Basque in the Horror: a review of Resident Evil 4 Remake (potential spoilers about both this game and the original)

Image from Gamesradar (In this Spanish villa, there is no mi casa es tu casa.)

I’m sure it hasn’t been overlooked by most that the best Resident Evil games coming out as of late happen to be top to bottom re-imaginings of classic titles in the venerated horror franchise. Sure, I muddle my point by the remake of 1999’s Resident Evil 3 being the worst of the new games (and possibly among the worst in the series), but if you were to put side by side the new Resident Evil 2 and 4 to the brand new numbered entries: 2017’s Resident Evil 7: Biohazard and 2021’s Resident Evil 8: Village, chances are good that people would lean towards the remakes.

This attitude about and the reality of video game remakes seems alien to those who are familiar only with remakes as pertaining to movies. Almost all the time are film remakes dismissed or made to conjure groaning on the public’s part for echoing a perceived or actual lack of imagination and risk-taking on Hollywood’s part.

Sure, there are remakes that have become respected even reaching classic status like the De Palma Scarface, the 70s’ Invasion of the Body Snatchers and to some Peter Jackson’s King Kong. Two of the three remakes of A Star is Born are well-considered including the recent one with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. Nevertheless, a cinematic remake has to work a lot harder to gain favor compared to a video game’s.

It’s not that no scrutiny is given to VG remakes, it’s more so concerning whether it brings anything new to the table, can improve upon anything from the original or if the remake is actually anticipated, crossing fingers they won’t screw it up.

Remaking 2005’s Resident Evil 4, widely considered one of the best games of its series and one of the greatest and most influential of all time, must have been a frightening prospect to the Capcom team led by Yasuhiro Anpo and Kazunori Kadoi. How do you properly remake a game that some consider perfect, groundbreaking and compared to earlier titles, accessible still to a newer audience, not to mention more readily available?

Capcom’s higher ups were so very wise to choose the Resident Evil 2 Remake team to be the ones to headline Resident Evil 4’s return. They are provably the best group of developers working on RE now based on RE2 2019’s reputation. It also made sense for them to be the ones due to RE4 being a narrative continuation for two of RE2’s lead characters: rookie cop and narrow survivor of zombie outbreak Leon S. Kennedy and Chinese-American International women of mystery Ada Wong. Having the same people in charge of both the story and gameplay for these two continuity intertwined titles (say that three times fast) was wise and an opportunity that didn’t occur with the development of the original games.

To put it simply when it came to Anpo and Kadoi’s meeting the challenge, it is an unbelievable victory. During my first of what was certainly not to be few consecutive playthroughs, I was in something of a mild shock as I realized they were succeeding. I didn’t know how you could make a new version of a well-aged game from the oughts’ work nearly as well as what I was experiencing. Well, I say that in spite of this year’s excellent remake of 2008’s Dead Space. I think it’s way too early to declare this effort better than the original game save in one department but my God it’s shocking that I’m even in the position to think such a thing.

The story of Resident Evil 4 and this could be said of most entries in the series is a B-movie with a first class production and on occasion first class scares to boot. Leon has spent six years since his traumatic night fighting to survive and escape Raccoon City training to become a special forces agent for the U.S. of A. This version of events makes it clear that Leon was forced to put his life in further danger due to the things he’s seen being for a lack of a better word “classified” during the city’s fall and it could be insinuated that he takes the job for the government to care for his two fellow survivors: the other playable RE2 character Claire and young girl Sherry.

If the training was dangerous, the missions he went on, including one backstory significant one, put him nearly in as much danger of dying as the horrors he faced in RE2. Nevertheless, Leon endured and survived. He proved his talent to be more than a product of chance on one night in 1998. Now, he’s part of the Secret Service and his first day on the job is once again to prove a doozy.

His mission: To search and rescue the President’s missing daughter, last spotted somewhere in the most rural, agrarian, stuck-in-the-past part of Spain conceivable. The most powerful nation on Earth sends in one man (albeit a proven badass) escorted by two Spanish police officers and assisted over the radio by woman-in-the-chair Ingrid Hunnigan, a rarely seen but nevertheless fan favorite.

The brilliance of the Resident Evil series, especially in this particular re-imagining is taking a worn conceit of horror media and adding in genuine horror and suspense mostly due to how you the player must literally interact with that convention virtually rather than simply observe.

Even if much of what Leon faces seems overly familiar in description to a horror know-it-all or know-enough, that still doesn’t do justice when you’re there in the thick of it with the bishonen-haired gaming icon and his beloved bomber jacket. Leon upon entering the spookier than ever Spanish forest soon discovers that matters are terribly off and the horror he has to survive is of a quite different beast from anything in Raccoon City.

The villagers of this seemingly ignored part of Spain are taken by some madness that compels them to kill anyone, anyone, that enters their territory. The two policemen that Leon was with don’t last very long, barely longer than the original game and soon our hero is finding himself frantically looking for a safe place that isn’t there in a new take on the iconic village fight.

I detailed my thoughts on this famous video game sequence when talking about a scenario that acted as spiritual successor in a game that was itself heavily inspired by RE4, RE8: Village. There were deliberate nods to that original moment, of being trapped in a place full of monsters trying to break in and kill you. Even the resolution to that moment that is out of the player’s hands is played much the same way.

It may seem repetitive of Capcom to remake wholesale a game that was given a spiritual successor in 2021, but the truth is for all of RE8’s qualities, it still isn’t exactly RE4 nor was it really trying to be. It still had it’s eye on being the eighth Resident Evil at the end of the day. For all the changes one can list in this 2023 take, Resident Evil 4 Remake is still Resident Evil 4 at its heart. You know that is true as soon as a new Leon Kennedy enters a familiar only mildly altered village full of very angry….residents.

The sense of you and Leon being in seemingly never-ending danger is propelled through the game’s modernization of the idea and it is here where “modernization” is anything but a dirty word. The villagers are faster, more agile than last time. The ways they can attack and grab Leon are more varied and more likely to make you initially panic. Entering a building to bar off the windows and doors to fend off the horde gives you even less time this go around to catch your breath as in half a minute the house you’re in is breached and one of the townsfolk is bearing a very red-tinged chainsaw.

Old tactics I had to hold off the assault straight up did not work. Old avenues of momentary escape weren’t as reliable. Ultimately I knew that all I had to do was maintain, wait for the nearby church’s bell to ring which in turn ends immediately the villagers attempts to skewer Leon. In an even eerier trance, all of the townspeople up and leave through the town hall, utterly ignoring Leon as they chant religious tracts in Spanish.

Even knowing what caused the bell to ring and why the townspeople are the way they are for years does little to diminish how unsettling a moment this is and Leon’s more believable appearance and confused expression adds new weight to a classic moment. Then to top it all off, as the villager closes the door, leaving Leon all alone, he utters a corny yet no less valid one-liner 18 years after it was first said. Then the title flashes confidently onto frame. The rest of the game would continually reassure me, but it’s here where the veteran player knows that Resident Evil 4 is back. And it’s teeth are ever sharp.

Resident Evil 4, then and now, is partitioned into three distinctive acts, titled after the location you’re in. You start off in the “Village” region, which for many continues to be the part of RE4 that best defines it to this day. Then, you enter a massive Spanish castle, full of horror both macabre yet goofy, almost as if Sam Raimi punched up the script at this junction. Then it ends on the generally polarizing “Island”, more industrial and military focused and it’s here where RE4 forecasts its’ series future as action over horror for the next two main entries.

Resident Evil 4 for 2023 manages to do an incredible feat in maintaining the main story beats and locations while somehow making it less tongue in cheek camp silly. There are still moments that will remind you of how absurd the original game could end up being yet many will miss that side of RE4, considered by them to be one of the game’s defining traits. Personally, I was just too impressed seeing a game pull off a more grounded version of the one out and out wacky Resident Evil game that was embraced for that reason.

The writing and performances of all involved are convincingly believable, fitting with the same tone that has been established with the modern games. The Leon you knew from the new RE2 is back, a little gruffer, more world weary for reasons that are sorrowfully apparent. Nick Apostiledes’ take on Leon has now become my favorite version of the character and it’s not just that his and the writers interpretation strikes a chord that wasn’t there before but it’s the consistency.

Leon in the games he appeared in before the Remakes were voiced by three separate people and with it came drastic changes in personality. It’s kinda hard to connect with the old Leon over the course of the games he was in (RE2,4,6) because his manner and voice was too different each time. I get that a considerable amount of time passes between each of these games, but if you contrast those three voices, you may feel like I do that you end up with Three Leons.

One of the things I was hoping for if Capcom should risk redoing Resident Evil 4 was not just seeing Apostiledes’ take return in a follow-up story of some kind, but to create a better continuity in and of itself. That alone does not justify a remake of course but it was one area that could be explored and thankfully that was realized. By the end of this RE4 Leon now feels like he has a cogent arc going for him, how the events of this game really do reflect back on RE2’s.

It’s for that reason that the new Resident Evil 4 now might be one of the best narratively drawn up games when before it was a gloriously obvious excuse plot for cool, spooky and stupid set-pieces. It’s another reason why I’m somewhat down for Capcom risking another version of the oft-ridiculed Resident Evil 6 just to see what this Leon would be like in that game’s scenario. Oh and I’m an affirmed RE6 apologist, I even have an entry on this blog about that.

Another thing that makes the plot of RE4 more worth paying attention to than before is that more than a few characters go through re-characterization, some more drastic than others. The most noteworthy is the President’s daughter Leon is trying to rescue, Ashley Graham. The original Ashley has been widely lambasted by many for her annoying attitude and voice and for being more of a gameplay prop than a real character. For many sections, you would have to escort her through enemy territory and make sure she doesn’t get hurt, killed or re-kidnapped (at least, in parts where she isn’t scripted to be kidnapped back anyway). She has her defenders admittedly, some proclaiming the criticisms of her to be exaggerated and I eventually got so good at playing RE4 2005 that she stopped being a serious nuisance for me even in the infamously harder sections.

This Ashley on the other hand gets to be both gameplay mechanic and an actual character. She’s now not annoying at all, helpful in ways that are more pronounced in the story and the interplay between her and Leon feels more organic. Capcom probably looked at the many games where you have an (often) female companion to the player character like in The Last of Us, Bioshock Infinite and the modern God of War titles and thought of implementing improvements from those games into this one.

Sure, you still have to be more mindful of Ashley’s condition than you would LOU’s Ellie and Lev or GOW’s Atreus (You don’t have to worry about Bioshock’s Elizabeth period) as this is still a horror experience and Ashley’s involvement means you now have to consider her safety on top of yours which was already harrowing enough a prospect. But unlike last time, where saving Ashley from a cultist whose grabbed her, you won’t think “sigh, I’ll save you” now it’s “Don’t worry, I’ll save you!” Ashley’s improved characterization and her own little story arc actually makes you forgiving of the moments where she could’ve literally been a challenge for you to overcome.

This could well be testing the waters for a remake of Resident Evil 5 but the expansion in character and role of Luis, the mysterious, supposedly dashing Spaniard ladies man and secret scientist, makes a case that maybe that game being reimagined from the ground up wouldn’t be so terrible. Luis is a Mauser-wielding man who Leon meets early on in the game. He soon becomes one of the very few that Leon can trust but even then there’s something about him that keeps our hero on guard.

Luis and his relationship with the setting of Resident Evil 4 has been made deeper, more considered which is in line with basic expectations if you wish to be more than a lazy 1to1 redo. His connection with this trapped in the past portion of Spain is more intertwined and he is even made to connect with lore from earlier in the series which doesn’t come across as a contrived retcon. Instead it makes more sense, hell, one of the underlying accomplishments here is making this game more sensical.

In the original game, Luis dies suddenly near the mid-point in a shocking moment that when you rewatch it is both an obvious reference to a moment from Aliens (who doesn’t ape that movie?) and has a (possibly) unintentionally lewd manner to it. In the new take, as the trailers had already revealed, Luis gets to live past the point he originally died. I won’t say anything about whether he survives this version, but the moments where you and he are teamed up against the infected villagers and cultists is not just an expansion off of the original game’s acclaimed cabin holdout section, it could be seeing how players respond to sections where you are not the only capable person on the field fighting enemies.

Resident Evil 5 introduced Cooperative play to the series and in doing so brought in the character Sheva as a brand new figure. Player 1 would control veteran RE hero Chris Redfield and player 2 would control her for the entire duration of RE5. When people think of positives to bring to the first unabashed non-horror main entry for the series, it’s function as a co-op action/adventure game with horror elements is seen as it’s greatest strength. People still on occasion play Resident Evil 5 to this day despite having been released back in 2009.

Playing RE5 by yourself (which has largely been my lot) is not nearly as fun nor does it showcase the entry’s genuine additions at all. You ultimately end up with a shorter, less impressive RE4 albeit with improved graphics which for the most part are still pretty sharp all things considered. Having Luis in RE4 23′ be an AI partner for Leon for a relatively lengthy section of the game seems to be a test run not so much for what new Co-op RE games could be like, but if it’s possible for an entire new game to work like that section.

Some would say that having a constant partner at your side detracts from the sense of isolation that horror games feed on. By isolation, I mean there’s no friendly faces at your side or at least not for long periods. That’s one of the points taken against 2013’s Dead Space 3, where it’s own inclusion of a co-op version of it’s campaign was seen as part of why Dead Space ending up dying as a series. For a time, thankfully. Ironically, like with REs 5 and 6, the best way to play DS3 was, yup, with a friend. It’s a strange paradox of things working and not working.

I’ll save my thoughts on what further remakes Capcom should or should not pursue until the end, but at least this probable testing of an idea also gave us a chance to spend more time with a character that honestly did leave RE4’s story a little too early.

In terms of further characterization, I’ll say mum for those who still haven’t played yet, but I will say that two major antagonists in the game have essentially new backgrounds and motivations. Almost new characters for that matter. There could be some lore purists that turn their nose up at these changes (not that I’ve heard them at all for that matter) but what I like about those changes is that they, one, make a little more sense within the context of what is occurring and, two, it makes Resident Evil 4 feel a little more tragic.

Much like how I said the slight narrative changes to the Dead Space remake increased the sense of tragedy and sorrow from the original, RE4R tweaks what potential sadness could be found in the game’s backstory and extends it to both heroes and villains. Leon himself as discussed earlier is a figure who in spite of his nearly unshakable stoicism and stronger courage is a man who has been though hell so much that he feels more weary than spooked.

This is something that a theoretical RE6 remake could touch upon and maybe even a new numbered title featuring him but more than anything else he is a man growing increasingly tired with the weight of surviving horror, again and again. Fellow protagonist Chris is also noted to have this growing fatigue as the series marches on, but with the new direction for Leon, the cracks, however slight, could be hinted at.

Sure, someone could make the watertight counterpoint that it’s Leon struggling to deal with PTSD from Raccoon City. This is actually in the text of the game as the opening monologue Leon gives shows how six years later, he can’t let go of the many lives he failed to save in Resident Evil 2. All the worse since he was a rookie cop and joined with the express intention to help others. Sure, he did manage to save some people like Claire and Sherry. It wasn’t enough.

Maybe both of these things about Leon and where he’s at mentally can be applied but what ultimately matters is that this is a Leon you feel sorry for, no matter how much fun you’ll ultimately have in his shoes. The original RE4 Leon was an utterly confident, unfazed badass that wisecracked because he could. He had conquered his fear and now he was almost kind of having fun half the time one could argue in classic RE4.

This Leon while more professional and weathered by past experiences feels more human, more willing to take the situation seriously because that’s how he stays alive. He still wise-cracks and wise cracks good, but this time it sounds more like letting off stress from stuff that would keep me up at night if I had first-hand experience with RE4’s monsters. This Leon is conquering his fear and his self-hatred for failing to be as much of a protector as he had hoped.

Now, let’s talk about Leon and a survivor of RE2 he suspected had lived but remained doubtful could have. Ada Wong, the ever red-clad femme fatale of the franchise has a reputation for being basically the Catwoman of Resident Evil. RE4 further emphasized it by giving her a grappling hook, which sure sounds like a Batman thing but whatever. Some players of the new RE4 have taken to harassing her voice actress Lilly Gao online for her supposedly tepid, bored performance, to the point she closed her Instagram account. Putting aside that I would not condone this even if her performance were lackluster or outright bad, she’s perfectly fine here.

She feels like an extension of the new Ada we were given with the same voice actress in the new Resident Evil 2 from 2019. The complaints probably extend more to how hostile she behaves when she comes to her interactions with Leon, fewer here than the original. Ada, while likely developing genuine feelings for Leon’s “good boy” personality and selfless actions, still played him as a pawn in her subterfuge mission to steal the virus that causes the hubbub that ruins Raccoon City.

In spite of her deception, Leon still feels sorry for her apparent death at the end of RE2 but a certain moment hints to him that she improbably didn’t die. Six years later do the fellow RC survivors meet again and unlike the original take on Leon and Ada where Leon is a confident hunk and Ada is a sultry spy wearing a cocktail dress in a quite mission-inappropriate fashion, Leon and Ada are mutually more abrasive to each other. If there’s any Batman/Catwomanesque flirting going on, it’s far more subdued but not necessarilly absent. Certain looks the two make can suggest something is still there.

It’s really for the best that Leon and Ada are framed this way. In Leon’s experience, Ada is a duplicitous agent that was trying to sell a terrifying medical creation to some likely spurious third party. She used Leon emotionally to get what she wants. Now, six years later, she’s back clearly trying to get something from the cult responsible for his current predicament. Leon is on guard, wondering how she’s gonna take advantage of him next. The tricks she used on him before won’t work again obviously, so what’s her play now?

It might be that upon returning to the narratives of RE 2 and 4, Capcom recognized how toxic Leon and Ada really are as a potential coupling, and in a more realistic take on the games, make Leon more cognizant of how unhealthy and possibly lethal it would be to really give her a chance. Leon’s sad connection with Ada adds to Leon’s tragic story as well. Considering how young he was during the events of RE2, between 18 and 21, this could’ve messed up his sense of trust when it came to relationships, romantic or otherwise. Sure, he probably has a tight connection with Claire and Sherry but he wasn’t with those two all that much in RE2’s story. He didn’t even meet Sherry until he was finally escaping Raccoon City.

So, no, Gao’s performance as Ada Wong is perfectly fine, a natural continuation of what she would be to Leon and vice versa if they were to meet again. Admittedly, Ada does seem to have less of a presence in RE4 23′ narrative then before but with the near inevitability of a future DLC containing her Separate Ways campaign (Leon even namedrops it at the end), we might get a deeper picture in time of Ada’s contribution to the story, let alone perhaps her true feelings about Leon and a nagging self-spite over using a guy that she actually likes.

Having replayed Resident Evil 4 2023 many times at this point in writing a review, I’ve come to realize that the new version is shorter than the original. Some think that classic RE4 is a little overstuffed here and there and the Capcom team likely heard those complaints and used it to make a new take that is still lengthy but more compact. This move is made justifiable due to how like with every modern RE the game encourages you to complete the game faster, under a certain time based on chosen difficulty, all to unlock rewards both useful and cosmetic for Leon and Ashley. If you want Leon to sport his 1930s’ Gangster look with tommy gun and Ashley her hilarious yet handy suit of armor, you gotta beat the game faster and better now, rather than just period like before.

Unlike my completionist streak I accomplished with RE2’s remake, I’m more doubtful I’ll ever 100% RE4 23′ content. Beating this game on the hardest difficulty under a certain amount of time will give me the adorable “cat ears” for Leon which also gives him infinite ammo for all weapons but considering that part of the appeal of a Resident Evil game is the challenge of maintaining your finite resources, I wouldn’t be keen on unlocking something that all but removes the challenge though, true, you have to work your Secret Service ass off to get it.

With the tightening of RE4 in this modernization comes the removal of certain moments, some that may hold a special place in veteran’s hearts. Entire boss battles are gone, though thanks to the potential Ada campaign on the horizon a certain boss that was notably missing from Leon’s journey could well become Ada’s opponent. The game’s lore even namedrops this tardy adversary so it may not really be an omission rather a rearranging.

RE4 23‘ does a lot with its rearranging or reconsideration of existing elements from RE4 05′. A section late in the Castle part acts as a chimera hybrid of three separate scenarios Leon once confronted. The clock tower, the giant statue of the Castle’s villain Salazar and the circular tower stairwell and elevator that gets you to fighting Salazar as a boss are now all in one. The clock tower before was a puzzle area where you had to shoot wooden boards blocking the machinery. Now, it’s all set dressing as Leon can’t affect the clock at all.

The Salazar statue has been drastically shrunk and no longer inexplicably starts chasing you in a manner that is one of the looniest in the entire series. Now, it stays in place but it’s head will rotate, bellowing fire out of its mouth as you ascend the tower. As for the elevator tower, that remains most faithfully kept though the Donkey Kong barrels the cultists would drop down the stairwell via lever have been replaced with giant spikey balls.

This amalgamation of disparate parts of RE4 is part of making the intended speedier runs for multiple playthroughs more practical to accomplish and it tightens the pace, correcting a long standing complaint that for me was more nitpick if even that.

Some areas are just plain gone, though they could have some manner of return for Ada’s campaign. Some are less likely than others like the brazenly nuts “Lava Room”, where RE4 really stops trying to be consistent, all for the sake of gameplay variety, which is a fair enough goal for a game from 2005. Part of me does sorta miss those moments, if only because it does make the new version feel shorter, even if there is a perfectly solid reason for it. To perhaps compensate, there are entire sections which are borderline one to one in layout from the original, which could stand as testament to how well aged those parts remain, how well they still mesh with Leon’s more agile control setup or because these moments are just so caught up in the game’s identity.

As for things that I really did miss though this is much rectified by the painless process of playing classic RE4 which is again much more readily available than older games, was the humorous interactions Leon would have with two of the game’s bad guys, Napoleon complex-addled Ramon Salazar and the main antagonist Osmund Saddler. Whether in person or over Leon’s radio, the often funny conversations Leon would have with these two feel like something really is missing in comparison to other cuts.

True, Saddler is a much different person in this version so the radio calls just wouldn’t work the same but I still think they could’ve had Leon and Salazar interact more. On my first couple of playthroughs, I almost forgot Salazar was in the game. The original really wouldn’t let you and Leon forget and that adds to the particular charm of classic RE4’s mid-section. Sure, when Leon does interact with Ramon now, it’s still not bad. The boss battle almost overcompensates with regards to Ramon’s manic frustration with Leon not dying by his hand. It’s great stuff albeit tethered to one of the remake’s more difficult battles.

As for whether it is actually more of a survival horror game, well I would certainly say in parts it is scarier. The new version of the segment where you control Ashley is nerve-wracking in new ways. It’s a combat devoid area that plays on being all but helpless against a kind of enemy I don’t want to give away. Sure, foreknowledge of the original game should already tell you what Ashley’s up against. But how it happens is different enough and scary enough where not only is Ashley more vulnerable than before you also have to solve puzzles amidst that anxiety.

The puzzles are overall more difficult, especially on the first couple of runs. Only a handful of puzzles from the original were difficult and even the hardest one has a solution so easy to utilize that it makes it a cakewalk once you remember it. Certain puzzles, particularly of an electronic kind late in the game continue to hassle me and one for an optional treasure can bust your brain good.

On the subject of treasures, RE4 incentivized replay value due to the presence of the ever mysterious Merchant, whose pirate like voice is doubled down on in the Remake though his voice is (controversially) softer. He’s also much more talkative when perusing his wares so I can imagine more than a few players getting annoyed with him. I like him nonetheless as not only does his appearence and his teleporting shop guarantee you’re in a safe place, it also gives you a chance to unwind: check your attaché case containing your weapons, supplies and ammo, save your progress, buy some new stuff, upgrade your weapons and sell stuff including the many beautifully realized treasures.

Five of the merchant’s locations have the returning shooting gallery, completely pirate themed and while it certainly is a massive tonal shift from this darker take on the game, it yet rewards you with challenging ranges to conquer, all to acquire tokens which when placed in a vending machine get you a grabbag “charm” to attach to your attaché case with a special benefit. To showcase that the developers really care, they’re all figurines modeled after characters, enemies and items from the original game.

It’s the Merchant and his services which is more or less the core reason behind RE4’s immense ability to make you return again and again. Even when the horror diminishes, the fun doesn’t or at least much slower. Certain weapons are kept out of reach until New Game Plus and even the unlockable weapons can be upgraded such as a knife that can’t be broken.

That segues into one of the Remake’s best additions, if not it’s best one. In recent years, parrying enemy attacks has become a more popular game mechanic due to how it naturally coerces the player to train their reflexes and to take even less dangerous encounters seriously. I don’t know which game started the trend of parrying getting big but one likely culprit to spark the trend was the Soulslike titles from…From Software. It’s more of a strong recommendation in titles like Bloodborne, Elden Ring or Dark Souls but it’s a necessity for Sekiro.

Save for the hardest difficulty, RE4 Remake allows you to not always be completely on the mark when pressing the button to parry. Some fights, like a plot significant one (or two) are more demanding of what you’ve learned through using your knife to ward off attacks big and small. The expanded use of the knife helps forge RE4R as having something distinct about it mechanically, not just from the game it’s remaking but in the series as a whole. It ties in with the background behind Leon as a survivor being trained to be an agent after Raccoon City and upon using the knife as a handy tool in close encounters it shows growth both for Leon as a character and as manifestation of the player’s own skill.

It’s more than just ensuring that an enemy attack won’t hit, if you time it right it even gets you the chance to counterattack and even instantly down the enemy. The innovation with the knife is proof that you’re not just getting RE4 again, you’re getting it back with a new technique that makes the combat loop even deeper than before.

In spite of the shorter length, RE4 Remake is still capable of wowing you with it’s implementation of enemies in their environments, in how they complement the player no matter what your status is with regards to ammo, weapons and supplies. Like the original, they are hidden exploits or tricks that can be used not only to make a potentially grueling section less so but to also make new runs in the future more viable for a game plan you formulate in your head.

In spite of the praise I’ve heaped onto the new RE4, and you better believe it’s already a strong contender for Game of the Year, I still have cold feet about declaring it better than the original. I say this and I haven’t talked about the strong new soundtrack where even brand new tracks sing and how some of the puzzles can themselves be used as weapons against enemies. The thing about the original RE4 is that it is a game that can’t be truly replicated in one respect: it’s groundbreaking position.

It would be far too much to expect any developer let alone Capcom to make a game that would change the industry like the first Resident Evil 4. In more or less one area, it’s use of an over the shoulder third person camera, it established a template that is still being used today as standard practice and I see essentially no reason why it should ever go away. Not unlike how Super Mario 64 introduced us to how to properly, freely navigate a three dimensional environment to the point that non-Nintendo games took note like GTA developer Rockstar, RE4 ensured that one of the go-to ways of controlling a character in a video game would be a variation of over their shoulder.

Gears of War, Uncharted, Batman Arkham, Mass Effect, The Last of Us, Dead Space and later iterations of already existing franchises would permanently adjust their use of the camera to be modeled after Resident Evil 4’s innovation. Games like these do not come around often, even less so than before.

That legacy being replicated was far too tall an order so Capcom did the smartest thing and refined and experimented on what Resident Evil 4 specifically did for itself as a video game, on its own stand alone merits. The intent was to take what worked 18 years ago and make it work within a modern game engine with a reworked script, vocal performances and a different tone regarding horror. That intent has led to what may be the best modern Resident Evil experience, even if it is a recreation of the game that shifted the series for a time from its roots.

It’s too early to call this better than the 2005 version, it’s too early to declare it among the series’ overall best games or even among the best games ever made. But it’s clear respect for a half serious, half absurd masterpiece makes it a masterclass for getting at the heart of what makes video game remakes so wonderful when done right.

Do I really want Resident Evil 5 or 6 to be remade? Half of me says yes, half of me says no, no, NO. There are ways I can see those games be more so “reimagined” than remade like the games we’ve gotten recently. Many would however say RE5’s not exactly sensitive or accurate portrayal of Africa might by itself be a dealbreaker, let alone that it’s plot out of all the games feels like an 80s Saturday Morning Cartoon with an R-rated aesthetic. I mean, it ends with you punching a boulder out of your way inside a very, VERY active volcano. All while fighting social Darwinist Johnny Bravo.

It’s a miracle that Resident Evil 4 could be restructured into something more sensical. I don’t know if you can take what I just described about Resident Evil 5 and make it even a quarter grounded. As for Resident Evil 6, my apologetics aside, it’s utter craziness is part of what makes it the game it is. It’s approach to combat and movement is predicated on it being the “foaming at the mouth” member of the RE family of games. Making that more serious or believable would involve a total reconsideration of what RE6 even is and could in turn make it essentially a brand new game all it’s own. That description actually does sound inviting I can imagine but would that in turn honor what RE6 actually got right?

Some have suggested two alternatives to RE5 and 6 getting the reunion tour. They could look at older titles that have not gotten remade like the much requested Code Veronica from 2000 to even a second remake of the very first game, redone top to bottom in the RE Engine that has fueled the series’ entries since 2017. The other option would be to stop at this point. After all, Capcom will soon be turning its attention and hopes to do the same to you with the tentatively titled Resident Evil 9.

Maybe it wouldn’t hurt for Resident Evil as a franchise to go on a hiatus after that, to give you, me and the possibly exhausted people at Capcom a reprieve from the series. Of course I’m not saying no new REs after 9 but a good couple of years to just let that world of survival horror rest.

Every franchise, especially a horror franchise, needs to release the tension eventually.

(SPOILERS) The Deep Breath before the Plunge: Thoughts on Game of Thrones S8E2

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Image owned by HBO and from Hollywood Reporter (The Stark siblings prepare for an icy reception)

I probably should’ve taken the initiative last week and done a review for the season premiere but since I decided on doing this tonight and on the spot, here we go.

Sometimes, dragging something out can have an unexpected positive benefit, as the first two episodes of Game of Thrones’ final season have done. Aside from setting the stage, the players and their proper positions for the mother of all climatic battles, these episodes serve to allow us to enjoy the company of the still-living lineup of characters before many, and if we are being particularly bleak, all of them end up dead or something worse than dead.

Episode two of Season eight, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, was in all the best ways, unbearable. You know in the bottom of your gut that the final season of television’s most notoriously kill-happy series is not going to miss the opportunity to rip your heart out one or many more times. Even though the much anticipated yet dreaded siege of Winterfell is only now about to happen in a six episode season, you become increasingly focused on the behavior, dialogue and actions of each and every character featured.

Could a banal, apparently harmless statement be foreshadowing for one’s dark fate? Could a moment of romantic yet melancholic farewell be a dead giveaway for that character being a goner? Could some of these moments be red herrings, making us feel more concerned than we should be for them?

There are a boatload of theories on how Game of Thrones will resolve itself. Most still believe and it thematically would make sense for the Night King’s White Walker army to be defeated. As many conventions as A Song of Ice and Fire in novel and television has broken, a resolution that involves one side conclusively winning or losing is guaranteed.

It’s the near inevitable cost that leaves so many fans, viewers and critics so wired up. They know people they’ve come to care about for almost a decade at least aren’t going to make it. Many of them could be leaving us next week. The irony is that we don’t want them to die and yet we would be frankly disappointed if that weren’t the case.

Despite seven prior seasons of having to endure many losses that tugged at our heartstrings and clogged up our eyes and noses, we still aren’t desensitized to the violent moments that matter most: of those with names and narratives we have followed. The show is still working because of that.

I was expecting the Battle of Winterfell between the combined armies of Daenerys, Jon Snow & co. and the vast, horrible White Walker army to happen tonight. The preview from last week definitely suggested that. Instead, we get the expected but no less stomach churning “calm before”. I had to stop several times while watching to catch my breath as the tension kept rising and rising. Despite my personal discomfort, it is better this way.

Battle plans are drawn, things that should be said are said and much pondering on how so many disparate individuals ended up preparing to defend a place many of them had tried to conquer for their house and family seasons ago.

It was particularly special seeing Jaime Lannister, a man who had in the past done really reprehensible things, some for love, other times not so much, become more or less a real redeemed man. That I can feel legitimately at peace yet concerned for a man who has committed incest and fathered incestuous offspring is one of the strangest accomplishments of the show.

The moments that stick out the most in the end are the discussions, the confessions and the consummations before everyone goes “Battle Stations!”

Tyrion, Jaime, Tormund, Davos, Podrick and Brienne sit and drink at the fireplace, telling each other stories real and obviously fake. They weigh the odds of ending up alive tomorrow and find that all things considered, they do have a precedent for the odds not being too terrible. Then again, they might be running out of luck after so many close calls. That plot armor is getting more and more loose…

One moment that struck me as a standout wasn’t Jon finally revealing to Dany what he learned from Sam last week: that he is Aegon Targaryen and thus the heir to the throne of Westeros. That’s certainly memorable and powerful to boot, but the impact is lessened because you know it has to happen. Yeah, the timing was really, really bad. I mean, right before the humongous battle that will chill to the bone.

I can be forgiving of Jon for that because one, he could end up dead for real this time pretty soon. Two, he’s an honest man who does care, maybe love Dany. Most likely is that Dany comments on Lyanna Stark’s grave in Winterfell’s crypt and how her brother Rhaegar did horrible things to her. In the heat of the moment, honest Jon couldn’t keep the lie going and told her the truth at the right place at the wrong time. What I’m trying to say is that Jon’s action makes sense in spite of the timing.

That moment I mentioned that struck a chord with me that didn’t involve the Aunt and Nephew accidentally in love was between two possible love birds. These two have been shipped as soon as they met in the second season: Arya and Gendry. I did not see that coming. In other words, Game of Thrones’s magic is still in effect.

Many will be uncomfortable with the idea of Arya, one of the most beloved figures in the series, who we have known since an adorable yet bold preteen, shacking up with anyone. Of course, Maisie Williams and her character Arya, are adults now, so it’s not really wrong to show her get down and dirty, especially with a character many had long hoped she would end up with.

To HBO’s credit, they don’t really go R-rated with Arya & Gendry as they decide to spend a night together before it could be too late. Yes, Arya undresses but they are careful not to really show the naughty parts and they cut before the two really get into it.

It’s likely they know audiences would be disconcerted with a person they may have vicariously viewed as something similar to a sister or friend despite her increasingly dark story arc( Frey pie anyone?). Perhaps out of respect for the girl having grown to a woman, Arya and Gendry mostly get the privacy we all want them to have. Will their relationship last?

That’s assuming they make it out of the next episode alive and together. Well, Arya went for it not so much because she is in love with Gendry, but because he’s the only young male individual she knows that she would want to bunk with. Perhaps in the little time remaining, something more real will come out of it. Of course, GOT loves to hurt you when you’re vulnerable.

Even though I suspect much of the viewership is, as the memes would entail, are bracing themselves for the worst, episode two is all about reminding us of what we are going to lose soon.

Without characters like Jon, Jaime, Dany, Tyrion, Sam, Edd, Arya, Tormund, Brienne, Pod, Davos, Gilly, Grey Worm, Missendei, Jorah, Lyanna Mormont, The Hound, Gendry and many others, why should we care what the White Walkers do anyway? Of course, most of this wide selection of characters have done things we all ethically dislike and many are definitely, despite redemption big and small, flawed.

Maybe that is why we are so scared. If they were black and white in their morals and acts, would it be as effective? Perhaps we would prefer the Night King triumphant in such a scenario. At least the more interesting yet evil side have something going on.

Originally posted 2019-04-22 06:14:39.

Force Multiplier: On the Rise Of Skywalker

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Image owned by Disney and Lucasfilm, from Escapist Magazine

There used to be a time when a Star Wars movie was the biggest film of the year, the one thing most people wanted to see.

It was true between 1977-1983. It was generally true, however diminishing,  from 1999 to 2005. It was objectively true from 2015 to 2017. The Force Awakens opened with an astonishing $247 million dollars to an as of yet, uncontested domestic gross of $936 million. Then The Last Jedi happened.

Don’t get me wrong, before release, The eighth episode was highly anticipated as the follow-up to the seventh. It opened with a still amazing $220 million. But then the audience reception, especially among fans, might have cooled the intensity of the box office, delivering roughly $300 million less than before. You can also blame mild fatigue from a Star Wars film a year, with spin-off Rogue One coming a year prior. But the message was clear all the same for Disney and Lucasfilm: course correct and slow down.

Despite being almost a monopoly with a scary amount of power at this point, Disney is reconsidering where to take the once largest franchise in the world. Perhaps the House of Mouse feel they can afford to let that happen thanks to the unstoppable success of Feige’s Marvel Studios, where their speed-bumps( Iron Man 2, Incredible Hulk, Avengers:Age of Ultron)  are far less concerning and even less of a profit loss. With groundbreaking numbers coming from the MCU, why not let the pressure off of George Lucas’ universe?

Star Wars Episode Nine: The Rise of Skywalker is a film reflecting both a beginning and an end, much like this month’s impending Avengers:Endgame for Marvel, but for different reasons. The MCU will march on with the next installment coming out a mere two months later, Spider-man: Far from Home. For Star Wars, Episode Nine is meant to be the end for the story-line that has been told, off and on for over forty years, the titular Skywalker family. JJ Abrams, returning to the director’s chair after Rian Johnson’s TLJ, promises an end that many assumed for a long time, happened in 1983, at least in that universe’s chronology.

It’s also a break from Star Wars in feature length. Disney is not letting the cash cow rest so easy. With Disney Plus, they want to compete with Netflix and similar streaming services for your subscription money. They want to deliver an ambitious live action series, The Mandalorian, all about the bounty hunter race that have long been considered a sacred cow sideplot by the fans. The humanoid species that gave us Boba Fett, one of the coolest yet lamest characters ever and his father Jango from the prequels.

They want to continue the ongoing success of their cartoon series, like finishing The Clone Wars, arguably the best thing the Prequels era ever gave popular culture from where the fans are concerned. They want to continue Resistance, a continuation of Rebels, both centering around the heroic guerrilla efforts against both the Empire and First Order happening before and during the original trilogy and sequel trilogy respectively. They want to keep making video games for Star Wars, despite EA’s best efforts to ruin that for everyone. They’ve done everything backwards, from botching two new Battlefront games, to cancelling a promising title from Visceral, the makers of Dead Space. They still have in development a title from Respawn ( OG Call of Duty and Titanfall), Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, which is based around a titular Jedi surviving the purge launched by the Empire in Revenge of the Sith and persisting until A New Hope. With a pretty unethical company like EA in the corner, we can only hope that game is strong in the force.

So Disney is hardly giving up on Star Wars. It’s the movies, where it all started, that they’re becoming more cautious about.

From what I can subjectively make of the teaser for The Rise of Skywalker, it’s a film that does incite interest, which was the most surprising thing about it. After The Last Jedi, I felt the worst thing a Star Wars film can make you feel: apathy. With all the bewildering plot holes, mangling of lore and characters, old and new, I didn’t really feel interested in what came next. Where could they go next? I mean, there were places to go if I’m being honest with myself. There’s still a First Order to defeat, a Kylo Ren to kill/redeem, and a new Jedi Order to create as the last film’s last shot implied. The difference was if it would be enough to make it worth my time.

I will say that I’m leaning more towards “yes” than I thought I would have a day before seeing the preview. What is hooking me on the ninth Star Wars is the idea of closure. A Star Wars film that finally sheds loose the characters and plot structure for the future. The Last Jedi also suggested that, perhaps as buildup of sorts for the ninth with Kylo’s pretty awesome line,”Let the past die. Kill it if you have to.” The Last Jedi, to its credit, flirted with the right idea. It just didn’t decide to own its ambition, which is one of the huge problems I have with Johnson’s film. Perhaps J.J. will finish what Rian suggested.

A modern Star Wars film trailer wouldn’t be complete with the expected fanservice and I will admit, for a moderate, quasi-lapsed Star Wars fan, those moments involving a cheerfully laughing old Lando in the Millennium Falcon’s pilot seat and the cackling of what I hope is the still dead Emperor Palpatine did work on me. I mean, come on, the now 82 year old Billy Dee Williams actually looks happy to be back one last time. And the suggestion of seeing a dark side user force ghost is actually something new. I will lose my composure if Palpatine is resurrected, like he was in the now no longer canon novels  and comics released in the 1990s.

Another part that I like in terms of promise is having the gang of heroes actually stay together for once rather than split up like they’ve done for the last two episodes. Actually allowing for the new blood like Rey, Finn, Poe, BB-8 and the much maligned Rose to stick together and hopefully grow together, both among themselves and with the audience before it’s too late, is a smart move on Abrams’ part.

I do wonder how Abrams’ and company are going to resolve or maybe lessen the issues The Last Jedi unfortunately brought up. Will they spend too much time retconning a better narrative instead of cleanly wrapping it up? Can they create a satisfactory conclusion for three generations of Star Wars viewers? Is such a thing even close to possible, on relatively short notice? Of course not, but it can come close to close to possible.

Originally posted 2019-04-14 01:43:19.

A Series of Extraordinary Events: A review of Shazam!

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Image owned by DC, New Line Cinema, and Warner Bros and from What’s after the Credits?

We now live in a world where Wonder Woman, Aquaman and now Shazam (the hero formerly known as Captain Marvel) are more respected and profitable on the big screen than Batman or Superman.  It sounds like madness, a joke that the Joker would appreciate, especially because it’s at the former’s expense. We now have a great new superhero sub-franchise that involves a black-haired, super-strong, flying hunk and the fresh new thing to separate from the maligned last son of Krypton is that it’s a kid inside a man’s body without a man’s mind. Yes, it’s definitely Big with superpowers but more so than that, it’s Big for a current era of cinema.

Poor Billy Batson. In the original 1940s comic, he was a strangely successful preteen who lived by himself and ran a radio show when he wasn’t transforming into Captain Marvel and saving the day. Now, in 2019, he’s a relatable yet jerkass teenager living by himself and brought into a foster family’s home when he keeps leaving the orphanage in search of his missing mother. He tries not to fit in, but becomes gradually attached to one of the family’s members, Freddy Freeman, ironically a paraplegic.

One day, after escaping from some bullies bullying Freddy, Billy ends up arriving by subway at the mysterious Rock of Eternity and meets the wizard Shazam, played by Djimon Hounsou. The aging wizard is desperate for an heir, and is forced to go with Billy, as his recent heroics against the school bullies doesn’t mean he is “pure of heart”, as was the requirements he sought after, he’s “good enough”. After all, a past nominee for the powers of Shazam, Thaddeus Sivana, has found his way back after being rejected as a child. He’s made himself extremely powerful and freed the demonic embodiments of the seven deadly sins, who all look like they belong in the anime/manga Berserk. Not that I’m complaining, mind you.

The film’s key strength in making the whole affair work, aside from how absolutely fun and hilarious it is, is the revisionist message of the comic character. Since the original Billy Batson came from a far more “black and white” era of comic storytelling, writing him as being genuinely pure of heart was a given. Sivana in Shazam! however speaks truth when gaining his evil power by saying that no one is. Billy Batson is not a perfect, pure hero. He begins the film by stealing a cop car, albeit for a sympathetic reason: finding his mom.

Sure, the wizard was desperate and near death, but it’s much more interesting not only examining what makes the best hero, it’s how does an immature yet intelligent child manage such power. It’s a much more optimistic Chronicle, even with recorded footage of testing what powers he has via hand camera.

Zachary Levi is utterly perfect as a boy in a man’s body. He intones his voice, personality, and behavior off of Asher Angel’s young Billy so well that I do buy them being the same person. It’s the one component that I had the most concern about actually working across on film and it fits seamlessly into buying the pretty ridiculous premise as being totally authentic. If anything, a boy trying to both understand superheroics and its responsibilities is more interesting for me than Tom Hanks just trying to understand the adult world of Yuppie 80s’ America like in Big.

One thing that surprised, more pleasantly than you would think, is the darkness in the film, and not through lighting and tone. Shazam! is easily the most uplifting and visually comforting DCEU film in that regard. It features some dark moments of violence, character revelation and sense of dire purpose which acts as a congruent counterpoint to the cheerier, innocent tone oddly enough. Not to spoil too heavily, but one minor character’s death comes out of nowhere and it is GRAPHIC and drawn out, though within PG-13 parameters.

The Seven Deadly Sins also look legitimately menacing and malicious which makes the main group of heroes, largely children, all the more noticeable. Mark Strong’s take on Sivana, that of an internally furious child who not only was denied godlike power but has an awful father and brother to boot makes him understandable but still wholly unpleasant.  He is a harsh villain all things considered.

I wonder if the intriguing mix of optimism and fun with graveness and shocking moments is meant to be a call back to 80s’ cinema that isn’t simply nostalgic like last year’s Bumblebee. Remember films with child casts like The Goonies, Stand By Me and The Monster Squad? To paraphrase Doc Brown, “You’ll see some serious shit,” and I love it. I like a superhero film like Shazam! to take unique risks and its another way to keep the genre everlasting and into the third decade of the century.

The one weakness is forgivable but still noteworthy. The rest of the foster family that Billy comes to live with are not as developed as I would like, especially with an epic payoff for what development is had.

Aside from Freddy, the most rounded foster kid is little Darla, an exuberant African-American first grader who manages to learn Billy’s secret ahead of the others. There’s also Pedro, an overweight Hispanic student who barely talks. Eugene, a young gamer with obsessive online predilections which does make me apprehensive of the generation succeeding me. And finally, there’s Mary, the eldest adopted child who is nearing her college years. They all get a chance to interact with Billy in some way, but I think a little more time would’ve better cemented the “unorthodox family” theme that is all the rage these days in popular culture.

I have no problem with this trope but I wish there would’ve been as much attention here as there was in the humorous super-antics but it’s hard to really complain with what I did get it out of it. I still cared enough as it stands and look forward to further installments to flesh them out more. Especially while’ll there still young enough to play.

We have had plenty of superhero origin movies about why the hero or like last month, heroine, earns the right to be that hero. What are their motivations? What are their weaknesses? What is the code they go to face their challenges with? Shazam! asks the obvious questions in a way that is both new and almost like an introspection. If one were to be worthy of such ability, as Billy really is not at the start, what do they do to earn it and more importantly than that, where do they go from there?

All of that and much more Shazam! succeeds in relating and it leaves me for the first time viewing the DCEU wanting to see a continuation of a property they have at their disposal. At long last, Marvel should watch out. They have a contender. And that contender isn’t old enough to drink, vote or drive.

Originally posted 2019-04-05 16:54:20.

Moonage Reality: a review of Apollo 11

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Image owned by Neon and from Variety


It is the best known journey in human history, perhaps our most important one so far. The journey to finally land on the moon was motivated by the existential nightmare that was the Cold War between America and the Soviet Union. We tend to forget that beating an economic and ideological power to the moon was based more on what in the grand scheme of things, seems petty. In a period in which we could’ve committed collective suicide through nuclear war, we instead committed one of the most uplifting accomplishments possible and as Todd Douglas Miller’s 50th anniversary documentary showcases, we almost made it look easy.

A single moment of the entirely archival footage-based picture stands out to me from a film detailing what was once the fancy of Jules Verne. A small scene detailing a TV broadcast at the Kennedy Space Center. It details current events in the world outside of Apollo 11’s impending launch,  such as another casualty report on the unending war in Vietnam and Ted Kennedy’s “Chappaquiddick” incident. An intentional reminder of how notably dark the decade of the moon mission was, which makes NASA’s success all the more relieving. I wouldn’t be surprised if many doubted NASA’s success not just due to how impossible it seemed to many, but with a decade as soul crushing as the 1960s, it would fit the tone for the mission to be a failure as well.

From the mobile launch pad being driven to position to Aldrin, Armstrong and Collin’s safe,triumphant return home, there is a surprising amount of tension to an experience everyone knows the outcome to. The music by Matt Morton has a steady yet deep beat which suggests the anticipation, the fear, the relief, and the honestly near incomprehensible audacity of what is being attempted. It reminds me of the up and down stress-inducing rhythm of  Zimmer’s Dunkirk soundtrack. Rather than a growing sense of dread and tension release in Christopher Nolan’s WW2 epic, Apollo 11, using real footage, some never before seen, creates a truly harrowing sense of discomfort during the mission’s procession.

Consider being far from Earth, your only home. You are circling a dead sphere in space, preparing to land on that silver, grey ball. The smallest mistake could be disastrous, three men dead and so close to a groundbreaking goal. The Apollo crew and Mission Control’s straight, clinical attitude underlines how serious the endeavor is to watch. Oh, sure both those in space and those back on Earth are willing to crack a joke now and then. It’s one way of keeping the mood calm and focused in the most dangerous adventure imaginable.

Aside from how shockingly crisp the new footage look, as if it were shot yesterday, there’s not a whole else other than to say the film works surprisingly well for something so well documented. Again, new footage would create some new novelty but it’s the tone Miller goes for, of a steadfast yet uncomfortable focus that goes step by step on the mission’s route back and forth that sells it. Perhaps it’s the timing, perhaps it’s the music and framing of archival shots. Perhaps it’s just spending an hour and a half admiring how far the human spirit can really go, not just in terms of curiosity but in sheer courage to do something that I will never have the body and mind to do. The right stuff is seeing three real people doing the once impossible without a shred of external fear or smug confidence. They go about it before, during and after like it’s just a job, no glory being sought after.

It is comforting to remember that one of my country’s proudest achievements were carried through by hundreds of dedicated men at now-archaic computers and three astronauts who took the whole thing carefully but almost carefree, at least in the tone of their voice. One of the best things America and by extension humanity has ever done was done like it was nothing to sweat about. Why should we fear the future when we can tackle it like it’s just another job to do, however hard and terrifying it was and will surely be?


Originally posted 2019-03-27 03:46:58.

Between Marvelous and Mediocre: A review of Captain Marvel

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Image owned by Disney/Marvel Studios and from FilmBook

This is a frustrating film to review.

I’m going to start by stating that I liked and in certain parts, loved Captain Marvel, the MCU’s 21st film as well as precursor to Avengers Endgame. But I get the feeling that no matter how many good or bad things I can say about this picture, my perspective will leave some feeling cold to me.

Of course, I’m a barely if-at-all known quantity in an ocean of internet blogs that involve reviewing anything you can imagine. How much can my honest if unavoidably biased opinion really trigger someone? Am I afraid of reviewing counter to one narrative that I have some sympathy to? Seeing people I enjoy watching on YouTube or at the very least, have made solid points on certain subjects come away dismayed before and after this film’s launch makes me wonder if I did not see some great error that makes this film a lesser product than I perceived. In this day and age, everything is a heated trigger in a culture war without end, one which makes the act of casually enjoying a product much more difficult. Enjoying something that I know has fault is blasphemy. It’s no longer a matter of taste, it’s a matter of your opinion reflecting if you will in time, be on the right side of history.

Will me largely approving Captain Marvel’s empowerment message put me in the right side? Will me falling in line with the rhetoric against such a message, however well intended, put me in the wrong? Can I just say that this was a fun even creative origin story for the newest member of the Avengers, a member who audiences will be, in theory, rooting for next month alongside the veterans? Is this the beginning of the end of the MCU if the backlash was warranted? Like a popular 90s Smashing Pumpkins song, the MCU is meeting its beginning meeting its end meeting its beginning.

Captain Marvel tells the story of a half human/half Kree warrior called Vers who in time learns her real name is Carol Danvers. She fights in Starforce, a Kree special ops unit for the alien empire in the protection of its people and more importantly, its borders. The enemy are the Skrulls, shape-shifting aliens who are one of the most enduring and earliest foes in the Marvel Universe. Carol’s mission takes her to Earth, where due to the Skrulls messing with her head, starts recalling memories from this mysterious alien planet that is our own. In time, her hunt for the Skrulls becomes a hunt for herself.

Captain Marvel, like the first Captain America, is a period piece. Instead of the optimistic WW2 1940s, we have the grunge and rebellious 1990s and Los Angeles is as good a place as any to digest the world of two decades past. Carol’s fish out of water tale,either intentional or not, makes visual and narrative references to 90s cinema in ways that are among the most charming for my liking. The LA setting with the shape sifting enemies invokes 1991’s Terminator 2 with its T-1000. Also the main character stealing clothes, boots and a motorcycle.  Carol’s memories mystery recalls,well, Total Recall from 1990. A dogfight in a canyon like in 1996’s Independence Day.

On the one hand, I actually didn’t mind the sort-of excessive use of 90s’ iconography. Even though I was barely conscious of it due to me being one year old when Captain Marvel is set, I feel some appreciation for a loving stab at the 90s and how it does connect with a burgeoning female empowerment message that was in the air. For all the symbolic intent, it’s not out of character for the era. I did appreciate not shoehorning in an OJ Simpson reference, as his trial occurs the year this takes place, 1995.

Let’s get to the one area of agreement I had wholeheartedly with the naysayers past and present: despite Brie Larson’s best efforts, the handling of Captain Marvel herself is problematic. She is a stiff, angry yet powerful hero who does remind me of Henry Cavill’s Superman, minus the element of gloom. I wouldn’t call Ms. Danvers gloomy and mopey, rather unfailingly determined and stern to the point of near parody. It’s hard to get a bead on what exactly they were going for, aside from a “never give up” attitude that was already handled better with Chris Evan’s Captain America. Both characters can indeed “do this all day.” If this ends up paying off in the interaction between the two in Endgame, well that’s something.

I want to be kind in saying that perhaps her amnesiac past is keeping her from being more expressive and colorful and dare I say, interesting. Some of her flashbacks do suggest something was there. And of course the fourth Avengers and films involving her afterward can build her up as something more compelling. First impressions are almost everything and her first impression for me is not the best.

The movie almost fails because of how purposefully yet oddly flat Larson plays the Captain but it is saved by everyone else in the film. How she interacts with friends and foes, whether it be the younger and greener Nick Fury, her old copilot, Maria Rambeau, and her Starforce commander, played by Jude Law. There is something to how her actions impact them and in turn give her something that does linger in my memory. Even if I cannot connect to Carol (yet), I do believe she connected with others that were more animated than she was. Speaking of animation, that deaging magic they put on Samuel L. Jackson is unbelievable. That you stop noticing is when it has succeeded.

Some have already complained about the out of sync structure of the film, in relation to Danvers’ shattered memories. I was never really lost and did actually found myself impressed with some of the twists they managed to pull off. Some of these are less twists than subversions of what was expected and I can appreciate that something clever was implemented in the film that I can look back and say confidently like Garfield, “Nice touch.” The same can’t be said for the lighting.

In what has become an infuriating trend in this decade and a little before it, modern films often employ an intentionally darker lit look to the film which while it might be more reflective of the actual lack of light in the scenario, does make it harder to appreciate the ass kicking that is in store. This is most evident in a third act brawl with Carol and several enemies in a spoilerific setting for spoilerific reasons. My parents, who naturally saw it with me, thought it was a problem with our somewhat new theater’s screen, though I believe it was intentional based on reports from other screenings. The choice was made to have one of the realistic aspects of this movie be how dark the location should be rather than convenience for our naked eyes.

I would ask people to watch this film honestly and openly. If you’re only seeing it because of a huge film coming very soon afterwards, that’s a good reason. If you’re seeing it because you like the comic character, that’s a good reason. If you just trust Marvel knows what it’s doing, that is still a good reason.  If you want a loving tribute or two to the late Stan the Man, what are you waiting for? If you don’t want to watch for reasons that have everything to do with a stringent political bias or the opposite of that, I can’t say no because I don’t have that authority, nor shall I ever. I will say that what you watch may not be what was really intended by the directors, the producers, the writers and the cast. Yes, this is a political Marvel film, they ‘ve done so in the past and will keep on doing so. Whether they executed their political message is a subjective question that is now an unholy nightmare to unravel these days.

In the end, I had fun and I am not hesitant at all to see Carol appear in Avengers Endgame. Perhaps the Russo Bros. have something special in mind to make the mightiest Avenger work for the future where she has failed in the past.



Oh, the cat, Goose. He’s the one thing that will exceed your expectations, so nothing to fear there.

Originally posted 2019-03-09 02:16:48.

Mad-evil: A retrospective of Resident Evil 6

Image owned by Capcom and from Gocdkeys

Resident Evil 2’s excellent and addicting remake as well as 2017’s Resident Evil 7: biohazard has put my perspective on the survival horror series in a new light. The success of these newest entries to reintroduce the franchise’s horror roots and strategic gameplay through puzzles, item management and exploration inspired me to visit for the first time the classic entries including the three PlayStation One originals and the remake of the first game. I haven’t gotten around to 2000’s Code Veronica or 2003’s Zero but I have a real understanding of why the fanbase became so gradually bitter as the series went from scaring you to trying to wow you with monsters and explosive action.

Resident Evil 4 began the trend towards wanting you to fight your way rather than circumvent the various viral and parasitically created terrors. 4 balanced the best between the old and new styles and remains, deservedly still, a beloved title that is unfairly criticized for inspiring the next two to be more bombastic. Why wouldn’t Capcom capitalize on what worked then and for that entry, still works now? For my tastes, Resident Evil 5 is the weakest main entry that i’ve played as it is not entertaining enough in its mechanics and partnered with an obnoxious co-op companion, that since I never played the game co-operatively, made the experience feel much more hollow than before. Resident Evil 6 also has co-op and the game’s design is clearly indicative of that facet. Yet, for a non-traditional Resident Evil game that has basically lost its intent to truly frighten you despite still having some creepy crawlies, RE6 is in the right mind and play set, a gloriously stupid yet fun adventure.

In terms of just its story, this was the moment where the Resident Evil games caught up or perhaps, were caught by the absolute nonsense that was Paul WS. Anderson’s hated film adaptations. I would still call “adaptation” a loose term as the the six-film series adapted not much of the games at all, except for the second. Still, Resident Evil as a game series was not plot or dialogue wise, the sharpest tool in the shed. The whole franchise, even at its most serious, save for maybe 7, is a horror B-movie with A grade production and game design. A fun mix of the smart mechanically and the dumb narratively. It is so damn charming.

Resident Evil 6 manages to exceed the ludicrousness of any game past and future, including the one prior where the main hero manages to push and punch a boulder out of his path inside an active volcano. There are deep underground crypts full of zombies and a mutated super shark.There is an assault on an aircraft carrier containing a giant monster while piloting a harrier jet. There is a jet ski chase through a series of crashing and careening glaciers as well as a motorcycle chase through a fictional Chinese city involving absurdly high jumps, crashing gas tankers and an Apache helicopter. One character’s campaign involves a nearly never-ending cascade of transformations of a main antagonist from a bizarre hybrid of lion and centaur to T-rex to a kaiju-sized fly creature. As much as RE6 does seem to actually care about its protagonists, however filled with decent dosing of ham and cheese, the game doesn’t give a flying fuck about realism in any sense. Even the cause of the huge viral outbreak that brings our heroes together is predicated on the main villain’s envy of a super attractive Asian secret agent and another antagonist’s crush on the that villain masquerading as that same Asian agent. It’s both a case of too many ideas and perhaps not enough of them.

The game is split into four campaigns, all with highs and lows. Leon, a protagonist of the 2nd and 4th games, is the closest to feeling like an old fashioned title in the series, though it is most certainly a balls to the wall action fest all the same. Chris, a protagonist of the 1st, Code Veronica and 5, is a strange hydra of Call of Duty and Gears of War and is the least Resident Evil in a sense. Newcomer Jake, son of deceased series villain, Albert Wesker, is partnered with RE2 character Sherry, in a combination of the other two with a more adventurous tone aping Uncharted’s death defying antics and being the most encouraging of hand to hand combat, even though all the campaigns offer great value in that system. Finally, there is Ada Wong, the same secret agent that is the object of desire for the two main villains, who offers a somewhat stealth-like approach with more puzzles involved than the other three.

All of the campaigns can be fun for three main pillars: the melee system, which is among the most enjoyably versatile I can think of in any game. The gunplay, which makes you really value the ammo pickups you make along the way, that in turn makes each successful kill more rewarding because of the relative lack of supplies you’re offered. And three, the completely serious tone of the characters in relation to their insane situations.

The pitfalls which are still very much present based on the negative reputation the game has garnered does get in the way of these redeeming qualities. First of all, there are sections where the game slows down to an annoying degree. The first section of Leon’s campaign has him cautiously walking alongside partner Helena through an assumedly spooky University building in search of a way out during a new Zombie outbreak. Rather than going at your own zany pace, which the rest of the game generally offers, this slow crawl through a mostly featureless and item-less area can tax your patience.

Another serious problem is that when the campaigns intersect with another like when Chris and Jake’s campaigns cross path the first time, you have to do a boss battle all over again. Sure, you’re doing it with a different character with different skills and weapons but it creates a sense of staleness. It doesn’t help that most of the boss fights drag on. Even though Resident Evil games keep the boss’ health bar invisible so you don’t know how far away you are from victory, it gets frustrating that even though you are pouring on the punishment, the game doesn’t really suggest a sense of progress well enough and some fights are way too long as it is. It’s probably to accommodate the possibility of more than one real life human playing that can enter and exit a game at will, but there should’ve been a way to mitigate this repetition by making the boss’ tells more obvious and by making the necessary damage needed to win in a singleplayer run less.

One big incentive to experience Resident Evil 6’s stories more than once is the incredible amount of bonus content offered, something the series has rarely ever faltered in. There are blue “emblems”, which when broken will unlock files and character figures to look at in a special “collection menu.” Every chapter is ranked based on your weapon accuracy, number of deaths, time taken to complete and enemies slain. If you get an “A” ranking on all four categories, you earn a chapter’s S ranking. I’m not entirely sure what reward there is for getting S ranks, aside from your profile’s “dog tag” and bragging rights, but the game, as sloppy as it has been called, does want you to master the pillars it has on offer, so there is a push to really understand RE6. The developers cared enough for that to be the case.

Then there is the side content which thanks to the current generation re-release copy I have, that for the PS4, offers a lot of ways to enjoy RE6’s melee and gunplay in its purest sense, without any of the squibbles of the campaign. Even many of the harshest critics have begrudgingly acknowledged the high replay value of the Mercenaries’ mode, an on and off staple since 1999’s RE3. Choosing a character with a set loadout, you have to kill as many enemies as possible before the timer runs out. You can break orange hourglasses to get more time and shoot green ones to have a small burst of extra points upon making a combo. This is where you can best learn to understand the game’s intoxicating combination of guns, fists and feet. It can be legitimately hard to get to 150 kills before time runs out but doing so not only rewards skill points to become even better, but to unlock new outfits and loadouts for the characters.

The skill system, whether in campaign or side content, is a mixed bag. Many options to buy, such as field medic, where your NPC companion can heal you as well as revive you, when you’re down, to making your gun damage and melee strength stronger, are worthwhile additions to save up for. However, there are too few slots you can fill for each set, up to three only. This can seem overly limiting, but I suppose it is to allow some challenge as well as playstyle.

Now, in spite of this being a defense of the least defended main series Resident Evil entry, I do have some problems that still effect me and wish could’ve been addressed. I wish there was a bit more interactivity with the environment, not just in puzzles but just in the characters making optional observation in their environment like in past games, some areas are just begging for more character and level interaction than just smashing crates for items and opening doors either quietly and carefully or quickly and bombastically.

At the same time, moments that are often ridiculed for either being too unnecessarily cumbersome in control or laughable in nature I had an OK time with. The camera can be a bit strange at times often shifting to some apparently important shot that the game wants to show you or not being able to keep up when the player has to quickly run from danger such as from the giant monster that pursues Jake and Sherry called the Ustanak  or when Chris and Piers have to navigate a narrow series of boats while being hunted by attack chopper. I imagine moments like these are more annoying even outright frustrating when playing with a friend or stranger on the couch or online.

Then the crazy stupid moments like sliding backwards on your back while shooting a mutated shark with arms or the aforementioned aircraft carrier assault by harrier. When the controls work, and you have that right mindset or understanding that this really isn’t traditional RE whatsoever, it can still be thrilling and fun, especially if you’re working for the best possible run.

It is true to say that Resident Evil 6 is mechanically not Resident Evil, not even to the loose extent that 4 and 5 were. It is also true that narratively and in that adorably melodramatic sense, Resident Evil 6 is Resident Evil to a T. Sure, 7 and the remake of 2 have dialed down that part, and it still works, but there is something admirable, even for a mess like 6, that so wants you to enjoy what it has to offer. It doesn’t skimp on content, it doesn’t want you not to master its mechanics and perhaps it wants you to laugh at the absurdity of what it is trying to tell as a story.

Resident Evil 6 is not a masterpiece, it is a mastermess and that it is not necessarily something bad, it is something wonderful. It doesn’t always maintain that wonderful power and at times it can feel as worthy of scorn but then those moments subside and you have a entry that it is all about style with more substance than you heard or thought it had. Play with a friend, play by yourself, think for yourself. And take heart, if this style is still not good for you, then Resident Evil has already returned to being the horror master it was meant to be and this is now no more than an incredibly enjoyable guilty pleasure where even the guilt factor is not as strong as I imagined it would be upon returning.

Originally posted 2019-02-15 21:10:22.

Survive like it’s 1998: A review of Resident Evil 2 Remake

Image owned by Capcom and from Den of Geek


Have you ever experienced nostalgia for something you were never part of? That’s the feeling I get from a lot of video games from the mid to late 90s especially on the PlayStation One. While I did play with my mom Command and Conquer: Red Alert and Sim City 2000 and 3000, the bulk of iconic pioneering video games were out of my grasp and more importantly out of my age range. I was between 4 and 6 around that time. I probably didn’t even know what a PlayStation was. And yet, when retroactively experiencing the original three PS1 Resident Evils along with the original Silent Hill several years back on the PS3, I have a strange affinity for the early 3D visuals and atmosphere, especially in the soundtracks and beautiful pre-rendered backgrounds which made these games look more real than they could at the time.

Video games age faster than any other art form I know and so the practicality of remaking a pre-existing game from the ground up is more appealing than with a film. The remake of the first Resident Evil from 1996, initially as a Nintendo Gamecube exclusive is for many the gold standard on how to completely recreate and if need be, reimagine an earlier experience. It didn’t hurt that series creator Shinji Mikami didn’t feel that the PS1 was capable of really nailing the feel for the survival horror scenario he had envisioned originally. If the first groundbreaking game could pull off the “remake” process, why not the second, Resident Evil 2, from 1998? Some still consider it the best game in the series twenty years later, especially for the series’ formula of horror, puzzles, strategizing and item management. It’s been in demand for a long time and it is finally here. Was it worth the wait?

For those who can’t easily look up the plot synopsis of a two decade old game, it goes as such: a viral outbreak has been unleashed on the unassuming American metropolis of Raccoon City. Yes, Raccoon City ( Well, if we can have a big city called Buffalo…). You play as two young survivors stuck in the city, Leon S. Kennedy, a rookie cop on his first day on the job and Claire Redfield, a college student searching for her missing brother, Chris, a protagonist of the first game. Shortly, after meeting up, they are then separated and depending on who you choose to play, make their way to survival at the Raccoon Police Department Station. Of course, it is no safe there than outside.

There are a certain number of differences Leon and Claire’s scenarios bring to the table aside from their unique reactions to plot points and characters. They have separate suites of weapons and items and they can go to parts of the station that the other can’t. The big difference however is their narrative arc relating to a certain character that only appears in their distinct play-through. Leon comes across and works alongside a supposed FBI agent called Ada Wong, a fan favorite Chinese American super spy as well as on again, off again love interest for Leon in the franchise. For Claire, it’s little Sherry Birkin, an adorable yet wise beyond her years elementary student trying to hide out from the assortment of monsters involving zombies, undead dogs and her own father, William, who is the head scientist for the Pharmaceutical company that started the whole mess in the first place, Umbrella.

Leon and Claire can also come across other survivors like Sherry’s mother, Annette, a fellow Umbrella scientist alongside William, Marvin Branagh, a wounded yet noble police officer and Robert Kendo, a despairing gun shop owner with a much different fate in store for him than his comically dark one from the original.A stand out example is Brian Irons, the corrupt police chief of Raccoon City who is in collaboration with Umbrella and is arguably the most evil figure in the game. While William Birkin’s slow yet horrid devolution into a monster is scary, it comes off as tragic. Irons is a psychopath and implied stalker/rapist whose only in it for himself and you will be cheering when he, like in the original, gets his comeuppance, that is if you’re not recoiling from his gruesome method of demise.

Resident Evil 2 is not shy about making the results of dying from any given foe truly graphic. You think dying from the hordes of zombies is bad? Well, you’re right but encounters from enemies like the infamous “lickers”, skinless monstrosities that have long, sharp tongues that can impale you with extreme prejudice are just the tip of the iceberg. All of the enemies, even the zombies in their own way, are intelligent, enough so that even on repeat play-throughs it is vital you do not become overconfident. They will knock you off your high horse and if you’re more squeamish than me, make you scream in the process. Whether it’s the zombies that suddenly lunge and get you front or behind, or how insanely fast the lickers can move against you, the game makes it hard for you to ever be at ease, as a good Resident Evil title should.

None are scarier or demand your focus like Mr. X. Essentially the Terminator of the Resident Evil series, he, along with the first game’s Tyrant and the Third’s Nemesis, is a huge, gray colored, humanoid pain train that WILL NOT STOP, EVER, UNTIL YOU ARE DEAD. Well, that’s not really true. Mr. X does not follow you into the save rooms, which act as small havens to save the game, sort out your supplies and enjoy the beautiful ambient music.While some moments are scripted, Mr. X feels more like an actual presence than in the original. In certain sections of the game, Mr. X will go on patrol and his loud thumping foot steps immediately make you consider what you are doing at the moment. Sometimes,  he doesn’t show up at all in a section of your trek through the station and beyond, sometimes he does. All you can do up until the end is either run or hope the weapon you have at hand is strong enough to put him down.. for like two minutes.

Resident Evil is at its best when it not only comes to making you afraid for your survival but also for its enjoyable framing of puzzles within a confined space. The first game, original and remake, had a mansion in the deep, dark woods. The second has three main areas: the police station, the sewers and the Umbrella underground lab. The mix of joy and trepidation in exploring and understanding deeply how the areas work when it comes to puzzle solving and traversal is one of the great highlights of the series. It’s amplified that these detailed, secret laden areas are full of threats that want to make your ass grass. Sometimes, it’s not the weapons and healing equipment you have that will save your life, it’s your understanding of where to go and when. It was true in 1998 and it is no less true in 2019.

If you beat Leon and Claire’s scenarios the first time, you have not really beaten the game at all. New “Second run” scenarios unlock for both in which you get to see the perspective, slightly altered for the other protagonist. To put it another way, imagine you play as Leon for the first go-around, Claire is still experiencing her own quasi-separate adventure. Switching to the “second run” for Claire instead of Leon is how it is supposed to work. You get to see perspectives and learn things about the narrative that one protagonist alone couldn’t.

Yes, that does mean largely repeating the same puzzles, encounters and moments again, but there is a silver lining that goes against the sense of repetition. Repeating these scenarios creates better understanding of how to play the game even better. There is incentive to do even better from unlocking new modes, weapons, items, costumes, concept art and character models. Resident Evil 2 Remake makes the absolute most out of a narrative layout which isn’t really that long. Just one of the four base scenarios can take, uninterrupted half a day. It gets even shorter the better you become. The game tracks your time playing and awards you a score based on how long you took. The brevity of an average Resident Evil game is not an act of laziness or like in the original years, hardware limitation. Actually the last part is likely true. The game wants you to finish as quickly as you can and rewards you for making a fast yet efficient race to the finish line.Of course, on your first run throughs, you should take it slower and easier so you don’t get trampled.

For series purists, the hardcore mode of difficulty is meant to really test you. Infinite saves, auto or manual are gone in favor of manually saving at a typewriter with a limited number of “ink ribbons.” The enemies are tougher and you, of course, are weaker.Even tactics to get past your foes like disabling their limbs with bullets and knives can be a crutch for so long until you run out or break your blade faster than usual.

As intended, Resident Evil 2 Remake is a survival horror masterclass in appealing to both the old fans and new ones. I’m in the middle as I have played the original RE2 and know what the classic experience is like. Yet, the graphics are not the only thing properly retooled for a modern era. The over the shoulder camera that the fourth Resident Evil helped popularize helps both appeal to a modern audience while helping focus on creative new ways to survive your stay in Raccoon City. Even the voice acting has largely been overhauled to make what was once a campy, groan inducing B-movie cast feel more real and human. There are still some moments when the infamous camp factor returns perhaps as callback, perhaps not, but it’s somewhat comforting that even a remake of an old Resident Evil can manage to make you empathize with your outbreak survivors rather than roll your eyes at them.

If you want something old and something new, with little to any negative disparity, then the denizens of Raccoon City will welcome you with open arms. Just..keep your distance.

Originally posted 2019-01-30 20:52:39.

The Best Films of the Year( that I’ve seen)

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Image taken from Consequence of Sound

It’s been a good year to watch movies, whether at home or at the increasingly obsolete institution that is the theater. If you were a comic fan like myself, your batting average favored you more than not and if you really enjoy watching features that pander to the land of pandas like China, then you must also really like shark films too. Here are my selections for the ten best I saw and if a film is missing, then well I haven’t seen it, it’s Oscar bait, or a combination of the two.

Tenth Best: Bumblebee

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Want yet another 80s nostalgia trip? Better yet, want a competently produced film involving a set of action figures? If either applies to you, then Bumblebee is a long needed turn of fortune for a franchise that made Fast and Furious seem intelligent. Seeing as how I didn’t exist in 1987, I have to rely on the pop cultural instincts of the decade to declare this a throwback film that balances the cliches of the time with the sincerity that director Travis Knight has both for the period and for those robots in disguise. Best of all, it expunges certain assumptions about Transformers as a film endeavor like the action should sacrifice anything else like character and basic plot structure and that comic relief can be both sensical and not overwrought in the juvenile. If this is a trendsetter for this franchise going forward, then so shall it stand.

Ninth Best: Ant-Man and the Wasp

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After two of the most cerebral MCU films to date despite one of them involving a one armed man swinging a sentient Raccoon alien around firing a assault rifle, the audience and the critics needed a break. Ant-Man and the Wasp is for 98% of the run-time that much needed break in tone for a fun, big and small romp around San Francisco. All so our titular heroes can chase down a stolen shrinkable and portable building. As the 20th entry in a cinematic universe, we all respond with “why not?” rather than “What!” If that is a sign of a universe still working its magic on us, than I don’t know what is. Some of the humor falls a bit flatter than normal, and in spite of being a post Infinity War palette cleanser, is often too busy for its own good. Still, it’s worth a watch, only to see more of Paul Rudd’s blue collar humility and some creative manipulation of size and matter.

Eighth best: BlackkKlansman

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Another racially charged Spike Lee movie? Starring Denzel Washington’s talented son? With Topher Grace as David Duke? And it’s a return to form for the aforementioned director? It’s all here and it’s all good. One thing that BlackkKlansman didn’t teach me was that racism was evil, I’ve thankfully known that for awhile. It did teach me that the Klan had operations in Colorado in the 70s and that one Affirmative Action-related black police officer played that same cell of the Klan for suckers. This is a real story, however dramatized by a director known for pulling off drama unforgettably. The message may be obvious but considering the Far-Right and white supremacist movement’s rise from the woodwork following Trump’s election, perhaps something blunt yet gracefully blunt is needed now.

It acknowledges our President’s embarrassing and even for defenders eyebrow-raising handling of the Charlottesville tragedy and the mourning for the victim of that tragedy, Heather Heyer. It’s not just about heckling and exposing the Klan in the past by those with the will to do it. It’s about having the same will and foresight to fight it now. Lee also suggests that fight can be won within the confines of the law so that is an inspiring message to take away indeed.

Seventh best: Incredibles II

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It’s not a superior sequel like Toy Story’s two succeeding entries. It’s not a drop in quality like Cars 2. It’s not an OK prequel like Monsters University. It’s the best non-Toy Story sequel Pixar has yet made. That’s something, how much I am not certain. Despite its impressive upgrading of animation since the 2004 original, the most,well, incredible feat of this installment is how paradoxically easy it is to fool yourself into thinking that almost no time has passed in between release of the films. It’s been fourteen years yet Incredibles II seems right at home in 2018. The film is more inspired in its handling of the superhero Parr family and friends than its overall narrative. Too much of it seems a repeat of the same premise as last time but with a twist. It’s not so distracting as to make the rest of the picture tumble under, but it seems like Brad Bird and the rest were interested in pushing the family’s taxing internal relationship more than new ideas for one of the most optimistic yet strangely uncertain superhero universes I’ve witnessed on screen. It still works and Pixar is absolutely on point in making the most resplendent CGI animation out there. It strikes both familiar yet fresh, but maybe not in the areas we were hoping for.

Sixth best: Deadpool 2

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Ryan Reynold’s raunchy renaissance in the hearts and minds of audiences and critics continues with a solid and occasionally brilliant continuation of the most beloved Canadian superhero.Well, aside from the one played by that Australian Broadway guy. Like Incredibles II, it’s not as fresh or for my money, as funny as the original, but it makes up for it not being a “repeat” type of movie, though considering the satirical style, they could have done well mocking that. Instead, it’s DP’s half sincere/half roasting take of the modern day blockbuster trend involving what constitutes family. If you’ve seen any recent Fast and Furious or Guardians of the Galaxy, then you know what I mean. One thing that did surprise me was how relatively restrained the film was in terms of the more R-rated humor. It’s still here, like in the crazy ‘Basic Instinct” parody, but perhaps Reynolds and company didn’t want to overdo it and risk tiring the audience with too much too soon. Save some more for the third one or even one day, an arrival into the MCU. It’s a good new entry for the merc with a mouth. R-rated superheroes are here to stay.

Fifth Best: Upgrade

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Upgrade returned to my mind after taking several classes at my latest semester in college. The concept of automation’s logical extremes and how much freedom we really have to look forward to in the not so distant future. Next Sunday A.D.  Joking aside, Upgrade is an eerily convincing display of a possible fusion of man, in this case Logan Marshall Green, and machine, the AI which when in control of Green’s body makes him nigh unstoppable. The movie tricks you into thinking its going to be a black buddy comedy between the bewildered human protagonist searching for retribution for his wife’s death and the straight-man, British voiced AI giving him calm,clear advice on how to do it. I still don’t want to give away the proceedings, but it goes to a dark place that isn’t so much about the shocking carnage of such “upgrades” as the film shows effectively, it is the willingness to hurt decent people and ourselves for reasons which seem necessary. They’re not, and not distinguishing a line of what should be permitted in this technological advance could be the difference in who becomes the lord of the future. Surely, it will still be man, right? Right?

Fourth best: Black Panther

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Blade is probably still crying to himself in the shadows. Not only was he a profitable set of R-rated superhero films, it had a black star to boot. Well, so did Spawn, but nobody ever looks at the 1997 Spawn in such a favorable light. Perhaps it was the scope, the almost entirely black cast and the jaw-dropping financial returns of Black Panther which makes it seem revolutionary. With enough money and the will, why can’t you make a film that seemed so risky earlier? The excuses of the past aren’t holding up any longer.

It helps that the film is good too. T’challa and his family rival from America, Erik Killmonger, are both relatable in their ideologies, with only the lengths one of them is willing to go becoming more than questionable. The film does not rest mercifully on a rigid cultural bias. Even the default “right side” assumption is flawed. It’s not merely the ageless question of what makes a good leader, king or otherwise, it’s what is the right decision for that good leader to make. It is this struggle T’challa tackles which prevents the danger of making the Black Panther too perfect, a “Gary Stu”. It also represents an idealized vision for Africa, while tragically far away in the real world, at least in ethical areas, to aspire to. It’s not just a vision for a better Africa, it’s a vision for a better world that T’challa wants. As blunt as this end of the film statement is, it is hardly wrong: walling away ourselves isn’t going to save us. It might actually do the opposite.

Third Best: Mission Impossible: Fallout

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There is an earnestness to entertain without too much digital fakery that makes the new set of Mission Impossibles since 2011’s Ghost Protocol so endearing. A franchise that was once dismissed even hated for crapping on the original 60s’ show’s characters and for being style but little substance is now all about trying to fuse style and substance. The action sequences in the sixth film, yes the sixth film in this franchise is among the most convincing since either Mad Max: Fury Road or well, the last Mission Impossible. You will be amazed at how willing you are to tolerate a set of characters that are mostly replaceable, except for Simon Pegg’s ever lovable Benji and well of course, Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt. That there is a somewhat hammy melodrama that is only saved to being married with the insane but credible action and some convincing plot swerves and twists that still manage to provoke a “huh”.

Maybe it’s the lack of CGI which makes moments that are all but impossible such as the compromised HALO jump over Paris and the amazing chopper chase through the Himalayas seem…possible. Since something was actually filmed on camera and Cruise managed to do those actual stunts which one day may just off Hubbard’s favorite son creates one of the easiest films to suspend disbelief. Rather than “They couldn’t do that.” as a resigned response, instead we get “How the **** did they do that ?!” Classic movie magic.

Second best: Avengers: Infinity War

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You have probably seen this film by now, more than once. Same goes for Black Panther, statistically even more so. Why bother hide the fact at this point that one of the biggest blockbusters so far released had the courage to let the heroes lose for once, and not in the same sense as 2016’s Civil War. This is a real defeat we got to witness for Earth’s mightiest heroes and the galaxy’s guardians. Of course, this year we will see how the surviving heroes of Thano’s gauntlet induced purge rectify that momentous occasion. After all, one of the deceased has a film coming out two months afterwards.

Until that moment comes, I reflect on how such a generally long film felt surprisingly short, how an enormous cast of characters didn’t feel overpacked, and how an entirely CGI villain felt real enough, to even inspire begrudging understanding. To think not even half a year before Infinity War’s release we were heckling another wholly CGI villain at the rival company’s beleaguered offering. Pun intended. It’s a film that is fun to watch just for the spectacle, and as it happens, for the other side of the Marvel coin: the characters themselves. The sign of a decent Summer tent-pole is if I am not bored when something meant to be exciting, action-packed or exploding isn’t on screen. Safe to say that was the case. Hope it is the exact same way this eventful April.

Number One: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse

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I had given up on Sony’s capacity to produce good superhero films, let alone involving Spider-Man. Who hadn’t? Spider-Man 3, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and now this year’s Venom. Why should an animated Spider-man be any different? Oh, it was different. In fact, difference was what mattered most in this year’s best film.

I can gush on end on how the truly new style of CGI animation makes not only a comic book come to life that feels fluid rather than stagnant, but how the idea of exploring the identity of the persona more so than just Peter Parker once again was a bite in the hand the IP needed after six live action iterations in a little less than 20 years. Miles Morales embodies the concept of being different, but in the right ways the same as Peter Parker’s Spider-man. They’re always constants when exploring the multiverse theory, and the constant that is tragedy is what hooks all the spiders together. It both makes the act of being Spider-man truly fun once more while also hitting you with the knowledge that it can also lead to a hard, even short life. It’s not just the visuals that are crammed with so much detail to evaluate over and over again, the themes and ideas in this film are to be applauded for being so deep and yet so easy to digest. It leaves you begging for more and one day we will get more Spider-people to meet at the cinema. For now, it is just the start of something amazing to marvel over, again and again.

Additional image credits to ReactionMR.COM, Besthqwallpapers, Lamplight Drivel, The New York Times, Inverse, Movie Nation, Digital Trends, MPAA, Deadline, and Newsweek.

Originally posted 2019-01-08 19:58:57.

The best games of the year (that I played)

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Image from Parksidetraceapartments

2018 was a good year to play a video game, especially if you had a PS4 or a Nintendo Switch. The Nintendo fans got the latest and reportedly greatest Super Smash Bros. in Ultimate and unlike the sorry state of exclusives for Microsoft’s Xbox One, Sony’s PS4 had a graphical remake of Shadow of the Colossus and the original Spyro the Dragon trilogy( that trilogy was available for Xbox One, however). The exclusives were on Sony’s side and again, last year proved I bet on the winning horse of the eighth console generation. Will that be the case for the steadily approaching ninth? I don’t know, but here are my honest thoughts on the best I ‘ve played.

I’m excluding Shadow of the Colossus and Spyro’s Reignited Trilogy in that they are faithful graphical recreations of games that have been around for decades at this point and are not different enough in presentation and game-play to count as a new experience save visually, like 2019’s Resident Evil 2 remake. I’m also excluding Hitman 2 as I have barely played any of Agent 47’s latest set of contracts due to playing and replaying Red Dead Redemption II, Spyro and Overwatch.

Fourth best: Spider-Man PS4

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Image owned by Sony, Insomniac and from GameRevolution

Just swinging and jumping through New York as the most photo-realistic webhead so far is one of the most accomplished components of Insomniac’s franchise revival for Marvel’s most marketable superhero. The story interwoven with the superheroics on offer for the player is competent, on occasion masterful in understanding the specifics needed to make a Spider-story work, like the unglamorous and miserable side of Peter Parker’s normal life. Add in some actually great story beats involving Otto Octavius and Miles Morales and you got yourself a virtual superhero playground that is just begging to be built up further in the much anticipated sequels. As overplayed as the activities become, especially for the completionist in most of us, it’s hard to ignore where Insomniac’s efforts successes overshadow their failings.  Keep the full experience from feeling like a chore too often and their is indeed a challenger on the horizon for Rocksteady’s beloved Batman Arkham saga.

Third Best: Far Cry 5

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Image owned by Ubisoft and from Wired

Let’s not beat around the bush here, in many respects I care about in a game, especially a game made in 2018, Far Cry 5 is very flawed. The story and themes of a large Montana county taken hostage by a militant, Christian cult is not the best realized or executed nor does having an inexplicably and entirely silent protagonist to challenge that cult help matters. The game’s notorious canon ending also made the entire, engrossing experience of liberating Hope County feel all for naught. To be fair, Ubisoft is actually addressing that needlessly nihilistic conclusion by having a full blown sequel this year set in the (spoilers) post-apocalyptic world that occurred, suggesting it wasn’t entirely fruitless. That being said, FC5 is a beautiful and chaotic world to explore, shoot, ride, sail, fly and fish in, with colorful characters, beautiful vistas and a whole bunch of creativity in how you go about,theoretically, saving the county from the Seed family. If you can’t get enough of what I think is Ubisoft’s best franchise, then stop worrying and hint hint, love the bomb.

Second best: God of War 2018

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Image owned by Sony and Santa Monica Studios and from OtakuKart

If ever there was a playable villain in gaming’s past, it was Kratos of Sparta. A man whose desire for power had him accidentally slay his family and go on a six-game quest to eventually topple the authority of Olympus himself, including his daddy Zeus. You liked playing Kratos, you probably didn’t like him. Not so in his Norse soft reboot, where he still hates the Gods, especially since he’s one himself. He wants to make his son Atreus not like him, no cat in the cradle. Yes, the gameplay is fresh, invigorating, and ramps up appropriately for those who really want to challenge themselves while father and son journey through the nine realms, all so they can spread a mother’s ashes at the right place. Like the game of the year up ahead, there is nothing necessarily groundbreaking about God of War, even though Kratos can actually break the ground while in combat. It is the consistent scope and narrative flair which takes advantage of a sort-of aging system to really impress as an epic should. Despite how absolutely varied the combat is, the greatest trick in making God of War worthy of Valhalla is that camera. which never enters a loading screen or transitions into a per-rendered cutscene. You are always watching from Kratos’ perspective and you are never disengaged from a story that is more engaging than anything in our anti-hero’s Greek days.

Game of the Year: Red Dead Redemption II

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Image owned by Rockstar Games and from IGN Nordic

Let’s get this out of the way first. RDR II is not perfect, even if in presentation it can make you think otherwise. The pacing and lack of variety, especially in the third act, can be a real drag, especially as the emotional weight of outlaw Arthur Morgan’s story nearing its end grips you. Rockstar have cultivated an “end of an era” parable that is no less effective than the acclaimed predecessor from 2010. Even as the story missions probably hold your hand a bit too much, especially for a gorgeous and obsessively detailed open world, just begging to be experimented on more creatively than it ultimately was. Rockstar’s vision of a sandbox period piece adventure, however paradoxically restrictive as it may occasionally be, is their own and they, shall I say, stand unshaken in how they think things shall be done in the here and now. I would ask for them to be shaken a bit in the real world though , so perhaps they don’t overwork the employees as has recently been revealed.

There is so much in Red Dead Redemption II to make it deserving of the highest honor anyway, from its well crafted spaghetti Western tale to its large amount of meaningful side content. Just the sheer amount of opportunities to break the law, uphold the law, hunt, fish and discover various points of interest make it a world which really feels like yet another breakthrough in creating real virtual lands. That’s a contradiction, of course, but you really stop caring after awhile. Even when the game bugs out, the results are,for the most part, too entertaining to get mad at. A game exists in its own right to see how many different ways you can make Arthur trip, fall, crash and get killed in general. Rockstar, in this senses, wants you to run wild with your imagination. Considering the length of development and the less than ideal conditions employees were put under, I feel like a jackass to dare say this could’ve been improved. Well, they’re areas for my best game of 2018 to have been improved in. Where it counts is where it works generally and like or hate the overall end product, Red Dead Redemption II is an interactive, flawed masterpiece that demands you don’t forget it anytime soon, if ever. Besides, there’s still room to further improve, and whether it finally be Bully 2 or GTA 6, Rockstar sees little reason to stop reaching for the sky.


Originally posted 2019-01-03 00:11:53.