The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya Review

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The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya was one of the more popular anime of the last 15 years. It features the usual setting: a high school with a cast of diverse characters. Kyon provides narration into the happenings, but the story is truly about a girl named Haruhi. Her thing is that she’s tired of everyday normal life. She’s interested in aliens, time travelers, and espers, concepts one would not associate with normal reality.

But wouldn’t you know it, Haruhi actually encounters a time traveler, an alien, and an esper. Though, she is not aware of it. Only Kyon knows that these people claiming to be classmates are not normal. Haruhi forms the SOS Brigade, and together these characters go on numerous adventures. The only real question remains: why did these beings appear now, just when Haruhi told Kyon of her boredom with reality?

Melancholy is an engaging anime for quite a few reasons. The first is Haruhi herself, one of the strongest and most interesting anime characters I’ve ever seen. Her bold personality, and command of the situation is unparalleled. Her dialogue with Kyon is always a lot of fun, as Kyon always finds himself dragged into these crazy scenarios. His narration gives a nice sense of humor to the events.

Koizumi joins the Brigade a bit later, and is another notable character. He’s one character who explains to Kyon the mysterious phenomenons revolving around Haruhi. Koizumi’s calm demeanor, along with his role in the story as an esper, was interesting. Next, Mikuru is the time traveler. One of the most interesting parts of the series was when future Mikuru met present day Kyon. Present day Mikuru is unfortunately used for fan service. Aside from being a time traveler, there isn’t too much to Mikuru.

Finally, we have Nagato, the alien working for something called the “Integrated Data Sentient Entity.” Her dialogue is always interesting. One of the best parts of the show was the battle between her and a character wanting Kyon dead. Nagato displays no emotion, but does care for Kyon in some capacity. What’s frustrating is that the show leaves the viewer in the dark about the Sentient Entity. The show does explore the mysterious events surrounding Haruhi, but there are more questions than answers by the end. Of course, this isn’t the end of the anime part of franchise, as there is a movie and spin-off.

While the show is almost always really good, there is one big factor stopping it from getting the legendary 9/10. If you’ve seen this anime, you know what I’m about to say: “Endless Eight.” This arc had a time loop as the premise. Now, something like this could be interesting…for about three episodes, four max. But there are eight episodes with pretty much the exact things happening. No, they are just about literally the same episode, give or take some dialogue.

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Overall, “Endless Eight” aside, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is a very engaging show. Haruhi is a great character, demonstrating intelligence, brashness, and even a sense of unbalance. She is truly a fascinating character. Meanwhile, Kyon is a fantastic narrator, and perfect foil to Haruhi. Koizumi is very good. Nagato is interesting, but needed to be explored more. Mikuru has her moments, but ended up feeling little more than a character for fan service. Generally though, most things about Melancholy are good.

8/10

Aquaman Review

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“Fun” is an overused word in the area of film criticism. At the same time, it’s still a great term to use in describing certain kinds of movies. There are films that may not be good critically speaking, but have some entertainment value that boring stories with better production values do not have. However, there are many great pieces of cinema that are both “fun” and and well made. The Avengers is one such movie, having a fun tone throughout, while also having consistently strong writing, never sacrificing storytelling for comedy. A movie like Aquaman leans more toward the camp of being fun, but flawed. But, it’s still leagues above films like Thor: The Dark World and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, comic book movies that sacrifice storytelling for unfunny comedy.

There are areas of greatness in Aquaman – Aquaman’s character arc of becoming king is mostly engaging, the battles are excellent, and the visuals are some of the most unique yet. (It’d be tough to think of a better underwater film visual wise.) The movie does suffer from unfunny comedic scenes, and a decent, but generic antagonist. The DC film universe is an interesting case, as it was clearly designed at first to be the opposite of what Marvel was doing. Man of Steel and Batman v Superman were darker, and deeper films than many comic book films. But, many viewers criticized the gritty take on the characters. Going forward, the films began to take a different look. Aquaman is similar to Wonder Woman, in that it is still a serious movie, but negates the grittiness in favor of a standard tone. Wonder Woman is a fantastic film. Aquaman lacks the quality writing of that film, but is still an enjoyable undersea epic.

Aquaman takes place after Stepphenwolf’s attack on the world in Justice League. Here, we see Arthur Curry as a man who wants nothing to do with Atlantis. But when he sees that his half-brother, King Orm, means to war with the surface world, Arthur is convinced by Princess Mera to challenge Orm. What follows is a duel, followed by a quest to find the lost Trident of Atlantis…

aquaman vs. ocean master

The problem with Aquaman’s inclusion in Justice League was that the character was not given enough time to flesh out. That film introduced Cyborg, Aquaman, and Flash, not a whole lot of time to give these characters backstories. Cyborg succeeded, but Aquaman was arguably the least compelling member of the team. He was portrayed as brash and hardcore, endearing traits perhaps, but not without knowing the character ahead of time. Aquaman the movie fixes this for the most part. He is clearly a character with a good heart, and a sense of humor. A good sequence was him saving the sailors early on and telling them, “Hurry up, I’m missing happy hour for this.” By the end of the movie, Arthur has emerged with the characteristics of a king, and looks to be a character who will be (almost) as compelling as Wonder Woman.

With all that said though, Jason Momoa’s Aquaman has some painfully unfunny moments. This is more due to the writing than the actor. Aquaman saying “screw you” to the Karathen came off as forced, and some of the comedy was just cringe worthy. (The scene with Mera and Arthur discussing the ship’s smell comes to mind.) It’s usually best when comedy flows naturally than when a film takes a scene to get the viewer laughing. While not an absolute deal breaker, there are cringe-worthy scenes (complete with the goofy music in the background to let the viewer know that this is supposed to be funny dialogue) that could have been removed.

Speaking of Mera, she was a strong character overall. Her passion for Atlantis is genuine. She and Aquaman make for a good team. The scenes in Sicily with Arthur showing her surface world life was nice. With that said, I think the romance between the two characters should have been saved for the sequel. What’s unintentionally funny is that in the climatic battle, Mera literally says they have to end the battle now. Instead of Arthur going right away to battle Ocean Master, they decide to share a rather long kiss. This is happening in the middle of an underwater war, so the timing of this scene was definitely poor.

black manta

As Roger Ebert said in his review of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, “Each film is only as good as its villain.” If this is true, it’s a good thing that Aquaman has Black Manta. The film’s primary antagonist, King Orm/Ocean Master, is decent, but forgettable. Orm says almost everything a viewer would expect from a character in his position; there isn’t much in the way of unique or new. The problem is that Patrick Wilson doesn’t deliver much of his lines with passion. Michael Shannon’s Zod from Man of Steel was a clearly passionate character. Ares from Wonder Woman had a sense of grandeur, same with Stephhenwolf. Even Lex Luthor from Batman v Superman was more charismatic and interesting than Orm. Ocean Master isn’t as one-dimensional as Malekith from Thor: The Dark World, but he does not make any notable mark in the world of cinema.

Meanwhile, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s portrayal of Black Manta was a highlight. Early on, we see the reason why he grows to hate Arthur. It’s a compelling character arc, one that will hopefully take the center focus in the sequel. The scenes with Manta and Arthur are fantastic. As for other characters, Willem Defoe turns in a compelling performance as Vulko, servant to the throne, and a teacher for Arthur (shown through flashbacks). A particularly strong performance was Dolph Lundgren as King Nereus. The early discussion between Orm and Nereus was great, mainly because Lundgren gave Nereus a charismatic edge that Orm did not have. Hopefully Nereus will return with an even bigger role in the sequel.

There are some great action sequences in this movie. Easily the most exciting was Aquaman against Black Manta in Sicily. The scenery was unique, and the choreography was excellent. The two showdowns between Arthur and Ocean Master were also good. Visuals wise – Aquaman is unparalleled. There’s a scene with Aquaman and Mera travelling underwater, and the viewer is treated to an almost fairy tale-like Atlantis. The CGI is solid, with Karathen being a big highlight in the climax. As for the music, the film’s soundtrack overall is one of the stronger comic book movie soundtracks.

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Overall, Aquaman is a solid entry in the DC film lineup. Most of the characters are solid, the action is great, and the visuals are wonderful. However, it’s not in the same league as Wonder Woman, or Man of Steel. Aquaman lacks the all around great script those two films had. The humor can be mixed, and Ocean Master was a dull antagonist compared to Black Manta. The film is still very enjoyable, nicely setting up Arthur as the King of Atlantis, and for what comes next in the story.

8/10

Creed II Review – The Best Film in the Rocky Series?

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Creed II is the best film I’ve seen this year. Some movies are extremely well directed, well acted, and come together perfectly. Others, like the recently released Venom, are done with seemingly the only intent of entertaining – and not in a smart way. Creed II, directed by Steven Caple Jr., continues the story from Creed back in 2015. It is a continuation of the overall Rocky series, one of the most iconic franchises in film. This was a production that was taken seriously by everyone involved, to make sure it was a worthy sequel to a great film and another chapter in the Rocky saga.

At this point, it can be tough to create a story that isn’t similar to previous movies. A common complaint is that Creed II is too similar to the movies before it. That is technically a legitimate complaint. Creed II features the protagonist thinking he’s ready for the fight, but is soundly defeated. He then goes into a depression, but is soon brought back to life and trains hard. In the rematch, he takes the advantage. It’s a comeback story, but not dissimilar to what we’ve seen before, preventing the film from feeling too unique among other Rocky films.

At the same time, I would argue that Creed II executes these “generic” tropes exceptionally well, to the point one can watch the film without the thought, “Well, that’s just too similar to Rocky III.” Creed II has a lot more going on other than the loss, and build up to the rematch. The relationship between Adonis and Bianca takes a center focus, and it’s wonderful. The Dragos’ part of the plot is fascinating. (We’ll talk more about that soon.) Finally, the ending is emotional and avoids a generic knockout trope, cementing the climax as the best in the series.

Creed II continues the story of Adonis Creed. He is now the heavyweight champion of the world, and things are looking good for him. He proposes to his girlfriend of three years, Bianca Taylor, and soon they learn that she will be giving birth to a baby. Meanwhile, Ivan Drago, the Russian antagonist from Rocky IV, has come to Philadelphia with an announcement to Rocky: Ivan’s son Viktor will beat Adonis in the ring. After a public declaration, Adonis has the choice of whether or not to accept the challenge and fight Viktor. This is something personal as well, as Ivan was responsible for the death of Apollo Creed, the father of Adonis. Adonis of course agrees, although Rocky does not want anything to do with it. From there, Adonis enters the ring enraged and doesn’t fight smart. He loses, and is crippled for a bit. After talking, Rocky decides to train him, and the road to the rematch begins…

rocky and creed

Sylvester Stallone steals every scene as the retired boxer. Any scene can be taken as a highlight, but one particular interesting one was Rocky attempting to talk Adonis out of the battle with Viktor Drago. Rocky talks from experience, not wanting Adonis to end up like Apollo. This is especially personal for Rocky because he could have thrown in the towel all those years ago, but chose not to, to respect Apollo’s wish to continue fighting. Rocky has great scenes throughout the movie; I would say this is Stallone’s strongest performance yet as the character. Rocky is so good in this movie, that the danger is that he could upstage Adonis. But, smartly, the director is careful to make sure that this is Creed’s movie, not Rocky’s. Rocky is there a lot, but he never upstages Adonis.

Adonis and Bianca had good chemistry in the first movie, and it’s only gotten better here. The two big plot developments are that Adonis proposes to Bianca, and they learn that a child is on the way. Boxing movies are more than just the fights; they are about the people within those fights, who they are and how they got to this point. In this regard, (and just about all other regards) Creed II triumphs. There is some interesting, tragic drama as Bianca worries that her child will be born deaf.

Let’s talk about the Dragos, perhaps the greatest aspect of Creed II. The film actually begins with Ivan and Viktor in Russia before cutting to Adonis’ fight with Danny Wheeler. Continuing with the knowledge that boxing films are more than just fights, Creed II shows the reasons why Ivan has Viktor challenge Adonis. As Ivan explains to Rocky at the restaurant (one of the best scenes in the film), after his loss at the end of Rocky IV, he lost everything, including his wife. We see later in a scene set in Russia that Viktor is being set up to bring boxing back to glory in Russia. Ivan’s wife actually shows up, but we see that she doesn’t actually care about Viktor; she just cares about the name Drago as a glorious name.

Regarding Viktor, he doesn’t talk all that much during the film, which might lead some to say he has little character. But, I believe that’s the point. This film is in many ways a mirror to Rocky IV. Ivan Drago in that film also said few lines. He had less “personality” than Apollo Creed and Clubber Lang, but that didn’t mean he had less character. Ivan in Rocky IV was displayed as an emotionless super boxer, whose only goal was to serve the Soviet Union’s cause. However, in the climax, Ivan turns to a Soviet Union leader and says, “I fight to win! For me! For me!” This was a key line showing Drago did have his own character rather than just being a machine for the Soviets.

With Viktor, we learn that he has had a tough childhood, with Ivan training him harshly. Viktor is raised with only one thing in mind: his fists. However, as the movie smartly shows, the two of them have an interesting relationship. Viktor never displays any hate or distaste for his father. In the Russia scene, we see Viktor distressed about his mother coming, telling Ivan that she is a stranger to them. Then, during the fight, when Viktor is clearly on the losing side, his mother actually walks away from the audience. This cements the fact that she doesn’t care about him. Despite that, he continues to fight. Ivan notices that his wife has left, and throws in the towel. We see briefly that Viktor is upset, with Ivan telling him that it’s okay. This shows that Viktor is a broken person, hoping to succeed in what his father trained him to do, and that his mother would come back into their lives.

ivan and viktor

Since I just mentioned it, it would be good to talk about the climax. Instead of opting for a generic knockout win, Adonis wins by the towel being thrown. This is a key thing cementing this film as the best in the series. When Ivan notices his wife has walked away, and sees his son being beaten, he makes the call that Rocky didn’t in Rocky IV. He throws in the towel, stopping the match, and consoles Viktor. It’s hard to describe just how emotionally impactful the entire sequence was. When a scene can bring a tear to your eye, it did something right. In this case, we see that Ivan does indeed love his son, and didn’t want him to die in the ring. As part of the final scenes of the movie, we see Ivan running side by side with Viktor as they train in Russia. This is a great scene because earlier we saw Ivan training Viktor using a car, a rather impersonal approach.

Finally, Rocky reunites with his son. This was a great way to bring everything full circle. The Rocky film series could continue, but if it ended with Creed II, that would be fine. Creed II is the perfect sendoff for the franchise. It continues the storylines from Rocky IV, Rocky Balboa, and Creed. Everything comes together for a satisfying final fight. The acting is great all around from everyone. Dolph Lundgren steals every scene he’s in as Ivan Drago, and of course Rocky is always great. The fights are well choreographed as always, and the soundtrack is good. In fact, the classic Rocky theme returns, and it’s placed perfectly within the story. Creed II has one of the best climaxes I’ve ever seen. Simply put, the film is fantastic. It may have a technically generic storyline, but it’s done so well that it may even exceed the original Rocky.

 

10/10

 

Venom Review

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Before going into Venom, one must accept the fact that Spider-Man has nothing to do with the character in this portrayal. Now, Venom has been tied to Spider-Man in most media. In almost all the comics, most of the shows, and Spider-Man 3, the Venom symbiote was a parasitic creature that bonded with Peter Parker. Eventually, Peter learned of the symbiote’s dark intentions, and got rid of the symbiote. Eddie Brock, a person who hates Peter, bonded with the symbiote and thus was born one of comic’s greatest dynamics.

So, can Venom work outside of Spider-Man? Most things could work under the right writing team. With a passionate director, a great script, and involved actors, it could work. Venom has none of these things. The script is dumb, most of the characters are lackluster, and the comedy is often atrocious. This film is on the same level of mediocrity as Fantastic Four (2015) and Catwoman, maybe even worst. Again, I believe the film could have worked. Yes, having Spider-Man involved would have been great. But, since that was not the route Sony went, the studio could have worked to deliver a compelling story delving into the interesting link between Brock and Venom. Instead, the film is content with stupidity throughout. Brock jumping into a lobster tank to eat live lobsters? That’s just what one expects from a film based on one of comics’ greatest characters!

The story is somewhat similar at first to previous incarnations. A space probe is en route back to Earth carrying samples of some alien substance, known as symbiotes. Unfortunately, one breaks out, causing the probe to crash. On Earth, that one symbiote escapes, jumping from host to host. Meanwhile, Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), a reporter, is given an assignment to interview Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), the head of the Life Foundation. Brock has his suspicions that Drake is a crook, but he is under strict orders not to interrogate. Despite that, Brock starts bringing up the lawsuits against Drake, which leads to the interview being terminated and Brock losing his job. Eventually, a renegade symbiote named Venom bonds with Brock, and the adventure begins.

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Tom Hardy’s portrayal of Eddie Brock has some charisma to it. A strong scene is when he brought up the lawsuits to Drake. After that though, Brock has to suffer through painfully “comedic” scenes, such as the entire restaurant sequence. “Is this real?” was the thought that came to mind as Brock went around eating people dishes and eventually jumping into the live lobster thank. All this is happening because the Venom symbiote is hungry, but even with that context, it’s still incredibly silly. This is the kind of film where you grab your buddies, jump on the couch with a few root bears, and laugh at how hysterically bad everything is. For some reason, the Venom symbiote actually curses. Guess they talk like that on planet symbiote, huh?

Romance is a staple in many movies, and when handled right, it can be a good thing. Venom starts the romance right. Eddie is engaged to Anne Weying (Michelle Williams), and the two have solid chemistry. But when Eddie is fired, Anne subsequently loses her job as well. (She was affiliated with the Life Foundation.) This leads to her breaking up with him. Fast forward six months later, and she has a new love interest. Despite the time gap, it stills feels incredibly sudden. This romance angle further detracted from the overall movie.

As for Carlton Drake, or as I like to call him, ‘Mr. Exposition,’ he does not have a screen presence. Heath Ledger’s Joker, Josh Brolin’s Thanos – these guys are legendary screen grabbers. Drake comes off as petty, with the script not really delving into his character at all. The writing may think giving him big exposition dialogue makes him a deep character, but it doesn’t. Interestingly, he does have a few lines of dialogue that seem to hint at something really neat, but doesn’t end up being the case because the Riot symbiote bonds with him much later in the film.

Speaking of Riot, he was solid. But, he looks way too much like Venom. The final battle between the two was decently fun, but can be hard to decipher the characters due to how similar they look. As for Venom himself, the scenes with him in his full Venomized form are the most entertaining of the film. The dialogue between Eddie and Venom is interesting. The relationship between the two in the comics is fascinating (I’d recommend reading The Spectacular Spider-Man: The Hunger for a great Venom story), and it’s explored in the film in a fun way. It’s too bad the rest of the film was mediocre. Also, it takes way too long for Venom to appear, even for an origin story.

The soundtrack is solid, with some notable tunes. At this point, I’ve been pretty negative on the film. The comedy usually just isn’t good. This is not a horror film, which is what Sony should have aimed for. Director Ruben Fleischer delivers a film that watches like a bigger budget college video product. Most of the comedy is just lacking. Yes, the Venom/Brock scenes are fun, but that’s about it. The film just comes off a story trying to be “fun,” using the Venom name, without delivering an actual quality story. The plot seems to be on fast forward, with little being explained or delved into. Ironically, Donna Diego (Michelle Lee), was 10x more engaging than Drake in her brief scenes. (She should have been the antagonist.)

Venom vs riot

Simply put, Venom is one of the worst comic books movies in recent years. (The mid-credits scene is better than the whole movie.) If Sony makes a sequel to this despite the critical backlash (the film currently has a 32% on Rotten Tomatoes), the studio needs to overhaul everything. As it stands, Venom is bad. There is some fun to be had, but it’s just a poorly made movie. Venom could work without Spider-Man, but it definitely didn’t work here.

3/10

 

Undertale – Masterpiece or Overrated?

Flowey the flower

Undertale. When one mentions that title, fond memories come to mind, or the thought, “That game again?” Indeed, since its release in 2015, Undertale has become something of a phenomenon in the gaming world. Created by Toby Fox, Undertale is a sprite-based RPG that has the look of an oldschool RPG like Earthbound. The game was so big on PC, it was ported to PS4 two years later. This past September, it was ported over to Nintendo Switch. The game has a very loyal fanbase, with tons of fan art and animations populating the web.

When anything becomes this popular, people will emerge saying the media in question is overrated. Many of these people have never played the game, yet will cringe when anyone mentions it by name. (It is similar to the My Little Pony phenomenon that began in 2010 and continues to this day.) These people who jump in forums to say something negative just because the title is poplar do not contribute anything.

Do not mistake me though. While there are many people who despise popular things just because they are popular, there are  those who legitimately think something is overrated. In Undertale’s case, perhaps some may say it is not as good as people claim, or it got overblown in popularity simply because it has quirky characters. That is the aim of this article: to explore Undertale and see if it is a masterpiece, or greatly exaggerated in quality. Before continuing, it is important to note that one thing cannot be denied: it is an acclaimed title. Every version of the game – PC, PS4, Switch – has a score of 92 on Metacritic. This means that many critics agree the game is well made. What we’ll be looking at is what makes Undertale an experience, and if that experience is a good one, or an overrated one.

To begin, one has to go back to the start of the game.

frisk meets flowey

After the intro and choosing a name for the ‘Fallen Human,’ you are given control of the playable character, whom we later learn is named Frisk. The child moves about on a grassy field, and then you can move Frisk into the next area. In this area, there is another grassy field with a little flower in the center of it. The flower has a face, and greets the main character.

“Howdy! I’m Flowey. Flowey the Flower!” the flower says.

I remember my thoughts as I played this opening sequence. The seemingly friendly flower notices that Frisk is new to the Underground. He explains the battle system on another screen. I notice a little heart, which Flowey explains is my SOUL, “the very culmination of your being!” Flowey then mentions that my SOUL begins weak, but can get stronger with LV. Makes sense, right? Flowey then says that LV stands for “LOVE.” Already, the game is playing with the player’s expectations when it comes to an RPG. “LV” would normally mean “level,” but not in Undertale. The next part is what really kicks the game off.

Flowey states that LOVE is shared through “friendliness pellets,” and proceeds to share some with me. I happily run into these pellets, not knowing the flower’s nefarious plan until they decrease my health to just one percent. Flowey gives a sinister smile and says,

“In this world, it’s kill or BE killed. Why would ANYONE pass up an opportunity like this?!”

At this point, I’m shocked by what’s happening. Interestingly, the dialogue changes if one had decided to avoid the so-called friendliness pellets. It is interesting to consider why someone would run into the pellets, or avoid them. Either way, Flowey surrounds me with pellets and proceeds to kill Frisk. However, he is stopped by another character, whom is called Toriel. Toriel takes Frisk to her home away from danger.

At this point, I’m glad, but am a bit unnerved when Toriel later says, “I’ve also prepared a curriculum for your education.” Wait, what? I can’t stay here lady – I gotta get back home. After requesting how to escape the RUINS, Toriel tries to convince me not to go and goes on ahead to block the exit. However, I have to push forward. Toriel says, “Prove to me you are strong enough to survive”, and thus begins the first boss battle. Because I liked Toriel, I tried to find a away to spare her, because the beauty of this game is that it offers a “Mercy”, button, where you don’t have to kill an opponent. Undertale’s tagline is, “The friendly RPG where nobody has to die.”

Sadly, I did not find a a way to spare Toriel, and ended up killing her. (It didn’t occur to me that I could reset my save file to try again, which is a concept that will be mentioned soon.) After exiting the RUINS, I see Flowey again. I remember my exact thought during this: “Not that thing again.” After Flowey taunts the player, he leaves, and Frisk leaves to the next area. This is where the title screen pops up. This is where the adventure begins.

Simply put, the opening act of Undertale is an engaging way to begin the adventure.

Frisk meets sans

The main goal of Undertale at first is to escape the Underground. However, to escape, Frisk will have to battle King Asgore. You see, as the intro sequence explains, there was a war between monsters and humans. The monsters, led by Asgore, were driven underground. Now there is a barrier, and the only way to break it is with seven human souls. Asgore has six already, so if he gets the soul of Frisk, the monsters will be able to return to the above-ground. It is an interesting dynamic, as monsters are not inherently evil. This dynamic results in a fascinating sequence at the end of the neutral run, which will be addressed soon. But first, one has to mention the characters Frisk runs into along the way.

During the journey, Frisk meets a number of diverse characters, such as the humorous, yet mysterious Sans, Sans’ corny, yet lovable brother Papyrus, the “The heroine that NEVER gives up” Undyne, among others. These characters have diverse personalities, which is thanks to the writing. I couldn’t help but smirk at Papyrus’ dialogue, or be unnerved at Metteton’s love for an entertaining show. Toby Fox is a master of creating likable, well defined characters. One is never tempted to skip the text boxes, because the player always wants to see what they will say next.

Undertale’s cast of characters is unique and diverse.

flowey mercy or fight

So what’s the deal with a game where no one has to die, you might ask. This is where the true beauty lies in Undertale, and is something that makes the player ask philosophical questions. It is almost always easier to kill enemies and opponents than it is to have mercy on them. It often takes passion to look for ways to spare a character. Killing characters has an impact on the story as well, showing how much thought was put into this game. You have a choice: kill or have mercy.

In the battle against Asgore, the player gets extremely close to finishing the king off. As Asgore kneels defeated, he gives his story on why he wants to free monsters. It’s emotional, and at this point, the game gives the player the choice of whether to finish him off, or have mercy. After hearing his story, how could one still be motivated to kill him? I picked the mercy option, and the king was surprised and happy. However, something else kills him, and Flowey emerges. After taunting dialogue, such as Flowey saying he’ll save over my save file so he can kill me multiple times, you battle the final boss of the neutral run, Photoshop Flowey. I want to discuss the aftermath of this fight.

After the souls revolt, Flowey is defeated. We see a picture of him battered and bruised. At this point, the game gives you the option to either kill or have mercy. I’ll tell you, I very much wanted to kill that flower. As opposed to Asgore, whom wasn’t really a bad guy, Flowey was a psychopath. He wanted to kill me at the start of the game, and he tortured and taunted me during this battle with him. I was ready to kill him, but I knew mercy was there as an option. But why would I have mercy on something that has caused me so much pain?

Here’s the thing, if you do decide to kill Flowey, he looks at you with a deranged smile and says, “I knew you had it in you!” before dying. At this point, does the player feel accomplished, or a bit melancholy? Was killing Flowey the right thing?

I decided to go the mercy route. Why? You see, Flowey’s philosophy is that “it’s kill or be killed.” By having mercy on him, I am showing that actually, there is true love and mercy in the world. It doesn’t have to be “kill or be killed.” Here’s something to think about. When first picking the mercy option on Flowey, it doesn’t end the event. You have to keep going to the mercy option. In-between, Flowey will say, “Do you really think I’ve learned anything from this? No”, “I’ll come back,” “I’ll kill you, ” “I’ll kill everyone,” “I’ll kill everyone you love.” During all this, you still have the option to stop pressing mercy, and kill him. The game challenges you as Flowey says these things; are you DETERMINED to be a merciful person? Are you DETERMINED to showcase a philosophy that is the opposite of his? As you press mercy, Flowey becomes angry and questions what the player is doing; he doesn’t understand. I think this is one of the most fascinating encounters in gaming history.

Undertale forces the player to take a stance: have mercy, or kill. Are you willing to have mercy on the worst kind of person, someone whom has wronged you? It’s much easier to finish that person off than have mercy. Are you willing to go the extra mile and take a merciful stance? Are you DETERMINED to do so?

photoshop flowey

Undertale’s story is certainly interesting, but how about its actual gameplay? In order to be critically acclaimed, you must have good gameplay. Undertale’s gameplay is unique in that it avoids the usual RPG format. You control a heart in real-time and avoid enemy fire. It’s fun, and led to some great boss encounters. The battle against Photoshop Flowey is one of the most memorable boss fights in recent history. This is helped by the glorious soundtrack. I think it would be hard for anyone to deny that Undertale has a good soundtrack. From the fan favorite ‘Megalovania,’ to the ominous ‘Another medium,’ a major part of what makes Undertale engaging is its soundtrack. ‘Finale’ and ‘Hopes and Dreams’ are two beautiful final boss themes.

Undertale’s gameplay is fun. The boss encounters are interesting, and the soundtrack greatly enhances the experience.

 

True Final boss

Now we come to what makes Undertale a truly complete experience. After you beat the game the first time around, you can do it again to get the true ending. By going back and having mercy on everyone and completing certain things, you gain access to the true final boss and true ending, the “True Pacifist Route” as it’s called. Here you encounter Flowey again. He absorbs the souls of everyone and transforms into a dark final boss in the vein of Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII. This battle is a fascinating final encounter. It even says, “It’s the end.”

You see, the battle is reminiscent of the final battle in Earthbound. In Earthbound, you battle Giygas. You can’t beat him conventionally. Instead, you have to “pray.” There is no other way to beat him, except through the power of prayer. In Undertale, you can’t beat Flowey conventionally. Instead, you first have to “save” the souls of those he has consumed. Finally, you have to “save” Flowey himself. Flowey’s backstory is fascinating, and here we have Frisk appealing to Flowey. Flowey, seeing the love all these souls have for Frisk, and his own past memories with the Fallen Human, gives up and breaks the barrier. It’s bittersweet, as Flowey (real name Asriel) stays behind because he will transform into a soulless flower again. At this point, Frisk is given the choice to hug Asriel. It’s an emotional ending.

Sans

However, what happens if instead of having mercy on everyone, you decide to kill everyone in the game? This results in the “Genocide Route,” and Frisk eventually being taken over by Chara, the original Fallen Human. This is intriguing, and features an incredibly memorable battle against Sans. Here’s the really interesting thing: if you do a Genocide run before doing a True Pacifist run, you will lose the Pacifist ending. Instead of getting the happy ending, in the sequence we see red Xs on the characters faces in a portrait, and later Chara laughing at the player. This is brilliant, because it shows that there are consequences for completing a genocide route. You can’t go back and save everyone after killing them. Rather, you have to live with the fact that you decided to engage in the Genocide route, and there’s no going back.

Undertale’s True Pacifist Route is a brilliant final chapter. The game gives you the option: pacifist, or genocide. There is no middle ground here, there is only one final ending, and you have the choice of either having mercy, or killing everyone.

Ending

In conclusion, I have to say that Undertale is a great experience. I would call it a masterpiece – with its engrossing story, unique gameplay, diverse characters, and philosophy. The game is something of a deconstruction of the RPG genre, and comes down to a single question: What is your true DETERMINATION? If one does not experience the game the same way, that is fine. Not everyone will find Undertale to be the unique experience I consider it to be. A little while ago, I played the critically acclaimed game, Journey. Although I knew it to be well-liked, I didn’t get anything out of it. It didn’t mean anything to me. But, it meant a lot to others, and that’s what matters. Undertale is not a game that is loved by everyone, but it does mean something to a lot of people. That is something important to keep in mind.

There are many games out there, but I can say that Undertale is one that will always stick with me as particularly memorable.

 

Looney Tunes: Rabbits Run Review

looney tunes rabbits run

Ever heard of this movie? No? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Released in 2015, Looney Tunes: Rabbits Run was a straight-to-DVD film in the Looney Tunes series. In fact, it was the first Looney production in nine years, following Bah, Humduck! A Looney Tunes Christmas. (That was a decent, fun take on A Christmas Carol.) Rabbits Run is particularly interesting, as it was based on The Looney Tunes Show, which ran from 2011 to 2014. The show had two seasons, with 52 episodes altogether. The show was controversial in that it abandoned the slapstick comedy the classic shorts were known for in favor of a sitcom format. While different than the iconic shorts, The Looney Tunes Show was nonetheless an incredibly written comedy. At its best, it was on par with Seinfeld. (If you need to be convinced, check out ‘Rebel Without a Glove‘ or ‘Gribbler’s Quest.’)

This brings us to Rabbits Run, a film that pretty much fell under the radar upon release. It was done by many of the same people who worked on The Looney Tunes Show, and has an identical animation style. Like the show, it is more dialogue based than the original shorts. I had originally seen this film a few months after release, and found it to be mediocre. After re-watching most of The Looney Tunes Show, I thought it would be good to revisit this movie and see if it was the mediocre viewing I remembered. Sometimes if you haven’t seen a film in awhile, you walk away with a new opinion of it, whether good or bad. Upon my revisit of Rabbits Run, I was quite impressed. The writing is very good, and features a lot of what made The Looney Tunes Show a modern classic. The film is not perfect, but it’s a great watch for any Looney Tunes fan, or those wanting to watch a quality comedy.

Interestingly, although animated in the same style as The Looney Tunes Show, Rabbits Run is in its own continuity. So, the story begins at a government base, led by Foghorn Leghorn. On the screen, they have finally found it: a rare, special flower. Before their ship can acquire it, the flower mysteriously disappears, or rather, is taken extremely quickly by a small figure. Meanwhile, Lola Bunny is a perfume salesperson, but has aspirations of creating her own fragrance. After being fired for breaking into song about her dreams and inadvertently breaking the shop, she heads out and eventually jumps into a taxi. The driver? Bugs Bunny, who wasn’t expecting the adventure that is about to unfold…

Lola and Bugs

 

When Space Jam released in 1996, it introduced a new character to the Looney Tunes mythos: Lola Bunny. She was okay, but little more than a love interest for Bugs Bunny. That changed in The Looney Tunes Show, where her character was revamped. Instead of just being a love interest, she was given an interesting personality. She was caring and indecisive. She was extroverted, and kinda crazy in her thinking. In short, she was a fun character, and that is carried over perfectly into Rabbits Run. In an early sequence, she accidentally gives wrong directions to taxi driver Bugs. Instead of her current apartment, she led him to where she used to live, where she used to be a boat captain…but she’s not sure if she was a seven year captain in real life, or in her dreams. In another scene, she explains to Bugs the reason why she knows the sewers so well:

Lola: “So, every day on my way to work, I would stop at the same hot dog vendor and get a hot dog. But then one day I read on the Internet, 10 unsurprising foods no one should be eating and hot dogs were number one. Well, obviously, I couldn’t keep eating hot dogs, but I still had to walk past the hot dog vendor to get to work. I just couldn’t face him.
His sad little hot-dog-vendor face. But that was the only way to get to work or so I thought.”

It’s comedic writing like this that makes this movie such a fun watch. Regarding Bugs, he’s also very good. He’s shocked by how crazy Lola is, and is forced into helping her escape from Elmer Fudd and Cecil the Turtle. Bugs grows fond of Lola, despite her zaniness. In The Looney Tunes Show, Bugs is constantly annoyed by Lola’s antics, yet can’t help but love her anyway. (In the episode, ‘Dear John,‘ there’s a big misunderstanding where he thinks she broke up with him, so he travels the oceans away from civilization in sadness.) In Rabbits Run, the two are extremely enjoyable to watch. In the end, Bugs abandons his dreams of wanting to be left alone, because he has found the bunny for him.

daffy bugs lola

 

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Looney Tunes adventure without Daffy Duck. Daffy was the major reason The Looney Tunes Show was so good. As the “Kramer” of the show, he sometimes found himself in crazy situations, such as going from a muffin man to CEO in the course of a day, and thinking the marine corps is the same as marine biology. Sadly, Daffy’s role isn’t that big in Rabbits Run. Still, his sequences are fantastic. As a taxi driver (yes, he drives a taxi too), he thinks he’s getting paid by salary, and gets to drive himself around, not give people rides. Later, he notices that ducks get to live in the zoo for free, and get fed, for free. “Interesting,” he says. It’s a shame that Daffy was only seen for a small part in the movie, but his scenes with Bugs, and later Lola, were comedy gold.

There’s a great, secret story at work within the actual story. Cecil was seemingly working for the US military, but in actuality, he was a double agent for Marvin the Martian. Cecil was a fun character in this movie. One of the best scenes was when he was told on the phone to eliminate Lola. He says that he didn’t know he would be eliminating anyone, but “that’s fine.” He says it so causally that the viewer can’t help but burst out laughing. The voice acting is excellent in this movie, and particular praise has to be given to Jim Rash for his portrayal of Cecil.

Marketing made a mistake putting Marvin in the trailer for Rabbits Run. His appearance in the film is treated as a plot twist. Despite knowing Marvin is involved in the story, his sudden appearance is nonetheless excellent. His line, “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself,” was brilliantly delivered. (The background music that plays during Marvin’s scenes is fantastic.) It’s a shame the climax decided to be more on the slapstick side, wasting what could have been a climatic battle against Marvin.

That’s the only fault of the movie: the slapstick doesn’t work. See, The Looney Tunes Show was built as a sitcom, not as seven minute shorts. When there was slapstick in the show, it felt out of place and too goofy. It’s the same in Rabbits Run; any slapstick is out of place and unneeded. Because of that, the climax was ultimately disappointing. Still, there aren’t that many slapstick scenes, and what is there doesn’t ruin the experience.

Marvin

Overall, Looney Tunes: Rabbits Run is a very entertaining movie. The writing is on point, the comedy is usually great, and the character interactions are fun. Like The Looney Tunes Show, it has an emphasis on dialogue that both kids and adults can enjoy. Seriously, go check out The Looney Tunes Show, and then Rabbits Run. These are probably the last Looney Tunes media to use this particular style, and they deserve to be watched.

8/10

Revisiting Batman Begins

Batman-Begins

Batman is one of the most iconic figures in popular culture. He first appeared in 1939, making him one of the earliest comic book characters. He has starred in numerous other media – from the campy, but beloved Adam West 1966 series, to 2017’s Justice League film. At this point, Batman may be the most popular comic book character. People always look forward to films with him in it. In 1989, Director Tim Burton gave Batman a new film for the big screen, which was arguably the turning point in the general public’s perception of the character. Keep in mind that the general audience at that point knew Batman from the 66 series – something not to be taken seriously. That changed in Burton’s Batman. Burton delivered a serious story, with a good take on the Joker. But, things went wrong two films later.

Batman Forever introduced campy elements into what was a serious film series. Jim Carrey’s portrayal of the Riddler was a joke, and don’t get me started on Two-Face in that film. Next, Batman and Robin needs no introduction, but that is the film that killed Batman’s film career for awhile. I don’t personally hate Batman and Robin – I think it’s a superior film to Forever. But, it’s easy to see why Batman and Robin is despised. That film had ice puns, and a generally silly feel. It was in stark contrast to the 1989 film. From 1997 to 2005, there was no Batman film on the big screen.

In 2005, Batman Begins released to critical acclaim. Director Christopher Nolan has remained one of the most passionate of directors, and it shows in Begins. The quality of the writing, and directing, is evident throughout. This film isn’t perfect – it’s a little choppy during the beginning and Christian Bale is at times a mediocre Bruce Wayne. But, everything comes together so well for such a thrilling climax. Batman Begins remains a very important film, and an excellent start to a fantastic trilogy.

The film’s first act is interesting, as it shows Bruce Wayne in a foreign prison camp. We don’t know too much of who he is, or what’s going on. His history is told through flashbacks. Here, I need to make mention that Linus Roache did such a great job portraying Thomas Wayne. There are many notable quotes in this film, and one of the best was Thomas telling Bruce, “And why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.” Thomas was a man striving to do the right thing, someone a son could look up to. That’s why when Rachel later says, “Your father would be ashamed of you,” it hits home.

The opening act is a little choppy with its editing between present day and flashbacks. I think if the film had begun using all the flashback footage, and then cutting to Bruce at the prison camp, it would have been more effective. With that said, most of the film is excellent. Bruce’s training with Henri Ducard (who later reveals himself to be the true Ra’s al Ghul) was great, and Bruce’s assault on the temple was appropriately intense, as many scenes in this movie are.

ra's

Upon my latest viewing of this film, I realized just how great of a character Ra’s al Ghul was. Liam Neeson delivers a perfect portrayal, delivering someone whom is passionate about his ideals, yet not overly eccentric, but subdued. Neeson is always calm, delivering fantastic dialogue. When facing Batman on the train, Bruce has the villain at knife point with a batarang. Ra’s calmly says, “Have you finally learned to do what is necessary?” Ra’s commands every scene he’s in. One of the best scenes in the entire film is when he reveals himself to Bruce at the latter’s mansion. Dialogue is brilliantly said again: “If someone stands in the way of true justice, you simply walk up behind them… and stab them in the heart.” It’s a shame that Neeson’s portrayal of Ra’s al Ghul isn’t that discussed today. It’s probably because Heath Ledger’s Joker overshadowed him when The Dark Knight released. The Joker was excellent as well. But, Neeson’s portrayal should not be forgotten; he is easily one of the best villains of the 2000s. No version of Ra’s al Ghul has come close in quality to the one featured in Batman Begins.

Christian Bale is a good Batman, but sometimes a mediocre Bruce Wayne here. A rather odd scene is when Bruce is talking to Rachel at the hotel gathering. The dialogue, “It’s– not me. It’s… Inside, I am…I am more.” just seemed off and poorly said. As for Batman, it’s easy to forget that while serious, he does have some funny moments here. When breaking through the asylum, he tells the two inmates, “Excuse me.” In one not funny, but sweet scene, he gives his periscope to a little boy, because the other kids doesn’t believe him about Batman. All in all, Batman is an effective character in the film. I won’t lie though; him saying, “I’m Batman” was executed in a cheesy way.

scarecrow 1

 

I really enjoyed Cillian Murphy’s portrayal of Johnathan Crane/Scarecrow. The first scuffle between him and Batman was brilliantly choreographed. Later, the scene with Crane saying, “He’s here.” “The Batman.” was also well done. Overall, Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman’s rogues’ gallery has proved fascinating. In the trilogy, we had Scarecrow, Ra’s al Ghul, Joker, Two-Face, Catwoman, Talia al Ghul, and Bane. It would have been great to see more films from the director. I would have loved to see Nolan’s take on the Riddler, or Mr. Freeze. One more villainous character deserves mention in Batman Begins: Carmine Falcone. One really great scene was when Bruce confronted Falcone at the latter’s pub. Tom Wilkinson as the crime boss delivered such great dialogue; it’s almost a shame that Scarecrow put him out of commission later in the story. (Then again, Crane frightening Falcone was such a great scene.)

Alfred, James Gordon, and Lucius Fox all contribute to the story. These characters are portrayed by skillful actors. Morgan Freeman has a commanding presence as Lucius Fox, and knows how to deliver humorous remarks subtly. It’s hard to say which version of Alfred is the definitive one, but one can make the case that Michael Caine’s is. As for Rachel, she was an enjoyable character who stood up for what’s right. She had good dialogue, such as “Justice is about harmony. Revenge is about you making yourself feel better. Which is why we have an impartial system.” The scene where she held the little boy while holding a gun to inmates walking toward her was compelling. As for the soundtrack, Batman’s iconic theme comes from this film. It is powerful, and one of the best themes ever put on film. Though, one might say that the music themes are very similar to each other. I listened to the whole soundtrack as I wrote this review, and most of the music sounded the same. It’s not a terrible thing since the music is commanding. But, it should be noted that the soundtrack is not very diverse.

The action in this movie is brilliant. Every action scene is wonderfully directed. From Batman’s scuffle with Scarecrow, to the final battle in the train, this film has excellent, intense action. The climax is still one of the most thrilling in any comic book film 13 years later. Batman Begins, simply put, is a great movie. The battle against fear is a theme that is prevalent throughout the story. By the end, Bruce has fought his fear, and channeled it so he can bring hope into the streets of Gotham. Some films age well, others do not. 25 years from now, Batman Begins will still be a great watch.

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