Friday, June 27, 2014

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Blood of the Werewolf"

Well, after some time on Mars and in a post-apocalyptic future made from all that blue balling the Cold War did to both America and the Soviet Union, I think it's time to rush back headlong into the domains of horror and terror.  Last time I did this, Vergil was trying to find his way out of Hell by means inexplicable.  Luckily, this venture into the realms of the occult does not involve defiling of an excellent gaming series, beginning a story all its own.  In this game, developer Scientifically Proven weaves a tale of a mother seeking her child set against in a world that is one part Castlevania, one part Universal Horror, and one part Hammer Horror (though I might be being redundant), and y'know what? It's pretty awesome.

We are introduced to Selena, a devoted wife and mother who has seen the her husband murdered and her infant son Nikolai taken away by none other than the insidious Doctor Frankenstein.  But Selena is, alas, no mere woman - but a werewolf! And now, through hell and high-water, she is bound and determined to save the only thing she has left.  While the obvious props go to the development team for a female protagonist that isn't a fetish-ized as all get out, Erin Cummings does an amazing job as the voice of Selena, making her a character that we want to root for.  And root we do as we guide her through a myriad of levels as she battles the forces of darkness to rescue her only son from the hands of science!

Indeed, she is a character that would not be entirely out of place among the Belmont family, which I can honestly say even before getting into the gameplay mechanics.  Selena moves much as several members of the Belmont and Tepes family do, though she uses a crossbow in place of the iconic whip.  And while I'm not horrendously fond of it as a weapon, it does serve its purpose well enough and is even up-gradable through powerups found throughout the game, which allow Selena to increase her ammo capacity as well as perform several trick shots.  However, aiming (done on the Xbox 360 with a push of the right stick) can be a bit of a pain in tight spots.

However, when the moonlight touches her skin, the true form of the beast bursts forth and Selena becomes a fully-fledged werewolf. With powerful claws, jaws, and leaps, she can maneuver around through the world with the greatest of ease.  And, like in her humanoid form, one can even control her fall in mid-air, which is immensely helpful later on, especially when successful jumps mean avoiding insta-kill spikes and pit falls that...well, kill you.  The werewolf form gets a few abilities as well, hidden carefully around for those willing to look.

These mechanics, do have a few drawbacks in a few areas.  Namely Selena - both in werewolf and human form - having that Belmont family trait of falling back dramatically whenever they're hit by even the lightest of attacks.  On the plus side, the wolf can actually jump again after being hit, something that can be used strategically to make jumps that would otherwise be impossible (or, at the very least, controller-throwingly difficult).  Also, you really ought to be careful with jumping in general - the insta-kill spikes seem to stretch out a little closer than you think they do and while the death animation and scream is (unintentionally, I'm sure) hilarious, you will get tired of it very quickly.

While the atmosphere is thick and wondrous for setting a grisly mood, and the gameplay mechanics are decent, I do have to question the difficulty curve.  While the game is fairly consistent throughout until the last two levels, it is there that they suddenly up the difficulty in the platforming to insane levels.  Almost unforgivably insane levels.  The early levels have hydraulic ram shafts in a Factory level that are easily worked around, but then in the later levels you have platforms that start crumbling upon landing on them, the aforementioned insta-kill spikes, and enemies that shoot projectiles that will see your careening off the platforms and into the spikes.

And that's to say nothing of the boss fights, which are all memorable in their own way.  In particular the fights against Dracula and the Mummy were enjoyable.  Then there comes the final fight against...well, without wishing to spoil, given Doctor Frankenstein it's pretty obvious what you're getting into...or at least you're made to think that starting out.  And that is a fight that will truly test the mettle of the 'teh hardcore' crowd.

Oh, yeah, that's another thing. You're going to die.  A lot.

Get used to seeing the loading screen of a werewolf claw coming up out of the grave, because you're going to see it.

A lot.

But, in a shining case of the Developer Thinks of Everything, they put little blurbs on the screens that are either helpful in game or helpful in keeping you from throwing your controller into the screen. Although, Scientifically Proven, if this was indeed an elaborate plan to challenge me to a nice game of chess you only had to ask.

If that is the case, then you guys have dressed up quite an invitation.

If I had to sum it up, it's a very excellent platformer that isn't afraid of what it's a homage to, as well as bringing a very unique and interesting style to a world that is already somewhat familiar to fans of horror.  It brings the elements of well known horror fiction in with the gameplay from days gone by, blending it together in a way that has not been done so well since Castlevania.

I really do look forward to whatever Scientifically Proven pulls out next.  Despite my minor issues with the game - the difficulty, some of the mechanics, and the gigantic hydraulic ram shafts that I've developed a healthy pathological fear of - this game is just good stuff, plain and simple.  I look forward to the sequel that was totally left open and, if not, I'll be watching eagerly for the next game you guys make.  And to anyone who is still wondering if I recommend this game, yes, yes I do.

Blood of the Werewolf is now available from Scientifically Proven Entertainment for Xbox 360 and PC.

This review is based on the Xbox 360 version.

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

Friday, June 13, 2014

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon"

Well, here it is.  Seventy four reviews before this one.  A game I’ve been meaning to get to literally since it came out.  Why? Because it’s kind of completely awesome.  But even that really sells this game short beyond belief.  Like Rad Raygun, this is a game that lampoons the uber-patriotic fervor of 1980s America, when all we cared about was Ronnie, apple pie, and making those Ruskie bastards cry.  And this game does bring that in the spades, but from a different angle.  Not set in the aforementioned time period, Far Cry 3:  Blood Dragon is set in the dystopian futuristic world of...uh...2007…

...I mean, I know the Bush years were bad, but c’mon, guys…

Political allegories, real or imagined notwithstanding, Blood Dragon’s timeline actually details a nuclear war between the United States and Russia and now the world is suffering in the aftermath.  The player takes on the role of American super-soldier, smart-mouth, Bucky cosplayer, and all-around badass known as Sergeant Rex Power Colt (voiced by Hicks, in a far better game than I last heard him in).  Betrayed by his commanding officer, Colonel Sloan, Rex hooks up with a sexy Canadian doctor to stop Sloan and save the world from being sent back into the Stone Age.

By the way, if you’re wondering what on Earth this has to do with anything that happened in Far Cry 3, you should stop, because it has absolutely nothing to do with any of it.

In an interesting move that I honestly hope we will see more of in later expansions (not just from Ubisoft, but all over), the development team did not expand upon the story of Far Cry 3 - which I honestly believed was a story very well told and done all on its lonesome with no need to add on to what was already a pretty decent game - and instead chose to make this fully downloadable with no need to even have purchased Far Cry 3 at all!  Just download Blood Dragon and you are all set for some post-apocalyptic fun times!  While it helps to have played it, as the interfaces are exactly identical in virtually every aspect, it isn’t necessary in the least and the tutorial (rather hilariously) will run you and Rex through everything you need to know.

Really, with the game’s interface, combat, and so on being exactly like the game it’s based on, there’s really nothing to talk about here.  If you’ve played Far Cry 3 then, mechanically, you’ve played this.  The only major changes come in the changing up of some of the weapons (mostly just aesthetics, though a few new ones are thrown into the mix that are pretty freaking awesome) and the level up system. While the base game had the Tatau and how it was the visual representation of Jason Brody's development from a privileged white pretty boy into a man who was more comfortable with the jungle than the country club - and thus fit thematically for what they were going for - Blood Dragon's has a leveling system built out of practicality, rather than complexity. Instead of going through skill trees, you just get certain upgrades with level. This really isn't a bad thing, especially since it essentially just cuts out the nonsense with having to pick skills. Really, in the end, you had the full Tatau anyway, so it really didn't matter. Where the game really shines through is in the humor.  One particular scene, early on where Rex and Doctor Elizabeth Darling  discuss the correlation between violence in real life and that in videogames, Dr. Darling pointing out that anyone who believes in that is a (“Failing to Understand our Capacity for Kindness”) idiot.  And then, of course, there are the shameless nods and references to a bunch of the 80's and 90's science-fiction films and other media that range from everywhere to major Hollywood blockbusters to the cult hits that never really saw their big hurrah until the days of VHS tapes (another thing the game playfully throws about, as well. Even Ubisoft describes the game as being an "80's VHS version of the future").

Rex himself being the most obvious, being both a Marine on a dangerous mission in insanely hostile territory in , a killing machine who is learning what humanity is, - though, in Rex’s case, he was already human to begin with, so technically re-learning (and making this an interesting inversion to Far Cry 3 in a way I don’t think the developers were actually intending) - and is trying to get his ass to Mars...okay, all of them but that last one.  He’s likeable enough, however.  Spouting out (some genuinely good, some eye roll-worthy) one-liners upon killing enemies, being generally snarky and tongue-in cheek (Michael Biehn was clearly having a ball doing the voice for this guy) and yet having all the super-patriotic fervor of Golden Age Captain America.  Seriously, this guy is pretty much a perfect blend of Bucky as the Winter Soldier and Golden Age Cap.

...y’know what? Nevermind.  Rex is Bucky, in an alternate timeline where the Americans got him after he crashed from Zemo’s rocket.  Headcanon accepted  (And yes, this guy is a major step up from Jason Brody).

But there are several, scattered all about the place.  Which, of course, only help to enrich the experience and get a bit of a chuckle out of you when you get them (such as when someone mentions getting to minimum safe distance, and Rex comments on how he’s sure he’s heard that before).  And of course, there are references outside of the 80s camp sci-fi it’s lampooning, but it really enriches the experience to find them all for yourself.  Unlike certain...other games I care not to reference further, this one is actually more concerned with giving us an enjoyable experience instead of being a walking reference to anything and everything involving the medium.

Oh, and like any good product of the 1980s, there’s a training montage, complete with a montage song.  And it’s so cheesy it’s awesome.

Coming to that, Blood Dragons, one of the biggest new additions to the gameplay and the titular monsters themselves.  What are they all about?  Well, apparently, using Godzilla’s atomic breath to bring down the wrath of God upon anything and everything that crosses their paths.  Luckily, however, they have poor eyesight and can be distracted by the cybernetic hearts you tear out of your enemies, so there’s a way around being flash fried...most of the time, anyway.

Besides a few of the hairier moments with the Blood Dragons, I can’t really fault this game on anything.  It’s fun, it’s tongue-in-cheek about what it’s homaging/lampooning, and I really would love seeing the world continued, or even projects like this one in the future.  I mean, let's face the facts here - how exactly do I criticize a game that starts out in a helicopter using a minigun to rain down fire upon legions of enemies, and ends with the protaganist riding a dragon that shoots lasers from its mouth...while you have a laser turret taking down everything in sight...with this playing behind you as you do so. From the gameplay to the storyline to the awesome 80s-style synth and rock guitars, right across the board, makes Far Cry 3:  Blood Dragon an enjoyable gaming experience.  And you can quote me on that! Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is now available from Ubisoft for Microsoft Windows, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360. For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin. Thanks to everyone who's stuck around for seventy-five reviews! I couldn't have done it without you! Here's to the next seventy-five!

Friday, June 6, 2014

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Doom"

What can be said about Doom? Well, a lot, actually.  It's a child of the 90s, not unlike yours truly, and it definitely shows as being from that era.  What's the main tell, besides the pixelated graphics? Guns.  Over the course of the game, the player is handed enough of an arsenal that would make Deadpool, Cable, and Lobo weep in joy at the sheer destructive force they possess.  But if that's not enough, it's even possible to shout out your best "I AM A MAN!" and punch the hordes of Hell itself into bloody, bloody submission.  Really, it's just delightful...and it also has caused a great deal of controversy about violence in video games and their effect on the general populace, as well as worries from the wholesome American Right about the evil grasp that Satan has upon the young people of the world through the "vidja games".

Of course, all of these things are astoundingly ridiculous  Yankee Rose and have absolutely no founding in any actual studies done on the subject.  Really, you'd think that those Christian activist groups would approve of a game where you pick up weapons and send Satan's backup dancers to Hell again...

It's not over 9000...and doesn't need to be!!!
Regardless, in spite of the beliefs of many, this game actually does have a plot.  As the nameless marine known only as "Doom Guy" (by the fans), you've been assigned to the most dismal duty station in the Union Aerospace Corporation - and are dropped off their just after some experiments on the moons of Mars, Deimos and Phobos, go horribly wrong.  Hell itself has been let loose, and it's time for Doom Guy to liberally apply his boot to some demonic ass before the demons turn their sights onto Earth...

And apart from that, it's all about shooting everything in sight that's shooting, clawing, or throwing energy bolts at you until they're dead. The game gives you, again, a tasty variety of weaponry to do so with.  There's, naturally, your bare fists that can hit as quickly as you can press the attack button and with little delay, but also do the least damage.  There's the starter pistol, which is good early on, but you'll soon want to drop it for later weapons.  Then there's the chainsaw, shotgun, chaingun, rocket launcher, and the plasma rifle.  But, believe it or not, this is not the apex of Doom Guy's arsenal.

Yes, Virginia, there is a weapon even greater than the mighty chaingun.

The one...

The only...

The B.F.G. 9000!!!!

And really, the thing is just as beautiful as all the tales tell of it, my friends.  With all this destructive power at your beck and call, one would imagine the journey into Hell to give Lucifer a swat on the nose would be ever so easy, right?  Not so, it seems, depending on which difficulty setting you're up on.  The easiest one ("I'm Too Young To Die") will see you sailing through most enemies with ease, while the highest ("Nightmare!") will see the unprepared filleted and served up faster than the main course of the Dark Souls Bar and Grill.  I found "Hurt Me Plenty" to be a good balance between skill and difficulty and it worked out pretty well for me by the end.

And, as I don't normally judge graphics anyway, I'll say that they haven't exactly aged well, even with the HD polish that Bethesda and Id have given it.  However, a lot like Star Wars:  Dark Force (a game that was made, ironically, as a Doom Clone), I find myself getting a bit motion sick from the graphics and the constant switch between a 3-D environment and the 2-D objects around it.

Though, since I brought it up, Doom doesn't have several of the features that Dark Forces had, namely the ability to duck.  A common thing in First Person Shooters now, but in Doom this was apparently not even thought of.  You also can't jump, again another staple of such games now that we overlook.  However, you do have a dash...which works well in long, straight areas and doesn't help at all in close quarters or in wider areas unless you've got a massive area to run through.

Really, in spite of the whole "Rip and Tear! Rip and Tear Your Guts!" crack I was making before with the melee attack, it's really best to keep enemies at range unless you've got no other choice, and that often doesn't even help, as all enemies have ranged attacks.  Remember, kids! Strafing is your friend.  Unless you have the BFG, then just hold down the trigger until everything is dead.

But altogether, this game isn't bad.  Dated? Yes.  Probably nothing something I'd take a crack at again? Probably.  But still, enjoyable and one does have to appreciate one's history, especially gamers.  So, for all of those that think Halo is the alpha and omega of all First Person Shooters, or that Call of Duty is the only game where picking up a gun and riddling everything in sight with bullets is worthy of any attention, I'd suggest you take a look back in the history books.  If only a fleeting glimpse.

And I've just checked my looks like next time will be my 75th review! I can't believe I've made it this far!  But what to review on such a momentous occasion?  I can really think of only one game that will properly fit the bill.

Stay tuned!!!

Doom is now available from Id Software, Nerve Software, and Bethesda on the Xbox Live Arcade.

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

Thursday, June 5, 2014

MadCap At The Movies - "Godzilla"

Well now, the real new one this time.  Not that black and white, poorly dubbed over monstrosity, we're seeing the real return of the real King of Monsters!  He's back and he's...carefully cropped in shots so that he's not completely seen for a good part of the movie.  Now, don't take this the wrong way, of course.  I'm not a Godzilla fan.  In fact, until the new movie was announced, the only things I had ever been exposed to concerning him were the 1998 film and clips of the Japanese films out of context.  But still, Godzilla has been a massive and undeniable impact upon our culture.  So, when Legendary Pictures (y'know, the guys who managed to save Batman from Bat-Nipples and the Bat Credit Card) and Toho were gearing up to bring the King of the Monsters roaring back to the big screen, I definitely wanted to get in on some of that.

The film begins with black and white shots of military moving about in formations at sea, and set ups that make it very clear we're in the Bikini Atoll circa 1954.  We see massive, imposing spikes along some creature's back as it rises just below the waves...before seemingly being destroyed by atomic fire.  Forty-five years after that, the action picks up in - where else? - Japan.  In the Janjira Nuclear Plant, seismic disturbances have picked up that are putting the entire plant at risk.  Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), the head of the plant, is forced to watch as his wife and a team of specialists are burned alive by radiation after what is dubbed as a "reactor breach".  However, it quickly becomes clear that this was no simple mechanical error.  Or rather, it becomes clear fifteen years later.

Joe is joined by his son, Ford (Aaron-Taylor Johnson), who comes to Japan to bail him out of jail for being caught in the restricted "Quarantine Zone"...which they find out is not suffering at all from radioactive fallout as was believed.  Captured by the authorities whilst retrieving data from their old family home, they are witness to the release of a creature from a state of hibernation that is...not Godzilla...but he is soon on his way as he has not one, but two brand new beasts (dubbed "MUTO's" by the government).

I'll go ahead and be blunt here, if you're looking for a good monster fight, then you're in for a wait.  The first confrontation between Godzilla and one of the MUTO creatures is set up brilliantly.  The meet in Hawaii and are face to face...when it cuts away to Ford's son (Carson Bolde) and wife (Elizabeth Olsen) watching on television as apparently someone has managed to not only get footage of the fight in the chaos, but edit it into a highlights reel and end with Godzilla quickly jumping back into the ocean...for some reason.  At the very least, he's not running away from the military, which is something.

And I'll take a minute here to talk about the characters that aren't the giant, lurking monsters.  I don't really care for any of them.  Sure, I have some sympathy for Joe following the death of his wife (Juliette Binoche) and in his search for the truth about her death, but that link is severed with the death of Joe after the first MUTO breaks free and, after that, the film very quickly devolves in Alien vs. Predator syndrome.  I understand the need for a humanizing element in these films, that's what makes us relate to them as an audience.  That being the case, make us relate to them.  Give us reasons to care whether these humans live or die.  Johnson's Ford spends his time moving from place to place so we can see either destruction or the after-effects of the monsters passing through, all that Olsen's Elle really does is react by worrying and crying and doing absolutely nothing to contribute to the plot, and their son doesn't even really seem all that connected to things.  Not to rag on a child actor, but c'mon kid, show some emotion!

As for the creatures themselves, one can't go far without talking about Godzilla himself.  He looks great, though he's a little on the chubby side as many people have noted.  When you actually do get a full look at the majestic grandeur of the beast, you can really appreciate the work that went into rendering him.  This isn't a mutated French Polynesian water Iguana eating a lot of fish, this is Godzilla and he takes that title with a mighty roar and a proud stomp as he lumbers in to bring down your entire world down around your ears, pal.  We also get a showcase of the Atomic Breath - something the '98 film was severely lacking in - and let me tell you, it was the highlight of the film for me.  Of course, that was when they were getting into the actual monster fighting.

The MUTO creatures aren't really anything to write home about.  They kind of remind me of the creature from Cloverfield, and I almost think that was the intention.  Still, with one winged and one land based, they prove to be worthy adversaries to the title monster, if only because it's his first outing in ten years (yet, somehow, from about fifty years in the future - what the hell, Japan?) and he's a little out of practice.  The destruction is largely caused by them as well, in Japan, Las Vegas, and then in San Fransisco for the final bout.  The main focus in the plot is the pair of them are getting together to mate and bring a new race of not-Cloverfield babies to the Earth to repopulate.

Between this and his lack of appearance in the film, this makes Godzilla both a cocktease and a cockblock, if you can believe that.

But in the end, the eggs are destroyed, the city is saved from nuclear armageddon and, after a nap, Godzilla gets up and lets out that triumphant and iconic roar before lumbering back to the ocean until the day of the inevitable sequel humanity needs him once again.  It's enjoyable, if spending way too much time setting up Godzilla with very little pay off.  But the pay off that we do get is awesome and enjoyable.  If you're willing to wait for it, the final fight in San Francisco is pretty freaking awesome.  That doesn't excuse the rather slow and non-invested ride getting there of course, but it does deliver on the promise of giant monsters fighting it out for supremacy as humanity can only watch agape in horror...if only for a little while.

Godzilla is now in theaters from Legendary Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures, and Toho.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin

MadCap At The Movies - "The Amazing Spider-Man 2"

Now, I've allowed myself to sit on this one for a couple of reasons.  Namely A) my new job keeps me pretty busy and I've found less time to do anything non-work related that doesn't involve sleep, and B) this film is apparently really polarizing...and I don't really get why.

Okay, that's not true, I do understand it and I even have a few problems with it myself.  I'm not particularly fond of how Norman Osborn - one of the greatest villainous movers and shakers of the Marvel universe - was cast aside for the sake of his son.  By that same token, Harry is a great deal distanced from several iterations of the character in comics, and he does effectively fit the role he was meant to fill...mostly.  But more on that as we go on.

The story picks up not long after The Amazing Spider-Man, with Peter Parker (once more taken on by Andrew Garfield) and his lady love Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) preparing to graduate from High School...with Peter, unfortunately, being caught up in his duties as a superhero and nearly missing the ceremony.  During the chase to prevent a crook (Paul Giamatti) from stealing plutonium from OsCorp, Peter saves the life of a man by the name of Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) who quickly develops an obsession with the Wall Crawler.  And while Peter is able to save the day effectively and get to graduation just in the nick of time, he finds himself haunted by visions of Captain George Stacy (Denis Leary) who he has failed to keep his promise to.

From here, the narrative splits its time between Peter and Gwen yo-yoing between being in a relationship and not being in a relationship, Peter trying to deal with not only the rise of Max Dillon into Electro, and him reconnecting with boyhood chum Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan).  But that isn't all, believe it or not!  Gwen is offered a scholarship to Oxford (meaning she might have to leave Peter behind to pursue her dream), Harry learns from ailing father Norman (Chris Cooper) that he's dying and that he is also dying of the same disease.  The only cure, Harry determines, is a vial of Spider-Man's blood.  But also, the OsCorp Board of Directors is trying to shove Harry out and take over the company themselves and Peter still finds out a little bit more about the fate of his parents and what caused them to run away, culminating in...

...yeah, I can agree with the people that say there's a bit too much going on here.

However, this doesn't really keep the film from being enjoyable.  Far from it, in fact.  Much like the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it's done to set up future projects.  While it is nice and it whets our appetites for all of that, it is important to focus on the narrative of now rather than later on, which this film manages to do well enough.  Mostly, anyway.

Andrew Garfield comes back into the role of Spider-Man and Peter Parker, and I will say that he plays both sides of the coin masterfully.  Right from the start, he's being snarky and cracking jokes while dispensing justice to the criminal element of New York.  This is who Spider-Man is supposed to be, not some awkward, geeky dork who happens to be stuffed into a Spider-Man suit - I'm looking at you, Tobey Maguire.  Actually, to be truthful, Tobey Maguire's Peter Parker is perfect...for all of the first Raimi Spider-Man before he gets the Spider bite.  While Peter Parker was indeed the awkward, nerdy dweeb of a man-child before he was bitten, Tobey's Peter never actually evolves from that point and even delves right into the "dear God, this man is creepy" territory.  Garfield is not only better, but has the character down far, far better.

Beyond just the costumed snarky joke machine that Spider-Man is, we see more of the scientific mind that is supposed to drive Peter Parker.  In his first fight with Electro, one of his webshooters gets blown apart by the electric current.  So, to circumvent this, he actually works on ways to increase the resistance to electrical charge.  It's one of the things I genuinely love about Garfield over Maguire.  In the Raimi films, of course, the focus was less on the science (because, Sam, someone creating webshooters is just unbelievable! Now somebody's entire biology being overwritten to given them natural spinnerets overnight, that's just fine!), and I'm glad that's something that the Webb films have brought back.  Because Peter Parker is a science based hero (even if 99.9% of all the "science" in comics is fantastically ridiculous), and he has often fallen back on science in the comics to solve his problems.

Seriously, the guy's like Batman, but with a soul. (Yes, I went there.)

Also returning this time is Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy.  And, not one to fit the stereotype of the damsel in distress, Stone's Gwen Stacy continues to be a complete and total badass.  Indeed, a lot of Gwen's development in this film either averts or inverts the usual tropes with superhero girlfriends.  She gets an opportunity to go to Oxford and it looks like Peter, not her, will have to work around her schedule, rather than the other way around.  She is the one who comes up with the plan to magnetize Peter's webshooters for his fight against Electro.  She refuses to play the yo-yoing between being in a relationship and not being in a relationship with Peter, as I feared that his film was going back to the "will they, won't they?" nonsense from the Raimi films.  Not so, and I'm immensely happy about that.

Also, the chemistry between the two leads is absolutely perfect, as it was in the first film.  Seriously, I feel like I might actually get diabetes from watching how sickeningly sweet Garfield and Stone are.  It is abundantly obviously in virtually every scene these two are in how much they love one another, which makes her death at the end of the film all the more heartbreaking.

...oh, that isn't a spoiler! 1973 was over forty years ago!  Read a Wikipedia article!

The event is all the more soul-crushing because of their chemistry (both on and off screen), and Garfield's performance from the elation at thinking that he's saved her, up to the moment when he realizes that he has not and we see him broken down almost completely - even to the point of giving up being Spider-Man for a far more believable and sympathetic reason than in Spider-Man 2 - it's just another event in a long string that makes their entire romance, for all of its high points and it's tragedy, all the more believable.  Peter Parker loses the love of his life in that bell tower, and the performance lets you feel every ounce of that anguish as his soul is torn asunder by it.

But hey, Peter, at least you have Mary Jane...who will erase your marriage through a deal with Satan...

But those are the main leads.  The rest of the cast brings solid, if not really good performances.  Aunt May (Sally Field) in particular deserves important note, and it's one again that I have to bring up a comparison to the Raimi films.  I find that Field's May Parker is far more believable and like able as a character.  Sure, Rosemary Harris's Aunt May in the first three films was essentially the perfect, idealized version of your Grandmother.  She never seemed to be all that troubled for more than short parts of the films and seemed only there to provide exposition or a schmaltzy story for us to all cough at the awkwardness of the writing.  It's very clear that she cared for Peter, but she seemed more like a two-dimensional cardboard cut out of the Grandmother stereotype than an actual character.

Field's May, on the other hand, struck me as far more three-dimensional in this film. She is worried about how she's going to put Peter through college and doesn't know how she's going to manage with Ben being gone.  However, she's not going to take the Maguire approach and mope, taking classes in order to become a nurse so she can help keep her home in order and help further Peter's education. And she still manages to be supportive of Peter and help inspire him both before and after Gwen's death.  My only gripe with her at all, and I mean at all (seriously, I love Sally Field and her interpretation of May) is that - like the first Amazing film - they have the crazed implications that she knows that Peter is Spider-Man...which they reinforce near the end of this one.

What exactly is that a build up towards?  Why doesn't she just tell him?

Jamie Foxx's Electro is next on the block and...feels a little rushed.  Now, mind you, they had a lot to cram into the film, but I felt as though his development from obsessed fanboy to raging psychopath could have been given a little more time to fully blossom.  That being said, I don't really find Electro sympathetic as many have tried to make him out to be.  At first?  Yeah, we've all had a little hero worship go to our heads once and a while.  But once he starts taking the Dr. Manhattan power set and killing people who get in his way...I'm a little less than sympathetic.

Kind of like Loki in The Avengers.  Betrayed by your old man and lied to your entire life? Yeah, you'd have a right to be pissed.  Go to a planet that had nothing to do with it and start killing people with your mystical glowing stick? Bit too far.

The secondary villain of the piece comes in the form of Harry Osborn, childhood chum of Peter's from grade school (who was oddly never mentioned before), who learns from his ailing father Norman that the disease that is killing him is hereditary.  Thus, Harry attempts to seek out a cure...first going with trying to convince Spider-Man to give him some of his blood, and then breaking into OsCorp's special projects to get vials of venom from the spiders that bit Peter.

Main problem with this - where exactly do you get off killing Norman Osborn?  Y'know...the guy who murdered Gwen Stacy, manufactured the entire Clone Saga (somehow) to drive Peter Parker completely insane, at one point took over all of the Marvel Earth and shot both Valeria and Franklin Richards point blank with a handgun, and when he learned that Doc Ock had swapped bodies with Spider-Man he did everything he could to make Ock's life a living Hell..., my nerd is showing, isn't it?  The point is, Norman Osborn.  Deserved way, way better than this.  But I can look past that.

Harry himself is alright.  There's obviously some Daddy issues (again, Norman Osborn is his father) and a horrific desperation in him as he wants to find a cure for the disease.  While we do see Peter's point in his moral questioning over whether or he should give his blood to Harry (given what cross-species genetics did in the last film), Harry's pain and anger at the rejection is all the more sad and terrible because of his desperation...and leads to some unfortunate consequences that have already been brought up in this review.  I'm also glad that, not unlike the first film, Harry wasn't killed off at the end of the film as he very well could have been.  Of course, it's a set up for the Sinister Six film, but I'm still quite behind the idea of keeping villains alive at the end of superhero films (something that the Raimi films, comparing again, failed to do repeatedly) because of other stories that could be told.

That all being said, Harry looks absolutely ridiculous as the Goblin.  I know people want to laugh at the William Dafoe Power Rangers outfit, but I had to stifle a laugh when Harry came onscreen.  They're going for the Ultimate look, which I get, but he just looks adorable.  I really just want to go "Who's gonna go kill Spider-Man? You are! You are, aren't you? Yes, you are!" in that annoying baby-talk voice people use on their dogs any time I see him.  If it weren't for the lead up to Gwen's death, you couldn't even call the guy menacing.  Just hilarious.

And also, to everyone who's mentioning that Rhino (again, Paul Giamatti) is the third villain in this film...he's not.  He's comic relief, and he really shouldn't be taken as anything else (at least until the third film, which he is slated to be in).  I've heard that fans of the Rhino were actually rather pissed about his sudden cameo in the beginning and the all of two minutes he appears in the end in costume.  My only rebuttal to this is...there are fans of the Rhino?

Seriously?  The Rhino?

Also, Felicia Hardy (Felicity Jones) and J. Jonah Jameson (Sir-Not-Appearing-In-This-Film) make cameos, but besides the two mythology gag jokes with the latter, they're not really of note.

The only real problems I have with the whole, besides it trying to fit a bit too much for it's britches, is one thing.  The scenes with the planes should have been cut.  Electro has control of New York's power grid (somehow) and it's a race against the clock to stop him and save the city.  The stakes are already ridiculously high.  I mean over the top levels.  Throwing in a new element of characters who have no bearing on the plot and who we haven't had time to see development of doesn't allow us to care about whether they live or die.  They're NPCs under a bad DM, essentially.

But really, besides that problem (and really, that's really the only problem I had), I really like this movie.  I like the first Amazing Spider-Man more, but I definitely would take this film over any of the Raimi trilogy by far.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is now in theaters from Marvel Entertainment, Columbia Pictures, and Sony Pictures.

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

Monday, June 2, 2014

Madcap's Reel Thoughts - "Godzilla, King of the Monsters!" (1956)

I know I’m a little late to the party on this one.  But still, I gotta say, this film isn’t half bad.  I’m surprised, honestly of the absolute sheer balls to do the film in black and white, as well as using practical effects over CGI.  Bryan Cranston seems oddly subdued in the film, however, and the entire thing is stylized so that it looks like a film made in the 1950s, not unlike the original that…

...oh...this is the original, isn’t it?

So, Godzilla, King of the Monsters was a film produced through the American company Jewell Enterprises Inc. and, of course, Toho. Brought to American theaters in 1956, it is the first joint effort between Toho and an American company to bring the titular King of Monsters to the big screen...admittedly a great deal more on Toho's part than that of Jewell Enterprises. To explain, a great deal of the footage for the film comes from the Japanese picture Godzilla, produced two years earlier and released to Japanese audiences. So, if you're looking for where Power Rangers got the idea to re-purpose footage of men beating the crap out of one another in rubber suits, look no further.
However, much like that TV show, Godzilla, King of the Monsters! does not merely dub over the footage with English-speaking actors...actually, it does at several points, however they actually shot brand new footage to work in with actor Raymond Burr, who plays the journalist known as Steve Martin.  Interestingly, this film may be the first form of the "found footage" genre - think films like Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity - or at least closely akin to it, as Martin stops off in Tokyo on a trip to Cairo and ends up reporting on the rise of Godzilla and the destruction that follows in the creature's wake.

This is actually both a good and bad thing, as having some new footage helps to make it a little more accessible to an American audience, while still having a large amount of the focus being on the people of Japan and the actors from that side of the Pacific - this being in the time right after World War II, being one of the first films to portray the Japanese in any positive light since then - and still keeping to the basics of the original film.  The problem with this comes in with how it was done.  Now, at the very least, the locations (sets, possibly?) used to film the new footage are consistent with the original footage.  The problem comes in the dubbing of some of the Japanese actors and...well, Raymond Burr.

At the time of writing, I have never seen anything else that Raymond Burr has ever been in.  Not even once.  So, those that might know better might forgive me for this and it might just be poor direction, but...this guy cannot act.  He can't.  His performance in this is near to unbelievable.  Generally, when one is facing a kaiju, you should feel...fear? Shock? This guy stares up at Godzilla...Godzilla...with a blank expression like he's trying to remember if he unplugged the iron.  I mean, Godzilla, c'mon! It's not listening to a boring story from a distant, elderly relative and trying to resist the urge to tear your brains out with a dinner fork! It's Godzilla! Sheesh!

Apart from that, the film pretty much goes as you might think.  The only jarring gaps are when certain actors are brought in to double for actors from the original Japanese version - such as when the head of the scientific expedition speaks to Burr and has his back turned from the camera during the entire scene, or when he speaks to his "good friend" Dr. Daisuke Seriwaza (in the original footage played by Japanese actor Akihiko Hirata) on the phone and the actor standing in for him has his face obscured by scientific equipment...while still wearing the same clothing and even the eyepatch as Dr. Seriwaza does in the original.  And that's not even getting into the dubbed dialogue, some of which is just the stuff of legend.  However, unlike many dubbed projects, this film stays firmly very close to the plot of the original Godzilla film.

The plot is a simple one.  Possibly one of the simplest in movie history.  The film starts out with Burr narrating from a makeshift hospital after a great catastrophe, which he begins to recount.  A few days later, something is out in the seas around Japan that's been destroying ships and leaving no survivors.  Steve Martin, a reporter for "United World News", is on a routine trip to Cairo, stopping over to see his good friend Dr. Seriwaza (with whom he never shares a single scene with, for obvious reasons) and getting caught onto the story.  Allowed to cover it, Martin basically becomes an observer to events as the original film is played out. Godzilla makes his first appearance surprisingly in broad daylight.  The film does quite a bit to build up to the first appearance of the King of Monsters's not really that impressive.

He pokes his head over a hill (Burr, again, looking completely blank faced at the sight of it) and roars a few times before he retreats to the screen.  It does quickly become apparent, though, that Godzilla is heading for Tokyo, which causes the Japanese military to get on high alert and get all the model planes and cardboard tanks they can possibly get their hands on to fight him off!  Oh, and the high-tension electrical wires surrounding the city that produce over 300,000 volts of electricity!

If you know anything about Godzilla, you know that this is exactly what it would take to moderately irritate him.

Eventually, Godzilla just gives up.  Heads back to the ocean, and seems to be done with his rampage.  And so, the Japanese - deciding to take a page out of the Doctor's book - decide to go poke it with a stick.  Or, more accurately, with a chemical compound known as the 'Oxygen Destroyer'.  Created by Seriwaza, the chemical compound removes the oxygen out of water...which somehow equates to any creature within said water reduced to a skeleton.  More accurately, at least according to Toho, the death is caused more by suffocation...though Godzilla can swim and can also breathe air, so why he doesn't exactly just stick his head up and survive, I'm not quite sure.  But hey, deus ex machima.

It's also an interesting parallel to the themes of the original Godzilla.  To give a little history lesson (hush, you have to learn something), the original film was made not long after the testing of the atomic bombs in the Bikini Atoll.  What Godzilla was, at least as originally intended, a response of nature to the horrors that man had inflicted upon himself.  A reminder to us that, no matter how far man advances, nature will always be several steps ahead and will be all too happy to make us pay for our arrogance in the spades.  It also serves, more directly, as a metaphor for the atomic bomb in general, reflecting the memories of survivors of the nuclear explosions of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and that feeling of utter helplessness against a force that cannot possibly be stopped or contained.

This is reflected, also, in Seriwaza's "Oxygen Destroyer".  Now, setting aside the cheesiness of the name and the fact that it's very likely making science cry even to this day, Seriwaza is tormented by his creation as can be seen by how he has become a reclusive and hiding himself away from his friends and family, and even his 
fiancĂ©e after contemplating the destructive power of such a weapon.  Not unlike real world equivalents of his, such as Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer, who saw their work in the fields of science militarized into the very weapons that caused the destruction that inspired this film.  Unlike those two, however, Seriwaza keeps the only samples of the chemical himself and sacrifices himself whilst using it to destroy Godzilla, so that it's power may never be used again.  It is a sad, but poignant moment as Burr narrates that the monster has died and a great man has sacrificed himself, but the world can at last wake up and live again.

...and, of course, I'm just sitting here wondering why Tokyo Bay isn't filled with hydrogen...but hey, what do I know about science?

So, final verdict on the film? Not that bad.

The effects are pretty good for the time, the newly-filmed footage fits in well with only those few jarring bits, and it's paced well enough.  And the fact is, when Godzilla starts picking up steam it is great.  The tradition of the Japanese monster movie starts here for most and does amazingly at what it's good at.  Again, the effects are good for its time and you can sometimes forget that you're watching a man running around in a rubber suit smashing model buildings and vehicles.

The few places where it falls flat are in the performance of Raymond "These pretzels are making me thirsty" Burr and the dubbing.  But the fact is that this is a Japanese product dubbed into English.  Talk to any anime fan and they'll tell you that the dubbed products are never as good as the original...and dear God, don't try to convince them otherwise (Just trust me, it's a very bad idea). The fact that Burr's acting is so subdued as to make it obvious he was only in this for the paycheck and the dubbing so bad that I've watched episodes of the DIC Entertainment dub of Sailor Moon better done that this are things I can look past. It's really not so much that I can't enjoy the film for what it is.  It's a popcorn movie, but with a message and a grim reminder when nature points out the folly of man...


...sorry, the new film has gotten me on a Blue Oyster Cult kick lately...

Godzilla, King of the Monsters! is now available from Toho and Jewell Enterprises Inc. and is available wherever movies are sold...and on Netflix!

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