“Death Note” Season 1 – An Amazing Deconstruction of “The Ends Justify the Means”

   “Death Note” is one of those animes that comes along, like the first “Gundam” that takes the premise it exists within seriously. This show knows that it is arguing a premise, “Do the ends justify the means?” and does it in such a compelling way that one can’t be helped to be drawn in due to the compelling complex characters and the cat and mouse game that drives the plot as each of them argues the core main premise “Do the ends justify the means in regards to the killing of another?” The ends of course are justice in both cases and it is L (and his proteges) against Light. Light argues on the side of it being justified (he is given a Death Note which can literally bring about just that) and L who argues it is not justice and the one who becomes a vigilante is nothing more than a killer who must be held accountable to the law, to catch someone like that, you can go up to the line (like Batman and make your subject uncomfortable, but do not kill).

My goal is to argue a different premise than what has been argued before and what I got from the series. If you want to see another approach to some of the many themes of “Death Note,” checkout Wisecrack’s The Philosophy of Death Note. It is amazing.:

The premise and story of “Death Note” (Manga created by Tsugumi Ohba, and anime by Madhouse and Tetsuro Araki) is Light Yagami finds a Death Note that the Shingami Ryuk drops into the realm of humanity. When he discovers it’s power to kill anyone whose name is written upon it, after he knows their face he decides to become “Kira,” a God of justice to punish all those who commit crimes. This sets authorities on him lead by L who seek to end his reign and stop the killings.

SPOILERS are ahead. It is hard to argue a premise if I can’t get into the details of the premise given so much of how the line being crossed of killing to achieve justice, whether to end a vigilante or punish criminals is shown by what happens in character deaths.

In what I mean in, “Do the ends justify the means?” Or to narrow it down for the sake of argument within the series, is killing ever justified bring about a just society, or bring another to justice? The existence of the Death Note and Light’s argument is that it is justified. L stands on the other side of this, even though he pushes this premise as much as he can and it is only when he and Watari are about to pass the line of denying another’ consent that they meet the ends of all those who take life for granted in the series. In the end the show doesn’t care about the reasons the characters want to kill, killing will always lead to death and it is the closest thing the show has to an answer on morality beyond it simply being bad. To end another is to eventually end yourself, and I’ll explore this through the different characters in the show.

The first type of exploration of this premise is in our Kiras. For the sake of definition Kiras are those who want to punish criminals and corrupt people in order to bring about a just society. Mikami as the Hand of Kira and Kiyomi as Kira’s voice are good examples of this. Misa also adopts this role too, though her primary motivation is love for Kira, not justice so she falls into the next category we’ll be exploring. The followers of Kira and Light who are driven by their drive to punish bullies and criminals (Mikami is a prosecutor before Light chooses him) want a world that has no crime and wars and by the time we get to the end of the series Light has largely succeeded as wars have stopped and crime has been reduced 75%. His Task Force is even questioning whether bringing down Kira is now the right thing to do. In the end we get a clear answer though, Kiyomi is made to kill herself by Light when he puts her name in the Death Note and Mikami kills himself too when Light is revealed in the finale to be Kira, before he also meets his end. In the end their deaths show that in this instance the ends do not justify the means. The motives to bring about a just society cannot be built on murder is what we are lead to be believed and even if the ideal is peace, murder for ideals and a greater world will only lead to your own end.

One of the primary motives to kill that the show doesn’t forgive, is killing out of love or to protect another. We first see this in Misa Misa, who is the second Kira and follows all of Light’s wishes out of love for him. She never truly ends up with him though and with his end it is implied that she follows behind, killing herself because of his death. Killing for love is the primary motive of Rem as well who is protecting Misa from L, Watari and the police force. Even though she is a God of Death even she can’t survive this as by killing Watari and L she dies as it is the consequence of a Shinigami killing a human. The other person who kills for love is Light’s father who is in charge of the Police Task Force to take down Kira. When he goes to rescue his daughter from the mafia and is killing the members who are protecting Mello, he dies as a consequence (also a consequence of making a deal with Ryuk for the Shinigami eyes so that he can better kill). Love as a motive to kill could argueable be seen as moral, but that isn’t how the show views it. These characters end up dead even though they only kill to protect others and care nothing for themselves.


The other way we see killing used is in a similar way as Light, a means to an end in order to draw Light out. The people we see do this are Watari and L when they use a criminal to test out how Light can kill and again when they are testing out the fake 13 Day Rule that Ryuk wrote in the Death Note to trick L and the Task Force and bring suspicion off of Light and Misa. They die for doing this, as does Mello who teams up with the Mafia, who kill so that he can bring Light out of the shadows. It is only when he is willing to sacrifice himself that we see justice begin to happen in this world and in turn show us that the way you go about stopping a criminal is even more important than the criminal and his or your own motives. Mello pays the price as he loses himself and his friend for the deal he made with the Mafia and his willingness to kill to lure Kira out.

Near’s motives are to be better than Kira and to “win” the battle of wits against him. He at first sees L as a loser for losing to Kira but we see a difference between him and L right off the bat. Near doesn’t use killing in order to lure Kira out. He lets those around him be responsible for their actions while he himself never crosses the line. He never murders and even orders the Task Force not to kill Kira if they are given the chance. This is the closest thing we get to a clear moral answer. Killing is wrong even if it is to stop a wrong. Near manipulates people but everything he does is to protect others and keep life from being lost. This is the moral statement I found within “Death Note” and how the story executes it is why it is one of my favorite animes of all time.

I was discussing this premise with a friend who introduced me to Wisecrack’s deconstruction which inspired me to go into as much depth as I could with my premise. I love how great stories can do that as this is a series that covers so many themes that I had to narrow myself down to one to explore.

For my score of this anime series: 9.6 / 10. I don’t consider it perfect as Misa and Kiyomi lose their agency on multiple occasions and they are the only women in this series who get any exploration outside of Light’s sister and mother who are more of a presence rather than fully fleshed out characters.  If these issues had been solved I’d have given this series a 10 / 10. Regardless I highly recommend it. This was one of the shows that got me into the storytelling medium of anime in the first place, along with the “Ghost in the Shell” series.

 

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Top 5 Ways I’d Fix the Film “Death Note” (2017)

       It has been a while since I’ve watched such a terrible film that rather than review it the only things I can think about are the ways it could have been saved, and at least been made passable. The last time I did this was for “Twilight” and this is that level of garbage quality. I’m working on a larger review for the anime of “Death Note” currently as I recently rewatched it and the level of quality holds up. It was one of the first animes I ever saw and it is what made me appreciate how anime can be used to discover deeper philosophical ideas and gives us complex characters. This film has none of that and is a failure on nearly every level with the exception of Willem Dafoe as Ryuk. So that is the 1 / 10 I would have given this film, it is all thanks to a single actor’s performance.

In setting the parameters for how I’d fix this film, I can’t change the casting. L is still black and Light, his father and Misa/Mia are white. I accept this could possibly still work and with this Top 5 I will show 5 ways that could have helped it work. Though with a mess like this, I know that not all of it will be salvageable. I’m here to save what I can and give you a passable film.

5 – Give It a Soundtrack Similar to the Show 

First lets start with the opening theme song, which is metal in theme and gives us the stakes right off the back. We have intensity and drama and the lyrics are meant to capture the revolution that Light wants to bring about with himself as God. It is full of rage and sadness which encapsulates the humans caught up in the drama of the “Death Note.” We also get some dark instrumentals, which capture the dark tone of the characters such as L’s theme, which is methodical and like a heartbeat. This is a show that is so compelling because the music pulls you into the characters’ heads and doesn’t let you out. The fact that it is a crime drama and thriller isn’t lost in the soundtrack that Yoshihisa Horano and Hideki Taniuchi created for the series. This is a soundtrack I will keep coming back to and getting rid of the cheesy 80’s score in the movie and creating a soundtrack pulling from these 2 themes could have helped carry the terrible writing that covered the script of this awful film.

4 – Give Us a Single Protagonist 

This is a film that did not know what it wanted. L and Light have no clear agenda or clear cut philosophy as we see Light ready to abandon his the moment Mia wants to kill his father and we see L abandon his when he is worried about Watari. Because there wasn’t a clear arc there was no clear story. We had 3 main characters – Mia, Light and L…but none of them had a clear agenda or were fleshed out all that well. Mia was a psychopath who just wanted to kill but we see that she loves L, L wanted to bring Light to justice but was ready to go all Kira to save Watari and Light spoke about wanting to bring criminals to justice but never did. If we had been given a clear protagonist this would have been solved. In the show it is easy to flesh out the themes and arcs because Light drives the action and L, the Police, Near or Mello are a reaction to his actions, this keeps the narrative going and in the end, “Death Note” is about Light and exploring the premise of his utopia. This film had no real protagonist and in doing so none of the characters were fleshed out or clearly defined. I couldn’t tell you what any of these characters want and that is due to lack of a clear focus or single driving force for the narrative.

3 – Show Don’t Tell

One of the major problems the show had is it revealed everyone’s role in the plot right off the back. Light reveals he has a Death Note to Mia and brings her in on his game of becoming Kira and L reveals his face to Light and says he knows he is Kira and will bring him to justice. This is all tell and no show. One thing that could have saved this script is if it had taken a note from the show. We should be getting reveals during the climax and when it will make the greatest impact upon our characters. In the show L tells Light he is a suspect but it isn’t until much later that he speaks about certainty he is Kira and Light plays the role of dutiful son. In this Light is a brat and crybaby who pretty much admits to L that he is Kira when they first meet. It is shoddy, crappy storytelling and if the reveals had been held off later so they actually meant something we’d have more time to explore and see who these characters are. That way the reveals give us another dimension. The only reveal that is in this film is that Light was manipulating Mia the entire time…though given she’s presented as the primary antagonist it doesn’t reveal Light to be evil, it just shows he has some level of self-preservation.

2 – Adapt An Arc From the Show

Okay, I can’t change the fact that the leads have been cast and it takes place in Seattle. This will make it difficult given their acting isn’t all that great, but they can still be in an interesting story. Give us an arc from the show. Give us the Yotsuba Arc where the Death Note has passed onto the member or a corporation who is killing off his competition and it is up to Mia, L and Light to work together. They can still debate the ideas of the Death Note and be under suspicion but now we get a thriller and a mystery as we don’t know who holds the Death Note. All we know is one of the leaders in a Corporation has the Death Note…and given this takes place in Seattle they could Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks or countless others to explore it which would give us more nuance and depth and pull us away from the awful teen romance that was the focus of the film this time around. This is only one of the arcs from the show, they could also have Kira’s Cult be explored and Have L in the place of Near and Mello and show the means he has to go to in order to reveal Light as Kira or they could give Mia and Death Note and have her actually act like Misa’s character and have them both under suspicion of L doing the main arc L goes through in the show. That is 3 arcs they could have used right there and they don’t have to change casting or anything, they just have to know the subject matter they are adapting and pull from the great stories that already exist within the show. Any of these could have given us a clear theme versus the listless mess we get with the film.

1 – An Unambiguous Ending 

This is a film that sucks all the way through, from start to finish…it messed up so bad it couldn’t even give us a clear ending. At the end Light is talking to his Dad and he mentions that he realizes he was choosing between 2 evils and his father asks him which one he is. Did they expect a sequel to come out of this? Light or L should be dead and Light should be free showing us that his ends were justified or that he can no walk away and give up the Death Note or with him dead and L finally bringing him and Mia to justice with Ryuk ending it with writing Light’s name in the Death Note. Hell I’d settle for the death of either L or Light because it would give clarity to a film that had none. A good ending can make a bad film okay. This film had a terrible ending and all it had to do to fix it was give us the death of Light or L and with it a clear point on what side was correct.

These are the Top 5 Ways I’d fix this god awful travesty of a film. Again if I was scoring it it would be 1 / 10, so a lot could be done to fix it, and most of these things are basic storytelling ideas. How would you fix this film if you were given the chance? If you had to adapt “Death Note” how would you go about doing so? Curious to hear your thoughts and it is a shame this film wasn’t deleted before Netflix brought it to the small screen.

What Happened to Monday (2017): An Amazing Sci. Fi. Thriller That Explores Identity and Human Value

  “What Happened to Monday” is the type of dystopian Science Fiction that I love. It feels like a Philip K. Dick novel, which has lead to some of my favorite films adapted from his work…from “Blade Runner,” “Minority Report” and the original “Total Recall.” The films give us future tech. but also a world that is fascist and dehumanizes it’s population in some way, this film is cut from that same cloth and is executed so well it has become one of my favorites.

The film was directed by Tommy Wirkola, written by Max Botkin and Kerry Williamson and produced by Raffaella De Laurentiis, Fabrice Gianfermi and Philippe Rousselot.

The story takes place in a overcrowded, polluted dystopian future where families can only have one child. When Karen Settman (Noomi Rapace who also plays her daughters) has 7 identical twins her Grandfather Terrance (Willem Dafoe) hides their existence by having them adopt their mother’s identity and pretending to be one person. When Monday goes missing years later it is up to her sister’s to solve the mystery and keep their secret safe.

The Pros: Self and Identity – One of the major themes that the film explores is the issue of identity, given that the 7 sisters have each adopted the identity of Karen Settman and can only be themselves when they are trapped in the house. This leads to some of them to fully embrace the idea of the character and believe they are them, forgetting the day of the week they are as each of them deals with it in different ways by either escaping (Tuesday is a druggy) or embracing their roles outside of the identity of Karen as we have the one always in training to protect and the tech. who is tracking all the events that happen in the search for Monday. Each of them express who they are in different ways and in the end we see how that connection to identity shapes the survivors as there are a few name changes at the end tied to the history of the characters.

Individualism, Collectivism and Human Value – The film starts out showing how global warming has been leading to mass destruction and starvation and the steps the government takes to make sure the overall human population can survive. This is most scene in the one child policy and how C.A.B. takes the siblings when that happens so that they are out of the competition for food. At one point Glenn Close’s character debates with one of the sisters on that very question and points out how if more people had been like their mother the world would be dead given the lack of food. This question is never fully answered and the fallout of the finale leaves things open as far as what will happen to humanity. Glenn Close’s character was a villain whose intentions were good but we see how in going collectivist it misses the point of the value of the individual contrasted with the beginning that showed how individualism taken to the extreme with no thought of the world and future lead to the dystopia in the first place. The film comes out on the side of individualism but given the opening, I believe it leaves things open enough as to what the future of this world and ours hold.

Okay: The 7 Sisters and the Danger of Stock Characters – Noomi Rapace is an amazing actress. We see her play 8 characters, each with different levels of depth. Honestly this film would have worked better as a show as a few of the sisters I couldn’t even place in regards to their motivation, they only existed as a stereotype (the tough woman, etc.) She did give a lot of depth to certain characters though, the greatest being Saturday, Friday. Monday and Tuesday. We can see where their conflict comes from too as Dafoe’s performance as their grandfather is amazing given he is willing to go any length to protect them (if one loses a finger, they all have to if they are continue playing the role of Karen Settman so suspicion will not occur) to keep the lie going, even though that leads to harm to them all and shows just how broken this world and he himself is. Each of the sisters carry that damage with them as well as carrying the lie of Karen Settman, the role each must play during their day of the week. The stock types make the reveal a little predictable at the end but it still managed to surprise me in other ways in regards to who lives and dies when the government is hunting them and in regards to what happened to Monday after she goes missing.

This is a film I highly recommend. I’m staying away from spoilers because it is an easy film to catch, as it is on Netflix currently. I was never bored during this film and the action and ideas kept me waiting to see what would happen next. I don’t know whether it will make my Top 5 at the end of the year, but it is certainly one of my favorite films. Dafoe and Rapace owned the roles they played and the ideas of identity and human value are explored so beautifully through the world and the sisters that I can’t help but recommend this film. This is an original and isn’t based off any prior property. I really want to see more sci. fi.’s of this level of quality in the future, that pull from themes and show the different costs of existence, society and identity.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

 

Logan Lucky (2017): A Critique and Celebration of the Southern Culture Through an Amazing Heist

   “Logan Lucky” is a great film. This is a film that will probably make my Top 5 at the end of the year and gives us some amazing performances, as well as having a great larger point as it critique and celebrates southern working class culture through the lense of West Virginia and a NASCAR Heist. The only real downside to this film that I  can think of is the lead up to the heist has a few scenes that drag and I felt the Robin Hood message should have been so much bigger than the two families who are a part of it. Given how much this film critiques Southern Culture (even as it is celebrating it) it doesn’t really address the elephant in the room. The elephant I’ll address further down in the review.

The film was directed Steven Soderbergh and written by Rebecca Blunt and produced by Channing Tatum, Gregory Jacobs, Mark Johnson and Reid Carolin.

The story involves Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) planning a heist after he is laid off from his construction job due to a limp he received during his football days. This leads him to teaming up with his Iraqi War vet brother Clyde (Adam Driver) and and explosives expert Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) as he plans to steal from the NASCAR speedway so he can still have a future with his young daughter, who is moving away.

The Pros: Rules of the Heist – The planning of the heist is meticulous, as we see that Jimmy has the 10 rules of robbing a bank (which 3 times has be sure your on board, expect the unexpected). This is wonderful as we see the chaotic elements come in (bringing in more people on the job) and how they deal with it in different ways. I also bring this up because the action of the heist and payoff are tied to these rules and each outcome or part of the plan brings in new elements that raise the tension. Also Joe Bang is key to it all and Daniel Craig is amazing as this threatening, yet charming crook.

The Working Class Struggle – One of the major themes of the film is the working class struggle. Clyde is an injured Iraqi war vet who runs a bar and gets harassed by patrons because of his injury, Jimmy loses his job because of an injury during the time he was a football player (when it had never been an issue before), their sister Mellie is always being harassed by Jimmy’s ex-wife’s husband and the Bangs live on the outskirts of society. They are smart but are nearly invisible to those around them.

Big Business and Corruption – We see a lot of examples of big business and corruption in the South. From Jimmy’s boss letting him go for cost cutting reasons, from the NASCAR owner who harasses Clyde for having one arm and how the FBI isn’t able to do their investigation all that well because the race course wants to hide the fact they don’t know how much money is going out of the track, showing that all the unchecked money has them probably making far more than their ledgers show (part of what the heist is working around). We also see it in the prison and how the Warden uses his guards to abuse the prisoners and his focus on making everything seem fine to the outside, even as an emergency could be occurring.

The Cons: The Unaddressed Racism and Payoff – This film takes place in West Virginia and so much of the class difference is tied to race, this is true everywhere in the United States but especially in the South were laws were passed to keep African-Americans from opportunity. Jim Crow wasn’t that long ago and it can still be felt today. Hell we had Nazis and Confederate flags in Charlottesville not to long ago. The KKK and Neo-Nazis and those who may sympathize with their ideology due to privilege or class have always been around and been the ones keeping what Jim Crow did in place even after. Racism doesn’t just go away when a new law is passed. Given the Robin Hood nature of the film and that it is correcting wrongs through the heist this could have been handled better minus the only African-American character being unnamed and getting no character development beyond helping cause a riot in the prison to help with the heist.

This is a film that has great character development and payoff. I’m not going to spoil anything, because you should really see this film. A lot of characters who are horrible and corrupt find themselves with less, while our strapping heroes have payoff in their character arcs and what they want in their lives and also among one another. There is comradely that we did not see at the beginning of the film. This is a film where our heroes start out as isolated players and by the end are cohesive team that the antagonists always underestimate because of their working class backgrounds. Seriously, I can’t recommend this film enough given that my only critique is that working class should have meant more than white (especially in the South) and that even though we get a good bit of class justice, outside of a single scene with a character from the prison, there is no racial justice to be found in a setting that once had slavery and Jim Crow.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10. So close to being the perfect film. Still one of my favorite films of the year though.

“The Defenders” Season 1 – One of the Best Teams in the MCU and a Worthy Threat

    “The Defenders” is the best show I’ve watched in the Defenders Universe it is a part of since “Daredevil” Season 1. The ending isn’t as good as Season 1 but the characters are more dynamic, everyone grows and even Iron Fist is made into a more likable guy. The strongest part of the show is still the side characters though and we finally have a lot of questions answered that have been hinted on through both “Daredevil” and “Iron Fist.” As far as my non-spoiler thoughts, you don’t need to have watched any of the prior shows to enjoy this one. It stands strong on it’s own and is one of the best creations to come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

The show was created by Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez.

The story involves the leaders of the Hand coming together under Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver) as the Defenders (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, Luke Cage) must come together to stop them and their apocalyptic aspirations for New York City, as well as finding out what it they seek at the bottom of the city.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Action – This is a series that brings back the best of the action we saw in “Daredevil” Seasons 1 and 2. There are a lot of great action beats as Colleen Wing, the Defenders and others face off against the Hand and those they are manipulating in Hell’s Kitchen. The final fight at the bottom of the city in another world is also really cool too as well as when the leaders of the Hand face off against the Defenders.

The Hand and their History – There are Five Leaders of the Hand who were exiled from K’un-Lun for seeking the cure for death and finding immortality. They find it in the bones of Dragons we discover in this and that is the substance that keeps bringing them back when they die. By the time of this series they use the last of it resurrect Elektra as the Black Sky but it does not go as planned as she kills Alexandra to take control of the group. There are 5 members of the Hand each representing a finger and area of the world, Alexandra, Murakami (who was controlling the Yakuza in Season 1 and 2), Bakuto (from “Iron Fist” is brought back again) and Sowande or “White Hat,” who has been using Harlem to recruit and Madam Gao who has been recurring through a few of the series. Learning about their exile and the reasons they went to K’un-Lun are powerful and I loved seeing them face off against the Defenders. “White Hat” and Murakami are the least memorable but Gao once again shows why she is in my Top 5 MCU Villains given her ability to survive and the tragedy of Alexandra is a nice touch as her personal desire to have Elektra as her daughter, blinds her judgement. All of them are at least interesting even if Murakami and “White Hat” go mostly unexplored.

The Defenders and Coming Together – The Defenders are like a mixture between The Guardians and Avengers. You have the Captain America / Luke Cage / Star Lord leader type, you have the sarcastic damaged fighter in Rocket / Jessica Jones / Bruce Banner, you have the Child Soldier in Black Widow / Iron Fist and Drax who are shaped by personal loss and you have the Iron Man / Daredevil / Gamora in the conflicted hero trying to do good. There is a lot of overlap and I’m curious what lines you’d draw to the similarities between heroes but these were the ones that got me. Seeing the dynamic come together on a small gritty level was wonderful and I can’t wait to see where the show goes from here and how our characters are shaped in their own shows and how that plays into their next team up, which will probably be against Kingpin.

Awareness of the People of Hell’s Kitchen – There is much more awareness of the people of Hell’s Kitchen in this. From Knight and the cops calling them out on being vigilantes, in Luke Cage calling out Iron Fist for beating up scared kids who got pulled into the Hand just looking for a job to survive and how his billionaire privilege shows he doesn’t get it (as well as his race, class and name – Rand). I loved it and I hate how we don’t see this enough in Batman. Bruce Wayne is doing exactly what Iron First was put besides Alfred sometimes and Dawes in “Batman Begins” I can’t think of a time where he’s been called out. This was needed and a lot of this show is calling out Danny for his arrogance and in turn forcing him to grow and truly become a hero. This show is amazing.

The Women of “The Defenders” – The women of the Defenders Universe are the best written characters on this show. Alexandra is dying of cancer but can’t let go of the world she left behind leading it to her protecting Elektra even into her death, Madam Gao is surviving and understands just how powerful the Defenders are (only Hand member who really does) Jessica Jones is working through her trauma and trust and having to work on a team and Colleen Wing is working herself through her Hand conditioning as well as doing all she can to be there for people who push her away. These women made the show amazing and are the best parts of the MCU, especially in this show.

Facing Trauma – So many characters have to face their trauma in this (a running theme of the Defendersverse) with the strongest being Wing’s final defeat of Bakuto (and working through the mind control the Hand put her through) when she is trying to save Danny and blow up the building that holds the substance but we also have Daredevil confronting Stick and his abuse as well as Danny working on his own failure to save the monks. These three best illustrate this theme this season as Jessica Jones is very much doing her own thing and the trauma is so bad she has trouble being close to anyone, even friends.

Okay: The Ending – The ending is okay. This is one thing that the first season of “Daredevil” has over this one as the ending involves the team moving on and Daredevil is believed to be dead (the cave collapses on him and Elektra) and when he wakes up we get hints at the show taking a darker path as everyone he knows believes him to be dead. His sacrifice was okay but we knew a “Daredevil” Season 3 was coming and no one had been set up to take up his mantel if something like this happened to him. These take away from the loss of the moment even though I did enjoy the good-byes and how the character relationships have changed because they’ve all finally interacted and grown from one another, becoming “The Defenders.” The Hand is shut down as an organization at this point though Murakami and Gao survived and both of them have the substance that gives them immortality, so I’m curious how all of that will play out, as well as Elektra’s and Matt’s future.

This was the best to come out of the “Defenders” Universe and is my Second favorite Season if I put them all side by side. Season 1 of “Daredevil” is still perfection for me in this Universe but this gets most of the things right and only really falls short on the ending. It is great to see the Hand explored and truly appreciated as a threat and most importantly I loved the character dynamics between the Defenders and the members of the Hand. These character moments are why this MCU series that Netflix has created is so amazing and it is why I’ll keep coming back. If you haven’t gotten into this universe yet, this Season, like “Daredevil” Season 1 is a great way to do so.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

 

 

Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm – An Evolution of Gameplay and Story

      “Heart of the Swarm” improves off “Wings of Liberty” in most places where it counts. The story has more going on, the characters are more interesting and the side missions are really enjoyable as well as the hero leveling system that the game gives in how Kerrigan grows through the game. You are given choices that matter and affect gameplay, which is more than “Wings of Liberty” was ever able to do. I’ll get into more of what I mean later in the review, but this is a game that improves upon the original in almost every way.

The downsides are really in how there is too much emphasis on Emperor Mengsk as the villain and not enough on the threat of the Xel’Naga, which sadly hurts the overall arc of the Trilogy.

The story picks up where “Wings of Liberty” left off with a de-infested Kerrigan with Raynor’s Raiders and Valerian Mengsk. When Dominion forces attack she is separated from them all and when she believes Raynor to be killed goes on a revenge mission against Mengsk as she takes control of the Swarm and grows once more into her role as the Queen of Blades.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Universe – I love the Starcraft Universe and in this game we get so much more of it. From Narud’s experiments and the infested resurrected Stukov and the Hybrids from the last game, from the Primal Zerg and the Zerg who witnessed the Xel’Naga come but only cared about becoming stronger and better and did not care for the greater war in the Universe as Amon created them on the Primal Zerg world…from the power of the Dominion and recruitment of the Brood Mothers as Kerrigan re-establishes herself as the Queen of Blades. I love this Universe and this game does nothing but enrich it. We also get to play as Raynor’s Raiders taking on a Mercenary army with their Battlecruiser in order to find out where Raynor is trapped and so that he can rescued. The world is so wonderfully dark and complicated.

Evolution Missions – On the way of taking control of the Swarm once more Abathur, Kerrigan’s Evolution Master gives missions where you can shape Zerg into different strains. Each choice is permanent but their are pros and cons to each. You can have faster and weaker units that can fly, greater number of units or stronger individual units with greater regeneration depending on the choice you make…and on those missions you take out Dominion or Feral Zerg forces. They are so much fun.

The Nature of the Swarm – The Swarm is change and evolution. This is one reason Kerrigan works so well as the leader because she is constant change and adaptation and now being free of the Overmind she no longer as Amon’s influence on her (that she originally got through the original purpose of the Zerg and the Overmind). It is powerful seeing her take charge of the swarm and see how their primary drive to live, change, evolve and grow. The Zerg are not static and this game really shows how easy it is for the Swarm to grow and become one of the strongest powers in the Universe. It is in their nature and when they have direction from the Queen of Blades the Overmind or one who knows them, they are unstoppable.

Kerrigan and her Team – Kerrigan has my favorite Team out of the 3 games. I like how Abathur is a selfish being that only sees the point in making things more efficent regardless of cost (so weird, awful and alien) how Zagara only values strength and bettering the Swarm and serving Kerrigan how Stukov has no one so only wants acceptance and the Swarm is the only acceptance he has now that he is dead to humanity and Dehaka and his obsession with essence and his drive to survive and change through anything.

Leveling Kerrigan and Shaping the Swarm – The gameplay is fun and part of the reason it is so much fun is you power up Kerrigan and her abilities and these abilities influence her as hero unit and also your base and how quickly you can build or what you start. She is a powerhouse and the right upgrades make her an unstoppable force on her own or one who can sustain the Swarm and have a large group. The Swarm is also shaped from the Evolution Missions stated above too.

Okay: The Power of Emperor Mengsk – I’m putting Emperor Mengsk’s power and the Dominon as okay and not a pro for two reasons. The first is that he should have been weaker after Valerian took half his fleet and second Kerrigan destroyed his forces on more than one occasion. This game happens just after he got his butt kicked last game. The reason I don’t put him as a con is he did have Narud and via Narud Amon backing him so he was powerful that way and there was a good amount of time between “Brood War” and “Wings of Liberty.” For these reason I won’t put him as a con.

Not Enough Xel’Naga Exploration – We get a glimpse of the nature of the Xel’Naga on Zerus (the Zerg homeworld) and when Narud’s true form a changeling is revealed and what dialogue he gives us. Otherwise they are an abstract threat even though we the prophecy of Kerrigan’s role going on and really needed more in the lead up to whatever her future is.

The Narud and Amon Payoff – Narud is the mini-boss before Arcturus Mengsk and it is only over the course of 3 missions. He really should have been a bigger deal. Mengsk makes more sense narratively but for the overall game Narud has been the greatest threat of them all. He is the reason the UED no longer exists as a threat, he is the reason the Protoss continued to fall apart and his master Amon is the reason the Zerg almost destroyed everything fulfilling their role in the big picture. With better writing, he really should have been the end boss or played a much bigger part in the story. He’d been around for so long why did he suddenly stop manipulating the Zerg when he clearly still had control of some Protoss forces, Moebius and the elements of the Dominion. Narud and the Xel’Naga deserved better and I think Blizzard didn’t know what to do with them after setting them up so well in “Brood War” and the original “Starcraft.”

The Cons: Raynor and Revenge as Primary Motivation – I think the writers meant it to mirror Raynor’s love for Kerrigan as his motivation in “Wings of Liberty” but it sucked that Kerrigan was turned into that as well. I never got those vibes from her in any of the original games and making her The Bride from “Kill Bill” was fine but her best character moments are when we see her accepting her role as the Queen of Blades and finding motivation beyond revenge as she cares for and shapes the Swarm. That was where she was amazing as we already got her revenge story back in “Brood War” and it was handled so much better.

I really enjoyed “Heart of the Swarm.” This is a game for all the flaws it has (largely based in story with Emperor Mengsk being this unstoppable force who still continues to lose through 2 games) and the lack of focus on Narud, Amon and the Xel’Naga makes the upcoming threat feel only so strong. It also sets up Kerrigan as the Chosen One which is stupid storytelling in general, even though I like that Kerrigan’s flaws are all her own. she is ruthless and driven and a little bit of a sociopath but it makes her compelling because it is her mind that shapes the Swarm and we see how she makes the Zerg Swarm less of an all consuming force and more a precision weapon focused on perfection and change. For these reasons I would rate it higher than “Wings of Liberty.” There is better payoff storywise, better gameplay and the campaign missions are a lot of fun and honestly, my favorite heroes are the Heroes from the Swarm and how wonderfully alien they all are. This is another one of my favorite games.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

The Dark Tower (2017): They Should Have Just Adapted the First Book

    It is possible to have a good or even great adaptation of a book or book series. This sadly is not one of them. I haven’t been this bored and dissapointed in a film since “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” as that film as well had so much potential and so much amazing source material it was pulling from, only to end up on a list of films that I can’t stand and will offer ways to fix later (much like how I approached “Twilight”).

I have a bias (I loved the first book and am reading the rest of the series currently), but like I said before in regards to adaptations…it is possible to make a great adaptation of source material…”Atonement” succeeded, Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” succeeded and countless others. This one does not and for the non-spoiler reasons why, it had a bland protagonist, the world is boring and we aren’t given a chance to really know the leads, so even great performances by Elba and McConaughey can’t save the poorly written characters they are given. I’ll elaborate on my points further down in the review, suffice to say, save your money and go see something better.

“The Dark Tower” was directed by Nicolej Arcel who co-wrote it with a committee (4 writers wrote this script – Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinker, Anders Thomas Jensen and of Arcel himself).

The story follows Jake (Tom Taylor), a psychic boy who dreams about the Gunslinger (Idris Elba) and the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) who seeks to tear down the Dark Tower and bring hell upon all worlds.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Main Leads – The best part of this film is Idris Elba as the Gunslinger Roland and Matthew McConaughey as the Man in Black Walter. Now the characters don’t have the complexity that they have in the first book, there isn’t the weight or history behind their actions and we never really know it. The story is from Jake’s perspective and that was the biggest mistakes this film could have made. Our leads are wonderful at working with what they are given, Elba is hardened and distant and McConaughey has a lot of fun hamming it up as the villain. He’s wonderfully sly and oily and it works well when he is on screen. Sadly they are trapped in a dull universe where neither character feels fully realized.

The Cons: Presentation of the World – The world is presented through our protagonists Jake’s eyes. He sees the Gunslinger’s dimension and the Man in Black in dreams before they finally arrive into his life when he is running from the Man in Black’s minions who want to use him as a weapon to bring down the Dark Tower. The special effects aren’t all that good and we hardly spend anytime in the Gunslinger’s post-apocalyptic world and instead spend most of it in our New York. Given how rich the Gunslinger’s world is and all the stories in it, this was a mistake. There is nothing special about New York in this beyond it having ways to dimension hop between worlds.

In the first book we only follow the Gunslinger and we get to know Roland’s past and how he lost everything as well as how his following the Man in Black has lead to him losing so many others, and that to defeat the Man in Black he’ll have to give up everything again. The book is a powerful story of loss and the Man in Black is more a subtle agent of chaos (resurrecting the dead, giving people riddles to drive them mad) and sadly you don’t get any of that in this. This world isn’t even apparent in this film, the only thing from the first book that is in any way similar is the wasteland being largely empty…but the mutants and mad people who make up the landscape are nowhere to be found in this film. Seriously, they should have adapted the first book and it could have been at least good. There is more than enough material to make it happen.

The Protagonist – Jake is such a worthless protagonist. Sadly the actor can’t act and his cliched family life is really uninteresting. His dad died and him mom got into another relationship but by the time the supernatural catches up with her Jake has moved on and adopted the Gunslinger as his new parent. I don’t remember him ever caring about her being at risk or what happened to her after the Man in Black is defeated. Apparently the writers couldn’t even care enough about their main character to care about mattered to him. Having a young protagonist is hard to do, “Harry Potter” pulled it off but it is one of the few stories outside of “Stranger Things” that has well written kids who drive the story. The protagonist should have been Roland the Gunslinger like in the first book. What a waste of a main character.

Story Structure – We get flashbacks through Jake’s dreams and after that is him running from the Man in Black and his forces through the film before the Gunslinger has to rescue him and after the story ends when he is saved. It is simple but surprisingly incoherent, thanks largely to how the dreams are interspersed through the story. This hurt any chance we had to care about any of the characters which is in the end the biggest reason why this film fails. We are never given a reason to care about anyone in this film.

As you can tell I didn’t enjoy this film. This is film I plan to come back to in the future and in it go over ways that could have saved this film and made it at least good…Just like what I plan to do with “Batman v Superman” when I eventually suffer through a re-watch. The actors in this deserved a so much better script as they are good with what little they are given, but good actors can’t save a poorly told story, and at the end of the day that is exactly what this is. Unless you want to do a hate-watch, don’t check out this film.

Final Score: 4 / 10.  2 points for Elba and 2 points for McConaughey.