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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Ghostbusters (2016)

A movie that's tortuously late to the party, headlined by former SNL cast-members, one character that seems as frustrated with the world of the movie as the audience is, a dumb character that may or may not be pretending to be stupid, a walking talking stereotype, one kinda cool character, strange vignettes that pad out the run-time, a musical number, boring pacing, horrible writing, and possibly four jokes that work in the entire thing. But enough about The Angry Birds Movie.
Ghostbusters is a movie that's tortuously late to the party, headlined by former SNL cast-members, one character that seems as frustrated with the world of the movie as the audience is, a dumb character that may or may not be pretending to be stupid, a walking talking stereotype, one kinda cool character, strange vignettes that pad out the run-time, a musical number, boring pacing, horrible writing, and possibly four jokes that work in the entire thing, with a majority female cast. Because of course it is.
For those who have been living under a rock without television for the last thirty years, Ghostbusters is one of the biggest media franchises of all time. Of all time. Two blockbuster movies, one of the most popular songs of all time, multiple comics, two animated series, video-games dating back to the Atari 2600, and a sequel to the movies a few years ago. Action-figures, toys based on the gear, board-games, merch up and down the spectrum with no end for thirty freaking years. You've most likely seen the ancillary material before you've seen the movies, or at least caught the movies on television. If you've never seen the movies, you've definitely heard the theme-song at some point, because they play it on loop with The Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack and Thriller every Halloween.
This review isn't going to start with any of the long-winded preamble about me being a huge fan of the franchise and knowing it in and out like I've done for some reviews, partially because I'm trying to not do that anymore and partially because I'm not particularly well-versed in Ghostbusters outside of the two movies. I don't own any of the toys, I've never read any of the comics, I've never played any of the games, and I've never watched either of the cartoons. I either never got around to them or they were just out of my reach. The cartoons were never on TV and I never really cared enough to look them up on the internet. Don't get me wrong, I loved the original movies. I still have both of them on VHS for crying out loud. One of these days I'm going to get them both on Blu-Ray and watch them in high-def glory but for now I'll stick with them on DVD.
While I'm not really an expert on series lore, I do know several essential facts about it. First off, don't cross the streams. Second, you can't kill a ghost, you can only contain it. Third, be careful with the freaking proton packs. They're unlicensed nuclear reactors, you could literally explode if you weren't careful with them. Not just that, it's a freaking nuke for crying out loud. The chain-reaction could literally be catastrophic.
Basically all of these rules are either ignored or never established to begin with. In fact, the only rule they actually did bring up was the "be careful with the gear" thing, after they spent several scenes being incredibly reckless with it in a failed attempt to elicit laughs.
The movie begins with what I believe are supposed to be social-commentary jokes told by a tour-guide in a "haunted" mansion. Some spooky stuff happens, but it's all faked by the managers of the estate to promote tourism. At closing time, all of the fake haunting things get packed up, but actual ghosts show up and mess with him. Cue Ray Parker Jr's iconic theme. For less than a minute.
We cut to Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) teaching in her school. Some guy comes and talks to her about a book she wrote with a friend of hers that she thought was destroyed. A book she co-wrote.
She is informed that the book is on Amazon, and this leads into an insult to people who like audiobooks disguised as a joke. Erin looks this up on Amazon, and finds that the book is definitely on Amazon.
Here's a few problems with this scene. The way everything is timed in the scene, Gilbert clicks once for a search and winds up on the product page. That's not how Amazon works. Yes, she could have seen it on the homepage, but the most likely scenario is that she searched it up first. Either way, the reaction should have come before she got to the product page.
Her boss comes into her office to talk about her application for tenure, and instead of alt-tabbing away from the page, opening a new tab, minimizing the window, shutting off the monitor, or outright closing the browser with one fucking click, she turns the monitor away, covers it with papers, etc, etc. Also, for some reason her computer has Internet Explorer pinned to the taskbar. She's not using it, but it's still pinned to the taskbar. Nobody uses Internet Explorer for gods sake, why is it pinned to her taskbar?
Erin goes to talk to her co-writer, Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) about the book at the college she works at. After some searching, she finds her and confronts her about the book. Abby refuses to take the book down and claims she doesn't need Erin's permission to put the book up. This means that either Erin signed away her rights to control over the book, or Abby forged her signature. If the latter is true, which it seems to be, then Abby has committed several federal crimes and deserves to go to jail over this. But if that happened, we wouldn't have a movie to watch. Can't wait for How It Should Have Ended to cover that.
In exchange for getting the book out of circulation, Erin agrees to introduce Abby and her research partner, Jillian Holtzman (Kate McKinnon) to the people in charge of the mansion where the ghosts were sighted. For some reason, after she does that, she accompanies them. They encounter a ghost, it spits all over Erin, and she screams about how ghosts are real, and this gets her sacked from her job before she gets tenure. So she decides to go work with Jill and Abby, who also get fired from their jobs because the dean of the college didn't even realize the department still existed. This is actually a pretty funny moment, because the dean is basically telling the leads what I wanted to tell to the movie. To piss right off.
They leave to find a new place to work out of, and they steal the equipment from the college. Pretty sure that counts as grand theft, mishandling nuclear materials, and several other laws they've probably broken. While the original Ghostbusters were using unlicensed nuclear reactors, they weren't actually caught in the act of misappropriating their equipment the way these morons were.
They shop around for a place for them to operate out of, and they find the fire-station the original Ghostbusters were based out of, but as opposed to the original movie, it's in full working order, and the rent is massive on it, so they wind up working out of the top of a Chinese-restaurant. The Chinese restaurant that Abby keeps ordering from despite them screwing up her orders. This is supposed to be a Ghostbusters movie, cut it out with the freaking food jokes!
Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) an MTA worker sees some guy go off into the subway after talking some crazy things and then witnesses a ghost in the subway, so she contacts the three other leads and they go out into the field and test out their "proton laser" on the ghost. It works, but because this whole scenario is from the planet Outlandish, nobody believes them.
Eventually they adopt the Ghostbusters moniker, as well as the same basic look of the iconic team. They head off to one of their first paying jobs at a metal concert that's some kind of tribute to Black Sabbath. This whole segment is telegraphed horribly. When the crazy dude Patty ran into in the subway, Rowan North (Neil Casey) goes to the concert to unleash the ghosts, he runs into a metalhead screaming about "Ozzy!" Keep this in mind, something stupid is about to happen.
The four leads are told that the ghost was assaulting people before it vanished, and that they need to handle this quietly. They search through the building until they find it, with some stupid "jokes" to accompany it. The ghost phases through the stage, interrupting the band, but the crowd thinks it's all part of the show, because the ghost looks like a devil. As it raises up behind the most country-sounding vocalist I have ever seen performing with a fairly decent metal band.
The four leads track the ghost down to the stage. For some moronic reason, Abby crowd-surfs to where she needs to be and Patty tries to do the same thing and falls flat on her back, making a very stupid "joke" in the process.
Eventually they capture their first ghost, and they come to public attention as the Ghostbusters. Then, out of nowhere as the scene is wrapping up, the camera cuts to Ozzy Osbourne walking on stage. John. Michael. Ozzy. Osbourne. The madman. The Prince of Darkness. The Godfather of Metal himself shows up in this movie. Not to perform, not to really do anything. He basically shows up to say "Eh, what's goin' on?!" and then disappears. This is the second movie from Sony that I've seen this year with out of nowhere, out of place Black Sabbath references.
Eventually, a skeptic, Dr. Martin Heiss (Bill motherfucking Murray) calls out the four leads on television because he thinks ghosts are fake. Because Erin is stupid, she releases the ghost and it kills Heiss by throwing him out the window. Nobody is charged with anything over this as far as I can tell.
Let me repeat. This movie somehow managed to get Bill Murray out of his cave and they killed off his character when he had less than one minute of screen-time. If you're thinking this is what the movie thinks of the real Ghostbusters, then stay tuned.
The four leads are taken to see the mayor and some representatives of the federal government who tell them that they're doing a good job, but they need to knock it off because they're getting in the way of the governments operation. I kind of get what they mean, but the government doesn't seem to have the kind of gear that can support ghost-hunting, so why didn't they ask Holtzman to make them the kind of gear to support that? As is shown later on, they don't have the proper equipment, so what the hell was going on?
Despite being told to knock it off, the four keep up their investigation and triangulate the ghost sightings along ley-lines that intersect at a hotel in Times Square. A place where weird things have happened forever.
There they find Rowan in the basement of the hotel, working on a huge machine to summon ghosts with, but rather than be captured, Rowan kills himself. In the aftermath, they find a copy of the book Abby and Erin wrote, with crazy drawings inside of it of things Rowan has seen in his visions.
Erin tries to inform people of this, but Abby gets possessed by Rowan, and attempts to kill Jillian, but Patty stops that from happening and Rowan posses their secretary, Kevin Beckman (Chris Hemsworth) and takes off. He unleashes the ghosts, and the army, police and homeland security try to subdue him, but he takes total control of them and stops them from interfering.
The four leads gear up and fight through the ghost army, running into a Staypuft Marshmallow Man balloon possessed by ghosts, which gets popped by a swiss-army knife from Erin, who has been trying to get around the city in a cab. The cab is driven by a ghost-savvy cabbie played by Dan Akroyd, who cannot be anyone but Ray Stantz from the original movie, because he knows way too much about ghosts, and even spouts the old Ghostbusters motto, "I ain't afraid of no ghost".
Eventually, the four of them fight to where Rowan is, and he divests himself of Kevin's body, and after a bit of seriously stupid action, he takes the form of the classic Ghostbusters logo, who then grows like Rita Repulsa's staff got embedded in his spine and busts through the hotel to wreak havoc. The four route their vehicle with a nuclear reactor on top of it into the portal to summon the ghosts back to ghost realm, and then shoot Rowan in the crotch to get him back in the portal. Despite him being a fucking ghost, this works. They then proceed to rip off the climax of Big Hero 6 with Rowan grabbing Abby as he's sucked back into the portal. Erin ties a rope around her waist and jumps in, shoots Rowan in the fist, and hauls Abby out of the portal. They emerge with white hair for some ungodly reason, and for some other ungodly reason, when the ghosts got sucked into the portal, all the destruction they caused was reversed.
The four get told they can basically have what they want in terms of funding for saving the city, so they get the classic fire-station, and new gear, but for some reason they don't have the kind of cash to support replacing their car, the car Patty borrowed from her uncle, played by Ernie Hudson.
Jillian creates a grid to suspend ghosts in, and her mentor, played by Sigourney Weaver (Who seems to be as fed up with this movie as I am) shows up to examine it, and says that it's a disaster waiting to happen, foreshadowing the grid being shut off in the second movie.
Speaking of which, Patty finds a reference to Zuul on a reel-to-reel audio tape, and then the credits roll. The credits of this film play over the dance scene/musical number that wound up getting cut from the final version of the film.
All in all, while it's not operating on the sheer concentrated level of awful everyone expected the movie to be based on the trailers, it's still not worth watching. If you haven't seen the original, watch the original instead. If you have, then watch the original again. Don't waste your time on this movie, there aren't enough jokes to justify the two-hour run-time, and most of what's there would be the weakest jokes in a good movie. While there are some good bits here and there, the good doesn't outweigh the boring, and the good stuff basically has nothing to do with Ghostbusters. The climax, for one thing, is pretty freaking awesome, but it makes no sense in the context of this being a Ghostbusters movie. They smash ghosts into other ghosts, they chip ghosts with a ghost woodchipper, they blow them up with ghost grenades, they punch ghosts with ghost gloves. They actually main and supposedly "kill" ghosts. They shoot ghosts with ghost guns for gods sake. Yeah, the climax is awesome and so is the fight-scene, but that's not Ghostbusters, that's fucking DoomDuke Nukem! Hell, it's way closer to Luigi's Mansion than it is to freaking Ghostbusters!
In fact, most of the new gadgets they introduce to sell more toys about halfway through the movie look like things that were either copied from or directly inspired by Luigi's Mansion. Their main trap is a ghost-vacuum after all. Combine that with the ghost-chipper and what the hell is the point of ever using anything else?
They also have a ghost bear-trap for some reason. With lasers and motors and glowy crap.
Allow me to explain to Paul Feig why bear-traps are so cool. First off, they're made of nothing but hard fucking metal, they don't have any weird things attached to them, they are a very simple device with a singular purpose, to snap shut on a limb and hold it in place. This is why they got used as jump-scares in Resident Evil 4. Second, they snap shut with a lot of fucking weight. When a bear-trap is sprung, the jaws snap shut so fucking fast that nothing that's not Sonic The fucking Hedgehog can conceivably get out of there fast enough to get out unscathed. Leon S. Kennedy is an elite member of The Secret Service in Resident Evil 4, but even he can't get his leg out of the way fast enough for the jaws to not clamp down tight.
This thing is covered in bleepy bloopy bullshit and snaps shut with the weight of a god-damn toy. I've actually owned toys that have more weight to them than this piece of crap does. I'd ask who thought that was a good idea, but I found my answer. The same person who thought proton-grenades, proton-gloves, and proton-pistols were a good idea. The people who wanted to sell more toys. Toys that have been sitting on the shelf, gathering dust and going on clearance across the country before the movie even came out.
Let's make this clear here, the characters all suck. Even the two characters I kinda wanted to like, Jillian and Erin descended into absolute nonsense towards the end. Erin is the meek kind of character I like, but she's not consistent enough with that portrayal for it to entirely click with me. Kristin Wiig seems like she's worn out and disgusted with the movie as a whole, and doesn't want to be on set, but that's not the majority of the reasons the character is inconsistent. The rest comes down to the writing.
Speaking of actors fed up with the movie, Melissa McCarthy seems to be having to actively stop herself from expressing her utter contempt with the movie with every breath, glance and word. If the rumors are to be believed (And considering the movie turned out exactly the way the leaks said they would, that would seem to add to their credibility), McCarthy is a huge Ghostbusters fan, and signed onto the film back when it was supposed to be inspired by the Ghostbusters cartoons. As time went on, it got further and further from the movie she signed on for, and she's become very unhappy with the film if the Midnight's Edge video on the leaks are to be believed.
In fact, a lot of the actors don't seem to be particularly happy with what they're doing. Leslie Jones doesn't seem particularly invested in her role despite her vehement defense of the movie, and basically everyone but Kate McKinnon and Chris Hemsworth.
I'll be blunt, I don't particularly like Chris Hemsworth's character, not because Kevin is dumb, but because the dumb humor isn't executed properly. Hemsworth at least looks like he's having a damn good time just goofing off on set, dancing around, doing zany stuff. If they were a bit more controlled with his characters stupidity, it would be great, but it's not. The dumb humor just goes too far, and it basically means that most of what his character does is either predictable or just dumb. I think the only way his character can really be salvaged is to reveal that he's not as dumb as he acts, either through him secretly being Q, or a Q-type character all along, or him having been acting like that because he thinks that's funny. However, that would require this movie to have a sequel, and I don't want to see a sequel, I just want to see Chris Hemsworth, Liam Neeson, Don Cheadle and Robert Downey Jr as the Ghostbusters in an actual Ghostbusters movie.
This brings us to McKinnon's character, Jillian Holtzmann. If it wasn't for a handful of scenes, and a handful of lines, I would find Holtzmann intoxicatingly hot. Edit out a few of the really stupid things inserted for no discernible reason, such as her dancing to a DeBarge song, the utterly misplaced queef joke at the beginning of the movie, tone down the neo-SNL loudness, her licking her guns and the obviously bleached hair (Keep it natural or go all the way, just pick one) and have a few more scenes of her as the tech/grease monkey and boom, she's perfect. I really liked the way she kicked ass at the end of the movie, but again, that's utterly out of place in something that's not an old-school FPS. Her character has a few of the funnier lines in the movie, and I'll say this, McKinnon at least seems to be getting into her role.
Apparently Paul Feig wanted her character to be a lesbian, but got shot down by the studio. I have to say that this was actually a pretty good thing, because then she'd basically just be the stereotypical butch grease-monkey, and wouldn't be as unique a character. Not that she's particularly unique as is, she's basically a copy and paste of Charley from Biker Mice From Mars, but without the common sense to not lick a piece of dangerous equipment.
Now we come to Leslie Jones. Her character is basically a bad Madea impression. A Madea impression written by someone who completely missed the point of the character. Plus other wacky stereotypically black antics and dialogue written by someone who took a look at Eddie Murphy's career and missed the point harder than a drunk, blindfolded Stormtrooper. A bit of the tiny amount of energy this movie has is brought across by Jones, who I will give some credit to for that, but aside from a handful of scenes, she looks as irritated with this movie as everyone else in the film.
A quick addendum before we get to the rest of the article. This is something I meant to put into the original draft, but didn't. It was 4AM when I finished up, and I was incredibly tired, so cut me a bit of slack.
The scientific lingo is all wrong. They use "theory" in place of hypothesis like they didn't have a science consultant on the team, they use technobabble in place of actual scientific terminology even when they could conceivably be using actual science. Or they could be using actual science, it's not like anyone could tell underneath all of that smugness.
Then we've got the fact that Paul Feig and Sony alike seem to be oblivious as to what is trendy in technology. McCarthy's character has a cell-phone helmet that looks like something stolen from Doc Brown's workshop circa 1985. She says it's the future, but she seems to have completely ignored Google Glass, which is smaller than that and has more functions, or pretty much any of the other tech we've got today. We don't like wearables that are clunky and make you look like a dork. That's why smartphones have been getting smaller and lighter as time has gone on. Sony makes technology, they should know better! Then again, they put out the PlayStation 4 with outdated tech inside, so maybe they're out of touch with the tech industry these days.
Back to the originally published article!
One of the biggest issues with the movie aside from the writing is the effects. The ghosts seem like they were ripped from Haunted Mansion, and are only one step above being ripped from Luigi's Mansion. None of the ghosts seem otherworldly enough to actually be there in the scene with the actors. This is to say nothing of the CGI ckyline they use, which looks utterly horrendous. They had a really good CGI skyline in The Amazing Spider-Man movies, why didn't they just delete Oscorp tower and re-use that?
Speaking of the city, something which bugged me throughout was the fact that nothing really screamed "New York" about the scenery in this movie to me. I couldn't really put my finger on this until the credits, when they revealed that the bulk of the movie had been shot in Boston and Australia, with a handful of scenes filmed in Triebca and near Columbia University. Then it really clicked with me. That was the main thing that wasn't sitting well with me, the movie had no New York identity despite being set in the city. This is opposed to the original movie, which is very New York in feel, and in look. Sony has made movies with that New York feel in the past, even when they don't actually have all that much actual New York in them, so what was the problem here?
Another fairly major issue, and a complaint that Paul Feig and I share, is that they cut the dance-number from the movie, although I have a feeling we have different reasons. The original script and directors cut have Rowan in the body of Kevin forcing the police and soldiers who have gathered to stop him to partake in a choreographed synchronized dance-number. See, while it sounds kind of stupid on paper, it's a testament to the power and credibility of the villain if he can control a bunch of people like that. It's also a really casual way for the filmmakers to show off what the villain can do. Plus, it really seemed like that was where the whole scene was going, and if I were a villain powerful enough to do something like that, the first thing I would do is march out the president, secret-service and cabinet out onto the Whitehouse lawn and perform Thriller, because I think that would be funny.
While some of the issues stem from casting issues, the majority of the "jokes" in this movie, much less the writing couldn't have been saved by anyone. Not the original cast, not a better cast than this one, not anyone. Emma Stone was approached for this movie and rightfully declined considering the last franchise Sony roped her into. If you changed McCarthy out for her, and stuck Freema Agyeman in Leslie Jones' place, without changing anything? The initial appeal would go up, but it still would have suffered from those trailers, and the movie itself wouldn't have been any better aside from having two prettier actresses in it. Change the cast to all men? Change out the female-centric jokes for male-centric ones? Make Leonardo diCaprio the lead actor and populate the rest of the cast with Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger and Morgan Freeman? Still can't be salvaged. The issues with this movie lie in the direction and writing, not in the cast.
Speaking of which, this brings us to said director and writer, Paul Feig. Feig is well on record that he thinks that men aren't funny. I think this movie has gone a long way to proving him right, because his direction, coupled with his writing (Katie Dippold worked on the script too, but I detect a bit more of Feig's writing throughout the movie than hers) is some of the worst "comedy" writing I've seen in fucking years. I'm having a hard time telling if the writing on this is worse than the writing in The Angry Birds Movie. They're both very similar, but I think the writing in this movie takes it by a short margin, because it had to live up to the standard set by the last two movies and every other piece of tie-in material from the last thirty years, and they failed, while The Angry Birds Movie just tried to rip off everything under the sun. Then again, the latter film was packed full of memes nicked shamelessly from the internet. On the other hand, this film is full of delivery, direction, jokes, and lines copied straight from various internet comedy series. In fact, I reckon Paul Feig thinks he's an internet comedian. He seems just out of touch enough to think he can pull off the same kind of jokes that work in a rudimentary indie production in a polished Hollywood setting without realizing he's not talented enough to pull much of that off. Paul Feig ain't LittleKuriboh or KaiserNeko, and none of his cast comes anywhere close to the kind of talent Nowacking, Takahata101, Lanipator or Antfish or any collaborator of TeamFourStar's have in pulling off that kind of humor.
Speaking of LittleKuriboh, I will say this, he's absolutely, the movie isn't really worth the half the backlash it got. While you can tell the movie is trying to insult the fans and is trying to insult the haters, it wasn't nearly bad enough for any of that to irritate me. Even knowing that certain scenes were re-shot to incorporate jabs at the internet for the backlash, they don't really come across as nearly as malicious as I expected them to be. That's not to say that the movie has any right to exist, even if the original Ghostbusters had never been made, this movie would have no right to exist. The "jokes" aren't funny, the movie is paced horribly, and it's written like a modern-day SNL skit, and we all know how bad that show is these days.
Despite this film having utterly tanked at the box-office (Paul Feig is on record having said that the movie would need to make north of five-hundred million to actually make money) they've greenlit a sequel for some reason, when they refused to make The Amazing Spider-Man 3 despite TASM2 doing incredibly well at the box-office. Better than X3: The Last Stand did in fact, and Fox hasn't stopped making X-Men movies!
Sony Pictures seems to have a problem with management. They want to reign in Adam Sandler, but they don't. They need to reign in Paul Feig, but they don't. They shouldn't reign in Mark Webb and Sam Raimi, and they do. It's weird.
Not only do they have issues with management, they also have issues with security. Sony has a history of movies leaking out well in advance of their theatrical releases. DVD and Blu-Ray leaks no less. I have it on good authority that the directors cut of the film leaked out on DVD and has been circulating New York City in the form of bootlegs for a good week before the movie came out, and a quick look at The Pirate Bay shows us Blu-Ray and DVD rips of the movie out a good week and a half or so prior to release. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 had cam-rips and DVD-rips circulating before the movie had come out as well. This, coupled with the various PSN hacks, plus all of the credible leaks we've seen out of Sony makes me wonder why anyone trusts the company to keep any secrets at all when the idea of "security" seems to be a suggestion more than a rule.
And now, because I seem to have forgotten to leave any space elsewhere in the review to talk about the music, I'm going to address it now. There are a good seven remixes of the classic Ghostbusters theme-song in the movie, ranging from little ditties played on piano, to an orchestral remix that plays during the climax, to an oriental remix, to the infamous Fall Out Boy cover featuring Missy Elliot, to the other four or so remixes listed in and playing during the credits including one by Walk The Moon of all groups! Sony got possibly the hottest eighties throwback group in existence right now and instead of letting their version of the song play during the film, you relegate it to the credits and let the Fall Out Boy version play during the movie?
In case you were wondering, the original version of the song plays for less than a minute early on in the movie during the title-sequence. That's right, Ray Parker Jr.'s original version of the song is barely in this movie. Thankfully, the FOB/Elliot version has a short runtime too, but not short enough.
This brings me to a point I want to make. It's been thirty years since the original movie, and there have been covers up and down the world ever since then, loads of which have been just as good as the original. Why couldn't they have just gotten someone who did a good cover into the main bulk of the movie? Hell, they had Walk The Moon performing the theme-song! Why did they need six other remixes on the soundtrack?!
This seems to sum up all of the problems with the movie, they had a few good ideas, but decided to go way too far and things turned belly-up. Is there a way to salvage a sequel? Yeah. Fire Paul Feig, kick Amy Pascal to the curb and let someone like Joss Whedon handle the movie. Or better yet, turn it back over to Reitman and let him make Ghostbusters III. In the end, I give this movie a 0.9*. I'll see you guys next week with Star Trek: Beyond!

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Image from Impawards.com

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Finding Dory

Pixar seems to be in the habit of releasing sequels more than a decade after the original film came out. Granted, this keeps them from producing anything played-out or derivative, but it also means that they don't capitalize on the height of their franchises popularity. I get that Pixar doesn't like to milk their franchises, at least as far as movies are concerned. However, if they could maybe pick up the pace a bit, that'd be great, because I was six when Finding Nemo came out, and I'm nineteen now. I've still got my original copy on DVD and have since gotten it on Blu-Ray as well. Finding Nemo is old enough that it came out on VHS for gods sake. The fan-base of Nemo, like the characters voice-actor, has grown up since then. Not to say that we're not still interested, it's a freaking Pixar movie after all, and I've been re-watching The Incredibles on a yearly basis since the movie came out.
Out of all of the movies Pixar has put out, I think Finding Nemo was one of the ones that wasn't literally begging for a sequel. Granted, most Pixar movies that aren't The Incredibles are usually stand-alone fare that don't seem like they'd have a need or an opening for a sequel or a prequel, but Pixar inevitably finds a way. Rather unfortunately, it seems like literally every other Pixar film from the surrounding five years got a sequel or prequel before the one that was outright begging for one.
However, that doesn't mean any of the movies that have been put out between then aren't enjoyable. Despite the fact that I would have preferred to see The Incredibles 2 before I saw any of the other sequels. Or original properties they put out in the last twelve years. Or in the fifteen years it will have been by the time the movie comes out. The same goes for Finding Dory, or as it would be more honestly titled, Finding Dory's Parents.
Spoilers inbound, as usual.
A year after the events of the previous movie, eternally forgetful blue-tang Dory (Ellen Degeneres) has a flash of memory from her childhood after a montage of the early years of her life. She went on a journey across the ocean looking for her parents as her memory deteriorates more and more, before she eventually runs into Marlon on his search for Nemo.
Dory decides to go looking for her parents after a memory flash. Marlon and Nemo tag along to be her memory on a journey from Australia to California by way of Crush the surfer turtle. They wind up at Morro Bay California, and do battle with a squid, which winds up with Nemo bruised and battered, and Dory with a six-pack ring wrapped around her. She's picked up by the staff of the Morro Bay Aquarium for treatment. Marlon and Nemo wind up in the aquarium via help from two sea-lions and a loony loon, but they can't quite find out where Dory is.
Meanwhile, Dory befriends a mischievous octopus named Hank, voiced by the one and only Ed ONeill. He agrees to help her find her parents in exchange for the ID tag on her fin which will take the holder to Cleveland, Ohio.
Eventually, Dory runs into an old friend of hers, a whale-shark called Destiny (Kaitlin Olson). Destiny and Hank help her find her old home, and there Dory finds out that her parents are probably with the other Blue Tangs in quarantine, the place she was just in a while ago. A beluga whale named Bailey (Ty Burrell) uses his echolocation to plot Dory a path to quarantine.
She runs through the pipes to quarantine, and runs into Marlon and Nemo along the way. They get into the blue tang tank, and the tangs there tell Dory her parents disappeared years ago.
Hank tries to get Dory out, but he leaves Marlon and Nemo behind. As he's trying to get Dory back to the Open Ocean exhibit or something, he's apprehended by aquarium personnel, and drops Dory into an ocean-drain. She winds up back near the kelp-forest she, Marlon and Nemo wound up in earlier in the movie, and she wanders around, stunned from the idea her parents might be dead, but she follows a trail of seashells to a fish-house, and there she finds her parents. They tell her that they've spent years putting down trails of seashells, since their old home had a trail of seashells leading to it. Dory remembers Nemo and Marlon enough to remember that they need help, and she gets Destiny and Bailey to help her get onto the truck so she can rescue Marlon and Nemo. With Hank's help, they hijack the truck and all of the fish in it are set free, and she re-unites with her entire family.
All in all, this was a great film. It's good to see that The Angry Birds Movie isn't going without stiff competition in terms of family movies this year. It's almost like Pixar decided to release this film just to show the amateurs who worked on the aforementioned disaster how it's done. This film is well-animated, it's well-acted, it's funny, well-written, perfectly paced, and overall, fun.
I haven't really thought about Ellen DeGeneres since Finding Nemo. No particular reason why, I just never cared for daytime talk-shows, and I never saw her sitcom once. Buuut she's pretty good in this, and it's a damn good thing she can pull off something other than the flighty, ditsy Dory from the first movie, because nobody would have been able to carry an entire film like that as the lead character. And if she hadn't been able to pull off the character the way she did, the movie would have been utterly unwatchable. If that comes down to DeGeneres' talent as an actress, or Andrew Stanton's direction talent, I don't care. It came out incredibly well, and I'll definitely be watching this movie again when it comes out on Blu-Ray. As opposed to a certain movie I could mention.
A lot of Dory's strange quirks and seemingly random things she said have been paid off in this film, from her speaking whale, to the song she sings to cope to pretty much everything. I like how they paid all of that off.
There's plenty of fun to be had, be it from returning characters, or new ones. If I had to pick a breakout character, it would be Hank. Ed O'Neill kills it as the snarky octopus, delivering some of the funniest lines in the film. The duo of Destiny and Bailey is great too, but Hank is just cool.
Albert Brooks appears to have aged a bit audibly, but he doesn't sound like he's bored, or doesn't want to be in the movie. He hasn't lost the Marlon voice despite the thirteen years between movies.
Then there's Hayden Rolence as Nemo, who sounds a bit older than Alexander Gould did when he voiced Nemo, which makes sense considering it is supposed to be a year later.
In the end, I give Finding Dory a 10.1* rating.

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Image from impawards.com

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Megadimension Neptunia VII (Nathan Green)


Yup, it’s time to take a look at another game from Idea Factory and Compile Heart's self-referential JRPG series which loves to poke fun at video games and the people who play them. Surprisingly Megadimension Neptunia was the first main series Neptunia game since Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory on the PS3 released in 2012. Anyway before I jump into this review I should state that I am actually looking at the recently released PC port of Megadimension and not the PS4 version that came out last year. With that out of the way lets dive right into Megadimension Neptunia VII.

Story:
When I jumped into Megadimension the first thing I noticed right off the bat was the major tonal shift in the story, especially when compared to the previous games. Megadimension's plot is quite a bit darker than previous entries and honestly in a series like Neptunia I found it a breath of fresh air. The dialogue is still very well written with the usual retro gaming references scattered around the place and the game doesn’t lose its personality despite the darker plot which I do like. It’s a good balance between silly and serious and it’s refreshing to see in a game from the Neptunia series.


Gameplay:
Now if there was one thing that the devs really tweaked and refined during the transition from Victory to Megadimension it was the gameplay. The battle system has been heavily tweaked in all the right ways and this makes me feel that gameplay wise Megadimension is the most solid of the Neptunia series.
For starters the Guard gauge which was present in Victory and all the Re;birth remakes has been dropped. In previous games enemies would have a guard gauge as well as a health gauge. When this gauge had a little bit of charge in it the amount of damage you could deal to enemies was heavily reduced meaning that in order to deal any substantial damage you had to drop the enemies guard gauge first which caused a guard break. However enemies with their guard broken would have their guard restored by around a third when they had their next turn.
This is made even worse when you take into account that you don't have access to a guard gauge so any damage you take gets lopped right off your life bar which can result in some enemies making mincemeat out of you if you aren’t careful. I could go on further about the problems this system had but basically all you need to know is that it was incredibly unbalanced so having the guard gauge removed in Megadimension is something that makes the game a whole lot more balanced.
A lot of the tweaks that were made to the battle system help to fix the balance issues that were present in previous games and almost all of these tweaks I find useful. Combo setting has been changed up a bit with a system that is far simpler than it was in previous games which also adds an element of strategy to the planning of attacks (meeting certain conditions allows for certain attacks to have extra bonuses thrown on like a 100% crit-rate or 100% accuracy).
Special attacks have been refined and you are now able to pull off special team attacks depending on where your team members are placed (i.e I might have to make a triangle formation around an enemy first before I can use a specific team attack)
Outside of battles dungeons have had a few tweaks as well. The treasure search feature present in victory has been removed (goodness knows why) and you are finally able to use healing skills outside of battles.
Meanwhile the over-world has seen a complete overhaul and now sports a Mario 3 esque design with points on a map that you move between. While moving around the map however you can run into enemies while moving over smaller points.
Overall Megadimension's gameplay is all about the tweaks and refinements. The base JRPG gameplay is still incredibly solid however with battles based on positioning and chaining together combos to deal the most pain. All in all though Megadimension in my opinion is the strongest of the series gameplay wise thanks to the multitude of tweaks and refinements made to systems throughout the game.


Presentation and performance:
Ohboy, now this is going to get interesting.
Presentation wise Megadimension does look pretty good. Environments are incredibly detailed, models extremely well done and environments are far more varied and diverse than they were in previous titles. However there is one gigantic issue present in the PC port that just ruins the whole experience for me and it is the same issue that has plagued basically all idea factory PC ports.
In a nutshell, the performance is completely and utterly abysmal and I mean abysmal. In gameplay I was barely managing 20 frames per second and that was with all the graphical effects turned on low and the resolution dropped as far as it could go.
Now if this was only a problem with my PC then I could understand that as it isn’t really built for gaming. However owners of high end PCs have also reported utterly abysmal performance with the port as well.
Things don’t get any better when I found out that the Hyperresolution Neptunia mod, a mod that let you change the texture rendering resolution in the PC ports of the re;birth games, didn’t work with Megadimension. On top of that there seem to be some graphical settings that the game simply does not let you turn off. They aren’t in the options menu and they aren’t in the config file either so graphical effects such as bloom and reflections are stuck in an enabled state. Not being able to turn off stuff like reflections is especially annoying because you’re stuck in a state where these graphical resource hogs are forcefully turned on and it really kills the experience.
So not only is the game playing like a slideshow for me but I am basically unable to watch any cutscenes because the enormous amounts of lag actually cause cutscenes (and only cutscenes) to encounter audio stutter. Yes, really.
This is my main problem with Megadimension on PC. The game is optimised so, so badly that it makes it hard for me to recommend. Heck even if your PC meets the requirements that is no 100% guarantee that you won’t run into performance issue.
Also speaking of system requirements, LOOK AT THESE THINGS.
To compare, here are the system requirements for Dark Souls 3
Yeah, I dunno about you but those seem like some pretty ridiculous system requirements.
Terrible performance aside the game does sport an excellent soundtrack as well (in my opinion it’s the best in the whole series) which is one of those few video game soundtracks that I actually went out of my way to listen to while I wasn’t playing the game so extra points for that.


Verdict:
Megadimension Neptunia VII on the PC is most certainly entertaining. If you’re a fan of the series then you’ll be right at home with this entry. I also think that for newcomers Megadimension is probably the best title to start on. However the one think that stops me from recommending the PC version of Megadimension is its gigantic performance problems. The game is so terribly optimized for PC that it almost makes buying it on pc not even worth it due to how much of a glass cannon the game is with performance. Granted the game is a turn based RPG so it doesn’t kill the experience as much as it would if these performance issues were present with say, a fps but the 20 or less fps I was getting in game coupled with the audio stutter present in almost all cutscenes makes Megadimension on PC a difficult recommendation to people who only just meet the minimum requirements and honestly it’s a damn shame.
If you want my advice then if you have a PS4 and are interested in this game, go buy it on PS4. If you already have it on PS4 there is really no reason to rebuy it on PC and if you don’t own a PS4 and want to get it on pc then proceed with caution especially if your system only just meets the system requirements (and if it doesn’t meet the requirements then don’t even bother to be honest).
In its current state Megadimension Neptunia VII on PC gets a Proceed with Caution
If these performance issues get patched out in the future then I would have no issues with upgrading Megadimension to a highly recommended but at the moment it’s just too much of a glass cannon for me to recommend confidently.
Now I know this review was shorter than my usual ones and that it’s well… a little late. To cut a long story short my sound card died while I was in the process of playing the game and I had to wait until I got a new one before I could get back to playing the game for this review.
ESRB: T
PEGI: 16
CERO: C

OFLC: M (Unrestricted)

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Game provided for review by IFI. Logo and game screenshots provided by IFI. System requirement screenshots taken by Nathan Green.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Angry Birds Movie

Let's be perfectly honest, was anyone expecting this movie to even exist? Angry Birds doesn't exactly have enough plot to reasonably fill an hour and a half film. A bunch of pigs stole eggs from a bunch of flightless birds, and you have to bludgeon the pigs to death with the birds to get the eggs back. It's not that hard to understand, but that also makes it hard to tell a story about.
I had forgotten that this movie was even in development by the time the cast was announced, and by the time the trailer dropped I'd forgotten it even existed.
For those who haven't been paying attention to the mobile and casual market for the last seven years (And I applaud you if you've managed that) Angry Birds is a physics puzzle-game developed by Rovio Entertainment. It saw initial release in 2009, and since then has had at least one sequel, port, or spinoff since then. Including the original game, Rovio have put out seventeen entries to the Angry Bird IP in seven years. Not to mention the thirteen other games they put out that were unrelated. In total, that's thirty games in seven years. Ubisoft looks at Rovio and says "Whoa, slow down!"
One rather logical question you might be asking now is "Why now?" And you would be correct in asking that. I haven't played Angry Birds in at least four years, and I haven't been keeping track of the new releases since Angry Birds: Transformers came out. I had to look the studio up on Wikipedia to find out how many games had been put out, and I was surprised to see they were still around. I could have sworn they were in some serious trouble financially, but that was the last I'd heard.
This movie starts out with, no joke, a beat-for-beat ripoff of the scene from The Incredibles where Dash falls through the jungle, with a few things taken from the Skrat scenes in the Ice Age movies. Red, the red bird from Angry Birds (Jason Sudeikis) is trying to deliver a cake to a birthday party, but he's late and clumsy and angry about it and gets taken to Bird Court about it. The hypocritically angry judge (Keegan-Michael Key) sends Red to anger-management classes where he meets Chuck, (Josh Gad) who is in anger-management classes for speeding and messing up the police-station and acting like he's Sonic the freaking Hedgehog, Bomb (Danny Mcbride) who explodes when feeling strong emotions, Terence (Sean Penn) who doesn't talk and is apparently some kind of horrible criminal, and their instructor, Matilda (Maya Rudoplh). Red's level of irritation with these characters rather neatly mimics my own, as does his level of irritation with how the society on his island works. On his way home from the course one day, he's stopped by a crossing-guard that keeps him from crossing the road. The first two times is alright, but the third time around an old bird is taking forever to cross the road, and it becomes nobodies fault but his own for waiting and not just walking around the crossing-guard, or walking over to the sidewalks to his left or right.
Eventually, after plenty of annoying antics and one funny line, the green pigs show up, flaunting their technology and advancements to the rather primitive birds. Red, Bomb, and Chuck sneak onto the pigs ship and find a lot of crap and more pigs there. Red confronts the head pig, King Leonard Mudbeard (Bill Hader) and he tells the others that they were going to put on a cowboy show.
More pigs show up, and stuff happens in a montage set to "Friends" by Black Shelton. A song actually sung by a character played by Blake Shelton. I'll admit, I'm not much of a fan of modern country, but if I had to listen to a country song, I'd listen to this one. It's actually not bad, but it'd be better with cleaner vocals. IE, not auto-tuned and country-nasal.
This montage also includes a Chippendale's reference, with the cowboy pigs ripping off their chaps on-stage. That doesn't even require comment, I'm just gonna let that sink in. What the hell?
Red becomes more suspicious as time goes on, and decides to go on a quest to find the legendary hero of the birds, the last of the birds that can fly, Mighty Eagle (Peter freaking Dinklage for crying out loud) and ask his advice. After a massive journey up to and across the tops of mountains, they find The Lake of Wisdom, ripped straight from The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker. Then Mighty Eagle shows up, and they find out that he's a fat old retired son of a bitch who thinks he's Mister Miyagi. They leave, and find out that while the pigs are throwing a party for the birds, they're stealing the birds eggs and leaving.
This is almost an hour into the film. It takes us up to exactly the hour mark before the birds build their boat to go off to Pig Island to get the eggs back. This is an hour into a ninety-seven minute film. This leaves a little over thirty minutes for them to finally adapt the game and wrap the plot up.
The birds sail to the island and take one of the slingshots the pigs left behind. They then launch themselves bodily at the pigs buildings. This is where the mechanics of the game come into play. It doesn't make a lick of sense, and it comes straight outta nowhere, as you'd expect, but they put it in there because god-damn did we have to try and pay all this off!
They siege the castle, Red, Bomb and Chuck save the eggs, and Mighty Eagle steps in to help them escape. Terence then drives them all back to the boat in one of the pigs vehicles. Mighty Eagle's return is praised, and Red is no longer seen as an outcast in the village. They then play the entirety of that Blake Shelton song in the ending credits, and they set up a sequel mid-credits. Yeah, like that's gonna happen.
All in all, I think we're looking at this years Jupiter Ascending, but on a different end of the spectrum. While Jupiter Ascending moved too quickly, The Angry Birds Movie moves too slowly. Like I said before, there's a solid hour before they get to the actual plot of the game. Then they spend like fifteen minutes on adapting the game mechanic for mechanic, with about two or three minutes spent setting up the actual plot of the game (Which took like ten seconds in the game) and another sixty-five minutes or so on weird antics, with the remainder spent on the end-credits.
Speaking of the credits, the audio for this film was apparently produced by Skywalker Sound, AKA the best-damn sound guys in the business. So why, with that in mind, is the mixing and editing in this movie so noticeably bad? There are numerous times when it's obvious that they strung sentences together from multiple takes. Some points in the movie when multiple sound-effects play, or when an effect is playing on top of voices, it comes out sounding incredibly unnatural the way it's mixed. Just think, if Skywalker Sound can't make the audio sound good, how bad must it have been before they got to it?
Another technical issue with the movie is that the animation looks incredibly choppy, almost like they were trying to emulate stop-motion animation for some parts of the movie, but failed. It would be an interesting animation technique if not for the fact that it keeps going back and forth between being smoothly animated to being choppy as all hell. Part of the appeal of computer animation is how smooth you can make your animation look for crying out loud!
Now we come to the characters. I can't really bring myself to hate Red and Bomb, because they're not annoying, and they both seem like actual characters, save for one scene where Bomb is really freaking weird. Then there's Chuck, who's basically Sonic The Hedgehog if he were a metrosexual horn-dog, and Terence. Chuck is annoying as all hell, but Terence doesn't speak at all. They got Sean Penn to voice a character and he just grunts throughout the film!
The other characters are either tolerable or annoying, or in the case of Mighty Eagle, freaking cool because he's voiced by Peter freaking Dinklage! Yeah the character is an egotistical douche, but him just saying his name sounds epic because he's voiced by Peter freaking Dinklage!
Now we come to the performances. Jason Sudekis seems like he really doesn't want to be in this movie, but that translated well into a character I could relate to, since I quickly found that I didn't want to be watching the movie. Due to this, he's not exactly funny, but he's still pretty interesting to watch over the course of the film.
Josh Gadd considered turning this film down, since he thought Chuck was too similar to Olaf from Frozen. I've never seen Frozen, but from what I've heard, Olaf was pretty funny. Gadd need not concern himself with getting typecast, since Chuck is freaking annoying. Like I said before, he's a bad knockoff of Sonic without the understanding of any of what makes the character good.
Danny Mcbride as Bomb actually got a few laughs out of me, so there's that. The character would have been pretty good in something else, but in this, he's the highlight.
Funnily enough, despite getting billed towards the top of the card, Ian Hecox and Anthony Padilla's characters are barely in the movie. You read that right. They got Smosh to be in the film and they were barely in it! Maybe they finally got the message that they're past their prime, or maybe they just had cameos. Either way, they were billed way too high for characters that were barely in the film.Now that we've gotten through the technical aspects and whatnot, let's talk about all the references in the film!
There are a few posters in the movie for Kevin Bacon in Hamlet. It's in the very center of the frame, and it's shown like three times.
Then there's the "Obey"-style posters in Mighty Eagle's cave with "Ohey" written on them. They're in the background for the most-part, but when they're introduced, the camera pans right over it, and it fills most of the screen.
During the pig-party, the deejays are both dressed like Daft Punk for some reason. Daft Punk haven't released an album or had a Hot 100 hit in three years, so this dates the movie significantly. Namely it dates it as having been written between 2012 and 2013.
There's a photobombing joke in the movie where the bird that carves pictures is trying to carve a selfie of him with the pigs boat in the background. This makes no sense, since he's just carving from what he's seen, and he didn't see Bomb walking across the background when he started!
During the siege of Pig Island, one of the birds runs into a "Calvin Swine" ad, with a pig that looks like Mark Whalberg did in the early '90s, backwards cap and everything. It could be intended to be Justin Bieber, but call me a product of the '90s, this looks like Marky Mark.
Inside of the pigs-castle, Red looks down a corridor while he and Chuck are looking for the eggs, and no joke, pig-versions of the twins from The Shining show up. I. Am. Not. Kidding. Thirty-six year-old Stanley Kubrick/Stephen King references in a kids movie! Are you guys trying to be Epic Movie? Because you're succeeding!
Then there's a scene when one of the pigs (the pigs who have tons of plungers for some reason) has a pair of plungers attached to its chest, and starts doing some kind of stripper/sexy dance. I don't get what the point of that was supposed to be.
The second most egregious moment in the film is when time slows down as the trio tries to figure out how to get past the guards. Time slows to a crawl, and the movie re-creates basically beat for beat the Quicksilver scene from Days of Future Past. Problem. Chuck is not as likable as Peter is by a wide margin, and this movie isn't nearly good enough to pull off something like that credibly.
There are other miscellaneous memes and pop-culture phenomena referenced or outright quoted throughout the film, but this one really takes the cake. Prepare yourself, this one's gonna be one hell of a doozy.
Towards the climax, Mighty Eagle puts on a record to psych himself up to help the other birds out. It being a record is bad enough, but guess what song is playing on it?
Pick a song that got popular via the internet, now find one that you'd think of that's not American. I'll give you a hint, Mike, Matthew, and Peter. No? Still nothing? This joke was ripped almost point for point from an abridged anime. Got a clue? Well, it was on Doctor Who at one point. Still nothing? Well, maybe you should check your privilege. Stock, Aitken and Waterman. Rick Astley. Never Gonna Give You Up.
Yeah, that. This movie Rick-rolls the audience. Not like the intended audience for this film would know that, they're probably not old enough to have ever been Rick-Rolled, much less to have actually heard the song when it was new.
Speaking of weird music in this film, it starts out with Paranoid by Black Sabbath! Probably best-known by the audience of the game this is based on as that song that sometimes plays on the Guitar Hero: World Tour title-screen.
When Red is feeling sad, Behind Blue Eyes starts playing, but not the version by The Who from 1977, but the 2003 version by Limp Bizkit! A cover of an almost forty year-old song that is itself thirteen years-old by one of the progenitors of the filthier side of Nu Metal. A band that hasn't been relevant in over ten years, and that I've actively tried to forget exists. That's not to say this cover is bad, but I'd rather listen to The Who's original version, because Fred Durst is no Roger Daltrey.
Then, during the end-credits montage and mid-credits scene, an over-produced rendition of I Will Survive starts playing, with Selena Gomez on vocals. This wouldn't be too bad if they'd bothered going back and either re-tuning Gomez's voice more subtly, or just re-took the vocal-track until it was on-pitch. She's no Gloria Gaynor, but she never will be, so they could have at least gone back to the studio for a couple more takes.
Apparently Rock You Like a Hurricane by The Scorpions and Wild Thing by Tone Lōc were also in the movie, but I didn't notice them. Amazing how they could have one of my favorite songs in this film and not have me notice. Rock You Like a Hurricane is iconic for crying out loud! Did they not use the riff or something?
Oh, and for those of you wondering, since the song was featured in one of the trailers, Michael Jackson's Bad is not in the film in any capacity. I can give this film a bit of credit though, the orchestral arrangement of the Angry Birds theme-song was pretty cool.
Soooo... What the fuck did this movie accomplish? Well, it made quite a bit of money at the box-office, so I wouldn't be surprised if it gets a sequel. I seriously hope that this movie didn't make enough money to dig Rovio out of their hole, but considering it's also backed by Sony, they'll probably get bought up by them and we'll see more Angry Birds movies and games, but they'll be PlayStation-exclusive from here on out.
In the end, fuck this movie. There are a few good lines scattered around the run-time, but nothing that justifies this films existence. If you've been on the internet in the last five years, and seen a kids movie in the past decade or so, you've already seem everything this movie has to offer and better. One of the jokes in this movie had the piss taken out of it in Hellsing Ultimate Abridged three freaking years ago!
Yet again, this is a movie without a single original idea to its name. Take your 0.3* rating and fuck right off. As far as directorial debuts go, this is one shit-show of a movie, and while it's similar to Jupiter Ascending, it's more like a kid-friendly version of Epic Movie than anything else.

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Image from Impawards.com

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (film)

It seems like I'm starting out a lot of articles with the phrase "I'm a big fan" lately. Probably because there are a lot of things I grew up with that are being sequelized or remade lately. One of those is one of my all-time favorite animated series, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I'm more of a fan of the 2003 Fox/4Kids series than I am of the 1980s cartoon, but I've watched a good deal of it. I've seen all three of the previous live-action films multiple times, and I loved every second of them. I've read the original comics, I've read the Archie comics, I've seen the 2007 movie that may or may not fit into any of the previously established canon. The only Turtles material I haven't seen is the Super Sentai parody OVA and the recent Nickelodeon series. The former only because I haven't been able to find it, and the latter because I saw how Nickelodeon's revival of one of my other favorite Saturday Morning shows turned out, and I've got enough rage in my life riffing on new episodes of Power Rangers, I don't need to add another once beloved title to my list of hatred.
I know the history of everything Turtles-related, mostly because I would spend long times after school at the local library on the public computers either watching old episodes on 4Kids.tv (Now defunct sadly), or listening to the Turtles Podcast while researching the franchise on Wikipedia and various fan-sites. If it exists, if it's an official part of the Turtles franchise, then I know about it. Maybe not off the top of my head, but I definitely know about it or have known about it at some point. I'm a die-hard fan born and bred with a love of the brothers from the sewers from childhood, and you can bet that I've forgotten more about this franchise than most fans have ever known. That basically sums up everything I'm a fan of, honestly, so I'm going to try and stop making this speech every time something I'm a fan of comes up for review. It's part of how I work, when I'm interested in something, I go through all the behind-the-scenes content I can find until I know as much as anyone who didn't directly work on the project possibly can.
Now that all of that is wrapped up, let's get into the details of the film, shall we?
You'll notice that I put "film" in the title-bar to differentiate from the game of the same name released for Xbox Live and Steam back in 2013 and for PSN in 2014. Like the previous Michael Bay-produced Turtles film, it features a cast who had never been in anything else Turtles-related, some of whom I like and have heard of, others of which I haven't even heard of in passing, and some don't even have Wikipedia pages.
The main complaint I had about the last Turtles film was the lack of accuracy to an previous installment in the franchise. Shredder was split into two characters, one of which was an over-designed mess. The Turtles origin was changed rather absurdly and unnecessarily. However, it was still pretty fun to watch if you could get past those issues.
This film? Well, we've got the Turtle Wagon, Krang, Mikey's rocket-board, The Technodrome, Bebop and Rocksteady, Casey Jones, an actual Shredder suit based on his previous appearances, and plenty of pizza.
As one might be able to tell, this film takes more inspiration from the '80s series than the '03 one, and rather unfortunately, it takes on a lot of the flaws of that series as well. For instance, Shredder doesn't have a whole lot to do in this movie after he gets the ball-rolling on the plot. Splinter also doesn't do much in this film. Tony Shalhoub has one scene as Splinter, and then he's gone. He's the Turtle's father for crying out loud, why didn't he get a few more minutes of screen-time?
Basically par for the course as adapting the old Turtles series goes, except Splinter usually had at least as much screen-time as Shredder did in each episode.
After the events of the last film, the Splinterson brothers do what they normally do. They eat pizza, they do normal things in weird ways so they can get away with them, and Mikey acts like a little kid. The brothers are their lovable selves, and the start of this film contains some much-needed character development.
Meanwhile, April O'Neil (Played by Megan Fox, incredibly well especially compared to her performance in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen I might add) finds out that Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry) is working to break Shredder out of prison. April tells the brothers about this, and they bust out the Turtle Wagon to intercept The Foot Clan's assault, but despite the best efforts of them and the officers assigned to the security detail, Saki and a pair of doofy criminals, Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams and Rocksteady (Sheamus O'Shaunessy), manage to escape. Shredder by a teleport device, Bebop and Rocksteady by conventional means.
Stockman screws up however, and Saki winds up in another dimension, face-to-face with Krang (Brad Garret) who sells him on an idea of world domination, giving him a powerful mutagen to create super-soldiers with in exchange for bringing together a machine that can bring his command-center and war-base through to Earth, a rolling sphere of death called The Technodrome.
Shredder returns to New York and decides to test the serum out on Bebop and Rocksteady to see what happens, while one of the officers assigned to the transport van, a former street-kid turned cop, Casey Jones (Stephen Amell) begins to hunt them down. Casey apparently went to the "Dirty Harry" school of law-enforcement by way of... Well, by way of Casey Jones as a matter of fact.
April sneaks into Stockman's company, TCRI and captures the enhanced mutagen, but is attacked by The Foot Clan as she escapes the building. Casey Jones, on the first outing of his crusade, takes on The Foot and wins before they regroup on him. The Turtles show up a tiny bit late, but soon enough to save their butts.
Naturally, Casey is taken aback by the gigantic mutant turtle creatures, but things get straightened out, and they wind up teaming up in the end, but thanks to The Foot, the mutagen winds up in the hands of the police.
Back in the base, Donny figures out from a sample of the serum that they can turn mutants human. The point of this is somewhat lost, since they went with the original version of Splinter instead of the eighties version, where he's a humanoid rat and not a human that got turned into a rat.
Leo tells him to sit on this info, but Mikey overhears it and tells Raph. Yeah, it doesn't really work to keep secrets when you live with five people in an enclosed space like that.
Raph confronts Leo, who benches him over his attitude and Mikey basically because Mikey is immature and undisciplined. Leo takes Donny on a mission to retrieve one of the things that will open the portal for The Technodrome, but The Foot gets to it ahead of them.
Meanwhile, Raph, Mikey, Vern (Will Arnett) April and Casey break into the NYPD headquarters to retrieve the purple ooze, but because The Foot shows up, the police find out about The Turtles and April and Casey are captured by the police, and charged with stealing the serum from TCRI.
Thanks to Vern though, the police find out how TCRI doctored footage to make it look like April stole the serum rather than them illegally experimenting on humans.
The Turtles manage to track Bebop and Rocksteady to Brazil, and what ensues is one of the most awesome action scenes in Turtles history. It's freaking cool, and it's one of the best things about an already freaking cool movie.
Despite their best damn efforts, the brothers fail to wrest the last of the keys to the portal away from Bebop and Rocksteady.
Back in New York, The Technodrome comes through the portal, Shredder is betrayed by Krang and stored away in a freeze-dried prison with the rest of the overgrown utrom's rogues gallery.
Vern, Casey, and April set up a meeting between the NYPD and the Turtles. The NYPD agrees to aid the brothers, and they take down Krang, while Casey takes down Bebop and Rocksteady.
The Turtles are crowned heroes in secret, Bebop and Rocksteady are captured, and everything turns out alright in the end.
All in all, this is a god-damn Turtles movie. The first one was kinda iffy, but there's no denying that we got ourselves a freaking Turtles movie this time around. Sequels are rarely better than the originals, and remakes rarer so. This is a remake, and a sequel to that remake, and it's better in every way. Hell, I didn't even mind the previous movie, but this was freaking awesome. Megan Fox shows off talents you probably didn't know she had. Stephen Amell freaking kills it as Casey Jones, showing that he can do more than just impersonate Christian Bale and beat up Cody Rhodes.
Speaking of wrestling, actor and voice-actor Gary Anthony Williams and professional wrestler Sheamus O'Shaunessy are perfect as Bebop and Rocksteady respectively. At least we now know that there was a good reason for Sheamus's stupid haircut when he came back to WWE last year, if not a good reason for his ill-advised heel-turn.
Then there's Tyler Perry, who puts on his best performance in years. Yes, they probably could have gone back for a couple more takes on some of his lines as Stockman, but he hams it up exactly the way I would expect Baxter Stockman to do. Overdramatic comparisons, self-aggrandizing dialogue said like it's a given, he's practically M. Bison in this regard, but that doesn't stop the character from being a coward who grovels at Shredder's feet at the first sign of a threat. This is a god-damn Turtles movie.
All in all, while there are a small handful of issues, the aforementioned sub-par takes of a few of Tyler Perry's lines, some of the odd and downright uninspired choices of licensed music, and the over-produced boy-band version of the classic Turtles theme-song (It's literally performed by a boy-band called CD9. Complete with auto-tune and a bad impression of N*Sync on the chorus) but hell, this is a god-damn Turtles movie. And I love Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles like practically nothing else.
In the end, I give Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows a 10.0*.

Before I go for the week, there are a few things I would like to update you guys on. First off, I'm sorry this review took until Wednesday to publish, a combination of my schedule, a few unforeseen events, the new web-show I'm involved with through Kisareth Studios, and me outright forgetting to finish this review on Sunday because I was so damn busy led to me pushing off publication until today. I'm deeply sorry for this little schedule-slip, and I will do my damnedest to make sure I never do this again. Ever. I'm going to try to have reviews scheduled at least two weeks in advance from here on out so that they never miss their Sunday publication date, and thus will be providing you guys with new content on a weekly basis pretty much regardless of what's going on with me behind the scenes.
In other news, I've finally created a Patreon for the site. It's something I've wanted to do for the last several years, but for one reason or another I was unable to. For those of you interested in contributing to it, here's the link.
That wraps it up for the updates this week, I'll see you next week! I haven't pegged it down yet, but I'm thinking of reviewing something Marvel-related.

Image from impawards.com

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Warcraft

To say video-game films have a bad-rap would be a major understatement. Ever since The Wizard and Super Mario Bros: The Movie, they have had a terrible track-record. The early-00's was an especially bad time, because Uwe Boll sunk his hooks into making game-movies for a while, and made things worse. Things got better, but then Adam Sandler made Pixels and brought things down again. The best game movies have probably been Sonic The Hedgehog: The Movie, the Tomb Raider films, and Wreck-It Ralph, and that last movie wasn't wholly-based on an existing game. Rather unfortunately, despite being brilliantly made, having a damn good story, and despite raising the bar for direct game adaptations, Warcraft still falls somewhat short of being great.
Let's get this out of the way straight off the bat. This is a gorgeous movie, and part of the reason I like it is because it's just so god-damn cool-looking!
I've never understood the idea of liking something based mainly on aesthetics until I saw this movie. Everything is just so freaking pretty. The costumes, the environments, the swords, the shields, the armor, the gear, the books, the sets, the fights, the effects, the makeup, the cinematography, the direction, the music. My god I just love to watch this film. Where some movies have unimpressive weapons, this film makes literally every single weapon look awesome, like you'd want to have it hanging on your wall. Even the Orc weapons that look like they were cobbled together from random crap are cool. The Horde armor and clothing looks really cool too, but the Alliance armor is freaking sweet, from the king, all the way down to the lowliest foot-soldier. If you want to watch something that will make you want to buy toys and/or props, this is the movie for you.
It's just a shame that the story isn't structured better. And it's a shame there are hardly any British accents in the movie. For as cool as The Alliance's gear and locations are, The Alliance characters are the weakest part of the movie. Part of that has to do with the fact that most of them just have American accents, and part of it has to do with the fact that we start about a movie too far into the story for any of the characters to be really compelling, which is a shame, because I want to care about them, since they've got the coolest gear and some awesome fights. They're not exactly the good guys in the story, but they're definitely the best-dressed.
The orcs side of the story is much more interesting, but unfortunately we're only privy to a very small portion of it. We're in yet another position where the lead-up to the story is more interesting than the story itself. Not that the story is bad, but it would benefit from being a sequel, not the first movie in the series. The orcs are fleeing their home planet to Azeroth. The portal is opened up with evil green magic powered by draining the life from living beings. Rather than being shown the origin of this magic and how the magician, Gul'dan became as he is, we are told later on in the movie. Rule #1 of storytelling: Show, don't tell. I suppose they must have cut the story down in all of the years of production, which I'll get to later on.
The Orc Horde spills over into Azeroth, and our Orc lead, Durotan's (Toby Kebbell) wife has a miscarriage, but Gul'dan brings the baby back to life at the expense of the life of a deer. I don't quite know what emotion this was supposed to elicit from us, but given the chance to sacrifice the life of a deer for a 100% chance to bring someone back to life, I'd take that chance. Anyone would. Snap decision. Unless it was someones pet, in which case no, but just a deer? In exchange for a child? I can't be expected to see that as some horrible act, any more than killing and eating the deer would be a horrible act in something like The Walking Dead. It's necessary for them to survive. For some reason though, the movies soundtrack expects me to see this as something horrible.
The orcs begin their raids, and the military of Stormwind Kingdom is taken by storm, and slaughtered. As they regroup, the commander, Anduin Lothar (Travis Femmel) finds an errant mage looking over the bodies of the fallen. The mage, Khadgar, (Ben Schnetzer) explains that he found traces of the evil Fel magic on the bodies. The mage persuades the king, Llane Wrynn to seek the help of the guardian of Tirisfal, Medvih (Ben Foster).
Lothar and Khadgar go see Medvih, who accompanies them and a scouting team tracing the remnants of Fel magic, and along the way they get ambushed by an orc party. They manage to fight them off and take a half-orc named Garona, who can speak both Human and Orc. Neither of which are English, btw.
They find out that the Orcs are planning to use all the people they've captured to bring The Horde into Azeroth at the expense of their lives.
Durotan deduces that Fel magic was responsible for the death of his world, and begins plotting against Gul'dan. He invites King Llane to a meeting to negotiate a truce, but Blackhand's Orcs ambush them, and Lothar's son is killed by the sheer incompetence of Medvih.
King Llane leads an attack on the Orc encampment, while Lothar and Khadgar deduce that Medvih must be aiding The Horde. Sure enough, he's possessed by a demon using Fel magic to aid The Horde. Lothar and Khadgar fight him and a clay golem to victory, and with the last of his life, Medvih closes the portal to Draenor and opens one to Stormwind, allowing Llane's men to retreat through with the prisoners, but not Llane himself and some of his soldiers. Lothar arrives too late to save anyone, but Llane orders Garona to kill him so she can try and take command of The Orcs herself with the honor his death would bring him. Lothar faces off with a Fel-roided Blackhand, and kills him with Llane's sword, leaving with the kings body on his griffin.
The races and governments of Azeroth form together to create The Alliance to combat The Horde, and Durotan's son is found by humans.
All in all, god-damn I wish this movie was better. I want to like this movie. I really freaking do. It doesn't exactly fall apart, more like it never really came together in the first place, and I can totally pinpoint why. This should have been Warcraft II, and there should have been another Warcraft movie ahead of it. Probably sometime last year, or two years ago. Hell, I'd say it should have been released back in 2012, it would have been amazing to see the start of this whole Warcraft story back in 2012. Then this movie could have been released in 2014 and a third Warcraft movie could have been out this year instead.
However, it's a god-damn pretty movie. I can't even get over that for a second no matter how much I try and focus on the issues with the story. I just love the swords so much. I love the armor, the environments, the effects, everything. This is such a polarizing movie for me, since on the one hand I love it for the aesthetics, and I love it for some parts of the story, but on the other hand I wish they'd bothered covering all of the lead-up to the events in this film. Plus, there are way too many American accents in this cast. King Llane is freaking British, and European accents are standards for fantasy settings. I'm not saying they should have put on bad accents if they couldn't put on good ones, I'm just saying they should have at least tried.
Then there's the fact that hardly anyone in this movie speaks with any kind of pomp and circumstance. The orcs do, Llane does, but Medvih, Lothar and Khadgar don't.
As far as accuracy to the games goes, I wouldn't really know beyond the fact that Gul'dan looks like something out of WoW. I've never beaten Warcraft: Orcs and Humans and I don't own any of the other games. I played quite a bit of World of Warcraft right after it went Free To Play, but I wasn't particularly impressed by it. Best I can tell you is that everything looks about right, and if it's not, who cares? It's a freaking gorgeous movie.
The worst I can say about the effects is that in the very first scene in the movie, the orcs look like they were stripped out of WoW and given a bunch of extra polygons and points of articulation in their skeletons. In fact, the first few minutes of the film have a generally strange air to them, as if they were using incomplete, under-polished animation and CGI. Thankfully it's solved immediately afterwards, but it's still off-putting.
In the end... I can't decide, really. I know I'm going to get it on Blu-Ray as soon as I possibly can, because I really want to see another Warcraft movie. Hell, I might even wind up re-installing Warcraft and playing it. I do love me some old-school RTS.
I guess I'm going to have to abstain from giving this film a score since I'm so conflicted about it. I'll be back again next week, hopefully I can give a more definitive review then. Probably either gonna be Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows or Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson.

Image from Impawards.com

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden


There were two Dragon Ball games to come out last year, Xenoverse, and Extreme Butoden. As of this moment, I've only played the latter, and so far it's a bit of a disappointment, both as a tag-team fighting game and as a Dragon Ball game. Fair warning, if you're not a fan of Dragon Ball, you won't understand a word I'm saying here, so if you're interested, you should familiarize yourself with the comics, most likely available at your local library, book-store, or preferred internet retailer. They're really freaking good, so you should read them.
To start off, the roster is incredibly limited, both in comparison to that of the comics and of previous Dragon Ball games. Extreme Butoden boasts of having over one-hundred characters, but as of writing only twenty-six are playable, and all the others are assists, and none of them have any alternate costumes, meaning they're stuck in one set of attire throughout the entire game even during story-mode. None of the Saiyans have Super Saiyan 2, 3, or 4 forms playable, except for Gohan, who doesn't have Super Saiyan 1 playable. Gohan is stuck as Teen Gohan in his Frieza/Cell Saga gear during the Saiyan Saga, which makes him about five years too old. Vegeta only has Super Saiyan playable, despite Goku have Super Saiyan God and Super Saiyan God Super Saiyan forms in the game, and is stuck in the gear he wore in the latter part of the Frieza Saga and all of the Cell Saga, but for some reason, during cutscenes when he transforms into Ozaru, he's wearing the right armor, and during cutscenes set in the Buu Saga he's wearing his correct gear. Despite this, Majin Vegeta is unplayable. Speaking of Ozaru, there aren't Great Ape or Golden Ape transformations for any of the Saiyans, nor are they included as assist characters, despite Great Ape Vegeta showing up in a cutscene towards the end of the Saiyan Saga in-game. Future Trunks is stuck as a Super Saiyan, and there's no playable Kid Trunks period. Adult Gohan has Ultimate and Super Saiyan forms, but no base form or Great Saiyaman costume. Goku has his Dragon Ball Z gear, and his SSGSS form has his Resurrection F gear, but there's no King Kai gi, no Kame House gi, no Dragon Ball or Dragon Ball GT  gi, and he can't wear his Resurrection F gear in his base form. Speaking of which, Frieza is only playable in his final form. No first form, second, third, mecha, or golden form. His brother Cooler isn't playable, and their father, King Cold isn't even in the game. Their ancestor, Chilled isn't playable either. This brings us to Bardock, who doesn't have a Super Saiyan transformation period. Goku and Vegeta both god Super Saiyan transformations as part of their Ultimate Combos, but Bardock doesn't get one at all. Nappa and Raditz don't get any Super Saiyan transformation, and Bardock's other son, Turles isn't playable at all. Vegeta's brother, Tarbles isn't in the game at all. Nor is King Vegeta, or any of Bardock's squad. Dodoria and Zarbon are unplayable, and Zarbon's lizard form isn't in the game at all. The only member of The Ginyu Force that's playable is Ginyu himself, and all the others are assists, as are all of Frieza's other men that are even included in the game. Only Android 18, Lazuli is playable. Her brother, 17, AKA Lapis is an assist, as are Dr. Gero, Android 19, Fusion Android 13, Android 8, and Super 17. Imperfect Cell, Semi-Perfect Cell, and Cell Jr. are all assists, and Android 14, 15, and Hellfighter 17 aren't even in the game. The only Z-Fighters who are in the game are the ones I previously mentioned, so all the others are assists. The only playable fusion there is is Kid Gotenks, while Gogeta is stuck as an assist at SSJ4, while Vegito isn't in the game at all.
As you could tell, the rather anemic roster affects how the story plays out. Since Tien, Chiaotzu, Yajirobe and Yamcha aren't playable, you can't fight Nappa or Vegeta as them, despite their fights being rather pivotal, especially since Yajirobe's "fight" with Great Ape Vegeta saved Goku's life, and by extension, the whole planet.
Not only does the roster affect the plot, in that rather important events are told instead of shown, or in this case, fought, it also affects the amount of gameplay you get out of Story Mode, for self-evident reasons. Fans of Dragon Ball Z will be irritated by the way they butchered the story in the mandatory Dragon Team Saga.
Story-mode is split into a series of six simultaneous stories, with an additional seventh story that takes place after all of them unlocked once you're done, akin to Sonic Adventure. The difference is, Sonic Adventure wasn't trying to adapt any existing source-material, and each characters story more or less made sense both on its own and as a part of the whole. Yes, each of them would wind up contradicting the other, but in the long run it didn't matter, since you got the full picture of the story by the end of the game. You also had alternate levels to go through, alternate boss-fights, alternate approaches to existing ones, etc, while this game has, at most, two extra fights for every character in the game, so until you get to the "Bad Guys" saga, Story Mode is going to be incredibly repetitive. For one thing, Dragon Saga has all of the same major fights in it that the other subsequent Sagas do, except without some of the incredibly plot-sensitive or important fights, most of the establishing elements of the story, most of the defining moments in the series, and most of the Buu Saga. In other words, if you don't already know the plot of Dragon Ball Z, you won't know what the hell is going on. Even if you play through all six Sagas, so much of the story is missing that anyone experiencing the story for the first time will be left wondering what they missed.
The main issue I have outside of the general issue with the horribly abridged story is the sheerly linear nature of the game. No matter what you do, who you beat or how good you are, the game follows the story of Dragon Ball Z exactly. If you win fights characters lost in the story, then they lose in the story. If you lose fights characters lost in the story, you get a game-over. I'm sorry, I thought we'd moved past this in the '90s! WWF: No Mercy had branching storylines perfected back on the N64, and subsequent WWF/E games had branching storylines based on whether you won or lost fights as well. I love the Dragon Ball story, but I've been there and done that before in almost every DBZ game I've played, I want to see something different once and a while! I also don't want my accomplishments in the game to be meaningless in terms of story. Even if you beat Raditz in the first fight in the game, Goku still dies, and the story proceeds as normal. It's disappointing, since it means your actions have no affect on the game. All I want to see is a Dragon Ball game with branching storylines. They could make fights that the characters lost in the series to be super hard to beat, but if you did  manage to pass them, something different could happen. Or they could keep retelling the same old story with worse writing every time, it's their choice.
One of the rather bizarre choices out of the various Saga's is in the Vegeta Saga, which is not an alternate name for the Saiyan Saga, but the main story of Dragon Ball Z told from Vegeta's perspective. Towards the end of the Frieza Saga, Vegeta and Goku both are fighting Frieza as Super Saiyans, despite Vegeta being either dead or on Earth at any point during their fight, and not having broken through the Super Saiyan barrier at this point. This is a rather major issue considering it was a fairly huge plot-point of what it took for Vegeta to become a Super Saiyan. Goku being a Super Saiyan and Vegeta not being as powerful as he was was part of the reason he became a Super Saiyan in the first place. Just handing Vegeta a Super Saiyan transformation ruins part of what made him an interesting character. Did the people who wrote this know nothing about Dragon Ball lore? Did they never watch the show or read the comics? Did they just skip everything after the Frieza Saga? I want answers, dangit! This doesn't make a lick of freaking sense!
Then there's the "Bad Guys" Saga, where you play as all of the villains in a GT-style resurrection/revenge where all of the dead villains come back to fight the heroes. The rather odd thing is that towards the end, Goku's father, Bardock shows up and demolishes the villains, and then beats up on Goku for some reason. Despite the fact that Bardock was neither dead, nor a villain. Then at the end of the saga Beerus from Battle of the Gods shows up and beats up Super Saiyan God Goku.
Then there's Adventure Mode, listed as "Alternate Story" by the title-card, but it's really just the Bad Guys saga told from the perspective of Goku. You have to beat it to unlock Super Saiyan God Goku, which is funny since you can unlock SSGSS Goku before him by tapping in a code. Rather unfortunately, despite the Super Saiyan God being unlocked by beating this mode, you can't beat the final boss with it, so I wound up beating Beerus with SSGSS Goku instead. Ha.
After you beat that, anything resembling story-mode ends. Roll credits. No Resurrection F storyline, none of the movies aside from BoG are covered, despite movie-exclusive villains like Cooler, Meta Cooler, and Turles showing up, none of the specials or OVA's, like Bardock: Father of Goku, Episode of Bardock, Yo! Son Goku and his Friends Return (Which takes place right before Battle of Gods) are covered despite Bardock being playable, and despite the latter taking place right before certain events this game does cover. Both the Bad Guys Saga, and Adventure Mode seem like they took parts of Dragon Ball GT and mashed them together with parts of Battle of Gods.
Now that we've moved past the general failings of the story, let's move on to the writing and translation. They're both abysmal. Some characters, such as Ginyu in the screenshot to the left, speak in ways that they never did in the comics or the animated series. The fluff-text for the character-roster is the most bland, uninspired garbage I've ever seen, and the bridging dialogue between scenes is so passive that it doesn't even seem like it was written by the same person who wrote the dialogue. Despite it being inspired by Akira Toriyama's work, there's no way any of this was written by him. Everything is just so bland, and all of the characters have had their personality ironed out. There's none of the unique flavor that made Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z interesting. Everything reads in such a flat, uninspired way.
This brings us to the translation. There are times when it seems like the writing was affected more by the translator not knowing how a character speaks than the writer not knowing. It's hard to tell sometimes, but if you're familiar with roughshod Japanese to English translations, you can pick out some of the really lazy moments, like times when complicated sentiments are boiled down to "I'll never forgive you!" which is something of a stock-phrase in inaccurate translations. Overall, I'm just left to wonder why they didn't copy and past the script to the animated series or the comics into it for most of the game, since they clearly didn't have anyone on-hand who could write as well as Toriyama does. That could have worked for all versions of the game, the Japanese publisher could have pasted in the Japanese script, and the American publisher could have pasted in the English one, then all that would have had to be written or translated would be the Bad Guys saga and Adventure Mode. Or they could have created some more original content, either way.
Now we come to the gameplay, which is rather insultingly easy, at least during story-mode. Some fights can be finished in a few seconds, even when characters are unevenly matched. The screenshot to the left is from my fight with Vegeta during the Krillin Saga, right before I finished him off. Even though you can't see part of my health-bar, I've still got most of my health left, and I'm hitting Vegeta with a finishing-move. As Krillin. Anyone who knows Dragon Ball knows Krillin should not be able to do this, but he can. Partially because this Saga has to contrive incredible reasons for Krillin to win all of his fights, but he still gets killed by Frieza at the end of the Frieza Saga for some reason, despite kicking Cell's butt later in the game. The other part is that most of the enemies in the game, outside of Extreme Survival, can be stun-locked from a distance with ki-blasts. During Adventure Mode and Story Mode you can literally just stand around charging your ki while the enemy AI just stands around being confused, dashing about, occasionally throwing out a punch or two. This leaves you plenty of time to dash in, pull off a Meteor Combo (A combo that knocks your opponent into the air or onto the ground) and a finishing-move to knock off most of their health. Hell, sometimes they don't even have enough health left to survive to the end of a Meteor Combo. Once I got the hand of the controls, I never died except when I let an enemy knock my health down to half so I could try and activate my ultimate attack, just so I could see what they looked like for each character. If I had been playing to kill instead goofing off, I probably would have only died like once, at the very end of Story Mode. Part of the reason for this is that the AI is so stupid that it doesn't attack when you leave yourself open, and partially because they will always, always lose a beam-struggle conflict.
When you or your opponent fires off a finishing-move, if the one on the receiving end of the attack has 150% of their Ki Gauge filled, they can fire off a counter-attack by pressing A, initiating a beam-struggle. You win this struggle by tapping the A button over and over until you win. Yes, it's a Quick Time Event, except they don't actually tell you you need to repeatedly tap the A button, so it's not just a Quick Time Event, it's a Quick Time Event that they don't tell you is a Quick Time Event. This wound up getting me killed in a couple of online matches. Sure, it tells you that in initiates a button-tapping contest in the moves-list, but it doesn't tell you which button you need to press, and if you haven't looked at the moves list for some reason, then there's no way you'd know how to do that. Like I said, what's worse than a QTE? A QTE that the game doesn't tell you about.
After you finish Adventure Mode you unlock Extreme Tournament mode, which was featured in Adventure Mode for a sequence of the game. Rather unfortunately, it contradicts some of the events of both Adventure Mode and Story Mode. For one thing, in Adventure Mode, Krillin and Lazuli (Who's still referred to as Android 18 despite Toriyama having revealed her and her brothers names freaking years ago) are competing in the tournament separately so they can win two prizes. In Extreme Tournament Mode, they're competing together against the likes of Piccolo, Bardock, Perfect Cell, Frieza, the Ginyu Force, Raditz and Nappa, and Super Saiyan God Super Saiyan Goku. How they expected to take second and third place with competition like that is beyond me.
And then Broly shows up for some reason about halfway through the tournament to challenge Goku (At least I was playing as Goku because that's who you were supposed to be playing as in Adventure Mode) and if you were smart enough to pack your team with Super Saiyan Goku, SSG and SSGSS Goku, then you've got this in the bag. Then at the end, Beerus shows up, accompanied by regular old Goku and Vegeta for some reason, and if you don't know how to beat him, you're screwed, and you've got to start the whole tournament over again. Comparatively speaking, this mode is actually pretty hard if you don't know what you need to do to win. Extreme Survival is where the majority of the challenge will come from. It and the multiplayer are the only ways to accumulate Extreme Points to unlock Extreme powered-up versions of the characters. If you're only in this for the single-player, then this will do nothing for you, since it doesn't actually unlock anything you haven't already used. If you know how to handle the game, then you can beat Broly with Krillin. I'm not kidding, I actually pitted basic Krillin against Broly in a singles match and he freaking won. I've actually seen this happen before, I beat Vegeta with Yamcha in Super Dragon Ball Z once. I like this in concept, but all of the characters are ranked by "DP" (I assume that means Difficulty Points) and you wonder what those rankings even mean. Less DP means less HP, but if you're fast enough that doesn't matter. Plus, under most circumstances, the AI is so freaking stupid that they can't even hit you when you leave yourself open.
Next we move onto graphical and technical issues. When characters accumulate 200% of their Ki Guage (After total team HP has been reduced to at least 50% or less) they can activate a super ultimate attack which cannot be blocked and will cut through almost all of their opponents HP. Before the attack starts, a few frames of animation play of the character doing something for the camera. For some reason though, the portraits of the characters don't fill the entire screen, and in the case of Vegeta's picture to the left, has a white background, which makes it stand out significantly compared to the black borders. This is by far one of the strangest graphical issues I've seen in the game, since nothing else in the game aside from these portraits are pillar-boxed like this. This one portrait in particular seems like someone forgot to remove the white background before the game went gold. Seems like the kinda thing that the latest update would have fixed, but nope.
There's a big blue Z in the background on the mode selection-screen that looks like it was ripped from another Dragon Ball game and then poorly upscaled and recolored. Either that, or they ran over the top of it with a line-tool without anti-aliasing turned on. If you look close at it, it's got a lot of discoloration around the edges of the angles where the squared bleed over into the orange background. It looks ugly, and given a few minutes of time I could have come up with something that looks a lot more professional. The Jpeg compression in this picture doesn't help much, but Miiverse doesn't save screenshots in PNG format unfortunately.
Now we take a look at the touchscreen portraits for Goku. Around the right-hand side of his Gi in each picture, there's a jagged black outline that looks so freaking rough that it doesn't fit in with the rest of the picture. All of the other line transitions and outlines in the portraits are so much smoother that the outline of his Gi over his shirt. For instance, the outline of his shirt over his chest, or the outline of his hair on his head. I would love to know what happened that caused these portraits to turn out like this, because I can't think of a reason other than someone screwed up and forgot to clean up some lines before the game went gold, or else didn't have the time to. The portrait of Krillin above shares the same issues, but there are portraits that don't, such as the standard one for Vegeta, or the SSGSS portrait of Goku.
Now we come to the options menu. As I've stated before, the game is a bit too easy, so what did I do? I cranked it up to Hard to try and get more of a challenge out of it. It barely had any affect.
You can also change match duration and button-mapping if you wish, but there's one rather critical option missing. Audio. While all the text in the game is in English, all of the voices are in Japanese. Rather odd, considering all the previous games that have been released in America have had the Funimation cast as an option at least, in this game you're stuck with the Japanese cast no matter what, and most of them are either utterly unsuited to their roles or just plain bad. A quick example would be how Goku, Gohan, Turles, Goten, and Bardock are all voiced by the same woman, Masako Nozawa, even as adults. This leads to fights between these characters where you can barely tell the characters voices apart. Then there's Krillin, who shares a voice-actress with his wife, Android 18. You can tell them apart, but Krillin's voice is still too high, even for someone as small as he is. It's a rather bizarre choice, since there are plenty of Dragon Ball fans, such as myself, who despise the Japanese cast of Dragon Ball Z.
The rather odd thing is that despite having the Japanese cast, half the score sounds like it was composed by Zard and The Field of View (Composers and performers of the Dragon Ball GT theme song) and the other half sounds like it was composed by Bruce Faulconer, the Funimation dub composer. The upside is that we don't wind up with any of the really horrible tracks from the Japanese version, like the Super Saiyan transformation song, or the first ED. The downside is there's no Cha La Head Cha La, no Hikari no Willpower, no Solid State Scouter, no We Gotta Power, and no We Were Angels. The music in the game is perfectly fine, but there's nothing particularly iconic about it, nothing that particularly screams Dragon Ball Z.
This brings me to another technical issue. The voice-clips during combat have sample-rates lower than that of the music, which appears to be about CD-quality. The clips that play during cutscenes are of the same quality as the music, as are the sound-effects that play during battle, but the voice-clips almost sound like they were ripped from a GBA or early DS game for all their low-quality.
All in all, while this isn't a particularly bad game by any means, there are certainly better Dragon Ball games to choose from. Pick up any of the DBZ games on DS over this, or better yet, just pick up Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 2. It's got the English voice-cast, the iconic Faulconer score, and it doesn't skip around like this game does.
In the end, this game is pretty mediocre. I give it a 4.9* rating. Sorry this is a little late, I've been stretched thin lately, and I've had a lot on my plate. Next week should be Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows or Warcraft.