Guardians of the Galaxy

MV5BMjA3ODU4MDUyMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTE2OTkzMTE@._V1__SX1859_SY893_The crazy thing about how far behind my reviews have fallen isn’t that the backlog is huge, but that it’s so very, very small. There’s the movie I saw before this, which I have finally accepted won’t be served by a useless review and which will therefore have to wait until dollar theaters pick it up so I can purge expiate my sins, there’s this one, and there’s one book I finished almost at the same time. Nothing else.

I haven’t exactly been avoiding the theater? I have most definitely been avoiding books though. Which is to say, boy howdy have I read a ton of comics over the past month. None of that has anything to do with anything, except oh wait, it totally does, since I just remembered that the movie I am reviewing is Guardians of the Galaxy. If you were to guess I had seen that comic in the mid ’70s, the answer would be, sort of? I did, but just the premiere issue so far, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with the characters that populate this movie. I did read a handful of issues of Adam Warlock which introduce Gamora, making her, so far as I can tell, the oldest of these characters in Marveldom. This is not only pretty cool, but it definitely puts a pleasantly ironic spin on a situation I read about a few weeks ago where someone was selling kidshirts of the characters and left her off because she wouldn’t appeal to boys enough. That’s already dumb on the face of it, obviously, but man oh man is it five times as dumb with the added knowledge about their collective history in comics.

None of which has anything to do with how good the movie is, I know, but… it’s been out more than a month. I kind of missed the boat on that one already, y’know? But let’s pretend I haven’t, and someone who can see this hasn’t actually seen the movie yet. It’s like this. A misfit kid with the soundtrack of the ’70s and ’80s as his sole possession in life winds up in space because that’s how comics work sometimes, only now he’s a cool thief[1]. Then he gets caught up in a galactic civil war[2] between the Kree and some other people who are not the Skrulls and who I would probably know more about if I had read comics from the ’80s, meets up with the daughter of the baddest dude in the galaxy[3], not to mention a psychotic raccoon, his pet tree who has a lot to say but only the raccoon can translate, and an angry tattooed giant out for revenge because the second baddest dude in the galaxy killed his entire family one time.[4] Then, they… well, the point is, literally any damn thing could happen, and if you aren’t desperate to know what, we are entirely different people, you and I.

[1] Not the Danny Ocean kind of thief, the Indiana Jones kind, if Indy had ever acknowledged that he’s totally a thief but for museums, which by the way is 100% what he is. I mean, it’s not his fault, it is colonialism’s fault, but think about it.
[2] It’s more complicated than that, but at some point I’m just writing a spoiler-filled summary of the movie instead of a review; plus also, if I break it down, the movie sounds less like Star Wars.
[3] Who we last saw financing the destruction of the earth for unknown reasons.
[4] “For you, the day Bison graced your village with his presence was the single most important moment of your life. For me, it was a Tuesday.” Oh Raul Julia, we miss you still.

Powers: Cosmic

71DwWGj1SOLHonestly? I kinda got nothing here. This Powers collection has retroactively justified my recent acceptance of Captain Marvel into my personal Marvel comics canon, since it is about the death of Earth’s Cosmic guardian and what that means for the planet’s future. (Because, you see, that’s what Kree-born warrior Mar-Vell’s story has eventually metamorphosed into.) But otherwise, it is by and large standard Powers fare, with murders to solve[1], heroism to be performed, and major plot-points to be incrementally moved forward.

If I could talk about said plot-points without big spoilers for previous parts of the series, maybe I’d have more to say. Because there’s definitely a building theme over the course of the series, one that I could not have predicted before being an unregistered superhero got outlawed and which now seems unavoidable in retrospect. But, yeah, major character and story arc spoilers lie in that direction. Next book, when things come to what I assume is an inevitable head, I’ll just have to duck behind the spoiler cut and talk about it anyway, but since both character arcs were in set-up mode this time, I can safely wait one more time.

Meanwhile, a structural discussion. Every issue in this collection started with a coffee-house-looking open mic night, with a different random character from somewhere in The City(tm) doing a different not-quite-comedic stand-up routine. It’s not that they were bad, by and large. It’s that they felt like they were supposed to be making some kind of thematic resonance, either within the current plot or maybe even issue by issue. And, I flat out did not get it. I have no point here, I just wonder if that’s on me or on Bendis.

[1] Notably, the one I already alluded to.

Braid

51baP9k+ubLAnd then, the first and last game of the weekend[1], Braid. The downside of which is that I am obligated to find a way to review Braid. (The upside, obviously, is that it was a fantastic game, full of challenging and rewarding puzzles and a truly incredible (and incredibly presented!) climax to its story.)

The thing is, I don’t really want to say anything about it, because it is to be played, not told. So I’ll give you what you can see and what you can begin to intuit from the first two minutes of play, and then I’ll nod to myself and consider my job done[5]. Have you ever played Super Mario Bros.? The one for the original Nintendo (also there was a somewhat different arcade version) with the walking mushroom people and the giant lizard who kidnapped Princess Peach? Along every meaningful angle from which you could consider SMB, this game is the response to that game. </wise nod>

[1] I had played a great deal of it before[2], and I also took a break in the middle before coming back to wrestle with the last few, ultra-hard levels. Ultimately, there were seven such that a walkthrough was involved in[4], and of those, I only felt like I should have figured out two of them. The rest involved knowledge I had somehow missed having or ideas that would never have crossed my mind to attempt.
[2] Annoyingly, on the XBox 360. Will I go back for my gamerscore? Probably not![3]
[3] I mean because I’m pretty lazy, but honestly, going back for gamerscore feels like missing 100% of the point of the game, too.
[4] Awesomely, my host had the walkthrough and doled out the hints gradually, so sometimes it really was just a hint.
[5] If this sounds like a candyass way to conduct my affairs, well, a) maybe it is at that, but b) it doesn’t change the fact that I would be robbing you of an experience you owe yourself. If you play video games and people don’t sidle away from you because of things you say at social gatherings, then trust me. Just play the game. The five or ten bucks that it will cost you is worth it, as is the hour or three of time you’ll spend.

Journey

journey-game-screenshot-1-bI am returned, triumphant, from my long sojourn of, er, not writing the last two reviews I have owed. And if that doesn’t really sound like all that much of a Journey, it’s because I’m trying to create a parallel with my unfortunate experience playing a short indie game of the same name.

As you can see, last weekend was heavy with the light & easy games set, which… it did not convince me that small games that last a couple of hours is the way to go, but it certainly highlighted how much easier they are. I mean, yes to play, because you can’t write a particularly hard game that will only last 90 minutes, but especially I mean easy to find time for the playing of. Which is important! I can say anything I want about how much more I enjoy Dragon Age, but if I keep not turning on the XBox to play it, that claim rings pretty hollowly.

The irony is that Journey would otherwise be the perfect game to draw that comparison with. See, I finished it in about 20 minutes. You start out as a Jawa-looking dude[1] in the desert, climbing up a hill. Eventually, you see in the distance what look like places to go, and then you go to them, because you’ve ever played a videogame before. After doing some things in the desert which may or may not have any particular long-term relevance or unlock insightful cutscenes, you go through a portal to a snowy mountainscape. Or at least I did. After some additional snow-doings that may also have some kind of relevance or unlock some other set of cutscenes, a finale occurs. I can only speculate about all these things[2] because what happened to me was as follows: I collected a couple of glowing things in the desert, tried to take them back to a platform that looked like it might have been missing some glowing things but instead accidentally fell through a portal onto the mountain (was there a way back? I’m told yes, but it didn’t look like it) where I climbed for a while, turned right, dodged a (let’s say) dragon, climbed some more (briefly the climbing involved a Shaolin temple), and then after some brief spoilers[3], the game ended.

I’m pretty sure I did something wrong? You would think, in a game whose title explicitly alludes to the destination not mattering, it would not be so easy to perform a speed run, much less without intending to. Oh well. Perhaps I’ll play it again someday, when the memories have faded.

[1] Or possibly lady! If you’ve seen a Jawa before, you know I’m impressing my own opinion without any particular evidence.
[2] Well, not only speculate. I have hints from my incredulous host to go by as well.
[3] I’m taking it on faith that there were spoilers to be had. It was, from my perspective, merely an inexplicable happenstance.

Prometheus

prometheus_810Then I got to pick up a movie that I’ve long regretted missing out on, by virtue of it apparently being a recommended reference piece for the latest in quality surround sound.[1] I would never have been so obsessed with seeing Prometheus if I had not known about its connection into the Alien mythos, a series with which I am quite obsessed indeed. I find it ironic, therefore, that the huge failing of the movie is that Ridley Scott thought he could make a science fiction movie by drawing so strongly on the same elements that made Alien one of the best horror movies of all time.

See, there are these archaeologists, and they have found evidence in the records of a dozen ancient cultures that aliens were once among us. Better yet, they found a map. Off they go (courtesy of the Weyland Corporation, its Yutani partnership still in the murky future) to meet said aliens and see what can be learned from them or their remains. (After all, it’s been a while since anyone has heard from them.) And then… well, the problem I have here is that the only thing that compelled me to eschew my usual lack of non-theatrical reviews is how much I want to talk about What Went Wrong. And though I don’t plan to lay out the plot detail by detail, the broad strokes of conflict necessary to explain myself are major spoilers for the last third of the movie. Probably nobody is worried about being spoiled for a generally panned film that is also two years old? But just in case, you have been warned.

So, after various trials and tribulations that there’s no need to detail, half of the main characters are standing face to face with one of their Progenitors. They have woken him from presumed millennia of cryogenic slumber, they have a robot with enough linguistic knowledge and recent research to speak with him. This is a high level “Are you There, God? It’s Me, Margaret” moment in progress here. And then…

Let me come at it from another direction. Science fiction, at its core, is about the betterment of humanity. Depending upon the flavor, it may not always be successful, but we are always striving, seeking answers, reaching beyond ourselves in some way, whether technologically, physically, philosophically, morally, or some combination. And you cannot get more science fictional, I would posit, than going into deep space to learn the fundamental answers of our own genesis.

Horror, at its core, is about the inexplicable. Sometimes we try to impose a cause where no cause exists[2]. Sometimes we just shy away in existential or literal terror at the knowledge that there is no reason to be had. Ridley Scott’s Alien was exactly that movie. Some miners on their way home stumble across an old space beacon, accidentally wake up an egg filled with death, and the lone survivor walks away with no answers at all, just bloody destruction.

As you can see, these two genres are fundamentally at odds with each other, in their purest forms. The reason Prometheus is a failure, then, is because Scott pulled a bait-and-switch. Two-thirds of the way through a science fiction movie, the audience is suddenly faced with inexplicable horror and an ending that promises only the lack of answers, even as the film’s heroine launches into the uncertain future to continue her off-screen search for them.

Which forces me to wonder if the sequel (2016, IMDB says) will retroactively redeem some portion of this movie?

[1] I suspect this is entirely due to the waterfall scene the flick opens with.
[2] Pamela Voorhees launched a decade of schlock by pretending her murder spree was about teenage drug use and premarital sex instead of blind, flailing denial of her own senseless loss.

Flower

41MZscmDiuLHaving covered the media I consumed whilst packing and then waiting in the airport for hours on end to die, violence and bloodshed hounding me from every quarter, it feels only right that I should have found a calm, meditative game like Flower to ease my mind as my weekend in the wilds of Danville, CA progressed. And it feels all the more right that I was playing a game in which dull, lifeless yellowed or grey fields should transform into lush greenery under my expert controller-tilting when you consider how similarly yellowed were the steep hills surrounding the house on all sides. (But seriously, there’s something incredible about the sunlight, and especially the afternoon’s last gleaming, on those too steep hillsides, dotted now and again with lone trees.)

So, there’s this game for the various Playstations (I did it on the 4, but there are other options) in which you are the wind, and you move flower petals around. And… that’s the whole game, basically. If your gust of wind passes over a new flower, you get one of its petals, until you are eventually a whirling maelstrom of color and delight, rushing across the landscape, transforming it as you go. Then later, there are some blasted urban cityscapes, and, let’s face it, if it were not so calm and beautiful, it would be an environmental screed.

But, while it did not end up feeling screedy, it was certainly environmental, and there’s really not a whole lot else to it, except for being pretty. Still, it was fun. Or maybe I was just very amused by the ten-year-old with whom I was sharing the controller and his claims of knowing how to embrace the flower. At first, it was a zen koan that deepened my attachment to the game; by the time I realized that “embrace the flower” was simply code for “I’m playing this game better than you are”, the attachment already existed. The more positive Amazon reviews say that the game has a different, deeply emotional, experience available to each player. I suppose this counts as that?

Cataclysm: The Ultimates’ Last Stand

511fl0IJPOLThis is, what, the fifth Ultimate universe crossover event? Well, probably more even than that, but it’s certainly the second really big one, after the Ultimatum, which is cool because now I can start marking time from this instead of that. Based on the cover of this and many past books, I think it’s fair to say that if the Ultimate universe can even survive[1], this is certainly an event which changes everything, an event after which nothing can be the same!

And, okay, it’s a fair statement to make, right? The last time nothing could ever be the same, something like a third of the major and minor heroes died because Magneto flooded Manhattan and froze Europe solid. That’s some pretty hardcore destruction, and it certainly went after the highest density of heroes, with predictable and already-mentioned results.[2] If that sounds hardcore, then you can only agree that a confrontation with the literal purple-hatted Devourer of Worlds would be rather more Cataclysmic, right?

So, yep. Dire odds, check. Requirement for every single superhero to band together against total destruction, check. Desperate gambles, heroic sacrifices, senseless tragedies? Check, check, check. And of course, for anyone who’s been paying attention the last couple of years, we all know there’s only one person who can defeat Galactus, right? That’s some added conflict right there.

Like you’d expect, Bendis’ stories have the biggest emotional punch, but there’s really not a single bad moment anywhere in this event, which is far more than I can say for the muddled, incoherent mess that the Ultimatum storyline became. Let me say it like this: at the end of a story that featured significant amounts of Rick Jones, I do not currently despise Rick Jones. That? Is impressive storytelling.

And, y’know, it was valid claim after all. Nothing will ever be the same.

Probably.

[1] Spoiler alert: probably it can?
[2] Although, who could have predicted that the single largest impactful moment would have been the meeting between Ben Grimm and Victor Von Doom in the epilogue? Honestly, it’s still not clear to me whether even the authors are aware of just how instrumental that was to subsequent events.

The Purge

MV5BMTU0OTE1Nzk2NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjE5NDY0OQ@@._V1__SX1859_SY893_The number of things I have to review since this time on Thursday of last week is frankly astonishing. First up, The Purge, which I was reminded of when advertisements for the first of what I presume will be half a dozen sequels starting airing on, I don’t know, the radio? Somewhere, anyway. Then, for a wonder, the first movie of whatever series you happen to be thinking of[1] was actually available for free on my Roku search during the timeframe in which its sequel was dominating the media. Thanks, HBOGo!

Anyway, it’s the near future. Like, ten years from now. And the “new founding fathers” have instituted an annual 12 hour purge, in which all crime, up to murder[2], is legal, with the exceptions that you cannot use “class 4 and above weaponry” and that there are some small number of government officials who are immune. Of course, the hammer falls hardest on those without the monetary wherewithal to hide themselves behind gates and walls, but this is all good because between the shrinking indigent population and the annual catharsis, crime is way down and people feel safe all the rest of the year. Pretty much everyone digs it! Except for people who have been negatively affected, of course, and they hardly count.

Into this morality play is dropped Ethan Hawke, his inexplicably raven-tressed Lannister wife, his needlessly over-sexualized schoolgirl daughter[3], and his moral son, who drops the lot of them in a kettle of boiling fish, or some such metaphor, when he lets a nameless, terrified, and conspicuously black young man into the house after hearing the latter pleading for someone, anyone, to help him. The stage set, about 15 simultaneous games of cat-and-mouse begin. Can the injured young man be trusted? Is it suspicious that the schoolgirl’s boyfriend has picked tonight of all nights to have a man-to-man discussion with Ethan Hawke about his relationship with Hawke’s daughter? What about the people who injured that other guy in the first place? How far with Hawke go to defend his family? Will it be too far? Will it be far enough? Isn’t Lena Headey usually tougher than this? Will the neighbors band together against the external threat? If so, which one(s)? Pretty much the whole movie is Choose Your Own Adventure: Bloody Morality with Racist Overtones edition.

It seems heavy-handed on paper, but I honestly thought it was pretty effective. 1) Because like it or not, there’s no way to tell what anyone’s motives truly are, especially on a night when there are no legal consequences. 2) Because, even if you do want to take a moral stand, or at least a stand geared toward trust rather than betrayal, there’s no guarantee that circumstances will allow you that luxury. Nobody should be put in the position of valuing one life over another, but “should” is also a luxury that we aren’t always allowed.

[1] In this case, it should probably be The Purge, though.
[2] Except rape, right? Right? RIGHT? Because what possible good would that serve, even if you can come to a truce in your mind that the rest of the plan has some kind of upside? The movie did not really address this question at all, which was probably better news for my peace of mind than if it had.
[3] If she had not stayed in the schoolgirl uniform the whole movie, it would not have been even a third as blatant, I don’t think.

The Way of Kings revisited

51WC999OnyLOn the one hand, there are so many new books I want to read right away, and I kind of resent the need to go back and read a book I’ve already read just to remember what would be going on in the sequel, now that it’s finally out three and a half years later. And then I think about other books I want to reread also, actively because I haven’t in a very long time rather than passively so that I’ll remember what’s going on as per that prior sentence. Not to mention just how much rereading I’ve done over the past couple of years.

All of that to say that (despite all my complaining), wow, The Way of Kings is still extremely good. Intriguing characters with real problems (I mean, besides the end of the world), highly alien setting with reasonable extensions of human societal development as a result[1], moral dilemmas, secrets to be explored, and of course exciting combat and magic sequences. I don’t think it would hold up to the kind of attention I paid Jordan’s opus, but that’s a reflection of how I’ve changed more than anything else. Which is why it’s nice to have followed along on the Tor reread as I dug through this one. Well, it was up until the last quarter of the book or so, when suddenly the authors and a lot of the commenters had read the new book and I had not yet. Bleah.

Because, seriously? It’s not all the details they teased out of this book that astonish me, although there are some pretty astonishing things being teased out. Someone translated runic script on a couple of the late book drawings? Someone else identified who all of the faces are in the chapter icons, associated them with thematic elements laid out in the otherwise bare glossary, and then proved how those faces / themes fit the chapters?! Are you kidding me? So, yes. Pretty meaty stuff, and kudos to Brandon Sanderson for that much depth and attention to detail at every turn. But then there’s all the connections they have drawn to his other works, which are all set in the same universe[2] and contain a same wandering character as well as the same pantheon of cooperative and opposed gods, some alive, some dead, spread out in the various corners they have decided to stake out and world[3] around with. Although I’ve read like 3/4 of his output, I would never have had the faintest clue about any of these interconnections. Which just makes me want to go back and reread all the rest of his books too, and if I resented the time for this, how am I supposed to find time for that?

Curse you, Sanderson!

[1] And if it seems like this alien of a world shouldn’t have humans in the first place, I’m nearly positive that’s by design and may well be addressed, implicitly or explicitly.
[2] Cosmere, they call it, and apparently the people on this book’s world, Roshar, are aware of said Cosmere and aware that travel to other places is possible. Answering how that can be is another missing piece I look greatly forward to acquiring somewhere down the line!
[3] Plausibly, world is not a viable verb? Then again, maybe it is. I’ve never Mormoned, so I can’t be sure.

Edge of Tomorrow

MV5BMTQwODI0NDM5NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzkwNTY3MTE@._V1__SX1859_SY893_Man. I am so slow at watching / reading / playing anything at all, this year. So slow. It’s driving me a little bit crazy, although I have read really a lot of comics from the overly dense mid 1970s. I’m looking rather forward to a lot of titles starting to collapse by 1977 or so. However, this is not about that.

This is about Edge of Tomorrow, in which Tom Cruise plays the main character in a video game, stuck on an endless escort mission to get Emily Blunt (who used to be the main character in the previous video game to which this is the sequel) into close proximity with the boss fight, so that she can save humanity. Despite what a misery that would be as a player or to live through, it actually works pretty well on the big screen. Which you presumably knew it would, since you already know what an excellent movie Groundhog Day is.

If it feels like, between my thumbnail sketch and my acknowledgement of the very clear forebear, I’ve given away too much? Well, a) I like to think there’s enough depth in the movie (character studies, sfnal exploration of the possibilities, new and improved explosions, etc.) that it’s not actually as simplistic as that thumbnail, but then also b) it’s still a summer action movie. So maybe it is that simple, and all you’re going for are the broad sketches and explosions. If that’s the case, I offer up as my defense that I gave you one half of a detail beyond what the previews did. Either way: it’s more good than bad, as most Tom Cruise sci-fi vehicles are. So that’s cool.