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Is PS4 Spider-Man the greatest superhero game ever?

Superhero films are inescapable at the moment. The box office is dominated by them. Merchandise and advertisements are everywhere. You almost certainly won’t see an ‘Anticipated Movies of 2019’ list without seeing Avengers: Endgame on it. We are in what can only be described as ‘the golden age’ of comic book films. 2018 saw at least eight cinematic films, with 2019 showing no signs of slowing down. Marvel saw a box office return of nearly $3.4 billion dollars from Infinity War and Black Panther alone. But with the quality and variety on offer, is anyone complaining? Well, while we have been gifted with a lot of great super hero cinema, where are all the great video games? Understandably, getting the correct formula for super-success is a challenging one, with one of the main issues being around getting the ‘feel’ right. Why do you think we have never seen a good Superman game? On top of this, how far can a studio strafe from the rules of the character's lore, whilst using their own imagination to create an enthralling story?

After seeing the Bat-Signal clearly in the sky, Rocksteady came out of nowhere and surprised the world. Arkham Asylum was an incredible experience and cemented in the ground the blueprint for making a great superhero game. With a detailed world, tons of easter eggs, and an incredible story filled with characters spanning the comic's history, fans could not get enough. But most importantly, Rocksteady did the thing many other developers had failed to do: they made you feel like you were Batman. Whether it’s KO’ing enemies with a satisfying BANG; lurking in the shadows waiting for the perfect striking opportunity, or using your detective skills to solve puzzles, it was clear that the talented developers understood the character. In my view, they had created the best superhero game to date.

The Arkham games proved to the world that good superhero games are possible.

With Spider-Man being arguably Marvel’s most popular character, it was understandable that they would be desperate for a hit game of their own. Not since Treyarch's Spider-Man 2 from 2004 have fans got the game they deserved. Beenox and Activision's final attempt with The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s film tie in was weak, and so Insomniac were handed the reigns. At E3 2016, their game was finally unveiled, and with that expectations shot through the roof. Insomniac games are an incredibly talented developer. Boasting a portfolio featuring (but not limited to) the original Spyro the Dragon Trilogy; Ratchet and Clank; Resistance; and the criminally underplayed Sunset Overdrive, it’s clear that this is a very talented studio. With colourful level design, mind-boggling gadgets and weapons, and lovable characters, Insomniac have created a world of experiences throughout many years of our lives. So could they live up to the hype, and create the ‘Arkham of Spider-Man games’, and even top it?

Releasing in September 2018 and receiving strong critical praise, it was clear they have done just that and more. Opening with a battle against the enormous Kingpin, you are quickly taught the basics of the game, and it’s from here the fun truly begins. Insomniac have nailed the feel of being Spider-Man. Combat, like in the Arkham games, is incredibly satisfying, with lots of variety in the gameplay. Whether faced with a hoard of enemies, taking the stealth approach, or sitting back and letting your gadgets do the work, there are multiple ways to take on most situations. And it's with the gadgets that Insomniac's imagination is let loose.

Web swinging through New York is incredibly fun.

Featuring a choice of 8 different weapons in your arsenal, the choice is all yours on how you inflict pain on the thugs ahead. From Spider-Drones to electrified web, there is plenty on offer here. The suits also have their own abilities, spanning from increased damage to the more adventurous holo-decoys or Spider-Bro’s. The selection and ability to truly enjoy yourself sets the tone for Spider-Man. Peter Parker is a character who loves what he does: getting the player to feel this too is vital to the game being a success.

Controlling Spider-Man is pure perfection. When web-swinging through the city, it’s easy to lose track of time, whether you’re stopping crimes, enjoying the odd high-five with the citizens below, or simply taking in the views of the beautifully crafted New York. The soundtrack is exceptional and really adds to the feel of being Peter Parker. A very Marvel Cinematic theme follows you as you glide through the skies, creating an immense feeling of power and enjoyment. If you ever wanted to unleash your inner child and feel like a superhero, then this is the game for you.

Insomniac really nail the 'feel' of Spider-Man.

Insomniac were given control to create their own world and narrative, and you soon learn that this is not the same story you’ve seen countless times before. Thankfully skipping the origin story we’ve seen so many times before, we find a 23-year-old Peter Parker, balancing life as Spider-Man, working a job and trying to balance a social life. I was hooked: clearly a lot has happened in the years Peter has been Spider-Man, and I wanted to know more.

On top of this, there are hordes of villains hell-bent on bringing New York to its knees, who create mystery and add intensity to the story. Despite taking on the Kingpin and Mr Negative, it’s clear something much more sinister is afoot. With shocks, horrors, and many twists and turns, this is one of the best Spidey stories we’ve seen outside of the comics in years, second only to the brilliant Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. If that wasn’t enough, this game also contains one of the greatest video game cameos of all time.

Aside from the main story, Spider-Man is bursting with things to do, with no shortage of fan service and Easter eggs on offer. Whether it’s the story expanding collectable backpacks, iconic Marvel landscapes for you to snap, or characters such as Black Cat teasing you to find them, you will never find yourself out of things to do. To top off your hard work in completing the collectables and side missions, you are rewarded with some incredible suits, referencing the past movies and comics. It’s worth roaming the skies just to hear J. Jonah Jameson's hilarious podcast rants, about how Spider-Man is the cause of all of life’s problems.

There is a whole range of fan service on offer here.

The game appears to have reignited the completionist in people, with nearly 10% of players having obtained the platinum trophy at the time of writing (myself included). Trying to obtain a platinum trophy can sometimes be tedious, and post-game there is a lot of cleaning up to be done. However, I never found myself bored, and on hitting the 100% completion mark, I couldn’t help but want more.

Sure, Spider-Man suffers ever so slightly will a lull in pace, namely the Mary Jane sections, or the Peter Parker laboratory tasks. But I see these as an opportunity to learn more about the world and characters. Mary-Jane, for example, is no longer reliant on Spider-Man, determined to take matters into her own hands and expose the truth, no matter the cost. The brilliant Laura Bailey brings personality to the character, portraying my favourite iteration of Mary-Jane Watson so far. Experiencing events from another point of view certainly adds to the story.

Yuri Lowenthal and Laura Bailey are fantastic as Peter and MJ.

Spider-Man truly is an incredible game and in my view one of the best on PS4. With sales topping 9 million already (a huge feat for an exclusive game), and sitting on an 87 score on Metacritic, it’s clear that many are loving Insomniac's creation. But is it the greatest superhero game to date? While the Batman: Arkham Trilogy is undeniably brilliant, and a series I look forward to revisiting in the future, Spider-Man for me takes home the crown. While both games feature brilliant stories and really nail the feel of being each character, Spider-Man is a more overall enjoyable experience. I don’t think I’ve had as much fun with a video game in years. Swinging around the beautifully detailed New York is an absolute joy, the intense story keeps you hooked, and the collectables feel incredibly rewarding. Topped off with a brilliant cast of characters, this is a world you won’t want to leave. I can’t wait to see where Insomniac takes the story next.

A Beginner's Guide to Dragon Ball Super: Broly

Dragon Ball Super: Broly not only looks to be an incredible anime film with its fluid animation and action, but it also looks to draw on the best parts of its lore: the backstory and powers of the Saiyans, which is why it's been getting some great reviews by fans and critics.
However, for anyone who's never seen Dragon Ball or hasn't tuned in since the Toonami runs when they were ten, it'll be hard to

Blue Reflection: An RPG Riddled With Lost Potential

It's always hard when you see footage for an amazing game that is already released in Japan and know that it isn't going to receive an English translation for months and months. The wait for Persona 5 was painful, and we've only just received Dragon Quest XI in the West after more than a year of waiting. I was really looking forward to Blue Reflection, a new IP from Gust, the developers of the Atelier series, that was released in the land of the rising sun back in March 2017. It was eventually brought over to us in the West by the end of September of the same year. Really not that much of a wait, but it still felt like a long one, especially for myself after seeing what this game had to offer. However when I finally received it in the post, I was greeted by a game that could not only have benefited from a longer localisation process, but a longer development too.

Blue Reflection has so much going for it on initial glance. It's a high school based RPG featuring magical girl heroines in the same vein as Sailor Moon or Cardcaptor Sakura, with cute hero transformations and over-the-top choreographed attack moves in battle. Players take on the role of Hinako Shirai, a new student at Hoshinomiya Girls High School. Hinako used to be a very good ballet dancer until she injured her knee, making her unable to dance. After meeting with two mysterious sisters Yuzuki and Lime Shijou, she is given the power to fight as a magical girl, or a "Reflector", as the game calls it, which grants her the ability to move freely despite her injury. 
An interesting concept, and one that is presented excellently. Blue Reflection has absolutely gorgeous visuals featuring airy, muted colours contrasted with striking accents of pink and blue and anime-style character models that would make anyone wonder if Hoshinomiya Girls High School was actually a school for pristine, porcelain dolls. And then there's the music. Damn, that music. Composed by Hayato Asano, Blue Reflection's soundtrack is all about atmosphere. For exploration, the music consists of dreamy melancholy melodies with stripped-back instrumentation that serve to perfectly capture the emotions and insecurities that Hinako and her classmates have to face on a daily basis, while the turn-based battles feature face melting, epic as hell electronica; a sonic metaphor for the free-moving badass Hinako becomes when she transforms into a reflector. Honestly, the boss battle themes in Blue Reflection have to be some of the best I've ever heard in a video game. Here, tell me that the song below doesn't make you want to charge head first into battle and kick the living shit out of some monsters:

Unfortunately that's where the good stuff ends for Blue Reflection, because its best qualities only run skin deep. While the visuals and the music are nothing short of jaw dropping, everything else is left feeling incredibly middle of the road. Blue Reflection brings forward a lot of great ideas but never fully commits to them, resulting in extremely shallow gameplay.
Something that attracted my attention from the offset was Blue Reflection's inclusion of social and time management simulation mechanics. E
ach day of Blue Reflection is segmented into sections, morning, after class, evening, etc., with various activities available depending on what time it is. Main story events will occur during the day, with various side missions and friendship events available after class. Main story events usually revolve around Hinako meeting a classmate for the first time, followed by something dramatic happening to them, with the results of the drama being the classmate letting their insecurities take over and Hinako having to travel to the "common" where they must seek out the classmate's emotion fragment that is causing their defect in the real world. Many side quests are more simplified versions of this, with the player having to defeat a certain amount of a certain type of monster, or finding a certain amount of smaller fragments. This, sadly, is as deep as Blue Reflection's main quest gameplay goes: very simple fetch quests. Also, the common is made up of three tiny two part areas, each representing a different type of emotion. These confined areas become repetitive fast, especially with little to no variation in the quests.

You fight monsters using the game's turn-based combat system. The combat is energetic and on the surface seems pretty decent, with an intuitive "knockback" system, which involves your party and the enemy monsters taking their turns in a numbered order. Using specific attacks that feature different levels of knockback can delay an opponent's turn, gaining you an advantage. However, aside from this clever battle mechanic, battles often just feel like a spamfest. Even though enemies are weak to different types of moves, just mindlessly spamming any type of move will eventually defeat the enemy and bring the battle to an end anyway. There is no consequence to this lack of strategy, as HP and MP is restored at the end of battle. HP and MP is basically pointless in Blue Reflection, aside from during the game's boss battles, where these "pure breed" enemies (as the game calls them) have large health pools and strong attacks, requiring you to actually strategise and heal your team regularly. For this reason, boss battles are one of the few moments where the battles of Blue Reflection actually feel genuinely exciting. In boss battles you are able to request help from friends you've met along the way, who can heal or inflict extra damage on the enemy. This mechanic is something I wish was available in regular combat too, due to its charm, as well as the fact that it actually shows some kind of meaningful development to Hinako's relationships. Also it's pretty funny seeing one of your classmates damage a skyscraper-sized boss with a tennis serve.

Blue Reflection wants to make you feel like Hinako's relationships can be explored further outside of the main story, but interactions between Hinako and her classmates are incredibly limited and completely lacking in any genuine personality. You can talk to friends and occasionally answer questions they ask. You can also spend time with them, which involves going to what feels like one of three different places and watching a cutscene of Hinako and her classmate having a pretty dull conversation about pretty pointless stuff. This increases the relationship stat with the respective character, and that's as deep as the relationship system goes. It's somewhat similar to the the social link system Persona offers but absolutely stripped bare. The only reason you'll ever need to bother with it is to earn enough points to advance the story, but that shouldn't be the only reason for investing time into these characters.

Then there's evening events. Hinako returns home and has the option to do one of a few things that rarely vary. Do stretches, get in the bath (basically just an opportunity for the developers to show Hinako in her bare necessities) or prepare for the next day. These actions quickly turn out to be nothing more than superficial time-wasting filler, and have little to no impact on anything in the game, yet every evening, you've got to select something to do. One of the actions will lead to a cutscene at lunchtime where one of Hinako's classmates gets interviewed over the school tannoy, but upon introducing the character being interviewed, the scene skips to the end of the interview, resulting in the inclusion of this scene being completely and utterly pointless. This is just an example of many occasions where it seems like the developers of Blue Reflected wanted to implement some kind of mechanic with actual depth, but had to cut it short due to time constraints (or were just too lazy to see it through).

The worst example of this is a particular mini game featured in FreeSpace, the OS that Hinako's mobile phone runs on. FreeSpace is actually really cool. It allows Hinako to message her friends (while fun to read, the messages scroll way too fast), change music (a welcomed feature), read journals, and even take care of what is effectively a Tamagotchi-style pet (this is actually pretty cool). However a few chapters in, you are introduced to an area of FreeSpace where one of the characters gives you a hint on where she has left a bear that she has made. Upon finding the bear, you can't click on it, and you don't receive an award for finding it. I had to Google it to confirm, but yes, that's the extent of the mini game. You just locate the bear and look at it. That's it. While I initially tried to see past Blue Reflection's flaws because of its stunning presentation, its good story and its rather decent concepts (at least in theory), this mini game absolutely astounded me. To me it was probably the most blatant example of how shallow Blue Reflection really is. No element of its gameplay is ever seen to fruition, resulting in much of it feeling incredibly half-arsed. If the game had spent a longer time in development, Blue Reflection could've been something so much better. Sure it looks nice, really nice in fact, but even the game's strongest attribute - its presentation - takes a hit due to a rushed development. Cutscenes skip frames of animation and reuse character animations constantly, resulting in characters moving and popping out of nowhere in a somewhat jarring manner. Sometimes in battles the frame rate takes a hit too. Even the localisation seems rushed, with dialogue being occasionally riddled with spelling errors, which, at least for me, is incredibly immersion breaking. Was there no one in the localisation team who thought it might be a good idea to double check it before release? It's not just simple grammar errors, but full on spelling mistakes at times - some of which are in the menus!

Blue Reflection could've been so much more, and because I bought it day one, I've constantly felt an obligation to see past its pitfalls. I want to complete it because I would like to see the story (which is decent) through to the end, but I'm not sure I want to waste my time with it. The issues caused by Blue Reflection's rushed development and localisation are too blatant to ignore. It's such a shame because the few strong moments that Blue Reflection does have are a testament to its lost potential. Perhaps maybe one day Gust will revisit this franchise and give it a little more care and attention, but until then, Blue Reflection will just be mediocre at best. 

Top 5 Movies of 2018

2018's been one of those years for film that's been all over the place. Whilst there have been some horrendous disappointments (mostly Venom), there have also been some absolute gems, including some that were definitely unexpected. Here's my top five films of 2018. 
As is the case for any standard list of the best things, this is all just one man's opinion (even though it's obviously the right

Laid-Back Camp is the Perfect Winter Anime

I'm always looking for a profound viewing experience - something cerebral. The kind of things others might view as too heavy or pretentious. But sometimes I just want to chill and enjoy something laid back. Laid-Back Camp (or Yuru Camp, as it's known in Japan) is exactly that. I mean, it's there in the name. And no, it's not an Animal Crossing spin-off. It's an anime that aired from early January

Creed II (Movie Review)

When Creed was released in 2015, I was both excited and sceptical. Movie spin-offs can usually go one of two ways. For every Rogue One, you can get a Terminator Genysis. Thankfully, the film was both a critical and commercial success, proving that there is life in the Rocky Saga yet, leading us into Creed II. Could the same success be repeated again? Or is it time to throw in the towel? I’m happy

Underrated Games: Prey (2017)

Prey was released in May of 2017 on all major platforms, developed by Arkane studios and published by Bethesda. Whilst generally well received, this mind-bending survival horror/first person combat game didn’t quite sell as well as it perhaps should have. I firmly believe it's worth picking up - here's why!

I will fully admit that I didn’t buy Prey upon release, therefore I am part of the problem! In fact, my fiancée ended up getting it for me on a whim. I went into it with an open mind, not really knowing what to expect other than what I’d already experienced with Dishonored, Arkane's other baby. I am now about 15 hours in and feel that I’m fully in a position to recommend this game especially at the price points you can pick it up for now (my PS4 copy cost five pounds, I mean come on). It offers much of the standard Arkane fare: you are a hero/heroine who can acquire some interesting abilities and can use said abilities to explore/progress/fight/puzzle your way through relatively open levels with some gorgeous environments and boy does Prey deliver on the environment part.

Without giving too much away, you begin Prey as a male or female (choice dependant) called Morgan Yu. The first few hours are extremely engrossing as you unravel a discomforting story that takes place aboard a sprawling space research station called Talos 1. Your ultimate goal to survive and find out exactly what the hell is happening is made difficult by the game's core enemies: aliens known as "Typhon". What separates this game from your typical alien bashing affair are the techniques that the aliens can employ to slow you down and stop you. Some of the enemies can “mimic” random objects throughout the game world - literally taking on the form of anything from a coffee cup to a trash can, all the way up to the consumables you use in game. There is little more startling than trying to pick up a med kit only to have it explode into its true form and try to stab you in the heart. Admittedly this novelty does 
eventually wear off but it’s such a cool concept that definitely deserves kudos.

Talos 1 is a beautifully realised and haunting environment. 

The environment of the space station is well crafted and littered with environmental story. You’ll learn about the inhabitants of the station and what befell them via neat little audio logs and terminals where you can sift through employees’ emails at will. The sensation of being stuck in space is very well realised and the sense of dread is complimented well by an excellently crafted explorable world. You can and will revisit areas regularly and can unlock skills that will allow you to access areas previous locked to you which is a great addition for those who wish to squeeze every drop of value from a game.

To start with you are given nothing but a trusty wrench (a la Bioshock) but very quickly come across other interesting weapons. From the more traditional pistols and shotguns to the more flamboyant weapons such as the Gloo Cannon, which is essentially a foam fire extinguisher on steroids which can be used to freeze enemies in place, put out fires or as another way to traverse the environments. Neuromods take the place of plasmids in this game and can be used as they are picked up. Think of them as instant skills points or currency that enables you to upgrade your character's speed, health or strength but also allows you to gain access to some of the wackier abilities, including (later in the game) the ability to “mimic” objects yourself! If you’ve ever wanted to play as a coffee cup, then Prey is the game for you.

The Gloo cannon is a novelty but it's very fun nonetheless! 

In summary, it is unfortunate that the game didn’t sell as well as expected. Arkane have crafted a robust, explorable, immersive and content filled experience with only a few minor bugbears. The value for money if you can get this on the cheap is insane, and I hope that the studio makes more games of this quality in the future. Now I’ve got to go - I could have sworn I just saw my desk fan move…

PSA: Believe it or Not, Anime has Genres

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are purely my own, and are based on my own personal experiences. Your experiences and views may differ from mine.

Back around 2007, I first discovered anime properly. Yeah I'd seen Pokémon, Digimon, Dragon Ball Z and Tenchi Muyo as a kid back in the late 90s/early 2000s, but it wasn't until many years later that I discovered there was a whole world of Japanese animation goodness beyond those few series. During high school not a lot of people shared my love for anime and manga. The quite common response I'd receive when I was seen reading manga on my lunch break or when I'd bring anime up in conversation was one of misunderstanding. It was animation for geeks, virgins, weirdos, perverts (because everyone who likes anime enjoys hentai by default, apparently). While the initial manga boom of the early 2000s filled UK bookstores with hundreds of manga volumes, by the end of the decade, going into my local Waterstones and seeking out the manga section would reward me with nothing more than two tiny shelves tucked away in a dusty corner, with an inconsistent collection on offer. The seventh volume of something next to the third of something else, then a shit tonne of Shonen Jump books. Luckily my local library had an extensive archive of the best Tokyopop books, so I'd read them from there, but every time I'd walk into Waterstones and witness the decreasing size of the manga section, I realised it wasn't just the kids at school who didn't get it, it was the masses. It soon became apparent to me that Anime and manga was niché as hell. Nowadays, anime is huge. Ordinary people are watching Attack on Titan and Sword Art Online on Netflix at the weekend. Every other rapper has referenced Goku in at least one of their raps. Anime conventions are big events, with massive venues struggling to pack thousands into halls filled to the brim with anime merchandise. Kids these days don't know how lucky they are (God, I sound old).

While anime is more popular than ever, it seems to oddly retain that same niché quality about it. People growing up away from the exposure to this kind of thing (through comic shops, conventions close by) may find themselves out of the loop, and upon discovering it, will probably find that there's not many others in their circles who share or are willing to share their love for anime. I felt like this once, and I know more than anyone how great it is to finally find someone who shares or is willing to share your love for this exciting Japanese animation style. Problem is, people forget anime is exactly that, an animation style, and like any other type of cartoon, it isn't synonymous with a single genre. There's anime shows that focus on comedy, romance, horror and action. There are shows for kids, and shows for adults. You name your preference, and there's undoubtedly an anime for you. There's even shows for adults, if you know what I mean. This seems obvious, right? Problem is, I find that when discussing anime, people frequently talk about it as if it is one single genre: anime.

I for one don't consume anime like that. I like anime that focuses on romance, drama or comedy plots and not much else. I sometimes dip into the horror and thriller genres too, but I very rarely venture outside of my comfort zone because I've figured out what I like and I'm sticking to it. There are anime fans who like many different genres, and stretch their anime watching all across the board, which is awesome, but there are just as many who are close-minded to a wide amount of genres too. Years ago when I was at college, a friendship group I was part of formed an after-class anime club. We would all meet up in one of the classrooms after lessons to watch and discuss anime. One of the main problems we ran into however, was that the group was made up of people who were into completely different types of anime. The leader of the club had his personal tastes, while the members had theirs. Many shared tastes, but not everyone. When the leader of the club would put on something he recommended, half the room would be engaged, while the other half would be disinterested and just end up talking among themselves. One week I managed to convince them to play the first episode of the romance anime Air on the big screen, and the exact same thing occurred, the room's engagement was split down the middle. The leader seemed to take the lack of engagement from either side as a sign that his club sucked. Myself and some others eventually stopped caring about the club for many reasons, but one of my main reasons was because subjecting myself to watching anime I had no interest in just wasn't that fun.

While it's great to remain open-minded and love all anime regardless of its genre, for many people, categorising things is important. My Aunt absolutely hates horror. She wouldn't watch a horror movie no matter how much you try to convince her. When I tried to tell her that the 2017 remake of It was worth a watch, and that it is more of a character based piece than straight up horror, she wasn't even beginning to consider giving it a chance. But that's her preference, and she likes to watch what she likes to watch and knowing which genres movies fall under make her aware of what to avoid. Same with my Girlfriend, who is a fan of country and pop rock music. She doesn't care for Hip-Hop music. It does nothing for her. When we met, I, a fan of hip-hop, didn't go "oh you like music? me too! Have you heard of Del the Funky Homosapien?" No. The first thing I asked her about music was "what type do you like?" The same thing would be asked if I was talking movies with a movie buff too, because a lot of them hate the kind of hipster rom coms I binge. While I enjoy discussing anime for the most part, I often find myself being recommended shows that I have no interest in due to them being in a completely different genres to the anime I prefer. The worst part is that people sometimes take it personally when you don't express at least some interest in something they're vocally passionate about. It's like the part of the conversation about genre gets left at the door when it comes to anime discussions, maybe due to the meeting of two anime fans seeming like such a rare, elusive occurrence. Also, while anime is popular, excessive love of anime still seems to be mocked quite a lot, with the word "weeb" being thrown around left, right and centre, so finding someone who also shares that excessive love for anime can feel like an absolute gift. But for the reasons I've discussed, it isn't as simple as just liking anime, as the scope of anime is much more huge and complex than it seems at first glance. While it's great for us anime fans to stick together, just stating the genres of the anime we like up front can go a long way and can even go as far as to help us bridge the gap between differing genres. Maybe you watched something in your preferred genre that somehow crosses over to another? Maybe you took a chance once and watched something out of your genre bubble, and it's been sat at the back of your mind, just waiting for someone into that same genre to come along so you can recommended it to them. You never know what might happen. Just remember that simply stating you like anime is not enough, because your tastes are exclusive to you. They are a testament to who you are as a person and tell people something about you, and what makes you an individual. Declare them proudly.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (Movie Review)

Fantastic Cash Grab: The Grime of Grindelbore

Since the debut of 2016's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, many have been questioning the quality vs quantity ratio that these Harry Potter spin-off prequels will uphold. This has especially been the case since novel author and film writer, J.K. Rowling, confirmed that there is now to be five instalments instead of the previously stated three. Despite Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald containing some of the most magical effects the franchise has ever seen, along with a performance sure to resurrect Johnny Depp's career, the film is nothing but misadvertised franchise filler, being the worst to come out of the entire cinematic Harry Potter universe.

The film opens on what is arguably the film's second-best scene, where pre-Voldemort dark lord Gellert Grindelwald escapes his prison custody to start his standard quest of evil in taking over the world. Meanwhile, protagonist Newt Scamander, who is banned from international travel due to his mishaps in the last film, finds himself in Paris with his adorable nifflers, trying to find his previous love interest. On top of that, there's Credence, the super-powered wizard man who can explode now and again. He's on his own generic quest to discover his origins. On top of that, Jacob, the muggle baker, is trying to make up with his Witch girlfriend, Queenie, who is confusingly mad at him for an unimportant reason. Does all of that sound muddled to you? Well that's nothing. Determined to get anyone new to the series caught up to speed, the film throws scenes at you that are literally all exposition, trying to explain every little detail about the story and the world possible. As these segments of boring anchor down your excitement, not even Eddie Redmaine's adorable portrayal of Newt Schamander can lift your spirits back from the dull dread that is watching any scene with Credence. Taking up massive amounts of time, Credence is trying to find out who his birth parents are, after suffering with serious mummy issues in the last film. Not only does this arc become incredibly convoluted, but it's given far too much attention considering its significance within the story. It especially doesn't help that the character of Credence, played by Ezra Miller, has the personality and grace of an emotionally dull cabbage.

Even though it's named after the Johnny Depp-portrayed villain, Grindelwald's screentime makes him more like a side character given the film's length. This is the real tragedy as this is the best we've seen Depp in years. When he walks in, he steals the room. When he talks, you hang on his every word, almost feeling a chill down your spine. His charisma is the kind that gains followers out of loyalty instead of fear. It can only be imagined how effective his performance would've carried the rest of the film, with Grindelwald mainly being confined to the beginning and end.

Jude Law doesn't add anything new to the character of a younger Albus Dumbedore, but he successfully carries himself as a gentle yet charismatic reminder of why we love the future Hogwarts headmaster so much. As much as we adore DumbleLaw smiling and dashingly pulling off a grey waistcoat, his involvement in this story has also been misadvertised, with any of his scenes being mere teases for what's to come in revealing the past and furthering of things along. There are enough standard Harry Potter-isms and easter eggs to pull back the interest of franchise fans, immediately followed by losing it again when they've realised it's all for the sake of trying to distract from a mundane plot. All too many times you find yourself thinking something along the lines "hey, it's that thing I like from a much better film!". The most laugh-worthy example is Nagini, Voldemort's pet snake from the Harry Potter series. For some reason that nobody asked for, Rowling decided to rewrite the snake's origin by making Nagini a human woman that was afflicted with a blood curse, gradually making her reptile transformation permanent overtime. Being nothing to do with the actual plot for the rest of the film, we of course spend more time with this so-so actress (not even worth googling her name) playing a snake lady than the film's titular villain. 

What's even more hurtful for fans of decent writing is when you hear teases of some of the most interesting Harry Potter lore, it gets immediately swept under the rug to be saved for the third instalment. In the novel of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, the details of Dumbledore and Grindelwald's relationship were revealed, including the duel which occurred when the latter turned to the dark side, resulting in the accidental death of Dumbledore's sister, Ariana Dumbledore, which Dumbledore carries with him for the remainder of his life.
With this relationship of love and pain being so significant to this prequel series, you'd think this would be at the forefront, at least involving a first reunion confrontation between Dumbledore and his friend-turned-nemesis, but no, because this series needs to be three more films long. Whilst these exclusions could be excused with a believable reason in the writing, this is not the case in The Crimes of Grindelwald. A MacGuffin plot device, something that can solve a story's crisis with little to no narrative explanation, is carelessly thrown in to be a literal excuse as to why Dumbledore can have no interaction whatsoever with Grindlewald, obviously resolved at the end to be sure you reserve your seats for Fantastic Beasts 3. Well hey, who wants to see a naturally formed emotional climax of a film's two most interestingly complex characters when Credence can have some stale adventures with a snake lady instead? The answer is "everyone".

Final Thoughts

Fantastic Cash Grab is the cinematic equivalent of junk food, which is a generous way to put it. Instead of enriching this series with hearty, nutritionally lean story and well-earned character progression (good for strong bones), you're left bloated by the factory-grade filler that's supposed to keep you going for another two years, before you see the unfolding of the plot you actually paid to see. At least with junk food you regret it after you've finished, while with this film you'll regret it half way through. 
You'll see plenty of Tumblrites posting about how much they loved this film despite not actually knowing what was going on for two hours. But this is J.K Rowling's and Director David Yates strategy - if they throw enough references to Harry Potter lore at those kinds of viewers, they'll eventually desensitise them into enjoying what is effectively a cinematic lobotomy with a franchise label slapped on. But don't forget that these are the type of fans who see Suicide Squad's Harley Quinn as their role model. 

Rating: 4/10

Bohemian Rhapsody (Movie Review)

Bohemian Rhapsody is an exploration of the lives of one of music's greatest, most unique bands, Queen, with a particular focus on its lead performer: Freddie Mercury. While it's a fantastic showcase of hit Queen songs and what may be an iconic lead performance, the film itself is anything but unique, following the tired formula of every music biopic you've seen before.

Journeying from his humble beginnings working at Heathrow Airport in 1970 to his peak at 1984's Live Aid, the spotlight is on Freddie Mercury as he and the rest of Queen dominate the world of rock and roll. The film is approachable to Queen fans new and old - from never even hearing of Queen to having "We Will Rock You" tattooed on your elbow, anyone will be able to go into this and be thoroughly entertained... mostly because of actor Rami Malek's portrayal Mercury. 

While other members of the cast are great, including an unrecognisable Michael Myers in a small role, they all feel like place holders in comparison to Rami Malek. An actor's portrayal of a non-fictional character can often get lukewarm reception, coming off as more of an impression rather than embracing the figure they're pretending to be. Malek's is on the other end of the scale: literally becoming the character. Perfectly capturing Mercury's teeth-licking, eccentric flamboyancy isn't the only reason Rami Mercury is an Oscar-worthy performance, he also nails the larger-than-life personality that Mercury used to mask his inner turmoil. Rami's performance should be shown as an example to acting and film school students for years to come as a demonstration of how he raised the bar of what people should expect from a biopic lead.

He goes from being determined to reach his potential, making his mark on the world, to struggling with figuring out who he is and wondering if he's satisfied with the answer. It's a story that goes surprisingly deeper into the darker side of Mercury than casual Queen fans may have expected, but I'm glad it did. It achieves what a lot of biopics aim to do: getting the audience to know the subject better, which in turn gives them the urge to research further after viewing and learn more about the things that the film couldn't show or didn't have the time to. However, this can be a double edged sword, as the film itself didn't go nearly as deep as it could have.

Although there's a big focus during the second act on Mercury struggling with his sexuality (especially during his tour in America), a lot of these instances are often brushed over, merely implying that he's been shagging a lot of guys, hurrying the plot along for the sake of a PG-13 rating. For a film that's expected to cover the pain a man has felt throughout his life, I'd have gladly taken a R-rated Freddy Mercury film with a rougher structure. One that really gets into the grit of being torn between two worlds. It would've given a much better essence of the conflict he felt through all those years.

Malik flaunting his talent throughout Bohemian Rhapsody's spanned 14 years is a gem that's of course only matched by the music. The film's best scenes are when the whole of Queen are on a session of song writing discovery or conflict, thinking of new ways to improve their music which turn out to be the origins of an iconic song. Whatever they're arguing about is thrown into the background when one realises something that might make their music better. It's impossible to not smile at these musicians having fun as they create new songs or play them in concert. Somebody to Love, We Will Rock You, Another One Bites The Dust, Fat Bottomed Girls: listening to takes of Mercury's original recordings, mixed with soundalike Marc Martel, added to Malek's passionate physicality with each performance made me feel like I was listening to these songs for the first time.

On the other hand, it's disappointing that they played it safe. The set list for the film is mostly made up of the same songs you've probably heard at every pub's "rock night" in the last fifteen years. They're great, yes, but a film based on a band that released over 150 songs could have at least thrown in some of the lesser known ones, giving casual audiences something they haven't heard before to really enhance the experience. Furthermore, most scenes featuring a concert performance are sped through in montages far too quickly. There's too many of these kind of moments, and they do nothing but make viewers think "I don't care about that manager story. Go back to singing and guitar riffing!".

What truly stops this diamond in the definition of rough from being a priceless jewel is the absolute drag that happens with the obligatory "falls from grace" part of the story. As a part of one of many rewrites of true events, Freddie gets too full of himself, at the influence of an outside party, and isolates himself from his friends, crashes and burns, before realising he needs the power of friendship before everything's back on track as it should be. This kind of story arc should sound familiar too you as it's basically featured in almost every aim-for-success film you've ever seen. Shifting history around a bit to make a biopic more streamlined and easier to watch is fair enough but when a rewrite still leaves the film at 134 minutes and still makes it feel even longer, it'll make anyone sigh as they're debating whether to even give Bohemian Rhapsody a rewatch.

Final Thoughts

Appropriate for the decades it's set in Bohemian Rhapsody is like two bumps of cocaine. You snort the first, feeling energised and revitalised by everything you're seeing, be it Rami Malek giving a career-best performance or one of the best playlists for a "get psyched" mix. Eventually the first instance of coke will make you crash hard, as does the end of the film's second act. You'll feel weary. Confused. Wondering how you got where you are. Just wanting to be alive again. Then you finally crawl over to that second bump. It gloriously charges through your nostrils. You are once again energy incarnate. You're doing mental backflips. The Queen Live Aid performance at the climax makes you feel the equivalent of riding a unicorn on a guitar-shaped road into the sunset.

Bohemian Rhapsody could've been one great high of love, pain, excitement and acceptance. Sadly, that sweet, Class-A powder got diluted with the hazardous chemical that is a messy reworking of history into a generic plot. If you get the chance to watch it again, fast forward when you realise it starts to drag. Go straight to the build up to Live Aid. Treat yourself to that one great high.

Rating: 7/10

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