Friday, July 10, 2015

Revenge of the Reboots Part 1: Terminator Genisys

Remakes, retreads, and rip-offs have been common in Hollywood for decades.  2015's summer film season is in no way special in this.  I have been writing this blog for five years now and trust me, these kinds of franchise reboots are nothing new, they have given me thousands of words worth of material.  Most of which I wrote in a very angry mood. Throughout the May to July period, something special happened, no less than three major reboots to classic SciFi franchises hit theaters.  This I feel, makes for a teachable moment.  One reboot was a piece of crap, one barely passed, and one was fucking awesome.  Let's use these three films to see what lessons we can draw.

Welcome to a trilogy of reviews I call "Revenge of the Reboots".

I imagine that the genesis* of "Terminator Genisys" went something like this:  Two screenwriters drove into Hollywood on the same day, each with their own script for a planned reboot of the 1980s James Cameron time travel action franchise, Terminator.  One screenwriter had this cooky plan of rehashing the plot of "Terminator 2: Judgement Day" just with Arnold Schwarzenegger raising Sarah Connor.  Another screenwriter had a completely different script imagining a reborn Skynet reappearing in 2015 using our iPhones as a new terrifying way to start Judgement Day.  Then these two screenwriters, both rushing to make their meeting with the execs, smashed their cars right into each other.  Both were tragically killed, most of their scripts were destroyed in the fire.  But the execs were able to salvage the situation, they simply took what pages survived of each document and paperclipped them together.  Then it was time to make a movie - a disjointed, confusing, riddled with plot holes movie.

Guess what?  "Terminator Genysis" is the piece of crap.  The Terminator franchise has been long suffering, with "Terminator Gynisis" marking the third attempt in the past twenty years to turn these movies into a bankable annual phenomenon.  "Terminator 3:  Rise of the Machines" could only regurgitate "Terminator 2" only with less success.  And "Terminator Salvation" was the kind of movie so bad that if there was any justice in Hollywood, the word 'Terminator' should have been banned from film titles for a century.  Maybe our children's children would be able to undo our mistakes and atone for the sins of that travesty.  Yet here we are, just six years later, with yet another attempt.  And if the goal was simply to show that it is possible to make a Terminator movie better than "Salvation", they succeeded.  If they had any further goals, well... that's a shame.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Batman: Arkham Knight Harley Quinn DLC Review

This is a review of the Harley Quinn "story" DLC that I got along with my "Batman: Arkham Knight" pre-order.  The DLC actually seems interesting enough:  you play as Harley Quinn in a prequel to the main Arkham Knight storyline featuring her attack on Nightwing's city to rescue Poison Ivy.  That sounds fine. Harley is a great character even if her voice is mangled by an incompetent Tara Strong performance.  Her relationship with Poison Ivy is one of the most interesting and complicated ones in all of Gotham.  Plus Harley Quinn was apparently pregnant in "Arkham City" opening the door to all kinds of twists and emotional turns as she tries to get over the Joker.  Harley plays very differently from Batman:  she has no silent take-downs, but is more aggressive, faster, and can go berserker for one hit kills.  This should be great.

Instead this DLC is crap.  Allow me to give a summary of the entire thing:  Harley beats up some cops, then goes into a room to beat up more cops with guns, then goes into another room to beat up cops without guns, then goes into another room to beat up cops with guns, then goes go an elevator shaft, and finally beats up a few cops backed up by Nightwing, and rescues Ivy.  That's five fights total.  How long does that take?  Fifteen minutes.  Now I paid nothing for this DLC because it was a pre-order bonus, but somehow even after an investment of nothing, I still feel ripped-off.  This makes the worthless blue balls of "Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes" seem like a sixty hour JRPG like "Persona 3".  Just as soon you feel like you understand the difference between Harley Quinn and Batman's playstyles, the DLC is over.  This story mode is over so fast that I only ever got a chance to use one of Harley's gadgets, I do not even know what the other two do.

Okay, the game is lengthy in terms of Atari 2600 standards, but maybe the story makes it worth it?  Nope.  Harley Quinn's pregnancy storyline ends with no conclusion as Rocksteady decided to chicken out and retcon the pregnancy test you found in "Arkham City" as a false positive.  Harley as a character gets to do nothing but make some quips here and there, argue with the Penguin over her intercom, and talks with Poison Ivy for ten seconds before the DLC just ends abruptly.  Does any of this matter for the main story though?  Not even in the slightest!  Harley Quinn has barely anything to do in the main game.  Even after she beat Nightwing in a fair fight (which is pretty badass) Batman takes her her with a single punch, no boss fight.  I do not even think that the team behind this DLC even were in communication with the main Rocksteady team.  We're told Harley is trying to save Poison Ivy for the Scarecrow's plan.  Then in the main game, Poison Ivy wants nothing to do with Scarecrow's plan and does all she can to foil it!

So if this is the standard that Rocksteady is planning for the other DLC storylines to come, I'd say just save your money.  Sure Batgirl looks sexy in her upcoming story, but seriously think twice.  This is unacceptable for any price.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Batman: Arkham Knight - Almost the Ultimate Batman Game

There is only one superhero awesome enough to break the curse of licensed games, and that's Batman.  Screwing around in Lex Luthor's rings on the Nintendo 64 is for Superman, Batman on the other hand has been the star of one of the greatest video game franchises of modern gaming, the Arkham series.  That includes "Batman: Arkham City", one of my favorite experiences to come out of my old PlayStation 3.  Rocksteady has promised that this new game, "Batman: Arkham Knight" for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and the PC* will be their final Arkham game, an epic and exciting conclusion to their grand Batman saga.

...Now before you put too much stock into that claim, remember the loophole-friendly words Rocksteady used.  They said this would be the last Arkham game, not the last Batman game, or even the last game in this particular continuity.  The "Arkham" part of the title has been having less and less relevance to events since "Arkham Asylum", to the point that "Origins" and now "Knight" have nothing to do with Gotham City's most infamous H.P. Lovecraft-reference medical facility.  So really the next Batman game - and trust me, there will be more Batman games - will only have dropped an anachronism from their titles.  Yeah, the game opens saying "this is how the Batman dies", but if you actually believe that promise you're probably the same gullible sort who did not guess this game's twist identity reveal a whole year ago (spoilers).

So "Arkham Knight" may not be a grand ultimate conclusion to all things Batman, but at least it can still be a decent Batman story.  And while "Arkham City" was one of my favorite video games, even I can admit that Rocksteady still had a long innovative way to go before they could create the ultimate Batman game.  Most of that particular innovation in "Arkham Knight" has been focused around the new Batmobile which has proven to be a controversial choice.  Gotham City is still empty aside from criminals and supervillains, so the town does not feel alive other than as a playground to be a bad dude kicking ass.  Still Gotham has never been bigger or more beautiful, gameplay has never been more varied, and there are few games out there that can rival "Arkham Knight"'s storytelling sophistication.  This is a game that truly knows what being Batman is all about, and even if "Arkham Knight" cannot be the definitive Dark Knight experience, it is a good one.