Monday 26 June 2017

Movie Review - Transformers: The Last Knight

Can you believe it's been a decade since the live action Transformers series debuted? Whilst the original earned mixed reception, the series only got worse and worse the more it went on - churning out hideous, laughable CGI shitfests like Revenge of the Fallen and forced, underplotted nonsense like Age of Extinction. It seems the robots in disguise simply can't craft a half decent film, and this fact becomes only more true with the even more laughable The Last Knight - naught but an obvious attempt to milk whatever value the series has left without a care in the world for any meaningful storytelling or genuine entertainment value.

The plot - if you can even call it one - follows almost directly on from Age of Extinction, seeing Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) departing Earth to find his creators, a goal he soon achieves but with tragic results. Intertwined with this is the increasing hatred of Transformers back on Earth and their pursuit by governments worldwide...and, uh, some evil guys show up at sporadic moments, we rapidly jump between almost every single country in the world, and Mark Wahlberg is in there somewhere as a generic action star doing stuff.

It's hard to summarise the plot coherently because everything is so badly drafted that you can just see how desperate the studio was to pump this out as quick as possible. The narrative begins sluggish and somewhat random, once again bringing Transformers into almost every element of human history, and jumping between all sorts of random characters and locations with no focus or structure. As things keep going, it gets more and more tied up in a series of nonsensical twists and turns - instead, Bay and his crew decide to focus more on his typical craving for dreadful stereotypes, consistently rude (and unfunny) jokes, and of course a handful of convoluted action scenes that are virtually flawless when it comes to technical finesse but repetitive and boring in every other respect.

Optimus Prime as a character has slowly worsened over the series, going from a decent take on his heroic, sympathetic persona in the 2007 original to a savage, snappy, and often scary beast whose personality makes it hard to dictate whether he is a hero or villain half the time. This is an important plot element of The Last Knight in all fairness, but it's so poorly handled that you almost forget about Prime due to his extensive absences and abysmal development - he certainly never feels like a main protagonist, and it's hard to take both him and the other main characters seriously when most of their "serious" dialogue is downright painful to listen to. People who have come to enjoy the Transformers films over time may find stuff to like in The Last Knight, mainly within it's admittedly epic if bloated climax, but it often finds itself as a testing, forgettable, and transparently sappy blockbuster that clearly had no interest behind it outside of monetary potential.

Wednesday 21 June 2017

Movie Review - The Mummy (2017)

When the MCU started in 2008 with the much loved Iron Man and burst into popularity beyond human with 2012's ensemble Avengers, many studios are...hang on, I think I've said all this before. Perhaps because so many studios are trying to create shared...no, I'm doing it again. Um....well, yeah, as we all know and has been said dozens and dozens of times, studios are now out to create shared franchises of their own in order to mimic the success of their rivals. For comic books and Japanese monsters who have overlapped in past media it makes sense to an extent, but now the strangest of them has come to fruition. This year's The Mummy is not just a reboot of the classic franchise, but the start of a new franchise that will fuse together numerous other horror stories - little to no visible effort is here outside of said franchise building, sadly if unsurprisingly.

Tom Cruise stars as fortune seeker Nick Morton who, alongside his friend and partner Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), stumbles across a historical tomb following their assault on an Iraq village - with the aid of archaeologist Jennifer Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), the tomb is recognised as a prison of sorts dating back to thousands of years prior. Following a brief exploration, a strange curse begins to spread, starting with Vail, and awakens the imprisoned mummy Set (Javier Botet) - leading to a battle to stop her long awaited revenge scheme before it's too late.

The story sounds cool and, if I'm honest, as the film started off and continued going, I struggled to see what most people found so bad about it. The acting is solid, with a decent blend of humour and genuine tension, and the set pieces certainly entertaining to watch - even if they can be headache-inducingly loud even by IMAX standards. The key flaw from the beginning and one that worsens as the film progresses, however, is just how unfocused the overall story is; there's a brief opening to explain the history of the aforementioned villain Set, an appearance by Russel Crowe as scientist Dr. Henry Jekyll, before we shift our focus to Nick Morton and the others around him for a large portion of the story. Crowe's character finds himself absent for a strange amount of time, his name barely even mentioned, making him feel somewhat irrelevant to the overall story - him and the actions he spearheads serve almost no purpose other than to desperately construct this shared universe mythology.

Perhaps another flaw as well extends from my previous compliment of the film nicely blending humour and tension - this is true from the beginning and as we near the middle, but soon enough some truly dark set pieces begin to emerge, with situations that persistently put the characters lives at stake. The sad thing is, through a combination of poor writing and iffy acting, the characters lack any worry or shock in these situations, treating them more like cheesy playground fights. Indeed, it can feel hard for the audience to engage with what attempts to be tense and sometimes frightening action scenes when the characters themselves are often making corny battle taunts or comedic screams - said CGI in these scenes can also be a bit shoddy, sometimes looking obviously segue with the environment around it. 

The performance of Javier Botet as Set is decent without much flaw, however it's not exactly memorable simply because the character is so underdeveloped throughout - once we near the climax, it's sometimes hard to actually make sense of who the main antagonist is and for what reasons. The Mummy is not without it's good moments, and can be fun to watch at times, but it's persistent focus on epic set pieces over genuine story and character development makes it feel like both a generic, lifeless action film and a painfully lazy attempt to craft this shared series as fast as possible.

Wednesday 14 June 2017

Nintendo E3 2017 - My Thoughts

I must admit I've not been as into games as I was some years ago - but that didn't stop me nabbing a Switch upon launch back in March and keeping a close eye on Nintendo's latest announcements, hoping one day for them to match what I've been patiently waiting for across many years.

Their latest E3 stream premiered just yesterday, and it's fair to say I wasn't disappointed, if only thanks to one single announcement that made me almost die of excitement.

Kirby & Yoshi

Very briefly we were given tastes of new Kirby and Yoshi games; the Kirby title, due in 2018, will be the character's first major platformer on a home system since Rainbow Curse just over two years ago. Can't deny here - I've never been huge on Kirby games, which certainly isn't a reflection of their general quality, but I never found myself able to get into them as much as most people. Perhaps the most compelling trait of this latest installment, as many have been talking about, is the ability to quickly transform the single player experience into a multiplayer one, with up to four players eligible to tackle the main game, creating all sorts of manic results, bolstered especially by the Switch's ability to shift things into a handheld experience.

Said Yoshi title I thought was a sequel to Woolly World at first glance, but the art style is dramatically different once you look further, with many branding it a combo of Woolly World and Paper Mario. The world itself resembles a model landscape, with Yoshi acting as a diorama within it. It's something that keeps reminding me of my model railway designs when I was younger...what's also interesting is how the camera can be manipulated to seek out hidden locations, further emphasising the art style as a hand crafted world within a bedroom of sorts. This Toy Story-inspired platformer is also set for a 2018 release, so I look forward to seeing how it evolves from now till then.

Super Mario Odyssey

Though originally announced back in January, Super Mario Odyssey was further detailed in a bizarre yet captivating new trailer within this vibrant E3 stream - opening up with a raging T-Rex that made you convinced this was anything but a 3D Mario title.

As the title of course implies, Odyssey takes our beloved Italian hero beyond the regions of the Mushroom Kingdom, into a number of expansive, diverse locales based on numerous key regions of the world we live in. Of course one of the most notable is the realistic "New Donk City", giving birth to numerous GTA jokes, whilst also exemplifying how the game adopts a more free roaming style that was last this expansive in 2002's Super Mario Sunshine. Another new feature is the ability for Mario to throw his cap to not only use as a platform, but also to fuse with certain objects among other things, giving birth to numerous methods to conquer each stage. One thing I've always been admiring since the game's announcements is the visuals - with some gorgeous backgrounds and incredibly expressive animation on Mario himself, this looks set to be without a doubt the most visually compelling title the Switch has to offer.

To add to this joyousness, Nintendo have also finally confirmed Odyssey's release date as October 27. Bring it on.


I was hoping to see a new Metroid title very soon, but never did I expect a fourth entry to the Prime sub series - I wanted it for sure, but just felt after a decade that it was never gonna come to fruition.

But the space backdrop kicked in...then what looked like the Screw Attack logo...then, boom, the title theme from the 2002 original; and with that, the handsome new logo of the upcoming fourth entry appears, along with the confirmation that it is currently being developed for the Switch. No footage was shown, so it's obviously early days, but the announcement alone was enough to make me remember this as one of Nintendo's most exciting E3 streams yet. Retro Studios, developer of the original trilogy, is not part of things this time round, though Kensuke Tanabe remains the producer - let's hope they can all do the series proud...

But that's not all. Soon after that, we were treated to a glance at another upcoming Metroid title; a remake of 1992's Metroid II: Return of Samus for the 3DS, titled Metroid: Samus Returns. Reminds me a lot of Metroid Fusion and Metroid Prime's launch in hindsight - the series being absent for fair bit of time (let's ignore Federation Force...), then returning with both a 2D and 3D release across two systems. This was not a title that ever crossed my mind when wishing for a new Metroid title, but probably just because I'm not overly familiar with the GB original; it was indeed the Prime games that introduced me to the franchise some 15 years ago now. Consequently, the game will feel even more like a brand new experience for sure, and it's fair to say the trailer perfectly conveys the brisk pace and gorgeous visuals the developers are seemingly proud of. It comes out around my birthday as well, so my struggle to think of a present is now over...

But also...

There was much else to blabber on about at E3, be it the Switch release of Skyrim or the highly welcomed Rocket League, as well as the popular Mario + Rabbids release and the two newest titles in the forever iconic Sonic the Hedgehog series: these being Sonic Mania and Sonic Forces, both coming to the Switch very soon. I can't deny that Mania is arguably one of my most hyped games of the year, and has been for many months for all manner of reasons: the superb visuals that beautifully combine old and new, the seemingly perfect adoption of the classic games' traits, and, more specifically, the fact that Tee Lopes has come in to compose the soundtrack. Many may already know Lopes for his fan made music, and such music takes up god knows how much of my iTunes library, so I'm excited to see how his efforts pan out with this official release.

Sonic Forces, due for release later this year, brings back the fusion of modern and classic Sonic gameplay that originated in 2011's Sonic Generations - my only concern is the game's apparent inclusion of many characters, which is something that has caused a few issues with some previous 3D Sonic titles; to be fair though, the ability to devise your own customer character is a pretty nifty addition. The apocalyptic setting and ambitious story looks pretty cool, though we all know Sonic games have often slipped up when trying to be a little too ambitious with their narratives, so let's hope that's focused on this time round. Regardless of this, the gameplay certainly looks fab, and I'm keen to give it a go come launch day - hopefully it'll wash away the horrible taste that Sonic Boom left with many of us.

There was much more to view at Nintendo's latest E3 session, with another major asset being the upcoming DLC for Breath of the Wild, certainly looking to expand on an already engrossing, feature rich title for sure. But alas, I'll be here all day if I assess everything in extensive detail, so I'll call it a day here: for sure, this was an E3 to remember, again if only because of that Metroid goodness that I've been waiting so long for.

Thanks for reading!

Monday 5 June 2017

Movie Review - Wonder Woman

The superhero genre is now reaching new heights with the evolution of more and more shared universes, to some people's joy and others' exhaustion. However, interestingly, there is yet to be any real prominence of female leads in perhaps the entire history of the genre and not just it's recent dominance over modern cinema. Dated superhero flicks focusing on female heroes such as Catwoman and Elektra launched to critical and commercial failure and are barely remembered by anyone today - and if remembered, it's not for the right reasons.

But alas, this could be set to change in due course with the release of this year's Wonder Woman, the first female superhero flick in over a decade and one that's already become the highest grossing just days after launch. Within this latest blockbuster, we of course focus on the eponymous heroine played by Gal Gadot, whose path alongside her Amazon race intertwines with that of American soldier Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), ultimately beginning a quest to hunt down the malicious Ares, god of War, whom Diana herself believes is the key influence of humanities ongoing struggle within a war of their own.

I have to admit I thought a film about this hero would be hard to take seriously without some major adjustments - I won't pretend to be a huge knowledgeable fan on the source material, but the costume alone initially seems to be a revealing, corny, and somewhat outdated design that may simply objectify the character. Thankfully, this is never the case - a charming performance by Gal Gadot as Diana/Wonder Woman shows the protagonist as a strong and mature one, but also never short of a witty appeal when the time is right. Her characters' obsession with thinking Ares is involved in almost every human incident is somewhat overused, and can be even more awkward in what are meant to be more dramatic moments, but there is still more depth to things than it may initially seem. The same can be said for Chris Pine in the role of Steve; thankfully he's never present because the creators felt a female lead couldn't handle things alone, making her a strong and independent hero capable of overcoming baddies by herself in some thrilling set pieces.

Pine's character feels naturally weaved into the story, shares a great chemistry with our protagonist, and is made even more likeable thanks to his effortless shifts between comedic and charming to daring and bold - never do said changes feel unnatural, much as with Wonder Woman herself. The rest of the supporting cast perform just as well, and as you'd expect from a tent-pole summer flick, the special effects are as grand as ever. Perhaps the slow motion is a little overused at times, but the fight scenes still add up to stylish and thrilling entertainment; combining all this certainly makes Wonder Woman arguably the best of the DC universe to date and hopefully the turning point where Warner Bros. starts taking the quality of future movies a little more seriously.