Bengal’s Ten Best of 2021 (with probable Spoilers)

Author’s Preface

I didn’t play enough games released in 2021 to create a separate article for best games of the year. Seeing as how I haven’t really delved into critical darling Deathloop well enough yet, there could be a post-article winner for game of the year. On that note, well down the pipe line for my games to cooperatively play with my best friend Angel living in Florida is a little title called It Takes Two, which won the highest honor at last month’s The Game Awards.

An entirely cooperative game with no way to play by yourself, It Takes Two promises to be an experience tailor made to spend time the best way I can with my college friend aside from talking. So, the absence of Deathloop and It Takes Two makes me feel that even the highest ranking game on this list is not necessarily my Game of 2021.

There is one movie that I wish I could have seen last year but due to being available at no theater in my area, I missed the chance to see Guillermo Del Toro’s take on noir classic Nightmare Alley, based on the pitch black novel of the same name. Due to it’s R-rating, it’s safe to say the new version ekes closer to the full content of the novel that a 1947 motion picture couldn’t.

For whatever reason, in eerily the same vein as me not finishing the 2019 HBO Watchmen series, I did not watch the final episode of Squid Game, Netflix’s hottest surprise success, save for an entry appearing in my top ten. This South Korean sleeper hit deserves attention, so I’m going to go ahead and make it an honorable mention that would be a definite placement on the top ten save for having not actually watched the finale for a reason I can’t completely explain.

Speaking of honorable mentions…

Honorable Mentions

Squid Game (2021)

Netflix's 'Squid Game' Is the Dystopian Hit No One Wanted—Until Everyone  Did - WSJ
Image from WSJ (Next game contestants will consist of everyone who seriously thought this show isn’t a critique of capitalism.)

Loki: Season One

Loki (TV Series 2021– ) - IMDb
Image from IMDB (It’s both easy and not so easy being green.)

Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart (PS5)

Biomutant' and 'Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart' Epitomize the Gaming Budget  Gap | WIRED
Image from Wired (Next-Gen Interactive Dreamworks cartoon antics coming at ya.)

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Both 'Shang-Chi' Post-Credits Scenes, Explained (Spoilers)
Image from Men’s Health (If you like it so much, put a…)

Number Ten: Hawkeye

Hawkeye' on Disney+ Release Date, News, Cast, Spoilers, Plot, and Theories
Image from Elle (It’s a Christmas Miracle, Clint Barton!)

I don’t know if Hawkeye is the best MCU show released this year. The guy that once brainwashed one of the two leads of this show probably ekes out as better with his own show featured here as an honorable mention. Hawkeye was the most entertaining and probably the most consistent in sticking to what it was trying to be.

It didn’t get pulled back into the MCU’s baser formula like the up to a point experimental Wandavision. It wasn’t a politically intriguing drama that ultimately couldn’t make its mind up on what it was really saying to the audience like Falcon and Winter Soldier, save that we shouldn’t forget or hide the crimes we committed against Americans that didn’t share the skin color of one Steve Rogers.

Loki, for all it’s literally universe-shaking repercussions, didn’t have the best pace or the highest energy and yet is shielded by further criticism in that it is not the wrap-up of that particular adventure on Disneyplus. What If rarely was as far-out and thought provoking in its alternate universe exploration as it could have been and when there was a story-line like that, it often felt either undercooked or not explored long enough.

The least impressive original Avenger ironically has the best run this year when it comes to sticking to its bullet points and wrapping it all up in a surprisingly expansive but ultimately fitting bow. here we see Clint Barton’s journey to escape or find cantharis in the dark five years he spent murdering ner-do-wells as Ronin. All because he saw no other way to cope with losing his entire family from the other most significant purple figure in the MCU.

While he may have exclusively slain bad people or those who worked for bad people, he didn’t count on getting his happy non-Avenging life back, he honestly was attempting long term suicide-by-criminal organization if we’re being honest. Now that he does, he has created a new list of enemies to harbor his family from as well as get the attention of an old one who has gloriously become canon in the actual MCU. It will take more than one Hawkeye to save the day and as luck would have it, there is.

Portraying Kate Bishop rounds out an era for Hailee Steinfeld’s career that is about the most prosperous as I can see right about now. From getting to reprise the voice of Spider-Gwen in two more Spider-verse movies down the road to beginning to voice Vi, one of the main figures of what could in time be the undisputed champion for video game adaptations( if it hasn’t already), it’s a good time to be Hailee Steinfeld.

Steinfeld’s Bishop taking up screentime from Barton has ruffled some fans much like Natasha Romanoff’s “family” did so in Black Widow and how Shang-Chi’s best friend and sister did for me in his movie. But again, Hawkeye is a title, not a name, and considering that Jeremy Renner has been in the MCU for a decade at this point, are you really surprised the seeds for a successor have been sown?

Hawkeye is funnier more often than it’s not, dark enough when it needs to be but doesn’t sour the Christmas time atmosphere which aside from coming across as refreshing for being a “street level” marvel tale after the operatic excess of Eternals, helps give it a strong enough distinction from the rest of the ever crowded MCU lineup.

Hawkeye, as you would expect, promises much coming later to the MCU as has been the case since day one but it also promises that maybe a replacement character can be more than just a replacement character. Despite sharing mostly the same skill-set as Clint, Kate is her own person, albeit molded by her unlikely idolization of an Avenger.

Hawkeye makes a humorous case for what could happen when you meet your hero, both for why you should and should not at the same time.

Number 9: Castlevania: Season 4

Castlevania' Season 4 Ending, Explained | DMT
Image from Digital Mafia Talkies (Blue Oyster Cult circa late Middle Ages)

How I feel about the last season of Netflix’s surprisingly great take on the beloved video game series has changed due to the release of Arcane later that same year.

It’s still good if flawed here and there but what is refreshing about Castlevania’s errors is that they’re not tied into the endless pitfalls that beleaguer a typical video game adaptation. This year’s Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil movies continue more or less to follow many of the same mistakes in trying to imagine these video game worlds and their stories in a form that is not interactive. Too much emphasis on bringing attention to references or easter eggs from the games, not enough on letting a still reverent adaptation be its own thing, told in a way that suits linear, traditional models of storytelling. Imagine that.

Well, the four seasons of Netflix’s Castlevania are here to tell you need not imagine anymore. You can witness it. Arcane took the concept that Castlevania for the small screen adopted and has ran away with it to insanely glorious heights. Here, it’s enough that it’s a story of a world changing from the medieval to the Renaissance, of finding the distinction between science’s value and it’s detriments, of deciding how you want to live with the gifts you’re born with or grow into.

Maybe the wisdom that Castlevania uncovered not unlike finding some dusty tome in a mystic library is that maybe it is the story and its players, not the game and its players, that matter first. Once you have the basics down, you can then infuse an infectious anime-inspired style and fury to the fighting, the score and the tone. You can then sneak in the references both obvious and subtle and make it work with the tale to be told.

As much applause as Arcane has earned for finally getting it after nearly 30 years of wallowing in mediocrity or worse since the live action Mario Bros, Castlevania was the stepping stone, the first sign that we were learning to do what was once written off as impractical, impossible even: make a game’s world inviting to those who have never once taken up a controller or keyboard + mouse.

I have played many games. I have never actually played any Castlevania title. You won’t need to to get or appreciate what is offered here and that is the same times a thousand for a latter entry on this list.

Number 8: Resident Evil 8: Village (Played on PlayStation 5)

Resident Evil 8 gameplay breakdown: 20 new details we spotted in the Resident  Evil Village Showcase | GamesRadar+
Image from Gamesradar ( This guy is here to welcome you to celebrating 25 years of Survival horror. By flattening you with his hammer.)

Resident Evil’s 13th in truth main entry is a welcome reminder not rehash of past franchise glories, such as the venerated Resident Evil 4 from 2005, not unlike how RE7 from 2017 recalled the original PS1 titles. RE8 goes one step further by being a first person version of RE4 that ekes closer to actually being survival horror, with puzzles to solve, fewer resources to use and some monsters that just cannot be killed but outlasted. Also, in one area, being genuinely terrifying in a way I don’t think Resident Evil has ever been for me before.

RE8 yet reflects the pains of staying true to itself while also being drawn to the more explosive, actiony side of itself. RE4 is often derisively called the first “action” entry that eventually devolved the series’ reputation for the next two entries. That said, since the first game ended with you triumphantly blowing up the final monster with a rocket launcher, Resident Evil is a horror phenomenon that has always stood out for its internal conflict in trying to balance the scales between fright and fight and failing.

The cycle begins anew as after RE7 dialed down the manic action considerably, RE8 cranks it back up but still not too much to where it can mostly be called part of a REnaissance for the series so to speak.

Village’s cold, spooky atmosphere and contextualition of gothic horror with a contemporary feel also help it stand out from being just another game in the series and lays the groundwork for what might well be one of the most conceptually intriguing titles with the upcoming Resident Evil 9. Whether that successor wins or loses is beside the point.

It’s fitting that this middle child for this new trilogy of Resident Evil should be all about what we leave for the ones that come after. It’s also important that in and out of universe, the lessons that are learned will not always be the best ones.

Number 7: The Suicide Squad

The Suicide Squad (2021) - IMDb
Image from IMDB (The anti-heroes we didn’t need but deserved. And yet still didn’t show up to support.)

James Gunn surprised virtually everyone with his out of the blue success in making Guardians of the Galaxy part of the string of success stories for the MCU eight years ago. He probably surprised the actual readers of the comic book team that were reestablished into their modern take in 2008 as well.

It’s a pity that Gunn commercially couldn’t do the same for DC’s go-to example of villains forced to do good or the deep state’s interpretation of “good” with his vastly superior vision of the Suicide Squad.

So many factors go into making the 2021 Suicide Squad’s failure more sad than comically embarrassing. It flips the circumstances from the 2016 film by David Ayers: that film was a commercial success but critically panned, some calling it one of the worst superhero films ever made. This film is a critical success but was financially disastrous.

Disaster is yet a stretch as Gunn is still able to make and release his Peacemaker spin off show with John Cena and Gunn is already hard at work with getting his MCU Guardians of the Galaxy back into the spotlight with their appearance in the Fourth Thor this year as well as a series of Groot shorts, a GOTG holiday special and of course Vol. 3. So, yeah, The Suicide Squad did bomb but I’ve got a feeling that it’s “No hard feelings” all around.

In spite of the poor gross of Gunn’s take on bomb collared villains doing government dirty work and then doing of their rebellious own accord good work, you should see this movie. It’s easy if you try HBO Max and you might wonder why it failed if you don’t account for the factors that were not whatsoever the fault of the film’s quality.

It’s Gunn showing us what would happen if he made GOTG R-rated but not going too hard for the most part as to not alienate you from enjoying the host of characters on their terms. From going deeper into making Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn click in a manner that wasn’t possible the first time to Idris Elba delivering better than Will Smith on the sympathetic killer-for-hire with Bloodsport.

To the surprising, redeeming good nature residing within an individual called “Ratcatcher” to the adorable obliviousness of King Shark to the tragic circumstances of a once purely silly figure like Polka-Dot Man, The Suicide Squad is all about taking would be or were once villains and making them heroic enough or just plain heroes. Just like with the Guardians of the Galaxy, but rougher, edgier.

The Suicide Squad didn’t deserve to be overlooked last year, but then again it is a mission they’re on they’re not expected to survive. It’s meta-ironic no matter how you sliced the results.

Number 6: Dune: Part One

Dune: Will There Be a Dune Part Two? | Den of Geek
Image from Den of Geek (Before Tattoine, there was….)

Much like the circumstances young Paul Atreides and his mother Lady Jessica find themselves in at the end of the first of two or three movies, the circumstances of Dune as a new cinematic prospect is a narrow victory, more so with respects to the financial than the critical.

If you looked at Dune’s box office, it may not seem the most impressive, particularly for a new potential franchise. A little over $100 million domestically and a little over $300 million worldwide. But taking into account the HBO Max viewership, positive critical and audience reception and Oscar word of mouth, Dune is able to begin the journey to achieve something that has long been dismissed: a solid cinematic vision.

In terms of vision, Denis Villeneuve is the right man at the right time and in the right place. He got a chance to continue exploring the cyberpunk dystopia of Blade Runner with the excellent sequel 2049 and now he has a chance to show us what happens when a Hollywood blockbuster goes for the thinking man’s jugular rather than the spectacle craving.

Adapting for the most part the first half of Frank Herbert’s long and if I’m being honest, kindof unwieldy landmark piece of literary sci-fi, the first Dune installment by our man Denis inspires awe more so in its confident ability to show the scale of this world than perhaps anything else. Much like how his vision of continuing the dark world of Blade Runner was made to immerse you in its unsettling enormity, the vision of cosmic civilization a long ass time from now suggests you nor I can ever really encompass the full picture.

Those that can or earnestly try partake of the spice melange and they see the past, the present and the future, like Timothee Chalamet’s Paul. His reserved portrayal of the future Duke of House Atreides does not betray laziness or uncertainty of how to play this role but the uncertainty and fear of how he can be a good successor to his father. Following one intense but inevitable attack on his family, it then turns into how to thread the needle between vengeance and justice. On top of all that, how his prophesized (and manipulated) role as a messianic figure could cause more suffering than salvation.

Dune is about a lot of things, a lot of those things perhaps more pertinent to today than it was in 1965. It’s the difficulty not so much in encompassing the content of the book but the context that was the ominous task to be undertaken. You can tell Villenueve and friends love the series of books and clearly take to heart that it is the world and its themes that are most important. Sure, its characters also serve a needed purpose but for once them being secondary to the all encompassing messages of the narrative works here.

It’s rather appropriate, as these characters spend most of their time on Arrakis, a desert planet that might have given George Lucas a few ideas here or there down the road.

On this planet, you adapt or die as like the thematic power of Herbert’s world, it is the deafening size of the place, the apex predator sand-worms and the inconceivable size of the universe itself that caught Denis’ attention. These small people trying to find purpose in a reality that considers them as puny as they are.

As the first of hopefully a healthy number of installments suggests, it’s about what makes a good civilization and what is the cost of doing so? How much can man positively or negatively affect the scales of how the universe is run? What is better to pursue: your own ends however sympathetic or the needs of all around you? And most significantly, can these effects really last or even matter in the end?

For those simply going along with Villenueve’s take, a mixture of optimism and apprehension at Paul and his follower’s trials may be your takeaway, much like the general opinion of the new Dune before it’s October release. But as the story of Dune goes on, you start to realize that Herbert’s views on humanity’s potential were at best bittersweet. That for all our good intentions, we are either too self-destructive or are handicapped by the self limiting nature of who we simply are.

Dune Messiah, the initially polarizing second novel in the series is all about deconstructing or perhaps demolishing all the assumptions you might have made about the cast of characters. In spite of the end of the first novel laying heavy hints that this is not the story you wanted it to be already. Ironically, that might make Dune a less problematic story by modern standards, what with all the initial takeaways of “white savior narrative.”

I look forward if nothing else at seeing if Part Two and the certainly condensed take on Messiah by Villenueve sticks the landing in the ways that matter. With or without the spice, I see no reason to believe that he will fail in the attempt.

Number 5: Spider-Man: No Way Home

Box Office: 'Spider-Man: No Way Home' Cracks All-Time Top 10
Image by Forbes ( No more “Mr. Stark” guy.)

The third and not last certainly of the MCU Spider-Man flicks rests at polar opposites of assumptions about the modern blockbuster, particularly in relation to superheroes. It serves up the expected and in this instance desired fan service and nostalgic recognition of roughly 20 years of cinematic Spidey while also taking, on the surface, surprising risks that ultimately turned out to be widely embraced rather than bitterly divisive this turn.

Tom Holland’s tenure as Spider-Man has been both widely praised while also uniquely criticized. Not so much for the actor’s performance as Peter Parker, but for how this Peter seemed markedly different with respects to how he reflects the figure’s iconic status as basically “Batman but poor”.

Being the protégé of one of comic’s most noteworthy rich superheroes in Tony Stark did much to espouse a sense that this was not what the character of Spider-Man is supposed to be, privileged with a rich man’s toys rather than what comes from his own blood, sweat and tears.

Among other things, No Way Home seeks to redress this complaint, like a case of constructive criticism being taken to heart that manifests in the form of what is first a big screen Spider-Man movie easter egg tour that becomes in truth an endearing celebration of the different takes for the webhead we’ve seen.

It’s the first Spider-Man sequel to finally perform the balancing act that Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 and Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man 2 failed at: having a lot going on, like with the villain roster, and finally making it work. No Way Home is packed but not crowded, knows what to do to partition the characters, friend or foe, effectively and ironically almost acts as a redemption story for the figures that emerged from the lesser Spider-outings of the past.

It also finds the time to do what the MCU is ought to do, continuing to build itself up with further hints of things to come and matters to be resolved, likely with spectacle involved. It does more than any other MCU property released in 2021 to market the future of itself with enthusiasm and a sense that was mostly lacking that yes, there are still some great things to come, some intriguing things.

Much like how Avengers Endgame wasn’t really the end of the MCU but gave off a sense of finality for something in that universe, Holland’s third solo outing also feels like an end that yet promises more without coming across as cheap for doing so. Like many of the elements of this film, it is exactly what it was trying to be: having a cake and eating it too. 1 and a half billion in gross and counting is the best empirical evidence I can think of for that being true.

Tom Holland will return as Spider-Man but next time, the Spidey you see really will feel as if he has actually come home at last.

Number 4: Invincible: Season One

Amazon's Invincible season 1, episodes 1-3 review
Image from Bam Smack Pow (These Teen Titans are in for a world of hurt like you could never imagine.)

Robert Kirkman’s Invincible stands out to me in threading the needle for combining the earnest optimism and wonder of a standard comic book story with the deconstructive pessimism or skepticism of the works of Alan Moore, Mark Millar an Garth Ennis.

At the same time, Invincible in both comic and now animated television form embodies why we love, gravitate towards the superhero mythos and why we would also be apprehensive of it were it to occur in real life.

First of all, Invincible uses it’s R-rated license to demonstrate why superhero training is direly important, what happens when mistakes are made. It’s not as pretty as the mistakes of a PG/PG-13 demonstration. It also highlights the much more brutal reality when those same powers, that of super strength, laser eyes and the like, are used for reasons that are to put it lightly, not on the level.

Of course, the live action and so far excellent live action The Boys series has also done that, but seeing that same realistic yet bombastic violence from superpowers come in animated form that hews to the romantic style of comic superheroes makes it that much more stark and for the purposes of the story of Mark Grayson and his friends and family, more effective.

More than any one moment so far in Amazon Prime’s The Boys, the violence that can and will happen in this take on Invincible made me wince, even honestly queasy. A mid season battle that goes pretty poorly for the up and coming titular hero of Invincible and his fellow teenage heroes was disturbing in a way I had rarely felt before.

This was all intentional. Sure Peter Parker and Clark Kent and many other heroes have had rough goes of it before as is inevitable in their line of work but the age limits on what content is permissible in their side of the genre never allows us to see how really terrible it would likely get if super-powers were a real phenomenon. Kirkman’s vision does not spare us what we’ve always perhaps quietly pondered would actually happen in a bout between superhero and supervillain.

It’s not just physical pain in a superhero story that Invincible has been about. it’s about what it means to be a good hero or just a good person with such power. How you weather not just the physical but the emotional and psychological baggage of such a job. Again, less violent superhero faire has dealt with this, it’s basically Spider-Man and Batman’s modus operandi. It’s the far more visceral consequences that happen that puts those same timeless themes into a fresher light.

On the deconstructive side of things is where the early volumes of Invincible the graphic novel and the first season of the show draw upon something newer. About the assumptions made about the role models that these same heroes like Invincible derive inspiration from to be a hero. As it has now become part of pop cultural common knowledge by now, Invincible’s father being the surprise initial antagonist of the story can no longer be really a spoiler.

One of the most iconic images from the show, that of a frustrated Omni-Man talking down to his battered, bloodied son about their real purpose to be on Earth, not like the desires of Jor-El to his son Kal-El, has all but given up the game on that front.

It’s not just a commentary on what a super-powered group of people would seriously want to do if they came upon a comparatively puny species like humanity, it’s about the painful reckoning of most kids growing into adults that your parents are rarely what you wanted them to be or what you thought they were. A betrayal more reaving than an actual blade.

In spite of the heaviness, Invincible paradoxically also contains that down-to-Earth quality that makes the modern superhero so appealing. Mark, like Peter Parker and many coming of age superheroes, has desires and responsibilities outside of saving the city or the world. He has burgeoning romantic affections, doubts on where to go next in education and employment and making sure the ties that bind him stay well wrapped. All the more prescient considering how one tie is strained past the breaking point.

Much like Kirkman’s other seminal comic contribution The Walking Dead, Invincible is not only about Invincible. Great time is given to figures other than Mark like his fellow superhero and eventual love of his life Atom Eve and her own struggles. Of particular interest based off of my comic reading is the fascinating, endearing and in time heart-wrenching love story between two other heroes in Mark’s circle, Robot and Monster Girl. If the first season is any indication, the show is well on its way to not just nailing that side of Invincible’s narrative, it might make it even more devastating than what occurs on the page.

So far, the ship of adapting Invincible into motion seems much surer than the very shaky hand that ultimately undid AMC’s live action take of the Walking Dead. I feel much more certain that Mark’s story of super and not so super woes and victories will reach a proper end, one that might even surpass in time what came before. It certainly doesn’t hurt that for my money, the voice casting is as perfect to my subjective imagining of how these characters sounded in my head as possible. Even the changes aren’t too terrible.

Invincible is the inspiring and thought-provoking superhero tale of our time that is not for the faint of heart and stomach.

Number Three: West Side Story

A guide to the 2021 remake of West Side Story - Classical Music
Image from BBC Magazine (A tale as old as Queen Elizabeth I.)

Steven Spielberg’s latest film has been called his best film in 20 years. I haven’t seen every film of his in that timespan and I likely never will but yet I can heartily endorse that statement as heartily as everyone performs in this remake of the 1961 classic, itself based on the runaway success of the 1957 Broadway show.

Much like how Kurosawa was able to reimagine William Shakespeare’s work brilliantly in Japanese through his masterpieces Throne of Blood (Macbeth) and Ran (King Lear), Stephen Sondheim, who passed away mere days before the 2021 West Side Story’s release, rethought the Bard’s most ubiquitous work, Romeo and Juliet, into mid 20th century Urban America.

The original 60s adaptation by Robert Wise is seen by some as an acquired taste due to its on the surface goofy hybridization of Shakespeare, singing and city gangs snapping fingers in groovy rhythm. Spielberg’s version remains faithful but successfully makes it seem more plausible even self-knowing at times at how inherently silly a musical can be. I can’t say whether it is darker than the original considering that the beats of the story remain unaltered though with an even greater sense of looming, inevitable tragedy.

Spielberg uses the fact that his version is no longer contemporary but now a period piece to great effect in distinguishing his version without losing the spirit of what it’s about. The foreknowledge that the titular part of Manhattan, the Upper West Side, is destined to change into something altogether different than what it was in the 50s. The inability for either the Caucasian Jets nor the Puerto Rican Sharks to reckon that they have a common nemesis in Robert Moses, an enemy they cannot defeat but could outlast, adds to the subtle pain that makes up West Side Story’s newest conceit.

Like the myopic, dueling Capulets and Montagues from fair Verona, the Jets and Sharks ensnare in their pointless feud innocent youths who ironically would likely never have met each other if not for that feud. The rumble gives, the rumble takes away.

Many have laid some heat at Ansel Elgort’s performance as our Romeo Tony, but I really see it as a decent actor not quite on the same high level as everyone else, including Rachel Ziegler as our Juliet Maria. It makes me feel more sorry for Elgort being dwarfed by everyone else especially Mike Faist as the Jets leader Riff, David Alverez as the Sharks leader Bernardo and Ariana Debose as Bernardo’s girlfriend Anita who might well surpass Rita Moreno’s original performance here. Don’t feel too bad, as Moreno gets to play a new role beautifully herself as well as be an executive producer.

West Side Story’s greyer palette is offset by having genuine color being used not to mention a film grain that successfully reminds one of a bygone era of cinema much like Tarantino’s use in Once upon a Time in Hollywood. It manages to present itself as a modern production that has not lost the necessary cues from yesteryear to be called West Side Story. If nothing else, it better highlights how deadly serious a story it becomes as well as the frustrating obliviousness of most in the story to its growing peril.

West Side Story was a tragic failure at the box office, with Spider-Man’s release after further eating up potential viewers down the line. Most factors were not Spielberg’s or the film’s fault, namely the rather curious apathy the modern filmgoer has towards musicals on the big screen nowadays. Hamilton is proof that musicals in general can still be hot, but perhaps it’s hard to make appealing a story to younger generations about the silent generation dancing and fighting their issues away.

Of course, being number three on this list, I do recommend the new WSS regardless of your age. You might even find it more accessible and less initially strange an experience than the 1961 entry. It made a millennial like myself honest to God cry and I don’t often get into movies like this anyway, so take that as an endorsement and a reassurance that you won’t be wasting your time with this film the way these New York ruffians waste their lives.

Number Two: Guardians of the Galaxy (Played on PS5)

Where to buy Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy
Image by USA Today (A Cowboy Bebop you could get behind last year.)

In 2020, Square-Enix released an Avengers game in the same vein of titles like Destiny and The Division. Always online, co-operative and as it turns out, not that fun or good. It was developed by two studios, Crystal Dynamics, the people behind the most recent Tomb Raider games and Eidos Montreal, best known for rebooting for a time Deus Ex and making the third modern Tomb Raider.

When it was announced at E3 last year that the latter studio were making their own Guardians of the Galaxy title, opinions were quite muted first because of the sour response to their Avengers work and because the game they were making didn’t seem all that impressive, almost imitative of the MCU conception.

Turns out, like in 2014, you shouldn’t underestimate those bunch of heroic A-holes. Eidos’ take on Star-Lord and friends was so good, it might even stand toe to toe or be better than the version we got from James Gunn.

This iteration of the Guardians combines the strengths of the cinematic and the comic into a hybrid that really doesn’t indicate the weaknesses of either. Star-Lord is still a developmentally arrested orphan who still pines for the life he was kidnapped away from in the 1980s, though under even more tragic circumstances. He’s also the son of the king of a planet and a war veteran like in the comics and unlike the movies. Gamora is an adopted daughter of Thanos now without the mad titan or her other adopted sister Nebula, whom she was forced to kill.

Drax is the man who took down Thanos himself, but still finds no peace from having lost his beloved family. Rocket’s douchey attitude comes from not really coming to terms with the traumatic life he lived as a test subject and the guilt over not saving the one he loved. Groot, despite being on the outside the cheeriest of the Guardians also harbors the pain of being the last of his kind. The Guardians are defined by their shared loss and come together ultimately as a Fast and Furiousesque family, and hardly as cheesy.

To add to the prevailing notion that the retooled version of the GOTG first seen in 2008 is based over outsiders coming together as one is that in this take Peter Quill, our Star-Lord, has to face a responsibility that would be hard even on the responsible-minded; of possibly being a father. I always enjoy a story where the Casanova hero not only reckons with genuine love and commitment but the chance to care for the product of his ways.

The twists and turns of this interactive Guardians adventure is not just punctuated by great drama but some of the funniest writing I’ve seen from anything in a long time. The banter between the five Guardians, whether it be onboard their vessel the Milano, exploring and adventuring out and about or in the midst of combat rarely failed to register as anything but pitch perfect not only to their characterization and character growth, but to my funny bone. I was gasping for air at the section where the Guardians have to use the Nova Corps virtual help desk.

The cherry on top of this rousing and surprisingly emotional adventure is the commitment to detail to make this your kind of Guardians adventure from the varied number of costumes you can give all the characters that detail their comic and film history since the 1970s to an excellent if familiar collection of 80s hits that can be played on the ship’s jukebox.

You know the developers really cared beyond a shadow of a doubt about their vision for this side of the Marvel universe when they created up to ten brand new songs for a fictional metal band that Peter Quill listened to as a kid, a band that wouldn’t you know it, was called Star-Lord.

It’s safe to call Eidos Montreal’s Guardians of the Galaxy the most pleasant surprise of 2021. No one expected anything as remotely as good or investing and yet here we have what might be a version of these space cowboys that I’m more eager for a follow-up to than Gunn’s own great rendition on the big screen. Turn up the radio.

Number one: Arcane: League of Legends

Arcane | release date, cast for the League of Legends Netflix series -  Radio Times
Image from Radio Times (If you think your sister or brotherhood is dysfunctional, watch this show and see if you still feel that way.)

From out of basically nowhere comes Arcane as the best thing of 2021. Based on a video game series you would have to hit up my friend Angel over in Florida to really get a good description of, this animated series out of Netflix finishes what Castlevania started: making not just a great adaptation of a video game, but a masterful one.

This could be my lack of exposure to the series developed by Riotgames but I basically forgot half the time this was even based on a game, so completely it can and will envelop you in its world, characters and emotional stakes. A tale of two cities whose future is decided by the tragic deterioration of two sisters’ relationship.

It doesn’t hurt that Arcane’s art style and animation is practically idiosyncratic with only 2018’s Into the Spider-verse to compare it to in terms of something really new coming onto the screen. It’s so beautiful and detailed that it’s fun to watch and rewatch the show just to see what the animated motion describes to you that words won’t. How the facial and body animations can convey almost better than a real person’s what they’re feeling and where the paths of their lives are taking them, for better and for worse.

It’s themes are both timeless and timely, leaving no small amount of sympathy for those you would call villain and no amount of disappointment for those you would call hero or at least not evil.

The sisters Vi and Powder and their evolution or devolution in the latter’s case make up the main thrust from which most every other conflict is affected. Vi becomes a gritty survivor whose admirable trait of never giving up comes in conflict with recklessness borne out of pride. How her desperation to find her sister Powder is colored in by her regrets in how she treated her in the past. How perhaps she can find a new beginning not with her estranged sister, but from a woman hailing from a part of the world she has every reason to despise.

Powder in turn becomes Jinx, an explosive anarchist who demonstrates the rather chilling lesson that even someone that can earnestly love you for who you are can also corrupt you into something that makes a troubled yet innocuous little girl into a nightmare. a nightmare that is as frightening as it is sorrowful. How trauma enflames the demons that were always there until the person you become is all but unrecognizable from what was once there.

It’s a story really about the two kinds of love, both intimate and familial, behind a background of significant technological change occurring in a world hungering for societal change but being kept from it, much like our own. How love can redeem and corrupt. How the smallest mistakes can be more destructive than you would first imagine.

That is a lot of food for thought for something that could be lazily construed as “video game adaptation.” Arcane is not an adaptation. It is a burgeoning new work of art inspired by a video game but desiring to be its own wonderful thing. Maybe that was what was missing in the nearly 30 years of attempts since the Mario Bros movie of 1993.

Arcane overnight changed expectations over a genre of adaptation that was practically written off for the most part. Now, every other attempt to give a video game brand a new alternative format that fails will be doubly a failure because now we know it can be so much better.

As for what comes next, beats me, probably a new installment in 80s retrospective.

Originally posted 2022-01-17 03:15:38.

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