Saturday, 15 April 2017

Three Great Plot Twists In Three Great Video Games

While there has always been a large number of video games that have been entirely focused on action and spectacle, or simply on pure entertaining, it would also be fair to say that there has also always been video games that have attempted to explore the possibility of telling engaging stories within this interactive medium.

It's an aspect of our strange little hobby that might not be appreciated by those who do not share it, of course. But, for those of us who have devoted too many hours to playing video games, there are bound to be any number of video games that have impressed us with the quality of its writing, or its cast of characters, or the basic structure of its plot. There may even be examples of video games which affected those who played them in a much more profound way than simply providing a few hours of entertainment.

Sure, you could make the argument that none of this would make necessarily allow video games to be classified as 'art' (although, even on this point, it might be possible to come up with a list of games that would suggest otherwise) - but, that's hardly the point. As a medium for story-telling, video games have always had the same potential as films, books, and television.

Take, for example, that classic story-telling device known as the plot-twist – that sudden moment of revelation intended to catch you by surprise, and to completely change the feel of the story. In books and film, a well-done plot-twist can become the main talking point for fans. And, in the world of video games, there are examples that are just as good as anything you can find in any other medium - three of which I fully intend to blatantly spoil below, so consider yourselves warned.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Review - 'Legends of Tomorrow', S02E17 - 'Aruba'

The first season of Legends of Tomorrow may have had its share of issues, but the series had still managed to pull off a very entertaining final episode. The whole idea of the Legends being required to divide their forces, as they took on different versions of Vandal Savage at different points in time, had made for a very impressive, and very creative, action sequence which had even managed to go some way toward redeeming the first season's often underwhelming central narrative. I still didn't really care about any of the convoluted drama between Hawkman, Hawkgirl, and Vandal Savage, of course – but, at least the characters did receive a memorable send-off.

Of course, the second season of Legends of Tomorrow has felt very different. The trio of villains who had been brought together to challenge the Legends have been so entertaining, whenever they are on-screen, that the season has always felt a little bit weaker whenever the focus wasn't placed on them. That's actually the exact opposite of how I often felt while watching the first season – and, it definitely indicates a fairly significant improvement for the series, as a whole.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Review - 'Legends of Tomorrow', S02E16 - 'Doomworld'

Personally, I've always appreciated stories that are willing to let the villains achieve a decisive victory. It's not necessarily that I actually want the villains to win outright, of course (although, that can be entertaining when it is done well) – but, instead, it really has more to do with actually allowing the villains of story to appear to be both formidable and effective. In a story where the villains never actually win, or never even seem to come close to achieving any sort of victory, the entire conflict can start to feel a little one-sided.

The Legion of Doom, for example, have been a very entertaining part of the second season of Legends of Tomorrow – but, as the season has progressed, the odd sense that they are actually the underdogs in the story has only seemed to grow stronger. This came to a head with the opening sequence of the previous episode, when we saw the Legends not only manage to locate Eobard Thawne's base of operations, but also successfully steal the last piece of the Spear of Destiny right out from under the nose of the villainous speedster.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Film Review - 'Ghost in the Shell'

While I would never call myself the most devoted fan of Japanese animation, I could still list plenty of examples of different films and series that I have genuinely enjoyed over the years – some of which even having managed to leave a lasting impression. High up on that list is, of course, the original Ghost in the Shell animated film, released in 1995 – a film which managed to impress me with both its strong sense of world-building, and its story-telling (the deliberately slow pace it set did test the patience of my younger self the first time I saw it, admittedly – but, it grew on me).

So, perhaps understandably, the whole idea of a live-action American remake is something that I have always approached with some degree of trepidation. Not because I have any real issue with the idea of a live-action American remake, of course (in fact, I have been sincerely hoping that the film would turn out well) – but, mostly out of concern that the whole endeavour would be fumbled in some way. This is, of course, exactly what seems to have happened – though, let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Review - 'The Flash', S03E18 - 'Abra Kadabra'

Throughout the third season of The Flash, much of the central narrative has seemed to center on the questions of exactly who Savitar really is, and what he has planned for Barry Allen – which are, basically, exactly the same questions that we had with the previous central villains of previous seasons. Despite the writers' best efforts, and some genuinely great moments, it just isn't something I have found to be terribly interesting.

In fact, it has even seemed that Savitar works much better as a vague, and distant, threat than he has as a primary focus. The character, himself, might not be all that interesting, for example, but the lingering threat of his eventual murder of Iris West has provided a strong sense of focus as we move toward the season finale.

More than anything, it seems that this threat is also at the heart of the season's eighteenth episode – as a new villain from the pages of the comic-books makes his first appearance. Abra Kadabra (David Dastmalchian), as he calls himself, is a flamboyant show-man from the distant future, who uses highly advanced technology in a way that appears to be magic.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Review - 'Supergirl', S02E17 - 'Distant Sun'

So, in the end, it seems that the whole point of the musical cross-over episode of The Flash was simply to bring a quick, and decisive, end to the romantic difficulties that both heroes were currently going through. By the end of that episode, Barry had been moved to propose to Iris once more – and, with this episode of Supergirl, it seems that Kara and Mon-El's issues have also been resolved. While, in the previous episode, it had seemed as though the sense of betrayal Kara felt at being deceived about Mon-El's true identity had created an insurmountable obstacle for the two, it now seems that Kara's recent experiences have given her a new-found perspective (I do have to wonder who all of this would come across to someone who only watches Supergirl – but, it's become increasingly clear that this just isn't a concern for the creators).

While I don't have any real issue with the whole idea of this latest romantic conflict being resolved so quickly, I to have to admit that I am a little disappointed by the fact that the interesting moral aspect of the whole dilemma has also been brushed aside. For me, at least, the revelation concerning Mon-El's true identity, as the prince of Daxam, also raised some interesting questions concerning exactly how culpable Mon-El actually was in how that corrupt society was run, and the extent to which he benefited from it. It's possible that future episodes might focus a little more attention of that aspect of Mon-El's background, of course – but, it certainly doesn't happen in this episode.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Review - 'Legends of Tomorrow', S02E15 - 'Fellowship of the Spear'

The appearance of George Lucas, earlier in the season, had served as the basis for a remarkably strange, and very entertaining, episode of Legends of Tomorrow. Making good use of the central conceit that it was actually the time-travelling adventures of the Legends which had, indirectly, inspired some of his greatest creations, the episode had managed to have a lot of fun with its homage to both the director, himself, and his films. It was an episode that even managed to culminate with a scene featuring George Lucas being tossed into trash compactor, alongside the Legends – in what would have to be one of the most purely fan-pleasing moments of the entire series, so far.

It had been a fun episode, overall – though, with that in mind, I do have to admit that it feels a bit strange to see the series retread that familiar ground again, so soon. Instead of George Lucas, though, the real-life celebrity who finds himself drawn into the Legends' wacky adventures is J. R. R. Tolkien. Much like with Lucas's appearance, the episode isn't too shy about using the author's greatest work for inspiration while, at the same time, strongly implying that it may have actually been the Legends who inspired that great work.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Review - 'The Flash', S03E17 - 'Duet'

The Flash is far from the first series to every attempt a musical episode. But, with the truly impressive amount of musical talent on hand, within the casts of both this series and its CW siblings, it is probably fair to say that this musical cross-over is up there among the most highly demanded. With Grant Gustin and Melissa Benoist both being former cast-members of Glee, and with with so many other talented musical performers among the supporting cast, it actually makes perfect sense that some fans would wonder if this was something that might actually happen.

At the same time, though, there are bound to be plenty among the show's audience who simply don't like musicals – or, who regard the whole idea of a musical episode, especially of a show like The Flash, to be the worst sort of cheap and unnecessary gimmick. That's perfectly understandable, of course – and, to be honest, if that's where you find yourself, then this episode is probably going to feel like a bit of a chore.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Review - 'Supergirl', S02E16 - 'Star-Crossed'

As someone who has never really been a fan of the way in which relationships, and romantic drama, has been handled on the CW's DC shows (or, if I'm being honest, on CW shows, in general), I can't say that I was all that thrilled about an episode that devotes itself not one, but two, plot-lines centred around romantic conflict. The overly melodramatic angst that usually results when the focus is placed on relationship drama has often been a source of frustration for me, in the past, after all. I suppose you can think of it as a personal bias of mine – one which I readily acknowledge.

Here, for example, we have a primary plot-line placed firmly on Kara and Mon-El – who, after sharing managing to share an entire scene of romantic bliss (as they binge-watch Game of Thrones, while eating ice cream), find their still relatively new relationship test, once more, by the arrival of Mon-El's parents. In a development which has already been hinted at, and which probably would not have been much of a surprise anyone in the audience even if it hadn't, it turns out that Mon-El isn't actually the palace guard whose life was spared by the prince of Daxam – he is, in fact, the prince of Daxam, himself.

Review - 'Iron Fist', S01E09 - 'The Mistress of All Agonies'

I suppose that any lingering concerns I may have had about the death of Harold Meachum can be laid to rest with the opening moments of the season's ninth episode – as we are shown, quite clearly, that he isn't actually dead, after all. Or, to be more precise, he was dead – but, now, he's back. It seems that Harold's previous experience of being brought back to life by the Hand has had some rather unexpected consequences – and, now, the implication is clearly that Harold Meachum simply can't be permanently killed.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Review - 'Iron Fist', S01E08 - 'The Blessing of Many Fractures'

Iron Fist may have had a shaky start, but the last few episodes have managed to achieve a fairly consistence level of quality. The series still isn't quite up to the same level as the best of Netflix's corner of the MCU, sure – but, it has still managed to be entertaining. It has managed to develop its cast of characters into genuinely rounded, and interesting, individual – and, it has managed to provide some great moments of action. It has even managed to find a sense of focus that it initial lacked, with the escalating conflict between Danny Rand and the Hand.

Review - 'Iron Fist', S01E07 - 'Felling Tree With Roots'

As we move into the aftermath of Danny Rand's 'Tournament of Death' style challenge, it seems that there is a bit of a stale-mate between Danny and the Hand. He may have technically lost the contest, when he chose to back down to save Sabina's life – but, that decision only became necessary when Madame Gao changed the rules. Also, Sabina's rescue came at the same time as her father, Radovan, was captured once more. So, despite the best efforts of Danny, Colleen, and Claire the episode ended with the distinct impression of failure, on the part of the heroes. And innocent young woman's life was spared, certainly – but, with the chemist back under their control, the Hand are still able to continues with their plans for the production, and distribution, of their synthetic heroin.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Review - 'Iron Fist', S01E06 - 'Immortal Emerges From Cave'

It may have taken a while but, with the sixth episode, Iron Fist is finally able to give us something that feel genuinely distinct from the rest of Netflix's corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

It's an episode that sees Danny drawn into direct conflict with the Hand, for the first time, as he finds himself challenged to a strange sort of duel of honour, with the potential prize being the release of Sabina, the daughter of the severely wounded chemist rescued in the previous episode. His opponents are a trio of eccentric warriors, each of whom stand among the Hand's elite. In order to win, Danny must take on each challenge, one by one – and, if he loses, the cost will be his life.

Review - 'Iron Fist', S01E05 - 'Under Leaf Pluck Lotus'

Mixed in with its various issues with pacing, writing, and characterisation, one other lingering problem that has let down the previous episodes of Iron Fist has been the fact that it has lacked any sort of central narrative to drive the season forward. There just hasn't been any sort of central conflict, or a clearly defined central antagonist, to give the season a sense of focus. The Meachums (Ward, in particular) had seemed intended to fill that role, for the season's first arc. But, that ultimately went nowhere – and, now, Ward and Joy have each transitioned into simply being regular members of the supporting cast. There is still the mystery over exactly how involved Harold Meachum is with the Hand's various operations, and how loyal he actually is, of course – but, that is clearly a mystery that is being saved for later in the season. There have also been brief hints regarding the Hand, itself – with the sinister group clearly set to play a large role in the series.

Review - 'Iron Fist', S01E04 - 'Eight Diagram Dragon Palm'

With the previous episode ending on something of a underwhelming attempt at a cliff-hanger, the season's fourth episode makes the wise decision of simply moving things along. Surviving his fall from the top floor of a building, Danny regains consciousness to find himself inside Harold Meachum's secret sanctuary – where, it seems, Harold has decided to take the opportunity to attempt to bring Danny into the fold. Openly revealing his history with the Hand, and his current status as an apparent prisoner, forced to do whatever they wish, Harold's plan is clearly to use Danny as a weapon against his enemies – a plan which Danny, for his part, seems quite happy to go along with.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Review - 'Iron Fist', S01E03 - 'Rolling Thunder Cannon Punch'

With the third episode of Iron Fist, things seem to continue much as they had in the previous episode – with a gradual improvement in the show's overall quality, as all of the pieces begin to fall into place. The show still has a fair way to go before it becomes a truly worthy addition to Netflix's corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, of course. But, there does seem to be cause for genuine hope that, before the season reaches its finale, it will have become the entertaining martial arts action series that I had hoped it would be. Even the quality of the writing seems to have improved, somewhat, with this episode – as, despite it still being an episode filled with long scenes of dialogue, they did not feel quite as tedious or drawn out as previously.

Review - 'Iron Fist', S01E02 - 'Shadow Hawk Takes Flight'

Throughout the first episode of Iron Fist, the thing that troubled me the most was how slow and sluggish it all felt. The episode was full of long, drawn out, scenes of, occasionally, awkwardly written dialogue which severely harmed the pacing of the episode. Those moments where we were shown something a little more (the brief moments of action, for example, or the reveal that the Meachum patriarch, Harold, had faked his own death) had promise, sure – but, they weren't quite enough to carry the entire episode.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Review - 'Iron Fist', S01E01 - 'Snow Gives Way'

I have to admit that I'm just not entirely sure what to expect from a series like Iron Fist. Sure, based on its basic premise, I suppose it would be fair to expect a decent amount of martial arts action – but, beyond that, I'm just not overly familiar with the character, or the sorts of stories that he tends to be involved in. So, unlike with Netflix's previous Marvel shows, it definitely feels like I'm going in blind. Would it be a grim and serious as Netflix's previous offerings, for example? Or, would it be a little more light-hearted? And, what sort of character is Danny Rand, anyway? Most importantly, what sort of hero is he?

Review - 'Legends of Tomorrow', S02E14 - 'Moonshot'

The hunt for the scattered pieces of the Spear of Destiny has been the main driving force of the second season of Legends of Tomorrow – with the race between the Legends and the Legion of Doom taking us from the distant future and into the distant past. Now, though, we find ourselves in slightly more familiar territory as, with Rip Hunter's original personality restored, he is able to lead them to the last piece – entrusted to former JSA member, Henry Heywood (Matthew MacCaull), in 1970.

Provided that they are able to reach Henry before the Legion do, it should be a simple matter of collecting Henry, and his piece of the spear, and vanishing before the villainous trio even have a chance. But, of course, things aren't going to be that simple. After working his way into NASA, Henry has managed to become an integral part of the United State's space program – to such an extent that he was even able to take the opportunity to smuggle his piece of the spear off-world, cleverly hiding it within the flag-pole holding up the American flag left on the moon.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Review - 'The Flash', S03E16 - 'Into the Speed Force'

The way in which Savitar had managed to manipulate Wally West into setting him free, at the end of the previous episode, would have to be the villain's most effective moment, so far – and, what would have to count as both a positive and a negative. On the plus side, it was great to see the mysterious villain using his intellect, as he skilfully goaded Wally into making a terrible mistake. On the other hand, though, it simply should not have taken as long as it did to reach this point.

For much of the season, Savitar simply hasn't been a terribly interesting, or particularly effective, villain. Sure, the idea of a speedster capable of moving so fast that only other speedster can even see him sounded interesting enough, but his first action sequence looked like something that could have been drawn straight out of a video game (and, not a particularly good one, either) – and, the same could be said of his overall design. Those scenes in which he spoke to the rest of the cast through Julian were pretty great, of course – but, they amounted to little more than some fairly standard villainous posturing.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Review - 'Legends of Tomorrow', S02E13 - 'Land of the Lost'

With the last episode of Legends of Tomorrow coming to an end with Rip Hunter back on the Waverider, I do have to admit that it struck me as a little strange that no one seemed to seriously consider the possibility that the ship's former captain might have some way of turning its formidable AI, Gideon, against them. Sure, Sarah may have given the order the order for Gideon to not communicate with Rip, in any way – but, the previous episode's final moment made it blatantly clear where things were headed.

So, coming into the season's fifteenth episode, it hardly counted as any sort of surprise when Rip turned out to have access to an override command that forced Gideon to obey his orders, as he made his inevitable escape attempt. Of course, we were never really meant to be surprised by this sudden development – so, it was mostly just an impressively staged sequence which, once more, shows exactly how effective a villain this mind-altered version of Rip Hunter truly is.

His escape attempt may have ended in failure – but, thanks to his efforts, the team found themselves temporarily stranded in the Cretaceous period while, even worse, the compass which they had hoped would guide them to the final piece of the Spear of Destiny was destroyed.

Review - 'The Flash', S03E15 - 'The Wrath of Savitar'

Considering that he is supposed to be the main antagonist for the third season of The Flash, it is somewhat disappointing to have to admit that Savitar still hasn't been able to make much of an impression. He's had his moments, sure – and, he definitely seems to pose a significant physical threat. But, the vague hints that we have been given about his true identity, and his plans for Barry Allen, just haven't been all that satisfying. The indication of an intense rivalry that hasn't actually taken place yet, from Barry's perspective, just feels a little too similar to what we had with Barry and Eobard Thawne, back in the first season. Also, there is the fact that Savitar's overall design looks like something drawn out of a video game (and, not necessarily a good one, either) – which has made it a bit difficult to take him seriously.

It is definitely noticeably, after all, that Savitar's most effective moments were those in which he was speaking through others – either when he was talking through Julian, or when he created those so far unexplained hallucinations of various deceased loved ones. With this episode clearly being intended to bring Savitar back into focus, it probably makes sense that it would feature some of his strongest moments, so far. First, we have a couple of scenes in which Julian, very reluctantly, agrees to allow 'Team Flash' to use his connection to Savitar to communicate with the mysterious villain – with each scene providing some great moments of tense drama. Then, we have a genuinely emotional scene, later in the episode, where Savitar's continuing efforts to manipulate Wally culminates in him presenting a hallucination of Wally's deceased mother.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Review - 'Supergirl', S02E15 - 'Exodus'

It may have taken much longer than it really should have but, with the season's fifteenth episode, Supergirl has finally managed to turn Cadmus into something resembling a legitimate threat. It's really just a shame that this is something which doesn't seem likely to last beyond this single episode.

With Jeremiah's betrayal, in the previous episode, Cadmus now finds itself in possession of the DEO's complete list of registered alien immigrants – and, the sinister organisation has wasted no time in enacting a plan that seems clearly intended to provide some form of commentary on the current political climate in the United States of America. Setting out to round up each and every name on the DEO's list, Cadmus's current is to, essentially, forcibly deport the entire population – placing them on an alien ship and sending them far from Earth. It may not seem to be as overtly villainous a plan as simply rounding the entire population up and executing all of them (as Lillian Luthor had, apparently, originally intended) – but, that just makes it the whole thing feel a little more plausible.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Three Great Twist Endings in Film

A good twist at the end of a film can make for a memorable experience. It can become the type of thing your itching to talk about, and struggling to keep to yourself for the benefit of any friends who haven't seen the film, yet. It can become the source of discussion and debate among friends for days afterwards – each arguing about how well it fit, or whether they saw it coming. A good twist can even go some way to salvaging the reputation of an otherwise average film. People may be willing to overlook the poorer qualities of a film, and focus all of their attention on those final moments.

The ideal situation would, of course, have to be a last-minute twist that actually improved the film on repeated viewings - as the audience began to pay close attention to any clues that pointed toward what was coming, or simply enjoyed the very different context provided by their knowledge of the twist.

A poor twist can have the opposite effect, though. It can completely ruin an otherwise perfectly decent film. Just as a good twist can become the main talking point of an otherwise mediocre film, a poorly executed twist can become a sticking point for viewers – harming the reputation of a film which may have, otherwise, been remembered more kindly.

But, what's the difference, though?

Below, I'll be discussing three different films that I happen to think had very effective twist endings. Ones that actually served the movie as a whole, rather than coming across as a cheap gimmick. These are films that did a twist ending right.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Review - 'The Flash', S03E14 - 'Attack On Central City'

The previous episode of The Flash had raised expectations fairly high, for me. Perhaps too high, as it turns out – since, on reflection, there is simply no way that the show's budget could have stretched far enough to give us the large-scale invasion that we had been led to believe was coming. It is, after all, the same issue that has often cropped up, on this series. The CGI work that has gone in to creating some of the more outlandish villains to put in an appearance (Grodd, himself, most prominently – but, also, King Shark) has always been very impressive, for a television budget – but, the actual screen-time devoted to these characters has also, always, been kept to a fairly conspicuous minimum.

It's been perfectly understandable, of course – and, in the past, I have been perfectly happy to cut the series a little slack. It was, after all, very impressive that they would even be willing to make the effort. Unfortunately, while it is all well and good to cut the creator's a little slack, it seems that, at this point, they should also be aware of their own limitations. If, for example, the series did not have the budget to show us something as demanding as an army of CGI gorillas attacking a city, then they should not have created a situation where that is exactly what the audience was expecting to see.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Review - 'Supergirl', S02E14 - 'Homecoming'

As the primary driving force behind so much of the conflict throughout the second season of Supergirl, Cadmus is an organisation which has, more often than not, felt incredibly underdeveloped – and, their actions throughout the season have often seemed distinctly underwhelming. Despite the show's best efforts to convince us otherwise, Cadmus just hasn't managed to come across as a terribly effective, or intimidating, villain for this season of Supergirl.

Fortunately, the season's fourteenth episode is one that actually managed to go some way toward remedying that fact – though, unfortunately, it went about doing so in a way that brought up some issues of its own. Despite being based on what had, initially, felt like a very strong premise, I do have to admit that this was an episode that I actually found to be genuinely frustrating.

Beginning with the rescue of Jeremiah Danvers (Dean Cain), during the episode's (admittedly very impressive) opening sequence, a frustratingly large portion of this episode was ultimately taken up by horribly contrived character drama. Mon-El, convinced that Jeremiah's reappearance was a little too convenient and that his rescue was a little too easy, attempted to raise the possibility that Cadmus might have some deeper plan in motion – only for his theory to be immediately, and aggressively, shot down by everyone. His distrust of Jeremiah even put strain on his relationship with Kara (a relationship that was barely an episode old), as she began to wonder whether she could be with someone who... had understandable suspicions which he had attempted to raise in a respectful manner (or something).

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Review - 'Legends of Tomorrow', S02E12 - 'Camelot/3000'

Legends of Tomorrow is a series that has never been shy about fully embracing the sort of genuine absurdity you tend to find in comic-book stories. Honestly, that has been a large part of its charm. But, there has also always been some danger that an episode could simply take things too far – creating a story which is a little too outlandish, or treating things a little too lightly. The series fell into that trap earlier in the season, with the team's second Wild West adventure – and, also, with their trip to feudal Japan. Unfortunately, it seems that the series has fallen into the same trap again, here.

On paper, of course, there is nothing in particular wrong with the episode – and, it actually sounds like it should have turned out to be a lot of fun. Beginning with a trip to the year 3000, where they learn that Rip Hunter has managed to beat them to yet another piece of the Spear of Destiny, the Legends soon find themselves travelling to the distant past – where, against everything that Nate understands about actual history, they soon find themselves drawn into the very real adventures of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. While Nate is understandably baffled, Ray is thrilled – realising that his time travel adventures have, once more, provided him with the opportunity to live out a childhood fantasy.