Thursday, November 14, 2013

Thor 2: Dark World Review (Spoiler Alert)

Spoiler Alert
 
 
Back in August, when the last trailer for Thor 2 premiered, I made a prediction based solely on that trailer about what I would see. I ended up not being far off. Rather than the Dark Elves invading London in the beginning, it happened at the end. Rather than joining Malekith, Loki takes out Odin (how, we don't know) on his own. Other than that, the sequel was what I expected: Thor, in bone-crushing fashion, saved the day and Jane Foster.
 
That's not to say I didn't enjoy Thor 2 or that the movie didn't hold any surprises. The two best twists came at the very end. First, Loki faked his death, which, as long as you were paying attention to when they showed a random Asgardian on Svartalheim, was visible soon after he "died." Ultimately, the twist was the villain triumphs; Loki takes the throne of Asgard. Second, during the credits, Sif and Volstagg take the source of the Aether to the Collector, who is played by Benecio del Toro. What was interesting about this scene was finding out the source was an Infinity Gem that had to be separated from another gem in Asgard. While this doesn't necessarily set an Infinity Gauntlet movie in stone--maybe, Avengers 3--it does make the prospect a possibility. After all, the most notorious villain to ever get his hands on the Infinity Gauntlet and the gems is Thanos, who was shown at the end of the Avengers and will make another appearance in Guardians of the Galaxy. I definitely have my fingers crossed. Due to copyrights, Marvel and Disney will never be able to create an exact copy of Infinity Gauntlet, but they could come close, especially if the next Fantastic Four movie bombs and they reacquire the rights to an important character like Silver Surfer.
 
Another great surprise in Thor 2 were the cameos. I always enjoy hunting for Stan Lee; this time around, they made it easy. And in a funny scene, Captain America, played by Chris Evans, made an appearance. Well, to be technical, it was Loki playing Captain America...played by Chris Evans. I wasn't expecting it at all, even when Loki started shifting in and out of illusions to mock Thor.
 
In fact, Thor 2 was loaded with jokes. One of my friends snorted in the theater for half the movie, and she asked afterwards if Marvel comics were as funny as the movies--I told her a lot of them had jokes throughout the issues. I think I laughed more during this film than majority, if not all, of the comedies I saw in 2013. I really got a kick out of Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) too, who had lost his mind since the events of Manhattan.
 
And, of course, there was a lot of action. Mjolnir flew about, smashing. Thor and Kurse pummeled each other. Creepy Dark Elves poured out of spaceships firing high-tech guns. Malekith and Thor hopped through dimensional rifts as they fought.
 
If I had one complaint that really threw me off, it was after Loki's "death" scene. Thor and Jane Foster found themselves stranded on Svartalheim, homeland of the Dark Elves. There was an entire realm, yet they wound up in a tiny cave that happened to be the portal they needed to get back to Earth in time to stop Malekith from obliterating the universe. It was a stretch, even for a movie with Norse gods.
 
Par for most superhero movies, the plot didn't make me think deeply. It wasn't meant to. Thor 2 was a popcorn flick, designed to fill our eyes with CGI and explosions, give us a laugh or two and expand upon characters we may or may not already be familiar with. I liked it. I thought it was better than Iron Man 3 and superior to its predecessor. It definitely gave me hope for the future of Marvel films, particularly Winter Soldier.


Thursday, October 31, 2013

X-Men: Days of Future Past Trailer


Once again helmed by Bryan Singer, this is the first glimpse of the latest X-Men movie. I'm hesitant to say it looks good, as I've been burned in the past, but I was excited to catch a glimpse of Bishop. I was wondering when one of the futuristic X-Men would make an appearance. I just hope he's going to be more than just a cameo in the opening sequences, when they show how the war ravaged Earth.

The trailer, unlike others, doesn't divulge too much about the movie. I appreciate that. It leaves a lot of mystery, especially in terms of action and, of course, the Sentinels, yet still gives us the plot and a slew of characters. As someone that wasn't huge into X-Men growing up I didn't even recognize a few of the mutants; I did spot fan-favorite Beast (will Kelsey Grammer have a cameo?), Rogue, Mystique, Kitty Pryde, Iceman, Blink, Storm, Bolivar Trask--I can't wait to see Peter Dinklage as the villainous genius behind Sentinels--and Wolverine, who looks to be a co-lead with Professor X and Magneto.

It'll be interesting to see how Singer weaves such a large cast into the movie.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Trailer


Here's the first trailer for the next Captain America movie. Unlike a lot of people, I was a fan of The First Avenger, particularly the first hour, and its sequel appears to have improved the franchise with a darker tone and a more serious theme.

Again, I think this trailer shows too much of the film--I wish both the helicarrier crashing and the elevator scene had been kept a secret until release, but at least they didn't reveal (for those who haven't read the comic) the identity of the Winter Soldier. Hint: it's not Captain America.

What I enjoyed the most about First Avenger and will probably enjoy in this film as well is the involvement and growth of S.H.I.E.L.D. characters and Black Widow. It's good to see the introduction of new characters as well: Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce and Anthony Mackie as The Falcon, who could possibly make an appearance in Avengers 2 or even Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. In the comics, the Falcon has ties to the cosmic cube, Black Panther, the Secret Avengers, and even replaced Steve Rogers as Captain America for a while, so there's a lot that could be done with this character.

Actually, the Black Panther helps design the Falcon's wings; I'd be ecstatic if he had a cameo.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Things We Say When Drunk

“Happy," I muttered, trying to pin the word down. But it is one of those words, like Love, that I have never quite understood. Most people who deal in words don’t have much faith in them and I am no exception – especially the big ones like Happy and Love and Honest and Strong. They are too elusive and far too relative when you compare them to sharp, mean little words like Punk and Cheap and Phony. I feel at home with these, because they’re scrawny and easy to pin, but the big ones are tough and it takes either a priest or a fool to use them with any confidence.”
Hunter S. Thompson, The Rum Diary


Ever since Saturday night my head has been in a whirlwind. I've been anxious and paranoid, excited then depressed, then confused. I've had partial insomnia, then when I do fall asleep, I wake up in the early morning and have no desire to get out of bed. One moment I flip between wanting to find jobs out of state, retreating to the woods to live in seclusion, or driving my car into a tree; the next moment I'm incredibly hopeful, writing feverishly, planning for future endeavors, and grateful to be alive.

All of this is due to a night of heavy drinking with great friends, and it's not because I said something wrong. It's not because I embarrassed myself or hurt someone. For once, it's not anything I did at all, yet it stems from the frustration of the things people say when they are drunk. There's the old Latin phrase, "In vino veritas," meaning, "In wine there is truth," but is there truth?

Words are powerful. People tend to forget that. After a few shots, the tongue starts waggling. Stories become exaggerated. We start confessing, revealing thoughts and feelings that would have remained in check if not in the company of Jack Daniels and his sordid friends; as the Russian saying goes, "What a sober man has on his mind, the drunk one has on his tongue."

When drunk, I've poured my heart out to pretty girls. When drunk, I've aired my grievances like Frank Costanza on Festivus. It was what I felt, and it felt right...at that time. I think that's the key: the things we say when drunk are exactly how we feel in that moment, good or ill, and when we sober up, that feeling wanes. Those emotions subside, and we're left to wade through them, to ponder what extent we meant what we said, if at all.

Words are powerful. They can break relationships. They can strengthen them. Words can be petty or cruel. They can be grand or insightful. They are what we make them to be and take on a new meaning for the one that voiced the words and the one that heard them, and more often than not, at least in my short-lived, personal experience, the things we say when drunk are laughed off or ignored the next day, especially if we're afraid of how serious those words really were. Such words turn into awkward stares, uncomfortable silences, and a sad game of chicken where both parties swerve in opposite directions as they shrug aside the previous night's events with, "I was so drunk."

And I, days later, maybe even months and years from now, am left to wonder if what was said to me in the waning hours of a crisp autumn night was truth or alcohol or a bit of both.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Marvel Heroes: Patch 1.3 Review

Initially, Patch 1.3 was loaded with bugs, so I waited on my review. Its follow-up patch to correct bugs and adjust spirit and defense was practically unplayable, causing disconnects whenever entering terminals, treasure rooms, or different zones. I was sentenced to Avengers Tower for twenty-four hours, but as of yesterday night, the problems are mostly fixed.

One of the big arrivals to Marvel Heroes is Synergy. This system allows for passives on each hero, unlocked at both level 25 and 50. Once you reach that goal, they can be toggled at level 1 for any hero you wish or all your heroes. While it's a wonderful addition, granting bonuses to energy damage, health, rarity/special find, and even XP, I find it tedious to level a majority of my heroes beyond that first level 25 mark. The leveling, at least for me, is still grueling from 25 - 50. I have 15 heroes and only one is at level 60. The rest are 30 or lower, excluding a level 47 Iron Man. Synergy essentially promotes the usage of multiple heroes and alts yet the rate of leveling dissuades me at the same time.

Speaking of Iron Man, he saw a complete revamp. Along with new skills such as Wrist Rocket, an aoe missile attack, and One-Off, a laser attack taken from the movie Iron Man 2 (this skill is absolutely amazing and clears the screen), he now hovers when moving, instead of running. I do still find him a bit squishy, making a melee build impossible at higher levels where red terminals are desired to level faster, so some of the new skills are pointless until he is tuned. I've spent a few retcons on him, toying around with builds, checking out the different skills. He's fun, yet I still find other heroes such as Deadpool and Human Torch more fun to play. Others are loving Iron Man, especially the diehard fans of him.

A Prestige Mode was also introduced; it's akin to prestige in Call of Duty, where players with a level 60 are given the opportunity to start over from level 1. I said previously that 25 -50 is grueling for me, so I have no desire to even attempt this mode. It can be done up to 5 times. I can barely get a hero to 60 once. Unless they drastically change the speed at which one can level without buying loads of XP potions, I can't imagine very many players will endure this mode, especially since the only benefits are pets you can buy and a change in the color of your name. Maybe when achievements are implemented Prestige Mode might appeal to more people. I doubt it ever will for me.

Legendary Quests were implemented to assist the leveling experience. They're a randomized auto-pickup, starting in Heroic Mode and sending you to different zones and terminals to accomplish a list of goals. Once completed, you gain experience and pick up Odin Marks. These marks are spent at the crafter, improving artifacts. At first, the quests did not give anywhere close to the promised "best experience" in the game. When players complained on the forums, the amount was adjusted. They can be a tad time consuming; I find red terminals remain the best way to level, if your hero can survive the insane damage output of the mobs within them.

Along with the Odin Mark upgrades, artifacts can now be Advanced. They're supposed to be superior, but I haven't found any of worth--they've all gone to my crafter, which I'm tirelessly leveling...still.

On top of the hunt for Advanced drops, a slot for team insignias was put into the hero gear sets. These little perks, ranging from uncommon to epic, drop at random and not only give boosts to your hero, they boost those on your team. There are several types of insignias. Since my Human Torch has only ever been part of Fantastic Four in the comics, he is limited to Fantastic Four insignias and S.H.I.E.L.D. insignias (any hero can use S.H.I.E.L.D. insignias). Other heroes like Spider-Man and Iron Man have more options.

As usual, Gazillion continues to slowly but surely improve the overall depth of Marvel Heroes, demonstrating the game's potential. Their patches come fast, one or two majors a month, and every major patch seems to bring a new hero. This time around it was Luke Cage, who I haven't had the time to play, even though I received him in a random splinter box.

Unlike other ARPGs, I don't find myself getting bored to the point that I start searching for another game. It's probably due to the amount of patches and updates and heroes and bonus weekends. Plus, if the developers stay true to their word and start bringing in new zones (Asgard is slated to arrive soon), as well as raids and PVP, I may have no time for other games at all. My Xbox is dusty and lonely this morning, yet I'm about to log back into Marvel Heroes.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Review (Potential Spoiler)

My original fear was Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was going to be Heroes with a Marvel logo on it. While they do share a key element: superheroes living secret lives amongst regular people, the most interesting aspect of ABC's show is that it follows normal, albeit highly intelligent/trained agents, hunting down, saving, or stopping superheroes. There's also a technological flair and espionage-driven story inherit in this fictional universe, and I don't feel every episode will have to focus on superhuman feats, shifting to plots about rival secret agencies and the characters within them.

As a huge fan of Marvel I was hooked with the opening shot, because that particular scene, a kid looking into the window of a toy store filled with action figures of Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Captain America, demonstrated to me the potential of the show. In the pilot, there were already crossovers and nods to Iron Man 3 (the pilot's antagonist is infected with the Extremis virus) and Avengers. I suspect each episode will continue in this fashion, possibly containing Easter eggs. The show even has the capacity to introduce new villains, new heroes, new side characters, and new plots that may or may not spill into the movies, as well as leave the door open for major cameos or the development of other characters, something they delved into by recasting Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill. I, like most Marvel fans, am hoping a major star such as Chris Evans or Samuel L. Jackson makes an appearance. It's a small possibility; it would take a lot of convincing and probably a lot of money, yet there's a chance.

The show's longevity is not dependent on A list actors doing cameos. They have Clark Gregg, and he's fun to watch. I have liked the Agent Coulson character since the first Thor movie and his lines, "It's not easy to do what you did. You made my men look like a bunch of minimum wage mall cops. That's hurtful." Gregg has a unique charm in his delivery, and it's entertaining even when the show ripped a scene from Back to the Future. I half expected for Coulson to say, "Where we're going we don't need roads," when the pilot ended with a flying car zooming at the camera. Despite his many appearances, Coulson is still a mystery. He has had little to no backstory, and the show can explore his origins.

I hope I'm not ruining this for anyone that enjoys the show yet has never really been into Marvel comics or video games, but I'm 99.9% positive (POTENTIAL SPOILER) Coulson is a LMD, which stands for Life Model Decoy. For those that don't know, S.H.I.E.L.D. is infamous for employing LMDs, particularly Nick Fury. It's an android double of a person that can be used to hear or see and can also be controlled by the owner--my theory is that the writers might make it more of a clone than a robot, because if it was being controlled by the real Coulson the other agents obviously wouldn't have to lie to it and make up a story about vacationing in Tahiti.

One of the biggest distractions I had throughout the show (other than Chloe Bennett's hotness) was the science duo of Leo and Jemma. They had cool gadgets, brought up interesting ideas, but I missed half of their dialogue due to repeatedly talking over one another. I had the sense they were trying to go for the quirky, fast-paced back and forth and hint of unspoken sexual attraction akin to Tony Stark and Pepper Potts, but it failed. I was more annoyed than delighted, and half an hour into the show, I rooted for their demise.

The pilot wasn't a flawless start. The show has a few kinks to work through, the biggest being the cast interactions. Some actors brought their best while others seemed to still be in the process of finding their groove. There were awkward moments and lines that didn't quite feel right to me, jokes and a few scenes that ultimately flopped (the interrogation room with the truth serum, for instance). I've read a few reviews from other Marvel fans that somehow expected Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to have the action of a blockbuster. Please, don't expect that. This is television, where the CGI isn't as advanced (this show probably has better CGI than most other shows), and the budget isn't as grand as a fully produced, 200 million dollar+ movie. If given enough time to develop, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has all the makings of becoming a stellar show, finely tuned for hardcore Marvel fans and the average viewer alike. It just needs a little tweaking.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sleepy Hollow Review (Spoiler Alert)

Last night I watched the premiere of Sleepy Hollow, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Throughout the pilot I likened the premise to shows like Supernatural and Castle, where Ichabod Crane, freshly awakened in the future after sleeping for over two hundred years, and a skeptic cop named Abbie Mills team up to solve supernatural mysteries in the town of Sleepy Hollow.

A lot of the charm of the show comes from the relationship between Ichabod and Abbie, as he's prone to make unintentionally rude comments such as, "Since when do women wear trousers," and, "You've been emancipated, I take it." More than the witches and demons and the yarn about the coming apocalypse, I found myself entertained by Tom Mison's portrayal of Ichabod as he adjusted to modern society yet maintained a calculative nature. He's more interested in the world and gadgets, asking about Starbucks across the street from one another and looking into a flashlight. I do hope this is a persistent aspect of the show, for Ichabod has more than two centuries of history, social changes, and technology to catch up on. There's a reverse Life on Mars feel to it, where Ichabod is thrust forward in time rather than back, and a lot can be explored as he comes to grips with the modern world that's so different from the one he left.

I thought Nicole Beharie was a good choice for the co-lead as well. The back and forth between Ichabod and her gave me a few laughs, even when they delivered lines that were full of cheese, and it's hard for a show that deals with headless killers and witches and the four horsemen of the apocalypse to not have cheesey or awkward lines, but the actors did enough for me to buy the premise and be entertained, including Orlando Jones, who plays a more serious role than I'm accustomed to seeing from him.

Neither is Sleepy Hollow on the level of shows like Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones, nor does it pretend to be. This is a show with action (a taste of what's to come was a quick showdown with a priest casting magic and the Headless Horseman sporting a shotgun) and a bit of mystery; it's sometimes dark, sometimes comedic. It's very much a show designed for pure entertainment, not introspection or a commentary on society, and if the viewer is looking for a faithful adaptation of Washington Irving's tale, this is not where to find it.

My one major complaint so far is that during the premiere they had two great actors, John Cho and Clancy Brown, that were killed off. There was little to no development with their characters, which means there was a brief window of mystery surrounding them, though I suspect Clancy Brown will be doing voiceovers throughout the series. It really irked me to have these characters introduced and killed by the Horseman almost right away. I feel as if it was a ploy to get people to watch the pilot by advertising a great cast, then having half that cast be nothing more than cameos. Of the six major characters shown in the first episode, half of them are gone--seems like a wasted opportunity to me.

All in all, the pilot was solid, and I'm a sucker for supernatural shows. While I could do with a little less of the cop show aspect, I look forward to new episodes and seeing where Sleepy Hollow takes me.