Friday, May 29, 2015

STAR WARS MONTH: Post #5: Top 10 Favorite 'Star Wars' Video Games


There have been numerous ‘Star Wars’ games that have come out over the years. Many have been based on the films themselves while others have focused on original stories that, along with the books, TV series, etc., continue to expand the massive ‘Star Wars’ universe. There have been over 100 licensed ‘Star Wars’ games that have come out since the year 1979. And while LucasArts, the company that produced many of these games, is no longer an active video game developer following Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm, the company’s legacy still stands thanks to quite a few of their biggest hits. Now obviously not all of the games have been ‘good’. There have been some notable clunkers, like the poorly controlled fighting game ‘Masters of Teras Kasi’ or the infamous ‘Star Wars Kinect’ that featured the even more infamous ‘Galactic Dance Off’ mode that warranted a double take from any ‘Star Wars’ fan who caught a glimpse of it. But today, thankfully, we won’t be looking at those games. Instead, I’ll be listing my Top 10 personal favorite ‘Star Wars’ games. To be perfectly honest, when I was first planning ‘Star Wars Month’, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to do a full Top 10 list for this topic because I hadn’t played (or owned) many ‘Star Wars’ games at that time. But, thanks to a deal on Steam, I was able to buy a whole bunch of ‘Star Wars’ games for a good cost, effectively allowing me to actually do this post after all.

So before I begin, let me just lay out some quick disclaimers. Like I just stated, I haven’t played every single ‘Star Wars’ game that has ever come out, either because I don’t own them or because I don’t have a really easy way of playing them (in the case of the latter, primarily if it was made for an older gaming system). This list only consists of the ones that I personally played, so if you don’t see one of your favorites on here, that’s basically the reason why. So no, you won’t be seeing games like ‘Empire at War’ or the ‘Super Star Wars’ trilogy on SNES on this list. Also, due to certain complications that I’ve faced, which I’ll be discussing momentarily, one certain critically acclaimed ‘Star Wars’ video game will only be listed as an Honorable Mention for that reason. And finally, like I always say whenever I do a Top 10 list, just remember that this is just my personal opinion and this is not meant to be a ‘definitive’ Top 10 list of the ‘best’ ‘Star Wars’ games. If you disagree with how I rank certain games, that’s fine. Just please be respectful if you post something in the comments. So now that I’ve gotten all of that out of the way, here are my Top 10 personal favorite ‘Star Wars’ video games. But first, let me get that Honorable Mention out of the way.

HONORABLE MENTION: STAR WARS: KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC (2003)


Before you say anything, let me explain why this critically acclaimed RPG from BioWare (the same studio behind the ‘Mass Effect’ series) is only an Honorable Mention. It isn’t because I don’t like the game, because I do. It’s a well-crafted RPG with excellent visuals, incredibly memorable characters, an interesting story taking place in the age of the ‘Old Republic’ (4,000 years before the events of the prequels), and a well-balanced combat system. The reason why this isn’t on my Top 10 list is simple… I haven’t completed it yet and unfortunately there’s actually a troubling reason for this. Once I got onto the planet Dantooine, where my character becomes a Jedi, the game’s graphics really started to glitch up. I don’t know why this is occurring nor do I know how to fix it, but the graphics become very erratic, producing a series of brown lines that frequently obscure the screen to the point where I can’t even see where I’m going. To make matters worse, the game tends to crash at this point… this has happened to me quite frequently. So at the moment, I haven’t really gotten that far into ‘Knights of the Old Republic’ and I haven’t really played a lot of the sequel, ‘The Sith Lords’, either. If I hadn’t been dealing with these graphical and crashing issues then I would assure you that this game would be near the top of my list. But unfortunately I have… so I can’t go any higher than ‘Honorable Mention’.


10. LEGO STAR WARS III: THE CLONE WARS (2011)


Starting in 2005, LEGO partnered with Traveller’s Tales to create a new line of action-adventure video games featuring various licensed properties that the company owned, from ‘Harry Potter’ to ‘Lord of the Rings’ to Marvel and DC Comics. But this series first got started with arguably the company’s biggest licensed property; ‘Star Wars’. And in 2011, the third installment of the ‘LEGO Star Wars’ franchise was released; ‘LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars’. Based off of the hit animated series of the same name, ‘LEGO Star Wars III’ is similar in gameplay to the other installments of the franchise. Players progress through levels fighting enemies and solving puzzles. You can play as one of many characters from the ‘Clone Wars’ universe, each of whom have their own unique set of abilities. For example, Jedi can double jump and use the Force while non-Jedi characters can use their guns as grappling hooks to swing across platforms. The levels in the game are based around key episodes of Season 1 and 2 of ‘The Clone Wars’. And after completing the game’s story mode, you can go back and replay the levels in Free Play to collect all 10 of the Minikits in each level. Usually in these LEGO games, collecting all 10 Minikits in one level usually results in them being put together into an artifact related to the game’s franchise, like vehicles in ‘Star Wars’ or ships in ‘LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean’. But in ‘LEGO Star Wars III’, there is a little added incentive to collecting them this time as they will unlock classic characters from the franchise, including Luke, Han, Vader, etc…

Overall, ‘LEGO Star Wars III’ doesn’t do too much different from its fellow LEGO games of the same nature, save for some new minor gameplay features along with a pretty neat graphical upgrade that actually results in more characters appearing on screen. Seriously, there are literally times where there is a whole army of droids on the screen at one time, which is a ridiculous but also pretty cool sight. Also, obviously because these games are geared towards a younger audience, these games are… fairly easy. Still, as someone who was a huge fan of LEGOs growing up and still generally is a fan of the brand, I enjoy these games for their charm and humor, the latter of which has been a staple of the franchise since ‘LEGO Star Wars II’. The only thing that holds this one in particular back from being one of the best, though, is this rather annoying ‘conquest’ style mode of gameplay. Basically, similar to something like the ‘Battlefront’ games, the main goal in these levels is to capture enemy bases. Why is this the weakest part of this game? Because it takes forever to complete just one of these levels. You have to traverse a generally large battlefield, at a rather slow pace I might add, and destroy every single object occupying an enemy base. And you can’t destroy them all right away because some are gold and silver objects that require different weapons to destroy them (e.g. rapid-fire guns to destroy gold objects, and ‘large explosives’ to destroy silver objects). To make matters worse, in some of these levels you have to beat them in a certain amount of time. In the end, though, ‘LEGO Star Wars III’ is another solid addition to this ‘LEGO Star Wars’ franchise despite some of its flaws.

 
9. STAR WARS: STARFIGHTER (2001)


A pretty underrated entry in the library of ‘Star Wars’ games, ‘Starfighter’ is a space combat game similar to the ‘Rogue Squadron’ series. Its story mode, which takes place during the events of ‘Episode I: The Phantom Menace’, has you playing as three different characters; Naboo Corps pilot Rhys Dallows, mercenary Vana Sage, and pirate Nym, as they attempt to stop the Trade Federation from taking over Naboo. It’s the same general premise of ‘Rogue Squadron’. You fly around each level fighting waves of enemies completing objectives that range from destroying an enemy base to protecting cargo ships in escort missions. It’s generally easier than ‘Rogue Squadron’. I found that I was flying through (no pun intended) these missions pretty fast. But overall, it’s still very enjoyable to play just like its more successful twin franchise. I played this one on the PC and the graphics were nicely polished (for the time, of course) and ran smoothly, which was good. The controls were solid and generally easy to follow and quite frankly it’s just fun to fly a starship in the ‘Star Wars’ universe. I’m not going to do much comparisons to the ‘Rogue Squadron’ series though I think it’s safe to say that you’re probably going to get more out of those games than this one in terms of overall content. Still, if you manage to find this game somewhere for a good deal, I say it’s worth checking out as it is a fun little entry in the ‘space combat’ genre.


8. STAR WARS: DARK FORCES (1995)


In all my years, I never thought that I would ever play a game from the MS-DOS era of computer games on a modern laptop… and yet that’s exactly what I did with ‘Star Wars: Dark Forces’. ‘Dark Forces’ is a first-person shooter in which you play as mercenary Kyle Katarn, who undergoes various missions for the Rebel Alliance. The game officially begins with him stealing the plans to the Death Star, a mission that is set to be the premise for the upcoming spin-off film ‘Rogue One’ albeit under a different scenario. Anyway, in this first installment of what would become a major video game series of the ‘Star Wars’ franchise, Kyle investigates into the development of a new line of cyborg storm troopers known as ‘dark troopers’. Now obviously, the graphics have dated quite a bit in the 2 decades since its initial release. Still, in 1995, this probably might have been a landmark in terms of what computer games looked like at the time. Not only that, but this game has a pretty nice soundtrack utilizing the classic film music of John Williams. Nowadays, the game looks fine enough as is given the time it was made. The FPS gameplay is pretty solid though as far as the mission objectives in each level are concerned, at times it can be a pain in the butt just trying to figure out where to go. It also doesn’t help that in certain levels you have to use night-vision goggles because you can’t see s*** without them unless you waste some of your ammo. So in short, ‘Dark Forces’ is a pretty entertaining installment in the ‘Star Wars’ lore and a nice early entry in the FPS genre.


7. STAR WARS: SHADOWS OF THE EMPIRE (1996)


One of the very first games for the Nintendo 64, ‘Shadows of the Empire’ was part of a multimedia project, which also included a novel, a comic series, and a toy line, among other things, that was meant to test the possibilities of a feature film release through the creation of a storyline set in between the events of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ and ‘Return of the Jedi’. While ultimately a film adaptation of this story was never made, it did lead to the development of both the re-releases of the original trilogy in 1997 and the subsequent prequel trilogy. So in other words, I bet there are people out there who basically blame this whole project as being responsible for all of the ‘bad things’ about ‘Star Wars’ in recent years, namely the many changes made to the original films and the lesser quality of the prequel films. But because I’ve already talked about both of those things in previous ‘Star Wars Month’ posts, I’m not going to go any further into this and instead of the game. In it, you play as mercenary Dash Rendar who, after partaking in the Battle of Hoth, attempts to take down Prince Xizor, the head of a major crime syndicate who tries to get Luke Skywalker killed so that he can take Darth Vader’s place as the Emperor’s apprentice.

Like ‘Dark Forces’, ‘Shadows of the Empire’, which was only released a year later, has admittedly aged quite a bit. This third-person shooter’s controls are pretty darn stiff compared to what we see nowadays; you can’t even strafe to avoid enemy fire. Still, this game does manage to serve as a nice piece of nostalgia for both ‘Star Wars’ fans and someone like me whose favorite video game console is the Nintendo 64. Many have said that after this game’s opening level, in which you pilot a snow speeder taking down AT-ATs (an awesome sequence, by the way), the game never really shines in anyway after that. I don’t 100% agree with that as there are some really awesome things you do in this game after the first level. In the following level, you take down a frigging AT-ST by yourself without the use of a ship. And then later on in the game, you fight Boba Fett… and after you beat him, you fight him again only now he’s in his ship, Slave I. Also in some levels you can fly around using a jetpack. So overall the game isn’t ‘a total letdown’ after its undeniably awesome first level; it’s just that, like ‘Dark Forces’, this genre has come a long way since then in pretty much every single aspect. But at the end of the day, ‘Shadows of the Empire’ is still pretty fun and did help pave the way for the future of 3-D gaming.


6. STAR WARS EPISODE I: RACER (1999) + STAR WARS: RACER ARCADE (2000)

N64 Version

While we all know how a lot of people were disappointed with ‘Episode I: The Phantom Menace’, one of the best moments in the film was the pod racing scene. And one of the best things that came out of this great scene was not one, but two great racing games in the form of ‘Episode I: Racer’ for home consoles and ‘Racer Arcade’ for, of course, arcades. Both games are pretty much the same thing; a ‘Star Wars’ pod racing-themed racing video game except the arcade version has you trying to complete the race before time runs out (basically the general concept of any arcade racing game). The arcade game only has four courses but utilizes a unique steering system with two levers that are used to both steer your podracer and to speed up and slow down. It’s definitely a fun and simple arcade game and the same can be said for the home console version as well. This one doesn’t have you complete the race under a time limit but it does offer more courses that vary in difficulty… and to put it quite simply, some of them are pretty darn challenging. You can also upgrade your podracer so that it will perform better in races using money that you can earn by winning races. You can even set the rules for how the money is distributed at the end. There were a lot of great racing games for the N64, including the ‘Cruisin’ games, ‘Diddy Kong Racing’, and of course, ‘Mario Kart 64’. ‘Star Wars Episode I: Racer’ is another fine addition to that fine collection of N64 racing games.

Arcade Version

5. STAR WARS: ROGUE SQUADRON II: ROGUE LEADER (2001)


Now we move to the highly popular ‘Rogue Squadron’ series, which got its start in 1998 with the first installment of the series, simply titled ‘Rogue Squadron’, which was released for both the N64 and PC. But in this spot, we’re moving ahead to the second installment, ‘Rogue Leader’, one of the launch titles for the Nintendo GameCube in 2001. This is ultimately because of one main reason; I think it’s the better game (disclaimer: I have not yet played the third game in the series, ‘Rebel Strike’). It’s nothing against the original ‘Rogue Squadron’ as it is a really well-made space combat game. It’s just that ‘Rogue Leader’ improved on some of the shortcomings of the first game. For one thing, being that it’s on a more powerful console, the graphics run much more smoothly. But the biggest improvement is the addition of command controls, allowing the player to give instructions to their fellow pilots, which range from attacking certain targets to lining up in formation. This was not a feature of the first game where, to be perfectly honest, your wingmen really didn’t help you that much in combat, meaning that you basically had to do all of the work by yourself, which is especially hard in missions where you have to protect convoys from enemies, which quite frankly made up quite a lot of the missions in the game.

Just like its predecessor, ‘Rogue Leader’ puts you in the shoes of both Luke Skywalker and Wedge Antilles as they partake in missions as part of the elite starship group ‘Rogue Squadron’. The missions in ‘Rogue Leader’ follow the plot of the original trilogy films pretty darn well. Aside from some missions taking place on planets we didn’t see in the films, other levels have you flying in the Battles of Yavin, Hoth, and Endor, attacking both Death Stars and taking down AT-ATs on Hoth. There’s also a ton of cool bonus content to unlock in this game. Aside from the game’s main 10 levels, you can also unlock some bonus levels in which you get to pilot the Millennium Falcon and, in some levels, even get to play as Darth Vader in attacks against the Rebels. You can also unlock new ships to use in the missions, including the Falcon and Boba Fett’s ship, the Slave I. With a code, you can even turn one of the A-wings into a 1969 Buick Electra 225. Yes, you can actually fly a real-life car in space, which is definitely a pretty darn hilarious sight to behold. This was also a special feature in the first game though from what I’ve personally seen, it seems like trying to use it in the first game ends up causing it to crash… so you’re much better off using it in the second game. And ultimately, due to some of the things that it does to improve on the first game, which let me reiterate is still a really fun game to play, I believe that ‘Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader’ is the best of the ‘Rogue Squadron’ games (that I’ve played).


4. LEGO STAR WARS: THE COMPLETE SAGA (2007)


We now return to the world of ‘LEGO Star Wars’ as we look back at the first two installments of this franchise. In 2005, the first installment of the series, and first LEGO game produced by TT Games, ‘LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game’, had you play through the prequels. A year later, the sequel was released, ‘LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy’, this time having you play through, obviously, the original trilogy. Both games are pretty entertaining to play, but overall the second game was the better of the two. And no, I’m not saying this just because it is based around the original trilogy and not the prequels, a comparison that I’ve found that some critics have made in their reviews. It’s just a case where the sequel improved upon the already solid first game, adding in new features such as the ability to build objects out of LEGOs, ride vehicles in the main story levels and, to put it bluntly, much stronger vehicle stages because the ones in the first game… were quite frankly the weakest part of the game. The sequel would also be the first in this line of LEGO games to bring a comedic spin to the game’s Story Mode cut-scenes, which became a trademark of TT Games’ LEGO video games. Another year after the release of ‘LEGO Star Wars II’, a third game was released but this time instead of it being a brand new game (that wouldn’t come until 2011), it combined the two previous games together into one, resulting in ‘LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga’.

Now I did own both ‘LEGO Star Wars’ and ‘LEGO Star Wars II’ before owning ‘The Complete Saga’. And with that said, there’s really not much of a reason to buy ‘The Complete Saga’ if you’ve already owned the first two games. They basically just combined the two games into one without really changing any of the levels that much. Sure, they added in the new features from the sequel to the levels of the first game, but they still maintain the same general layout. There’s only two new levels introduced that were previously cut from the first game; this includes a level where young Anakin accidentally ends up participating in a starship battle against a Trade Federation ship in ‘Phantom Menace’ and one in ‘Attack of the Clones’ where you chase bounty hunter Zam Wesell through Coruscant (it should also be noted that in the first game, ‘Attack of the Clones’ had the least amount of levels, with only five compared to the six levels for both ‘Phantom Menace’ and ‘Revenge of the Sith’). But if you haven’t played the first two games, then I recommend you go for this one as, to put it quite simply, it offers the most content. And as I just noted earlier, it updates the levels from the first game by implementing the great new features of the second game. And ultimately, that’s why ‘The Complete Saga’ is the best of the ‘LEGO Star Wars’ games; it has the most to offer for anyone who hasn’t already bought the first two games. But as I noted earlier, if you already have the first two, you don’t need to buy this one.


3. STAR WARS TRILOGY ARCADE (1998)


And now we’re heading back into the arcades with one of my all-time favorite arcade games, ‘Star Wars Trilogy’. Following in the footsteps of 1993’s ‘Star Wars Arcade’, this game puts you right in the middle of iconic moments of the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy, from attacking the Death Star in ‘A New Hope’ to taking down AT-ATs on Hoth in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ to speeding through the forests of Endor in ‘Return of the Jedi’. Not only that, but if you complete those missions, then you get to duel with Darth Vader on the Death Star and fight Boba Fett on Tatooine. This on-rail shooter had excellent/solidly responsive controls and a great overall presentation in the main missions, perfectly capturing the feel of these iconic ‘Star Wars’ moments. The controls are a little clunkier when you get to the light saber sections of the game (in other words, the Vader and Boba Fett boss fights) but it’s still pretty cool to fight two of the most famous villains in the ‘Star Wars’ universe. All in all, ‘Star Wars Trilogy Arcade’ is the best of the ‘Star Wars’ arcade games (that I’ve personally played_ and if you’re able to find it somewhere, which I’m guessing is rather harder nowadays given the decline of arcades and the implementation of newer games in any arcades that are still around, then be sure to give it a go because it’s not only one of the best Star Wars games ever but also one of the best arcade games period.


2. STAR WARS: JEDI KNIGHT- JEDI ACADEMY (2003)


While I have the feeling that many prefer ‘Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast’, I haven’t played much of that game so instead I’m going with its sequel, ‘Jedi Academy’, the fourth installment in the ‘Jedi Knight’ franchise that originally started with the previously listed ‘Dark Forces’. In this installment, you play as a new Jedi in training named Jaden Korr who undergoes various missions fighting members of a Sith Cult known as ‘The Disciples of Ragnos’. I mean, I basically just listed the main reason why this game is so awesome already. You get to be a Jedi training under both Luke Skywalker and Kyle Katarn. You get to build your own light saber and also get to acquire special force powers, some of which are tuned to the ‘light’ and ‘dark’ sides of the Force. What ‘Star Wars’ fan wouldn’t want to do that? Now admittedly the game can get a little repetitive at times due to the numerous amount of missions you have to play through, most of which don’t really seem to be too connected to the story that much. That and it feels like this game really likes to do missions set in a desert location… a lot. But the fact that you’re playing as a badass Jedi more than makes up for it. I haven’t played any of the game’s multiplayer yet but it looks fun enough, especially considering that there’s a mod out there on the internet that allows players to play through key set pieces of the ‘Star Wars’ films called ‘Movie Battles’. So in short, ‘Jedi Academy’ is another awesome addition to this solid set of games that make up the ‘Jedi Knight’ series.


And finally, Number 1…

1. STAR WARS: BATTLEFRONT II (2005)


I’ve only played the original ‘Star Wars: Battlefront’ once and even then it was only for a few minutes. However, I’ve played its sequel much more, so much so that I actually have it for both the PS2 and PC, though at the end of the day I mainly recommend the PS2 version. ‘Battlefront II’… is just straight-up fun. You get to partake in large-scale ‘Star Wars’ battles as one of four factions; Galactic Republic, Separatists, Rebel Alliance, and the Empire, on one of the many planets of the ‘Star Wars’ universe, from Hoth to Endor to Dagobah to Coruscant and so on and so on. There are quite a few game modes to play through, including Capture the Flag, Hunt, and Conquest, but basically the primary goal is to destroy all of the enemy soldiers in a battle before they take out all of your soldiers. In Conquest Mode, that primarily consists of you, using six different types of soldier classes per faction, attempting to capture enemy bases while your opponents try to capture your bases. If one side captures all of the bases on the battlefield, then the battle will end after a few minutes. If that doesn’t happen, whoever takes out their opponent’s entire force of soldiers will win. While ‘Battlefront II’ maintains the same general premise/gameplay as its predecessor, this is a case similar to ‘Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader’ and ‘LEGO Star Wars II’ in that it ends up being the better of the two thanks to the great new additions to the already rock solid gameplay.

First off, there’s the additional gameplay modes added in including Capture the Flag and Hero/Space Assault modes, which adds some welcome variety to the game’s multiplayer mode. Speaking of heroes, this game also includes a special class that allows you to use iconic characters from the franchise, from Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Obi-Wan Kenobi to Darth Vader, Darth Maul and Darth Sidious. This was a feature of the first game but it was very limited in execution as you could only play as one specific hero per faction. The single-player campaign mode is much more story-driven than the first game as you play as members of the 501st Legion of Clone Troopers who take on various missions for the Republic and, later on, Galactic Empire. Aside from that, the same primary single-player modes from the first game return as well, including ‘Galactic Conquest’, in which the player commands their fleet through the galaxy and tries to take control of planets and then protect them if the enemy tries to take control for themselves, and ‘Instant Action’, which pretty much speaks for itself. But probably the best new addition to ‘Battlefront II’ are the Space Battles, in which players try to destroy enemy ships. You can destroy key parts of the enemy ship and even fly into the enemy hangar to try and sabotage the ship’s internal systems. This may just be my favorite part of the game.


A decade after the release of ‘Battlefront II’, this popular franchise is set to make a comeback in the form of ‘Star Wars: Battlefront’, developed by DICE, the company behind the ‘Battlefield’ series, and set to be released this November. Because I’m a big fan of ‘Battlefront II’, I’m looking forward to this new game but there are a few things that make me worried about it. The first is that DICE previously attracted quite a lot of controversy when the initial release of ‘Battlefield 4’ was plagued by numerous bugs and glitches. But perhaps the biggest glaring issue is the severe lack of content compared to the previous game. There are going to be less maps than the previous games and will only feature four planets, not counting the planned DLC pack including the planet Jakku, which will be introduced in ‘The Force Awakens’. There isn’t a Campaign Mode, Galactic Conquest, or Instant Action mode and you can only play as characters from the original trilogy era of ‘Star Wars’, not the prequels. And finally… no space battles. This is an unfortunate example of current practices of the gaming industries, in which full-priced games are being released with questionable amounts of content probably due to publishers rushing the game’s development time so that it can be released at a certain date. Hopefully the gameplay will be on par with ‘Battlefront II’ because as of right now, I have to admit that I’m very, very hesitant about this game.

Yep... not very promising...


So that’s the last of my ‘Star Wars Month’ posts this May. There will be an extra post by Matt in the next few days in which he’ll list his own personal Top 10 favorite games but this is the last major ‘Star Wars’ post from me until my review of ‘The Force Awakens’ when it comes out in December. I’d personally like to thank all of you for joining me on this month-long look-back on this iconic franchise that many of us love so much. And of course…  

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Tomorrowland (2015) review

Tomorrowland poster.jpg

If I were to list my Top 10 favorite directors currently working today, Brad Bird would definitely be at the top of the list. While this former animator’s directorial filmography is rather short with only four films to his name before this year, he’s like Christopher Nolan or post-‘Alien 3’ David Fincher in that he’s yet to make a bad film. And quite frankly, all of his films are pretty much masterpieces. His directorial debut, ‘The Iron Giant’, unfortunately was a flop at the box-office when it was first released in 1999 but thankfully has gotten the attention it deserved in recent years. Thankfully his next two films were much bigger hits as he cranked out two of Pixar’s best films to date, 2004’s ‘The Incredibles’ and 2007’s ‘Ratatouille’. And in 2011, Bird made the bold leap from animation to live-action, immediately striking gold with his live-action debut, ‘Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol’. Now he’s back with Disney and teaming up with ‘Lost’ creator Damon Lindelof for ‘Tomorrowland’. No, it’s not a film that’s based off of the themed land found in most Disney parks. It’s instead a tale of optimism inspired by Walt Disney’s vision of the future, resulting in a truly original film… that at the moment is getting generally trashed by critics. This film currently has just a 49% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Well believe me when I say that this is not a ‘49% on RT’ film… far from it. It’s a bold, ambitious and, most of all, truly captivating sci-fi film that provides us something that we’ve sort of lost in recent years… hope.

During the 1964 New York World’s Fair, aspiring kid inventor Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson) tries to show off his newest invention, a jetpack, to the heads of the fair. While his creation is generally ignored, he attracts the attention of a young girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy), who leads him to a futuristic utopia known as ‘Tomorrowland’. In the present day, optimistic teen Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), the daughter of one of NASA’s engineers (Tim McGraw), gets into trouble with the law when she attempts to prevent NASA from taking down the Cape Canaveral launch site. When she gets out on bail, she finds a mysterious pin among her things which, unbeknownst to her, was ‘given’ to her by Athena. When she touches it, she finds herself ‘transported’ to the same fantastical world of ‘Tomorrowland’. But after the pin ‘runs out of power’, she tries to find a way to ‘get back’. Her quest ends up leading her to the grown-up Frank (George Clooney), who’s become fairly pessimistic and disenchanted with the place as it is revealed that he got ‘kicked out’ some time ago. When the two of them suddenly find themselves being hunted by robotic ‘police’, Casey and Frank, along with Athena, begin searching for a way to return to Tomorrowland. Along the way, Casey soon learns that she could be ‘the one’ who is capable of fixing the future of Earth as we know it before time runs out.

First of all, let me make something clear. Despite being called ‘Tomorrowland’, this film is not about the theme park land that shares its name. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the futuristic utopia in this film is never once actually referred to by name as ‘Tomorrowland’. Not only that, but despite being inspired by Walt Disney’s ideas of the future, Disney himself isn’t brought up once by name either despite what certain advertisements of the film, especially an international trailer that made it seem like the theme park ‘was just a cover for the real thing’, may have claimed. So if you’re thinking that this is just nothing more than a ‘marketing gimmick’ by Disney to promote the company… it isn’t. Instead, ‘Tomorrowland’ is an enthralling sci-fi story based around the ideals of optimism and hope for the future, two things that have definitely been lacking in our current society in recent years.  At the same time, Bird and Lindelof also made sure not to rush into things too quickly when it came to the utopian world that they created. In other words, this film is more about the journey to the location than it actually is about the location itself. As a result, this film was solidly paced and had great build-up. I was completely engaged by it from start to finish.

On that note, let’s talk about the third act of this film, which has basically been the most divisive aspect of the film amongst critics. This seems to be a recurring thing with Damon Lindelof’s work… his endings always piss people off (see ‘Lost’ and ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ for further proof of that). Now while I’ll concur that the final pay-off may not have necessarily been as strong as the filmmakers had hoped, personally I don’t see why this ending is ‘as bad’ as some people have been claiming it is. From what I’ve been reading online, apparently a lot of the backlash towards this ending is due to the reveal of who the main ‘villain’ is. But the thing is… I kind of already knew who it was going to be going in anyway because there were certain articles online that were building the character up as such. Ultimately, the real problem with this reveal is that the character in question only plays a generally minor role in the overall story. This character is seen at the beginning of the film and then is not seen again until the third act. So in short, this film’s villain is fairly underdeveloped. But it’s not like it ruins the movie or anything as everything else in the film more than makes up for it. It’s just like with the Marvel Cinematic Universe films and their villains. The villains of the MCU may not necessarily be the most memorable or well-written villains ever but it’s not like the films are supposed to be all about them. And to me the same rule applies with ‘Tomorrowland’. Everything else in the film is so great that I can forgive the film for not having the ‘best’ of endings.

This film just has so many great talented people working on it, both behind and in front of the camera. The latter of which is especially true when talking about this film’s excellent cast, especially its trio of leads. Of course we all know that George Clooney is going to be good in this film because, well, he’s George Clooney. And he is great in this, as he really gets into the role of the generally pessimistic curmudgeon that is older Frank while still managing to maintain his trademark charm. But it could argued that the biggest standouts of the film are actually his two younger co-stars. Britt Robertson truly shines in the role of Casey, perfectly capturing the character’s unbreakable sense of optimism while also giving her charm and spunk, which leads to some fun back-and-forth banter between her and Clooney. The other major standout is Raffey Cassidy as Athena, a total bad-ass of a character who, according to Cassidy herself in a featurette for the film, is basically ‘like a ninja’. In other words, Athena may just be the best character in the entire film. Hugh Laurie, who plays David Nix, the ‘Governor’ of Tomorrowland, is good as well though he’s not really in the film that much… which may or may not tie back to what I was talking about earlier.

So sure, ‘Tomorrowland’ may not be the absolute best-written sci-fi film ever made. I do understand that a lot of people were frustrated with this film’s third act but me personally, while I do concur that it’s a little under-developed, I don’t think that it ruined the movie at all. Everything else about the film more than made up for it. That includes, among other things, the beautiful cinematography by Claudio Miranda, the excellent score, as expected, from Michael Giacchino, Bird’s, also expected, top-notch direction, and a spot-on cast highlighted by two excellent performances from its young leads, Britt Robertson and Raffey Cassidy. But perhaps the most important aspect of ‘Tomorrowland’ is its great message of hope and optimism for the future. And let me tell you folks, based on what I see here on the internet on a daily basis, that is something that we sorely need right now. So because of this, I highly recommend, hell I implore you to go see this film. I assure you that it is nowhere near as bad as its 49% rating on Rotten Tomatoes suggests. In other words, this is definitely going to end up being one of the most underrated and underappreciated films of the summer. I know I’m going to be in the minority on this but I don’t care. Not only is this one of the best films I’ve seen so far this summer, but this is also one of the best films that I’ve seen so far this year. How appropriate then that it came from one of my favorite directors currently working today; Brad Bird. And if you can, just like his last film ‘Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol’, try to see it in IMAX because this film’s gorgeous visuals are truly a sight to behold on those big IMAX screens.  


Rating: 5/5!

Friday, May 22, 2015

STAR WARS MONTH: Post #4: 'Clone Wars' TV Series (2003-05/2008-14)


Over the years, ‘Star Wars’ has come quite a long way from its original film roots, allowing the franchise to expand upon its universe in ways that the films couldn’t really do in around two and a half hours a piece. However, with the development of the new film trilogy and its spin-offs (or, to be more precise, ‘anthology’ films), it was announced that nearly all of the Expanded Universe material that had been released over the past few decades is basically now considered to be non-canon. Despite that, the amount of non-film ‘Star Wars’ content that fans have enjoyed over the years still remains. You have your video games (more on some of those next week), numerous book series, and of course, a whole bunch of TV series. Now today I’m not going to be looking at every single ‘Star Wars’ TV series because otherwise this could take me a while, way past this month of May. Instead I’m just going to focus on two series, the two of which that I grew up with in the early 2000’s. Ironically, both share the same name, ‘Clone Wars’, but in terms of execution both are very different from each other. I won’t be reviewing the two ‘Star Wars’ series, both animated, that ran before I was born; ‘Star Wars: Ewoks’ and ‘Star Wars: Droids’, both of which ran from 1985 to 1986 and were developed by Nelvana. Also I’m not covering the current series on Disney XD, ‘Star Wars: Rebels’, because I haven’t had much time to watch it. However, I may consider doing a bonus post for these three series sometime after Star Wars Month is over. But for now, let’s look back on the last two major ‘Star Wars’ animated series; 2003’s ‘Clone Wars’ and 2008’s ‘The Clone Wars’.

STAR WARS: CLONE WARS (2003-2005)


First up we have 2003’s ‘Clone Wars’, a traditionally animated TV series (or mini-series to be more precise) created by Genndy Tartakovsky, the legendary animation director behind classic series such as ‘Dexter’s Laboratory’ and ‘Samurai Jack’. That high quality body of work translates well for this top-notch animated take on the ‘Star Wars’ universe. The animation in the show is excellent, perfectly capturing the overall creative style of the franchise. There’s a bit of 3-D animation utilized from time to time but for the most part the 2-D style is maintained throughout the entire series. As I noted earlier, this series is more like a mini-series. The first 20 episodes are only 3 minutes each and, similar to Tartakovsky’s ‘Samurai Jack’, some contain little to no dialogue. But one of the best aspects of this series is that not all of these episodes are focused around the main characters of the series (e.g. Anakin, Obi-Wan, etc…). We also see many of the other members of the Jedi Council in action on different worlds, like Mace Windu, Kit Fisto, and Yoda. This really helps in letting us truly get a sense of how large this universe really is instead of just being limited to wherever the series’ main characters visit. That’s nothing against the films, it’s just that it’s really cool to see new sides to the ‘Star Wars’ universe that we haven’t seen before. Basically, it’s like watching a series of ‘Star Wars’ vignettes.


I only have one little complaint with this series and that is regarding Season 3, which basically was the primary set-up for ‘Revenge of the Sith’ as it ended with the kidnapping of the Chancellor by General Grievous, which led of course to the opening sequence of Episode III where Anakin and Obi-Wan head off to rescue him. Instead of three-minute episodes, Season 3 consisted of only 5 episodes that were 12 minutes each. But that’s not the issue I have with this stretch of the show. Instead, my issue with Season 3 is that I feel that it kind of veered a bit too much into comedic territory. Now for the record, that’s not really a bad thing because really that’s basically what ‘Star Wars’ should be; a fun but also light-hearted space adventure. But the thing about this ‘Clone Wars’ series is that there wasn’t really a lot of ‘comedic’ moments in the first two seasons of the show and if there was, they were fairly subtle in their execution. In Season 3, these moments are much prevalent and I feel that this kind of doesn’t gel too well with the overall tone of the first two seasons. But that’s only a minor complaint as the 2-D ‘Clone Wars’ series is truly one of the finest animated series of its time, as its great animation and writing do a phenomenal job at capturing the same atmosphere as the films they are based around.

Overall Series Rating: 4.5/5

STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS (2008-2014)

(Disclaimer: Unfortunately due to a lack of time, this ‘review’ will not be covering the entire series. But like what I said in the intro in regards to the other major ‘Star Wars’ series, I promise that I’ll try to get around to finishing this series in the future. But for now I can only cover the first two seasons of the show.)


Three years after ‘Clone Wars’ ended, a new ‘Clone Wars’ series made its debut in the form of ‘The Clone Wars’, this series created by George Lucas himself and supervised by animation director Dave Filoni. This time, it was a 3-D animated series instead of the traditional 2-D animation but overall the same general idea of the ’03 series still remains. Namely, the fact that it maintains a generally broad focus on the ‘Star Wars’ universe by showcasing various events and battles that took place in the three years between ‘Attack of the Clones’ and ‘Revenge of the Sith’. And of course, like with the previous show, not all of them primarily revolve around the series’ main characters (e.g. Anakin and Obi-Wan). Like the ’03 series, this series does a great job at expanding upon the ‘Star Wars’ universe and is not limited to just being set on just a few planets and focusing only on characters like Anakin and Obi-Wan. Now technically speaking, Anakin and Obi-Wan are still the main characters but there are literally some episodes where they don’t appear at all or at the very least only make a small cameo. This allows for some characters that didn’t really play that big a role in the films, namely most of the members of the Jedi Council, to have more substantial roles in the series, even if most of the time it’s just for a few episodes at a time.


Now the series actually first got started with a theatrical release in 2008, simply titled ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’, in which Anakin and his new Padawan Ahsoka Tano set out on a mission to rescue the kidnapped son of Jabba the Hutt. Originally meant to be the first four episodes of the series, these four episodes were then merged into a feature film after George Lucas had suggested that it’d be good enough for a theatrical release. However, when the film was released, it got heavily bashed by critics, getting even worse reviews than the prequels. And to be perfectly frank, they’re pretty right in that regard. This is basically just a TV movie; heck, the first 20 minutes or so of the film has nothing to do with the overall ‘plot’ of the film. It’s just that this is where Anakin is introduced to Ahsoka so obviously it needed to be in there just because it was necessary. The animation during the action sequences is fine enough but when the film shifts to non-action sequences, it does kind of drop a bit in quality. Overall, I’m not really as critical on the film compared to most but at the same time, it really shouldn’t have been a feature film as it’s much more in line with a TV movie in regards to its execution. Even Filoni has admitted that he wasn’t happy with the final product. As is, this film is perfectly fine for kids as it is technically geared towards them. Adults, on the other hand, are more than likely not to get a lot out of this film.

(Rating: 2/5)

Thankfully the series has turned out much better based on the first two seasons of the show that I’ve watched so far. The series may still be geared towards kids but there’s much more for adults to enjoy here, namely stronger writing and well-developed characters. That and I’ve been told that it does get a little darker in later seasons, which sounds interesting. Most of the episodes are generally stand-alone stories but there are some instances where there are a few small story arcs like the ‘Malevolence’ and ‘Ryloth’ ‘trilogies’. There wasn’t really much of an overarching theme in Season 1 but Season 2 is based more around the bounty hunters of the universe, even including an appearance by the perennial fan-favorite, Boba Fett. Overall, this may seem like the series is rather unfocused in regards to story but like I said before, I do like that this series isn’t just focused on only a few characters when you have a universe as big as ‘Star Wars’. Though with that said, it’s kind of annoying that the episodes aren’t actually in chronological order in regards to the order in which they originally aired. One episode in Season 1 literally takes place before the events of the film and yet it was like the 16th episode that aired on TV. Overall, the animation is much better here than it is in the film. I mean technically speaking it’s the same style of animation that a lot of critics of the film found to be ‘wooden’ but I feel that it’s much more fitting for a TV series instead of a feature film.


One of the great advantages of this series is that it does improve on some of the shortcomings of the prequels. For example, the overall ‘brotherly’ relationship between Anakin and Obi-Wan is much more defined. Not only that, but arguably the series’ greatest advantage is that it has the best Anakin to date in regards to film and TV appearances. As I stated last week, I’m not as critical on Hayden Christensen’s performance as Anakin in the prequels as most people are. But with that said, Matt Lanter deserves a lot of credit for giving the ‘Clone Wars’ version of Anakin much more personality, something the character was sorely lacking in the prequels. The ‘Master-Student’ relationship between Anakin and Ahsoka is also pretty solid, especially due to the fact that Ahsoka generally has the same ‘brash’ nature of her master (note: I’m aware that some of her best moments occur in the later seasons, particularly Season 5). One of the other things I really like about this show is that it actually takes time to give some personality to the Clone Troopers. Of course, because these are ‘Clones’ that are easily mass-produced on the planet Kamino, they’re generally meant to be a rather expendable group of characters. But in ‘The Clone Wars’, there are some episodes, like ‘Rookies’, ‘The Hidden Enemy’, ‘Innocents of Ryloth’, and ‘The Deserter’, that are directly focused on certain Clone squadrons/characters. And quite frankly those are some of my favorite episodes of the series as they really did manage to give humanity to these generally dispensable characters. Even more impressive is the fact that they’re all voiced by the same actor, Dee Bradley Baker, who somehow manages to differentiate between them all.   

So like I mentioned earlier, I haven’t able to watch the entire series in time for this review. And from what I’ve read online, some of the series’ best episodes are from the later seasons. But as is, the first two seasons of ‘The Clone Wars’ are still pretty damn good. I actually did watch the first season when it first aired on TV in 2008 but then I kind of lost interest and didn’t watch it after that. But after re-watching the first season again, as well as watching the second season for the first time, ultimately I must say that ‘The Clone Wars’ is a really nice addition to the ‘Star Wars’ franchise, even if the series’ feature film adaptation didn’t really help it get off on the right foot. The animation may not be the absolute best when it comes to animated series, but it works pretty well as is, especially in regards to the series’ action sequences. Like its 2-D animated predecessor, it does a really nice job of expanding upon the ‘Star Wars’ universe while also improving on some of the shortcomings of the prequel trilogy, namely featuring a much stronger Anakin and for giving personality to the typically expandable Clone characters. I’m not going to compare either of these two ‘Clone Wars’ series because they’re both pretty damn good. And if you want to check them out for yourselves, the ’03 series is on YouTube and the ’08 series is on Netflix, including a special 6th season that was released exclusively to Netflix after the series was, in the minds of many fans, prematurely canceled following the acquisition of Lucasfilm by Disney.  

Overall Rating based on First Two Seasons: 4.5/5


So those are my reviews of both of the ‘Clone Wars’ series. Again I apologize for this post being rather incomplete due to me not having watched the entirety of the ’08 series, but I promise that I’ll try to get around to finishing this series (as well as looking at the other major ‘Star Wars’ animated series) in the future. As for now, check back next week for the final post of ‘Star Wars Month’ in which I list my Top 10 personal favorite ‘Star Wars’ video games.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) review


2015 is shaping up to be a year full of iconic franchises returning to the big screen after a considerable amount of time. And while of course you have your ‘Star Wars’ and your ‘Jurassic Parks’, there’s another franchise that’s making a big return this year; ‘Mad Max’. What started out in 1979 as a low-budget Australian film from director George Miller soon turned into a film franchise with some of the most acclaimed action films of all-time. This includes the original ‘Mad Max’, which also became one of the most profitable films of all-time, and its sequel ‘The Road Warrior’, which was even more well-received than its predecessor in regards to critical reception. The third film, ‘Beyond Thunderdome’, wasn’t as well-received as the first two films but still did solid enough with critics, though fans were a little more critical. Now, 30 years since the release of ‘Beyond Thunderdome’, director George Miller returns to his post-apocalyptic franchise with ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’, though it’s the first entry in the series to not star Mel Gibson in the title role of ‘Mad’ Max Rockatansky. Instead, Tom Hardy takes over the role, joined by Charlize Theron in an equally important role as far as this film’s story is concerned. And like its predecessors, it’s been getting rave reviews from critics. Hell, to be perfectly frank, it’s probably the most critically-acclaimed summer blockbuster in a long time. But in the end, while, let me be clear, I did like the film, ultimately I can’t say that it’s an absolute ‘masterpiece’ compared to what, well, everyone else is saying.

In a post-apocalyptic world that is dominated by desert, drifter Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is taken captive by ‘the War Boys’, a cult army led by the tyrant Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who had previously played the villain Toecutter in the original ‘Mad Max’). Soon after this, one of Joe’s lieutenants, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), starts to head off-course while on a job to collect gasoline. Joe quickly discovers that she is actually escaping with his Five Wives; Splendid, Capable, Toast, Dag, and Cheedo (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Zoe Kravitz, Abbey Lee, and Courtney Eaton, respectively), five young women who were chosen specifically for breeding in the hopes of him being blessed with a new heir. Joe immediately sends out his army after her, with Max being dragged along due to the fact that he’s currently serving as a blood donor for one of the War Boys, Nux (Nicholas Hoult). Max soon catches up with Furiosa and agrees to help her bring the Wives to safety. So, with a whole army on their tail in this post-apocalyptic wasteland, Max and Furiosa try to get the Wives to ‘the Green Place’, a location that Furiosa states that she originally came from where they can be free from Immortan Joe’s clutches.

This film is worth seeing just for its action sequences and visuals. According to Miller, 90% of the stunts in the film were practically done, which is a very impressive feat in this modern age of visuals effects/CGI. Because of this, all of the stunts in this film are awesome as are the visuals. There’s literally one guy in Joe’s army who’s on a truck that has a bunch of drummers on the back of it playing a flame-spewing guitar. That alone should give you an idea of how crazy the production design is for this movie. And really, the film definitely lives up to the ‘Mad’ part of its title, showcasing a chaotic post-apocalyptic world that is almost entirely devoid of sanity. But while the film definitely delivers on a technical level, the same can’t really be said for its writing. Now with that said, because this film is primarily one big chase scene, I do recognize that the filmmakers were probably more focused on the action/visuals than they were with the story and characters. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing as the action and visuals are incredible. It’s just that the film is focused so much on the chase that there are only a few scenes where the action slows down and we get some bits of character development. I wish that the film spent just a little more time developing its characters because aside from like two of them, most of the characters are fairly underdeveloped. This includes the main villain Immortan Joe, who’s more intimidating in presence than he is in actually doing anything in this film, and, I hate to say it, even Max himself.

The film may be called ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’, but Mad Max isn’t the main character of the film… and because of it, Tom Hardy is quite frankly underused. He’s a fine choice for the role and does a good job based on what he has to work with. But as far as the story is concerned, he really doesn’t play that integral of a part in the overall story. It’s just a case where he was dragged into a situation that he didn’t initially cause in the first place. In reality, Furiosa is the main character of the film whereas Max, dare I say it, is rather forgettable. But on the bright side, Furiosa is the main character of the film. Charlize Theron absolutely owns it in the role of what is easily the best female character in an action film since Ellen Ripley in ‘Aliens’. Furiosa is just a total badass who’s able to hold her own in combat alongside Max and Theron’s so good in this that I’d be perfectly fine with her getting nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress. That’s how great she is in this. All of the Five Wives are pretty good as well, especially due to the fact that they’re not just ‘objects’ for the heroes and villains to fight over. They get down and dirty in the chase just as much as Max and Furiosa. Finally, the other big standout is Nicholas Hoult as Nux. Like Theron, Hoult really owns his role of the insane but also rather innocent War Boy, a description perfectly summed up by the scene in which he, while driving through a raging sandstorm that’s already taken out a few of his allies, shouts “Oh what a day! What a Lovely Day!”

I went into this film with a completely fresh point of view as I have not actually seen any of the previous ‘Mad Max’ movies. With that in mind, if anyone is worried about not seeing any of the other films before this one, you don’t need to worry about that too much because this is ‘technically’ a series reboot that doesn’t really tie back too much to the previous films. But ultimately, I was not as big a fan of ‘Fury Road’ compared to, basically, the rest of the internet. And let me be clear; I didn’t hate the film. The action sequences, which of course were pre-dominantly done with practical effects/stunt-work, are impressive and the film has some amazing visuals, primarily thanks to the film’s eye-popping production design. Not only that, but Charlize Theron really shines as Furiosa, one of the best female action film leads of all time. But at the end of the day, I wish that the filmmakers had spent a little more time developing the story and characters. I recognize that this probably wasn’t what they were going for but it would’ve been nice to have a little more story/character development for any character that is not named Furiosa or Nux. And while this film may have been called ‘Mad Max’, Max is arguably the most forgettable main character in the film. So yes, I only ‘liked’ the film; I didn’t ‘love’ it. I recognize that I’m pretty much in the minority on that one. But if you loved this film more than I did, then the more power to you. It’s just that, not having seen any of the other ‘Mad Max’ films, this wasn’t really one of my most anticipated films of the year. And while I made sure not to let that influence my opinion on the film, ultimately I just wasn’t as blown away by it as everyone else.

Rating: 4/5


Friday, May 15, 2015

STAR WARS MONTH: Post #3: Prequel Trilogy (1999-2005)

(Disclaimer: The following post will likely be highly controversial for many people given the general reception of the ‘Star Wars’ prequels. With that in mind, I ask that you please refrain from posting any disrespectful or trolling comments. Just remember that this is all just opinion-based. Thank you!)


Following the release of the final film in the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy, ‘Return of the Jedi’, in 1983, George Lucas had planned to do a sequel trilogy. However in 1987, after most of his money was lost in a divorce settlement between him and his ex-wife Marcia Griffin, who had been an editor on ‘A New Hope’ and ‘Return of the Jedi’, Lucas decided to cancel this planned sequel trilogy. However, years later, as ‘Star Wars’ continued to maintain its popularity thanks to various things like a comic line by ‘Dark Horse’, a trilogy of novels by author Timothy Zahn, and numerous fan-made films inspired by the series, Lucas decided to start development of a new trilogy after all. But this time, he decided to go backwards in regards to the story and do a prequel trilogy, which would tell the story of how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader. The first film in the new trilogy, ‘The Phantom Menace’, was released in 1999 and the hype leading up to the film’s release was insane. Fans were super excited to see a new ‘Star Wars’ film for the first time in 16 years. But of course, as we all know, all of that anticipation ultimately ended up majorly backfiring on audiences. Sure, this new trilogy of films didn’t get ‘terrible’ reviews from critics but audiences, or more specifically ‘Star Wars’ fans, were far more negative towards them to the point where nowadays they’re pretty much the most hated series of films on the internet.

So with all of that said, some of you might be expecting me to join in on the bandwagon against these films, denouncing them as the terrible trilogy of films that they are that were responsible for ‘ruining’ the franchise. But believe it or not, that’s not what I’m going to do here today; far from it. Even though I recognize that I’m obviously in the extreme minority on this, I’m not afraid to admit the following; I do like the prequels. Now let me be very clear, I don’t think that they’re ‘as good’ as the original trilogy. But at the same time, in all seriousness, they’re not ‘as bad’ as the internet has put them out to be. I’ve seriously seen some people actually refer to these films, mainly the first two, as ‘the worst films of all time’, which is the very definition of an overblown statement. Sure, they have their problems, no doubt about that. But despite all of this, at the end of the day they’re still ‘Star Wars’ films. They still have that same feel and atmosphere to them… minus the great writing of the original trilogy, but still. So today, on Rhode Island Movie Corner for ‘Star Wars Month’, I’ll be looking at this prequel trilogy that most people despise with a burning passion. More specifically, I’ll be discussing the main reasons why this prequel trilogy didn’t work as well as its predecessors… and not always the reasons that the internet primarily likes to target. So without further ado, here are my thoughts on the ‘Star Wars’ prequels. 

STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999)


We all know what went down with this film. It was, and probably still remains as, the most anticipated film of all time. The hype for the film was ridiculous to the point where some people actually bought full-price movie tickets just to watch the trailer for the film and then leave right after that. That just shows how much people were excited for this film. There probably will never be another film more anticipated than this one… well, except for ‘Force Awakens’ but let’s just hope that we won’t have another ‘Phantom Menace’ on our hands as far as audience reaction is concerned. Yet at the end of the day, despite the fact that at the end of its initial run it grossed over $900 million at the box office and would join the billion dollar club when it was re-released in 3-D in 2012, it ended up disappointing a lot of fans and you can still see that today, more than one and a half decades since it first hit theaters. But is it really ‘as bad’ as the internet constantly puts it out to be? As much as I know that some people are really, really going to disagree with me, I can safely say that… no, no it isn’t. Heck, it even isn’t the weakest of the ‘Star Wars’ films, which we’ll get to later.

But before I get into the main reasons why ‘The Phantom Menace’ didn’t work as well as it did, I’m going to debunk two of the main aspects of the film that some people really like to highlight as being the ‘main’ problems with the film when in reality that’s far from the truth. The first of these is Jake Lloyd as young Anakin Skywalker. You really do have to feel bad for this kid given all that he’s gone through since the film’s release. He had the opportunity to be in one of the biggest franchises of all time in the crucial role of Anakin Skywalker. And yet because the film ended up disappointing a lot of fans, suddenly he became a scapegoat for the film and he’s had to live with that ever since. I mean, okay yes I do agree that maybe Anakin should’ve been older instead of being a nine-year-old… but I don’t think Lloyd’s performance is ‘that bad’. I mean, I give him some slack because he was just a kid and let’s face it, George Lucas isn’t really the best ‘actor’ director out there. The other big scapegoat, and boy am I really going to piss off some people here, is Jar Jar Binks. Internet, you REALLY got to get over Jar Jar. For the record, no I’m not defending him as a character. He was clearly a misfire of an attempt by George Lucas to be the film’s source of comic relief. But for god’s sakes, folks, he is not the main problem of ‘Phantom Menace’ for crying out loud. That’s like saying ‘Emo Peter’ is the main problem of ‘Spider-Man 3’. Neither of those arguments are true.

So what is the actual main problem with ‘Phantom Menace’? It’s quite simple, really… the writing just wasn’t up to par with the previous three films. It’s basically a case of style over substance. Sure the visuals are nice and all, but that comes at the expense of the story and the characters. A story based around ‘trade negotiations’ and ‘treaties’ is a little too ‘political’ for a ‘Star Wars’ movie. And then when you get to the characters, there are so many ‘main’ characters in this film that we don’t really have a ‘main character’ in the vein of Luke to follow. It’s not Qui-Gon because, spoilers in the extremely unlikely case you haven’t seen this 16-year old film, he’s killed by Darth Maul in the final duel. It’s not Obi-Wan because he spends a lot of time just sitting around doing nothing up until, again, the final duel. And it’s not really Anakin either because he doesn’t show up until 45 minutes in. Many people, like YouTube personality ‘Belated Media’ (I’ll provide links to his excellent ‘What if Episodes I and II were Better?’ videos below; They really do set up a great outline for what could’ve been really awesome ‘Star Wars’ films), make the argument that Obi-Wan should’ve been the main character through it all and that Darth Maul, the villain who was well set-up and then was wasted by being killed off at the end (for now we’ll ignore his appearances in other forms of ‘Star Wars’ media, including ‘The Clone Wars’), should’ve been the primary antagonist for Obi-Wan given the fact that he killed Qui-Gon… and I agree.

So with that said, are there good things in this film? Yes, there are. Despite not really having the best material to work with, Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor both do fairly solid jobs as Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, respectively; McGregor in particular really stands out as one of the best elements of the whole prequel trilogy. As noted earlier, the visuals are still pretty solid. Though with that said, re-watching this film on Blu-Ray makes it clear that a lot of the visuals are really starting to show their age. The whole pod-racing sequence is pretty entertaining (it did lead to a great video game spin-off), and the final fight between Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, and Darth Maul is easily one of the best lightsaber duels in the entire franchise even if it may not necessarily have the same emotional depth as the duels in the original trilogy. Ultimately, I’ll say this; I’m not saying that ‘The Phantom Menace’ is the absolute best entry in the ‘Star Wars’ franchise; it isn’t. But believe when I say that this is not ‘the worst film ever’ as some people on the internet like to refer to it as. Does it have problems? Yes it does, but this just goes to show what happens when you overhype a film too much… it’s not going to please everyone and unfortunately this may happen again with ‘Force Awakens’. I’ll admit that I may be a little biased towards this film as it was the first ‘Star Wars’ film that I ever watched in theaters. I went to go see it in 2012 when it was re-released in 3-D and before you say anything, I never saw the original trilogy when it was re-released in theaters in 1997 (I was 2 at the time) and never saw any of the prequels during their original theatrical releases, so this was my first real opportunity to see a ‘Star Wars’ film in theaters.

Rating: 3.5/5

STAR WARS EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES (2002)


Ultimately, despite its problems, ‘The Phantom Menace’ actually isn’t the weakest of the ‘Star Wars’ films to date. That ‘honor’ instead belongs to its sequel, ‘Attack of the Clones’. Because while ‘Attack of the Clones’ does make some improvements in the wake of its predecessor’s shortcomings, it brings in a whole new set of problems that are actually much more prevalent than the ones in the ‘Phantom Menace’. So first, let’s get the ‘post-Menace’ improvements out of the way. The story is much more focused than it was in the original and is not all about trade negotiations and treaties, though of course the political aspect of the story is still there; thankfully not as much in this one. Also in this film, instead of having too many main characters to the point where there actually wasn’t any distinguishable ‘main’ character, this film limits its primary protagonists to the trio of Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Padme. And again, the visuals are fine for the time. Though with that said, it should be noted that this was the start of a trend for the prequels as nearly every major sequence in the film was primarily shot in front of a blue-screen; in other words, most of the environments were computer generated. Sure, they look nice and polished but it’s a lot more obvious and, to put it bluntly, fake-looking. Though to ‘Clones’’ credit, it isn’t as egregious in its use of CGI environments compared to its sequel, as there still were ‘some’ real locations used, like Spain and Italy for scenes on Naboo and the Tunisian desert for scenes on Tatooine.

So what’s the big issue with the film? Well, it mainly stems from the film focusing a bit too much on the growing romance between Anakin and Padme. Now I get what Lucas was trying to do; he was trying to mirror the romance between Han and Leia in the original trilogy. That’s fine, but in execution it’s nowhere near as good as it was with Han and Leia. The romantic dialogue is, well… the line ‘I don’t like sand’ should give you an idea of what it’s like. And ultimately leads Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman don’t really have as great a chemistry as Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford did in the original films. Portman was unfortunately wasted here and basically the whole trilogy in general and as for Christensen, well, I’m not going to be as harsh on him as the rest of the internet is because, let’s face it, most of the big names of the cast, like Samuel L. Jackson and Christopher Lee, don’t really get off any better because, as noted earlier, Lucas really isn’t that great of an actor-director. With that said, though… yeah they could’ve gone with a better choice for Anakin. I mean, we could’ve gotten Leonardo DiCaprio in the role and even with Lucas’ direction I believe that DiCaprio would’ve turned out much better.

But the other big issue of the film, again, comes from the romance in that, as I noted earlier, they spend WAY too much time on it, so much so that the middle section of the film is mostly just Anakin and Padme being all romantic on Naboo. But because of the mediocre dialogue and the fact that this romance is generally bland, that means that the film drags… quite a bit. I mean sure, there are some fairly entertaining action sequences from time to time, namely the scenes between Obi-Wan (once again, Ewan McGregor is one of the few ‘shining spots’ of this cast) and bounty hunter Jango Fett, father of original trilogy bounty hunter Boba Fett (or I guess in this case, his ‘clone son’). But for the most part, most of the best action sequences in the film occur near the end, including the first action sequence involving Yoda. Dare I say it? Even ‘Phantom Menace’ didn’t drag as much as this film. So as is, I hate to say it but ‘Attack of the Clones’ is easily what can technically called the ‘worst’ of the six live-action ‘Star Wars’ films to date. Now let me be clear; I don’t ‘hate’ it. Despite all that I’ve said here, this is still a ‘Star Wars’ movie and it still has that ‘Star Wars’ feel that still shines through even in the weakest entries in the series. But even with that said, there’s a lot of things that bring ‘Attack of the Clones’ down, even more so than ‘Phantom Menace’.

Rating: 3/5

STAR WARS EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH (2005)


After two less-than-stellar entries in the ‘Star Wars’ franchise with ‘The Phantom Menace’ and ‘Attack of the Clones’, the prequel trilogy at least ended on a high note with ‘Episode III: Revenge of the Sith’. ‘Revenge of the Sith’ is easily the best entry in the prequel trilogy. While it does still have some of the issues that have plagued the entire trilogy, namely some less-than-stellar writing in certain scenes, it does a much better job in feeling more like a ‘Star Wars’ film. This is the best of the prequel trilogy when it comes to visuals, which have aged much better than in the previous two films. Though with that said, as I noted earlier, I’m pretty sure that there wasn’t any actual practical set locations used during filming save for background location shots. Part of me is amazed at how a film like this is able to do that and how the actors are somehow able to make it look believable even though, during filming, they didn’t really have anything to work off of. The whole Obi-Wan-General Grievous sequence was basically just Ewan McGregor working against a green-screen wall. Though even with the whole predominantly green-screen visuals in mind, the action sequences are pretty darn solid, including the duel between Yoda and Darth Sidious and the climactic final duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan, even though the latter goes on maybe just a bit too long.

‘Revenge of the Sith’ was the first entry in the series to rated PG-13. While it’s safe to say that the main reason for this was due to the scene at the end where Anakin gets heavily burned by lava, the film does maintain a generally darker tone than the other films in the franchise. Overall, I liked that the film did take this route as it did make sense given the darker nature of the story with Anakin’s downfall, turn to the dark side, and ultimately his transformation into Darth Vader. With that said though, at times the film is perhaps just a bit ‘too dark’. I mean, keep in mind that this is still a franchise aimed at a generally younger audience and yet there’s a scene where Anakin kills young Jedi. Sure it happens off-screen so we don’t actually see it happening but did we really need to see that in a ‘Star Wars’ film? No, no we didn’t. So in the end, while I can’t really say that ‘Revenge of the Sith’ is ‘as good’ as any of the original three ‘Star Wars’ films, it is definitely the best of the prequel trilogy. It still carries over some of the issues from the last two films, namely in regards to writing, but those aren’t as big of a problem here as they were in the previous two films. The ‘Star Wars’ prequel trilogy may not have turned out as well as many ‘Star Wars’ fans had hoped but if anything, it at least ended on a better note than when it first started.


Rating: 4/5

'What If Episode I was Good?' by Belated Media: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VgICnbC2-_Y

'What if Episode II was Good?' by Belated Media: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JAbug3AhYmw

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Season 2 (2014-15) Review

(WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD)


I’m forever going to be disappointed by the fact that ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ didn’t get the attention it deserved when it first debuted in September 2013. I guess you can say that it was just due to overly high expectations being that this was the first time that the Marvel Cinematic Universe had taken a step into the superhero TV series market, a market that, obviously, they had no prior experience with. The bottom line, though, is that overhyping anything (movies, TV shows, boxing matches, etc…) is never a good thing and quite frankly that is why I think the show didn’t get a lot of positive buzz early on. But being a fan from the get-go, I stuck with it in the hopes that the show would be able to prove its biggest critics wrong. Thank god then for ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’. Not only was it one of the MCU’s best films to date, but it also gave this show the much-needed boost that it needed with its big twist revolving around HYDRA’s takeover of S.H.I.E.L.D.. That of course carried over to ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ as the characters now found themselves in a very dangerous situation unsure of who to trust and without many of their fancy S.H.I.E.L.D. resources to help them. While I will always defend the first half of Season 1 as being better than most people gave it credit for, suffice it to say that the show really got going after the big HYDRA reveal and thanks to it, we S.H.I.E.L.D. fans were graced with another season of this great show.

So now with Season 2 of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’, the stakes are obviously much higher for newly appointed director of S.H.I.E.L.D., Phil Coulson, and his team. Not only do they have to deal with the remaining forces of HYDRA that are still out there, but now they must operate while they’re fugitives of the government due to the fact that, at the end of ‘Winter Soldier’, all of the organization’s secrets were leaked to the public by Captain America and his team in their attack against HYDRA. But as Coulson and his team soon find out, there’s a lot more for them to deal with this season than just HYDRA. Not only do they soon come into conflict with a different faction of S.H.I.E.L.D. that is heavily opposed to Coulson’s methods but also a new race of beings with special powers known as ‘the Inhumans’. These Inhumans are primed to get their own film adaptation in the MCU in 2019. But thanks to this series, people like me who were unfamiliar with this group (similar to how most people were probably not familiar with ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ when their film adaptation was first announced) are given a proper introduction four years early. It may seem like a lot for one show to handle in just a single season, but thanks to the great writing, well-rounded characters, and phenomenal cast, Season 2 of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ effectively allows this series to finally take its rightful place as a true force to be reckoned with amongst the current crop of superhero TV series. 


At the end of Season 1, after defeating the organization known as Project Centipede and their leader, ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. turned HYDRA agent John Garrett, Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) was promoted to the role of Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. by Nick Fury and tasked with rebuilding the organization following its fall into disarray after the events of ‘Winter Soldier’. As Season 2 begins, Coulson and his team; Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), Skye (Chloe Bennet), Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker), Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), Antoine Triplett (B.J. Britt) and new members Lance Hunter (Nick Blood) and Bobbi Morse (Adrianne Palicki) begin to hunt down the remaining forces of HYDRA. While this is going on, Coulson, who has been compulsively carving alien symbols as a result of the GH-325 drug that was used to resurrect him after he was killed by Loki in the first ‘Avengers’, discovers that these symbols are actually a map to a mysterious city. Not wanting HYDRA to find it first, Coulson and his team begin to search for it in order to uncover its secrets. But once they do, the situation is forever changed when Skye suddenly gains new powers as a result of a mysterious object known as ‘the Diviner’. As the revelation of these new powers start to test the relationships between her and her teammates, she soon gets involved with the group of beings, known as the Inhumans, who are also given special powers like her. But soon their peaceful way of life is put into jeopardy when S.H.I.E.L.D. discovers their secret safe haven.

Now that the odds are very much against Coulson and his team, the stakes are definitely much higher than they were back in Season 1. Simply put, a lot of things happen during this season; HYDRA, Inhumans, ‘the real S.H.I.E.L.D.’, etc. It may seem like a lot for just one season but the show does a really nice job at balancing all of these storylines out while still maintaining enough focus on its main characters. And with the introduction of the Inhumans, a whole new fascinating side to the Marvel Cinematic Universe is revealed, with Skye, who is revealed to be the character ‘Daisy Johnson’ (AKA Quake) from the comics, being impacted the most out of any character on the show. Since the first season, Skye has always been one of my favorite characters and this revelation really helps her character grow even more as she tries to come to terms with her newfound powers. As this series has gone on, I’ve realized that one of the best elements of the show has been the relationship between Skye and Coulson, which has a very noticeable ‘father-daughter’ feel to it thanks to Gregg and Bennet’s great chemistry. Though this does make things a little more complicated with the introduction of Skye’s real parents; her father, mad doctor Cal (Kyle MacLachlan), and her mother, fellow Inhuman Jiaying (Dichen Lachman). The whole storyline with Cal in particular is really one of the best parts of the season, as MacLachlan really shines in the role of Skye’s crazed father while at the same time also making us feel sorry for him at times given the fact that he just wants to be with his family again.


One of the other great things about this show is that there are many times where it has this` ‘morally gray’ vibe to it. One of the key themes of the series is how at times we question if S.H.I.E.L.D. is doing the right thing, especially now that the whole ‘HYDRA took over S.H.I.E.L.D.’ reveal has come into play. Not only that, but there are many instances where the main characters begin to question their teammates’ motives. Skye’s transformation and the introduction of what its members refer to as ‘the ‘real’ S.H.I.E.L.D.’ are obviously the major examples of this but while those two situations are primarily based around Coulson and Skye, that doesn’t mean that they’re the only ones who get attention in this show. As I noted last season, the original six leads were all developed incredibly well with a great ensemble cast to play them. And this season continues that streak, as every main member of the group gets their own chance to shine. This includes a crucial episode that finally revealed the secret behind May’s past (and why she got the nickname ‘The Calvary’) and the numerous occasions where we, the audience, were hit with the feels as Fitz struggles to overcome the injuries that he was stricken with at the end of Season 1 thanks to Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), his former teammate who was revealed to be an agent of HYDRA. And oh yeah, we can’t forget Ward, who’s still a factor in all of this out with his agenda. 

The new additions to the cast are also excellent. The new additions to the main cast, Nick Blood and Adrianne Palicki, pretty much immediately make a great first impression. While Hunter’s true allegiances were put into question in the first few episodes, thankfully that doubt was put to rest and he officially joined the team. And like Gregg, Bennet, and many other Whedon regulars before him, Blood easily becomes well-versed in the Whedon-esque style of dialogue, resulting in him getting a lot of the best lines in the show. As for Palicki, she immediately makes one hell of a first impression in her debut episode in the role of the badass Bobbi Morse AKA Mockingbird. As I noted a few days ago in my Spoiler Post for ‘Age of Ultron’, this is just further proof that Marvel has actually done a really excellent job with their female leads, especially the ones on their TV shows. It’s also good to see that, compared to DC after the whole fiasco with the canceled ‘Wonder Woman’ series, Marvel has given Palicki much better treatment as far as her role in ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ is concerned. This season also gave us a number of memorable ‘S.H.I.E.L.D. adversaries’, including Whedon vet Reed Diamond as Dr. Daniel Whitehall, MacLachlan and Lachman, as noted earlier, as Skye’s parents, and Edward James Olmos as Robert Gonzales, one of the heads of ‘the real S.H.I.E.L.D.’.


Big changes came to ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ following the release of ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ and that has helped the series quite a lot. Story-wise, the whole ‘HYDRA’ twist gave the series the boost that it needed to stand toe to toe with the other big superhero TV series currently on right now, namely CW’s one-two punch of ‘Arrow’ and ‘Flash’. To put it simply, quite a lot of things happened this season. We were introduced to the Inhumans, Skye was revealed to be one of them, and the characters’ relationships were put to the test in the increasingly morally gray world that is the ‘post-Winter Soldier’ Marvel Cinematic Universe. And based on how Season 2 ends, it’s safe to say that Season 3 is going to be even bigger, with Ward taking control of HYDRA for ‘closure’ (AKA revenge) against S.H.I.E.L.D. and the reveal that a bunch of crystals containing the substance known as the Terrigen Mist, which mutates anyone who is an Inhuman (and kills anyone who isn’t), has been leaked into the ocean, has been consumed by fish, and has finally been transferred into fish oil pills. Oh yeah and let’s not forget to mention the beast of a cliffhanger at the very end of the finale when Simmons is sucked into the mysterious Kree weapon that S.H.I.E.L.D. had found that could’ve been used to destroy the Inhumans. Seriously, can Season 3 come any sooner?

Final Season Rating: 5/5!

And now, just like I did last season, here are my Top 5 favorite episodes of the season but of course, first let’s start with the Honorable Mentions…

SHADOWS


Season 2 got off to a really nice start with the premiere episode, ‘Shadows’, which effectively showcases how much things have changed for Coulson and his team since we last saw them at the end of Season 1, with Coulson now faced with the task of trying to rebuild S.H.I.E.L.D. after the whole HYDRA fiasco. But the most interesting thing about this episode is that, for the first episode of the new season, it didn’t really end on a high note for the protagonists. The bulk of the episode has them going after a mysterious object known as the Obelisk but even though they do acquire it, it is then immediately taken from them by Carl ‘Crusher’ Creel, a man who has the ability to absorb the properties of whatever he touches and who also kills a few S.H.I.E.L.D. agents in the process, including Agent Hartley who’s played by Lucy Lawless in a very brief ‘cameo’ (she does return later on in a flashback in the episode ‘One Door Closes’). This episode also illustrates the fact that now, as the title suggests, S.H.I.E.L.D. must act ‘in shadows’ now that they can’t rely on the government to help them anymore. All in all, this episode perfectly highlights both the heightened stakes and the darker turns to come out of this second season.

A HEN IN THE WOLF HOUSE


Early on in the season, Simmons had gone undercover at HYDRA but in this episode, her cover is at risk of being blown when HYDRA learns about the situation, while not immediately realizing that she is the mole within their system. Simmons tries to maintain her cover but attracts the suspicion of agent Bobbi Morse. Thankfully, Morse is revealed to also be a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent working as a mole in HYDRA and helps Simmons escape from HYDRA’s forces once they learn that she’s the mole. This episode is one of the best primarily thanks to Morse’s bad-ass introduction. And as noted earlier, it’s nice to see that Adrianne Palicki got a much more substantial role as far as superhero TV series are concerned after the fiasco surrounding the unaired ‘Wonder Woman’ pilot she starred in.

AFTERSHOCKS


‘Aftershocks’ was the first episode of the 2015 run of the series, following the ‘Agent Carter’ mini-series, and was coming off of an episode where, to put it quite simply, a lot of s*** went down. One of those events was the tragic passing of Tripp and his death is felt throughout this episode, especially when the team starts to argue with each other over the situation. But of course the other big part of this episode is Skye’s initial dealings with the powers she acquired while down in the secret Alien city. When Fitz discovers this, he keeps her newfound abilities secret from the rest of the team, especially after Simmons remarks that people like Raina (Ruth Negga), who was also ‘changed’ by the Terrigen Mist along with Skye, should be ‘put down’. Speaking of Raina, we also see her struggle with her new mutation which gives her a thorn/spike-like appearance (and yes, there is a ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ reference in a later episode). I’d also like to point out that this may actually be the most violent episode of the series to date as we do see blood spatter when Raina kills a few S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. All in all, you really felt the weight of all that happened in the last episode here, and that’s why it’s another stand-out episode from this season while continuing to build up the debut of the Inhumans.

WHO YOUR REALLY ARE


And that was followed by another solid episode in the form of ‘Who You Really Are’, which featured a cameo by Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander), who suddenly arrives on Earth suffering from amnesia. The amnesia is so bad that she doesn’t even remember who Thor is. But anyway, in this episode, S.H.I.E.L.D. aids Sif in tracking down a Kree who is hunting down whoever was recently affected by the Terrigen Mist; he’s also the one responsible for Sif’s amnesia. Of course, as we all know, that person just so happens to be Skye, whose powers are finally revealed to the team sans Fitz due to him learning about it in the last episode. She is nearly killed by the Kree but he is defeated by Morse. This, however, changes things as now the rest of the team start to become fearful in regards to her new abilities. The relationship between Fitz and Simmons is also strained due to Fitz not telling Simmons the truth though as noted earlier, given the fact that in the last episode she said that she believed that people like that should be put down, can you blame him?

FACE MY ENEMY


One of the best earlier episodes of the season, ‘Face My Enemy’ has Coulson and his team going undercover at a fundraising event in order to find a painting that has the same alien symbols that Coulson has been carving engraved on it. Sort of a ‘Mission Impossible/Avengers’ (not those Avengers, for the record; the British TV series ‘The Avengers’) style plot, the episode started off with some fun banter between Coulson and May, including one of the rare times May is seen laughing, which she immediately follows up with by telling Coulson “her face hurts”. But the best part of the episode is the final fight between May and Agent 33, who had taken on May’s voice and appearance with the help of special S.H.I.E.L.D. technology. Simply put, it’s a fight between Ming Na and Ming Na and it’s one of the best-shot action sequences of not just the season, but the whole series. This is the first of three episodes this season directed by Kevin Tancharoen, brother of series co-creator Maurissa Tancharoen and spoilers, all 3 of his episodes are in this psuedo-Top 10 list of the best 'AoS' episodes from Season 2

And now, here are my Top 5 favorite episodes from Season 2... 

5. ONE OF US


Also directed by Kevin Tancharoen, this episode belonged to Kyle MacLachlan as Cal, in which he recruits a group of ‘Gifted’ individuals to take on S.H.I.E.L.D.. As noted earlier, his crazed nature results in some of the best moments of the season while at the same time also making us feel sorry for him at times due to him wanting to re-connect with Skye. It all culminates in a pretty cool final battle at a football stadium in what is revealed to be Coulson’s hometown of Manitowoc, Wisconsin. This episode also serves as the introduction of May’s ex-husband Andrew Garner (Blair Underwood), who is brought in to assess Skye’s new powers and although he warns Coulson that Skye should leave S.H.I.E.L.D., Coulson decides to go against his suggestion. Also there’s this…


4. THE DIRTY HALF DOZEN


This episode, the third of which Kevin Tancharoen directed, succeeds in being both incredibly nostalgic for fans of the series as well as being fairly awkward at times. The nostalgic factor comes from the fact that in this episode, Coulson enlists his original team, including Ward, for a mission to free Mike Peterson (AKA Deathlok) and Inhuman Lincoln Campbell (Luke Mitchell) from HYDRA’s custody. The awkward part of this, as you might have guessed, comes from the fact that, you know, Ward betrayed the team. The scene where he tries to apologize to the team for all that he did is the pinnacle of how awkward this situation gets. I mean while there is, for some reason, a part of me that kind of wants things to go back to the way they were for Coulson’s team, it’s hard to excuse Ward for all that he’s done since the episode ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’. It’s so messed up that Simmons, in a rather disturbing move, actually tries to kill Ward but ends up killing HYDRA agent Bakshi instead when the latter sacrifices himself to save Ward. Being the final episode before ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ was released here in North America, the episode ends on a nice set-up for the film as Coulson gives Maria Hill the location of HYDRA leader Baron von Strucker’s secret base so that the Avengers can go stop him.

3. WHAT THEY BECOME


This was the first ‘big’ episode of the season, as quite a lot happened in this episode, which revolved around Coulson and his team trying to reach the secret alien city before HYDRA. To start things off, Skye is finally reintroduced to her real father and we learn the true identities of both of them. His name is Calvin Zabo (AKA ‘Mister Hyde’ from the comics) and we learn that Skye’s real name is Daisy Johnson (AKA ‘Quake’ from the comics). This then leads to Skye going down into the alien city where she, along with Raina, is transformed by the Terrigen Mist that came from the Obelisk everyone had been after during the first half of the season. The finale in which this occurs is one of the most epic moments of the entire season, especially the part when Skye erupts out of the cocoon she had become encased in with her new earthquake powers. Unfortunately, this episode also ends on a sad note as Tripp, who had tried to save Skye when she and Raina started to become encased in cocoons, dies as a result of coming into contact with the Terrigen Mist. It’s even sadder because Tripp was quite frankly one of the coolest/bad-ass characters in the show, having made quite a nice impression after first debuting in Season 1. I was hoping that this season he would be promoted to the position of ‘series regular’ but of course, this is a Whedon production so you know that not everyone is going to get out of this alive. As the final episode of the season’s 2014 run, it definitely left us fans with one hell of a cliffhanger. At least we had ‘Agent Carter’ to hold us over until the series returned in March.

2. MELINDA


Easily one of the most emotional episodes of the entire season is ‘Melinda’, in which we finally learn the truth about what happened years earlier in Bahrain where she earned the nickname ‘The Calvary’, which Skye also learns about from her mother Jiaying. After single-handedly storming a building full of bad guys, May fought a member of the Inhumans who had been stealing Terrigen crystals for her daughter, who in turn had her mother hurt others to feed on their pain. May is then forced to kill not only the mother, but also the daughter as well. As this series has gone on, we the audience have been slowly learning more and more about what really happened to May in Bahrain that had forever changed her into the stone-cold bad-ass that she is today. And with this emotional gut-punch of an episode, now we know why.

1.     S.O.S.: PARTS 1 AND 2


And finally we have what is, in my opinion, not only the best episode of this season but also one of the best TV season finales that I’ve ever seen: the two-parter ‘S.O.S.’. This season has been building up to an inevitable war between S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Inhumans. It finally gets started when Jiaying fools everyone into thinking that she had been shot by agent Gonzales when in reality she killed Gonzales and ‘framed’ him for ‘trying’ to kill her. The ruse is so initially effective that even Skye believes it at first. But, after witnessing her mother kill Raina, who had tried to convince Skye of her mother’s true motives, Skye finally learns the truth and, along with Coulson and his team, try to stop Jiaying and the Inhumans from unleashing the Terrigen Mist upon the world, which would kill anyone who isn’t Inhuman. This finale has it all; great writing, exceptional character development, awesome action sequences, as well as plenty of very emotional moments, mostly courtesy of Cal, who is forced to come to terms with the fact that his wife must be stopped. And he does just that, killing her when she attempts to kill Skye. At the end of it all, S.H.I.E.L.D. wipes his memory allowing him to finally be at peace in his life. And given some of the big developments that occur at the end of this episode, from Ward basically taking over HYDRA to Simmons getting absorbed by the mysterious Kree weapon, it’s clear that Season 3 is going to be big. But as for Season 2, ‘S.O.S.’ ends this great second season of this great show on the best note. And that is why it is the best episode of Season 2 of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’.


Also, Fitz has the best line of the whole episode…