Wednesday, December 04, 2013

In Which The Warlock Rattles Off Reviews...

With the massive "30 Days of Gamemastering" behind us, I feel like I've somewhat fallen behind on my geekly duty of reviewing the assorted nerdity that's come out in the last few weeks.  It's time we remedied that!  So, let's take a quick, encapsulated view of some of the comics-based items that have been out in the past few months:

Better than the first one, but not flawless.
I'm holding out more hope for Captain America 2.
Thor: The Dark World:  While I enjoyed the first Thor movie, it played something of a weak sister to Iron Man and Captain America: The First Avenger, settling on a bog-standard "hero learns humility" arc.  The movie was serviceable, but the sequel's promotion promised raised stakes and a more nuanced plot.  Really, Thor: The Dark World didn't disappoint.  While Chris Hemworth's Thor is solid, Tom Hiddleston's Loki is the again the real star, chewing the scenery with aplomb.  Unfortunate, Christopher Eccleston is utterly wasted as dark elf villain Malekith the Accursed, whose motivations are enigmatic at best and whose lines are few and far between.  Seriously.  Darth Maul got more face time than Malekith

Overall, I really enjoyed Thor: The Dark World, but I left the movie feeling that certain character beats were just missing.  I really look forward to seeing the Blu-ray/DVD release, as I wouldn't be surprised to see extended versions of certain dialogue scenes, particularly between Thor and Loki.  It's not a perfect movie, but it's a great addition to the Marvel Cinematic stable.

Give it time.  It's getting better.
Plus, Tahiti is a magical place...
Marvel's Agents of SHIELD:  I've really had high hopes for this show, hoping that it'd provide the "connective tissue" linking some of the Marvel movies and hinting towards an ever-expanding universe.  So far?  Ehhh.  Individual episodes have been somewhat hit or miss, with real winners like "The Girl in the Flower Dress" and "F.Z.Z.T." but also several mediocre filler episodes.  While Clark Gregg's Phil Coulson is still an inspiration--particularly as he slowly uncovers what really happened to him following his "death" in The Avengers--the remainder of the characters feel like they've been ripped straight from TVTropes.

But, there's promise.  Victoria Hand, played by an inspired Saffron Burrows, provides a unique glimpse at a darker, more covert SHIELD, seeming to point to the turmoil upcoming in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  An upcoming episode features the Extremis-enhanced Mike Peterson (J. August Richards) joining the core group, implying a greater focus on the superheroic universe.  This is a show that, more than many others, has been suffering from "First Season Syndrome".  Once it finds its niche?  It's going to roll on all cylinders.  I'll keep watching.

Poor animation, a middling plot, and
unnecessary gore keep this one under par.
Justice League:  The Flashpoint Paradox:  Ouch.  Just ouch.  While the DC Animated Universe has trounced Marvel's handily for the past decade--probably the only multimedia arena that DC has unequivocally won--this one left me utterly disappointed.  Based on a Geoff Johns plotline which led into the "New 52", the Flash's nemesis, Professor Zoom, alters the timeline such that the world sits on the brink of war between Atlantis and Themyscira.  Thomas Wayne has become Batman, following the death of his wife and son.  The Flash is left to navigate the chaos, track down Zoom, and find a way to restore the original timeline.

While the voice acting in Flashpoint Paradox is quality, the character designs and animations are clunky and ill-formed.  Many of the masculine characters are overly muscled and veiny; Aquaman, at times, appears to have no neck whatsoever.  Female characters, notably Wonder Woman and Lois Lane, are given "anime eyes" that look almost detached from the rest of the character model.  The art here simply is not of the same high quality that the DC Animated Universe has established thusfar.

Worse, though?  The level of violence in The Flashpoint Paradox is utterly deplorable, particularly for a film rated PG-13.  While I'm not averse to violent comics or the like--I enjoy Sin City, The Boys, and pretty much anything else by Frank Miller or Garth Ennis--this film is marketed to a younger audience, for whom it is utterly inappropriate.  Aquaman flat-out executes individuals on screen.  Dismemberment is rife.  Justice League mainstay Cyborg is literally ripped apart in one of the final fight scenes, while another scene shows Batman use a pistol to shoot another character...through the bloody hole in that character's skull.  The violence in The Flashpoint Paradox is gratuitous, distracting, needlessly gory, and totally unnecessary for the plot.  I can't recommend it.

Mechanics and theme clash drastically
in this disappointing board game.
City of Remnants:  I had high hopes for this game, after being given the elevator pitch by Sean while we were up in Columbus for a game night.  Imprisoned by an oppressive alien force, players took on the role of gang leaders, attempting to carve out a niche for themselves beneath the noses of their alien overlords.  The game promised cutthroat conflict, conniving, backstabbing, and underworld dealings.

What I got?  A Euro-style worker placement game with elements of "Dominion"-style deckbuilding.  Unless the players actively engage one another in player-vs-player combat--generally a bad idea for both factions involved, due to the clunky mechanics of combat--there are few ways to even influence another player's actions, much less backstab or even interact with other players.  After losing a key piece of territory--I made a calculated risk that didn't work out--my influence on the game was utterly nullified.  The game went on for over an hour more, with no meaningful contributions on my part.

City of Remnants could have been a tactical, backstabbing good time, but its Eurogame elements really hold it back.  Rather than achieving victory by accumulating wealth or territory--items that would thematically be fitting for an organized crime game--the game insists on using a nebulous victory point system.  Instead of being able to interfere with others' operations--shaking down a casino, tipping off cops to others' activities--players have no real interaction unless they directly confront one another, which is almost universally a bad proposition.  The theme and mechanics of City of Remnants are utterly dissonant, leading to a misshapen, poorly designed game.  Give this one a pass.


  1. I can't comment on your other parts of your reviews, but I would agree with your assessment of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (why do they insist on using the periods?). Coulson carries the show with some really great dialogue, but the other characters aren't all that memorable (heck, I can't even think of their names right now). I also think the show relies way too much on name-dropping characters and events from the movies ("What did you find?" "A hammer." [Cut to unrelated scene]). I'm not caught up on some of the more recent episodes, but so far my verdict is: it's okay, but it's definitely not the next Firefly.

    The other supers TV show, Arrow, is a lot better in my opinion. It's a much more personal show and I feel like I actually know all of the characters. Plus the plot has generally been more interesting, like at the end of last season when (spoiler!) the villain won.

    I think so far Marvel has won on the big screen (with the possible exception of the Dark Knight series, I suppose), but DC has dominated on the small screen. We'll see how that continues.

  2. I haven't been watching Arrow, unfortunately, but I've heard good things. Jules is interested in picking it up on DVD, so I might get her the first season for Christmas.

    I think Agents of SHIELD will get better once they start embracing things in the Marvel Universe that aren't headed towards the Cinematic Universe per se. I'd love to see Centipede become an unlikely ally against Hydra or AIM, with some of the less known street level heroes becoming features: people like Colleen Wing or Taskmaster.

    What kills me right now, though, is the fact that Marvel really hasn't managed to put together any solid animation, despite being owned by Disney. "Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes" was fantastic, but cut short when they wanted to focus on a Cinematic Universe-based cast and was rebooted as the frustratingly mediocre "Avengers Assemble". And don't get me started on the direct-to-video releases...

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