Movies

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

To preface my criticisms of the movie, I thoroughly enjoyed the big action set pieces and the fight/stunt choreography is well deserving of an Oscar or some other big name award. The martial art sequences are clear and easy to follow, and it just gives you a sense of “wow!” The acting itself is well done, and especially Tony Chiu-Wai Leung as Xu Wenwu. His eyes had more emotion conveyed than most of the rest of the cast. Awkwafina also deserves a shoutout for finally being in a movie and not being totally annoying. And our main star, Simu Liu, bridging that gap between martial arts and acting, reminds me of Donnie Yen, I look forward to seeing more of him in the coming years.

Here’s my faults with it. Story is incredibly simple and follows the marvel formula to a T. Kevin Feige clearly has these screenwriters follow a guideline/stylebook. There’s like no deviation from the path. Must have a bad guy which isn’t the main bad guy, who is being manipulated by the real baddie. Must have the solo movie of a hero end in a giant CGI fest of a fight. Need a quirky yet comedic best friend to be the character lens for the audience to slowly understand what’s going on. There’s probably a few more, but that’s off the top of my head based on recent movies (Thor, Black Panther, Spiderman, Doctor Strange) – to name a few. Imagine an original storyline without the need to have these checkmark plot points for a marvel movie. That would be the future.

Those minor grievances aside in regards to plot, this is one hell of a September movie and deserves all the praise coming its way. I wish nothing but the best of luck to all responsible in the creation of this majestic martial arts comic book movie. If there’s one movie you want to watch in theaters, that would benefit immensely from a large screen and booming sound, it’s this one. I recommend it!

TV Shows

WandaVision

I had high hopes when the show initially started due to the meta usage of layering a show within a show. And then the slow reveal that everything was a reality created by Wanda was unique. I enjoyed the performance by Randall Park as Jimmy Woo, it brought in comedy to what was otherwise a grim affair. Elizabeth Olsen did an excellent job portraying a woman consumed by grief and the PTSD that comes from watching your loved one die (twice in her case). I was indifferent to Paul Bettany as Vision. There’s not much that character can bring emotionally to the table. He’s more a tool to advance Wanda’s character.

The rest of the supporting cast characters such as Captain Rambo, Darcy, Hayward, and her twins all did pretty decent. Nothing outstanding, just played their roles. Agatha was campy fun and a nice foil to Wanda, but ultimately served little purpose other than to accentuate Wanda as the Scarlet Witch. The citizens of Westview had little effect on the plot, I thought they would have more than what was shown. That they would have a greater impact on Wanda’s character but they simply served to reminder her that her actions have consequences.

Spoilers From Here On

Ultimately, I was filled with disappointment. They failed to deliver what I had hoped to have been shown. I was expecting to see a Scarlet Witch devastated by loss and brought to madness but it’s Disney, they never have the courage to show such loss. Gotta keep it kid friendly – yet their cartoons have no problems killing off the mom characters. I was expecting Wanda’s twins to die, and Vision to die, and then consumed by grief and vengeance, she becomes the Scarlet Witch and a tragic villain. Instead, we got a Wanda that accepted her loss (for the moment) and reverted everything to normal except the townsfolk hate her guts, oh and she stole the magical evil spellbook. Any devoted fans recognize it from Agents of Shield? Yup, the book that made Ghost Rider and the same book he took to Hell, somehow showed up in Agatha’s hands. I’m slightly angered by that. Shows they don’t care at all for Agents of Shield and that they’re clearly retconning it. And watch, all sorts of various sites are gonna be talking about how the darkhold can bring all sorts of magical things to the MCU… Newsflash people! It’s already happened!

Other disappointments include the Vision vs Vision fight. Two entities capable of phasing through matter fighting into a stalemate and then having a philosophical match. Yawn. Captain Rambo gets powers and she uses it to stop bullets. Another yawn.

Honestly, this entire show was just a marketing ploy for Doctor Strange 2. You could have cut it down to four hour long episodes and you’d have achieved the same result. The only gains were a new superhero, Vision back from the dead, and Wanda as Scarlet Witch. And all of that was simply teased, never allowed to go to full fruition. It’s clear the movies are their main goal to forward the MCU, and the TV shows are but appetizers to slightly sate your hunger while they prepare the main course.

Overall, I actually don’t recommend watching this. It’s a time sink with little to no payout. You’ll have learned nothing going into Doctor Strange 2 that would influence the plot. If you knew comics at all, you already know Wanda is the Scarlet Witch. If you do insist on viewing it, you can skip every episode and watch the finale and you would have learned as much as those that watched it in its entirety. This was a special effects extravaganza and light on storytelling. Then again, it’s Disney. What did one expect?

Movies

The Yin Yang Master: Dream of Eternity

Mild Spoilers Throughout

To preface my review: I understand the philosophical waxing and poetry of the notion of love portrayed in the movie but be that as it may, it is a convoluted mess. The story in its infancy is about an evil immortal serpent that is born out of the desires of humans, namely that of greed. Every few decades it returns to attempt to feed on the world, and 4 masters of various magical arts must come together to defeat the serpent’s physical body. The main character is the one of the title, the Yin Yang master, Qing Ming (Mark Chao). His fellow acquaintance and eventual friend is Bo Ya (Allen Deng). At first, these two are at odds with each other due to their differing viewpoints on demons but they gain a sense of camaraderie during this adventure. Their companionship is one of the philosophical points on love; that is, love for your fellow man and friends – a bromance if you will.

The second point of love, is that of eternal love. In that aspect, it is the love the empress holds. However her body is the vessel for the evil snake spirit and since desires feed that entity, she must be without love. Yet in the end, it is that love which frees the snake because she could not let it go. The way I saw it, was that her love was a toxic kind that only ruins herself and those around her.

This movie was directed and written by Jingming Guo, and while there was some good direction, it is painful to see that there is blatant copying of another movie. Dr. Strange from Marvel was clearly taken for inspiration from, and given the director’s previous problems with plagiarism, it kind of feels like that happened here. The use of hands to create eerily similar portals, down to the orange color and effects is a little bit too on the nose. That aside, the CGI was very well done despite adding little to the story and often had it feel like I was watching a live action anime rather than an original story based on a novel. The acting of the two main characters was good, and everyone else felt bland or fell flat. One character, central to the love plot, He Shouyue, felt like nothing but a pretty face and body. At 132 mins long, I was bored. Some moments did captivate me due to the sheer spectacle and fantastical nature of it all. What really excelled though was the score. Absolutely loved it! Oriental music with traditional instruments and hints of electric guitar. Got the blood pumping during certain action scenes.

Overall, it’s worth a watch but you’d be terribly bored upon a re-watch with friends. You’ll find yourself going “huh?” a lot but in the latter half and ending, it clears it all up. Though I can’t say I recommend watching it despite just saying it’s worth a watch. Up to you.

Final note: one scene straight had an angel with a fiery sword battling a snake. Oh hey, creation myth much, Uriel anyone? Cherub angel with a flame sword, nice inspiration.

Games

Marvel’s Avengers (2020 Game)

Made by Crystal Dynamics, Crystal Northwest, Nixxes Software BV, and Eidos-Montreal. Published by Square Enix. Available on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X and Series S, Xbox One, Google Stadia, and Microsoft Windows. The review is based upon the Microsoft Windows version, attained for free with a qualifying Intel purchase.

Where to start? This game is overly ambitious in its promises, and for the most part has failed to deliver. The good part of the game is the story, writing, and lore and everything else suffers tremendously. It’s like video game developers are doomed to repeat history over and over, not learning from previous developers on what not to do for a video game. They merely had to study Diablo 3’s failures to see how they should have done the looting and gear system. You don’t make the intrinsic difficulty of the enemies tied to the intrinsic power of your own heroes. At minute one to hundred hours, there is no difference in how strong you are. It all takes the same amount of damage to defeat the enemies. There is no sense of growth for the player at all. I am always struggling facing my foes and that should never be the case. There should always be a sense of growing upwards, of being better, and in Avengers, despite being superheroes, random robots and mere bullets can defeat you easily.

The two directors of the game should have known better but looking them up, they are both relative unknowns to the video game world. Shaun Escayg has three video games to his name, and the other, Morgan W. Gray, only has this game. I was going to ask did Crystal Dynamics fire everyone that ever worked on their games, that Tomb Raider died for Avengers, for this? Looking at their history on Wikipedia, it’s actually not far off from the truth. The creative directors of Tomb Raider did in fact leave the company. It explains a lot of the direction this Avengers game took. And what are these directions? Well aside from the difficulty being tied to your own stats/gear, which affects everything because it is the core gameplay loop experience, there’s not much else offered. You choose a mission, load in once, load in again, and then fight through a series of copy pasted hallways and dreary rooms filled to the brim with uninspired robotic enemies and occasional humanoids. Your objectives range from killing certain units, killing a group of units, standing on three different sections waiting for a percentage bar to fill while keeping enemy units off them, to clearing waves of enemies. Missions can range from as short as 2 minutes to 2 hours long. The long missions are ones in a semi-open world where you have a series of objectives to complete but you can explore around to find chests or other ways to gain loot. It’s an incredibly grindy experience that feeds back into that dopamine reward system of getting shiny new gear.

The enjoyable part of the game, that which kept me coming back to finish the campaign, aside from the emotional storytelling, is the combat. Each Avenger feels unique in their actions despite everyone sharing nearly the same exact controls, you have a light attack and a heavy attack, and a ranged attack. Through combinations of these attacks, you can unleash signature moves that are well known by all the heroes. At first, button mashing does work but eventually you need to get used to using dodge. There is a parry function but at higher difficulties, it is absolutely useless and will get you killed. And speaking of that, the game has some of the most infuriating artificial difficulties I’ve experienced in a game, and I’ve beaten Dark Souls/Sekiro and neither of those come close to the cheese experienced by enemies in this game. Despite my ever rising pool of health or willpower as it’s known in this game, enemies will two or three shot me every time. At higher difficulties, this becomes a one shot and rarely a two shot. And why? Because every enemy has an unblockable attack that must be dodged and yes, there is an indication for these attacks but most times they come from missiles or projectiles off-screen. So you’ll be fighting your enemy and out of nowhere, you’ll get hit by a stray missile and be stunned. That moment of being stunned is enough for another missile or projectile to hit you, causing your hero to be downed and awaiting revival from a friendly hero or AI.

Speaking of the AI, your friendly heroes are incredibly harebrained and coded to be nearly useless. They will repeatedly stand in front of your path, hindering your movement or blocking your ranged attacks. Each hero has a support ability, a power ability (attack move) and an ultimate ability that either boosts your strength or unleashes a really strong attack. 9/10 times when I’ve done a power ability or an ultimate ability, the AI stand right in front of the enemy I’m trying to target and ends up absorbing the impact, rendering my move pointless. One of the heroes, Miss Marvel, has a support ability which is a group heal. Now you’d assume that when she’s used by the AI, that when you have low health that she’d pop that heal. You’d be wrong. I’ve never seen her use it when I have low health and am in dire circumstances. I’ve only ever witnessed the AI pop that heal when I’m either at 75% or 50%. Both percentages I can easily manage with takedowns (unique moves that appear when an enemy’s stun meter is filled up) that grant me health regen. But when I’m in the midst of combat with numerous enemies, and so many projectiles that the game becomes pure chance, that ain’t the case. Skill is entirely removed, and I’m left at the mercy of luck. Will she heal me? Or will she ignore my downed status? Chances are 60/40 in favor of the AI not doing either.

Moving on, each hero has maximum level of 50 and a power level (gear score) of 150. Leveling up grants you a skill point to use on the vast skill trees available. Some skills are locked behind level gates while others are available from the start. At max level, you’ll have every skill unlocked. To get a power level of 150 requires a disgusting amount of time spent grinding the same missions over and over trying to get a miniscule increase in gear compared to what you’ve currently equipped. Each piece of gear has a max power level of 140 but through upgrades can reach that 150 power level. These upgrades are costly and to get a full set to 150 requires an absurd amount of materials. Materials which are gained by dismantling gear or finding it out in missions. Alternatively, you can buy materials with another material that is rare to acquire. This is clearly designed for the long haul.

Other aspects that are worth mentioning is the sheer amount of things to buy, cosmetically. You can buy them using in-game currency called units which are hard to come by and the cost of cosmetics is astronomical. Some of these cosmetics are legendary items costing upwards of 7000 units. I’ve been playing for 32 hours and I have only 7600ish units. Or you can pay real money for credits which can then unlock the items directly. Credits are also earned via each heroes’ individual battlepass that nets 1300 credits per completion. New hero battlepasses will cost 1000 credits or 10 dollars. The farthest I’ve gotten any hero is to page two of their battlepass, and that battlepass goes up to 5 pages. Like I said, they want the long haul. Playing on PC is an interesting experience because the numerous crashes, bugs, and glitches is truly astounding. We had a beta and you’d think they’d use that time to figure out if they should release on time or delay. I can confidently say that they should have most definitely delayed the game by at least 6 months or so to help iron out the kinks. I was nearly done the campaign when the game refused to load in. I had to go into the multiplayer component and was forced to watch spoilers so that I could then go back into the campaign because loading into the campaign directly resulted in an infinite loading screen. I have fallen through floors more times than I can count, I have crashed to desktop because of reasons I don’t even know. My power levels have fluctuated while I’m in a mission resulting in my death or inability to even damage the enemy. I have bought a cosmetic only to have it re-locked and now unable to use or purchase again.

Did I enjoy the campaign? Yes, I did. Did I enjoy multiplayer? No, because even that is broken and unable to find other players. I feel sorry for anyone that got suckered in by the advertising and bought this game for full price. I am happy I got it for free because I would have never bought this, and if I did, I would have severely regretted it. As much as I am a fan of Marvel and their superheroes, this game is a massive misfire. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 on Switch is by far a better game. And if you’re looking for a Marvel game to play, make it be that one and save yourself a headache.