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.

Review - 'The Flash', S03E13 - 'Attack On Gorilla City'





Since it began, there have been many things I have genuinely enjoyed about The Flash – to such an extent that it has definitely earn itself a spot as one of my favourite shows, at the moment. Out of everything that the series has done, though, my absolute favourite would be the decision to attempt a live-action take on a character like Gorilla Grodd – the super-intelligent gorilla with telepathic abilities who has been a common foe of the Flash, since his creation in 1959. With his previous appearance on the series proving to be so popular with fans, it was inevitable that Grodd would eventually put in another appearance. And, with his final appearance coming to an end with Grodd being sent to a whole city of super-intelligent gorillas, on Earth-2, it had seemed almost certain that his next appearance would be both highly ambitious, and wildly entertaining.

The set-up for the episode is straight-forward enough. With Earth-2's Harrison Wells being lured into a trap, and captured by the gorillas of Gorilla City, Jesse makes the journey to Earth-1 to recruit some help. With one of the head-lines glimpsed during Barry's trip to the future referencing a gorilla attack on Central City, Barry naturally fears that Grodd's ultimate plan is to use Harry to open another breach between worlds, so that he can lead an invasion.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Review - 'Supergirl', S02E13 - 'Mr. and Mrs. Mxyzptlk'





With the season's thirteenth episode being one that was, essentially, all about Valentine's Day it probably makes sense that Supergirl would choose to turn its attention to the various romantic woes of its central cast. Of course, whether that level of focus on what has always been, at least for me, the weakest element of your typical CW series would actually turn out to be a good thing is another matter, entirely.

Fortunately, despite some minor issues, the episode, as a whole, proves to be genuinely entertaining. Here, we had Alex and Maggie (in a romantic sub-plot that had, initially, been very well handled, but which seems to have been reduced to a source of occasional emotional drama, since then) encountering yet another surprising road-block in their relationship, over a difference of opinion on the value of Valentine's Day, itself. As relationship drama goes, it felt like a very conventional sub-plot, to me – and, I'll admit that I wasn't too thrilled with the idea of something so comparatively minor being the source of their latest dispute. But, at least, it did turn out that there was a very good reason behind Maggie's dislike for Valentine's Day – something that the two of them could work through, as they continue to pursue what would have to be one of the healthiest, and most mature, romantic relationships I have ever seen on a CW series. Although, now that this latest issue has been resolved, I just hope that the whole relationship will be given some time to simply exist, as it is, without constantly being used as a source of emotional angst for those involved.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Book Review - 'Proxima', by Stephen Baxter





In the distant future, the human race has made its successful transition to the stars. Although, while colonies now exist on many of the planets in our solar system, long range travel to other stars still seems to be beyond us.

Earth, itself, has been roughly carved between two dominant powers - China and the United Nations, who have also gone on to become to two dominant governments of the solar system. But, so far, neither has been able to achieve any sort of significant advantage over the other. This all changes, though, when a team of UN scientists make a significant discovery on Mercury. Strange objects which, many feel, can only be of alien origin are discovered deep below ground. These objects, called kernels by the scientists who discovered them, prove to be an energy source well beyond anything that the human race has been able to come up with. These kernels are, naturally, quickly put to use - allowing for much more efficient space travel than anything that had previously been possible

It is a discovery which promises to finally break the technological stalemate that has existed between the United Nations and China, but which also threatens the tentative peace that has also existed between the two governments. Because China, of course, wants access to this new discovery, too, and the United Nations isn't interested in sharing.

Film Review - 'Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry'





It's one of those things which probably doesn't need to be said, but the success of failure of a documentary film truly does depend largely on its chosen subject. No amount of clever camera-work or creative editing will save a documentary focused on something that no one is interested in, after all. But, if you have an interesting topic to explore, then even a single person with a single camera doing nothing more than merely observing can make for a fascinating film. Fortunately, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry is a film which does, ultimately, fall into the second category, rather than the first.

The figure at the heart of the film is, of course, here is Ai Weiwei - an artist as well as an outspoken critic of the current Chinese government. He is a man who has, at different points throughout his life, found himself held under house arrest, suffered police brutality, and who even disappeared entirely for a period of almost three months in 2011. He is also a man whose artistic accomplishments include photographing himself dropping a priceless vase and giving the middle finger to Tienanmen Square - both of which were intended as particularly unsubtle attacks on the failures he believes exist in his own country, and the way it is run.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Review - 'Arrow', S05E13 - 'Spectre of the Gun'





With Arrow reaching the half-way point of its fifth season, the season's thirteenth episode would have to be the first time that the series has attempted to directly tackle anything resembling a serious, and topical, issue. This is especially interesting when you consider the overall serious tone of the series, as a whole, and the fact that the much more light-hearted Legends of Tomorrow has already directly taken on issues of racism, sexism, and homophobia through its various time-travel adventures.

With its overall grim and serious tone, though, it's probably appropriate that the show's first attempt to tackle serious, real-world, subject matter should concern itself with issues of violence and, in particular, the topic of gun control. Here, a seemingly random act of violence, as a mysterious gunman launches an attack on Oliver's offices at City Hall, leaves the people of Star City reeling – as Oliver, himself, is forced to confront the possibility that his own tendency toward violent solutions to his various problems may have contributed to the cycle of violence that the city finds itself trapped in.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Film Review - 'Justice League Dark'





Over the past few years, DC have managed to put out an increasingly impressive number of its own original animated films, based on its comic-book universe. These films have, naturally enough, tended to vary somewhat in quality – with some truly fantastic films mixed in with others that weren't quite as impressive. Notably, though, while some of DC's animated films did turn out to be a little average, none have been truly terrible (which effectively sets these films apart from DC's current attempts at creating a cinematic universe).

While this ever-increasing selection of original animated content has attempted to cover many different facets of DC's complex comic-book universe, the one thing that so many have had in common is that they have devoted themselves, largely, to a retelling of popular stories, based around familiar characters. With Justice League Dark, however, we have a film that is clearly set on exploring some of the stranger aspects of the DC Universe, with a story based around some of its more obscure characters.

Review - 'Supergirl', S02E12 - 'Luthors'





While it's difficult to deny that the second season of Supergirl has been an overall improvement on the first, in a variety of ways, it has still had its issues. The 'Cadmus' story-line which had initially set the events of the second season in motion just hasn't been terribly compelling, overall – and, the villainous figure at the centre of it all, Lillian Luthor, has rarely been able to come across as anything more than a fairly generic villain. On the other hand, though, it is directly through Lillian's action that we have two equally imposing minor villains, in the form of Metallo and the Cyborg Superman. Also, while Lillian Luthor hasn't been terribly compelling on her own, those scenes shared with her adopted daughter, Lena, have made for some genuinely great drama.

While all of these various plot-threads have been set to one side, since the series returned from its mid-season break, they are all brought back to the spot-light with the season's twelfth episode. With the attention turned to the trial of Lillian Luthor, is seemed like the perfect opportunity for an escape attempt – as Metallo, brought in to act as a witness, reveals that he has, somewhat, managed to get his hands on some synthetic kryptonite. With the two now on the run, though, it seems that all evidence points toward Lena Luthor as the one to instigate the whole thing – especially when the police uncover a convenient video which clearly shows Lena handling the glowing green rock.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Review - 'Arrow', S05E12 - 'Bratva'





The fifth season of Arrow has felt like a rather strange one for me, so far. While there is no real denying that it represents on overall improvement in quality over the fourth season, in a variety of ways, there have still been some aspects of the season that have genuinely bothered me.

First of all, there is the fact that Prometheus, despite coming across as a genuinely intimidating and effective new villain in his first couple of appearances, has become increasingly absurd with each over the course of the season (his methods of tormenting Oliver have, so far, been increasingly outlandish and convoluted, in a way that feels almost comical – despite the fact that we clearly aren't meant to see it that way).

Another issue I have with the season, so far, concerns John Diggle – a great character whose arc, throughout the season, has felt like a bit of a mess. With the initial plot-point of Diggle being framed for a crime that he didn't commit, it all started out fairly well – but, then, we have had him breaking out of military prison, only to end up in a different prison, before being suddenly released due to the power of Felicity's new, and already kind of annoying, 'hacktivist' contacts. Overall, it just hasn't been an especially satisfying narrative arc.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Review - 'Legends of Tomorrow', S02E11 - 'Turncoat'





After vanishing back in the first episode of the season, Arthur Darvill made his return to the series after the mid-season break, only to spend his screen-time playing the hilariously 'out of his depth' amateur director and recreational drug user, Phil Gasmer. It had definitely been an entertaining direction to go with that character, too – to such an extent, in fact, that I honestly wouldn't have minded, at all, if the writers had decided to delay the inevitable moment when Rip Hunter's original memories were restored.

Of course, as the final moments of the previous episode revealed, the writers actually had another fun little surprise in store for the audience. Rip Hunter's memories were restored, certainly – but, only after Eobard Thawne took the opportunity to make a few changes. So now, rather than the heroic Rip Hunter who led to team throughout the first season, we have an altered version – one who is very much a loyal member of the 'Legion of Doom'.

It is, quite honestly, a fantastic development for the season, as a whole. We already had three great villains, in the form of Eobard Thawne, Damian Darhk, and Malcolm Merlyn – but, adding a villainous Rip Hunter to the mix makes them the Legion significantly more formidable. Here, we have a villain who truly understands the 'Legends', and is perfectly willing to use that knowledge against them. Also, though, his knowledge of the technology that they have come to depend on gives him a very clear upper-hand, even over such a formidable team.

Review - 'The Flash', S03E12 - 'Untouchable'





With the season shifting its focus to the task of changing the future, and saving the life of Iris West, it had begun to seem as though the series might have been done with Flashpoint, entirely. With Barry having seemingly learned everything he had to learn from his misguided efforts to change the past, it certainly would have made sense from a narrative perspective. Also, with Julian having been revealed as the one beneath Alchemy's mask, it seems as though Savitar's plans to bring met-humans over from the Flashpoint universe are also on hold.

As this episode shows, though, there are still some lingering consequences to Barry's tinkering with the past, and Julian's time under Savitar's control, in the form of a new meta-human – Clive Yorkin (Matthew Kevin Anderson), a man with a formidable power, set on taking revenge on those he believes wronged him.

Possessing the ability to cause anything he touches to decay rapidly, Yorkin's plan is to take revenge on the police officers responsible for his arrest in the Flashpoint universe (in spite of the fact that the majority of his targets aren't actually police officers in this universe). Along with a handful of innocent bystanders, Yorkin's plan also, and perhaps inevitably, sees him targeting Joe West – giving a very personal stake to the confrontation for both Barry and Wally, as they find themselves forced to contend with an opponent that they can't actually touch.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Review - 'Supergirl', S02E11 - 'The Martian Chronicles'





M'gann M'orzz may not be as instantly recognisable as other DC characters, but the decision to bring her into the second season of Supergirl was still one that had been met with approval from many fans. Even as someone who isn't overly familiar with the character, I still new enough about Miss Martian to be, at least, somewhat enthusiastic about what she might bring to the series. Also, the prospect of her teaming up with Supergirl certainly seem to fit with the greater focus on 'superhero' action that this season was aiming for.

It's really just a bit unfortunate, then, that none of this initial promise hasn't really come to pass, in her time on the series, so far. Instead of helping Supergirl take on a variety of villains, M'gann has actually spent the past few episodes locked in a cell – only to be finally released in the previous episode, with dire warning that her own kind, the White Martians, were hunting her.

It was a development which made sense, of course. After all, with the long and violent history between White and Green Martians, there was simply no way that J'onn J'onnz, seemingly the last surviving Green Martian, was going to trust M'gann after learning her secret. With the previous episode finally allowing the two to reconcile, though, it had left me somewhat hopeful that we might finally be able to see M'gann M'orzz being to take on a more active role on the series. Unfortunately, though, it seems that this just isn't going to be the case – as, while this episode does focus quite a bit of attention on M'gann, it also goes out of its way to bring rather decisive end to her time on the series (at least, for the moment).

Monday, 6 February 2017

Review - 'Arrow', S05E11 - 'Second Chances'





A frustratingly common trend for me, when watching these sort of shows, is the way in which wishful thinking can lead to disappointment. There have been many moments, both in this series and in others, in which I thought that I knew where a story was headed, or where I formed an idea of where I actually wanted it to go, only for the writers to take things in another direction, entirely. That's not so bad when the writers' decision actually turns out to be for the best, of course – but, in this moments where I quietly cling to the belief that my way would have been better, it can be frustrating.

I'm sure that's a common enough experience for many fans, though. The only reason why I even bring it up, here, is due to the fact that it very accurately explains how I feel about this episode. With Black Siren (Laurel Lance's evil, Earth-2, double) making her first appearance on Arrow in the previous episode, I had thought that we might be seeing the series about to launch into a very interesting redemptive arc that would have seen Katie Cassidy officially brought back into the series, in an entirely new role – with the reformed villain possibly even taking up the 'Black Canary' mantle, in the end. Given how poorly handled I have always found the original, and recently murdered, Laurel Lance to be, it was a potential development that I was cautiously optimistic about.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Review - 'Legends of Tomorrow', S02E10 - 'The Legion of Doom'





This episode of Legends of Tomorrow features an primary plot-line which, at a glance, feels very conventional. Here, we have a fractured group of reluctant allies overcoming their differences as they learn to trust each other, and work together. It is, of course, a basic narrative arc that is covered quite often in these sorts of shows. It even served as the basis for the first few episodes of Legends of Tomorrow. The main difference here, of course, is that the focus isn't on our team of wildly varied heroes (since, despite some occasional issues, they have more or less cemented themselves as an effective team). Instead, the true focus of this episode is on the season's antagonists – the villainous trio known as the Legion of Doom.

With the Legion of Doom still set on getting discovering the location of the Spear of Destiny, but having lost the mystical compass that could direct them to its various pieces, the villainous trio are left with little option but to try to get the information out of their hostage, Rip Hunter. The only problem, of course, is that Rip's memories are gone – and, he still seems entirely convinced that he is actually amateur director, and recreational drug user, Phil Gasmer.

Review - 'The Flash', S03E11 - 'Dead or Alive'





The fact that Tom Cavanagh has actually played a completely different version of his character, Harrison Wells, on each season of The Flash has been one of the more entertaining aspects of the series, so far. Not only has it provided a great test of Tom Cavanagh's acting ability, but the team's somewhat absurd decision to actually reach out into the multiverse and recruit a new Harrison Wells, earlier in this season, actually managed to turn to whole idea into a genuinely entertaining running gag.

The third season's version of the character, Earth-19's H. R. Wells, may be a much more overtly comedic character than any previous version we have met, so far – but, over the past few episodes, we have also been able to learn enough about him for him to come across as genuinely likable, and even a little bit sympathetic.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of H. R. Wells, in his time on the series, has been the way in which he seems deliberately designed to subvert expectations. With both the first season's disguised Eobard Thawne, and the second season's Harry, each entering the series harbouring their own dark secrets, the expectation was clearly there that H. R. Wells would prove to be the same – and yet, each time the the season has hinted at what this secret might be, it ultimately proved to be something entirely harmless. First, of course, was the reveal that he wasn't actually the genius scientist that the other Harrison Wells's have been – and was, instead, attempting to fake it as part of a desire to prove himself, and earn some genuine respect. Then, there was the moment when the team discovered that he had been recording information about them – which turned out to be research for a book that he was writing.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Review - 'Supergirl', S02E10 - 'We Can Be Heroes'





While it may still have its weak-points, the second season of Supergirl has still managed to feel like a fairly significant improvement over the first. There are many factors that have contributed to this, of course – but, the most important is clearly the increased emphasis that the season has placed on Kara's role as a superhero. The change in network may have been seen as a sign of failure by some viewers. But, it was also this very change that served as the catalyst for the improvements that have been made – so, it has become increasingly difficult to see it as a 'bad thing'.

The season's tenth episode represents a particularly interesting challenge for Supergirl, though – as it also sees the return of one of the first season's most disappointing villains, in the form of Livewire (Brit Morgan). Despite making two seperate appearances throughout the first season (one of which taking place on the otherwise very entertaining Supergirl/The Flash cross-over), Livewire never quite managed to feel like a fully-realised character, or a particularly credible threat. Instead, her 'shock jock turns super-villain' persona just came across as somewhat one-dimensional, and more than a little grating, to me (in much the same way that real-life 'shock jocks' often do, funnily enough).