Monday, May 4, 2015

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "The Avengers" (2012)

The Avengers. A team of heroes who, on a day unlike any other, were brought together to battle the forces of evil that threatened the planet Earth. They are the best of the best, Earth's Mightiest Heroes. When all else fails, they don't, and saving the world is a game that they've been at for over fifty years now. And just a year shy of their fiftieth anniversary, we were giving a film that would completely change everything everyone knew about cinema forever.

This is not me gushing like the Marvel fanboy that I admit wholly that I am, it's a fact. This film is the final play, the crown jewel in a collection that had begun four years prior that made a shared continuity between different films a plausible box office draw, something that was virtually unheard of before this point. The Avengers was proof that it not only worked, but worked amazingly well, and we know this because - as of the time I'm writing this review - it's the third highest grossing film of all time (though, given that it's sequel came out a mere three days ago, this could easily change). While superhero films have always been massive summer blockbusters, this is the film that proved that they could be more than just popcorn movies.

...by being what amounts to a massive popcorn movie.

Yeah, I'm not going to lie. At the time this movie came out, it was the best thing that Marvel had come out with, bar none. Getting to see a group of superheroes onscreen that weren't led and overshadowed by Hugh Jackman? Unheard of. But coming right off their respective films, we have Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor Odinson (Chris Hemsworth), and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) are brought together by the machinations of Loki (Tom Hiddleston) as the would-be King of Asgard decides to take the logical step to getting his ass handed to him at the end of Thor and attack Earth using the almighty Lite-Brite Cube of Infinite Power.

Also in attendance are Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), and Bruce "Please God, No More Hulk Poodles" Banner (Mark Ruffalo).  Romanoff gets a little bit of her backstory hinted at, but otherwise little development beyond apparently not wanting to be pummeled to death by the Hulk. Barton is barely in the film, much as he was barely in Thor with his cameo having less screen time than roughly all of Alfred Hitchcock's appearances in his movies. Really, Age of Ultron should have been called Age of Hawkeye for all the glorious overcompensation for his lack of exposure in this film.

But alas, that doesn't change that this film barely features him, which is a shame due to Renner being really rather good in the role.

And as for Banner, he's a bit of a strange anomaly. Ruffalo's performance is great and I do like it far, far more than either Edward Norton's or Eric Bana's in the previous two Hulk films, but there are several things about the character that just don't add up: chiefly the statement near the end of Banner that he's "always angry", which as yet still has not been explained or even expanded upon since. Of course, it leads into one of the best shots in the film, so I find myself immediately distracted by that awesome shot of the camera panning around all six of the Avengers as they prepare to apply some liberal boot to some alien ass.

And then there's Loki, once more played by Tom Hiddleston. This time backed by a mysterious entity of great and terrible power, Loki is making a bid to take control of the Earth using the power of a zippy-cool-keen Scepter and the Tesseract from Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor. He's good, though I still am trying to wrap my brain around why he thought a good plan was getting together the six people who could most easily kick his ass and trying to get them to hate one another just long enough for him to take over the Earth.

Though I suppose it's too early in the continuity to try to pull a Justice League: Doom and take them out separately...they saved that for Age of Ultron, spoiler alert.

And, of course, New York gets several blocks taken out as it should in any good summer blockbuster action film, the invading alien army of the Chitauri descending from a wormhole like demons out of Hell itself to wreak some havoc in the name of Loki. Their Phantom Menace-style ending is a bit anti-climactic, but it helps to speed things along and get us to the ending we knew was coming...and sets up for Iron Man 3, which I'm not remotely willing to get into right now. Beyond a few plot holes, which I am more than willing to overlook, I have to say this is a film that I absolutely adore. I'm happy to riff and nitpick with everybody on the minor problems, but this is a great movie. It's very existence is a miracle, and the excellent work of Joss Whedon and the cast and crew give it life, wit, and charm that one characteristically expects given the man's resume.

He knew that he had to tie things together in a way that not only brought Marvel a smash hit, but also allowed them to continue building on what had begun back in 2008, and they're still doing that even to this day.

MadCap's Marvel Retrospective: Phase One is over.

MadCap will return in...whatever he decides to review next.

Stay tuned!

The Avengers is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

MadCap At the Movies - "The Avengers: Age of Ultron"

The Avengers. A team of heroes who...oh, wait, I mixed this up with my review of the first movie in my retrospective. Let me start over...

Joss Whedon once more takes us back to the joined universe of the Avengers on Earth - not seen since Captain America: The Winter Soldier - to see the almighty six taking down HYDRA, finding some new members, and taking on some new foes. Alright, that's inaccurate - it's one new foe due to all the build up of Baron von Strucker (Kai Wulff) in the post-credits scene of Winter Soldier being all for naught since he comes up with a severe case of irrelevant and then a severer case of dead later in the film - Spoiler Alert.

Once more we return to the exciting world of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor Odinson (Chris Hemsworth), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), and Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) as they lay a six-man siege on the base of HYDRA leader Baron von Strucker in order to retrieve Loki's scepter. As they siege, the team is accosted by villainous not-mutants and future Avengers Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and it's clear from the jump that the world has only gotten that much darker with the defeat of the Chitauri.

This is no more clear than in Stark himself, who ends up taking Loki's scepter and discovering something within it - the makings of an artificial intelligence even more advanced than JARVIS (Paul Bettany). And, of course, the creation of Ultron (James Spader) is the impetus that finally pushes the plot along and makes the dark crank right up to eleven.

And dark is something that anyone who has seen a Joss Whedon series knows he does quite well. We're also given more than a few quiet moments that allow us to develop the characters who likely did not receive so much of it in The Avengers. Of particular note are Hawkeye, Black Widow, and Banner. Having been in all of about ten minutes of the previous Avengers film, Renner's Barton is heavily in the spotlight this time around. While I know this was partially to make up for the fact that he's barely had ten minutes of screen time before this point, it really is very jarringly obvious that that's what they were trying to do here.

However, Renner makes Clint likable as all get out, so I can't really fault him or Whedon for that.

Yes, I just said something nice about Hawkeye. Through Whedon, all things are possible.

There also appears to be a romance building between Ruffalo's Banner and Johansson's Romanoff which seemed to come out of nowhere. Apparently they've spent some time offscreen, however, since Romanoff has seemingly completely dispelled her fear of the Hulk and is able to calm him from his enraged state with a "lullaby", a coded series of gestures and words.

And of course, because it's Whedon, it's not a spoiler to say it ends in tragedy. Don't get me wrong, I actually find them a surprisingly good fit as a couple...I just really want to have seen the build up to this. Maybe Marvel could pull a nice prequel movie or something of the kind. Get on that, you people who are too busy counting their millions of dollars to pay attention to random internet critics!

And a Black Widow movie while you're at it!

Also are new Avengers Pietro and Wanda, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. They are basically the same characters as seen in their comic book equivalents...baring origin details that Marvel doesn't currently have the rights to on film. Pietro is a cocky, arrogant speedster who the entire world just moves too damn slowly around and Wanda is a rather demure, reserved individual until she really gets pissed and then it's all over but the mindrape and the screaming.

And of course, a sore subject for many, is Ultron as played by James Spader. Being not that much of a fan of the character (though having no dislike for him), I didn't have a problem with Whedon's usual brand of snarky humor being pasted into the character - especially considering that it's Stark, rather than Hank Pym, who creates him in this universe (which is a sore subject with me, but I'm letting that go). My biggest exposure to Ultron was in the Avengers: EMH cartoon, where he was incredibly cold, analytic, and all about the complete and total annihilation of humanity to save them form themselves which...is touched upon here, but a great deal of his character arc is about "evolution", as gets demonstrated by Paul Bettany's Vision.

Without wishing to spoil, Vision is brought in late in the film but isn't a complete deus ex machima because he doesn't immediately solve the problem of Ultron. And I will say that I like how Bettany has very easily adapted into the same very cold, almost clinical style of analysis that Ultron has of humanity, but tempered by his ethical programming and the knowledge of all the good that humanity can do, given the opportunity. I look forward to seeing more of him in the future, which it seems we will given how Age of Ultron serves as a great deal of set up for Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Oh, yes, the Infinity Stones come fully to the forefront of the main heroes. They had, of course, appeared in several of the films before, but this is really the first time that they have been identified by the Earth-based heroes as what they are and a greater threat being on its way is acknowledged. A threat that appears in a mid-credits scene with a very, very iconic artifact from the Marvel universe that is a total set up for Infinity War.

That's right! It's Kang the Conqueror wielding the Eye of Agamotto!

...okay, no, but you have to admit that would make an awesome movie. If being completely impossible...

In summation, good film. Don't go expecting the more lighthearted tone of the first one, because you aren't going to get that at all. The Sword of Damocles is hanging over everyone's heads, and there are indeed some rather tense moments for just about everybody - baring the people who we know are going to survive because of their place in announced future sequels.

The humor is good, the action is right off the bat and keeps going pretty strong, and we're given some good development of the characters we've come to know and love. Some of the purists might not be happy with it, but I'm sure Marvel is just crying into their piles of money as they weep.

...though seriously, Whedon, why couldn't Cap pick up Mjolnir?

...and why do you have a pathological fear of the word "Assemble"?

Avengers: Age of Ultron is now in theaters from Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.
For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter  @MadCapMunchkin.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

From MadCap's Couch - "Sliders: The Prince of Wails"

Oh, God...the Sliders found Hoenn!!!!
I'm an American, a proud American, and I honestly do love my country and don't really want to live anywhere else. But, of course, I'm not going to shove my love of my country down your throat, because let's face it, it'll probably make you ga-I mean, it would just be improper. Thus, I really don't understand what the obsession with the Royal Family of England is. Really, our ancestors fought a war to free us from the shackles of British oppression and you morons are more than happy to welcome them back if they say a few kind words and wave and smile at you? I can hear George III spinning in his grave having wished he'd tried that tactic to woo the colonists into servitude.

No offense to my British readers. Please don't stop making Doctor Who. Oh, and Iron Maiden, keep them going for at least another ten years, please.

However, some of the more hardcore Sliders fans will immediately chastise me for jumping to this episode instead of doing them in the "proper" order. You see, much like with Firefly, FOX aired the original episodes out of order. So, after the two-part "Pilot" was not "Fever" but an episode dubbed "Summer of Love", which is listed as the fifth episode by the order that FOX aired them in and on the Netflix instant Que. So, I'm doing them in that order. Why? Convenience. So, with that, let us prepare to hop into a world across the pond.

The episode begins with the Sliders clinging to life from a building in a flooded San Francisco, apparently having slid into a world where the polar ice caps had melted. As they cling to life, Rembrandt does some more whining about his inability to restart his career and Quinn rightly tells him to stuff a sock in it. After a not terrible CGI shark and the title sequence, the group manages to slide away before becoming shark food and fall right into a fountain. As they resolve to keep themselves low-key, a man bows to Arturo in a rather over the top fashion...how strange.They also notice the "Benedict Arnold Savings & Loan" and a British-style telephone booth.

Not, a blue telephone box, but we can't ask for miracles.

As they pass, more individuals bow to Arturo specifically, something that unnerves the Sliders a bit. After Wade is nearly run over and chastised by an overly polite British motorist, the man completely folds at the sight of Arturo and apologizes profusely for his "reckless driving" and offers him the use of the nearby hotel completely with the Royal Suite. Once settled in, Arturo reads the script, learning that this San Francisco is part of the "British States of America". Apparently on this Earth, the Americans lost the Revolutionary War and the monarchy still holds power.

They believe that they're manage to get through their time on this world in anonymity due to the British desire to mind their own business...until they see Arturo as the "Sheriff of San Francisco" on television.

Times the Sliders Have Run into Parallel Versions of Themselves: 5

Arturo in this universe is not only the Sheriff of San Francisco, but is apparently the acting Regent over the British government until young Prince Harold can be crowned the following week. Deciding to head out into the wild to avoid someone discovering that Arturo is not Arturo, the Sliders use his status one last time to get a car loaded down with various loot.

Remember, kids...everything he says is right.
They head out into the woods of downtown Oakland and apparently have some car trouble, forcing the others to push the car while Arturo touts more exposition. Apparently, not only the American Revolution did not happen, but also the French and Russian didn't either, leading the world to be ruled by a handful of monarchies rather than the governments that would rise in the wake of their respective falls. As the group takes a break from pushing and Wade brings up several quotations from newspapers to question why exactly Harold should be king, the military shows up.

Once more, Arturo uses his duplicate's status to bluff his way past the commander - another version of Quinn and Wade's asshole boss at the computer store - and tries to get the group to not interfere when it becomes clear that the military is up to something shady under the Sheriff's orders. Quinn, however, convinces the group to investigate.

Thus we are introduced to Prince Harold, apparently out hunting when the military swoops in. The Sliders rescue him. Once more, Arturo gets the military off their backs and the group escapes. Arturo attempts to explain that he is not the Sheriff...but Harold is a blithering idiot who thinks he's joking. They return to the car from earlier, apparently hoping it repaired itself by magic, and find that it's been completely stripped clean.

...well, that's downtown Oakland for you.

No, apparently, the car has been stripped clean by a guerrilla group known as the Oakland Raiders...something something sports joke here...who hold them all at gunpoint. Quinn improvs the hell out of the situation, claiming that they've come to join up with the resistance movement, presenting them with Arturo and Harold. Captured, they're taken into the rebel hold. Quinn does his best to get them to keep Arturo and Harold alive as Harold continues to be completely oblivious to the realities of the situation before them much to Arturo's exasperation.

Then we get a scene with the Sheriff, where his television show has a segment where he claims to be opening up to his critics for criticisms...but is in reality only setting things up to make himself and the monarchy look good by having only those who speak well of the establishment be heard and those who dissent being hissed by an electronic audience produced by a machine.

Thank God this show came out before Twitter or he would have just callously blocked all the "trolls".

So, going from a monarchy to a totaltarian state. However, the commander from earlier meets with the Sheriff and the jig is up about Harold still being alive following a message from the Raiders about having both him and Arturo in custody. In response to this, Sheriff declares that he wants Harold dead. He wants his family dead. He wants the woods burned to the ground. He wants to be able to go to the woods in the middle of the night and pis-okay, you get the point. Scorched Earth.

Back with the Revolution, we get a scene with Harold and Wade where he impresses upon her the knowledge that the tabloids about him aren't true and she upon him that the Sheriff might not be acting in his best interest. He denies that he's been set up for assassination...until he finally makes the mental leap that, being the last of his line, the person who would succeed him in the event of his death is...the Sheriff.

Meanwhile, I'm still trying to figure out how San Francisco became so important to the British monarchy, but let's press on.

The Palace is revealed to have rejected all the demands the Raiders have given, so they decide to make an example of Arturo and Harold with bullets to the head. At the last minute, Quinn manages to save them with the power of television, revealing that the Sheriff is doing a live broadcast and thus cannot be Arturo, who is right there. The rebel leader is convinced by Quinn after a speech made of fortune cookie sayings that somehow gets the rebels into action. What follows is a montage of the rebels robbing from the rich and giving to the poor, martial law being declared by the Sheriff.

It's also important to keep in mind, they're doing this in all of about a week.

The Sheriff does a public service announcement to try and calm public fears and threatens the Raiders with their annihilation.

Wade and Harold have a moment where Harold flirts with her mercilessly and Wade shuts him down. Whereupon he brings up her rather obvious love of Quinn, which leads into Wade and Quinn having a not at all civil conversations about their respective love lives...with people they've only really known for about a week (three days actually, as we later find out). And since the feelings are abundantly obvious between the two and Jerry O'Connell and Sabrina Lloyd have a surprising amount of chemistry in this scene in particular and seem right about to, I'll go ahead and say it.

HEY! Quinn! Wade!



Seriously...geez...

Later, however, there's trouble afoot as Prince Harold has escaped - apparently not being the complete moron that everyone thought he was. With him escaped, however, Quinn goes out to try and recapture him before the Sheriff kills him - giving Wade the Slide Timer just in case he doesn't make it back in time.

In the meanwhile, Prince Harold walks among the poor and destitute of San Franciscso, likely seeing for the first time how utterly oblivious he has been to the problems of his people. If it weren't for the hard rock guitar theme blaring through the background, it could actually be a very powerful scene as Harold looks absolutely horrified at what he has discovered.

To keep the plot going and leaving Harold no time to ponder his actions, Quinn gets arrested by the Sheriff's men and dragged off.

The Sheriff hops on the tube to reveal that Quinn is being held at a maximum security prison, apparently having become a big name terrorist in three days, and will be executed by midnight...seventeen minutes before the window for Sliding opens. The rebels resolve to make Quinn a martyr and devolve into violence, seemingly lost without the wise Fortune Cookie words of their lord and savior.

To the surprise of all, however, Harold returns and refutes their words of violence. Apparently, he somehow wandered back into the heavily fortified rebel structure because...the plot needed him to, I guess. He speaks of how naive and foolish he was and the rebels decide to try and rally the people to storm the prison due to his support of them.

That's right. We're at the ten minutes before the end of the episode mark, as Arturo has a plan.

We get an ominous scene of shadowy men preparing the electric chair, which will be broadcast live for...convenience. The rebels take the TV station and set up Harold to speak up so they can pardon Quinn, expose the Sheriff, and introduce democracy to the world at long last. Rembrandt and Arturo run him through the Bill of Rights as it exists on their world, getting through to the sixth amendment before telling him to "wing it".

As the Sheriff begins his broadcast, the rebels hijack the signal and the Prince lets the cat out of the bag. Quinn is freed just in time and somehow gets to meet the rest of the group just in time for their slide out, giving Harold some last minute advice to with things as well as the rough draft they worked up of the Bill of Rights,  including the acknowledgment that "James Brown is the godfather of soul."

Oh, Remmy, you so wild!

This is actually not a bad episode, though the story is a little bit rushed in it's resolution and the pacing is all over the place. While the Sliders say they have six days on this world, it only ends up feeling like maybe two at the most, montages aside.

To give due credit, Harold's transformation into someone who cares seems quite genuine even over the short period of time. After seeing the plight of his people, having been cooped up and kept away from the realities of the world, he is really horrified and wants to use his power to make things change. He's not malicious or cruel, just oblivious, and so he sees the need to fix what is broken when it's revealed to him. Bravo!

Also, due to the nature of the show, we don't really see the consequences of the Sliders actions after introducing the noble virtues of democracy and self-government...though under the monarchy (or, at least, the Sheriff) it was an utterly totalitarian police state, so it's perfectly fine. Or some other justification for completely eschewing the established social order (nobody ever said being a hero was a good thing, see also: Dune).

Next week, we're going to a world that's FOX News would love to be in, and Hippies that wish they were here.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

From MadCap's Couch - "Sliders: Fever"

"Hey, Remmy, have I got something in my teeth?"
We begin the third episode of the first season with the Sliders apparently being in a world where everyone in San Francisco has oil, so everyone is rich beyond their wildest dreams. Never mind basic economics where having more of something will actually make the thing in question less expensive due to more supply to fit the demand, but we can't expect writers to actually do any research on that, and I'm going off on a tangent about a cold open gag, and if I do that on this show we'll never see the end of it.

They slide off after getting all the dough they can stuff into their pockets and end up in a rather 1984-esque world. Where the CDC has taken over, and Wade is saved from being run over by a man with severe jaundice who chastises her upon kissing him on the cheek as a thank you.  Rather depressingly, they learn they will be on this Earth for a little over two days. Heading into a diner, they find that the food is prepackaged and apparently worse than the airline version. Throwing up part of a burger, Rembrandt finds a wanted poster for Quinn Mallory of this world, who is subtitled in a rather foreboding manner as "Patient Zero".

Times the Sliders Have Run into Parallel Versions of Themselves: 4

Rembrandt shows the poster to the others and they decide to beat a hasty retreat from the dinner, though not before a scene where several men in hazard suits rush in and subdue a man standing behind Quinn...only for Quinn to be recognized by one of the waitresses at the last minute. As they escape, Wade begins to feel dizzy - which certainly has nothing to do with the yellow man she kissed - so Quinn and Arturo enter a nearby pharmacy with such stock as witch hazel and wormwood on its shelves, but lacking in so much as Aspirin, which they chalk up to it being an alternative medicine store.

However, a crazy employee recognizes Quinn for his double and calls up the CDC so he can die like a martyr, who manage to subdue him after a fight, leaving Arturo behind. Wade and Rembrandt have checked into a hotel and the Professor arrives to tell them the news, as well as telling them that the Quinn of this universe was a failing medical student who released a plague out to the general public. Where did he learn this? I assume he read the script, because there are a few logic problems with the thought that he might have been asking around about the background of the man who is quite literally public enemy number one.

Wade, as it turns out, has taken a plot related turn for the worse. She experiences some creepy hallucinations while Quinn is put through a severe detox shower so that the female viewership can gawk at his abs, which are admittedly not unimpressive. In scanning him, however, they find that Quinn does not have the infection that his double on this Earth has while he explains that he's not from this Earth. The doctor overseeing his tests wants to look further into it.
Y'all futhermockers need Lysol!

Back with the others, Arturo is likewise getting sick after exposure to the disease...and Wade has somehow managed to escape the room, still afflicted by the fever hallucinations. Luckily, Rembrandt and Arturo find her just in time to be accosted by the Morlocks! ...okay, they're not the Morlocks, but people who have been affected by the plague Quinn's double created, whereupon they actually meet this version of Quinn.

Apparently, he's set up a quarantine area to try and cure the plague if at all possible. Red Eye Quinn reveals that he himself did not actually create the Q, he was merely given it by a scientist he signed up for a test trial with who released him back into society. He also explains the situation of society - the rich stay in a hygienic utopia while the poor get sick and die. And thus, we come to the topic the episode is soapboxing about - corporations and the rich hording high end medicines while the poor are left to die. This isn't so blunt force as later stands the show tries to take, but it's still pretty intense, Red Eye Quinn angrily pointing out two of the people in the shelter and teling Rembrandt to "ask them" if he didn't believe him about the state of things.

Then, the twist occurs when Arturo asks why the plague is resistant to antibiotics, and Red Eye asks him what those are.

Then we get a short scene where our Quinn is further interrogated by the Squeaky Clean Health Police who refute his claims that he is not the Quinn Mallory that they know.

Back in the sick house, Arturo begins to dig through the trash to make penicillin, bringing up the very real point that they can't leave with Wade or himself infected as they risk becoming the Patient Zero of another world if they don't have a cure there either. Rembrandt gets a pep talk from Red Eye, learning that Quinn has been taken to the CHC's facility nearby and that he's the only one who can save the day...because he's the only healthy one.  He also mentions the doctor currently testing Quinn, saying that she's a friend and will help.

And indeed she is helping, bringing Quinn a hazard suit and telling him to put it on and the pair of them escaping so they can work on a cure together. There's a shootout with the surprisingly efficient CDC troops...and sadly, Red Eye's Doctor friend dies in Quinn's arms. With the help of the taxi driver from the Pilot, Quinn and Rembrandt escape.

The Professor and Red Eye work on the potential cure, the former giving the potential reason why Wade's sickness is progressing so fast being that they're from a different Earth and thus have different immunities. Wade has more hallucinations, this time of of Quinn professing his undying love, and Quinn arrives to finally meet Red Eye and the both have a nice, wholesome, WTF?! moment.

With luck, the Professor has finished his first bit of the potential cure and prepares to take it, Red Eye pointing out that there are many others who are far sicker than he. In one of the moments that remind me why I love his character, Arturo brings up the fact that he has no idea if the cure will work and that it could possibly kill him due to the fact that the ingredients not doing the same thing that they do in the universe he knows. Rather than have it not work on someone sick or kill someone, Arturo elects to take the potential sacrifice himself.

It's a very interesting idea that sadly never really gets explored over the course of the series. Besides some minor quirks, everything in every other parallel universe sadly runs the same way as it does in the main universe throughout the rest of the show.

However, we're less than ten minutes from the end title card, so the Medic Militia tracks down the Cabbie of Destiny and has him point out where he dropped off Quinn and Rembrandt and charge off to break down the resistance.

Also, Rembrandt gets the disease at the last minute, but apparently the Professor's cure has been duplicated and thus it's...completely pointless. Because yes, Arturo is cured and his fever broken, thus Wade can be cured and so can everyone else. All is well with only twelve minutes to go before the Slide. Nice that everything in the episode was wrapped up in a nice little bow like tha-oh right, the CDC, I forgot.

The CDC gets in and starts tagging everyone, the Sliders held up some steps for their slide with only a minute to go. Red Eye faces off against the doctor leading the swat team (only in reviewing things like Sliders do I ever get to say something like that), declaring that he's somehow managed to get word to other infected in other quarantine zones about the cure and how to make it, and that the government won't be able to keep it just for the wealthy. I'd question how he managed to do that, but the Sliders are about to escape so it's not really all that important.

They jump and we cut to Wade waking up next to a fire, apparently all better now minus a little grogginess.  Quinn tells her that she'll be fine and about that they found a cure for those people. Sliding made a difference. Wade settles in to get some rest, and Rembrandt and Arturo arrive to ask him Quinn if he told her about the cannibals...who have ominously stopped playing their drums. Cue audience laughter as the episode closes...
"Hey, babe, I'm Jerry O'Connell. Don't you wanna say you got with Jerry O'Connell?" 

As I said before, this episode is very obviously a jab at the pharmaceutical companies and the like that withhold cures only for the rich, building a society that is built around that crux point.

Also as I said before, it's not as anvilicious as many later Lessons of the Day are, the only scene where it really shines through and beats the viewer over the head in Red Eye's showdown with the doctor. It brings up the interesting idea that maybe the very chemistry of a universe is not necessarily the same as another, even if that idea is never really brought up again or followed up on. The ending is a little rushed, but that's the case with quite a few endings so it would be rather unfair to rag on that too much.

A good enough episode and a better concept for introducing the multiverse theory to the audience than the Pilot episode gave.

Because, y'know, a world where the Soviet Union took over is way less believable than a world where the government controls the people through a campaign of disease and fear and holds up the only cure for how much money it can make off of people.

...actually, given recent events...eh, too topical, too topical.

Come back next week for a hop across the pond.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Monday, April 20, 2015

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "The Incredible Hulk" (2008)

Doctor Bruce Banner. Physician. Scientist. Searching for a way to tap into the hidden strengths that all humans have. Then an accidental dose of gamma radiation interacts with his unique body chemistry. And now, whenever Doctor Banner becomes angry or outraged, a startling metamorphosis occurs...

Yes, it's time to re-start my Marvel Cinematic Universe retrospective I suddenly stopped a little over a year ago. Why? Oh, it's very simple...

...I got lazy.

...that's it.

Still, with Avengers: Age of Ultron on the horizon at the time of writing, I think it's time to pick back up where I left off and see what I can do about retrospecting the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Because the sad truth is that this film as well as Iron Man came out seven years ago. Why yes, that does make me a bit sad.

However, getting to the main point of this particular review - the Hulk. As the opening monologue tells, Bruce Banner was working on a form of bomb powered by gamma radiation. Accidentally caught in the blast, Bruce was surprisingly not burned alive by atomic fire but instead found himself cursed with a forced transformation into the giant green rage monster known as the Incredible Hulk, the strongest there is.

Now, some of you might remember at this point a 2003 film known as Hulk that starred Eric Bana and was directed by Ang Lee.

...stop it. Right now.

Mostly due to the fact that this version ignores all of that and doesn't have the unbelievable sin of opening credits that drag on for half of the film's run time or the Hulk poodle. In fact, the opening story is summed up rather nicely via a montage in a nice send up to the opening title sequence of the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno television show.

As it gets implied in this film (and outright stated in The Avengers), Bruce Banner (Eric Norton) was performing tests with gamma radiation in order to try and replicate Doctor Abraham Erskine's original Super Soldier serum. But a horribly accident occurred that left Bruce's lady love Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) and her father General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross (William Hurt) heavily injured and their lab destroyed.

Unlike the television show, however, the world does not think that Bruce Banner is dead. With General Ross on his trail, Bruce has been forced to be out on the lam in Brazil, where at the beginning of the film he's had nearly one hundred and sixty days without an incident. So, for the one white guy in all of Brazil, he blends in pretty well and keeps his head down.

However, following an accident at the factory where he works, some of Banner's blood gets traced back to him and the government closes in on them. Eventually one of their number, Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) ends up being injected with a similar serum to Banner's, which inevitably turns him into a monster not unlike the Hulk and forces a showdown between the two.

I will say, right off the bat that Edward Norton has a lot of love for the character of the Hulk, that much is unquestionable. His performance as Bruce Banner shows a great deal of heart his performance reminds me a great deal of his in Fight Club, what with contending with a similar alternate persona that the plot revolves around (spoiler alert - though the film's been out since 1999). However, instead of Brad Pitt...it's a giant green rage monster.

I like that the film takes great pains - much like The Amazing Spider-Man - to show off the fact that Banner is a scientist, doing things such as repairing machinery in the factory where he works in Brazil and working on cure for his gamma poisoning while learning various anger management techniques in order to keep his heart rate at a manageable level.

Liv Tyler's version of Betty Ross is several steps above Jennifer Connelly's in...that other film, but both of these are due to this being a far more superior film. Though heartbroken at losing Bruce, Betty has moved on with her life and even became engaged to Doctor Leonard Samson (Ty Burrell), though predictably Banner being thrown back into her life flips the whole thing upside down. I know she gets garbage for being the bland, uninteresting female love interest in many films (Armageddon and Lord of the Rings come to mind), but she actually is good here and - like Gwen Stacy in the later The Amazing Spider-Man films - actually has some use to the plot and does things rather than standing around looking utterly helpless the whole time.

...at least until the final fight, but anybody who willingly gets in the middle of the Hulk and the Abomination fighting has got to be suicidal.

Or Thor.

And speaking of foolhardy warrior types, we have William Hurt playing General Ross and he's surprisingly fresh out of his incredibly bland monotone that usually carries his performances (Lost in Space, anyone?), though I'm beginning to wonder if that's just from the director he usually gets, since director Louis Leterrier has coaxed a rather good performance out of him. Though I'm not as big a fan of the Hulk as some, I know enough about Ross to know that he's a man who is enraged at how much of a fool that Banner made him look like and, enraged, is perpetually hunting the man and failing and then becoming further enraged and emasculated because he cannot capture Banner, who he uses as the scapegoat for his failures.

Rounding out the main cast we have Tim Roth playing Emil Blonsky. Though in the comics he was a Russian KGB agent, in this modern retelling he's a Russian born British commando. In dealing with his advanced age and lack of advancement within the army, begins sufering inadequacy issues after fighting the Hulk and actually managing to survive the first time, Blonsky volunteers to undergo testing that will give him the same powers as the Hulk, but end up turning him into a twisted Abomination. He's also, amazingly for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, one of the main villains who isn't outright killed by the end, and so perhaps might appear in another Hulk film.

Oh, and also of note is Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson) who Banner has been working with via encrypted computer transmissions to try and find a cure for his cellular mutation. Eventually, he will become the villainous Leader as we see here with him mutating from some exposure to Banner's blood. With any luck he, too, will also show up in a future Hulk film. Here, though, he's a well-intentioned extremist who wants to use the Hulk's blood for medicinal purposes. A noble goal.

I mean, incredibly stupid given what is known about it, but noble.

The story is pretty solid, though the rewrites do so themselves in a few places. Overall, however, it's a pretty good story that shows a lot of love for the characters of Banner and the Hulk, as well as the mythos that surrounds them. The performances are very solid thorough and there are more than a few little mythology gags spread around (such as Banner mocking the stretchy purple shorts Hulk is iconically known for), which make for an enjoyable time.

We get Banner having to not only deal with the beast within, but the fear that that beast may spread and harm others, thus doing all he can to see that it doesn't happen. It's suitably dark, heavy, and tragic for a story about the Hulk. But as I said with the purple shorts, it's not afraid to occasionally point and laugh at the silly bits that pop up because this is, after all, a comic book adaptation.

Speaking of the adaptation side of things, we get a nice little post credits scene at the end where Tony Stark shows up to Ross in a bar and mentions that a team is being brought together. And since we've finally gotten to that film...guess where we'll be going next time?

Stay tuned!

The Incredible Hulk is now available from Marvel Studios, Valhalla Motion Pictures, and Universal Pictures on DVD and Blu-Ray.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Friday, April 17, 2015

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Dragon Ball: Xenoverse"

A game review from me of something somewhat vaguely topical and current? Say it isn't so!

Now that I've gotten that bit of snark out of the way, let me just say that I don't consider myself an anime fan. I enjoy certain animes and have many friends who are very big into it, but as a genre I'm just not all that keen on it with very, very few exceptions. Three of those exceptions would be Pokemon, the original Yu-Gi-Oh!, and of course, Dragon Ball Z. I remember back in the era of Toonami or the later 90s and early 00s when they would air DBZ along with a pheltora of other shows like Thundercats and ReBoot and I was blown away from how utterly different it was from anything else I had ever seen before.

And, of course - like every other anime and its mother that got localized for America - games were made for animes that got shipped to the States as well. As part of the Dragon Ball saga, I've played the first Legacy of Goku on the GBA (which I enjoyed), Ultimate Tenkaichi 3 (which I did not), and Raging Blast (which I still wish I had). Though considering the sheer mass of them, I was inevitably going to run into yet another game I'd want to play and thus I did when I heard of Dragon Ball: Xenoverse.

I also saw TeamFourStar's Let's Play of the game (or, at least, the first five or so episodes) which both sold me on the game and prepped me for what is to come, so I admit I did have a little bit of foreknowledge going into the game.

Several iconic moments from the show have been well recreated.
The plot is about as simple as one would expect from an anime - that is to say, somewhere between "Do You Read Sutter Cane?" and the ending to Rob Zombie's Halloween 2 - with Future Trunks from the anime working alongside the new character the Supreme Kai of Time and finding out that someone or something is going back through the timeline of the Dragon Ball Saga in order to distort it...for some reason. Thus, Trunks gets a hold of the Dragon Balls and makes a wish to Shenron for a warrior who can help him stem the tide of evil.

And thus, to character creation! You are given the option of starting as a Human (male or female), a Saiyan (male or female), a Majin(male or female), a Namekian, or a member of the Frieza clan. Each race has their own respective pros and cons, such as Saiyans having high fighting ability but low health but get stronger when revived in combat, or the Namekians having high health and defense, or Majins being able to tank like nobody's business. There's also a fair amount of customization with the faces, eyes, and hair as well as the height and build of your character regardless of race or gender. As well as voice sets, which is a bit dd for a character that never speaks, but then I get to hear battle dialogue in the voice of Abridged Nappa and everything is alright.

Personally, I went for a Saiyan character and christened him "Butarega" coming up with the mental backstory that he was a Saiyan from a timeline where Bardock had killed Frieza and thus Planet Vegeta had been saved from annihilation. No doubt pissed about being pulled away from wherever he had been at the time (I hadn't gotten that far in thinking him up at the time), he was nonetheless happy to beat Trunks from pillar to post in the tutorial before getting the chance to do some more fighting.

And a side note for when you create your first character: I hope you're satisfied with them, because the other slots will be locked until you complete the main game.

The combat is actually fairly fluid, perhaps a little too much so. Matches can be up to as many as 3 vs. 3 in any given situation, and the map environments all definitely have a lot of space to move around in. Of course, that won't keep the enemy AI from turning everything into a big ol' fustercluck by ganging up on one member of your team - mostly like you - and pounding them into a lovely Senzu Bean paste.

"I am the hope of the universe!!!"
And thus, the importance of grinding levels is learned when - after a few missions of some fair challenge - the player gets blindsided by certain enemies such as I was by Frieza during his first appearance in the main questline. Luckily, the hub world of Toki Toki City also hosts "Parallel Quests" that are unlocked with each chapter that the player can repeatedly play in order to grind levels and even occasionally acquire unique moves or gear. The player gets three points for every level up to be distributed to their attributes.

The stats are neatly arranged to cover everything - Your character's Ki, your Stamina, and your attacks of different varieties. Top tip for anyone planning to do a Saiyan character (and thus a Super Saiyan, because you know you're going to): Make sure to boost your Ki and Stamina especially. I've only gotten so far as the Buu Saga now and unlocked Super Saiyan 1 through an absurd Parallel Quest and it eats through your Ki at a ridiculous rate, leaving you with no Stamina once you drop out, which is a real pain if you don't realize you're about to run dry and three versions of Majin Buu are just waiting to gang up on your sorry Saiyan butt.

Which does bring up a complaint I have about the combat. The game features a lock-on mechanic to keep track of a certain enemy and display their remaining health and the like. It works in theory, but it seems to only serve as that display and little else. While it doesn't happen often, I've had situations where my character will be targeting an enemy right above him and then fire a Light Grenade or a Kamehamaha straight down.  If I'm going to lock onto an enemy, then that's the target my attacks should be firing at. And no, I'm not complaining about an enemy dodging an attack, I'm simply asking why there's a lock-on feature when it doesn't lock-on?!

But going back into things I like about the game, player character have the option of training with heroes and villains from the show (almost all voiced once more by their VAs from the Funamation dub) in order to unlock the use of new moves and other goodies. Butarega ended up seeking out Piccolo, then Vegeta, and luckily discovered that you can switch between trainers with no penalty and eventually come back to finish up with a previous one. While it's not necessarily to train up with a character, it is encouraged and as Piccolo puts it in-game "one move can be the difference between victory and defeat".

Moves can also be purchased from the Skill shop in the industrial area, as can various outfits and accessories that can be equipped. While the accessories are all just aesthetic, the outfits can provide various boosts or reductions to skills and attacks. Butarega, a proud Saiyan, eventually took up the armor of Raditz when he got it, but soon switched to the more practical (and stat improving) Ginyu Force set, complete with a sapphire blue "new" scouter.

Further helping in the boosting area are Z-Souls and Capsules that can be purchased or created in the Item shop or the Mixing shop, respectively. Z-Souls are items that can be equipped and can provide help in battle provided certain conditions are met. When a player completes training with a master, they'll get a unique one specific to them that can be anything from a stat boost to the master showing up in battle to assist. Hell of a morale boost when Lord Beerus shows up to bring the thunder of damnation down on your enemies, I tell you what.

Capsules are filled by Shards, which can do anything from giving a player health to refilling their Ki and some can even scatter health and ki around for teammates in battle. They can also be equipped to one of four "Battle Item" slots that can be used while out on missions. However, each slot can only be tapped once during a battle, so don't expect to be able to pull out 100% healing more than once in a battle.
Goku's just jealous of his Super Saiyan swagger...
Also, you can unlocked certain moves and items through missions. Before anyone tells me there's some kind of method to it, there isn't. It's just pure random number generation. Basically, use whatever you like. If the game doesn't want you to get the Big Bang Attack, you're not going to get it this round. Keep grinding.

Beyond the mechanics, most people would probably rag on the story given that time travel in the Dragon Ball anime doesn't work like the game has set up (something that was made very expressly clear in the Trunks and Android sagas of the anime), but the game does actually bother to try and explain that so that the hardcore fans won't maim them.

God has time machines that don't create parallel timelines.

...no, I'm not kidding.

This, along with classifying GT as a splintered off timeline that isn't in canon with the rest of the Dragon Ball universe, is pretty much sure to keep the more rabid hardcore folk off of their backs about all the continuity problems.

Also, if you're sick of the plot or the Parallel Quest, you can go into a more tournament fighter-style mode where you select two characters and they battle in an arena of your choosing from maps you've unlocked. Nice as fighting practice to get the controls down, but it's important to keep in mind that your character only gets Zeni (money) from it, not experience.

There's also a 2-player fight that for some reason is with the multiplayer "World Tournamnent" mode...but I didn't got for that because I don't care for multiplayer as a rule as my long-time readers will well know.

But with my only real complaint being the sharp spikes in difficulty (very sharp, seriously they need to nerf some of the NPCs in quests significantly) that force the player to grind continuously and a lock-on system that does anything but, I have to say that I do find the game enjoyable. Yes, even the grinding occasionally. The combat is rather fun and engaging, which is all you can ask for in a fighting game. The difficulty curve needs a hell of a tune up and sure, it's self-insert fanfiction of the highest caliber - your character being this super badass that shows up out of nowhere and suddenly has enough power to stand shoulder to shoulder with Goku and take on 100% Power Frieza - but at least it feels like you earned it.

It is hilariously satisfying to be beaten down by Perfect Form Cell only to come back after some more training and beat him into the ground. It's an awesome feeling when you, in base form, are stretching out Majin Buu like long strings of Laffy Taffy with the techniques that you've learned and the power that you've gained. Leveling up, growing stronger, it all feels very reminiscent of the show as you grow stronger to take on the next big threat, even pushing yourself to your limit time and time again to do just that.

Get on out there, Future Warrior, time needs a-saving!

Dragon Ball: Xenoverse is now available from Dimps and Bandi Namco for Playstation 4, Xbox One, Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows, and Steam.

This review is based on the Xbox 360 version.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

MadCap's Pokemon Emerald Nuzlocke Challenge - 22 - "Whom Gods Mildly Irritate"

Alright, fellas, I want a nice, clean cataclysm...
And so, when we last left Andrew D. Luffy, the ten year old had arrived back in Sootopolis to find the legendary beasts battling for dominance. Speaking to Archie and Maxie, who had apparently put aside their differences in the face of the fact that they managed to bring on Armageddon because they were stupid, Andrew learned that the Red and Blue Orbs could not control either of their respective Pokemon.

All hope did indeed seem lost until Andrew surfed on Leviathan over to Steven, who had shown up impeccably right as the plot needed him. Seeing the need to stop this madness, Andrew journeyed with Steven up the shore to the Cave of Origin, where he was instructed to find a man named Wallace. Journeying in, Andrew met Wallace - who apparently knew of him.  Apparently, he was once the Gym Leader of Sootopolis and left his mentor in charge of it...apparently not aware that telling Andrew that is a bad idea given his track record with Gym Leaders.

Which has been anything from "violently murder" to "turn off the city's electrical grid for". Makes me wonder what part of the boy's reputation he's heard of.

Nevertheless, Andrew was told of Rayquaza, the only Pokemon that could possibly calm Groudon and Kyogre. Wallace told that he knew not where the Pokemon was, and even asked Andrew where it might be. Andrew theorized that it might be at the Sky Pillar. Wallace left to go seek it and Andrew followed after consulting the map, swearing, and getting a lot of Max Repels.
What a remarkable coincidence.
Arriving, Wallace apologized for leaving the ten year old child behind in a dangerous cave. He also, because the plot needed to advance, opened the door to the Sky Pillar. An earthquake pushed them even further as they headed up to the door...and then Wallace decided to once more abandon the ten year old to a dangerous god monster. While I am well aware of the long-standing tradition that the ten year old protagonist is the only one who can get anything accomplished within the world of Pokemon, I would just like to note that Andrew has...to date...

Produced and distributed drugs.
Burned down a man's house.
Engaged in piracy.
Theft of an unstable meteorite.
Theft of various items from houses of people in various cities.
Destruction of property.
Caused mass panic by turning off the Mauville City Power Grid.
Murder.

.,,but is not nearly asshole enough to leave a ten year old child alone to face a raging god monster, regardless of whether or not he has the power of six monsters of his own to try and fight it. Andrew crept up the steps of the ancient tower, the environment absolutely ripe with excitement and danger...and at last, he came to the location of Rayquaza in its ancient slumber. Carefully, cautiously, he approached it and then...
...well, that was anti-climatic.
...it flew off! What an asshole!

Andrew only hoped that awakening Rayquaza had not made the situation worse, so he journeyed back to Sootopolis to see if the situation had changed. As he arrived, it seemed as though Rayquaza had indeed returned to restore balance...or possibly grant a wish from the Dragon Balls. However, the Eternal Dragon did indeed engage both Kyogre and Groudon, sending them both away before it too had disappeared.

The cataclysm, such as it was, had been averted. All was well. Next time, we deal with the clean up from everything - who is Wallace and has he any connection to the cult in Littleroot? What happened to Rayquaza? Tune in for Part 23 of MadCap's Pokemon Emerald Nuzlocke Challenge!

Pokemon Emerald is brought to us by GameFreak and Nintendo.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.