“Iron Fist” Season 1 – The Side Characters are the Best Part and “The Hand” Finally Works Though the Show has Other Issues

     Marvel’s “Iron Fist” is a flawed show. It isn’t great but I also enjoyed the journey that the story put me through, though the problems are one that are big within Marvel and just compounded with the story and presentation of Danny Rand. This is a character who is so many played out tropes, billionare orphan goes to Asia and becomes a Ninja/Seer, etc. Playing into exoticizing Japan, China, South Korea, etc. I’ll get into examples deeper into the review but this lazy writing really kept the show from being great, even though I did still find it base good.

 The show was created by Scott Buck.

    The story involves Danny Rand (Finn Jones) returning from the monastery K’un Lun in order to get back his fortune and take on the enemy the monastery has trained him for, The Hand. All is not as it appears to be in regards to who his real enemies and friends are and his role as the Iron Fist.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world of the Defenders gets even richer in this show as we learn more aspects of the world, especially in regards to “The Hand” who are insidious for the first time (never bought them as a threat in Season 2).

The Action – There are some great martial arts battles this season, so that is one thing that this season has going for it. I enjoyed all the action and it showed what can be accomplished with a limited budget but strong martial arts can carry scenes.

The Support Characters – The support characters are the strongest part and for the most part, I can’t wait to see what further exploration they receive. Madam Gao is back! (my second favorite MCU villain) as are some of the other great minor characters from the other “Defenders” Shows. These were the characters that brought me back to the show.

The Meachums – The Meachums are the family friends of the Rands and Harold was Danny’s Father’s partner of Rand Enterprises. He’s around as the primary villain outside the Hand and his children complicate things for our heroes.

Joy – Joy is the character who may have had a relationship with Danny before but has moved on from it. She is a powerhouse in Rand Enterprises and is the sibling with her act most together. This leads to her father, who was brought back to life using her after his son tries to kill him for all his abuse. She never gets to see just how insane her father has become but she ends up blaming Danny for how all she knows goes up in flames, making her a possible villain going into the Defenders.

Harold – Harold is the Meachum who killed Danny’s father and tries to frame and kill Danny at the end of the Season. He is an immortal thanks to the Hand (as long as he has his body with his head attached, he can come back). He is a sociopath but has moments of caring. He is clearly bad but he is vulnerable even when he’s taken over…though he is once again another evil MCU Corporate Boss with Hammer, Monger, Yellow Jacket, etc. He’s a played out trope but David Wenham gives what depth he can to the role and makes him a lot of fun.

Ward – Ward looks like “American Psycho” meets Donald Trump Jr. as in a sleezy tool looking character who is only out for himself. We learn that he was abused by his father and in turn abused Danny. His turn around is after his drug addiction breaks him and he kills his father, only for his father to get revenge on him. After it is chess match between him and his father with Danny as the Knight. Ward wins and is left to look back on all the evil things he’s done. He’s won and gained his soul that he had never had before. He also kills his dad and burns the body finally ending Harold’s reign.

Bakuto – Bakuto is Colleen Wing’s Sensei and a leader in the Hand. He is very much a Ra’s al Ghul type figure who wants to destroy all power structures leaving only the Hand and what he believes to be true justice with all a part of the Hand or serving it in some way in a Utopia. He is a fun character and was a great villain until he is defeated by Colleen after he betrays her trust and ends up being killed by one of the K’un Lun Monks Davos.

Davos – Davos is Danny’s childhood friend who wanted to be the Iron Fist. He is a fanatic for the cause and in the end it corrupts him. He is along the lines of Mordo in “Doctor Strange” as in the end his inability to change leads to him believing that peace can only be achieved by ending the Iron Fist since the Iron Fist won’t kill the Hand. He isn’t wrong since Danny doesn’t kill, so it gives an interesting dilemma going forward.

Hogarth – Hogarth is back! She is a great ally through the series to Danny and helps him in his war against the Meachums. It was great seeing her again, though I wish she’d gotten more exploration. She is there as support but not much else.

Claire Temple – Claire is back and plays a big role in this as we see her take on vigilante qualities too as she learns to fight from Colleen Wing in her dojo and working with Danny and Colleen whether they are fighting the Meachums or the Hand. She is as much a Defender as any of the others and is much more interesting than Danny Rand. Rosario Dawson is once again fantastic and plays my favorite Defender hero.

Madam Gao – Madam Gao is my second favorite villain the MCU (https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2016/11/20/top-5-villains-of-the-marvel-cinematic-universe/). In this we get to see just how old she is, as she references facing other Iron Fists and is able to predict things because of how long she’s been around and how well she knows people. She is a major leader in the Hand and in the end her faction wins out over Bakuto’s faction as she manipulates Joy and Davos to take out Danny Rand. She is playing a long game and is the only character always winning. I really enjoy this character and can’t wait to where her story goes.

Colleen Wing – Jessica Henwick is fantastic! I wanted this show to be about her (she deserved it, her story isn’t as played out as Danny’s for one thing). This is a character who has to prove herself time and time again both in the arena and against what she considered family (She is a Hand agent until they betray her when she won’t betray Danny). I felt for her character the entire time and can’t wait to see where her story goes. She is a lot more interesting than Danny.

Okay: Danny Rand – Finn Jones annoyed me for the first half of this season. He looks perpetually bored and isn’t very good at emoting. He grew me on me over time but he is not this show’s pro. This is a character that because he is a played out trope (rich white billionaire orphan becomes ninja/monk, etc. – Doctor Strange, Batman and related Wolverine, Daredevil, Elektra, etc.). His story is orphan becomes master of his craft and reclaims his fortune…I enjoyed it for simplicity but I was annoyed too. This was a story that could have done with change, starting with Danny Rand.

The Cons: Asian-American Representation in the Marvelverse – Name a Marvel hero in the MCU who isn’t on Agents of SHIELD who is Asian? Outside of Wong (another great support character) in Doctor Strange there isn’t one. Colleen Wing is almost made Danny’s partner at times in this in who they face and the choices they make but she is still just a supporting character. Given this lack of representation and the pulling from the different Martial Arts from Asia to tell Danny Rand’s story, why not give Danny some level of history? He could have been from Hong Kong and been new money and from there more layers with the Meachum and the history of discrimination towards Asians in the United States through laws. You wouldn’t have to change too much but any change like this or similar could have added more layers. The Defenders have always been a show tackling important issues from racism (Luke Cage) to rape and sexual assault (Jessica Jones). Danny Rand is much weaker than Daredevil which at least tackles philosophy at times. Representation could have let them do that, taking a risk with Danny Rand.

Playing it “Safe” and the Lack of Risks – Danny Rand on Netflix is a complete lack of risk. He is played out tropes from the orphan billionaire trope in comics, to becoming a ninja in Asia and reclaiming his fortune. If any of these things had been changed it would have been a risk that would have made the show potentially great.

   Whether you should watch this show or not really depends on how much you like the Defenders project and journey as a whole. I liked it but I don’t think it’s necessary, you’ll get the core elements and characters in “The Defenders” first season and even though some of the problems of The Hand are fixed, new ones are brought up in this version of Danny Rand. This actor is okay but he needed to great and had to be written a lot better for this to work and be great. This was a show that if it had taken more risks, could have made it great. If in the end you don’t take risks you will never achieve greatness in your story, especially if all you do is pulled on tropes that have been done before.

Final Score: 7.5 / 10. Enjoyable but Danny is the weakest Defender by far. This is a show worth watching for the supporting cast.

Get Out (2017): A Brilliant Horror Film That Tackles Racism and Privilege

    “Get Out” is one of my favorite horror movies at this point. This is a film that explores deeper ideas while still giving great moments of tension and horror in turn making it so much more. Whether it is racism, power and privilege, this film has a larger point but also does the tension and horror so well. Non-spoiler thoughts, you really should see this film. If you like horror films are even just smart films, check this one out.

  The film was written, directed and produced by Jordan Peele with the other producers being Jason Blum, Edward H. Hamm Jr. and Sean McKittrick.

     The story involves Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) going up to meet his girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) parents in the suburbs. All is not as it appears to be though as the overly nice of the town underlays a dark secret as the only other African-Americans in the town give him hints of the mystery in their odd behavior.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Idea – The idea reminds me a lot of “The Stepford Wives” and as that film tacked feminism in critiquing the 1950’s housewife and showing the literal patriarchy in how the wives were constructed to be servants. This is done similar with how objectification of African-Americans. I’ll get into how with the reveal and the characters.

The Writing – The writing is smart and shows the dimension to our characters as well as the humor (which is mostly through Jeremy and Chris’s sarcasm). I always enjoyed Jordan Peele’s shorts which did a great job satirizing some segment of society or culture. This time he does it on a cinematic movie scale. Not many writers can tackle racism and privilege in a subtle way, but it is done here beautifully.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is fantastic and does a great job and raising the tension throughout the film. Michael Abels did a fantastic job.

The Characters – The characters are the strongest part as they are characters and not ideas, they would have become ideas to carry the message in a lesser writer’s hands.

Chris – Chris drives the story and is photographer trying to get into college. He’s clearly happy in the relationship with Rose but is smart as he notices when things are off and even tries to go (when he doesn’t know what is fully going on just that he is under threat). It is rewarding when he gets back at the family who was going to use his body for one of the older people in the town (which is why the town exists). Kaluuya does an amazing job.

Jeremy – Jeremy is the genre savvy friend who knows something is up the moment Chris goes to town as for him the warning was Rose not telling her family she had a black boyfriend and when Chris describes the town’s odd behavior, especially those of the African-Americans, he thinks they are being used as sex slaves. He’s wrong about the reasons they are acting weird but was right about how off the town was, and in the end he saves Chris. Jones is hilarious in this role as Jeremy is the character who provides the most comedy with his genre savvyness.

Rose – Rose is a great villain! Through most of the film she is the caring girlfriend who doesn’t justify her parents racist statements but things come to a head at the end where we learn she’s the lure who finds the people for the townspeople to use. She is a great threat and almost kills Chris. Williams has quite the acting range as we see her kindness as well as when she is the cold hunter, finding more targets.

The Family – The family is brilliantly creepy as they act like they are trying to help Chris while having a sick undercurrent. Whether it is her angry brother who says Chris could get strong like an animal thanks to his racial genes and the mother hypnotizes him and uses his own smoking addiction against him, and the father who is the collector and intellectual who clearly sees Chris as a thing the entire time.

The Reveal – The reveal is that the town is using people who come to the town (who Rose collects) for their bodies so the older members can live forever. The original host is nearly dead except for their brain stem (which the movie presents as them watching their body being controlled from a distance).

Objectification in Racism – The objectification starts with the family in how Chris is never really talked to, he is talked at (which plays into the privilege part) and extends to how the family and town talk about his body or people like him. It is brought to it’s fullest degree in the fact that Chris is only wanted for what he can give (his body) not the person he is. That is part of what makes racism, racism. Whether it is excoticizing his form or seeing him as something to be exploited. In the end he was only a thing to the town, not a person. He was wanted for his race not his personhood.

The Power of Privilege – Privilege is the assumption of power over another and this is the core of the terror in the film. The town assumes they have a right to Chris and any other black person they bring to the town. It is through their privilege that they believe they have the right over his body and the body of others and rationalization is their justification.

Okay: The Townspeople – The town could have been developed more. They do fall into the horror pitfall of being the toxic sweetness in how they treat Chris, but they are all part of the organization that wants to live forever. It would have been great to see their motivations and the reasons they want to live forever.

   Jordan Peele is truly a great writer and director. This was a film that Blumhouse produced and I’ve honestly never seen a good film from their studio, until this film. It is kind of sad how good horror movies are hard to find. They are generally made on the cheap, are exploitative, usually by their nature and rarely have a deeper point that is illustrated well. “Get Out” manages to avoid all of these pitfalls and in doing so is up there with the original “Halloween” as one of my favorite horror films of all time. Seriously, check this film out.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10 The townspeople could have been developed a bit more.

“Into the Badlands” Season 1 – A Good Tarintinoesque Ride

  “Into the Badlands” is a show with a lot of potential. This is a show that is only 6 episodes long and by the nature of it being so short it isn’t able to explore the world and characters as much as it could have. It still manages to be solidly good. Before I get into the main synopsis and spoilers the best parts of this show were the politics and action and the worst parts were the flat characters. This show was clearly setting out to be deeper than it actually ended up being. It is very Tarantinoesque in that there aren’t any good guy characters, the action feels a lot like “Kill Bill” and there is a level of detachment as if you are watching events rather than apart of them.

    The series was created by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar.

    The story takes place in the future where guns have been outlawed and rival barons compete for land and power. Sunny is a clipper (the enforcers of the barons) for Baron Quinn and finds himself pulled deeper into their intrigue and war as he finds a boy with a special power as the Widow (a rival to Baron Quinn) sparks a power to take control of the Badlands.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is fascinating. It is a very dystopian future as people still have cars even if no one has guns and the only weapons are swords, knives and similar things. The politics between the barons is fascinating as we see how they define one another and are defined in the war.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is fascinating and Dave Shepard gave it a great Tarantinoesque soundtrack. The music jumps out at you like punches, which fits the theme of the show.

The Politics – The politics are fascinating as we have the Widow attempting a feminist revolution to overthrow the patriarchy, Quinn is going crazy from a tumor in his head and Jacobee is playing the different sides against each other. Each is powerful in their own right and has an agenda that we see unfold.

The Action – The action is one of the best parts of the series! We get to see quality martial arts where hand to hand combat is used, swords and other weapons are used and the environment is used to great affect. It was the action and politics that primarily drew me in in the first place.

Waldo – Waldo is a wheel chair bound clipper who is one of the higher ups of Quinn’s men but is betraying them to the Widow because he wants change and revolution. He is a really cool character and I liked his relationship to Sunny as he clearly cared about him.

Baron Jacobee – Jacobee is played by Edi Gathegi (who you might have watched on “The Blacklist”) and he is great! We see that he is trying to take advantage of Quinn’s and the Widow’s war to take control of territory but that he is good at being diplomatic to get their as he stops fighting when the Widow attempts to have him fight Quinn on her terms.

The Widow – The Widow is a revolutionary who has a clipper order almost entirely made up of women. She claims she wants to help M.K. but she is so manipulative (she has to be in this world) that it is hard to trust her. I liked her aims and how she maneuvers herself into power by playing Quinn’s son against him and Jacobee is beautifully executed. She is the only one who really wins at the end of the season.

Sunny – Sunny is bound by duty and it is fascinating to see him deal with that and the fact that he knows Quinn is a terrible human being. Daniel Wu gives a lot of depth to this role as we see him take care of M.K. and even lie about killing M.K. because he cares about him and wants to escape from the Badlands with him and with his secret wife (clippers can’t marry). At one point he Baron finds out about his lover and captures him but it leads to his death and to Sunny’s capture as we are introduced to monks who capture M.K. and sell Sunny into slavery.

Okay: The Ending – M.K., the kid with the powers is captured by monks, The Widow takes control of Quinn’s territory and Sunny is sold into slavery. There are a lot of interesting things that happen but it feels unfinished, which might just be that they only had 6 episodes to tell the story.

The Cons: Too Many Flat Characters – M.K. the boy with the powers is bland, Tilda his love interest is bland, Ryder, Baron Quinn’s son is bland, Baron Quinn is just cruel and isn’t deep in any way and same with his wife. I hope these characters get better as I like the world they inhabit I just never cared about any of them.

   This is a show that has potential. I’d consider it solidly good…even with all the flaws it has. The flat characters are a problem that might be tied to how short the season is. Future seasons will tell as there is still so much of this world to be explored. If you like Martial Arts and films along those lines, you will probably enjoy this series. Right now it is on Netflix, which is where I saw it. Here is to hoping that next season fully develops this fascinating world.

Final Score: 8 / 10

Paranoia Agent – A Beautiful Critique of Society, the Self, Life and Death

        “Paranoia Agent” is a fascinating anime that pulls you in almost immediately as it proceeds to critique and explore reality through the world it exists in and the characters who inhabit it. My friend had recommended this anime to me and I’m glad that I finally got around to seeing it as any story that explores deep concepts and ideas and does it through complex characters is a story worth watching. It helps that the director Satoshi Con is one of my favorites for his film “Tokyo Godfather.”

     The story takes place in Japan involves Tsukiko, a character designer who created a famous character named Maromi (after her childhood pet)  who is under pressure at work to create the next character just as famous. When she is walking home at night a young boy with a twisted bat and roller skates attacks her leading to an investigation that leads to questions about what really happened as this Lil’ Slugger grows into legend as more attacks occur.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is very much a reflection of our own but with supernatural elements as Lil’ Slugger proves to be a major break from reality beyond the breaks from reality our characters face in the show. This is part of what makes it so fascinating. All our characters are broken and it is through their fractured lenses that we view their world.

The Tone – The tone is dark with an element of unrealness. From characters like toys being able to talk, but only a select few hearing them, a guy who sees life as an RPG where people are monsters to be defeated and an actual monster in Lil’ Slugger. The tone is dark as all our characters are broken in different ways and that is established early.

The Animation – The animation is beautiful and does a great job capturing the twisted reality of our characters and the dark tone. It is beautiful and at times trippy as warped reality scenes appear on multiple occasions.

The Characters – The characters are complex and fascinating, with the Police Chief being my favorite as he is caught up in his old ways but it is in his finding empathy for others and their perspectives that helps him save Tokyo from Tsukiko whose fears and denial created Lil’ Slugger in the first. We get a lot of days in the life of characters too and their relation to the events unfolding and how they react to the Lil’ Slugger incidents.

Gossip and the Creation of Legends – One of the major themes of the episode is Gossip and how it can feed the darker aspects of already horrendous things (like the Lil’ Slugger attacks) we see a group of women isolate and pick on another as each tries to one up what they know about Lil’ Slugger…Through it all there is fear of the other and the woman who is quiet is constantly targeted by the gossiping horde who has turned Lil’ Slugger into Legend.

Consumer Culture and How it Feeds Isolation and Fear – Isolation and the things that feed isolation are a major theme of the show too. From Maromi being the isolating factor of consumerism that gives Lil’ Slugger a feast of people’s insecurities and their avoidance of others and responsibilities. The ending sets up Lil’ Slugger is likely to return as rebuilt Tokyo is just like the Tokyo before meaning the same culture of consumerism is likely to lead to another being overwhelmed and creating another Lil’ Slugger as no one cares about anyone beyond themselves.

Escape versus Obligation and Responsibility – Escape versus Obligation is another theme as all our characters are running away. Whether it is running away from life, suffering, responsibility, etc. The episodes are about reeling them back in and forcing them to confront their obligation or responsibility. IT is only in taking responsibility for the death of her pet that Tsukiko is able to stop Lil’ Slugger from completely destroying Tokyo.

How Denial Can Consume – Denial consumes a lot of our characters…and each instance Lil’ Slugger arrives and kills them or knocks them out. Sometimes he saves, sometimes he arrives after they’ve already done the damage, like the anime worker who kills his entire team or the Police Chief after he’s lost his position. In one instance he has a suicide group who chases him and it is the only time he’s afraid as his power comes from those consumed by guilt and fear and the three who chase him were not. In the end denial destroys Tokyo as even Tsukiko’s guilt was not enough to turn Lil’ Slugger into the darkness that consumes Tokyo.

Isolation versus Relationship in Culture – All our characters are isolated and it is only in moments of connections with others that they find relief and peace. Isolation is what feeds Lil’ Slugger as lack of communication leads to obsession and fear. In the anime the culture of Japan in the story is one where everyone is isolated on their phones and stuck in their jobs and not wanting any responsibility or obligation. It represents the own darker nature of humanity and our own contradictory nature of wanting connection but wanting to be alone. Wanting responsibility but wanting none at all. This anime is great at showing the two sides of wants and desires and does it so well.

  This is easily one of my favorite animes now. Like “Tokyo Godfathers,” Satoshi Con created another classic that gives us complex characters and deep things in an overarching narrative that is willing to push the boundaries of understanding and comfort and in the process creates a masterpiece well worth your time. I’m extremely grateful to my friend for recommending this anime, and I plan to watch it again. There are so many deep themes that are covered and the complex characters are the perfect way to present these ideas. This is a perfect anime that sets out and achieves it’s narrative ends.

Final Score: 10 / 10

“Westworld” Season 1 – A Beautiful Masterpiece and Exploration of What it Means to be Human and Honoring a Friend

       This is going to be a different review than what I usually do, as this was originally going to be a collaboration with my friend Athen. He was going to write about the cinematography as that had always been of his and I was going to do my usual character and themes focus…He was killed by a drunk driver and I want to do this review to honor him. He was one of the most amazing of friends and this review is in honor of him. As part of this I won’t be discussing the cinematography as that is what he was going to cover.

     “Westworld” is the kind of show that tackles the big questions of self, humanity and morality. It was the kind of show I think he would have loved, which is why I think it was recommended to us both at the party where the idea for the collaboration was born.

    The story takes place in the future on a planet where tourists can go and let off steam in a place where they can’t get killed and robots play the roles of humans in a wild west format. From here the story unfolds as we get glimpses of the past and present as the mystery of Westword (the planet) unfolds.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is a beautiful sci. fi. landscape that reminds me so much of the rebooted “Battlestar Galactica” with the Hosts in the place of the Cylons. There is so much politicing at play both in the game of Westworld and outside of it among those who want to control the world. It is a fantastic mystery to unravel and Season 2 is setup really well.

The Soundtrack – Ramin Dwajadi is one of the best composers out there and his beautiful style is on display here as well. It captures the mystery and emotion that pervades the tone of the show and also the characters that inhabit the world.

The Characters – The characters are the best part with my favorite being Bernard, who we find out was created by Ford after his partner who wanted to bring sentience to the hosts is killed. Jeffrey Wright did an amazing job. Anthony Hopkins as Ford the current owner of the park is fantastic as always too with the Man in Black as an unknown threat seeking the point of the game, Maeve as the prostitute host who remembers and rebels and Dolores the one tied to the Man in Black’s past and bringing about freedom to the hosts in the park/world. All of these characters and even the corporate suits characters are enough of a draw to drive the scenes, even when there is filler.

The Narrative Format – The narrative format jumps between time as we come to see Dolores’s past and how it relates to the Man in Black and his corruption into a villain, Bernard and the man whose image and legacy he carries on as a host, Ford and his manipulations to bring about freedom for the hosts and Maeve’s story interwoven in real time through it all.

Are We Simply Machines Holding Memory – This is a major theme of the show and it is something that Ford would argue that we do. He makes this argument to one of the suits trying to stop him  and in a sense it plays into how willing he is to kill people, to him they are just like his machines, except he didn’t create them…so he doesn’t care. This gives him a fascinating perspective as he is a contradiction…the man who both cares and doesn’t care.

What Defines a Person? – Is it memory or personality? Nature or nurture? We deal with this question in how Maeve forms her identity as she realizes it all is a lie but comes to embrace the  core programming of the belief she as a daughter (even though it was a past story and life) and that is what brings her back even as she knows about he wider world. Westworld, still pulls her in. Her memories she was given still define her experience and shape her personality and choice.

The Ending – the ending is powerful and ends with the hosts rebelling as Dolores kills Ford and the hosts turn on the Board. Bernard who has just learned he is a host a little while ago, watches on as do other hosts who are still figuring out who they  are as Maeve returns to Westworld to find her daughter. It is powerful and sets up Season 2 beautifully. HBO really did create an amazing show.

The Cons: Maeve and the Lack of Oversight in the Lab – At one point Maeve wakes up and holds the Doctors who repair her hostage. How no one notices her walking around with them or her holding them hostage had me baffled. Shouldn’t the hosts have better security? There is a fear in the world of them hurting people so why not oversight? Suffice to say, Maeve had a lot of plot armor through this arc.

“Westworld” Conclusion – “Westworld” is a show well worth your time if you are interested in Sci. Fi., especially as it relates to A.I. and what it means to be human. There is amazing character development and the world is rich enough that there is still so much to be explored, even though Season 1 is very complete, even with the rebellion starting at the end. I can’t wait for Season 2 and what else we will learn about ourselves, the hosts and the universe of “Westworld.”

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

Project A10 – Athen’s amazing girlfriend created this project. I highly recommend watching the video.

Please remember not to drink to drink and drive, as you never know what life you are going to take away and how many lives you are going to touch. Life is fleeting and you never know the power you have on the lives of others, for both good and ill. It was a person’s stupidity that took away a friend, please don’t do the same.

R.I.P. Athen. I miss you.

Mass Effect 3 – Improved Gameplay, DLC, and Dramatic Moments Can’t Hide Story Problems

     The version of the game I played was “Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut” which gave me “From the Ashes,” the DLC where you get Javik. I’m glad I got this version and bought what DLC I could find as it really did enrich the game. I would have been super annoyed with the plot holes (there are still a few) that a lot of the DLC deals with, making the game so much more enjoyable. The game still has problems but before I get into details and spoilers, I enjoyed the Multiplayer, the dramatic sacrifices of characters, the gameplay and combat and the character moments you get with side characters and your team who in many cases you’ve been since “Mass Effect 1.” I’ll get into the details of all of these further into the review.

Here is my review of “Mass Effect 1:

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2017/01/23/mass-effect-an-amazing-space-opera-with-some-narrative-and-cinematic-choppiness/

and Mass Effect 2:

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2017/02/09/mass-effect-2-amazing-character-development-combat-and-final-leads-to-this-being-one-of-the-best-rpgs-ive-played/

    “Mass Effect 3” picks up where “Mass Effect 2” left off with the Reapers on the way. Shepard has been arrested by the Alliance for his warcrimes but is released when the Reapers attack Earth. From here it is up to Shepard to find his team, create a united front against the Reapers and build a Prothean Super Weapon called the Crucible that might be the only way to defeat the Reapers.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: Multiplayer – I’m usually not a fan of multiplayer in singleplayer games, especially ones that are almost an implied necessary part of the game as in “Mass Effect 3” multiplayer increases your chances of success in the main game campaign by increasing Galactic Readiness. The thing is I actually enjoy Multiplayer for “Mass Effect 3.” you can unlock the other species such as the Asari, Turians, Quarians, Salarians, Drell and Krogan and unlock other weapons. I really enjoyed playing as someone who wasn’t human as I love the aliens of Mass Effect. The gameplay is PvE which is my favorite type of multiplayer and the maps give a diverse array of challenges as you defeat wave after wave of countless enemies ranging from Cerberus, to Reapers to Geth.

Gameplay – The gameplay is fantastic! You can mod all your weapons, melee is easier to do and more effective and there are more guns and combat scenarios you face. For example at one point you are facing a Reaper one on one while using a powerful gun that calls down attacks from above. The gameplay without a doubt is an improvement over “Mass Effect 2.”

The World – The world continues to be amazing as you get to the homeworld of the Krogan, Salarians, Turians, Quarians and Asari. In each of these places you face a threat that reveals more about the lore and the Reaper threat, as well as how the different species interact among themselves and what they value.

Politics – Politics in 3 is on display more-so than any of the other games as you recruit each of the species against the Reapers and to help build the Crucible to fight them. I really enjoyed this as you have to make choices, like choosing the Krogan and Turians or the Salarians and if you don’t have high enough Paragon or Renegade, choosing the Quarians or the Geth in their war. I loved all of it and it gives some great character moments as politics is the art of what matters on a world and in this case Galactic scale. There aren’t easy answers a lot of the time, and this game really illustrates that.

Side Missions and Recruitment against the Reapers – There are a lot of great side missions in this, where you pick up things like Medi-Gel or Cerberus information to help doctors, scientist and ambassadors on the Citadel. You also help rescue the other species on the Citadel too as the Reapers attack their homeworlds, be it the Elcor, Hanar and Volus. Recruiting from the main council Races is really rewarding too. Also, it’s nice that the Council finally believes you.

Continuing the Romance and Character Relationships – 3 you pick up where the romances left off in 2 or 1. For example I ended things with Ashley as apparently saying no in my quarters in 1 wasn’t taken as a breakup. I also continued the romance with Tali and did her mission last to make sure I’d save her and have peace between the Geth and Quarians. You also continue your friendship with Jack and save the Biotic Academy she works at now, you save Miranda from her father, help Mordin stop the genophage, and Captain Anderson, who stays on Earth to fight the Reapers, help Miranda stop her sister, help Jacob save his partner who is pregnant with their child, spend time with a dying Thane and help EDI get a body! There is so much character development between 2 and 3.

Side Characters – There are a lot of great side characters in 3, from Admiral Hackett who is leading the fight for the Alliance on the front lines against Reaper forces, Aria and uniting the gangs and retaking Omega with her friend, Victus the new leader of the Turians and his son, the Asari military forces and countless diplomats, soldiers and refugees on the Citadel.

Past Consequences Paying Off – This isn’t across the board, but if you saved the Council they are open to working with you and at least give basic forces early on, if you saved Wrex you work with him against the Reapers and Cerberus on his homeworld, all your squad in Mass Effect 2 has payoff in their side missions.

The Reaper Threat – The Reaper threat is great in this! From their destruction of Earth and the other Council Homeworlds, to their controlling of the Geth and Rachni, to you feeling them on side missions as they can kill you as you find resources and complete side objectives. They never stop being this great threat and it was one thing that has been consistent through all 3 games.

The Ending of Arcs and Sacrifices Before the Final – The Geth and Quarians have peace thanks to Legion and Tali! The Krogan join the Galaxy and there is peace between them and the Turians thanks to Victus’s son’s sacrifice and Mordin curing the Genophage. Miranda kills her abusive dad and saves her sister and you get to help all of your squadmates and recruit them once more for the final push against the Reapers.

Relationships and Friendships With the Crew – There are some great moments of friendship and romance with your crew. From Tali coming up to your quarters when she’s made Admiral, to conversations around the ship and Citadel (shooting on top of a building with Garrus) to the amazing Citadel DLC where you get to see everyone who is alive.

The DLC – The DLC is the best it has ever been, with only the Shadow Broker DLC being on par and sometimes better than what we get in this game. It really enriches the game and makes it really good.

Javik – Javik is a Prothean, the last living one and is a cynical and sarcastic guy who doesn’t respect anyone except you until the end as he sees powerful the Galaxy is in standing together versus being dominated and enslaved by the Protheans. He really is a fun character and gives a perspective that hasn’t been in any Mass Effects. He was also DLC, which was stupid as he like Leviathan was kind of needed for the game to make any sense.

Omega DLC – Omega is fantastic DLC as you unite the different gangs under Aria and take back Omega from the Cerberus general. It is a lot of fun as you get to know the different leaders and fight your first big battle in the game. It was so much fun to complete, and I rubbed off on Aria and get her to care about her people! Sometimes it rocks to be Paragon.

Leviathan DLC – Leviathan explains how the Reapers were created as the AI you meet that controls them was created by Leviathans in order to dominate and document past races. In the end they got overthrown and nearly wiped out showing the cycle that Snyths will always rebel against the oppression of organics and bring about chaos and death. This is where the cycle begins as these creature are ancient. Getting them to join you is a lot of fun and rewarding and I loved the lore dump.

Citadel DLC – Citadel is awesome! You get time with your squadmates after taking out your evil Cerberus created clone. It feels like a James Bond film until you finish the main quest and after you get to support the characters and have great moments with them. Part of the mission is infiltrating a casino so I took Tali on the date with me. It was a blast.

The Romance – The romance is wonderful in this game as you get to spend time with your partner. I chose Tali and I’m glad I did, she is a great character and is there with you feeling the pain of all that is revealed. Her “I love you,” and “I have a home” are some of the saddest moments in this series and I do plan to play a mod in the future where Shepard survives so I can get their happy ending. For now the game is staying how it was originally intended as this beautiful relationship where I save her people and the Geth and she was with me on most missions and shared what got her into inter-species romance was first born (the vid in your date with her on the Citadel) and all the past moments just mourning our lost friends and the suffering galaxy end in my death. Damn, Mass Effect 3…They sure know how to make you care about the characters…

Tali – Tali becomes a greater leader in this game as she is part of the Admiralty and is one advocating for peace between the Quarians and Geth. She helps bring it about if your Paragon is high enough (as mine was) and we see her arc complete as she has her homeworld back and has found a home in her relationship with you (and vise versa for Shepard). We also see her hurt too as when you complete Miranda’s mission she drinks and regrets how everything she did was for her father and she did nothing to fight his control of her own path. It is powerful and I think this plays a big part later in how she takes the lead in watching out for others (she tells you to talk to Liara after Liara’s homeworld is destroyed). Tali is one of my favorite characters in the series and I think will be the romance in this game that will be the one I would have done if I was Shepard as an actual person in this universe.

The Characters – The characters have always been one of the strongest parts of Mass Effect. In this some characters I didn’t give a paragraph to but will mention here are Ashley and her finally trusting you again, Cortez the pilot who mourns his husband as you help go through his grief, Traynor and her worry at being the new person figuring things out, the macho man Vega who has a good heart, Jack and her becoming a mentor and caring for others, Kasumi fighting for the good while still being crafty, meeting Grunt and his elite squad and saving him from the Reapers, and Zaeed finding his nobility as well as saving Samara from her code and meeting her other daughters. All of these moments were fantastic.

Joker – Joker is with you through the series and in this you help him get together with EDI and learn to relax as well as being there as he waits and worries about his family. He is the core heart of the ship it is sushi with him that kicks off the Citadel DLC.

Mordin – Mordin is back and is his fast talking, wonderful, logical self who develops empathy thanks to the female Krogan Shaman and in the end saves all the Krogan. He is a wonderful character and I’m glad I got to see him again this game.

Wrex – Wrex is back and is doing all he can to fight for his people. He can’t be talked out of anything this time and I get why. His people have been screwed over countless times and their survival is down to the wire and can only happen with your honesty, Victus’s son sacrifice and Mordin releasing the cure. I’m glad he comes to the Citadel party too as it is a call back to the first game and you get to have a lot of fun with him.

Garrus – Garrus is one of if not your best friend as male Shepard. I wish I could have romanced him as Male Shep, he really is a great character and in this we see how much he’s grown as a leader as he is adviser to Victus and takes time on the Citadel advocating and caring for the Refugees. He also never forgets about you and reminds you to not get lost in guilt and loss…as last game he was in that place and you help him get out of it.

Liara – Liara is your other closest friend and it is her actions that make the defeat of the Reapers even possible as she learns about the Crucible and as Shadow broker is doing all she can to bring it about. She sadly loses her homeworld and it is up to you to help her heal. She also meets her father and learns she is 1/4 Krogan! I plan to do a romance path with her in future playthroughs of this series.

EDI, Legion, Geth and Synthetics – This game picks up what 2 starts with showing how EDI, the GEth and Synethics are fully conscience beings with humanity. EDI explores it with you when she asks moral questions and gets relationship advice about her and Joker and thanks to the Reaper code, Legion achieves individuality that he gives to the Geth. It is beautiful and there was no way I was going to destroy them so I chose peace and Synthesis, even though it meant my death.

My Squad – My initial squad before I picked up Tali was EDI as my tech and Liara as my biotic, though that quickly changed once I picked up Tali and my old Mass Effect 1 squad was back. These two are two of my favorite characters in the series and they are amazing squad mates to have.

The Good-Byes – The good-byes hurt but were amazing. My favorite good-byes were Liara’s mind meld, Garrus talking about drinks in Turian heaven, Tali’s painful “I want more time.” EDI finding humanity and how you can call up squadmates who are off of Earth. They really are some wonderful moments as you sit in the rubble of what is left of Earth.

Final Sacrifice – I chose Synthesis and in the process Shepard dies to help Synths and organics com to an understanding between one another. It is really cool and it made sense since Shepard had been the one to break the cycle, so his perspective was key in bringing about peace in the galaxy.

Power in Cooperation and Empathy – The power of empathy and cooperation is a major theme  in this and it is in helping others that others help you build the Crucible and protect Earth. It is also in the empathy and compassion of time with Squad mates that saves them from possibly dying and stops war. This is the Paragon way and one I fully support. It is the “Star Trek” ideology in “Mass Effect.”

The Theme of Sacrifice – The theme of Sacrafice is huge, Aria’s friend sacrifices herself to protect her people from the Reapers on Omega, Victus’s son sacrifices himself for peace between the Turians and Krogan, Mordin sacrifices himself to heal the genophage and Legion sacrifices himself for the Geth so that they can find the individuality he gained. There is of course Anderson’s sacrifice and yours on Earth as well. Each of these things goes towards peace and is a major theme of the game. Plus you remember past sacrifices like those of Kaidan.

The Cons: Lack of Rachni Payoff – The Rachni Queen gets captured again and we never see the full Rachni force after you save her for a second time. This was a waste as they should have been a powerful ally against the Reapers given the Queen tells you in “Mass Effect 2” that everything is going well with her people.

How the Catalyst is Handled – The Catalyst AI looks like a kid and it is never explained and you see it in stupid drawn out dreams. The Catalyst should have been hinted at in 1 or 2. There is no setup and the scenes with the Catalyst just feel awkward.

Cerberus, the Illusive Man and the Villain Problem – Cerberus kills so many humans and the Illusive Man never explains why. I get ends justify the means but this game he does everything to turn humanity against him and how he has such a large force is never explained. He isn’t like Saren where you get his background and can see it. He’s just a character who was never on your side to begin with and it is shown by his actions in 3. This was a wasted opportunity. Luckily the Reapers never stop being a threat.

Kai Leng – This guy is meant to be the anti-Shepard but is only introduced in this game. I wouldn’t have minded the ninja thing if he’d been a presence on 1 or was a squadmember who betrays you. Instead he is a one-dimensional baddy who has no personality or drive. He is a waste of a character who is only there to hurt you but with no reason why.

Going Cinematic and Forgetting the Game – There are a few times where 3 wants to be a movie rather than a game and it hurts both. You have these weird dream sequences chasing the Catalyst and when you get the final part of Earth you are limping everywhere and somehow survive a direct hit from a Reaper, with no explanation. These are good examples of “Cinematic” over “Story” and they hurt the game. The game would have been worse and only been okay if there had been more of it.

The Choices I Made – The choices I made were to end the relationship with Ashley (apparently turning her down in your quarters doesn’t break up with her in 1), continued my relationship with Tali. Chose the Krogan over the Salarians and helped end the genophage (saved Wrex in the first game) and let Mordin sacrifice himself, saved the Council (again), saved the Geth and Quarians and let Legion give himself to the Geth to make them stronger and brought about peace between the two species. Finally, I chose synthesis and gave up my life in the process.

This is a game and series as a whole that for all of it’s flaws, is one of my favorites. Though I wish more had been done with the ending and the Catalyst be presented in a different matter rather than an annoying kid, and Cerberus being so powerful never being explained (as well as the Illusive Man’s motivations being one I never understood fully and Kai Lung having no setup as the New Dragon…he should have been in “Mass Effect 2” if he was going to be such a threat. I still loved the Synthesis ending and as much as I wanted to have Shepard stay with Tali forever, Galactic Peace was worth the sacrifice of losing her. Synthesis was a great explanation that really changes the drama that 2 and 1 set up of Organics against Synthetics. It was also great having Tali and Liara as my main squad again. If you like science fiction stories and games you may still love this series. It is one of my favorites and the best ending really is fantastic, even with all the story flaws littered through the game. “Mass Effect 2” is still the best of the series, but I did enjoy 3 more than 1.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10

Logan (2017): A Dystopic Western Masterpiece That Explores the Depths of Pain

    “Logan” is the greatest X-Men Films and one of my all time favorite films. This is a film that doesn’t hold back in any way and is powerful because of it. To give my non-spoiler thoughts…it is well worth your time. It is beautifully crafted, has a powerful emotional core that drives it and has a point in some of the overarching themes on both the personal and larger societal level (a theme of X-Men films I’ve always appreciated). I’ll get into the details of all these things later into the review.

     The film was directed by James Mangold who wrote the screenplay along with Scott Frank and Michael Green while being produced by Hutch Parker, Simon Kinberg and Lauren Shuler Donner.

    The story takes place in 2029 and all the X-Men are gone except for Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) who is taking care of a dying Professor X (Patrick Stewart) who is losing control of his powers and is only able to keep them in check with medication. Wolverine has become a drunk as well and it takes a mutant child called X-23 (Dafne Keen) coming into their lives as she escapes from the Transigen Corporation who created her and other children who she is trying to find to escape to safety in Canada.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is one where there are no more X-Men and we never get a full explanation (a virus is what is implied but never fully explained). Transigen has cyborg mercs who are hunting down mutants and the world is desolate with extreme poverty and wealth. The world is a reflection of ours, as the good X-Men films tend to do.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and captures the pain and isolation of our characters…from the stark contrasts of light and dark…and splotches of blood or shadow. This is a world that reflects our broken characters.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is very much western in theme, which is what I consider the film to be, more so than an X-Men film as the characters didn’t have to be the people they were for the story to work. This story stands strong on it’s own and the soundtrack reflects that. Marco Beltrami made a fantastic soundtrack.

The Characters – The characters are one of the strongest part of the film as it is their wrestling with their pain and choices they make from it that define them and the film.

Donald Pierce – Pierce is head of the Reavers and is a charming, brutal character. I wish he’d been the big bad as the Mad Scientist was pretty lame. Pierce just loved the joy of the hunt and being in control and respected power. This made him interesting and it takes a lot to take him down.

The Family – There is an African-American family that takes them in that the Reavers with the Wolverine clone destroy. It is the first bit of compassion our characters experience and it all ends with the father holding a gun at Wolverine even after Wolverine saves him from his clone…it is such a tragic course of events that leads to both the death of Professor X and Logan and Laura back on the road.

Caliban – Is an albino mutant who can track mutants and is taking care of Xavier. He is a kind and desperate mutant who ends up being used by the Reavers again (he was used by the corporation in the past) but sacrifices himself so that Logan and Laura can escape. I really liked his character. He is fearful and it is contrasted with Xavier’s sorrow and Logan’s rage.

Laura / X-23 – Dafne Keen is a great actress. She gives an intensity to her character where it is believable that she was created and experimented on in a lab. You can understand her rage and her killing Reavers and becoming a family with Professor X and Logan is beautiful…as is her losses she goes through. She is one of the clear leader among the New Mutants that Transigen created.

Charles Xavier / Professor X – Charles is going crazy and is suffering from brain degeneration that he has to take pills for, in order to control his powers. He is the external conscience for Logan though as he is the one who helps Laura find them and is the one always pushing Logan to help her. He is full of regrets for those he hurt when he lost control of his powers and his manipulative past…In the end he confesses all of this but no one hears as he is killed. It is tragic and fits the lonely, regret and despair that pervades and follows our heroes. Patrick Stewart once again is acting gold.

Logan / Wolverine – Hugh Jackman gives one of his best performances ever in this role. We get to see him drunk and desperate, sorrowful and in despair, rageful and moments of joy and empathy. He truly owns this character and I’m grateful he got this beautiful sendoff as his character has redemption and becomes an X-Men again.

The Ending – The ending is so sad. The New Mutants escape to Canada but Logan dies, killed by his clone as he finds his core as an X-Men again but at the expense of his life…Though he dies happy as he protects the girl who became family to him and was his daughter, and not just because she was made with his DNA. The scene is powerful and there aren’t many words at his funeral but it captures that even in desperation people can find the will to move forward.

Regret and Pain – Regret and pain are major themes of the film as both Logan and Xavier live with regrets of all those they hurt, killed or destroyed as this is a core motivation for what drives them to protect others, specifically Laura. They are broken from their mistakes and are surrounded by a world that reflects them.

Persecution of Immigrants and Refugees – From Transigen hunting the New Mutants across borders and trying to stop them from escaping to safety in Canada (the current refugees and immigrants doing the same with Trumps immoral new policies), this is a major theme of the story and is one that has always existed in X-Men as persecution and acceptance and compassion for the other is one of the greatest themes of the X-Men.

Pain, Healing and Getting Outside the Self – Healing and looking outside of the self is a major theme of Logan’s character and this film is him finding it again, even after all he has lost and all the pain he’s gone through. This arc ends with his powerful sacrifice for other New Mutants, as Logan once more becomes an X-Men (reflected in the cross at his grave being turned into an X by Laura).

The Cons: Zander Rice – This guy is Mad Scientist ^TM  and anyone could have played him. I wish the Reavers had been the main threat or a scientist who better reflected the world. This world felt like Mad Max and needed a Mad Max type villain. Someone to be Professor X or Logan’s foil. All this guy wanted was power and to create and control mutants and we never see him do anything outside of the lab and hunting our heroes. A better villain like Bane, Joker or Immorten Joe would have made this film perfect.

   This was a film that achieved everything it set out to do, with the only con I could really find being how forgettable the main villain was. Everyone else served a purpose that drove the story in narrative in a rewarding way and had payoff at the end. This is a film that reminds us how important it is to look outside of ourselves, no matter what the cost is and that the actions we do matter and can make a difference even in the worst of world circumstances. This film will probably make my Top 5 Films of 2017 as it is one of the best super hero and comic book films I have ever watched and is a beautiful, tragic film with an unforgettable story. What a sendoff for Patrick Stewart as Professor X and Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10