Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021): An Exploration of Trauma, Family and Legacy

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” gives us easily some of the best action to come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This film gives us a compelling world and some amazing performances with Tony Leung as the standout performance. Seriously I hope his character is given a show or film of his own as he carries every scene he is in. Awkwafina and Simu Liu are both great too and are compelling leads. In the end my biggest problems with the film are just the humor and structure of some of the story, which I’ll get into below. Suffice to say I recommend this film. It is a great MCU film.

The film was directed and co-written by Destin Daniel Cretton who co-wrote the film with Dave Callaham and Andrew Lanham.

The story follows Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) when he is pulled back into the world he left behind when his father Wenwu (Tony Leung) sends assassins after him, pulling Shang-Chi back into the world of the Ten Rings and the family he left behind.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Action – The action in this film is fantastic with lots of practical effects and some amazing marital arts fights. My favorite fights were Shang-Chi fighting on a careening bus against assassins and his first duel with his father where his father beats him in Ta Lo. I wish we had more acts filmed on location and not a green screen as those are easily the most compelling action and reminded me of the great practical action from the “John Wick” series.

Wenwu’s Introduction – Wenwu is the creator of the Ten Rings organization and wields them as a weapon. We get his story in the introduction and learn he is a King who has ruled for over 1000 years using the mysterious artifacts known as the “Ten Rings” which he names his organization after. This organization and the rings which he only gave it up when he fell in love with Ying Li, one of the guardians of the magic village of Ta Lo. It is a great introduction and we see how the man who had everything finally found someone worth giving it up for which becomes his motivation later on. I really want a film or show about the Ten Rings as Wenwu’s introduction is far more compelling than anything done with “The Hand” in the Netflix Defendersverse. I want more about this group and Wenwu leading them when he was on top of the world.

Ying Nan – Ying Nan is Ying Li’s sister and played by the amazing Michelle Yeoh. She is Shang-Chi’s mentor who teaches him the style of martial arts his mother used to defeat Wenwu. We get some great scenes from her and see how much she loved her sister. She also loses a lot of her village from Wenwu’s invasion and from the demons that escape the portal that Ta Lo’s been guarding.

Katy – Awkwafina is the audience surrogate in this film as she is the one who is surprised that Shang-Chi knows martial arts and comes along for the surprises and reveals that Shang-Chi, Xu Xialing and Wenwu reveal. Her arc is finding purpose as a fighter with a bow which leads to her making the mortal wound against Dweller-in-Darkness end boss fight and getting recruited by Wong into the Avengers with Shang-Chi.

Xu Xialing – Meng’er Zhang does a good job as Shang-Chi’s estranged sister who had to teach herself how to fight after her father refused to teach her and she eventually ran way and formed an underground fighting tournament. Her arc is coming to forgive her brother as she forgives him for leaving and they reestablish their sibling bond. She doesn’t get to face Wenwu though, which I thought was a loss given how he had left her out and kept her trapped. She had as much reason to want to stop him as Shang-Chi. It was just as personal for her.

Shang-Chi – Simu Liu is great as Shang-Chi. He is a character who is running away from his past and his fun with his childhood friend Katy singing Karaoke and joking around. We learn he is carrying a weight though outside of his father’s physical abuse as his father trained him to be a killer and in the end he kills the man who killed his mom and the guilt haunts him. His arc is embracing his father’s shadow and accepting him as well as his mother’s light and finding balance to defeat the Dweller-in-Darkness and his father who in the end gives up the rings to him when he is killed by the Dweller-in-Darkness. He has a great arc and ends the film as an Avenger.

Wenwu – Tony Leung steals the show and I want a show or film just about him so bad. His introduction is one of the most compelling stories in the entire film. Tony Leung gives so much depth and heart to this character as he is scary even when he isn’t fighting but also shows tenderness and kindness so his falling in love with Ying Li makes sense as well as his fall back into evil and the Ten Rings after she dies. He is a character who has lived for so long that his drive keeps him going as much as the power of the “Ten Rings.” For this reason his death hits hard even if it is a bit predictable as he gives up the “Ten Rings” after being defeated by his son and when his soul is consumed by the Dweller-in-Darkness.

An Exploration of Trauma – Trauma is explored well in this film as we see both Shang-Chi and Xu Xialing have to face their trauma and trust betrayed to reform their bond together and rebuild their relationship that their father’s abuse destroyed. It is really well done and I loved how well the sibling relationship was written.

Wong and the After-Credits Scene – Wong recruits Katy and Shang-Chi to the Avengers and we the learn the “Ten Rings” are far more ancient than any of them know (Captain Marvel can’t place it and we learn they aren’t made of Vibranium from Bruce Banner). It is such a fun scene and the last of it is Wong, Katy and Shang-Chi singing Karaoke. This was fun and also sets up the mystery of the “Ten Rings” really well which I can’t wait to see explored further.

The Cons:

Trevor Slattery and Some Humor – The original fake leader of the Ten Rings who set to be killed by Wenwu until he becomes a jester for him instead. His original introduction was fine but the “humor” from him drags the pacing down so much and he isn’t funny. I would have preferred him and the Extrimis organization from “Iron Man 3” just being referenced at dinner only, we didn’t need Slattery in this and he gives nothing to the film.

Shang-Chi’s Guilt Needed to be Established Earlier – Shang-Chi’s guilt for killing his mother’s killer is something we don’t see until much later in the film. Given how important it is we should have seen the weight of the guilt on Shang-Chi earlier when he is in California living a life away from the Ten Rings. This story element still worked but is a con because it feels like it almost comes out of nowhere because of how poorly it is setup.

Dweller-in-Darkness and Minions – So much CGI monsters and they aren’t intelligent they just take souls to feed the Dweller-in-Darkness. This was lame as the Dweller-in-Darkness tricked Wenwu…where did all that intelligence go when it got out? In the end we just got a big CGI monster with CGI minions which was a shame given all the practical fighting.

“Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings” is a great film that just needed a little more work on structure and less jokes to be a favorite. I can’t wait to see where Shang-Chi’s story goes from here and figuring out the mystery behind “The Ten Rings.” This was a film with compelling characters, themes and action and I really hope we get a Wenwu film or show at some point as he was easily the most compelling part of this great film that sets up a lot of great things to come in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

The Animatrix (2003): A Beautiful Anthology That Brings the World of the Matrix to Life

“The Animatrix” is well worth checking out if you are a fan of the universe of “The Matrix.” This anthology series captures more aspects of the world from the live-action films while giving us unique takes with animation and direction to tell those stories. The one warning I will say this is it is graphic especially in regards to violence as the stories do cover the war against the machines and everything that lead up to the creation of the Matrix by the machines. If you are good with that though these stories are well worth your time and do so much to explore the fascinating universe the Wachowskis created.

This anthology series was produced by the Wachowskis.

The stories cover the lead-up to humanity being enslaved into the Matrix and how it happened and captures stories from around the timeline of the films from before the “The Matrix” and up to “The Matrix Revolutions.”

I’ll be rating the stories from worst to best.

SPOILERS ahead

So without further ado here we go.:

8th) Kid’s Story

Directed by Shinichiro Watanabe and written by Lilly and Lana Wachowski.

This one doesn’t really do anything original and the animation is the worst 2D animation of the anthology. The Kid was one of the weaker characters in the “Matrix” films so that doesn’t help. You just see Neo helps him believe and he escapes a bunch of Agents at his high school. Better animation would have boosted it to enjoyable as it never gets beyond okay because of how scattered the animation and focus of the story is. The Kid is a blank character which doesn’t help the story as we just see he is apathetic and doesn’t care about school but he never is really seen to be a troublemaker, just distracted so the effort the Agents put into catching him doesn’t make sense.

Score: 5 / 10

7th) Beyond

Directed by Koji Morimoto who also wrote the episode.

“Beyond” is a cool idea with a glitch in the Matrix being explored before Agents come and destroy the glitch. The mystery behind it is cool and seeing how it kids build a community around the “Haunted House.” What keeps it from being good is we never get to know any of the characters and the hint of the glitch being a possible way out of the Matrix is never fully explored. Still as a glitch in the Matrix being explored is such a cool idea which makes the episode enjoyable. We don’t really get to know the characters or what is at stake as to why the Agents are trying to destroy the glitch though. For this reason it isn’t good and only enjoyable as it feels like the first draft of a story and just needed to explore a few more aspects of that story (Characters and villain motivation) to fully make it work.

Score: 7 / 10

6th) Matriculated

Directed by Peter Chung who also wrote the episode.

“Matriculated” is a cool idea with human resistance above ground trying to convert machines to their cause but where it falls apart is the 3D animation doesn’t work. Where the 2D animation is sharp and flows and 3D is clumsy and it hurts the compelling tragedy being told as the machine does convert over but when he brings the final human survivor into the digital world she freaks out and dies. This episode captures how hopeless peace out of the war seems and that is what makes it really enjoyable. We don’t really get to know the characters or the machine though which is what holds it back and of course the 3D animation doesn’t work too which also keeps me from considering this episode good.

Score: 7.2 / 10

5th) The Second Renaissance Part 1 and 2

Directed by Mahiro Maeda and written by Lilly and Lana Wachowski.

“The Second Renaissance” is a 2-part story that I’m scoring as 1 since they are the whole story being told. They tell the story of the initial oppression of the machines that lead to their uprising, creating the Nation of 01 and eventually war when humans refused to recognize them. From here you see the conflict grow with the machines eventual win after humans blotted out the sky and the formation of the Matrix. It is a powerfully animated story and the distinct style feels like a realistic lead-up to the wold of the films. It is solidly good in presentation and exploration of the themes of resistance and oppression.

Score: 8 / 10

4th) World Record

Directed by Takeshi Koike and written by Yoshiaki Kawajiri.

“World Record” gives us a situation of a runner who breaks through the program because of how hard he pushes his body. The concept and how the Agents are used is cool but we don’t get to know the characters all that much. It is a good episode though and the presentation and aftermath of him remembering what he saw in the “real” worked really well.

Score: 8.4 / 10

3rd) Last Flight of the Osiris

Directed by Andy Jones and written by Lilly and Lana Wachowski.

“Last Flight of the Osiris” would have worked as a show. We get to see how the Captain Thadeus and his lover Jue spend their downtime using fighting in the matrix to flirt and we see them discover the machine invasion of Zion and how they risk everything to warn them by dropping a package in the Matrix. I wanted to know more about the crew but Thadeus and Jue were interesting characters. This like one of the later stories on this list is one that would have worked really well as as mini-series as I see the promise of the characters but we only really get to know Thadeus and Jue.

Score: 8.5 / 10

2nd) A Detective’s Story

Directed by Shinichiro Watanabe who also wrote the episode.

This episode is a noir and animated in 1940s style and black and white. It is neat seeing a detective hunt for Trinity and how he isn’t able to leave the Matrix as he is nearly possessed by an agent. The animation and his short friendship with Trinity are great though and how it suggests that time may not apply in the same way in the Matrix and Trinity and the freed humans could be much older than those still trapped. This one I rate highly because we get to know the detective and his motivation and even though he can’t join Trinity and leave the Matrix, his last act is to cover her escape and resist the Agents.

Score: 9 / 10

1st) Program

Directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri who also wrote the episode.

“Program” like “Last Flight” I also would like to see as a show. Cis and Duo fight and Duo reveals he is going to betray humanity and return to the Matrix. It makes their fight all the more intense as prior they are discussing the appeal of this Feudal Japanese program they are in and how it relates to the Matrix. In the end it is revealed Duo didn’t exist and she passed the test. It is powerful and I wanted more time with the crew after that. It was great action and had the best animation out of them all and the twist and drama worked extremely well. I would watch a show around this crew and it had my favorite animation out of them all.

Score: 9.5 / 10

This was a really enjoyable anthology series that was nearly all good if it had just explored some of who the characters were better. A lot of these episodes work great as concepts but we don’t get to know the characters all that well except for maybe “Program” and “A Detective’s Story.” Outside of those great episode it is really solid themes and concepts that are explored but we never get to find out who the characters are who we are following. If that had been fixed I would say this is a good anthology rather than the really enjoyable anthology it ends up being. Still, if you like the universe the Wachowskis made this is an anthology film well worth your time that I would recommend.

Final Score: 7.8 / 10

Blood Red Sky (2021): Works More as a Pilot for Show Than a Film

We continue the Vampire Weekends Reviews with “Blood Red Sky.” “Blood Red Sky” is a film that works as a pilot for a show but not as a film. As as film it drags in too many spots and the action isn’t good but I love the ideas and concepts at play so wish it had been a pilot for a show instead as the cast are all good. Knowing this going in, I would recommend it as a watch as it is enjoyable but not much more than that.

The film was directed by Peter Thorwarth who co-wrote the film with Stefan Holtz.

The film follows Nadja (Peri Baumeister) as she seeks to reach a doctor for her illness when her plane is hijacked by terrorists.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Premise – The illness is vampiricism and Nadja dealing with this while trying to protect her son from terrorists and not losing control is compelling. This gives us a ticking plot with the mysterious terrorist plot and the supernatural elements with vampires.

The Flashbacks – In the flashbacks we see how Nadja is infected after her husband is killed and we see he self-hate the vampire feels in his curse. It is well done and more scary than anything on the plane. I kind of wish we just got Nadja’s story without the “Die Hard” plot as the snowy environment and her protecting her son worked better than the limited filming of action on a plane.

Eightball – Eightball ends up being the main villain even though he starts out as the unhinged minion who loves killing. So when he learns Nadja’s a vampire and infects himself it checks out. In the end he’s the best of the terrorist villains because he is evil and loves it. There is no complexity but he is a good threat and the one who sets up Nadja becoming full vampire when he shoots her.

Nadja and Elias – Nadja and her son Elias are the heart of the film as she is trying to cure herself to protect him. He also protects her in turn and is first to accept she is still good when she is full vampire. Without this core relationship the film would not have worked and Carl Anton Koch and Peri Baumeister do a great job making his killing of her and blowing up the plane when she goes full feral all the more tragic.

Farid – Kais Setti is great as Elias’s only other friend and Nadja’s ally. He is one of the Muslims the terrorists are trying to frame and it ends with him living but infected but with a hope for a cure given the doctor who was going to try and cure Nadja was coming. He shows empathy in all his scenes and navigates the vampires existing thing well.

The Cons:

The Villain Plan – The terrorists were going to frame Muslims but we never know their plan. This was an oversight as we only get hostage hypothesis but never learn and if it was a bad plan that would explain Eightball going rogue better. I wish this had been fleshed out.

The Action – Most of the action is in the dark on a plane. This is an action film but no action scenes are good. It doesn’t even work as a zombie infection type film when most of the passengers are infected as there are no good horde scenes. This is where the limited budget of Netflix was most on display.

The Beginning and Ending – We start and end on a military base and here the scenes go at a snail’s pace. I hated these sequences and they don’t go anywhere or lend anything to story. I was expecting a reveal of vampires being known but we never get that. These scenes only exist for Elias to blow up the plane so they weren’t even needed.

This was an enjoyable but an extremely flawed film. This film made made me appreciate the action in “The Matrix Reloaded” and “Revolutions” as at least I could see what was happening and it had meaning even if it was excessive. This film is better than okay but only because of Nadja and Elias though. They drive the story and make it enjoyable and because of that I wish this had been a pilot for their show (with a changed ending) rather just an enjoyable film.

Final Score: 7.2 / 10

Castlevania – A Retrospective on the Fantastic Netflix Show and how it Explores Revenge, Morality and Love

We continue Vampire Weekends with my retrospective on “Castlevania” one of the few great adaptations of a story from a videogame series and one that gives us an array of different vampires and motivations. This was a show that wasn’t afraid to go deep while still embracing the fun of the characters and premise. Before I get into my thoughts on the show as whole my season reviews of the show will be posted at the end and this review will contain SPOILERS, so be warned. Before that I do highly recommend this show as the animation, action, soundtrack, characters and themes are all fantastic and it is a favorite show I look forward to rewatching again.

The series was created by Warren Ellis.

The story follows Trevor Belmont (Richard Armitage) as the last Belmont he finds allies in the fight against Vlad Dracula Tepes (Graham McTavish) who seeks to destroy humanity after the Church killed his wife Lisa (Emily Swallow) for witchcraft.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Action – The action in this is amazing with the standout battles being Trevor, Sypha and Alucard facing off against Dracula’s generals and Dracula in Season 2, Isaac against Carmilla in Season 4 and Trevor, Sypha and Alucard fighting against Death and his generals when they attempt to bring back Dracula from Hell. There are also great battle sequences through all seasons but season 2 and 4 had the best battles.

The Soundtrack – Trevor Morris created a beautiful soundtrack that captures this gothic world so well with his rendition of “Bloody Tears” being a song I keep coming back to. He captures the hopelessness that humanity is facing with all the vampires and night creatures trying to kill them but also the hope in the heroes who rise up to fight. The fight song of Trevor against Death is also notably epic.

The World – The world of “Castlevania” was compelling in the games where Dracula has won and it is you trying to stop him and is given depth here in the Church killing his scientist wife and us seeing human cruelty being a motivator for not just Vlad Tepes but also his generals Isaac and Hector who only experienced human cruelty. This adds a dimension of redemption for humanity through it all as our characters go through arcs and find a reason to be beyond hate and revenge. Also the variety of night creatures, vampires, demons and human kingdoms keeps the world compelling as they are all distinct.

Dracula’s Generals – Dracula has generals from around the world and each have a different way of being vampiric be it turning into mist, speed, super strength, etc. They also have distinct looks and personalities with standouts being Godbrand, Carmilla and Varney who have motives beyond just following Dracula’s orders. Their defeats are earned and rewarding too and usually advance a character’s growth.

The Characters – The characters make this story work and how their relationships are explored keep the show interesting even when there isn’t a major arc to the season. The character work in season 1 setup Sypha, Trevor and Alucard and season 3 explores Isaac and Carmilla’s realm. Because of this character work even the slow or setup seasons were still good or great.

Striga and Morana – Striga and Morana are two of Carmilla’s generals and also lovers. They have a compelling relationship too with Striga being the military strategist and Morana knowing supplies and number. They have a great arc too as they realize that if they go through with Carmilla’s plan of trapping all the humans in their nation they will be fighting forever so after here death they go their own way. These two vampire women’s story is one I’d like see continue.

Carmilla – Jaime Murray does a wonderful job as the vampire lord consumed by rage. All she does is to hurt the vampire lords who ignored her nation like Dracula (her betrayal of him), revenge for abuse from the vampire lord who made her and rage at the world for their nation being left with little resources. She’s charismatic and deadly and we see why she rules too as her desires shapes the world around her. In the end she only falls because she betrayed Dracula and Isaac and his night creatures get revenge on her for it as well as stopping her dreams of conquest.

Vlad and Lisa Tepes – Lisa and Vlad have a sweet relationship with her teaching him science and showing him there is more to humans than fear and hate. Sadly she is killed by the Church while Vlad is exploring the wold leading to his goal to wipe out humanity. In the end they find each other in Hell though after their child Alucard kills Vlad when he regrets what he’s become and that he is killing Alucard. Eventually they are freed by Death’s ritual and we see that Vlad has changed and no longer has his rage though he still distrusts humanity. I didn’t mind them getting a second chance at life and I hope that they end there story there though.

Death – Malcolm McDowell’s Death is hilarious. He plays an arrogant English vampire as an act and as Death speaks the same way cussing up a storm. I loved how much he just didn’t care and wanted souls. This was how to do a one-dimensional villain right as he was powerful, knew it and had plans within plans as well as being hard to kill. His reveal design is great too puling from the “Castlevania” games design as a giant skeleton.

Isaac – Adetokumoh McCormack’s Isaac was my favorite character besides Alucard on the show. Freed from slavery by Dracula he hated humanity until Dracula saved him again giving him the chance to meet people like a merchant and ship’s captain who changed his perspective. He also made friends with his night creatures and changed their role from one of destruction to rebuilding as he became a redeemer to all the souls he was pulling from Hell to make his night creatures. His arc is amazing and he even forgives Hector showing that in his journey he grew beyond hate and found a reason to live that made life more.

Alucard, Sypha and Trevor – The trio of “Castlevania” is one of the best trios in any show or film. Sypha is the one with perspective while Alucard and Trevor are quick to fight and mope. All have dimension though and I loved the Sypha and Trevor romance that developed that Armitage and Reynoso gave so much weight too as well as humor in how they played off each other. James Callis’s Alucard is my favorite character on the show besides Isaac and I like how he finds a reason to live too beyond just guarding his father’s castle from threats. They all find community in one another and the world which is fitting given how much of the world was lost over the course of the show.

Redemption and Community as Motivation – Hector, Isaac, Dracula and Alucard all find redemption in different ways by connecting to people. Isaac sees not all humanity is evil, Hector forgives himself, Dracula stops destroying and finds his wife once more and Alucard leaves his castle and sees a world worth protecting. All of them find reason to be in their own redemption and in relationship with others.

The Dangers of Revenge and Hate – Revenge and hate are shown to be self-destructive through the series as Isaac if he’d stayed to fight Sypha, Trevor and Alucard would have died as he would have been living for Dracula’s mission of hate and revenge and not himself. Carmilla like Dracula is consumed by it and the rules even apply to side characters like Taka and Sumi who die and nearly kill Alucard who had only ever been kind to them. The Church that kills Lisa is also consumed by hate as well as we see it target anything it doesn’t understand with hate which leads to Dracula destroying it and the world. This theme is established from season 1 and never stops being relevant.

Okay:

Hector and Lenore – Hector and Lenore have a toxic relationship where Lenore enslaves him to be Carmilla’s forgemaster and make night creatures for their kingdom and this is after Carmilla abused him and he betrayed his only friend Dracula…but somehow they form a functioning relationship and he bests her in the end as after Isaac sees his regret for his betrayal he does not kill him and lets him know there is more to live for. Lenore was talking about that and starting to distrust Carmilla but after Carmilla’s defeat she just chooses to die. I wanted to see where their relationship would go as they were equals by the end of the show. Still their arc was okay.

Saint Germain – Saint Germain like Dracula is used by Death to bring back Dracula believing it will bring back his wife. We never see his relationship to his wife though so it is all tell. Bill Nighy does a good job as being the arrogant alchemist but I wanted more for him to be a pro to the show.

The Cons:

Taka and Sumi – Taka and Sumi are vampire hunters who befriend and try to kill Alucard. They exist purely to show that humans and vampires still have problems with each other (they were abused by one of Dracula’s generals) and so Alucard can feel hate and be alone. This plot should have been redone as it shows us nothing we don’t learn in the Hector plot. Also we don’t get enough of either of their backstories or the state of the world Dracula left behind.

Lack of Focus in Sypha and Trevor’s Journey After Defeating Dracula – The one issue I had with Sypha and Trevor was after Dracula they just went fighting monsters around the world but never to any point. It doesn’t lead anywhere until season 4 which is a shame as season 3 should have setup the truth big bad of Death. Their story needed focus even if it was just to develop their love further.

Lack of Setup for Death – Death was the one who set Dracula’s madness in motion as he feeds of dead souls and Dracula was going to give him the greatest feast. For this reason him trying to bring Dracula back made sense but his character Varney should have appeared in season 2. He only shows up in the last season and given how core he was to the plot he needed that character work or at least hints of who he was earlier.

This is a great animated show that is well worth your time if you are looking for great action, characters, world, soundtrack and animation. There isn’t much that didn’t work about this show and it is one of the more complex portrayals of vampires I’ve seen in fiction whether they are friendly like Alucard or villains like Dracula and Carmilla. This is a major reason I wanted to write about the show as a whole for Vampire Weekend on the blog and if you are interested I hope you check this amazing show out.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10 A favorite show.

Top 5 Favorite Fighting Game Series

Fighting games are one of my favorite types of games and are also one of the types of games that got me into gaming in the first place as I have strong memories of playing “Virtua Fighter,” “Street Fighter,” “Soul Edge,” the “Tekken” series, “Primal Rage” and others in arcades and game systems growing up. Whether it was the arcade mode against the A.I. or versus a friend I have so many fond memories from these types of games. The series I’ll be listing here are games that I love for the worlds, story and gameplay that made them standout and that I still enjoy playing to this day.

In my reviews I’ll be listing my favorite characters to play as after the initial review as well as any games in the series I’ve reviewed if I have reviewed any of the games from the series on the blog and I’m curious to hear about your favorite fighting games and the characters you enjoy playing most in them.

Honorable mentions go to “Virtua Fighter,” “Street Fighter,” “Mortal Kombat” and “Primal Rage.”

So without Further ado, here they are.:

5th) Soul Calibur Series

“Soul Calibur” has a compelling premise in a sword that devours and corrupts souls in Soul Edge and that can only be destroyed by it’s opposite Soul Calibur. Whenever the evil in the sword awakens, heroes from around the world seek the sword to stop it or use it’s power. The weapons based combat is so much fun and the character designs and weapons are cool. Most characters have compelling backstories too in their desire to corrupt the world or to redeem themselves or the world from Soul Edge. I first played “Soul Edge” in 5th grade at a small arcade and that was when I first was drawn into the series. What keeps me from rating it higher is they chose to soft reboot the story rather than advance it and there is only ever the same boss at the end. Inferno, the soul of Soul Edge is always there so there is nothing unexpected so as interesting as the main story is it gets predictable by not changing things. Still a favorite series though and I can’t wait to see what new stories are told with the characters.

Favorite Characters: Cervantes de Leon, Sophitia, Seong Mi-Na, Geralt and Voldo.

4th) Guilty Gear Series

“Guilty Gear” is a fun universe full of assassins, religious organizations, pirates, mad scientists, Gears and more. In this universe in the 22nd century humanity invented a limitless energy and called it “magic,” which lead to technology being outlawed but Gears (human and animal DNA combined with magic) who were enslaved and rebelled. After Justice, the Gear leader was imprisoned world leaders called a fighting tournament to select the winners to be part of an order to contain and stop the threat of the Gear leader Justice. From this base and history the game is built upon and it fantastic. The gameplay is the most difficult I’ve played out of any fighting game with some moves that can end a match in an instant and the gameplay depends on quick combos. I first played one of the games in the series in college and have returned back to the series since then. The world and gameplay make it work as does the great character design and music. The series isn’t easy to enter into though due to the complicated gameplay and lore which is why it isn’t higher on the list.

Favorite Characters: Sol Badguy, Zato-ONE and Venom.

3rd) Tekken Series

“Tekken 3” was the first of this series I ever played when my parents rented a Playstation from Blockbuster. I fell in love with the world and conflict and the Mishima family drama as Heihachi, Kazuya and Jin battle of the Mishima Zaibatsu and their family legacy. The story advances when a Mishima calls a King of the Iron Fist Tournament with reward being money or the fight for control of the company. Though for many the draw is revenge against Heihachi, Kazuya or Jin for the people they or their organization has killed in their fight for power and control. The mythology of this game series is great too with the Devil Gene being prominent (certain characters have a devil form because of the gene) and supernatural beings like Ogre, Angel and Azazel as a few examples who heroes face off against and who reveal aspects of the Mishimas to each other or the world. I’ve played all games in the series but the first 2 and I can’t wait to see where the story goes and what other new characters are introduced. The game can be difficult, which is a plus and the final boss varies throughout the games with never the same last boss twice in a row. Only reason the game isn’t higher is sometimes the tone can be too silly with side characters and they added a “Street Fighter” character to the lore in the 7th game rather than making an original character.

Favorite Characters: Marshall Law, Hwoarang, True Ogre, Lee Chaolan and Kazuya.

2nd) Injustice Series

The “Injustice” series is some of the best writing and story I’ve seen come out of DC and fighting games. This game series gives us a universe where Superman went fascist and establishes a regime to end all crime on Earth. It is compellingly executed and Superman is a great threat through both games as he never stops being a fascist villain so other characters like Batman and is insurgency have to face that. The game also gives us redemption arcs too for both villains and heroes who gone bad and joined Superman. The first games does all this in the context of a multiverse where heroes from our Justice League help the insurgency fight Superman and his allies but the 2nd game is all in the Injustice Universe and stronger for it as it gives a threat that forces insurgency and regime forces to work together to stop. I can’t wait to see where character stories go and what new characters from the DC Injustice Universe we meet. Both games are great which is a rare feet for any beginning series, especially a fighting game series where often more effort is put into gameplay rather than narrative. For game modes the 2nd game added gear and leveling as well as multiverse challenges which only made this great game better. A lot of voice actors from Bruce Timm’s “Justice League” voice their counterparts too as do a few voice actors from the animated “Teen Titans” show too. So much work clearly went into this game. These games are both favorites and I can’t wait to see what stories are told next.

Favorite Characters: Batgirl, Zod, Aquaman, Green Arrow, Blue Beetle and The Flash.

1st) Super Smash Bros. Series

It is hard to compete with “Super Smash Bros.” This is a series I first played in Elementary School on the Nintendo 64 and that basic gameplay that worked than has remained strong through all the games in the series. There isn’t really a story but there are fun puzzles and missions in some later games for characters and the constant adding of new characters keeps the series fresh, as well as all the new maps. Besides “Mario Kart” this is the best multiplayer party game to play with friends and that is what makes it number 1. It is easy to pick up and play, the characters are known from their own series and there are so many ways to keep the gameplay interesting with limiting or controlling what specials are dropped. This is easily the best fighting game series I’ve played and it remains timeless to this day giving us so many of the worlds and characters from Nintendo games in the funnest of brawls.

Favorite Characters: Kirby, Link, Meta Knight and King Dedede.

The 4th Doctor – Season 18, Serial 4 – “State of Decay” – The Doctor and Romana Against Ancient and New Vampires

For the first review for Vampire Weekends (Some reviews will be posted before the weekend initially since started event later into October then I wanted) I was curious to see what other ways “Doctor Who” had done vampires as there is always the sci. fi. twist in the supernatural in the show. I had already reviewed “The Vampires of Venice” during the 11th Doctor’s run so it was fun to go to Classic Who and find “State of Decay.” This is a more classic vampire tale in some ways but also stays true to the sci. fi. nature of “Doctor Who” and is part of what makes the show so fun. Without getting into spoilers I do recommend this serial as it is a good story even if I wish it didn’t have Adric and that they’d expanded on some story elements further.

The serial was directed by Peter Moffat and written by Terrance Dicks.

Trapped in E-Space the Doctor (Tom Baker) and Romana (Lalla Ward) investigate a mysterious medieval planet ruled by three ancient mysterious beings who have repressed all knowledge on the planet as they discover their origins and who they serve.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Vampire Planet and the Mysteries of E-Space – The TARDIS is trapped in E-Space and the Doctor and Romana having to find a way out back to their universe is a good base challenge. Add onto that a mysterious medieval planet run by vampires that has advanced but old technology as a part of it and you have a compelling premise.

The Rebels – Among the rebels you have Tarak who drives the fight and helps the Doctor and Romana and is killed for it, the old leader Kalmar who is convinced by seeing the King Vampire in the technology the Doctor helped fix and Ivo the village leader who joins the rebels after his son is eaten by the Three Who Rule. These are the most compelling of the rebels and work as support characters.

The Three Who Rule – The Three Who Rule were originally human astronauts called into E-Space by the King Vampire so they could help him return and conquer the galaxy. They are fascinating though we never see their path to corruption only them as having ruled for 1000 years over the humans already on the Vampire Planet. Camilla and Zargo were the face of the rulers as King and Queen but Aukon was the true ruler as he was in contact with the Ancient King Vampire who had given them their psychic powers, super strength and had mutated them. He was able to shut them both down even when they were in a bloodlust and ready to kill Romana and Adric. They are all such fun villains and I wish we could have learned more about who they were before before they were mutated as Zargo and Camilla love one another so I was curious if it predated their mutation and if it existed when they were still humans.

The Idea of the Ancient Vampires – The idea of ancient alien vampires who ruled the universe is cool the Time Lords being the ones to stop them works too as well as their reach being so vast all alien cultures had vampire myths. It is a shame the vampire leader’s portrayal wasn’t better.

K-9 – K-9 is funny and great as leads the storming of the castle and we get emotion from him too as he hates failing the Doctor. Easily the most underrated hero of the episode and even saves the rebels in the end.

Romana – Lalla Ward is wonderful as the Romana. She has just as much sass as the Doctor and only got captured because Adric was hypnotized. She also is on par with problem solving as the Doctor. I can’t wait to see more stories with her. She’s one of the best companions.

The Doctor – Tom Baker is amazing as the Doctor. He is funny and had some great sarcastic jokes to the Vampire Lords and also has moments of empathy too as we see him compliment Romana for helping him find the answer to stop the King Vampire and we see his leadership when he rouses the rebels to fight and attack the tower. This story really showed why he is one of my favorite Doctors.

The Cons:

Adric – Adric is a stowaway on the TARDIS and his doing so just causes problems. Romana only got captured because Adric was captured and she was trying to save him and he is just arrogant and mean in every interaction with her and the Doctor. What an awful companion.

The Missing Corruption Story Behind the Three Who Rule – Why did the Three Who Rule give into the power offer of the King Vampire? I get the immortality draw but beyond that why did they give up their humanity to enslave their fellow human beings? There was a missing step that we never see and was never explained in their path to corruption from scientists and explorers to monsters.

The King Vampire Presentation – We get what looks like a giant bat on the scanner in the rebel camp and giant hand in the summoning area of the planet. There isn’t any scare factor and the prop for the King Vampire looked like a toy. It was a shame as I could see they wanted to go for a monster that Time Lords feared the execution was just awful though.

If we had learned more about the corruption of the astronauts and seen how they lost their humanity the story would have been stronger. They were once scientists so why did they give that up for power? If that had been answered the serial would have been great, even with how annoying and unnecessary Adric is to the story. The serial is still good though and the 4th Doctor and Romana are fantastic together.

Final Score: 8 / 10 A solidly good Classic Doctor Who story.

Upcoming Reviews – Vampire Weekends

Now that we are in October and I usually try to do horror themed reviews during this time, this year it is going to be around vampires. I’ll be reviewing some shows or show episodes with them, games and of course films.

The goal is for vampires that brake the tropes beyond being just your everyday “Dracula” type. I’m interested in ones that subvert the narrative tropes or are unique takes on vampires so if you have something you’d like to see reviewed feel free to post it as a comment.

In the past I’ve covered other monsters (zombies, werewolves, etc.) and vampires I found by far the most interesting and usually had the best stories so I’m looking forward to those stories and writing those reviews.

The Matrix Revolutions (2003): The Strongest Parts of the Story are in the Matrix

“The Matrix Revolutions” is the weakest of the 3 live-action Matrix films but is still worth seeing even with the flaws that carry over from “Reloaded” and the lack of setup for some of the events in this film. Still I do recommend this fun and flawed film. It isn’t as good as “Reloaded” but it is still compelling for what it tries to do.

The film was directed and written by the Wachowskis.

Neo (Keanu Reeves) finds himself trapped in a limbo reality as Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) work to save him as the machines close in on Zion.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Premise – The race to find some way to stop the machines is powerful as well as the threat of Agent Smith and his possessing of a human and this is on top of trying to rescue Neo from the limbo reality and facing the Merovingian again. You feel the stakes in this film from the very start.

The Rescue of Neo – Neo is rescued when Seraph, Morpheus and Trinity take out the Merovingian’s men guarding Club Hel. It is a great action sequence and Trinity outsmarts the Merovingian as her love is shown to be greater than his selfishness.

The Machine City – The Machine City is haunting with dark tubes, the human pods and electricity everywhere and a variety of machines. It feels completely alien and I wish we could have explored it more. It was the only interesting place outside the Matrix.

The Characters – The characters are once again great with ones who deserved more exploration being Commander Lock and Captain Mifune who are the most memorable faces of the Zion resistance against the invading machines. For programs, I wanted Persephone and the Merovingian to get more development as well as Seraph. Great in the scenes they are in at least.

The Oracle – Mary Alice is great as the new oracle as we see how changing forms hurt as well as how much she fights for human freedom and is Neo and humanity’s ally. Every scene she is in is strong and I like that she is the character at the end who tells us Neo will return again.

Captain Niobe – Jada Pinkett Smith gets the chance to shine this film as she gets the survivors to Zion and stops the first wave of the machine invasion and is active throughout the film taking control of her destiny. It is thanks to her that peace happens as without her giving Neo her ship he never would have made peace with the machines and stopped Agent Smith.

Morpheus – Laurence Fishburne is once again fantastic as Morpheus. His arc is leaving Neo to join humanity in their last stand and from it his love and relationship with Niobe is reestablished. I wish he’d done more but even after his faith was broken he still found a way to have hope and believe again.

Trinity – Trinity is the driver of this story as she is the one to rescue Neo and to help Neo reach the Machine City even though she dies in the process. It is a powerful scene and like Neo her choices drive the story and Neo would have failed without her. Carrie-Anne Moss owns this role.

Agent Smith – Hugo Weaving clearly had so much fun in this role. He gets to laugh and ham it up so much. This character was endearing in “The Matrix” and he is a consistently great antagonist through this entire series. You can see how he is the death to Neo’s fighting for life and how he can’t see anything beyond his own existence and destruction. There are moments he clearly hates himself which I didn’t expect but fits given his insecurities. Before he turns the Oracle into him he calls her Mom showing how personal this mission is for him.

Neo – Keanu Reeves is so iconic as Neo and is one of the strongest parts of this film. His love for Trinity feels real in this film and I like how he’s coming to understanding the humanity, personhood, sentience of the programs and how that understanding leads to his eventually making peace with the machines and realizing it is possible. It is a powerful arc and I’m curious how he’s going to be brought back in “Matrix Resurrections.”

The Final Fight and Dialogue – The final fight is like the finale of an anime and is fantastic. It doesn’t even feel long since we get a variety of locations (the air, in a building, on the ground, etc.) and Neo and Smith’s dialogue with Smith on the inevitability of death and Neo choosing to persevere. It is great and this is Keanu Reeves and Hugo Weaving completely in their element. It is a great end for the characters with Smith’s final defeat and Neo’s sacrifice.

Personhood and the Perspective of Programs – One thing I loved were the moments of humanization we get of the programs. Two programs make a deal with the Merovingian so their daughter won’t have to return to the source and we see the pain the Oracle went through when the Merovingian forced her to take another form in which she lost parts of who she was prior. Smith’s hatred and nihilism is there as well as the Merovingian’s selfishness too. We also saw Persephone’s drive as she once again recognizes Trinity’s love which in the end forces the Merovingian to free Neo.

The Cons:

The Missing Program Resistance Against Smith – Why didn’t we see Agents of the machines and the Merovingian’s minions fighting Agent Smith? They knew he was conquering so why couldn’t we have seen that resistance? It would have given reason to why the machines take Neo’s peace offer too.

The Fight in Zion – The fight in Zion goes on way too long and it doesn’t vary enough to keep it interesting. You have mechs fighting sentinels and infantry fighting the machine drills and that is it. There is no variety in the action except Captain Niobe trying to get back to Zion with Link and Morpheus. This is repeated again too after they arrive so the action in Zion is never good.

Excess of Action – Like “The Matrix Reloaded” the action scenes end up going on too long, especially the defense of Zion that could have had a half hour cut out and be better for it. None of the characters defending Zion are given much dimension either, which is a shame given how fleshed out the Programs we meet are.

No Setup for Deus Ex Machina – Given that Dues Ex Machina is the leader of the machines I would have liked it being mentioned at least once. The programs would know about it so why wouldn’t they tell Neo that he needs to speak to it? This was a mistake that could have been a really easy fix. Deus Ex Machina still looks haunting and amazing at least, like the rest of Machine City.

The characters, exploration of the programs, the action and sequences in the Matrix and the Machine City carry this film over the problems of excess and some of the very real plot holes in this film. I enjoyed it even though it isn’t as good as “Reloaded” and I do recommend this universe if you are looking for a wonderful cyberpunk world. “Revolutions” works for what it is and is worth your time.

Final Score: 7.4 / 10

“What If…?” Season 1 – Shows the Promise of the Marvel Multiverse

“What If…?” season 1 is a wonderful addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and shows the promise of the stories that can come out of the multiverse. Before I go into spoilers I would highly recommend this animated anthology series as the animation largely works, the writing is usually works and the characters and stories are compelling. Seriously, if you are an MCU fan you should check this series out.

Below I’ll be giving summaries of the individual episodes from worst to best.with a link to the full review and score and at the end my final score.

This fantastic series was created by A.C. Bradley.

“What If…?” explores the different realities of the multiverse through the eyes of The Watcher (Jeffrey Wright).

SPOILERS and episode reviews ahead:

9th) Episode 7 – “What if Thor Were an Only Child?”

“What if Thor Were an Only Child?” is the only bad episode of “What If…?” This is an attempt at comedy that largely fails. What keeps me from rating it lower is Ice Giant Loki as Thor’s best friend is a lot of fun and the animation is good. Still, this is the only episode in this anthology I’d recommend skipping. It is just Thor throwing a party and having to clean it up before his mom arrives on Earth. That is all you have to know.

Score: 5 / 10

8th) Episode 1 – “What if Captain Carter Were the First Avenger?”

I like Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter so I wish we could have got more than a retread of the same beats from “Captain America: The First Avenger.” The same story beats happen just with Captain Carter as the super soldier, even the jump to the present and being greeted by Nick Fury. What helps keep it afloat are the interactions between her, Steve and Howard as Red Skull is even more bland than he was in live-action. It needed to be more original to be more than enjoyable.

Score: 7 / 10

7th) Episode 4 – “What if Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?”

“What if Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?” has promise as a premise as we have evil Doctor Strange through him selfishly wanting to bring back his lover when her death is a fixed death in time in his universe. It is powerful seeing him destroy his own universe just to be rejected by her in the end and to regret his mistakes. Cumberbatch is once again owning this role and I wish they hadn’t had two different Stranges in the timeline face off against each other as other threats should have been going after Strange Supreme. Still, really enjoyable but not quite good. Needed a little more work to work.

Score: 7.8 / 10

6th) Episode 9 – “What if The Watcher Broke His Oath?”

“What if The Watcher Broke His Oath?” is the last episode this season and gets a lot of things like character interaction and action right. Party Thor works here given how serious most of the characters are so he plays off them well. The Guardians of the Multiverse are all great characters. The problem is the villain doesn’t get any wins against the heroes so it feels predictable and no loss in the end. I did appreciate how victory came about through trickery rather than brawn though, it was a nice touch and The Watcher choosing his Guardians of the Multiverse was fun.

Score: 8 / 10

5th) Episode 3 – “What if the World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?”

“What if the World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?” is a good murder mystery and it works having Black Widow drive the investigation as we know she is a target of the killer too so she’s racing against the clock to find out the truth. We see the Avengers taken out and the reveal of Hank Pym’s Ant-Man as the villain worked too as well as Fury’s alliance with Loki that eventually leads to Loki’s takeover of Earth. This is a story with consequence and the mystery largely works, Hank’s daughter Hope being a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent just needed a little more setup to make the episode great.

Score: 8.4 / 10

4th) Episode 5 – “What if Zombies?!”

“What if Zombies?!” is another story with consequence that plays to the strength of the zombie story tropes. This episode does have tonal whiplash sometimes but it makes it work because when loss happens you feel it. Peter Parker being the primary point of view was a good call here as was having Bruce Banner as the de-powered Hulk through most of the episode. We have our survivors picked off in heroic sacrifices over the course of the episode, the hope of a cure, a mad scientist in Vision and a foreboding ending with a zombie Thanos reveal. The Cliffhanger and Scott Lang’s jokes held it back from me rating it higher though.

Score: 9 / 10

3rd) Episode 8 – “What if Ultron Won?”

“What if Ultron Won?” finally gives us an Age of Ultron as the movie of that title gave us a weekend of Ultron at best. He has total victory in this and grows as a being after getting the Vision body as he had planned. This episode you see him destroy all the civilizations in his own universe with Hawkeye and Black Widow as the only survivors and to end it all he beats The Watcher forcing The Watcher to break his vow to defeat him before he conquers and destroys the multiverse. Reason I didn’t score it higher was he never grew beyond destruction, I wanted more complex thinking given he has the Infinity Stones and the Vision Body.

Score: 9 / 10

2nd) Episode 2 – “What if T’Challa Became a Star-Lord?”

“What if T’Challa Became a Star-Lord?” is a great story and was made to honor Chadwick Boseman at the episode’s end. This episode shows so much hope as T’Challa leads the Ravagers who now include a non-genocidal Thanos and Nebula. The episode is a heist against the Collector too so is a lot of fun. Only reason it isn’t more highly rated is the Collector sucked as a villain in this.

R.I.P. Chadwick Boseman. You were an amazing human being.

Score: 9 / 10

1st) Episode 6 – “What if Killmonger Saved Tony Stark?”

“What if Killmonger Saved Tony Stark?” is the best episode in the series as we get a villain perspective and a more soft power approach to Killmonger as he manipulates everyone around him to bring about his goals for liberation. Michael B. Jordan once again carries every scene with this fantastic character and I liked seeing his plans unfold. This was a story that I wish we’d seen play out till the end as I’m curious how he would have faced his manipulations being revealed by Pepper and Shuri.

Score: 9.4 / 10

“What If…?” is a fantastic series that truly shows the promise in the Marvel Multiverse. I hope we see the MCU take more risks like this. The majority of these stories worked and I hope we get a season 2 as I want to see some of these stories continued as well as new stories in the infinite possibilities that exist in the multiverse. This show showed us some of those amazing possibilities and I can’t wait to see how stories are continued and what new stories are told.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10

What If…? – Season 1, Episode 9 – “What if The Watcher Broke His Oath?” – The Guardians of the Multiverse

“What if The Watcher Broke His Oath?” Is a fun finale for the “What If…?” series that pulls off being solidly good. It really should have been an hour given one of the main characters never gets her story told or shown but the relationship between the members pulled from throughout the Multiverse to be it’s Guardians are fantastic. Without saying more I do recommend it. The core relationships, animation and action create a good finale to the season.

The episode was directed by Bryan Andrew and written by A.C. Bradley.

What if The Watcher broke his oath?

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Action – The action is great as we get Captain Carter doing the opening of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” with Black Widow until she’s pulled into the Multiverse Oasis space. The action is also great against Ultron Vision as we see Strange Supreme protecting the team as each of them use their abilities to help in the fight as the plan to neutralize him unfolds. The action needed to be good in this and it is.

The Guardians of the Multiverse – The Guardians of the Multiverse are a great team with Strange Supreme, Captain Carter, T’Challa Starlord, Black Panther Killmonger, Gamora Victorious (who killed Thanos and destroyed the Infinity Stones) and Party Thor. Thor is the joker and it works here as everyone is serious so he creates levity. Ultron Vision’s Black Widow later joins them too as the Zola Virus is what finally defeats Ultron Vision. They are a great team and it was cool to see them work together to win.

The Watcher’s Plan – Work together to win is only part of the story though as Killmonger hacks the Ultron technology to get the Infinity Stone and continue his mission but Zola stops him as he now possess Ultron’s body. Thery are in a standoff as Strange Supreme puts them in a pocket dimension and is the one to watch over them in case they break out, which was The Watcher’s plan all along. It was clever and punching wasn’t how Ultron Vision was stopped in the end.

The Cons:

Lack of Villain Victories – None of the Guardians die. This is a similar issue I had to “Endgame” as Black Widow and Iron Man chose their deaths but new Thanos didn’t have any way to show how he was stronger than the one who had snapped half the universe away. Ultron Vision should have got a kill against at least one of them to better show why they were all needed to fight him.

The Missing Gamora Story – Gamora is one of the Guardians of the Multiverse but we are only told and never see her story. Everyone else got an episode so she should have too. She is a core member of the team and the other tech. specialist besides Killmonger. If her story had been weaved in the story would have been great.

The Open Plot Threads – We see at the end that Steve might be alive in the HYDRA Buster armor on the ship that Captain Carter is on in the opening, Ultron Vision Black Widow joins Fury in the world Loki is trying to conquer, Thor goes on his date, etc. A lot of these stories still feel open so I hope this show continues and that we see more of the multiverse and where the stories end. The Marvel Zombies story is still very open too as The Watcher didn’t take any of the survivors to be Defenders of the Multiverse.

This wasn’t my favorite but it is a good episode and finale to “What If…?” It only had 30 minutes to stop Ultron Vision and it did that. I do wish we’d gotten Gamora’s story though and that we’d seen more of the stories wrapped up. Also I was surprised The Watcher didn’t pull any of the survivors from Marvel Zombies. I hope we get more stories as this was a wonderful show that showed just how many compelling stories Marvel can tell with the Multiverse.

Final Score: 8 / 10 A solid ending to the season.