Friday, November 8, 2013

Thor: The Dark World review

Rotten Tomatoes is a wonderful website. It exists as the ultimate collection of film reviews and critical assessments. The link to Marvel's "Thor: The Dark World" shows a film with a modest rating that is praised for its wit and mocked for its inability to contribute anything new to the film industry. In fact, many of the same criticisms of the second tour of Asgard are seen in film reviews for "Iron Man 3." It's easy to see that film critics are growing tired of superhero movies, and perhaps those individuals have a point. However, it is every bit as likely that these individuals are utilizing the wrong scope to view the film.

Try as they might, film critics have a very hard time leaving "The Avengers" out of their film reviews. It is well understood that Marvel's crown jewel helped to set the standard for comic book films--along with "The Dark Knight" from DC Comics. No disrespect to Marvel, but it is slightly absurd to compare the post-Avengers films to this high standard. The movies carry a different goal and should be judged independently of "The Avengers"--no matter how much their stories tie in.

In the post-Avengers world of Marvel, it is clear what Stan Lee's goal is: he wants to see the action-packed moments tie into moments of real emotion. Whether that emotion comes from laughter, happiness, anger, or sorrow is irrelevant when it comes to the delivery that has been seen in "Iron Man 3" and "Thor: The Dark World." One of the truly memorable parts of this film is how easily the film can draw out emotions. The transitions from laughter to anger to sorrow are swift, frequent, and sometimes very bold--while also carrying more subtle moments. One of the qualms many critics seem to have of the film is that it does go back and forth so swiftly--at times, it feels like the movie doesn't exactly know what it wants to do.

The transition between these moments is what makes this film so unique within the Marvel universe. Something "Thor: The Dark World" does better than any other Marvel film is make the audience feel as if they are reading a comic book. The film has many moments that feel as if it is jumping from frame to frame within a graphic novel, which is something that Stan Lee has hinted at wanting to accomplish.

Now, do not be fooled by the praise set forth to this point--there are several flaws in this film. While jumping from frame to frame is a unique trait that is hard to pull off, there are certainly moments where it shouldn't have happened in the film. One of the great moments in "The Avengers" occurs when The Incredible Hulk tosses Loki around as if he were a rag doll. The moment occurs within the film's major battle scene and provides a true comic-book quality moment. In "Thor: The Dark World" battle scenes are often interrupted by such moments--certainly not always for the better of the film.


There is also an issue in lack of plot. Over the arc of the story, audiences learn about the tale of the Dark Elves. From that point, the plot proceeds very slowly. Ultimately the plot follows the same kind of frame as that of the original Thor--minus the fact that this time around Jane Foster spends much more of her time in Asgard as opposed to Earth. In fact, that trailer for the film is rather misleading. While Earth is certainly in danger at points, there is no kind of widespread panic that audiences are exposed to--despite a huge alien ship landing just outside of London, England.


"Thor: The Dark World" should be celebrated for what it has accomplished. It may not be the greatest of films, but it certainly sets itself apart in that it truly feels as if the audience has been thrown into one of Stan Lee's classic Marvel comic books. On a scale of "Iron Man 2" to "The Avengers", this film scores much like Marvel's most recent release: "Iron Man 3." In the end, the film lacks the classic moments to make it a great movie, but it is certainly an entertaining flick that audiences should flock to.

Rating: 7/10

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Beyond: Two Souls and a lesson in game expectations

When I picked up a copy of Beyond: Two Souls I believed I was picking up a GOTY candidate. Based on the concepts, graphics, and celebrity personalities involved in the game I figured the resources spent on the project would result in one of the better games of the past ten years. What I got was a game that failed to find its identity and took on a bipolar personality. Parts of the game feel like classic video game moments whereas other moments feel bland, boring, or even worthless. What this creates is a game that is impossible to put down, yet impossible to feel satisfied with.


Over the course of video game history, the industry has produced a wide range of stories. Some games capture their stories well as they properly utilize themes to draw users in emotionally. Creating emotional attachment to video game characters is something that is very hard to pull off--and few games do it well. When this attachment is successful, we are introduced to characters like Tidus from Final Fantasy X. When it isn't, games fall apart at the seams. In Beyond: Two Souls, it is nearly impossible to not feel an emotional attachment to Jodie and her counterpart Aiden--a paranormal being who has been attached to her since birth. Jodie's life is defined by her personal struggle of being "different" as many of us often feel. Due to Aiden's presence in Jodie's life, Jodie is mocked, ridiculed, and even used for scientific experiments and military operations. The struggle in Jodie's life is constant in every scene as she struggles to build relationships and control her emotions throughout the game. She is often distant, angry, and even confused by why she can never be like other "normal" girls.

Without spoiling the story too much, I'll say that the game is often defined by its darker moments. For example, Jodie--based on the decisions you make in the game--is sexually assaulted multiple times only to be saved by Aiden. Most of these dark moments occur when Jodie attempts to take control of her own life and separate herself from Aiden--though sometimes they occur when she attempts to take revenge on the individuals that have betrayed or used her. The story does carry its positive moments, but the deepest connections are made in the moments where Jodie is at her breaking point--which she reaches multiple times. We all feel lost and alone at times in life, and Jodie provides an avenue that we can connect with.

Game play

The game play in Beyond: Two Souls is what gives the game its bipolar feel. The structure of the game follows that of games like Fable and Mass Effect. Decisions can be made by the user to create or guide Jodie's personality--and in this game the decisions are DARK. This model is great for games with a great story, so the pairing of the game play and the story is great. However, the model for in-scene decisions and actions is pretty terrible. Buttons appear on the screen that lead to actions. The consequence for failing these actions is "oh well, try again immediately." This model--at least in my experience--created a situation where the user could never fail. No matter how good or bad your decisions were--or how good or bad your reaction time is--the game and story press on.

A form of media where you follow a story with characters and your actions don't matter is called a movie, not a video game. While the story was enough to keep pressing on, the game play was boring and incredibly frustrating, because there is never a sense of being challenged. The environment interaction--especially on CIA missions--is fun and makes for a good time, but without the possibility for failure there is little sense of enjoyment in actually beating the game. Completing the game feels like the end of a really good movie rather than beating a classic video game. This is enough of a flaw to automatically take the game out of Game of the Year running on its own.


While the story and graphics in this game are stellar, the lack of any difficulty in game play really puts a damper on the experience. I wanted so badly for this to be a GOTY candidate--and at the beginning of 2013 I pegged this as my GOTY pick--but it just wasn't. The connection that is made between the user and Jodie/Aiden is very strong, and it's hard not to be touched by many of the moments in the game. However, video games need to come with a sense of difficulty to be good, let alone great.

Game Score: 6/10