TV Show Review: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

Details: More information can be found at https://disneyplusoriginals.disney.com/show/the-falcon-and-the-winter-soldier

Score: 7.1/10

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is a six episode Marvel show that aired it’s final episode today. Episodes one through five were masterful in choreography of fight scenes, pacing and the subject matter of those episodes. This last episode however, felt extremely rushed and kind of drops some plot developments from the prior five episodes. It really made me wonder the effect the pandemic had on the filming of this show and whether this six episode series was originally meant to be a nine episode series like WandaVision.

Some spoilers ahead.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier picks up a little bit of time after the end of Avengers: Endgame. Without spoiling too much, Captain America retires from his post and hands his shield and the title of Captain America to Sam, also known as the superhero The Falcon. Sam wrestles with the weight of such a responsibility and whether he even wants to carry the mantle. Oh, and Bucky Barnes, the Winter Soldier, is also dealing with some stuff and there’s a new terrorist group causing some mayhem.

The first five episodes are fantastic. The action, the special effects and the subject matter were just amazing. Episode five in particular surprised my in how they just straight up talked about racial politics, something Disney may not have wanted to do in the past. Not only did they address these issues, they did it in a way that was believable, which is difficult to do in a show without sounding fake or condescending.

That last episode though, felt like they cut and pasted ideas together in hopes of creating something somewhat passable. And that makes sense considering what was going on in the world in 2020.

This show was originally slated to air in August 2020 as the first Marvel property to come out since Avengers: Endgame and the first to debut on Disney’s streaming service. Then the pandemic hit, filming was stopped and we all had to deal with everything that came after March 2020. Filming eventually resumed near the end of 2020 and they finished off the series.

I have to imagine that this series was originally going to be nine episodes since WandaVision was nine episodes. However, WandaVision finished filming before the pandemic and so they did not need to compromise in any way. Falcon and Winter Soldier stopped filming midway and after watching that last episode, you can’t help but feel that jarring drop in quality and thoughtfulness they established in episode one through five.

Even further, there are rumors online that there was a whole virus subplot that was removed because of real world events. If so, they needed to remove a whole bunch of scenes and elements that would have originally been in the show. It certainly felt like something was missing this last episode.

Overall, I loved this series, but that last episode was such a disappointment. It certainly wasn’t a bad ending and conveniently wrapped a lot of the plot points, but it ignores and just drops other things as well. The biggest change was the character development for John Walker. They set him up as this big bad guy, and then he magically turns into a good guy with almost no dialogue in between. It was just such a rushed ending and a noticeable drop in quality that the prior episodes had.

Anyways, if you’re a Marvel fan, you need to watch this show. If you are not a Marvel fan, it’s still some entertaining television, but you’re probably going to be quite lost if you aren’t up to date with what’s going on the in the Marvel Cinematic universe. At the very least, you should watching Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers Endgame before watching this. Or just have someone tell you what happened in those movies if you don’t feel like watching them.

Video Game Review: Guardian Tales

The above video is a joke anime trailer the developers made.

Details: I’ve been playing this game for the past few months. This is a mobile game available for Android and iOS. More information can be found at https://guardiantales.com/

Score: 7.5/10

Edit: Lowered the score by point five. There are some hard spikes in difficulty in later parts of the story mode (specifically chapter 10 and 11) that exist for no reason other than to push players to spend money for better characters and gear. The game is still mostly good, but this artificial barrier to seeing the ending is unnecessary and turns the endgame into a meaningless grind. There’s plenty of other places they could have made the content difficult, but the story mode was not a good place for that.

I’ve been playing a lot of gacha games during the pandemic. Some of them include Genshin Impact, Epic Seven, Exos Heroes, Arknights, Fire Emblem Heroes, and Princess Connect. In my opinion, Guardian Tales is better than all of them. Actually, Guadian Tales is the best gacha/mobile game I’ve ever played. Part of that is because of the charming and funny story. The other reasons is because this game truly has its own personality. You can feel that the developers of this game put their passion into this game before their greed, and that’s something that is not present in any other gacha game I’ve ever played.

This game takes place in a fictional world of very different nations. Some are magical, some are more science fiction. Aliens invade this world and it’s up to you, a soldier and guardian of one of the fictional countries in this world to find a way to defeat them. That means going on a grand adventure, exploring all of these very different nations and meeting a colorful cast of characters along the way.

The first and best thing about this game is the story, especially its dialogue. It’s very funny and I found myself cracking up constantly throughout this game. That’s not to say that there aren’t serious moments, because they do happen later on and they are well done. But for the most part, this is a very funny story.

What makes it especially funny is that the vast majority of this game pulls and parodies popular video games and movies. It constantly references things from nerd and weeb culture, but most surprisingly, American facing aspects of that. I would’ve sworn that this game was developed by Americans because of how American facing the references are. However, I recently watched a behind the scenes video from the developers and it seems that the nerds in Korea that developed this game are just as big of fans of the things that nerds in America are fans of. I guess some thing really do cross borders.

All this is to say that despite this being a Korean made game and that many foreign made games often translate poorly in the American market, Guardian Tales avoids all these pitfalls. As an American, I got all the video game, anime and movie references and that made the game even better.

Here’s a long list of some, but not all of the references I picked up on: Animal Crossing, Frozen, Bioshock, Kill Bill, Harry Potter, Mega Man, Doctor Who, Phoenix Wright, Shaolin Soccer, Full Metal Alchemist, Seinfeld, Dungeon Meshi, Final Fantasy II (or Final Fantasy IV in Japan), Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, Monty Python and Holy Grail, Shaolin Soccer, and Dragon Ball Z.

You can tell by this list that the developers of this game have either done their research or are huge nerds/weebs. As a fairly nerdy person myself, the constant use of hilarious references to my favorite stories only increased my appreciation of this game.

Something else I love about this game is the look of it. It uses a very nostalgic 2D sprite style that long time gamers will be familiar with. It’s like something from the Super Nintendo. However, this is a modernized take on that style. Expect to see perspective changes, 3D models, and complex special effects that would never have been used back in the old days of video games. This style is a mishmash of old and new, resulting in a nostalgic, but contemporary visual style.

The music is also fantastic. Again, it uses the old synthesized style of old video games, but modernizes them with more complex, contemporary beats and synthesized sounds.

The same can again be said for the gameplay. You go through levels, beat bosses, and solve puzzles. It’s a top down style, action role playing game very reminiscent of games like The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past… except you can use Gatling guns. It takes that old visual style and adds speed to the gameplay as well as a greater amount of options. You can use swords, bows, guns, shields, magic etc. Again, the tone of this game is nostalgia of old video games combined with the contemporary gameplay developments of modern video games. It’s old and new.

With all that said, this is still a gacha game. Gacha games are heavily stigmatized and rightly so. Many siphon thousands of dollars from players lacking self control. Guardian Tales is certainly one of these offending games. However, I will say that Guardian Tales is far more generous of a gacha game than any gacha game I’ve played before. They give you a ton of gems throughout the game with which you can roll for new characters and weapons.

There is a still a hard wall or difficulty spike in gameplay which comes in chapter ten and again in chapter eleven. At the time of this review, there are only eleven chapters, so that increase in difficulty is very late in the game. This spike in difficulty is common for free to play gacha games. They increase the difficulty to tempt players into spending money to roll for more powerful characters and equipment in order to progress further in the game.

There is also a multiplayer component where players play other players. Like other gacha games, there is a metagame and doing well in multiplayers usually requires having the best characters and equipment, which usually means spending money. Doing well in multiplayer in gacha games is usually reserved for the whales who throw tons of money at the game and Guardian Tales is no exception.

Guardian Tales is guilty of this tactic, but I would say that it is less guilty than others. This is because the difficulty spike is based mostly on skill. No matter what character you obtain, it will still be extremely difficult to get past these gameplay barriers. Will some characters make it easier? Yes. However, it will still be difficulty for all and I think that helps lessen the greedy, money grubbing aspect of this gacha tactic in Guardian Tales. Personally, I really liked the higher difficulty because it forced me to get better at the game. On the other hand. I rolled a fairly powerful character that really helped me get through it… so your experience may vary.

Overall, Guardian Tales is my favorite gacha game I’ve yet to play. I like it more than Genshin Impact, Epic Seven, Arknights, all of those games. And that’s because it has personality. It has a funny, entertaining story. That’s something none of the above games have in my opinion. At the very least, it has a vastly superior story and dialogue compared to those games. That’s everything to me. Give me the constant pursuit of progression of a gacha game along with an immensely entertaining story and I’ll be a happy gamer. Guardian Tales gave me that.

Movie Review: Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Details: More information can be found at https://www.hbomax.com/feature/urn:hbo:feature:GYDAnZgCFQ8IJpQEAAAAN

Score: 6.8/10

Justice League was a film that was released a while ago. It was riddled with problems. Reshoots, a lower quality of films compared to Marvel’s superhero movies, and the director bowing out due to a personal tragedy all knee-capped this movie. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is meant to be everything the originally released movie was meant to be. After watching this movie, I can easily say that this is a better movie than the version of this movie released a few years ago. By itself, this is a passable movie that I would say is on the same level as the first Avengers superhero movie that Marvel put out. I did not love that first Avengers movie and I don’t hold any passion for this one.

The background story behind this film is that back when this movie was released, Zack Snyder pretty much shot the entire movie and was about to start post production (editing, special effects, etc.). Then his daughter killed herself and he understandably bowed out of the movie. Joss Whedon took over directorial duties and reshot a bunch of things, changed the story around and changed the entire tone of the film to something more lighthearted. Some of the more noteworthy problems with the film include a badly digitally removed mustache on Henry Cavill (he was filming Mission Impossible at the time and was contracted to keep his mustache… or so the rumor goes). There’s some cheesy lines and odd editing. Basically, Whedon made substantial changes to a film that had already finished shooting, creating this very disjointed feeling film.

Since the release of that movie, whispers of a Snyder cut that holds all the original intent of Zack Snyder was floating around the internets. Whedon’s Justice League was poorly received and DC Comics fans wanted a decent Justice League movie. No one knows if Snyder’s original vision would yield a good movie or not, but Whedon’s Justice League was so bad that most fans wanted to take that chance.

Then came the pandemic and everyone stuck at home. Streaming entertainment became essential and Warner Brothers decided to capitulate to fans. They got Snyder and decided to give him the funding to finish the movie he originally made and release on HBO’s streaming service.

So how is the film? It’s definitely better than Whendon’s version, but only by a little bit. It’s not a huge leap forward. The film still retains most of the major plot points and the problems with those plot points. The tone of the film is darker and it’s a gorier film with more blood and violence.

One of the dumber things about this film and the quintessential thing that makes this movie a Zack Snyder film is the overuse of slow motion. Seriously, after years of Zack Snyder films, it seems clear he has no idea how to make a movie at normal speed. The movie either speeds up, then slows down, then freezes, then speed up again, then slows down, ad infinitum. It’s stupid. The movie is over four hours long. No film needs to be that long. I feel like if Snyder could just run the camera at normal speed, we’d actually have a movie with a tolerable run time.

The biggest addition was an additional scene near the end where Jared Leto reprises his role as the Joker. This was a mostly meaningless scene, had little or nothing to do with the overall plot, and was simply meant as fan service.

Overall, this movie is fine. Its existence– I feel– is largely unnecessary. It’s pretty much the same film as Whedon’s version except with a lot of minor improvements. You can tell that Warner Brothers wanted this to be the start of its own superhero movie franchise, but it was so unsuccessful that this plan clearly fell to the wayside.

Movie Review: Iron Man 2

Details: More information can be found at https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1228705/ and https://www.disneyplus.com/home

Score: 7/10

A successful sequel should simply do everything that the first movie did, but more. Iron Man 2 does that. It adds more backstory, more character development, more characters and more action and special effects.

Iron Man 2 picks up where the last movie left off. Tony Stark’s mechanized suit and it’s limitless power source is the new most powerful weapon on the planet. Because of its existence, all countries have backed down due to Tony working with the U.S. government and the United States now possessing unrivaled military supremacy because of it. When a new enemy appears who seemingly has developed a suit and power source similar to Tony’s, Tony Stark must now advance his technology even further to defeat this new enemy and maintain the peace established by him and his Iron Man suit.

The same light hearted tone from the first movie is maintained in this one and this film is all the better for it. It’s what most people loved about the last film and Robert Downey Jr.’s performance. There is also plenty of action and there are higher quality special effects and more of them.

The biggest addition to this film is the introduction of Natasha Romanov, or the Black Widow. This is Scarlett Johansson’s first appearance in the Marvel movie universe and the beginning of a long career making these Marvel movies. She’s great and I always wondered why it took so long for her to get her own superhero movie since she’s undoubtedly an A-list actor. I later learned from Bob Iger’s memoir that it was because Ike Perlmutter –a powerful figure in Marvel and then Disney– was a sexist and felt that a woman would not be successful as the lead in a superhero movie (Perlmutter was also a racist and was the reason why a Black Panther movie was not made earlier because he felt that black people –like women generally– could not carry a movie). Thank goodness, Perlmutter has since been put out to pasture.

Overall, this was a fun movie that adds more of everything fans liked in the first movie. It’s not too serious and it should not be. It’s just a fun summer movie with lots of laughs and explosions.

Movie Review: Thor

Details: More information can be found at https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0800369/ and https://www.disneyplus.com/

Score: 6/10

I recently got my grubby little mitts on a Disney Plus account and it’s been a great opportunity to revisit old Marvel movies that I barely remember. Disney has conveniently laid these movies out in chronological order so that’s the order I’ve been watching them in. First was Iron Man, then Iron Man 2, now we’ve reached Thor. While Iron Man was fun and a breath of fresh air, Thor was trite and not that good.

The story focuses on Thor, the Norse god of thunder. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Asgardians are a god-like race of aliens that frequently visited Earth. Thor is the prince of Asgard, son of Odin, who is king. Through Thor’s own folly, he is banished to Earth and his powers taken away. Little do any know that a great conspiracy is under way to usurp the Asgardian throne and bring doom to all. Thor must now grow out of his immaturity and into a hero worthy of Asgard.

The story of this movie is not great. It’s all over the place. You could tell that they were attempting many things at once and ended up doing a lackluster job for most. It felt rushed and incomplete. There’s not enough time setting up all the ideas and the conflicts and their resolution felt rushed and unfulfilling.

You need to keep in mind that this movie existed solely to create a movie version of Thor to put into the first Avengers movie. At the time, this kind of big, cinematic series that culminated in a big team-up movie where the main characters in all the superhero movies would show up and do one big movie together had never been done before. They were flying by the seat of their pants and the result was mediocre bunch of movies meant to introduce characters for future movies where they can then team up for other characters. For that reason, it’s easy to see why the plot in this movie was so bad. No one cared that much about Thor in comparison to how much they cared about that first Avengers movie. Further, as was said before, this was the first time anyone tried a combined, cinematic fictional universe. There was a lack of experience here that would not be rectified until years later when the Russo brothers would come along and Kevin Feige would consolidate power and the authority to make creative decisions independently.

My biggest regret with this film is how they tried to go the dramatic route for this first film. They simply didn’t realize that Hemsworth’s talents lie in the comedic and that Thor is so strange a character that it’s hard to tell a serious story about him with a straight face. Once Thor: Ragnarok came around and we got to see just how funny Hemsworth could be, there was no turning back and the Thor franchise will now forever remain a series defined by it’s funny moments and it’s all the better for it.

Overall, this was a passable movie that exists simply to lay some ground work for Thor’s appearance in the first Avengers movie. The plot isn’t great, but isn’t horrific. The special effects are nice. It’s just an overall boring movie with little payoff for all it’s plot points. The only thing that they did right in this film was the casting. It’s no surprise that years later, Hemsworth and Hiddleston continue to make Marvel movies because of how much fans loved them.