Perhaps it can feel a bit repetitive at times and equally frustrating during certain parts of the latter stages, but all in all, it stands as my personal favourite of the four main titles and probably Sonic's best 2D outing of all time.

UPDATE: This post has now been adapted into a video for the gaming channel ProjectFalconPunch! Check it out via the link below!

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Sunday 9 April 2017

Movie Goofs - Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Many will agree that the second entry to original Spider-Man trilogy ranks as one of the superhero genre's best works, certainly improving upon the already superb original thanks to greater emotional depth as well as an exceptional performance from Alfred Molina as the sinister Doctor Octopus.

Still, as is unavoidable with most superhero flicks, it's not free of some confusing plot holes...
  • Perhaps the most commonly addressed plot hole in the film is Doc Ock's strange invincibility to Spider-Man's attacks. As we all know, Doc Ock is not a superhuman. His arms possess incredible strength and flexibility, but that doesn't beef up his own strength or physique in any way. Not only are Spider-Man's punches not tearing Doc Ock's head off, or at least giving him nasty bruises, but he is also seen smashing out windows and slamming into cars, falling off towers and crashing onto speeding trains, and even being viciously electrocuted, ultimately surviving with no apparent injuries. People usually counter this debate with how Spidey pulls punches to avoid killing his foes; however, you'd assume that if he was punching Doc Ock constantly, that he'd at least being doing so to knock him out, which wouldn't be a tricky task. If not, why does he keep punching him? That argument also doesn't explain Doc Ock's apparent invincibility to all the other aforementioned trauma he sustains.
  • One of many key reasons Doc Ock is so successful in his public attacks is because the police, as is the case with most superhero films, and so strangely tolerant. A violent, armed thug would perhaps be told to freeze at gunpoint, with a chance to drop their weapon and be arrested without harm, but I'm sure a mad scientist attached to some indestructible metal tentacles and wreaking havoc with them in public would prompt a more severe response. Their eventual attempts to shoot Doc Ock following the bank robbery all miss, justified somewhat by their great distance from him, but once he makes good his escape they make no further effort to pursue him. Why?
  • Not a lot of people seem to care about Doc Ock's tentacles when he unveils them to his audience. Yes, the main event was his fusion reactor project, but creating such tentacles alone would certainly lead to public fame and render him rich and famous beyond all measure. Nobody seems too amazed by this remarkable invention, instead just quite impressed.

  • I never quite understood why Ock's tentacles, constructed to merely help him operate the hazardous fusion generator, have huge spikes inside them which are clearly weapons of some sort. Perhaps he fitted them when reviving his fusion project, but he has it whilst robbing the bank; at that point he was still penniless and homeless. What were these blatant weapons required for to begin with?
  • The film seems to pick and choose what powers Peter loses with no clear definition. He tests his abilities by leaping off a fairly tall building, confident that his superhero powers have returned, but this ultimately leaves him soaring downward and crashing onto a car with great force. He seems to have a badly injured back, but this is never addressed again. It seems his superhuman strength was in fact still working the entire time.
  • Doc Ock notably tosses a taxi at Peter and Mary Jane as they meet in the cafĂ© for an emotional conversation; while it's never made clear if this was deliberate or if it was just collateral damage from all the chaos he was causing in the streets, but before rushing into such actions maybe Doc Ock should've considered that certainly almost killing someone isn't the best way to interrogate them. Yes, Peter's spider sense kicked in and allowed him to avoid the danger with perfect timing, but Doc Ock is unaware that Peter is Spider-Man and so couldn't possibly have deduced that such a thing would happen.
  • Adding to this, what certainly is deliberate is Doc Ock tossing Peter into a brick wall and allowing heaps of rubble to violently crush him. Once again, Ock does not know Peter possesses superhuman strength; consequently, for all he knows, such actions certainly could've killed or even seriously injured Peter, preventing him from seeking Spider-Man as Doc Ock requested. For a scientist of such intellectual magnificence, he doesn't seem to boast much common sense.
  • When Spidey and Doc Ock plummet from the clock tower and crash onto the train, the passengers are clearly alerted to the chaos around them not only by the noise but also when Spidey himself is thrown into the train during the scuffle. So why was the driver never alerted and the train never stopped? It's a commonly mentioned plot hole when discussing Skyfall's opening scene, and is certainly just as relevant within this film.
  • Why does it take so long for Ock's second fusion reactor to start absorbing the metal building around it? It may only attract small objects at first, but is then seen pulling in cars among other things from miles away - yet conveniently only destroys the building as the set piece comes to a conclusion.
Still a great movie without a doubt.

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