Sonic Mania Review

Sonic Mania

In recent years, Sonic as a franchise has been out of its prime. The last main game was Sonic Lost World, which wasn’t that great. To makes things worse, SEGA then released a new version of the series called Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric, which was critically panned. Things started to look up last year in July when two new Sonic titles were announced. One of those titles was Sonic Mania. Similar to the underrated Sonic the Hedgehog 4, Mania was going to bring Sonic back to his Genesis roots. Mania took it one step further than Sonic 4, using the retro art style and sprites. The game saw release this year, and it ended up being a nice nostalgic trip reminding players why they fell in love with the franchise in the first place.

Mania has an impressive 13 zones. Eight of those are remastered while five are new. First, it was an interesting idea to remake old zones and even remix the themes. It’s nice to hop right back into Green Hill Zone and Flying Battery Zone. Stardust Speedway is iconic, but like in Sonic CD, it’s still a little uneven. Oil Ocean was intense, as it forces Sonic to watch out for the smoggy atmosphere that takes over the screen. So, it’s fun seeing some of the old zones back. At the same time however, it would have been great to see more original zones. In a new game, there should have been more original zones. Generations already had the idea of bringing back older zones. But, this isn’t a make it or break it deal as the old zones are still fun to play through, and the new ones are well made. Mirage Saloon Zone is a highlight.

Like the Genesis games, Mania puts an emphasis on speed. The player will be blasting through at many parts, but there’s also careful platforming. Getting squished is easy if one isn’t careful. The last zone, (not counting the secret final zone) Titanic Monarch, has plenty of platforming, forcing the player to slow down and carefully navigate the area. It’s a tough balance the Sonic games have to maintain, because on one hand the player wants to zoom through as the fastest video game character alive. On the other hand, just blasting through would make the game easy and quick. Mania nicely balances sonic-speed gameplay and platforming.

Boss battles in the Sonic series have been more on the challenging side. (Who could forget the Death Egg Robot at the end of Sonic the Hedgehog 2?) It’s the same with Mania; each boss is well designed and provides a quality challenge. One highlight is the encounter with Metal Sonic at the end of Stardust Speedway. It’s fast paced and intense, especially if you’re not able to hold on to your rings. Another highlight is Heavy Magician at the end of Mirage Saloon, where it impersonates classic Sonic characters Fang, Bean, and Bark. Oh, one can’t forget playing a round of Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine against Eggman himself at the end of Chemical Plant Zone. Multiplayer is a nice feature, and Mania also has a competition mode, which is always welcome. The soundtrack is fantastic, from the remastered themes to the original ones.

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Overall, Sonic Mania does a stellar job bringing back the original Sonic style of gameplay. It looks and plays like a Genesis title. It’s evident from the start that the developers care a great deal about the franchise. Though there’s too many old zones in comparison to new ones, they are almost all a blast to run through. Acquiring the Chaos Emeralds is a hard endeavor, so those wanting to get the true ending are in for a genuine challenge. If you’ve been absent from the series for awhile or just want some classic Sonic, Mania is worth the purchase. Sonic is finally back with a title worthy of his 25th anniversary, which looks to continue later this year with Sonic Forces.

8.5/10

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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Review

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When one hears the name “Zelda,” one thinks of a princess, adventure, and dungeons. There’s also another word, and that’s “quality.” Since its inception in 1986, The Legend of Zelda has cemented itself as one of the greatest in the adventure platformer genre. Every main 3D console game has received critical appraise, from Ocarina of Time to Skyward Sword. The small console ones have too been well liked. The latest game, Breath of the Wild, had been highly anticipated since its unveiling. It looked to be the first game in a long time to shake up the core gameplay. Sure, every game has its unique gimmick, but Breath of the Wild looked to overhaul a lot of key things. It’s one of the most ambitious games Nintendo has ever produced, and one of the company’s finest.

When talking about some of the core concepts about Breath of the Wild, Director Eiji Aonuma in an interview with The Verge, stated that “…from the very start of Breath of the Wild, we wanted to, and set out to, create a world that wasn’t only vast, but where everything was connected. So you really could freely explore the world, without these barriers or gaps imposed.” These comments sum up what makes Breath of the Wild unique among Zelda titles: the vast open world. It takes Termina Field from Majora’s Mask to another level. It is such a great concept: if you see something in the distance, you can actually run to it and climb it; it’s not just decoration for the background. One can spend hours running around the map. In fact, it’s possible to not even explore the whole thing if the player is just set on following the core narrative. Nintendo succeeded in delivering a world that encourages players to check every inch of.

The Zelda series is known for its epic storylines, and Breath of the Wild continues in like manner. Hyrule was ravaged by “Calamity Ganon” 100 years ago, and Link has finally awakened from his slumber. Now Link has to take back the four Divine Beasts, eventually battling Ganon and freeing Princess Zelda from her burden of sealing the villain at Hyrule Castle. It’s a similar storyline, but also different and engages the player from beginning to end. It really feels like you’re part of something big as you hear the backstory from Impa early in the game.

After talking to Impa, the core part of the game begins: going to different areas and freeing the Divine Beasts from Ganon’s control. It’s smart how Nintendo did this; each area is placed far away from each other on the map. This forces the player to explore Hyrule. So, if players for some reason had no intention of exploring, they would still get much sightseeing.

As for knowing where to go, there are yellow indicators pointing Link to his destination. This was welcome, because sometimes in Zelda it can get a bit confusing where to go next. Breath of the Wild is more straightforward than Ocarina of Time. However, it’s not linear like a Crash Bandicoot level. Instead, Breath of the Wild almost perfectly balances having the player figure out what to do and being straightforward. Yes, there is an indicator on the map of where to go. But it’s up to the player to maneuver around obstacles and plan how to traverse tall mountains. The only part I was confused about was getting to Goron City. Link would soon heat up upon entry without the right clothes. I would be burning up looking for the shop at the city, where I would purchase the right attire to actually be able to live in the area. That worked, but it didn’t feel like that’s what the game wanted the player to do. Or maybe it was. Either way, getting to the different areas tested the player’s ability to plan on the go.

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The dungeons are of shorter length than the average Zelda dungeon. This is a good thing, because it can take awhile, almost 40 minutes even, to get to the next area. If the dungeons were super long as well, that would have been too much. The dungeons instead are just the perfect length. The length also doesn’t affect the level of brainstorming players must do in order to complete the dungeons. Zelda games are known for its dungeons and forcing players to consider how to use the tools at their disposal. Each dungeon in Breath of the Wild makes the player think, and every time a breakthrough would occur, it was a truly happy moment.

There’s a boss at the end of every main dungeon. Breath of the Wild isn’t the easiest game out there, and the bosses are evident of that. They are genuinely challenging. (One won’t forget facing Waterblight Ganon.) Arrows are a key aspect in facing these bosses, and that’s another thing making this Zelda game unique among other entries. Link can find arrows out in the open (of course, he can also purchase them) and also weapons. These weapons, from a woodcutter’s axe to tree branch, eventually break. It would be a shame to have everything break or run out in the middle of a boss battle; that’s why players want to stock up and carefully use different weapons throughout the game. This adds another layer of strategy as players trek through the 30 hour story.

As for Link himself, he plays similarly to previous incarnations. The biggest difference is that he can now jump. It’s a little strange to see him jump after all these years. (Then again, he’s always been able to jump in Super Smash Bros.) Another change is that Link has unlimited access to bombs, and can even stop some things from moving. These are nicely implemented for puzzles and boss fights. On the giant map there are many mini-dungeons called Shrines, which also serve as checkpoints Link can warp to. These are great because running back and fourth across the map would grow tiresome. Entering and completing these mini-dungeons are optional, but doing so will eventually give Link more stamina and hearts. Those things are important, so they’re a good incentive for players to complete the Shrines. Another new feature is cooking food. There’s a lot of food in the open to replenish hearts, and cooking adds special benefits. It’s an interesting feature that, once again, adds a layer of strategy.

The final boss battle is epic and provides a satisfying finale. The award to greatest Ganon boss fight still belongs to Twilight Princess, but Breath of the Wild’s was well done as well. (The final Light Arrow shot won’t soon be forgotten.) Actually getting to Ganon is one of the most well done parts of the game. Getting to the top of a ravaged Hyrule Castle with some of the classic Zelda theme playing was intense. Unfortunately, acquiring the Master Sword is optional. Characters make mention of it, but it’s a side quest. It should have been a main quest because completing the game without it just doesn’t feel right.

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Overall, Breath of the Wild lives up to its grand presentation. The open world is one of the best, encouraging players to run around and see what they can find. The story is enthralling and full of memorable characters. The soundtrack is also great. There are many variations on the Zelda formula, but they never feel out of place or different just to be different. That’s because there’s a level of quality and class to the gameplay and story, as one would expect from a Zelda title. Link’s mission to take back Hyrule from Ganon is epic. Breath of the Wild makes the case for game of the year. Though, with Super Mario Odyssey coming out in October, Breath of the Wild is going to have big competition.

10/10

War for the Planet of the Apes Review

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In 2011, the Planet of the Apes franchise was revived. Rise was a reboot, but also a prequel to a new series. Modern effects would allow more realistic apes than what was seen in the original films, and in Rise, we got to see some of the best effects of a modern blockbuster. The film was followed by Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and to quote my review from it, it “is one of the finest movies of the century.” Caesar was already fantastic in Rise, but in Dawn his character was further cemented as one of the greatest of 21st century pop culture. War for the Planet of the Apes gets Caesar even further by making him and his ape companions the full-fledged protagonists. There’s no main human protagonist (aside from Nova) this time around. This works, because Caesar is an incredible character, and the other apes are great as well. They can easily hold a film together. War has many of the things that made its predecessors good films. It’s incredibly well written and provides a fine closure to a fantastic trilogy.

The opening scene makes sure to remind the viewer that this is a war. It’s a tension-filled sequence as we see the soldiers plan to attack the apes in the forest. Then, when the soldiers make an explosion, everything turns into chaos. It’s exciting when the apes rally to defend the woods. This opening scene grabs the viewer’s attention right away. It’s brutal as we see apes and soldiers getting killed from bullets and spears. After the battle, we’re shown Caesar deciding what to do with a traitor ape by the name of Red/Donkey and the soldier survivors. This is Andy Serkis’ best portrayal of Caesar yet. Every scene he’s in is Oscar-worthy.

Perhaps the core story is Caesar’s mission to take out The Colonel. It’s interesting because in a key scene, Maurice tells Caesar that the latter is starting to sound like Koba. This was a greatly written scene. Koba was the antagonist in Dawn, and in War Caesar at times “sees” Koba, showing that the rogue ape still haunts. Caesar’s journey, outward and inward, is engaging. He isn’t a one-dimensional hero. He fights to defend the apes, and goes through development after being hit with the realization that Maurice’s words are proving to be true. Caesar has easily become one of the greatest film franchise characters ever to be created.

As stated in the first paragraph, the apes can hold a film together. Each of the main ones are given personality, from Maurice being the soft observant one to Donkey being a loyal Koba follower. War introduces one new major ape protagonist, whom comes toward the latter part of the film. “Bad Ape” is actually the main negative why War isn’t the perfect film Dawn was. Dawn was a serious film, and arguably War should be even more serious. Bad Ape provides comic relief, such as saying “I’m okay” after tripping on something off screen. It just seemed like he was there to provide humor in an otherwise perilous story – but was it really necessary? I don’t think so. For an example backing up that standpoint, we have a scene where Bad Ape doesn’t know how to use binoculars. Then it cuts back to The Colonel’s ape prison. It goes from comedy then back to a serious situation; it just doesn’t mesh well. The tone change is abrupt and jarring. Ultimately, Bad Ape didn’t contribute much to the story and could have been left out of the script.

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The primary antagonist is Colonel McCullough. He’s no Koba, as The Colonel is more of a textbook villain. But to call him generic would be a disservice as well. His scenes with Caesar throughout the final act were especially interesting to watch. As stated earlier, there’s no human protagonist driving the story forward. However, there is a human character whom the apes pick up. A little girl whom is later named Nova, she was a good character to have around. Despite not being able to talk, she displayed great emotion.

The lead-up to the climax is almost as exciting as the climax itself. Seeing the plan to escape was engaging. Then, the final battle provides an epic action sequence that won’t soon be forgotten. However, while the explosions are grand, it’s the different characters’ decisions that make the final act so memorable. From Caesar’s last encounter with The Colonel, to Donkey’s grenade gun, there’s so much emotion conveyed in these fantastic scenes. The soundtrack is particularly strong as well. The final scene provides a genuinely emotional ending to what will go down as one of the best trilogies out there.

Overall, War for the Planet of the Apes is a great film. Though not perfect like Dawn, just about everything works. Caesar is outstanding once again, and is given more to do. The action is very good, but it’s the interactions with the apes that truly make the film stand out. The themes of mercy and leadership are there, as Caesar has to make a choice of whether to be like Koba or not. The different ape characters are great, aside from Bad Ape. The emotion the different scenes convey is amazing. Who could forget Luca grabbing a flower from a tree and putting it on Nova? With a memorable final act, War concludes Caesar’s journey with excellence. Though there could be more Planet of the Apes films, War provides fine closer to the story set in motion in Rise.

9/10

Spider-Man: Homecoming Review

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We are living in quite an interesting era for the comic book film landscape. Spider-Man got his first film all the way back in 2002, 15 years ago. When Marvel launched their Cinematic Universe, the idea of the Webhead fighting alongside the Avengers was nothing but fan fiction at that point. But, in an unprecedented event, a deal between Sony and Marvel allowed Spidey to join the MCU. He debuted in Captain America: Civil War to critical acclaim. To put it simply, it was surreal and a dream come true. Now here we are with Spider-Man’s first solo outing in this continuity and also his fist solo outing since 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2. So, with all this pre-hype excitement out of the way, the question has to be asked: Is Spider-Man: Homecoming the best Spidey film yet? It is not, but Director Jon Watts’ film is still fun from beginning to end.

The opening act takes place eight years ago, during the aftermath of the Chitauri Invasion. It’s an interesting way to set up the story, and in this case it’s setting up Adrian Toomes’, (known to comic fans as the Vulture) rise to villainy. I’m all for antagonists getting this kind of treatment in the beginning (and we all know villains in the MCU need to be better) but there’s something hammy to Michael Keaton’s portrayal in this first act. It takes a bit before the Vulture becomes an engaging character. It’s interesting when he brings up how rich people like Tony Stark rule, while working people like him have to eat off the scraps. It’s a solid motivation for him; it’s a shame the writing didn’t do a better job developing that in the beginning. To give some credit, Toomes has some good scenes toward the climax. In the end, Vulture doesn’t solve the ongoing problem of mediocre villains in these films, but he’s a step above villains like Darren Cross and Malekith. As a bonus, the suit design is genuinely menacing.

Of course, the primary reason why one would watch this is to see Spider-Man. For some, this is the first time seeing Spider-Man on the big screen. For others, this is the second rebooted Spider-Man film. Either way, I believe most will be satisfied with Tom Holland’s portrayal of the famous character. Holland portrays this energetic young Peter Parker well. Some particularly strong scenes are when he busts the fake Avengers robbery and when he tries to save the Staten Island Ferry. The writing does a good job bringing the story to street level. An example is the montage early on with Spidey helping the common citizen. (There are plenty of humorous scenes throughout the film, but my favorite comes from this montage – the brief clip of Spidey giving an older woman directions.)

Tom Holland’s portrayal is mostly great, but it can border on the annoying side in a few instances. The video clip early on for example was a bit much after awhile. Also, if one is used to the more adult incarnations of Spider-Man, it could be tough getting used to this 15 year old version. But, I think it’s possible since the writing does a solid job at making this about him discovering how to be a mature hero. One of the most powerful scenes was Tony taking away the Spider suit. Peter claims he’s nothing without the suit. Tony replies, “If you’re nothing without the suit, then you shouldn’t have it.” Speaking of Tony, Robert Downy Jr. steals the show every scene he’s in. He doesn’t appear too much, which would have taken the spotlight away from Peter. Iron Man appears for just the right amount of screen time.

There’s plenty of fun, fast-paced action. Though, there’s no truly notable battle sequence. Yes, the climax finally featured Spidey dealing blows to the Vulture, but before that the fight scenes were mostly brief. You won’t walk out of the theater saying, “Wow, that was one great action sequence.” Some of the more well done action pieces weren’t fights. The scene where Spidey breaks into the Washington Monument and the one where he attempts to hold the Ferry together were intense. Also, I’m sure longtime fans will appreciate seeing a famous comic scene adapted near the climax. (Personally, I think that particular scene would have been better saved for a future film.) The soundtrack isn’t bad, though not too memorable outside a couple of themes.

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As for the other characters, the most major is Jacob Batalon’s Ned. He was fun to have around; he worked well as a friend and later “guy in the chair” for Peter. Laura Harrier as Liz wasn’t bad. She wasn’t much besides a love interest for Peter. But, to give some credit, she wasn’t devoid of personality. The romance angle wasn’t terrible. In the end, it doesn’t really go anywhere, but without it, it would have been hard to have the well done car scene with Toomes. Zendaya as Michelle was one of the most interesting characters with her unique, quirky personality. It looks like the writing has plans for her in future installments, which is good. Out of all the supporting characters, ironically the standout wasn’t a human – it was Karen, an A.I. built into the Spider-Man suit. One of the best scenes is when Spidey talks with her while being stuck at a base. Oh, we can’t forget Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May. The writing really tries to make her the complete opposite of the original trilogy’s May. It mostly works, but the last scene went a little too far.

Overall, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a solid addition to the Marvel film library, Tom Holland’s energetic outing in Civil War takes the center focus here, and it’s mostly well done. As he should be, Peter is portrayed as an upbeat kid. At its core, the story is about Peter becoming the hero we’ve seen throughout the years in comics. When Tony takes away Peter’s suit, Spidey is forced to reevaluate himself. The Vulture is a decent enough antagonist. There’s enough solid material to avoid calling him a mediocre villain. The action is fun, but it feels like there should have been one more important fight scene. But, despite any negatives, Homecoming remains an engaging watch. By the end, it makes the viewer anticipate Spidey’s future appearances.

8/10

 

Yatterman Night Review

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Who doesn’t love a good tokusatsu? From Ultraman to Super Sentai, the genre remains a fixture in Japanese pop culture. It unfortunately isn’t too popular in the United States. Outside of Power Rangers, tokusatsu is relatively unknown. There have been many shows throughout the years in Japan, one of which is Yatterman. The original anime aired in the ’70s, and though it’s not as popular as Ultraman, the main characters nonetheless did make it into the video game Tatsunoko vs. Capcom. Yatterman would go on to appear in a remake show and even a live action movie. Most recently, Yatterman got an anime cerebrating its 40th anniversary titled Yatterman Night. FUNimation released it in North America not too long ago, which is great because the show is quite engaging.

The opening scene sets up the story with the attack and now iconic quote, “It’s punishment time!” It’s amazing how this sequence connects when everything comes together in the final episode. Back to Episode One, it does a fantastic job setting up most of the main characters. We’re introduced to Leopard and her relationship to her mother Dorothy. Anime deserves a lot of credit, because in just one episode it can establish how genuine a relationship is and make us care for the characters. Here we see the mother-daughter love these two have. We’re also introduced to Voltkatze and Elephantus, where we see they are servants for Dorothy.

The story really kicks off when Leopard finds out that she, Dorothy, Voltkatze and Elephantus are descendants of the Doronbow Gang. This is fascinating because all this time Dorothy had been reading to her daughter the story of how Yatterman defeated the Doronbow Gang. Leopard is dismayed at her heritage, and she also learns that many years ago Yatterman banished the Doronbow Gang, and her descendants continue in that banishment on the island they were exiled to.

Soon Dorothy grows ill. Leopard decides to take a boat to Yatter Kingdom and ask Yatterman for help. After all, he’s a hero, right? So when Yatterman and Lady Yatterman are in sight, Leopard understandably rejoices…until her boat is blasted and the two “heroes” shout that intruders are not welcome. This moment changed everything. The show’s main plot point is the mystery of what’s happening in Yatter Kingdom. Why is Yatterman not acting like the hero of legend? It’s an engaging concept, and one the writing uses mostly perfectly. At the end of Episode One, Leopard dons a Doronjo costume, likewise Volkatze as Boyacky and Elephantus as Tonzra.

So, we have a reversal of roles. Doronjo’s gang are the good guys while Yatterman has seemingly turned into a dictator. There’s a great sense of tension among the episodes. Who can forget the Yatter soldiers chanting “Yatter!” in Episode 2? The most powerful scene showing the extent of the living hardship in Yatter Kingdom is found in Episode 4. A pregnant wife’s husband is drafted into serving Yatterman for 35 years where he’ll never be able to see her. He’s told it’s an honor to serve Yatterman. The viewer can see the terror and sadness on his wife’s face as she does the Yatter salute. This scene further cements Doronjo’s mission to “give Yatterman a forehead flicking.” It’s at the end of this episode where she says that Yatter Kingdom is a hell.

The show is mostly fantastic, but there are scenes that take away a star. Chief among the negatives is Episode 7, which was mostly filler and just not engaging. This is thanks to Ryu, a character the heroes run into. I’m all for the heroes running into people affected by Yatterman’s rule…but only if they’re actually likable. Ryu’s gimmick is that he loves fish, to a disturbing extent. He talks about being wrapped around in octopus’ tentacles. It’s a little fishy, excuse the pun. I don’t care about this guy “achieving his dream,” as the episode wants viewers to. There’s also Takeshi in Episode 5. His arc was engaging, but his gimmick of relieving himself got annoying quickly. Yatterman Night is unfortunately sometimes hit with childish and strange humor.

Thankfully, the negative things don’t usually take center stage for too long. The show also gives us two more characters, Galina and Alouette. These two would become vital and epically engaging in the final episode. In the meantime before that, they aren’t bad. Galina attempting to spy on Alouette though at a hot springs was unneeded and hurt the character. Besides that, he’s given solid development throughout the show. Oh, one more heroic character whom can’t be forgotten is Honorable Oda. This pig made for a fun animal mascot without going overboard.

One subplot that wasn’t needed was Doronjo having feelings for Galina. By the end of the show, it didn’t go anywhere. Why was it added? Back to overall characters, General Goro is the antagonist whom goes after the heroes throughout the episodes. He’s a fun villain to have around. The plot twist with him later on is brilliant and adds a sense of tragedy to his character. The music that usually plays when he’s around is awesome as well. The anime’s soundtrack is strong all around, complete with a great opening theme song.

There aren’t many one-on-one fights unfortunately. Still, when the action is there, it’s fast paced. The last two episodes did an incredible job bringing everything together. The writing is great as it explains the big plot twist. The final showdown is epic and inspirational, bringing the show to a memorable close.

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Overall, Yatterman Night is an excellent take on the Yatterman franchise. Instead of being a remake, it’s set many years into the future of the original show, making it an interesting sequel. The ongoing mystery of why Yatterman has seemingly become a tyrant is engaging. Doronjo is a great protagonist, fighting as a promise to her mother and to save the people of Yatter Kingdom. Viewers get a sense of how genuinely Doronjo cares for others. The cast is good as well, all having diverse personalities. Sadly, questionable humor and the disturbing fish lover removes a star. But, the show is still a very good addition to the tokusatsu library and a must see for Yatterman fans. Even if you’re not familiar with the character, definitely give this show a watch.

8/10

Wonder Woman Review

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Since her inception in 1941, Wonder Woman has remained not just the most famous female superhero – but also one of the biggest icons of pop culture. That’s why it’s shocking it’s taken this long for a movie about her to be made. Lesser known comic book characters like Electra and Steel have gotten feature films, but never Wonder Woman. Finally, that changed this year. Wonder Woman appeared in last year’s Batman V Superman, and while people were divisive on that film, many agreed that Gal Gadot’s brief portrayal of the character was solid. Now we get to see this version of Wonder Woman in a starring role. Director Patty Jenkins delivers a film full of heroism and inspiration. It’s a film worthy of the iconic character.

Wonder Woman as a character stands for justice, and the film does a fantastic job showing that. When Steve Trevor is forced to tell the truth on Themyscira, Diana’s reaction to it looks incredibly genuine. He says how the war has taken the lives of women and children, and the viewer knows at that moment, Diana is going to do something about it. From here, Diana continually showcases what being a hero is about. Two of the most notable scenes in the film are when she talks back to the government and when she decides to jump into battle to stop the oppression of the village of Veld. It’s inspiring, and the major reason why it’s so well done is Gal Gadot’s fantastic portrayal.

Diana has lived on an island away from mankind all her life, so it’s interesting how she reacts to things in the outside world. Her reaction to seeing a baby and ice cream for example are nice scenes. Her respect and love for people are evident, as seen in the aftermath of the Veld’s battle sequence. She stands on a rooftop as people clap and look above at her. What does she do then? She comes down to their level. She shakes hands and smiles – a truly touching scene showcasing the kind of character she is. This feels like the first time in a comic book film where we see such a powerful character on the same level with the people he/she protects.

The other main character is Steve Trevor. He’s had a long history with Wonder Woman in the comics, so it would be interesting to see how he would be used in the film. Chris Pine provides just the right amount of charisma without going overboard. Like Diana, Steve is portrayed as heroic, and becomes even more so because of her. The romance between him and Diana isn’t bad. Romance has a reputation in comic book films for being forced or poorly done, so it’s good to see a romance subplot actually passable.

Near the middle act of the film, the story introduces viewers to three characters that form Steve’s team to raid German High Command. There’s a problem with introducing a bunch of characters in the middle of a film. Not enough character or backstory is given here. We have Charlie, whom is supposed to be a sharpshooter. But what did he actually contribute? Then there’s Chief, but he also did nothing of importance. Only Sameer is given something to do. He mentions to Diana that it is his dream to be an actor, and later we get to see that acting ability in one of the film’s most hilarious scenes.

Steve’s secretary Etta Candy borders on being funny and over the top. Thankfully the film doesn’t go overboard with her. There are a few antagonists. Danny Huston as Ludendorff is a bit on the generic side, but he’s not terrible. He does his job at being a sinister army general. However, Dr. Isabel Maru (known as Dr. Poison) is far more interesting. There’s an unhinged nature to Elena Anaya’s portrayal of the doctor. The real villain however is Ares, and how his character comes together in the climax is brilliant. Though he only does big things in the last act, Ares cements himself as one of the better comic book movie antagonists.

Wonder Woman doesn’t disappoint in the action department. The early battle on Themyscira was well done. It takes a bit before the next big action sequence, but when it happens, it’s worth the wait. Diana’s stand against the German army at the village of Veld was awesome and well choreographed. It’s a nice balance between the street level Batman type of fighting and the grand Superman battles. The climax is divided into two major fight scenes, both of which are great. The showdown against Ares was a satisfying final action piece.

Though the film contains great action scenes, it’s something else that ultimately shines: the theme of love. It’s the genuine love of people that can conquer darkness and hate, as Diana displays. It’s a great message for a culture that promotes self-interest. The film’s soundtrack is strong, featuring the now iconic theme from Batman V Superman along with other quality themes. As for Themyscira, it’s a beautiful, unique setting. Though Diana’s mother, Hippolyta, doesn’t appear after the first act, she leaves a lasting impression along with Atiope.

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Overall, Wonder Woman is a great film. It’s full of genuine heroism and emotion. Gal Gadot’s portrayal of the character is perfect. She displays everything Wonder Woman is meant to be. Steve Trevor is very good as well. (Sadly, most of the other characters don’t actually do much.) The war backdrop is interesting, and provides a great sense of victory when Diana rises to combat the army in the fantastic Veld sequence. The actions scenes are well done and Ares is an excellent final boss. To love others, to do the right thing, and to be a hero is what Wonder Woman is all about.

9/10

Escaflowne: The Movie Review

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The Vision of Escaflowne was an influential anime back in the 90s. It was jam packed with content, from mechas fighting it out to philosophical themes such as the “alteration of fate.” Perhaps the best aspect of the show is how developed the characters are. Great care was put into the diverse personalities each of them had. There’s a fantastic sense of nobility to the story. Though sometimes the grand scheme was a bit vague, Escaflowne remains one of the great anime fantasy epics. In the year 2000, Sunrise released a film simply titled Escaflowne. Instead of a sequel, it was a retelling of the 26 episode series. That’s ambitious and of course liberties would have to be taken if a 95 minute film was to adapt a whole show. Sadly, too many liberties were taken. The film is still decent whether you’ve seen the show or not, but one is better off taking the time to watch the 26 episodes.

The film opens up with Van slashing his way through various enemies to get to the Escaflowne armor. It’s a typical action film opening, but it’s still exciting. The first act then takes place on Earth, similar to The Vision of Escaflowne’s first episode. Hitomi is introduced, along with her friend Yukari. It’s here where the dire changes from the show start to become evident. The writing reveals this version of Hitomi to be depressed and suicidal. It’s a sour note to introduce her character. Hitomi had inner monologues in the the show, but she wasn’t depressed.

What the writing does is give her a character arc that is similar to Folken in the film. (We’ll get to him soon.) Hitomi in the show is known for her kindness and ability to see the good in others. She becomes that person later in the film as she interacts with Van and sees how Folken is. It’s not a bad character arc in concept, but it doesn’t work as well as it could thanks to the rather short runtime. Because of the rushed pacing, major plot points like the romance between Hitomi and Van feels extremely forced. Escaflowne just wasn’t meant to be told in 95 minutes.

The world of Gaea is vast, which is why 26 episodes was needed to fully explore it. There’s too little backstory in the film. Going back to the first act, I don’t want to compare the film again, but the buildup to Hitomi entering Gaea in the show was epic. Van’s confrontation with the dragon should have been remade. Instead, we get this cheesy dream-like sequence and then Hitomi magically appears inside Escaflowne. The pacing is a bit slow from here until Dilandau and his men arrive.

Unfortunately, most of the characters are a step down from their original appearances. Allen was given great prominence in the show, but in the film he’s reduced to a supporting character. He could have actually been cut out and it wouldn’t have made a difference. I was also distracted by how much his redesign resembled Sephiroth. (Seriously, they look like twins.) Princess Millerna is given a big makeover, having a more warrior-like persona. That’s fine, but what does she actually do in the film? She doesn’t really fight at all despite the redesign. That’s the problem; aside from a few characters, most are just there because of their names. Worse is that Naria and Eriya, two interesting characters from the show, are reduced to fleeting cameos.

Arguably the biggest change was completely removing Emperor Dornkirk. Dornkirk was the main antagonist in the show. Though he was mostly in the same place the entire time, he was the person behind the entire conflict. Dornkirk’s fascination with the “alteration of fate” was an engaging plot point, and gave the show a grand philosophical conflict. Once you remove Dornkirk, you remove a vital part of what made Escaflowne so great. Instead, the film uses Folken as the villain. This could have been interesting, since Folken was one of the show’s best characters. He retains his engaging demeanor, though his goal is to ultimately die. He also hates Van because the latter was chosen to be king. This wasn’t a bad plot point, but it needed more backstory and flashbacks.

All of this is not to say Escaflowne is unwatchable. The story picks up nicely when Dilandau arrives. The buildup to Dilandau against Van was epic. Though, Van and Dilandau possessing magical abilities was unneeded, and actually made the fight anti-climatic. On the positive side, there’s a cinematic quality to the battle of the mechas in the latter part of the film. The writing in the scene with Van and Ruukusu was particularly strong and gave viewers a peak of the grand backstory the film doesn’t show. There’s some excitement in the climax as Folken confronts Van. Hitomi get some good dialogue. Sadly, the “showdown” is lackluster, thanks to the silly magic visuals. The resolution is good in concept, but like mostly everything else in the film, it was rushed. Back to the positive side of things, the soundtrack is fantastic. It uses the iconic themes from the show while also adding in fantastic original music.

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Overall, Escaflowne: The movie is a disappointing retelling of the classic show. On its own it’s a decent fantasy movie with an interesting story, good (but severely underutilized) characters and some solid fights. But it fails to revamp what made the original anime a near masterpiece. The philosophical conflict is removed in favor of something more simple. A lot of the main characters are given nothing important to do. At the very least, it removes the unnecessary love triangle between Hitomi, Van, and Allen. It’s a decent enough movie, but to really appreciate Escaflowne, one should invest time into the anime.

6/10