Comics, Movies, Video Games, and More

"Making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil."

~Ephesians 5:16

Monday, March 30, 2015

Transformers: Robots in Disguise "Pilot" Review

Transformers is one of the coolest concepts to be envisioned. The thought of giant robots being able to transform into cars, planes, etc. is something both kids and adults can get a kick out of. There has been countless toys, many TV shows, comics, and four live action films. Suffice to say, it's a pretty popular franchise yesterday and today. The latest iteration is the TV series Robots in Disguise, which is a sequel to Prime. Prime brought everything that was good about the franchise into one show: Great characters, compelling stories, and excellent fight scenes. Many fans were disheartened that Season 3 would be the last. A new show was quickly announced, and the question ringed in many minds: "Will it be as good?" I personally was not a fan of the earliest announcement, saying that it would be lighter, more comedic, and aimed at kids more so than Prime. But, as a reviewer it's best to hold judgement. Surely, this wouldn't be a slap in the face to the previous series like Teen Titans GO! is to its predecessor? While not that extreme, Robots in Disguise gets off to a mediocre/average start.

In the premiere, Bumblebee's solo mission to Earth turns into a team effort. Conclusion. Bumblebee and the team try to prevent a Decepticon from reaching Crown City.

Prime ended on a rather interesting note, with Optimus Prime basically deceased and Megatron no longer looking to conquer. Because of this, the new show obviously couldn't have the latter come back as the villain because that would slap all development away from Predacons Rising. Instead, the show decided to go the route of introducing exclusive creations. There's nothing technically wrong with this concept, but let's see how this show plays out. The opening establishes a rather odd status quo, because nothing is determined. Who is the leader of the Autobots? Does a leader exist? Are there only rouge Decepticons with no leader? What happened to Bulk Head, Arcee, and Ratchet? Let us ignore these questions for now and look at what the show does present to us.

Comedy isn't a bad thing, but a lot of the writing here ranges from average to painful. Characters that could be engaging are made less so because of that. Bumblebee's cadet Strongarm for example could be a very likable character, but her running gag of "This protocol states" quickly becomes annoying. Hopefully this was just for the pilot. Sideswipe is a very annoying hotshot, Still, the bot writing is rarely terrible. It's the humans that will make you want to change the channel, namely Denny Clay.

Transformer shows always have human characters. Usually they are annoying, but mainly when they take the spotlight away from the robot conflict. (This is why all four live-action films borders between average to plain awful.) Prime did this right, and interestingly Robots in Disguise looks to repeat that success. The only sad part is that when the humans are on screen the writing is terrible. The opening scene when Denny Clay greets his son Russell is so awkward and forced. From that scene alone you wouldn't guess that he was his father. Russell isn't terrible, but I don't see how he's going to bring anything to the table. He's probably just there for the kids to have someone they could relate to.

Bumblebee for the most part is pretty solid. I won't pretend he's anywhere near his Prime self, but he doesn't do anything that would merit a negative rating of him. The antagonist is an original creation, Underbite. He was a very engaging Decepticon to watch, with the right amount of evil and humor. Hopefully we haven't seen the last of him. One of the disappointments of Prime was that it hinted at the arrival of Grimlock and the Dinobots, but that never came to play. Here Grimlock is a main character, which is nice...but at what cost? For one thing it's obvious from his escape that he isn't inherently evil, why the Decepticon logo? In fact, since this is in the Prime continuity, he was established as a hardcore no-nonsense character (with the Autobot insignia) in the game Fall of Cybertron. So, what happened in-between? The blatant disregard for continuity is pretty appalling.

The animation is solid. It's a step down from Prime, but can't be called bad. The fights, while not too notable, are adequate enough. The scuffs between Grimlock and Underbite were pretty entertaining. The soundtrack is alright, not bad but not worth mentioning. (You'll forget almost all the themes by the time the second episode ends.) It's disappointing that there's no theme song, just a title card when every preceding Transformers show had a catchy intro.

Robots in Disguise gets off to an average start. There is definitely potential, but it's easy to see with such mediocre writing that the show is destined to stay average. Still, it's not fair to judge so early. While there are quite a few factors against it (mediocre writing, awful human in the form of Denny, poor representation of Grimlock) there's still potential with the solid animation and a few good characters. We shall see if it will rise or fall.


Friday, March 6, 2015

The Great Decline

Entertainment is one of the things that gives us joy as human beings. It can be fun, educational, and thoroughly engaging. Music is one of the most popular forms of entertainment, especially with the teen and young adult generation. Unfortunately, most of music you hear today glorifies doing things one's way, not listening to authority and getting down with parties, drinking and the like. Many will write it off as not harmful since it's "just entertainment." Is it however "just entertainment?"

Cartoons are probably the most popular form of entertainment for the younger generation. A young one's mind is more susceptible to being fried than an adult's, and then there's the problem. Kids, even with the advent of the internet, are still watching lots of television. A lot of parents pay little mind to what their kids are watching, thinking that since it's a cartoon, there's no problem with them watching it. This is a grave mistake, and sadly the major companies feed into this, broadcasting programs with little to no well thought-out writing.

Why do they do this? Because kids today will generally watch just about anything that is bright and crude. The companies realize this, so they don't bother delivering quality writing and storytelling. Why go the extra mile when you could give kids a pretty mindless show that they'll always watch, giving the company high ratings and more $? It appears that's pretty much the thought process. And then when there are good shows, the company cancels them or puts them in spots when most kids won't be able to watch them.

"But wait a second writer" you say, "who says cartoons have to have meaning or a kid to learn something?" "Can't they just be entertaining?" Sure, there's nothing wrong with a little mindless non-crude entertainment, but the channels are over-saturated with it. If kids aren't shown alternatives or taught why these cartoons are dumb, then nothing can be accomplished. Interestingly, while there are strict guidelines when it comes to what can and can't be shown on a TV-Y and TV-Y7 program, boundaries in movies are quckly fading. Saying the "f" word in a PG-13 film was unheard of 20 years ago; it would automatically earn you an R rating. But nowadays it's totally normal to have that and other swearing in a PG-13 film. If one is constantly witness to mindless adventures, crude humor, and language, I'm inclined to believe that they too will begin to act mindless themselves and display terrible behavior in their daily activities.

Right now in theaters there's a movie called "Fifty Shades of Grey." One can defend it all they like, but what cannot be defended is the fact that the primary reason it's selling tickets is because of sexual appeal, especially to the young adult generation. This is a major problem, because this generation already struggles greatly with purity. I personally don't know what's more scary: the fact there are people who have said "Let's make this movie" or that thousands of people have watched it opening weekend. Some might stop reading right now and say, "There's nothing wrong with watching these things." But there is. The more stuff we allow ourselves to absorb, the more our minds become corrupted. We then allow ourselves to think its okay to watch a film with excessive things. Films like Fifty Shades and "Piranha 3D" play upon those beliefs. The people involved in making these movies knows there's an audience, and that fact alone is pretty sad.

We need to start thinking about what we are watching and what our kids are watching. What kind of person supports a film with blatant nudity as the selling point? What kind of parent allows their kid to constantly watch mindless crude humor? We need to bring morality back into Hollywood and good writing into the TV screen. I won't stand with a culture that glorifies anti-purity, anti-Godliness, and anti-morality. And you shouldn't either. Take a stand. Stand up for what's right.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Justice League: Throne of Atlantis Review

Cross-promotion is one of the big things for companies. Currently, DC is utilizing The New 52's version of the Justice League for their animated films. This started with "War," which adapted the first arc of the comic. This time, Throne of Atlantis is being adapted. War was pretty solid, successfully introducing the League in an exciting way, also being pretty faithful to the comic version. The only major departure was the usage of Shazam instead of Aquaman. Rather, DC wanted to introduce the King of the Seas in the next film. While War was solid, it still had problems. Sadly, those problems return here and are magnified. While calling Throne of Atlantis a "bad" movie would be a disservice to it, it can't be called "great" or even "very good."
Darkness, mystery, legend - these are the whispers that echo through time regarding Atlantis. A kingdom long since forgotten to surface dwellers, it is here that a hidden empire teeters on the brink of war. When a military submarine traversing this remote domain is attacked, Cyborg plunges to the murky depths to investigate the wreckage. What he encounters is a threat powerful enough to rally together the newly formed Justice League. Meanwhile, thousands of feet above the ocean floor wanders the lone drifter Arthur Curry, a man with strange powers who may be the last chance to bridge the ancient Atlantean world and our own. Join Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the rest of the Justice League as they face off against Orm, otherworldly weapons and perilous odds. It's an all-new, epic chapter from the DC Universe in which mankind's only hope from the darkness rests upon the guiding light of a man - Aquaman!

Before War, DC was content with adapting stories from the earlier days such as the case with Doom and The New Frontier. For better or worst, those versions of the characters have been replaced by The New 52's. With this film, it's definitely for the worst. To be fair, Batman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, and the Flash all remain consistent and engaging. It's everyone else that is cringe-worthy. Let's talk about the biggest culprit, Shazam. He is easily the worst character in the whole thing, supposedly being comic relief, but just about every line he has is terrible. If that weren't bad enough, he's given little to do power-wise and ends up being a joke like his War appearance. Keep in mind that this is supposed to be a character who can be a match for Superman and is also known as Earth's Mightiest Mortal. (On top of that, he's supposed to have the wisdom of sign of that.) He in the past has rarely been immature, why DC has gone this route with the character is beyond me.

The scene where Batman tells Superman not to touch anything and then the latter precedes to do so tells me one thing: the League is being written as if they were all kids. Ironically, Cyborg, the least well known of all the main characters might just be written the best. I actually felt some emotion when Ocean Master stabbed him almost to the point of no return. Green Lantern's comedy relief isn't as good as in War, but doesn't sink to Shazam annoying. Still, it's sad when the League's interactions with each other feels like a bunch of college students going back and fourth. I don't know if DC is trying to appease that crowd by delivering so-called "hip and now" versions of these characters, because it's failing miserably.

The big thing about this movie is the debut of Aquaman. In the comic, he was already established, so it was interesting to see the origin here. For the most part he could be called a solid character, but some of the writing, in fact, a lot of the writing in this movie could be a lot better. "Oh, and, uh, funny story, I talk to fish now and they actually listen. So I'm gonna stop my evil half-brother from destroying the surface world. Do you, um, do you wanna come?" Yes that is an actual piece of dialogue when he talks to Mera. Speaking of her, there's something this film does badly in: establishing romances. The only romance subplot that is developed nicely is between Cyborg and Sarah Charles. Superman and Wonder Woman being together has always been a favorite concept among fans, but it happens way too suddenly here. And then, when they are in their human disguises, Lois Lane runs into them. What follows is some awkward dialogue because the relationship between him and Lois has not been established in this continuity. The viewer is left wondering, "Um, so are Lois and Clark separated or something, because the way Clark acted made it seem that way."

It's apparent that Aquaman and Mera, (who is actually more engaging than half the League_) make a good couple. But that romance happens way too quickly. I would say this movie needed to be longer, but with films like Crisis on Two Earths and Doom which has stellar writing in the same amount of time, that excuse can't be used. The main antagonist is Ocean Master, who, thanks to The New 52 version will forever be known for pretty much knocking out the entire Justice League. This happens here too, and while the comic makes it semi-believable, it doesn't work here. It just seems like they made this guy take them all down for shock value. Black Manta, his right hand man, is the much more engaging character. That's why his sudden exit was so terribly executed to the point where a longtime fan will be tempted to burn the disc to a crisp.

One major disappointment was there was no massive title wave that engulfed Metropolis. This happened in the comic and it was deadly & amazingly executed. Arguably, this was the most memorable thing about the arc. (Aside from of course Ocean Master taking out Superman.) The title wave is teased, but then it evaporates. Batman even says "people are going to die," which is quite a powerful line. None of this happens, which a great disservice to the comic. While there are a lot of negatives, the film is not without its redeeming qualities. The fight scenes remain choreographed well, and the animation is crisp. The overall concept of the story is engaging enough to be watched until the end. Sadly, there's just a lot of cringe-worthy writing and poor handling of characters to get there.
Hey that logo looks familiar...

Overall, Throne of Atlantis is a disappointment. One is better off buying the trade paperback than watching the adaption. It's easily the worst direct-to-DVD Justice League movie DC has released thus far. It does has some intense action scenes, though Batman is surprisingly part of almost none of them. (He doesn't throw a single punch.) Shazam remains a disgrace and Black Manta's demise (for now anyway) was just ridiculous when he is the more engaging character, not Ocean Master. Superman is a pale representation of his former self, not once representing the icon of hope his symbol represents. (No Superman I know would say that he's going to shove something down a villain's throat, more proof that the writing is trying desperately to make this characters "edgy.") I'm disappointed that The New 52 will continue in animated format, because this proves the older formula for the characters is just far superior.