Shadow of the Colossus review part 2: The Remake

Developer: Bluepoint Games

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Game played on: PS4

Release Date: February 6, 2018


When I heard that Shadow of the Colossus was getting a remake, I had a mixture of feelings. I was excited and nervous at the same time. I was wondering what they would exactly do with the game, what could they add to what was already great. Giving development over to Bluepoint Games was an excellent first step, as they have been responsible for the best HD remasters around, but they had never done a full scale remake before, especially of such a classic.

This game is the purest definition of the word remake. In fact I was kind of taken aback at the faithfulness of this game to the original. The plot is exactly as it was in the original, and the locations, colossi, and cutscenes have been perfectly recreated for the new console generation. I’ve even heard and read that the remake runs on the original’s source code. Bluepoint Games was truly dedicated to doing Shadow of the Colossus justice, and they did it.

The remake’s graphics are extremely impressive. The PS2 era textures, animations, lighting, and shading of the original are now replaced by state of the art levels of detail. Areas of the environment have a whole new level of depth added to them, such as fireflies in dark forests, whirlwinds in the desert, and many other little details that breathe life to the setting. The colossi now feel more alive than ever thanks to their added detail and new audio, and characters’ facial animations are now fully expressive. What Team Ico did in 2005 but were limited by the technology available to them, has now finally been realized by Bluepoint Games in 2018 because of these new graphical advances.

The lovely graphics are not all this remake has to offer. The two biggest issues of the original Shadow of the Colossus were the sluggish controls and the framerate, both of which have been improved upon tenfold here. Now the controls feel smooth and the framerate is entirely consistent with my playthrough not having a single dip the whole time. Agro also feels much easier to control, with her not having trouble navigating environments heavy with foliage or obstacles. I played it on a vanilla PS4 where the framerate is capped at 30fps. On a PS4 Pro the framerate can be capped at 60fps with a sacrifice to resolution. They even changed the control scheme to fit the layout of the PS4 controller, which while just after coming off of the original, I took some getting used to but managed to adapt and can say it is better than the original’s. However, if you still are having issues with the new controls, you can switch to the classic scheme in the menu.

I found the remake’s difficulty to be more balanced compared to the original’s. You are given a choice of difficulty upon your first playthrough in the remake, unlike the first where your first game will be a default setting of normal. I actually died in a battle with a colossi in the remake, and a second time because of a dumb mistake I made in the original as well. It was because I got greedy and reckless but nonetheless they still count, and I found myself in danger of dying more in the remake when fighting colossi. I would describe the original’s normal difficulty as “easy normal”, and the remake’s as “actually normal”. It’s not as forgiving and even forced a player like me who knew what to expect to stay cautious.

All of this praise stands, but I can’t say I find every change and refinement the remake brought to the table was always for the better. The biggest example that comes to mind is our protagonist Wander. While his personality and motivation remain completely the same as the original’s and the area for interpretation is still intact, for some reason there were some changes to his appearance that left me scratching my head. In the original Wander had the demeanor and appearance of a determined young man in his early twenties by my estimation. Here, Wander is more baby-faced and looks like a depressed sixteen year old. I can’t say whether or not this was deliberate choice or while his face was being redone a mistake was made. Also, in the original game, Wander’s skin would become greyer with each colossus he killed and his clothes would slowly become more tattered and damaged over the journey’s course. This was a clever way of illustrating how much time had passed and the toll taken on Wander. The remake keeps the changes to his skin color, albeit makes it more subtle than before, but completely does away with the clothing damage. It would’ve been better to keep it because of how it drives home the difficulty of Wander’s quest and the damage he’s taking.

The original game’s atmosphere has been lost in the transition to better graphical fidelity. The original game had to make clever use of fog to compensate for the low draw distance, so despite the original’s graphics aging, its atmosphere still puts it above many other games today. The remake just does not quite have that same feel. I also have divided feelings about the new save system. The game now auto saves instead of requiring your input, and you can manually save your game at anytime. That’s a good modern addition, but it’s deceitful. You can manually save your game from the menu, but if you quit and load your save back up, you won’t start from exactly where you left off. Instead, you start back at the nearest shrine you discovered. The original’s save system was at least honest and did a better job at immersing you in the world of the game. Lastly, the camera is still a problem. Again, you can work with it, but it’s a shame that this issue from the original was left unfixed here.

So does the Shadow of the Colossus remake reach the heights of or even surpass the original? No it does not. Is it still an excellent game, a near perfect remake, and a great way to introduce a new generation to a classic? Yes it is. Whatever issues I had with the remake’s changes, Bluepoint managed to get the one thing down that was absolutely necessary: its heart. The remake was not just some easy cash grab, but a labor of love from people who clearly hold the original near and dear. I still suggest you play the original and then move on to this, but if you can’t play the original, then the remake is your perfect chance to experience one of gaming’s highlights.

Score: 9/10


Shadow of the Colossus review part 1: The Original

Developer: Team Ico

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

Game played on: PS2

Release Date: October 18, 2005


This game’s intro is a cutscene of a young man riding on horseback across various environments to a far off, ancient land while carrying the body of a young woman. All the while a serene yet melancholic music track plays the whole time. This is how Shadow of the Colossus, one of the greatest games ever created begins.

Shadow of the Colossus has an extremely simple, yet layered and deep plot. You play as Wander, a young man armed with a sword, a bow and arrows, and accompanied only by his horse Agro, who is trying to revive a girl named Mono. To do that, he makes a deal with an entity named Dormin: If he slays 16 giants known as colossi, she will be revived. That’s it. That is the majority of the information you are given regarding the plot of the game. As it goes on, you are given a few more details that I won’t spoil, but for the most part the game keeps things as vague as it possibly can. This leaves the plot and the motivations of Wander completely up to your interpretation. I have always interpreted the plot of the game as that of a Greek tragedy. Play the game and you’ll see why, but as Wander goes on with his quest, it becomes clear he is making a horrible mistake, but his determination to bring Mono back blinds him to that.

The gameplay is also pretty simplistic, but with room for exploration. While taking place in a large open world, there are no side quests or side characters to interact with. You search for the colossi you have to kill, you kill it, and repeat the process. That might sound repetitive on the surface, but the game’s execution of the concept makes it anything but. Wander is not some badass hero, but is actually rather weak. Try swinging his sword when not fighting a colossi, and his swing is clumsy and shows a lack of experience. The battles with the colossi are not straightforward affairs, but require strategy and careful thinking. The colossi have various weakpoints on their bodies that you have to find and stab with your sword in order to take away their health and kill them, and that requires you to grab onto the giants’ fur, and climb up them while they try to shake you off. You have a stamina meter that goes down the longer you hold on and the harder they shake, so you have to act fast.

The colossi themselves are easily some of the greatest bosses ever conceived in gaming. While some are more interesting than others and have more engaging battles, they all have creative designs and the majority of them absolutely tower over you. The third, fifth, and thirteenth colossi are by far my three favorites because of the solutions required to get onto them and attack their vitals, and their designs. The only disappointing colossi are the ones that aren’t really that colossal at all. It just feels out of place in a game about a tiny human going up against gigantic beasts.

This game is over a decade old, and it is still near flawless on its technical aspects. Loading times are almost nonexistent, and when they do appear, they’re quick and painless. While there is some texture pop in, it usually happens at long distances and the game makes up for its outdated textures with amazing atmosphere. The open world has this weird fog effect when looking in the distance that serves to hide some of the forming textures, and the only sound while traveling the world are the sounds of the wind and your horse’s hooves hitting the ground. The audio of this game is excellent even after all these years. The two things that take some getting used to are the controls and camera. They’re very obtuse but as you play they become easier to handle, and by the end I was having next to no issues. This is especially true with Agro. While Agro is the greatest horse sidekick in video games, you don’t really control her so much as you control Wander riding her. This makes using her something of a chore and even more so in areas with a lot of foliage or rocks. Last thing to note is in my just over six hours of playtime, I died only once from falling off a ledge. This was my second time playing the game so while I did know what to expect, I remember from my first time that the game was never particularly difficult.

Shadow of the Colossus’ music is yet again another great hallmark in gaming history. Every track hits you straight in the gut, inspiring everything from sadness to triumph. The tracks that play during the colossi battles will get you pumped for each fight, giving you the feeling that as puny compared to those giants as you are, you can beat them. There has yet to be anything else like it and I doubt there ever will be.

Lastly, Shadow of the Colossus succeeds in subtle worldbuilding and developing a mysterious lore. Throughout the forbidden land there are ruins and other signs that there was once life, but are now mysteriously abandoned. Questions such as the old inhabitants of this land, the colossi’s origins, and what exactly Dormin is are never answered. You have to come up with your own explanation.

Shadow of the Colossus is nothing short of a masterpiece that has yet to be replicated. Even with some minor technical issues, the game’s execution of what it strives to achieve completely elevates it above them. It is a game everyone should play, and with the remake out I’m glad more people can. Alas, I wish more could play it in its original state, or even from the HD remaster of last console generation. I intend to review the remake to compare it to the original game. Regardless, standing on its own, the original Shadow of the Colossus is one of the greatest games of all time.

Score: 10/10

Ready Player One review

Author: Ernest Cline

Published: August 16, 2011


Ready Player One is the first and most famous novel of author Ernest Cline. The premise is that in the future, people escape the miserable reality of a resource depleted, climate change raddled Earth to the virtual reality of the OASIS. The OASIS is a massive multiplayer rpg that has practically taken the place of the real world. The original creator’s will states that whoever can solve a challenging easter egg hunt that he set up himself within the game will inherit control of the whole OASIS and his whole, multi billion dollar fortune. Years pass until a teenager obsessed with 80s pop culture named Wade Watts finds the first clue, and the race is on to reach the prize before rivals and an evil mega corporation can beat him to it.

Ready Player One may have an interesting premise, but that can’t save it from its badly written characters, plot, and prose. The biggest example of this is the protagonist Wade Watts, easily one of the most shallow, wish fulfillment characters I’ve seen in years. He’s flat and I can barely remember what personality he has in the story. Apparently in the world of the novel, just having an obscene amount of knowledge regarding 1980s pop culture is enough to get you to succeed in life, which is exactly how Wade gets through the plot. Thanks to his obsessive knowledge of everything 80s, he starts off a broke, low level high school student and eventually becomes a rich, high level world famous celebrity. Whatever struggles he has or could potentially have are completely glossed over and just told to the reader rather than shown. For example, Wade eventually has some falling out with his best friend Aech, and he just tells it without us ever seeing it. He also has a romance sub-plot with Art3mis, the main female character that has next to no chemistry in it and has some rather creepy undertones to it.

The side characters really aren’t much better written. The love interest Art3mis is supposed to be this strong female character, and to her credit she is a more interesting character than Wade is with some cool moments. It still doesn’t fix the fact that she’s completely overshadowed by Wade and his shallow personality. The other important side characters are pretty flat as well, with Wade’s best friend Aech having barely any personality themselves or anything interesting about them at all aside from a completely preachy and clumsy reveal about their identity that makes you think the novel is deeper than it actually is. The antagonist is at least charismatic but he’s just a stereotypical evil businessman.

The plot has a quick, page turner pacing to it that will get the reader moving smoothly along from one event to the next due to the chapters’ short length. The quick pacing is the one good thing I can say about the plot because like the characters, it is shallow and badly written. The premise has the potential to be really interesting but it doesn’t seem concerned with actually exploring it. Oh it sprinkles some concepts to make it seem deeper than it actually is, like the evil mega corporation cheating to win the contest so they can control the OASIS and charge a subscription fee and insert advertisements into it being reflective of the net neutrality debate. Yet this, and the other issues the book stamps onto the plot aren’t actually explored with any nuance or even reveal something meaningful about the characters. The ending tries to have this message about not using escapism as a means of always avoiding the world, but it comes off as cheap and doesn’t really hold up considering Wade saves the whole world real and virtual via escapism

Lastly the writing style ranges from bland to insufferable. The dialogue is riddled with outdated slang that was already going out of style at the time it was published and is now just embarrassing to read now. The characters will actually say “noobs” and call the enemy faction called The Sixers the “Suxorz”. You know, because they suck (that is an actual line in the novel). If that wasn’t bad enough, the novel will usually stop the plot to explain a reference to 80s pop culture it makes because it assumes you care or are an idiot who can’t just look it up. The worst instance of this is when Wade spends a whole three pages bragging about how much 80s trivia he knows. If you grew up with 80s movies, games, comics, and books I guess you could forgive it but I found it to be needless and eye-rolling. At least the action scenes are described well.

Ready Player One is not the worst novel ever written, or even that I’ve ever read. It’s bad, but just bad. It’s like Sword Art Online: an interesting idea brought down by bad writing and characters. At its best it is a good airport book, but I found it to be mindless and didn’t think it worked as entertainment. My hope is that Steven Spielberg can manage to make a good or even great movie out of this sub-par novel, since he’s managed to do so before. As for Ernest Cline’s other novel Armada and his plans for a sequel, I have no interest in either.

Score: 4/10

Annihilation (movie) review

Director: Alex Garland

Writer: Alex Garland

Cast: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny, Oscar Isaac

Released: February 23, 2018


I had some high hopes for this one, and it didn’t disappoint. Support this film to show that science fiction films like these can still succeed at the theater.

Annihilation is the film adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s novel, directed and written by Alex Garland. I have some familiarity with Garland’s work. He wrote 2012’s Dredd, which was really good and I’ve heard high praise for his first film from 2015, Ex Machina. Annihilation just further cements his status as a guy to keep an eye on when he’s attached to a project.

The story is about Lena, a female biologist played by Natalie Portman whose husband played by Oscar Isaac has come back home after a year of being presumed dead from a military op. It quickly becomes clear something is very wrong as he can barely remember anything, and becomes deathly ill and is taken and quarantined by an organization known as the Southern Reach. Lena, wanting answers as to what happened to her husband, decides to join an expedition of all female scientists into a closed off area of land known as “The Shimmer”. As the mission goes on, they encounter unexplainable phenomena, and must try to finish their mission.

My previous review was for the original novel so I can comment on how this film is as an adaptation of its source material. Quite frankly I not only think it’s a great adaptation but I think I prefer it to the novel. The original novel was a top tier sci-fi read with great atmosphere and a chilling plot, but its characters were rather thin with very little actual emotional investment for us to give. They didn’t even have names, not even the protagonist. The movie fixes that by giving the characters names, added personal life details, personalities and backgrounds that serve as motivation for why they’re on the mission, and gives them a sense of comradery which makes the story more tragic. It also removes some details that would drag the film’s narrative down so as to streamline it more to fit the runtime. Last and most importantly, it preserves the novel’s spirit of Lovecraftian fear and desire to know the unknown. The only change that I don’t think they needed to make was change the name of the area itself, but that’s a very petty thing to knock it for and at least the new name sounds cool.

The technical aspects of this film are exquisite. The special effects are extremely convincing with creative creature and set designs, aided by gorgeous cinematography and stellar direction. The film is simply beautiful, no two ways about it. Garland managed to bring to screen the haunting beauty of Area-X VanderMeer put to paper. Even as beautiful as the film is, there is still an uncomfortable feeling lingering in the back of your mind. Even as you get lost in the beauty of the environment, what you don’t see may kill you. The spin-tingling moments of tension in the film is aided by the film’s chilling musical score from Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow. The performances from the cast are all really good, especially from Natalie Portman as the lead and Tessa Thompson pulling of a pretty sympathetic and complex role.

Annihilation’s plot is hard to get into without risking giving spoilers away. The trailers have done a good job of keeping the plot as vague and detailed as it needs to be, and I’m going to try to do the same but fix a misconception some may have from the marketing. The plot is not your traditional sci-fi horror story you’ve seen from Alien or The Thing. It’s a much more cerebral, slow-burn plot dealing with heavy themes such as humanity’s tendency to self-destruct, the apathy of nature, and the fear of the unknown that all culminates in one hell of a climax and ending. All of this is aided by an emotional hook from the characters all having damaged personal lives and differing traits that set them apart from each other. That’s all I’m going to give away concerning the plot and characters. If you want to know more, go out and see for yourself.

It’s not a movie whose flaws can be totally forgiven in spite of its outstanding qualities. I didn’t mind the slow pacing because I just got lost in the beauty and wonder of the film, but it probably could’ve gone a bit faster. Nevertheless it at least didn’t get boring. Also some characters are more fleshed out than others and while the special effects are outstanding 99% of the time, there is that 1% that just doesn’t quite work.

Annihilation is a smart science fiction film that deserves to succeed at the box office. It’s definitely a movie that will leave you pondering what it all meant, especially the shocking last act. It isn’t a masterpiece like Blade Runner 2049 or Under the Skin, but it’s a damn good movie that can be viewed in the same light. I highly recommend you give it your money.

Score: 8.5/10

Annihilation review

Author: Jeff VanderMeer

Published: February 2014


Well isn’t this a surprise, I’m reviewing a book this time. Specifically, the first novel of the Southern Reach Trilogy: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer. I first heard about this book when I saw the trailer for the upcoming film adaptation from Alex Garland. I liked what I saw and figured I would read the source material before I see the movie. I didn’t even know it was the first of a trilogy. I started reading it about two days before writing this review, and managed to finish it hours earlier today. It has been a long time since I’ve read something this engaging and well written.

Annihilation is just like a good Lovecraft story, if Lovecraft had managed to write a full book instead of just short stories. Its story is about an all female team consisting of a psychologist, surveyor, anthropologist, and our protagonist a biologist as they venture out into Area-X, an area of land which seems to defy the very laws of science. As the team investigates, things quickly fall apart, but that’s all I’ll say about the story without going into spoiler territory.

Like I said earlier, this has all the trappings of a good cosmic horror story written by H.P. Lovecraft. It involves a group of people dealing with an entity that their minds cannot fully make sense of, no matter what technology they have or investigative tools they use. Area-X is one of the most fascinating, realized locations I’ve witnessed in years. It’s strange, disturbing, and defies any attempts to make sense of it. It is as if it exists in a plane of reality outside of the rest of the Earth. The laws of nature as we know them are not followed in Area-X, with one of the books most memorable scenes being one where our protagonist witnesses some dolphins with a very peculiar trait their species should not have, and numerous ones that takes place in a “tower” that goes underground. Everything in Area-X simply should not be.

On the character side Annihilation doesn’t excel but it works. None of the characters are given names, not even our protagonist, and she’s the only one we’re ever given any insight into. She has a rather unconventional, and at times unsympathetic personality. She’s antisocial, wrapped up in her work, and just seems not to care about the people around her. The novel is entirely from a first person perspective, so we learn about her, and only her. The other characters’ pasts are unexplored. We also only have the protagonist’s knowledge of the area and its wildlife. This is a good way of adding to the fear of the unknown the book has. By the end, the protagonist doesn’t have all the answers, and neither do we.

Annihilation’s single greatest attribute is easily its atmosphere, which is thanks to VanderMeer’s excellent writing. He manages to bring to life the vast loneliness the protagonist feels during the plot, the sadness and isolation given off from the remnants of humanity found in Area-X, and the surrealism of its ecology. While it builds atmosphere, the novel still manages to have an excellent pace to it. Nothing feels padded on or unnecessary, and when I was finished I felt breathless and wanting more.

For all the good things I have to say, Annihilation is not for everybody. While it’s only 195 pages in total and I managed to read through it fairly quickly, it can be a tad confusing at times and the characters aren’t really the focus of the story. You also are left with unanswered questions by the end, which will no doubt leave at least one person feeling cheated. I personally did not mind this because the protagonist finished her own personal journey and since the story is framed as her recounting her experiences, it immerses us into her mindset and maintains the book’s Lovecraftian horror traits.

Annihilation is a great read and has left me feeling even more excited for Alex Garland’s film adaptation. I’m nervous and excited to see if he can make a movie out of such a surreal novel, but if he has to take some liberties to make it happen, then let him do so. It works both as a standalone work, and as the first of a trilogy. I’m eager to read the other two books of the series as soon as I can.

Score: 8/10

The End of the F***ing World review

Writer: Charlie Covell

Cast: Alex Lawther, Jessica Barden, Gemma Whelen, Wunmi Mosaku, Steve Oram

Episodes: 8

Aired: October 24, 2017/ January 5, 2018 (Netflix release)the_end_of_the_fucking_world_title



Stop reading this and go watch this series. I’m serious, here’s your review: It’s great! Give this series the love and affection it deserves.

Fine, if you’re still here, I guess I can give you a more in depth review of The End of The F***ing World and why it’s so awesome. The show originally aired in the United Kingdom, and is now being distributed by Netflix for international release. It’s about two troubled teenagers named James and Alyssa. James believes he’s a psychopath, and intends to finally kill a human being after years of killing small animals, and his intended target is Alyssa, a girl from well to do family with family issues involving her mom and jackass step-dad. Alyssa becomes James’ girlfriend because she sees him as one of the few people she can relate to, and they decide to run away and go on a coming of age road trip, with James debating when and how to kill her. Along the way, they meet all sorts of colorful and disturbed characters and people more twisted than they are, and discover more about themselves.

That’s a plot that has been done before, but never in this fashion. What The End of the F***ing World does differently is through its excellent pacing and having actual stakes. That plot point about James debating how to kill Alyssa I mentioned? It actually gets dropped fairly quickly in the show. What the plot really focuses on is these characters’ growth and relationship with each other, which develops naturally and consistently as it goes on. The episodes are all under 30 minutes long, so you’ll quickly be moving on to the next one, and the next one, and the next one. Episode 3 is where the plot really kicks off and brings some palpable tension to the show that doesn’t let you go. The only negative I can really think of is the cliffhanger at the end, which I’m conflicted on personally. It’s very open ended and can be interpreted in your own personal way, but it also feels like the didn’t know whether to wrap up here or wanted to continue with a sequel series.

In a series where the main focus is two teenagers and the budding relationship between them, they better be well acted and written. Thankfully, the series absolutely excels in these two departments. James and Alyssa are two of the most likable lead characters on T.V. in years, and the most unconventional. James is incredibly disturbing and off putting at first, but as the show goes on, we learn more about him and see that there’s more to him than even he realized. Alyssa instantly has this rebellious charisma that draws you to her, and thanks to a pretty awful home life, also makes her sympathetic. All of which is elevated by fantastic chemistry thanks to the two leads giving excellent, career defining performances. But the show doesn’t just have two great main characters. The side characters they meet on their trip are also memorable and unique. I won’t spoil why because the why is always a twist, but let’s just say Alyssa and James aren’t the only people with issues in this show.

This probably sounds like an unrelentingly bleak show, but it really isn’t. The show has actually has a dark, deadpan sense of humor. James and Alyssa will always make an observation about the situation they are in or about each other, and make a snarky thought about it to themselves. Even the disturbing nature of James and some of the side characters is at times played for comedy, but the show doesn’t just consist of dark humor. It has genuinely emotional moments that range from tragic to touching, because the James’ and Alyssa’s issues aren’t just window dressing for humor, but are genuinely examined to show how they got them, and what they’re doing to solve them.

In terms of directing and visuals, the show has some nice techniques and cinematography. I especially like how when doing flashbacks to James’ childhood, the aspect ratio and lighting would change to give it a home video feel. I also have to praise the show’s soundtrack, which is perfect for the tone and style they’re going for and always plays at the exact right time.

So now that I’m finished, stop wasting your time and watch The End of the F***ing World. It’s a smart, funny, and emotional new show that I think just falters slightly in standing on its own, but also still manages to be great in its own right, and if they do make a continuation count me in.

Score: 9/10

Marvel Cinematic Universe review part 2


Iron Man 3                                                                                                                                            A lot of people hate Iron Man 3, and to be quite honest I cannot for the life of me understand why. This movie is awesome! It continues not long after where The Avengers left off, and actually had the world and characters dealing with the aftermath of the events of that movie. Tony Stark is suffering from PTSD, and the world is uneasy after the whole alien wormhole in the sky appeared over New York City thing. What I especially love about this movie is that it feels both like an MCU movie, and a director’s own movie. It was directed by Shane Black, who gives the film an energy and wit that other Marvel movies don’t have. The action is amazing spectacle, RDJ does his best work as Tony Stark yet, and delivers an entertaining plot with a ton of awesome moments. There’s even a kid sidekick for a portion of the movie that was actually really endearing, most of the time they’re annoying. I know people complain about it having plot holes, but the movie is so damn entertaining that you barely notice them. Yes, Tony giving his address out on national television and not making necessary precautions was stupid of him, but that was the only moment that really stuck out to me. The other complaint I hear is that it changes Iron Man’s most famous villain from who he was in the comics. That in and of itself is not an issue, because the way they handle it is absolutely hilarious and makes for a good plot twist. Nonetheless, I understand how they feel, and the replacement for him is just under run of the mill Marvel villain instead of someone interesting. Despite those issues, it’s still one of the MCU’s best, and is easily the best Iron Man movie.
Score: 8/10

Thor: The Dark World
Another day, another boring Thor movie. It’s as if they never learned a single lesson from the failings of the first one. While it had issues, if they brought the focus back onto the cosmic and mythological elements in a sequel, this could have been really cool. Instead, it manages to take a step backwards from the first one. The boring human characters return, along with the villain being easily one of the worst in the MCU, and instead of exploring interesting and creative environments, we’re stuck with the most drab and unimpressive ones ever. The best elements of this movie are the interactions between Thor and Loki, but they come far too late into the film to make a difference. Thor: The Dark World is a mediocre bore that you should just read the plot on Wikipedia.
Score: 4/10

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
A movie that could have just been another mediocre, run of the mill MCU sequel film turned out to be a movie just as good as The Avengers, and easily one of the better comic book movies in history that nearly matches The Dark Knight. I find it hilarious how detractors will claim Marvel movies take no chances, because it ignores movies they make like these. It was directed by two directors who mainly had experience doing TV episodes, and features a morally grey spy-thriller plot involving political themes of security versus freedom, starring one of the most morally pure superheroes in history. That’s what I would call taking a risk, and boy did it pay off. The plot is extremely well paced and written, with intrigue and conspiracies straight out of a Jason Bourne film, the fight scenes have great choreography featuring practical stunt work and effects, with many action scenes being among the best in the entire MCU. The Winter Soldier is a pretty menacing and compelling rival for Steve Rogers, and seeing Captain America be forced to confront the darker side of the country he has given his life and soul to is compelling character development. Even the score is a step up from other Marvel movies, with The Winter Soldier’s theme being instantly memorable and chilling. The only main complaint I have is that there isn’t enough interaction between Captain America and the Winter Soldier, so the twist to his identity doesn’t have quite as much dramatic gravitas as it could have. Other than that though this is by far one of the best MCU movies, and is a top tier superhero movie.
Score: 9/10

Guardians of the Galaxy
Again, another risky movie that paid off. Marvel took some of their most obscure characters ever, gave it to the director of the R-rated black comedy Super, and dished out an awesome sci-fi adventure. You know you’re movie is going to be a wild ride when it begins with the main character getting abducted by aliens after his mom dies of cancer, and then flashes forward to him dancing to “Come and Get Your Love” by Redbone. The movie never suffers from tonal whiplash though because James Gunn excels at balancing tones. Guardians of the Galaxy’s biggest strength is its characters and the chemistry they have with each other, which manages to carry its rather simplistic plot. Peter Quill is the Han Solo-esque rogue, Drax is a member of a literal minded species, Gamora is the serious one who was enslaved as a child, Rocket is a talking raccoon whose easily the most morally ambiguous of the group, and Groot is a giant, talking tree that can only say “I Am Groot.” They’re all quirky, but they are more than their quirks, being multi-layered and having their own baggage they have to deal with in their own ways. It keeps you invested in their fate as they travel to these creative and interesting worlds that make the universe they inhabit feel alive. What holds it back from reaching true greatness is the villain being a Saturday morning cartoon character, the plot being very simple, and the sense that the movie is concerned with being an introduction to this new world and characters rather than standing on its own. Still, with awesome characters, a creative universe to explore, and a soundtrack that absolutely kicks ass, this movie is very good.
Score: 7.5/10

Avengers: Age of Ultron
If the first Avengers movie was a massive step forward for comic book movies, the sequel unfortunately stagnates. It repeats many of the same plot elements from the first movie: big action scene in the beginning that sets up the rest of the plot, hero versus hero due to mind control, the villain wants to “save” humanity in their own twisted way, a cool down period in the middle of the second act, climax is in a big city, etc. The movie is the most obviously “filler episode” of the MCU since Iron Man 2, more concerned with setting up plot points for future movies rather than standing on its own. It also has one of the most bafflingly out of left field romances I’ve seen featuring Black Widow and Bruce Banner, with not even a little build up to it, and a deus ex machine at the climax because the movie wrote itself into a corner. The more I talk about this movie the more I realize just how disposable and a waste of time it is. It didn’t even have Alan Silvestri return to do the score. Just watch some scenes on YouTube or read about it online. James Spader as Ultron was pretty cool at least.
Score: 4.5/10

Ant Man
This was a refreshing, surprisingly entertaining movie. It is a small, humble heist film with superheroes in it. Scott Lang is an ex con who through a series of events gets recruited into becoming the new Ant Man by Hank Pym, the old one. This was originally going to be directed by Edgar Wright, but creative differences lead to him departing from the project and Peyton Reed stepping in to take over. He did a pretty good job and I’m glad he’s returning to direct the next Ant Man movie. Scott Lang is a very likable and sympathetic protagonist, trying to leave his old life behind and redeem himself for his mistakes so he can be a good father to his daughter. Michael Douglas as Hank Pym was also really good, and serves as a great mentor figure and mirror to Scott Lang. The plot is nothing special, it’s just another heist movie but with some added flavor by adding superheroes and cool moments from Ant Man’s ability to shrink and communicate with ants, and the villain is yet again another generic evil businessman with a personal vendetta, like the first Iron Man movie. The villain even fights the hero in a suit that also mirrors the hero’s, just like Obadiah Stane from Iron Man. Humor wise it’s a pretty funny movie and the humor doesn’t get in the way of the dramatic moments, and there were even a few scenes with their editing style and quick pace felt like Edgar Wright directed them, but they didn’t feel out of place or inconsistent with the movie’s overall direction. It could have been better, but it is still an entertaining movie that did try to add some new flavor to the market, and I’m interested in what a sequel can do.
Score: 6/10