Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) – Worth it for the Monsters

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   “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” was a lot of fun. I’m a huge fan of monster films and this film does the monsters very well. Some of the human characters are a bit weakly written but the overall themes of the movie never change. I enjoyed this more than both of the other American Godzilla films (1998 and 2014). It doesn’t touch the original “Godzilla” though in quality. That film is one of my favorites to this day and I’ll be surprised if lightning strikes that again for any monster film. For non-spoiler thoughts it is worth checking out for how the monsters or Titans as they are called in this, are handled. So much personality is given to each creature and they really are the stars of the film.

The film was directed by Michael Dougherty and who co-wrote the film with Zach Shields.

The story follows the scientific organization Monarch as they seek to stop a terrorist organization lead by Alan Jonah (Charles Dance) from releasing King Ghidorah and the Titans upon the world.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Action – Whenever the monsters it fight it is some of the best action on the screen. Whether it is Rodan taking out Monarch’s ships while facing Ghidorah and the last few fights of Godzilla against Ghidorah are simply beautiful. Cities are destroyed and we see just how entrancing these Titans (as they are called) are.

The Soundtrack -Bear McCreary is one of my favorite composers and he did a fantastic job here. Each monster has their own theme that captures the true epic scale of each of the Titans. He also captures a sense of forboding that permeates the soundtrack and plays into the themes of destruction and balance that give the film it’s strength.

Alan Jonah – Charles Dance is an amazing actor and this film is a great example of this. We never get his personal reasons for wanting to destroy the world but he still manages to give empathy even as he is wreaking destruction everywhere around him with the releasing of the Titans. He survives the film so I hope we get more of his backstory as I enjoyed the scenes he was in.

Dr. Serizawa – Ken Watanabe has always been one of the strongest characters in this Franchise. He is a scientist obsessed with the Titans and hoping that they can bring balance to the world. Here is sacrifices his own life to bring Godzilla back to life after humanity nearly kills Godzilla with an oxygen bomb. It is a touching scene and it completes his arc beautifully as he’s always been rooting for Godzilla and been right about Godzilla overall being a Titan protector rather than a destroyer.

The Monsters – The monsters are the best part of this film. They are given so much personality and their dynamics with one another are powerful. We have Ghidorah who has three heads, each with a different personality, you have Rodan who is aggressive but values staying alive that it will submit after a fight and you have the guardianesque Mothra who seeks to protect Godzilla and the planet even at the expense of it’s own life. Rodan was my favorite and I’m glad he survives the film. Watching them fight is leading me back to the Toho films post the original “Godzilla” and I can’t wait to review them later.

Balance versus Destruction – The main theme of the film is that between balance and destruction. Balance comes through union of humanity with the Titans which in this case is through Mothra and Godzilla while destruction is alien King Ghidorah who wants to destroy all life on Earth. This is expressed in our characters such as Madison, Mark and Monarch who seek to keep the balance and help Godzilla against Ghidorah and destruction is through Alan Jonah and his organization who bring death wherever they go. This illustration is beautiful and I loved how the people mirrored the monsters they represented.

Okay:

The Russells – The Russell family is really where we see a lot of the core themes of balance versus destruction. Emma is part of Jonah’s group and causing destruction until the end she embraces balance that her daughter and husband were following in seeking to protect and save Godzilla. The arc itself is alright but I felt the Russells were the weakest human characters. They at least got arcs though. Mark forgives Godzilla for killing their son in the last film and his actions along with their daughter Madison help Godzilla eventually defeat Ghidorah…along with Emma’s final sacrifice in her distracting of Ghidorah from going for the killing blow.

The Cons:

When the Action is Hidden – There are a few action sequences where the action is hidden and it is annoying. When Ghidorah is first released in Antarctica so much of the fight against Godzilla is hidden by snow and darkness. This was a major problem in “Godzilla” 2014 and I’m glad it isn’t as bad here, but it is still present.

The Comedy – The comedy is bad. The jokes are cringy and I wish they’d avoided humor all together. The only scene I kind of laughed at is when Alan Jonah is trying to help Madison relax after his men have slaughtered a bunch of people and she flips him off. The rest felt like them trying to shove in jokes when they shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

This was a film that I enjoyed. The monsters and themes are well executed and the only things that really bring down the film is the fact that some human characters could have been developed better in regards to their motivation. This film should have stayed away from comedy as well and I hate how studios get around showing action by covering it in snow or mist. Here it doesn’t happen a lot but the times it does hurt the great action we do see. If you are a fan of monster films or any of the “Godzilla” films I’d say it is worth your time. It is definitely the best of the American Godzilla films and I hope more of the monsters we see get explored further.

Final Score: 8 / 10 A solidly good monster film.

The monsters in this film made me want to check out their originals from the Toho films, which will definitely be reviews in the future as out of all the Toho films I’ve only seen and reviewed the original “Godzilla.”

 

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“The Umbrella Academy” Season 1 – Great Character Arcs With More to Tell

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    “The Umbrella Academy” is easily one of my favorite shows. I read the original volume it is based on years ago and the show captures the zany characters and character relationships that made the book so memorable. Gabriel Bá and Gerard Way truly created a beautiful world and Netflix did an amazing job bringing it to the screen. The cast is fantastic and I can’t wait for season 2 to come out, given how season 1 ends.

The series was created by Jeremy Slater and Steve Blackman and as said above based on the comic series of the same name by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá published by Dark Horse Comics.

The story follows the members of the Umbrella Academy who were all born on the same day when 43 women around the world gave birth without any sign of being pregnant. The seven adopted by the billionaire Sir Reginald Hargreeves would become the Umbrella Academy. After years away his death brings them all back home and the apocalyptic plot unfolds from here.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematography – The cinematography feels like a comic book. Color is made to stand out and some scenes slow way down, such as when Cha-Cha and Hazel are high on Klaus’s drugs and destroying a lab. The film is beautiful all the way through and focuses on characters the way a panel would. Craig Wrobleski and Neville Kidd clearly have an eye for their craft.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack like the cinematography keeps that comic book feel while capturing so beautifully how all the characters are isolated and outsiders. Gerard Way’s “Hazy Shade of Winter” and Morcheeba’s “Blood Like Lemonade.” This is a soundtrack that goes between so many styles of music while keeping an undercurrent of rock to it. All our characters are healing and going through trauma and the soundtrack expresses it.

The World – The world of “The Umbrella Academy” is amazing. You have the Commission in the future making sure bad events go according to plan and who want to end the world. There are the members of the Umbrella Academy itself and also the ones hunting them being the duo Hazel and Cha-Cha who are enforces for the Commission the way Five once was. The characters are what make this world and I’m curious to see what the show does with them moving forward.

Hazel and Cha-Cha – These two are one of the best parts of the show. Hazel is played by Cameron Britton and is fed up with the work of being a killer. Cha-Cha is his closest friend and fully devoted to the Commission. Mary J. Blige is amazing as her. Over the course of the series we see that even when they are set against one another by Five or the Commission we see there is always more going on. Whether it is regret from Cha-Cha for attempting to kill Hazel and vise versa or her rage at Hazel for moving on with another person. I hope that there story isn’t done as I really like these two.

The Umbrella Academy – The Umbrella Academy is the super hero organization created by Sir Reginald Hargreeves from the 7 adopted children who were born during the event. Each of them has powers and are used by Reginald to take down villains. I’m going to give special time to Five and Klaus as they were the most interesting and fleshed out of the characters, but it is important to mention the other members of the family. I’ll also be including the guardians that Reginald created for them.

Grace, the robot created by Reginald is the mother of Academy while Pogo is the Reginald’s butler and together they hold the secrets of what was done to all of the members of the Academy and how Sir Reginald died. Over the course of the series they go from being the most trusted by the surviving members of the Academy to in the case of Pogo killed for hiding Vanya’s power from her. They are fascinating characters and I wanted to know so much more about them.

Of the Academy members who I won’t be giving a special paragraph to. First there is Ben, the one member who is dead and can summon a tentacle monster from his body. He is still around though as his spirit talks to Klaus. There is Diego (whose power is the ability to hit anything with his daggers) who is a wonderful Punisheresque vigilante who deals with his trauma through rage but comes around the caring for the team and seeing them as a family again. There are Luther (the leader of the team whose power is physical strength) and Allison (the only character with a family outside of the team and one who controls people through suggestion) that love each other romantically and come to terms with that and how they’ve changed as people. Allison is also Vanya’s biggest ally and the one who was used by their father to hurt her the most and repress Vanya’s powers. Vanya is the one who believes she doesn’t have powers through most of the series. It is only through a creepy stalker who is manipulating her that she discovers how great her power is and kills him. Her power is energy both psychic and otherwise that she can channel through music. After the Academy turns on her and traps her she goes full bad and we soon learn is the one who causes the apocalypse leading the Academy to make a choice and time jump with her away from the end of the world that she caused.

Five – Five is the member of the Academy who can jump through space and time. Because of this he ends up going missing when he jumps and ends up in the future. Here he lives a full life working for the Commission before returning back to the present time and in turn appearing as the young kid he was once before. He is great as he is an old man in a teenage body so he doesn’t want to be with people. His arc is his coming around to his family and his work against the Commission comes to a head as at one point he works for them again as he secretly tries to stop the apocalypse and in the end he is the one who saves them all after Vanya causes the end of the world as they jump to a time and place we haven’t seen yet. His arc is also dealing with the fact that he’s seen how it all ends so wonders if it is set in stone and can’t be prevented. He’s dealing with the possible inevitability of the end and it changes his outlook as he fights against it.

Klaus – Klaus is the best character on the show and Robert Sheehan does such a fantastic job as him. Klaus’s power is that he can speak to ghosts and the dead and because of this Ben is with him counseling him. Klaus before the events of the show has been through so much abuse from Sir Reginald that his only escape has been through drugs and alcohol (he would be locked in a room with the dead as a child and was never let out). Because of this he is detached from everyone and his arc is his sobering up to the point that he can speak to their father and learn about why they were brought together. At one point he serves in the Vietnam War and loves a fellow soldier after he uses Cha-Cha’s and Hazel’s briefcase to travel back in time. He resists torture from the two of them and even manages to turn Hazel more to the good when he calls upon all those Hazel and Cha-Cha have killed. His greatest moment of awesome is making Ben corporeal which saves the Academy from an attack by Cha-Cha and the commission as Vanya is bringing about the end.

Family and Sibling Relationships – People aren’t perfect. People are dysfunctional and all of us are going through different trials from past hurt. “The Umbrella Academy” explores these relationships through the characters. We see Diego and his rivalry with Luther. Allison and her reaching out to and protecting of Vanya. Five being cared for all by all the others and the reestablishment of relationship after how long he’s been gone. We also have Vanya, who dealt with being the one without powers by doing a tell all book and how they all have to confront the hurt they’ve caused to each other that their father had brought down upon all of them. The family dynamics are fascinating and I can’t wait to see how they are developed further.

The Cost of Trauma and Abuse – All of our characters are survivors of Sir Reginald’s abuse and we see what it has done to them. They are cut off from another, escaping into drugs and alcohol (Five and Klaus) and in turn they abuse one another. The cost of trauma is constant and ongoing and we see hints of healing near the end but only after the characters have had those moments of honesty with one another on all that they’ve been through. I’m curious to see how the show explores this further as I feel like our characters are really only starting to face it and the consequences it has had upon their lives.

The Cons:

The Cliffhanger – In the end Vanya’s power wrecks the moon causing the apocalypse. Five realizes the only way out is to time travel with Vanya to prevent the end from occurring. As the city was destroyed they manage to make the time jump. This is a great cliffhanger but it is a cliffhanger, if the show had gotten canceled this ending would have sucked.

I highly recommend both the comic and the show. “The Umbrella Academy” explores trauma, abuse and sibling relationships in such a compelling way that even though I hate cliffhangers I was grateful that the show would probably get renewed. I want to spend more time with these characters and this world and I can’t wait to see where the story ends up. Definitely worth checking out for any fans of the super hero genre.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10 A great start to the show, even with the cliffhanger.

Batman: Hush (2019) – Missing the Point of the Comic

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This is a film that had the potential to say so much more in adaptation, but wasn’t willing to take that chance. Maybe it was because they knew kids might check this out or maybe it was just wanting to play it safe…but I appreciate the comic so much more after. This is a film that captures the base events of the comics (minus one major one) but isn’t willing to go deeper. Without giving away spoilers that is all I’m going to say. If you are fan of DC animation it is worth watching for the animation and the voice actors as always do a great job, but if you read the comic I think you should skip this and save yourself the disappointment. I really enjoy DC animation and as someone who liked the comic but didn’t think it was good or great. This film did nothing to improve on a great premise.

The film was directed by Justin Copeland and written by Ernie Altbacker.

The story follows Batman as he faces a new enemy named Hush, who knows all his secrets and seeks to unravel his life.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Animation – The animation flows and is beautiful…I just wish there’d been a better script. I’ll get into cons below but this a very well animated film, as can be said for most DC Animated films. The action is seamless, emotion is well portrayed in facial expressions and the colors make each scene stand out.

The Bat Family Moments – There are some good moments with Dick Grayson, Damian Wayne and Barbara Gordon. In each case you see why Bruce is fighting for them and why he trusts them. They are all small moments. It is a check-in or a training, but you see how much he cares. I appreciated this and as it was here we had a bit of levity the film needed.

The Selena Kyle Romance – This romance was handled better than expected. Batman saves her from Poison Ivy’s control and she saves his life at the end. In-between they date but it doesn’t lead anywhere due to Batman’s baggage. He does reveal his secret identity, like in the comics so I appreciated that. It made their more have more even if the film failed to grow on that. I think the film wanted this to be the focus but missed so much. We needed more with Selena or the Bat Family and their thoughts on one another. We got base happy for Bruce or distrust of Selena but nothing deeper. That was a disservice to all the characters.

Okay:

The Rogues – The rogues are underused. You have Batman and Catwoman fighting a Poison Ivy controlled Superman and Batman going to Lex Luthor and it not meaning anything. I’d say that is a theme. Thomas Elliot is used and unless you’ve read the comic or other sources just how important he is. Here he is an underutilized puzzle piece that leads to the function of advancing another’s plot. We fight Bane, Scarecrow, Riddler, Harley Quinn, Joker and Poison Ivy but in the original where Killer Croc was the the kidnapper not Bane who sparked everything off, it meant more. The villains are here to show up. Beyond the Joker scene which is lessened because of how Thomas Elliot is used we get an empty hate scene of Batman punching him. I get he was meant to kill him here like in the comics, but everything that happens after makes this moment mean nothing. In the comic it was still horrifying but at least Batman’s rage was understandable.

The Riddler – The Riddler is the big bad. He is saved in a Lazarus pit as he was dying and from it realizes that Batman is Bruce Wayne. This is true to the comics but unlike the comics where Thomas Elliot is a serial killer who functions as his hand (who is a famous surgeon so he can become Jason Todd and others due to plastic surgery). Riddler he is revealed and he falls into fire. If he lives I’m asking how as Catwoman saves Batman to stop him from saving Batman and that is why they break-up. The core of the comics was Bruce’s obsession but here it is over the top. There is no nuance’s to Bruce Wayne’s rule and that is the ending we get.

The Cons:

The Use of Hush – In this case I’m referring to Thomas Elliot. This film uses him as another friend to use not as another sociopathic killer who wanted Bruce’s life like in the comic. He is a plot device and nothing more. This is a shame as Hush is a great villain. This film does him wrong. He isn’t even Elliot, in the end the Riddler is behind the bandages which makes him look silly and bald with a scar of a question mark. It is all the gritty and edgy with none of the point. Elliot in the comics was set up leading up to his rivalry with Wayne and him being used by the Riddler made sense. Making him the Riddler is just a waste.

The Point is Weaker Than the Comics – The point of the comics that I got is that is that obsession can lead to self-destruction. We see this in how Thomas Elliot kills his parents to be like Bruce Wayne, The Riddler setting up everything to destroy Bruce Wayne’s life just to know knowing his identity means nothing and Bruce Wayne loses the relationships he’s developed with Selena Kyle. The film does the third point and that is it. I get animation can be expensive but making Riddler Hush is stupid for multiple reasons. We never get Riddler’s backstory in this for one and Elliot exists only for another person for Bruce to lose. This means nothing. There is no Hush as Jason Todd. This film made me appreciate the comic so much more. What a waste.

You really have no reason to watch this. Go watch the fights on youtube. This story could have made Thomas Elliot more complex, gone more into the Riddler, Selena Kyle or even Bruce Wayne. We got less than the comics. This movie is a waste and not worth your time. Just get the comic on comixology. You’ll get a story that actually means something and not something pretty that means so much less. This is a DC animation film that isn’t worth it. I’m sorry to all the voice actors and animators. Check out their better stuff. They deserved a better story.

Final Score: 6 / 10

Missing Link (2019): Amazing Animation Can’t Save This Story

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     “Missing Link” is a film that could have been so much more. One thing Laika Studios is quite good at doing is taking a novel concept and going deeper with it. We see this with “Kubo and the Two Strings” which takes your basic adventure story and makes it about working through grief and exploring familial bonds. This story is bland. The strongest part of the film are Zoe Saldaña’s performance as Adelina Fortnight and Hugh Jackman as Sir Lionel Frost. The problem is they are fully inhabiting tropes that they never grow beyond. This was sad as this story deserved so much better.

The film was directed and written by Chris Butler.

The film follows Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) who wants to join the “Society of Great Men,” who believes he finally has a chance to join the order when he receives a letter from the United States and meets Mr. Link (Zach Galifianakis) the Sasquatch. The leader of the “Society of Great Men” Lord Piggot-Dunceby (Stephen Fry) sends a hunter (Timothy Olaphant) to stop him as Frost must call upon a former friend Adelina (Zoe Saldaña) to get Mr. Link back to his ancestors the Yeti, in the North.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Animation – Laika is a master of stop-motion animation. “Missing Link” continues that same quality. The levels of detail they put into the forest set, the Yeti Temple and the ship is just spectacular. This is Laika once again showing why they are famous for their animation.

Sir Lionel Frost – Sir Lionel is the only character with a real character arc. He goes from a sociopath who uses people for his own glory, to one who considers his friends family. We see this in how he cares for Adelina and Mr. Link/Susan and though it takes work for him to gain empathy, in the end he finally does. Hugh Jackman does a fantastic job in the role. He plays the stuffy English man stereotype but the film at least lets him grow beyond it. The same can’t be said for the rest of the cast and the boxes they are put into.

Adelina Fortnight – Zoe Saldaña’s character is good in that she grows beyond the death of her husband and becomes her own adventurer. The problem is the stereotype the film has given her. She is still one of the best characters in the film but she is the angry latina which is a problematic trope and I wish Laika had been better. I liked her character but that trope kept her from becoming more three-dimensional because she was playing a problematic trope that hurt what character had been formed.

The Yeti Elder – Emma Thompson does a great job as the leader of the Yeti’s in the Yeti Elder. They are a closed off community who imprison Lionel, Adelina and Mr. Link dubbing him a redneck and not one of them. She does a great job of showing why the warriors follow her and also the closed off nature of what her people have become. They are portrayed as a warrior civilization with her as the head with survival above all else. Which given their isolation, I can see but there was no nuance. The Yeti Elder showed as much. She was just as close minded as the English villain just not a sexist imperialist.

Okay:

The Villains – Lord Piggot-Dunceby is simply a sexist pig consumed by ego (he has a great design at least as he is the largest human in the film) while the hunter is just a western style cowboy who never feels threatening. The characters are one dimensional and they serve their purpose within the narrative but that is about it. I’m glad Stephen Fry at least hammed up Lord Piggot-Dunceby or he would have been a bore. So much more could have been to critique the British Empire and the era but Butler was really lazy in trying to delve deeply into any of these characters or ideas.

The Cons:

Mr Link/Susan – Zach Galifianakis was the wrong person for this role. Mr. Link needed to be played by more than a comedian as so much of what he says are meant to be jokes said by a comedian. This was a disservice for the literal mindset and childlike nature of Mr. Link. This is a character who doesn’t really grow. He eventually finds family in Adelina and Sir Lionel but that isn’t through his choice, it is through theirs. Throughout the story he is always rejected and a more nuanced actor and script could have made that mean something.

Colonial Tropes – The problematic colonialist tropes that stood out where how native cultures were treated as props. They were just there to get Sir Lionel to his next location and discovery was always seen as new. The power of the British Empire is never questioned even as the film tries to be progressive.

I didn’t like this film but I didn’t hate it either. This film was enjoyable and fine. I would also only recommend for people who are fans of Laika like myself and who want to keep the studio going. I don’t want stop-motion animation to become a thing of the past, and Laika Studios is still one of the best at it. I do wish this film had managed to stand more for something and hadn’t been problematic, but for a forgettable fun film, it was serviceable.

Final Score: 7 / 10

Toy Story 4 (2019): A Powerful Exploration of Purpose and Relationship

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    “Toy Story 4” was a great film that I didn’t think was probable. This was a series that had ended pretty definitively at the end of “Toy Story 3” so I wasn’t sure what else they were going to do. I’m happy to say I was surprised. This is a film that is powerful and explores identity, mortality, purpose. The main cast are the heart of the show and at this point it is easily one of my favorite films of the year. If you are a fan of Pixar, definitely check this one out.

The film was directed by Josh Cooley and written by Stephany Folsom and Andrew Stanton.

The story follows Woody and his friends on a road trip after Bonnie has created a new toy name Forky who believes himself to be trash. Woody mentors him but soon finds himself questioning what he’s known when he runs into Bo Peep who is a now a living the life of a “lost toy.”

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Animation – Pixar does such a great job building off each of their latest films. This is simply a stunningly animated movie that has more realistic looking people, the detail of fur on animals and tons of different surfaces that make-up the many toys. I hope Pixar continues to thrive and brings us more of this amazing art. Every few films introduce something new worth exploring. After this my wife and I went to the Pixar exhibit and got to see the science behind it first hand. If it is ever in your area, check it out.

The Characters – The strongest part of most Pixar films are the characters. This film is no exception. The support characters have the least to do so it is hard to call their story good but it is still fun. This film is truly about the new characters, Bo Peep and Woody.

Gabby Gabby – Gabby Gabby is the antagonist of the film. She is a doll who wants to be loved but thinks because her voice box is broken she will never be loved. Because of this she kidnaps Forky to get Woody’s voicebox. They clash through the film with her eventually winning in her aims to get the voice box, only to be tossed aside. She is is a complex antagonist in that you can see where her drive is coming from and that she doesn’t destroy others the way Stinky Pete, Sid or Lotso does in the original Trilogy. She comes around to love and respect Woody because of what he does for her and becomes friends with Forky. Christina Hendricks gives so much depth to this role and she is easily the best antagonist in any “Toy Story” film, and that is because she shows that there is more a broken toy can become. Her final act is leaving Woody and Bo to care for a lost girl at the carnival.

Bo Peep – Bo is a toy who has found independence in the lost toy life and is loving it. She spends her time helping other toys found enjoyement from being played and though she misses her toy family from before she lives what she has become. She has a role beyond being there for a kid and it is in this role that Woody is given the choice for his own future.

Forky – Forky is the toy Bonnie creates when she is alone at Kindergarten. It is a powerful moment and Forky is born with an existential crisis. For much of the film he is trying to return to the trash, since that was what he was made from. Woody is the one who convinces him that he has a purpose to live (as well as Gabby Gabby) and from here he accepts his place as Bonnie’s favorite toy. The process is devastating and his arc is like a newborn learning to think and reason. We’ve never witnessed the birth of sentience in a toy until this film within the “Toy Story Franchise.”

Woody – Woody’s arc this film is learning to find purpose beyond devotion to a kid. The beginning of this is when Bonnie no longer cares to play with him, which kicks things off and ends with the finding of Bo Peep and joining her with the carnival, knowing that there they can help other toys find kids. His arc is a gut punch though as it is after Buzz comes back to rescue him that he says good-bye and passes on his sheriff star to Jessie who had become the Sheriff for Bonnie when she played. It was neat and a great releasing of his ego on Woody’s part. Tom Hanks once again adds so many layers to this wonderful character.

Identity and Purpose – The main theme running through the story is that of identity and purpose. What this is for most toy’s is the devotion of a kid. This is what helps make Forky no longer seek death and is what drives Woody through the story up to this point. It isn’t until he meets Po that he sees that she is bringing joy to those who are lost or don’t have toys. Woody finds purpose in this and in his love for her. It is powerful and over the course of the film is set up really well. We get the flashback of when she leaves, Woody being left in the closet and the birth of Forky who Woody than mentors. This exploration of identity and purpose is really the core of the story and what makes it so great.

Okay:

The Support Characters – The support characters are alright. Woody’s friends get some good comedy, but we never see them grow. Buzz, who has the most screen time among them is the same character at the beginning as he is at the end. The same goes for Jessie. She is still the same Jessie the film began with as she was always a leader. Key and Peele play a comedic duo Ducky and Bunny. There are others as well who work on a comedic level, but it is hard to call what they have arcs. For this reason the supporting cast is only okay.

This is a film I highly recommend. I can’t wait to go back and watch the original “Toy Story Trilogy” again and see just how far Pixar has come in their animation and really storytelling too. If you are a fan of the other films, chances are you won’t be disappointed by this one. So far it is easily one of my favorite films of the year and I can’t wait to see what else Pixar creates and the future stories they tell.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2019): A Worthy Adaptation of the Comic

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This was a solid adaptation of the comic. The comic is better, but this was DC Animation showing that they know what to do with their stories. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Batman teaming up is such a camp concept and I have so much joy over the fact that the concept works. Comics are so supposed to be creative and think outside of the box and the comic and film both do this.

The film was directed by Jake Castoreno and written by Marly Halpern-Graser.

The story follows Batman as he investigates mysterious robberies of Wayne Industries Technology by mutant beings. Batman than investigates congruently with Batgirl and Robin to unravel the mystery.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Action – The action in this film is quite enjoyable. We get some good face-offs with characters and who they team up with. For example at one point we have Michelangelo loving Mr. Freeze while Damian is more serious, Batgirl and Donatello team up and Leonardo and Batman. We also get to see Batman face off against Shredder a few times and the team against Joker and Harley Quinn. This was easily the thing that kept me drawn into the movie the most and I’m glad the action meant something.

The World – This is the multi-verse world where the Shredder and his Foot Clan are in Gotham stealing technology and where Batman where Batgirl as Barbara Gordon and a Damian Robin are Batman’s team. It is a fascinating place to explore as from the team-up you expect a more grittier era but the world is balanced because there exist mutant turtles hunting down an evil ninja clan. Gotham and the world of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” work really together and I think that is due to both having gritty initial roots but having so much camp and crazy exist as well. This whole idea wouldn’t exist without being open to possibilities.

The Turtles – The Turtles are great and aren’t overused. Donatello forms a friendship with Batgirl, Raphael forms a friendship with Robin and a respect for Batman and Michelangelo grows into a greater hero with Batman’s help. The dynamic between them is classic with Raphael wanting to go rogue and I do love this version of Donatello, which plays up his smarts. Michelangelo even has moments of heroism and is the key to the story, which is rare in most “TMNT” stories I’ve watched.

Batman and Team – Troy Baker does an excellent job voicing both Batman and the Joker in this. He’s voiced the Joker before in “Arkham Origins” and this film really shows just how much range he has. The Batman is the perspective we first see and in a way they drive the story as the action largely takes place in Gotham.

The Ooze and Gotham – The Ooze is used after Ra’s al Ghul and Shredder team up and the inmates of Arkham Asylum are transformed into animal forms. We have Baine as a Jaguar, Mr. Freeze as a Polar Bear, Scarecrow as a crow, Harley as a Hyena (Voiced by the amazing Tara Strong!) and the Joker as a Cobra. In the comics there are more rogues transformed (also honorable mentions to Two-Face as Two-Faced cat and Poison Ivy as a Venus Fly Trap) but the core fights are the ones mentioned first. The ooze drives the story (as it is what turned the turtles into mutants) and at one point Batman is changed into a mutant bat that is against all things. It is only Michelangelo who saves him with the cure. This whole sequence was solid action and I liked that Batman needed help and also the fact it was the most underrated Ninja Turtle helped. Michelangelo saves Batman after he is transformed. It was a moment you rarely see in most Turtle films as Mikey is usually there only for comedic relief. Also major props to Troy Baker for voicing both Batman and the Joker beautifully.

Shredder – Shredder is really the guy in charge this time around. Ra’s al Ghul does ally with him and uses infecting the inmates of Gotham as a distraction but Shredder double crosses him and admits he plans to invade this universe and conquer it with his Foot Clan. He never stops being a threat and Batman is fought to a draw with him quite a few times before he is finally beat. The cool thing is his story doesn’t end there as the Ooze mixed with Joker Venom infects him and he transforms into Joker Shredder setting up a sequel. Giving they did this it better payoff.

Okay:

The Animation – The animation flows but you can also see how it is working with a budget. The comic has a level of detail that this animated feature simply does not have. It isn’t bad animation but the simplification hurts when the turtles are on screen as they feel less realized than the detail that was put into any human character on screen. Again, it wasn’t bad but I cannot put it as a pro.

Ra’s al Ghul – Ra’s al Ghul is not as compelling as the Shredder in this. The biggest reason is he is introduced late and we never have any worthy face-offs with Batman. In the first volume of the comic was far more compelling and essential. I like him facing off against Michelangelo but he never becomes a great villain. If anything he would have fit sticking around to fight in Arkham Asylum as it would have made him facing off against Damian and Batman mean more and give more power to Shredder’s inevitable betrayal.

The Cons:

Not A Complete Story – Volume 1 of “Batman vs. TMNT” was a complete story that did not need a sequel. This one is setting up a sequel, which is cool but I’ve seen enough shows and films crash and burn to know how arrogant that is. I loved that Shredder transformed but I hate the assumption that there will be a sequel when that is never a given.

If you like DC Animation, of which I am a fan this is a film well worth your time. It isn’t as great as the comic which I’d argue is a near perfect adaptation of the premise. This is film with decent animation and action with a compelling overall story. It i is overall faithful to the original comic while focusing in on the core fights. Initially this did annoy me but I like how it lead to the bonds forming between Batgirl, Robin and the Turtles. This is also an acquired taste. For me it was solidly good cause I like both of these universes, but for others it might be a bit more out of the bag. Regardless this film was so much fun.

Final Score: 8 / 10. Solid adaptation that could have been great.

Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne – An Improvement in Gameplay, Characters and Lore of the “Warcraft” Universe

     “Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne” is a game that still holds up to this day. I came back to play it after beating it back in High School and found the challenge level one that grew me as a player. I also found myself drawn into the nuance in the story that the initial game lacked. When I think Blizzard for me at it’s greatest it is this. This was around the time I beat the first “Diablo” and got all the way to Baal in “Diablo 2” before returning the borrowed game to my friend. This was a game I had bought with my money. It was worth all the replay value and my eventual enjoyment of “Heroes of the Storm,” which I believe rose out of the hero dependent missions and maps you play in the “Bonus Campaign,” “The Founding of Durotar.” This game was a return to what I love about Blizzard gameplay and story at it’s best.

The game was released in July 1st 2003 by Blizzard and was written by Chris Metzen and directed by Frank Pearce Jr.

The story picks up at the end of “Wacraft III: Reign of Chaos” with Illidan Stormrage summoning the Naga to unknown purposes as his Warden Maiev Shadowsong hunts him to discover his purposes and imprison him once more.

SPOILERS in the story ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematics – The cinematics in this game are so beautiful. The fact that we see compelling characters like Illidan and Arthas being the soul focus versus one none evils like Archimonde or Mannoroth shows how this was an upgrade. In both cases are characters are making a choice and in playing the game or in living the game up to the point we have, we see the implication of that choice. The level of detail draws you in and when you see certain reveals whether it is the Naga or Arthas being one with the Lich King when he puts on the helm is powerful. These are cinematics that mean something and are presented beautifully.

The Gameplay – The gameplay is more challenging than “A Reign of Chaos” as each unit was granted something that they lacked. The Scourge lacked tanks and they got the Crypt Lord, the Horde lacked healing and they got the Shadow Hunter. “The Frozen Throne” balanced “Reign of Chaos” in so many ways that it can only be accounted for if you are challenging where you are currently. I’m curious if “Warcraft Reforged” will take this challenge further. I hope it will. The challenge of the campaign improved me as a player and made the victories all the more sweet.

The World – “Warcraft” has a rich universe and this one introduces “The Forsaken,” “The Naga,” “The Blood Elves,” and “The Illdari.” All these factions get explored further in “World of Warcraft” but the seed is planted here and given justice. “Reign of Chaos” enriched the universe but didn’t break any tropes. With Sylvanas, Kael, Vashj and Illidan this game did, which is what I’d argue where Blizzard really thrives in storytelling. Each of the characters I mentioned is a different shade of grey, driven by more than simply power.

The Characters – I was in this game for the characters and it was the reason I beat the campaign. Even though I’d beaten the game back in High School, I wanted to see where the story would go. Coming back years later I wasn’t disappointed. Each new growth of character is earned in gameplay and you feel the pressure the character feels. This is a game I will play again in full, whereas “Reign of Chaos” I will play some missions again but not the full game. That is all due to characters which “The Frozen Throne” does better in gameplay and writing.

DOTA and Custom Games – It was out of “The Frozen Throne” that we got one of my favorite games “Heroes of the Storm” that I am still playing. As well as all the pre-cursors like “Defense of the Ancients” which started the whole tower defense gameplay which eventually became it’s own game and also “League of Legends.” This game has had a larger effect on games than many realize. This was the precursor to hero gameplay with  running units (that was the finale of the “Found of Durotar” campaign). For that I will be grateful for as it gave me casual fun gameplay with “Heroes of the Storm” that I play to this day.

Rating the Campaigns – I’m rating each campaign on their own merits. This is a campaign that starts out good and becomes great. Unlike “Brood War” there is so much growth you are a part of and play a part in making possible (Illidan, Kael, Sylvanas, Arthas) that it can’t be ignored. The reason you win is because of your RTS strategy and how well you play your heroes. That for me makes a great game.

Sentinels Campaign: Terror of the Tides – The Night Elf Campaign is the weakest of the 4 campaigns though I’d say it is still challenging and reveals new lore. The new lore is the revelation of the Naga who are allied with Illidan after being turned into Serpent form after their fount of power was destroyed. From Maiev Shadowsong’s perspective (Illidan’s Warden) we see how driven she is to write the wrongs of his escape. She is obsessed and takes a Javier from “Les Miserables” role. Later when she sends for help after witnessing Illidan take the “Eye of Sargeras” and losing a close friend it becomes more fully about the Night Elves. The destruction he does on Night Elf towns with the Satyr (Cursed Demon Night Elves and Naga) we see the reason why. From here we see Tyrande and Malfurion coming to aide, which after rescuing her leads to them allying with the Blood Elves (High Elves have embraced Demonic Energy to feed after the death of the Sunwell). Here we see that Maiev is obsessed as after Illidan’s use of “The Eye” is stopped and her lie of saying Tyrande was torn to shreds was not true. The final mission is Malfurion and Illidan teamed up to save Tyrande, in which after Illidan leaves and promises not to return. We get some level of peace between the brothers though as Maiev’s forces chase after Illidan into the portal he created. Maiev was the weakest part of the story but it is still solidly good. Sets up the rest of the campaign beautifully.

Final Score: 8 / 10

Alliance Campaign: Curse of the The Blood Elves – This is the campaign where for all intents and purposes the High Elves leave the Alliance. This is a huge deal and we see that it happens is due to a racist general who only sees the other races as pawns. He sentences Kael and the Blood Elves to death for surviving due to Naga aid against the Scourge. Because of this you get why Kael joins Illidan after Vashj saves him from execution. This campaign also had my favorite missions. Once Kael meets up with Illidan, he Vashj and Illidan close the portals in Outland and recruit the Draenei Akame to their cause against the Pit Lord Magtheridon who controls the planet with his orcs and demons. After that is the final mission where you conquer Outland, Kil’jaeden holds Illidan to his contract and all of you are sent to Northrend to the destroy the Lich King. It was this contract that Illidan to seek the “Eye of Sargeras” in the first place. This campaign is so much fun. I wish the Naga had been a playable faction as I used them far more than the Blood Elves when I could.

Final Score: 9 / 10

Scourge Campaign: Legacy of the Damned – The Undead Campaign is fun. It is here we see the rise of the Forsaken who will be a crucial faction in “World of Warcraft” as well as Arthas’s arc being completed as he goes from the exiled King running from Demons (both external in the Dreadlords who own Lordaeron and internal in those he killed to get here) leading to him becoming one with Ner’Zhul as the Lich King. It is super rewarding to get there and Arthas shows why he is such a great foe. The last 3 missions are the hardest in the game and they force you to truly strategize. Seeing the rise of “The Forsaken” and Sylvanas control Varimathras the Dread Lord was much needed. Her tragic story from “Reign of Chaos” needed payback and “The Frozen Throne” does this really well. By the end of her story she owns Lordaeron with her undead. This was the most challenging and rewarding of the campaigns. The final mission against Illidan was the best where I realized I couldn’t wait him out and destroy his base and had to finish taking the points was what I love about gaming.

Final Score: 10 / 10

Bonus Campaign: The Founding of Durotar – The “Bonus Campaign” gives you a great pulse on where the Horde and Alliance relationship is currently. We see it all through the eyes of Rexxar a half-orc Mok’Nothal who helps Thrall’s Horde settle in Durotar. From here you face quests from clearing out Harpies and Kobolds to recruiting a Panderan Brewmaster and getting Rokhan a Jungle Troll who also joins your team. The story is told in 3 Acts. Act 1 involves you helping Gazlowe with the Kobolds, Drek’Thar with the Thunder Lizards while also clearing out Warlocks. Act 2 involved you getting over to Jaina when her father Admiral Proudmoore attacks and you recruiting Ogres, the Tauren once more and saving the Jungle Trolls so that all of you can stop the Admiral. Those 2 missions are fantastic and the “Diablo” feel from playing as heroes was a lot of fun. I can see how “Heroes of the Storm” and “Defense of the Ancients” arose from this campaign and the Tower Defense of the final mission.

Final Score: 9 / 10

“The Frozen Throne” is an expansion that improves everything from the first game. My only real issue with is is that the Naga weren’t a playable faction beyond campaign, but that is still better than the “Halo Wars” Franchise that took an expansion to make anyone outside of the UNSC playable and “The Flood” still aren’t a faction. This game didn’t have those problems. They started with 4 factions and made each of them better, while still giving us playable Naga in the campaign. This game made “World of Warcraft” and “Heroes of the Storm” happen and as much as I dislike some story choices in “World of Warcraft” it at least was willing to explore the lore that this game and “Reign of Chaos” made possible. After “Warcraft III: Reforged” which is this game and “Reign of Chaos” combined, I can’t wait to see what was changed and comparing the stories.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10 One of the best RTS games I’ve played.