Star Wars the Force Awakens - title

So where do I start ...?

... With the Mary Sue protagonist?

... Or the McGuffin plot device?

... Or the uncomfortably rushed pacing?

... Or that the uncomfortably-rushed plot was a complete rehash of the first movie's plot, starting with hiding a secret document inside a droid and culminating in a trench run to blow up yet another Death Star?

... Or how about the other fan-service?

... Or the shallow character arcs?

... Or the completely throw-away characters like Phasma?

... How about the weak, forgettable original score?

... Or even how the lack of the 20th Century Fox fanfare made the title crawl feel weird?

Yeah, I came out of the movie with a very sunken, disappointed feeling. Heck, at first, I wasn't even sure if what I had just seen was even better than the prequels. But I'll give The Force Awakens some credit and say that it is better than the prequels. Despite Rey coming off as a Mary Sue, and despite that all the other characters have arcs that are completed within the first ten minutes of the movie (if an arc exists at all), the characters and performances are much better than what we got in the prequels. I thought that the friendliness and camaraderie between the heroes felt a bit forced, but that was partly the result of the rapid pacing of the movie. The Millenium Falcon seems to warp back and forth across the galaxy three times over the course of the movie, and hyperspace seems to allow virtually instantaneous transit now (another problem that Abrams carried over from Star Trek). Is travel instantaneous, or did these characters spend days or weeks bunking on the Falcon?

Star Wars the Force Awakens - running from TIE assault
Rey feels like a Mary Sue character who fulfills a multi-film development arc in the span of a few minutes.

Rey is a Mary Sue character whose entire development occurs in the couple minutes that she's strapped into an interrogation chair; although I loved the witty subversion of the "damsel in distress" trope in the beginning of the film: "Stop holding my hand, I know how to run!". LoL. Fin's arc is basically complete within the first ten minutes of the movie. Kylo Ren has a shallow arc that is left unresolved so that it can be further explored in the subsequent films (I'm assuming he's probably going to have a redemption arc similar to Vader's in Return of the Jedi). Han and Leia don't have arcs, as they just have backstory. All their character development happened off-screen in the thirty intervening years. And I'm OK with that. I didn't expect Han and Leia's relationship to work out anyway. They had nothing in common except the fight against the empire. Once that was over, Leia was likely to go back to being a diplomat or politician, and Han would have to turn his back on the life of crime and mercenary work that he's good at in order to find a respectable job and avoid being a source of scandal and controversy. That wasn't going to happen!

So all the backstory made sense to me, and was all pretty much what I expected. That is, until the political situation came up... So there's another republic now (makes sense), and that republic is the dominant governing power in the galaxy, right? And then there's this small, Cult of Darth Vader that calls itself the First Order. The First Order isn't the empire (or even the remnants of the empire), but they use the empire's stormtrooper armor, TIE Fighters, and Star Destroyers out of reverence for Vader. And they hold no actual power or influence, right? They don't even recruit soldiers from the general galactic population. They either kidnap children, or grow them in test tubes to be raised to fight as stormtroopers (and maybe even as officers, as suggested by the youthful General Hux). The only sympathy or cooperation that they receive is from fear and intimidation, which for some reason, the republic is either unwilling or incapable of doing anything about?

And then there's this resistance that Leia is supposedly in charge of, and that everyone in the galaxy seems to know about. What are they resisting? They're not resisting the republic. They seem to be resisting the First Order, and that they are sanctioned by the republic but not an official part of the republic. Well why not? Why are they still a small, ragtag group of former rebels that are apparently hiding away in secret bases? Why isn't the "resistance" just the republic's army or some sort of special operations unit? I'm sure that this sort of stuff will be explained (and hopefully make more sense) in the follow-up movies (or maybe it's already been explained in official books or whatever), but that doesn't change the fact that it made no sense in this movie. It's just another example of J.J. Abrams seeming to have no comprehension of the size and scale of the universes that he's working in.

Star Wars the Force Awakens - X-wings incoming
The political situation is very poorly explained. Who are the "Resistance",
what are they resisting, and why aren't they part of the new republic's official military?

The overall plot works well enough for the first two-thirds of the movie. [More]

007 James Bond: Spectre

I treated myself to a double-feature at the cinema this weekend. On Sunday, I finally got out to see The Martian, which I've been wanting to see for a whole month. But on Saturday, I also went to see a newer release: the latest 007 James Bond film Spectre. Casino Royale still stands proud and tall as my favorite Bond film. Spectre did little to change that. The movie is entertaining, but its attempts to retroactively tie together the previous Daniel Craig films felt very forced and unnatural. Christopher Waltz worked fine as a re-imagined Blofeld, but the ham-fisted half-brother back story seemed silly and unnecessary. I was tolerant of the Bond backstory from Skyfall (which I very much enjoyed), but Spectre goes a bit too far.

I admit that I found the first half of the movie a bit hard to follow. I didn't think to re-watch the other Bond movies prior to going into this one, so when names and references from the past movies start getting dropped left and right, I had trouble remembering who was who, what was what, and why I should care. Was the guy in the white suit in Mexico a recurring character? How did old M know about him, and why did she think Bond should bother attending his funeral? Heck, I wasn't even sure it was his funeral, as I half thought it was supposed to be M's funeral. Who were the Spectre leaders trying to replace? Was it the guy killed at the beginning of the film, or somebody from one of the previous movies? Who was Mr. White, again, and why does Bond meet up with him? I'm almost ashamed to admit that I had so much trouble following this movie's script. The first half just moves so fast, glances over certain important details, and pushes forward.

Spectre is basically just another version of Quantum of Solace, with a similar "Bond gone rogue for revenge" kind of set-up. The writers just replaced Quantum with the original Spectre, and made Spectre a parent organization of Quantum. The film's attempts to tie the villains of all the previous films to this single Spectre organization just completely fell flat for me, and in hindsight Quantum of Solace might even have been a better movie (but don't quote me on that until I've had a chance to re-watch it).

007 James Bond: Spectre - Blofeld's secret meeting
Spectre plays up many references to old Bond films and their primary antagonist.

The highlights of this film were probably the encounters with Mr. Hinx (Blofeld's henchman played by Dave Bautista). In a movie that leaned very heavily on the classic Bond films, Mr. Hinx worked very well as an amalgam of classic Bond villains Jaws and Oddball...

[More]

The Martian

I dropped the ball on this one. I often criticize Hollywood for not being willing to make genuine, hard science fiction movies anymore, and I begroan the continued bastardization of my beloved Star Trek and the dumbed down action flicks that Hollywood dared to put the "Star Trek" title on. The studios say that science fiction don't make enough money. Apologists say that casual audiences are too dumb and impatient to sit through any kind of slow-developing, cerebral movie. Ironically enough (despite my own frequent cynicism) I think both these apologetics are too cynical and don't give audiences enough credit. I firmly believe that if the studios make a good movie, the audiences will go see it, especially if it's properly marketed.

So when a thoughtful, science fiction movie like The Martian comes out, I try to make a point of spending my money to see it in order to show my support for the continued development of the genre. I made a point of seeing Gravity, despite that movie appearing to be little more than space destruction porn and iMax eye candy. I also made sure that I saw last year's Interstellar. And both of the Planet of the Apes reboots have been surprisingly excellent. Unfortunately, I lost track of the release date of The Martian and missed seeing it on opening weekend (one of Hollywood's biggest metrics of a movie's success). I also wasn't able to see it the week after, or the week after that due to my weekends being consistently busy. It was over a month before I finally put my foot down and said "I'm seeing this movie now! No more delay!".

Fortunately, the rest of the country vindicated me by heaping dump trucks full of praise on the movie and putting their butts in the theater seats to keep The Martian at the number 1 spot in the box office for almost the entire month of October (only briefly falling to number 2 for one week behind Goosebumps - really?). It finally took an upteenth sequel to a beloved franchise to topple The Martian when Spectre (which I also saw this weekend) held the top spot for two weeks in a row. The movie itself is earning Oscar buzz, and Matt Damon seems to be the current favorite for "Best Actor". So there you have it, Hollywood: make a good sci-fi movie, and they will come, and they will love it.

The Martian - stranded on Mars
Matt Damon's character is charming and easily has the audience rooting for him against all odds.

And the movie is absolutely fantastic! It's ambitions are closer to Apollo 13 than to 2001: A Space Odyssey. It's a very believable, down-to-earth, science fiction film, the events of which feel like they could happen tomorrow. Matt Damon's performance is absolutely charming as a NASA astronaut stranded on Mars and presumed dead when his team is forced to evac due to a violent sandstorm...

[More]

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Jurassic World - the park is open

Jurassic Park is one of my earliest and strongest movie memories. I think I saw it at least four times in theaters when I was a kid. Even at that age, I rarely ever saw a movie more than once in a theater. Probably because I couldn't convince my parents to take me more than once, so if I wanted to go again, I'd have to go with a friend or a cousin. But that movie was good enough that I think even my mom and dad went multiple times.

I had a bunch of the Jurassic Park toys, including the character action figures, the large dinosaurs, the jeep, and even the compound playset with the fence and the gate. It was a very monumental movie in my youth that also shaped my perception of movies going forward, as well as helping to spark my interest in science. The awe and wonder of it captured my imagination and held very tightly for a very long time. Its scenes, images, dialogue, and music have all stuck with me to this day.

Perhaps because of this, my favorite parts of the newly-released Jurassic World were the brief scenes of the kids exploring the theme park. I enjoyed the brief clips of the petting zoo where kids fed the baby dinosaurs and rode on the backs of baby triceratops. I especially liked the little playground set where the kids would pretend to dig up dinosaur fossils. Seeing the kids on screen enjoying the awe and wonder of the animals sent me on a nostalgia trip to 20 years ago. The idea of people interacting with these animals is still just as captivating as it was then. There was a very addictive, light-hearted sense of joy and energy throughout these short-lived segments.

Jurassic Park toys
I had many Jurassic Park toys when I was a kid.

Even a more depressing mid-movie scene in which Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas-Howard try to comfort a dying dinosaur was a touching moment that I really liked. It reminded me of the triceratops scene from the first movie, and the dinosaur was surprisingly expressive.

I did think it was weird that the director chose to play John Williams' trademark Jurassic Park theme as fanfare for what was effectively just a scenic helicopter landing. I get that it was an homage to the first movie, but I feel that the first movie built up to the arrival in the park, and paid off the fanfare with the classic money shot of the brachiosaur grazing in the open field. In Jurassic World, it just kind of felt like going through the motions. Imitation for imitation's sake.

In any case, these fun scenes with the dinosaurs is definitely not the point of the movie, and these sorts of scenes and moments get shoved to the side in order to make room for the film's main plot.

Jurassic World - dino safari
My favorite scenes were the ones of people enjoying the park.

I was skeptical about Jurassic World from the very first trailers. I worried that it would surely miss the point.

Michael Crichton's novels and the first movie weren't about "science gone amok"; it wasn't a Frankenstein story about mad scientists creating monsters. It was about well-intentioned scientists who underestimated the complexities of nature...

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Game of Thrones - title

I recently wrote an analysis of Game Of Thrones' fifth season. I had originally planned to include some speculation about the sixth season, but it wasn't really relevant to the point of the article, which was to describe the themes present in the season. So for the sake of brevity, I moved that speculation to a new post.

What season five does very effectively is to blur the lines between heroes and villains and establish a series of new external threats to entrenched powers and factions. And the self-implosion of the Lannisters, Stannis, Boltons, and the crossing of the Wildlings leaves the Seven Kingdoms vulnerable to the internal strife that made the first few seasons so compelling. In addition, we may finally see a genuine power stuggle across the Narrow Sea.

The stage has been set for power stuggles to take place - not just in King's Landing - but throughout the entire world.

Game of Thrones (season 5) - Tommen confronts cultists
The Lannisters' authority in King's Landing is now being threatened by multiple sources,
including the High Sparrow's cult witch hunts [PICTURED] and the Tyrells and Littlefinger.

CAUTION: THIS POST CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE FIFTH SEASON

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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'Civilization V' strategy: Enrico Dandolo blindly manages Brave New World's only playable City-State'Civilization V' strategy: Enrico Dandolo blindly manages Brave New World's only playable City-State05/15/2014 The penultimate entry in my series of strategy posts about Brave New World's new civilizations will focus on the very unique civilization of Venice: the playable City-State. The city of Venice is one of the most architecturally astounding cities in the world. It is built on top of 118 small islands in the marshy Venetian lagoon....