Let’s Talk: Spider-Man (PS4)

FeaturedLet’s Talk: Spider-Man (PS4)

There’s no easy way for me to say this, but then I’m not one for sugarcoating. Insomniac Games’ Spider-Man on the PS4 is….. gosh, I’d imagined the words would roll off my tongue a lot quicker. Spider-Man is absolutely………phenomenal. There’s just no way around it. Having just completed it, and post the nearly 20 hours I’ve already sunk into the game, I can say with a fair amount of confidence that it’s a blast to play to say the least. The game feels like a culmination of Insomniac’s strengths gathered from working on their previous, universally loved and critically acclaimed titles; the fluid, breathtakingly magical movement mechanics courtesy of the gorgeous Sunset Overdrive; their penchant for over-the-top yet insanely fun gadget and weapon roster coming straight out of the Ratchet and Clank series; their trademark quirky sense of humor and sharp writing permeating both these titles; excellent combat mechanics present in every game, including the cult favorite Resistance series; there’s a strong, unmistakable presence of each of these diverse aspects in Spider-Man, and that’s one of the greatest things about it. From third person linear action adventures, to intense first person shooters to now an open world game based on one of the most beloved Marvel superheroes, Insomniac has come a long way. And this, I’m sure, cannot be easy to hear for my Xbox brethren out there. Hence, the whole ‘my heart breaks to admit it’ drama from above. It kills me to know that there are a huge chunk of gamers out there not being able to experience this absolute *cough cough* marvel of a game.

Anywho, instead of trying to summarize all of my thoughts in a single blog entry, which I sincerely believe would be doing the game and my love for the character a huge disservice, especially when I can go on talking incessantly about it, I thought a better approach would be to dedicate each piece to one facet of the game and flesh it out in detail. I’ll talk about the swinging mechanics, the story, the open-world, side quests & collectibles and lastly the combat system in separate entries, giving me a chance to dive deep, something the friendly neighbourhood is unable to do in this game, weirdly enough (Spider-Man can’t swim in the game, it’s a whole thing, let’s circle back to it later, ok?). With me so far? Good. Let’s start with my absolute, hands-down favorite aspect of the game and the one thing that makes Spider-Man, well, Spider-Man. Other than his wit and an innate ability to tick J. Jonah Jameson off to no end. The web swinging.

Spider-Man PS4 Web Swinging
“Wheeeeeee!” – Peter Parker

While web slinging is what gives meaning to 50% of the character’s name, it is also hands down THE aspect to get right if a developer intends to deliver a *coughity cough* spectacular Spider-Man game. Additionally, traversal is a major chunk of any open world game and making sure it is not a chore is crucial in order to let players branch-off the main storyline whenever they wish and get back into it once they satisfy their completionist urges. Past Spider-Man games have got a lot of things right, sometimes together, sometimes in bits and pieces, but web slinging has always been a hit and a miss. Granted, a lot of the outings can chalk that up to technological limitations that held them back from truly realizing their vision of a Spider-Man game. The exception to this though is one among the first entries that come to anyone’s mind when you utter the words ‘a good Spider-Man game’; the Treyarch developed and Activision published Spider-Man 2 from 2004. I know I know, Activision’s eponymous title from 2000 was pretty solid too, but Spider-Man 2 felt like the first real attempt that would pave the way for THE open-world Spider-Man game we all wanted and deserved. It featured a fun if overly convoluted story, phenomenal traversal mechanics set in a playground as close to an open-world as we could’ve gotten at the time, excellent boss battles and some of the most memorable set pieces in a superhero video game (seriously though, how great was the Mysterio level with NYC broken down into floating landmasses?!).  But post that, truly open world games were not the mainstay of the character’s console outings. Web of Shadows, Shattered Dimensions, Edge of Time, while all decent games in their own right, did not feature a fully accessible, free-roaming open-world and hence the web slinging never got a chance to stand out as a mechanic to highlight or drool over. Beenox’s The Amazing Spider-Man and its direct sequel came close, but a laundry list of execution shortcomings and technical glitches prevented them from ever getting close to the video-game hall of fame. That brings us to 2018.

Spider-Man (PS4) Screenshot Perching on a Ledge
Peter likes to take some time out of his crime fighting routine to sometimes just perch on a ledge and contemplate life and the meaning of it all, you know?

What’s truly remarkable about Insomniac’s Spider-Man is the fine line it walks between being accessible to newcomers and instantly gratifying for veterans of the universe, which is noticeably true of its web swinging as well. The entire animation and fundamental action of shooting out web from the gadget on peter’s wrist, attaching it to a structure nearby, swinging forth, letting go at the peak of upward motion, producing a new line of thread and repeating the process endlessly is all mapped to a single button, the R2 trigger. With that at the foundation of the traversal system, Insomniac builds upon it in truly meaningful and surprisingly effective ways.

Press X at any time to do a basic web zip to propel yourself forward without losing altitude or speed; L2+R2 to latch onto any designated surface including but not limited to building ledges, street lamps, display boards, mobile towers, overhead water tanks and press X to boost launch into a high velocity jump; press and hold R2 anytime you are near a building to automatically wall run up or zip around corners, jump off the building and course correct your web slinging effortlessly; all of this while giving you uninhibited control over direction, momentum and angle. It’s incredibly satisfying, indescribably liberating and just plain badass. You can also press L2 at any time to slow down time and aim your web at a specific location to pull yourself to it, which harkens back to the Web Rush mode from The Amazing Spider-Man games, albeit executed in a much better manner. Pressing L3 while at considerable heights to transition into a nose dive, gaining furious speeds and launching into a swing just before you go splat on the streets is endlessly fun! Insomniac supplements traversal with specific actions you can complete to earn additional XP and bragging rights, such as wall-running, swinging at breakneck speeds and boost launching for a specific amount/number of times. All of these come together in beautiful, often majestic ways to let you pull off captivating aerial dance maneuvers full of jumps, dashes, twists, somersaults, swings and dives. Oh, did I mention you can launch into tricks while swinging?! What all of this basically means is that you can, in essence, pull off virtually any move you might have ever seen the web crawler dish out in any form of medium, be it comics, movies or even CG trailers of previous video games. Remember the iconic pose Tom Holland strikes handing on to the side of a building with the Empire State Building in the background for the poster of Homecoming? Yeah, you can do that, pretty effortlessly.

Spider-Man (PS4) Avengers Tower Jumping
Just one of the many, MANY moves you can pull off thanks to the incredibly robust and fun traversal mechanics!

Further, to Insomniac’s credit, I rarely ever encountered situations where any of these interlocking pieces  did not deliver the way I expected them to. You can practically always press L2+R2 and expect to land at the exact surface you planned to while at the peak of your swing; you can imagine the exact set of moves you’d need to execute to go from the ledge you are perching at to the top of the Avengers Tower, and chances are 9/10 times the whole sequence will pan out in that exact fashion down to the dot. Sure, it may not work perfectly 100% of the times, but even then, most of the times the game will always make you feel like it was because you mistimed a move or didn’t press the right button at the right time and not because the mechanics of it did not come together the way you expected them to. Camera angles, surprisingly, always maintain their sanity. Animations to denote speed and ferocity, like the screen zooming in on Spider-Man while blurring out the background when you dive or air lines surrounding all corners of the screen when you launch into a jump from a ledge, cue in at just the right time to make the traversal seem that much more of a sight to behold! It all just works, marvelously!

Spider-Man (PS4) Swing Through Water Tank
Zip through the legs of a water tank and carry on as if you didn’t just pull off an unbelievably kickass move.

The best part about this seemingly simple traversal system is that it can be as complex and elaborate or as banal and mechanical as you want it to be. You can simply keep R2 pressed, go to the kitchen and brew a cup of coffee for yourself by the time Spidey gets to the mission marker, or you can string together zips, wall runs, web crawls, moonsaults and high-velocity swings to make the basic act of getting from Point A to B seem like an art form. There’s no greater compliment a developer can receive in this department than being told by players that they never once wanted or felt the need to use fast travel, which is no small feat to achieve. But that’s exactly what Insomniac has pulled off!

Hope you enjoyed this piece. In the next entry, we’ll take a deeper look at the combat system and break it down and obsess over tiny details the way J. Jonah Jameson would have wanted us to! Ciao!

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Underrated Gems of Netflix #1: Calibre

Underrated Gems of Netflix #1: Calibre

This article is completely Spoiler Free, which should be obvious, given that the aim here is to bring your attention to movies that have gone relatively unnoticed but deserve your time and energy. Still, no harm in putting up disclaimers eh?

A lot of horror/thriller movies, for all their world building, character development and tense atmosphere, often lose that bite to either their overly fantastical premises, undeniably predictable story arcs or poor protagonist choices. I like to call it the ‘don’t-open-that-door-you-freaking-idiot-god-that-was-so-stupid’ syndrome. Moments like these, effective as they may be in getting you to jump off your seat, take you out of the experience of immersing yourself in the carefully crafted on-screen world. A classic example is David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows, a thoroughly unsettling film about a curse passed on from one person to another when the concerned parties get down and dirty. Acquire the curse, get chased by a relentless spirit. Should you die while carrying the curse, the spirit hunts down the person who had the curse before you and so on. It all sounds rather silly, but makes for some terrific encounters that make you want to constantly look over your shoulder long after the credits roll. The problem, though, is that idea of an evil curse being transferred via sex like some sort of a malevolent STD is too ridiculous to ignore. Oh, and the spirit can take any shape and form but still, inexplicably enough, chooses to manifest itself in 90-year old women, toddlers and angsty, hormonal teenagers. Never professional athletes or intimidating dudebros. And it is constantly walking toward you, not a tad too fast, not a tad too slow. Fly across the ocean and you can practically buy yourself a couple of years before you have to worry about being tagged by a perverted sex demon. Don’t let me discourage you from watching it though, it’s still an eerily effective horror movie.

The point I’m trying to make is that a movie, especially a tense thriller, is at its best when it awards its viewers the opportunity to essentially imagine themselves in the protagonists’ shoes, a lot of which is aided by contextually realistic or at least moderately believable plot and progression. It lets viewers sink into the situation through effortless and seamlessly organic writing, contemplate the actions of the actors and still leave them with enough time to ask themselves ‘I wonder what I would have done’, and more importantly ‘would I actually have handled that situation any differently?’. One such movie I want to bring to your notice today is Matt Palmer’s criminally underrated and relatively undiscovered Netflix movie, Calibre.

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Ahhhhh. Calibre. As in with firearms. I get it now.

Calibre is an almost unbearably-tense, slow-burn British thriller, telling the tale of Marcus and Vaughn, two best friends who head off over a weekend into a remote Scottish village to hunt in the open season and get some quality bro time in. Remote village. Hunting season. Weapons. Alcohol. What could go wrong, amirite!? Plenty, as luck would have it.

Calibre takes its time in setting the constructs of its world straight. The relationship that Marcus and Vaughn share, the economically fragile conditions and the close-knit community structure that define the village, the vehicle driven by the protagonists with sufficient boot space, the random woman Marcus sleeps with at the only bar in the village; every seemingly insignificant action and every minor detail in the movie reams its head into the plot in a thoroughly unexpected yet meaningful manner. You spend time getting to know the characters well, which gives you a sense of satisfaction and closure as you watch the events unfold. No one in the movie is truly good or evil. They all alternate across a spectrum of grey, and it is never bogged down by the age old oh-that-would-never-happen-in-real-life movie cliches.

Twenty minutes in and you get to the first ‘Holy Shit’ moment of the film. There is no precedent to that event. Nothing in the movie leading up to that point lets on as to what happens. You read the premise, you watch the trailer, you make certain assumptions about the two friends and the villagers, but it does NOT play out the way you expect it to. But at every point, you’d believe it could happen in real life. You’d believe that you’d react in precisely the same manner given the circumstances. You dread the next revelation on screen, the next altercation, the next big standoff, because you know that what’s happening in the film could very well be a weekend you might have the misfortune of walking into on any given day. I mean come on, how many times would an innocent camp of sexually confused teenagers actually be ravaged by a bloodthirsty serial killer with a penchant for chainsaws and haunting kids in their dreams? *I feel like I’m mixing up intellectual properties here…….*

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If anyone tries to spoil this gem of a movie for you, I believe you’d be within your rights to do this to them. Don’t quote me on it though.

Calibre revels in its ability to keep you guessing. We as audiences are conditioned to picture events transpiring a certain way. The tried and tested movie constructs expect us to push our suspension of disbelief to the limits. Calibre‘s greatest strength is its ability to rein that in. It gives you a restrained account of two friends just being in the right place at a not-so-right time and in a oh-so-wrong situation. There is very little background music, if at all, which makes some of the more truly tense moments absolutely stand out. The silence is almost unbearable at times. You expect a random heavy knock on the door or a gunshot far out into the woods to break up the tension and let a jump scare provide some much needed catharsis, but it never happens. You simply stare at the screen, feel the raw emotions, become a part of the narrative, let the haunting silence wash over you. This is filmmaking at its finest. The art of saying everything by uttering nothing. The film almost feels like the script wrote itself once the point-of-no-return was established by the writers. In my books, that is the hallmark of exemplary writing.

Calibre is bolstered by some truly terrific performances. Jack Lowden and Martin McCann deliver some intense acting. Their strained relationship and their differing world views are great narrative devices that make their interactions believable and the tension palpable. Tony Curran as Logan, the leader of the rural community, is the much needed voice of reason and the social glue basically preventing the village from descending into absolute anarchy. All in all, Matt Palmer’s excellent directorial skills are a tour-de-force and is undoubtedly someone you should watch out for.

Do yourself a favor and succumb to the eerie atmosphere and tense narrative of Calibre. You will be glad you did, and enjoy one of the finest thrillers of 2018 along the way, if not the finest.

Got feedback? Loved it? Only kinda loved it? Sorta liked it? Write to me and I would love to know what you thought! Watched the movie? Hit me up and let me know if you agree with what I had to say. More underrated gems of Netflix coming your way soon!

America and the Logic of it all

America and the Logic of it all

I know I know. Reviews have already broken it apart, dissected it and analysed every single fragment of it. Countless fans and first-time listeners have been awed by the sheer ferocity and nerve present in every single line and hook that compose the tracks. Ample amount of controversy has been generated by the use of the N-Word by a seemingly White artist. So what exactly is so different about what I have to say about Logic’s Everybody? Well, nothing, really. But this album has impacted me in ways I never could have imagined. It is so brash in its willingness to tackle racial divisiveness head-on, so unequivocally confrontational and so visibly fearless that I absolutely had to talk about it. Let’s dive right in.

I’ll be frank. I had never heard any of Logic’s albums before Everybody. And I don’t particularly feel bad about it. His sound never became anything more than noise. And in a scene dominated by far more influential and talented rappers, I didn’t feel a force strong enough tugging at me in his direction. Another reason that might have contributed to it is the lack of enough popular collaborations. Before I became pathologically obsessed with Kendrick Lamar, his collaborations with more popular names like Maroon 5, The Lonely Island were what brought him out of obscurity for me. Again, this might sound strange (Kendrick Lamar? Obscure? THE Kendrick Lamar? OBSCURE?) but it wasn’t as easy discovering music about 5 years ago as it is now, what with the availability of affordable music streaming services (or, to be more accurate, the ability to afford them) and a much better exposure to the global music scene.

Now, getting back to the topic at hand. When I first heard Everybody, I did not know much about Logic. Listening to the song, I instinctively pictured a black artist venting his angst in the best form of catharsis known to man. Fair enough. The song was powerful enough with that amount of context. But then I saw Logic perform live at the VMAs. And I discovered he’s not exactly Black. He’s White, but not exactly White either. I realized that for a White guy to be spewing lines like “And some Black people look ashamed when I rap/Like my grand granddaddy take a whip to the back”, there had to be something to his story that I was missing. And sure enough, I discovered what this man is all about. Born to a Black father, a White mother and raised as much by neglect as by his abusive and alcoholic parents, Robert Bryson Hall II grew up with a deep-seated insecurity and ambiguity about his racial identity. His childhood was marred by abject poverty and the company of crackheads and cocaine dealers. A White child, constantly beaten by his mother while being called a Ni***r, led to him being unsure of who he really was. Naturally, he found solace in Hip-Hop. Influenced by RZA’s original score for Kill Bill: Volume 1, Logic soon began producing his own lyrics over instrumental beats provided to him by his to-be mentor Solomon Taylor. This culminated in a mixtape, which allowed him to be the opening act for shows headlined by various bigwigs like Pitbull, Ludacris and Method Man. Four official mixtapes and reasonable worldwide fame later, his first studio album Under Pressure released to critical acclaim and a spot on the Billboard 200.

Everybody album cover
A discussion over the album cover alone warrants another blog post. This expertly crafted, clever piece of art (inspired by the painting “The Wedding at Cana”) is chock full of Easter Eggs and hides the likenesses of his wife and his two dogs, the amazing Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Miles Morales the Black Spiderman, his album art designer Sam Spratt and various rappers like Khalid, Juicy J (both his close friends), Black Thought, Alessia Cara (collaborators on the album).  Sheesh. What a masterpiece.

None of that, however, is comparable to Everybody. This album is a bold new voice, something Logic has never said before, something that just needed an outlet. In his own words, “This [Title Track] was the first song that I wrote for the album, this was like two years ago, which is crazy to say that. I just knew it was something that I wanted to say. I just felt compelled, and I didn’t even really still know about the whole concept of the album yet, like I had this idea in my mind, but this is just something I really needed to say”. Listening to the track once will convince you of his uncontrollable urge to get the message out. Everybody champions racial equality and argues over the futility of our obsession with and the undue importance we place on skin color in ways very few songs ever have. Sample these few lines:

Light skin mothafucka certified as a house ni**a

Well I’ll be God damned, go figure

In my blood is the slave and the master

It’s like the devil playin spades with the pastor

 

Or these:

Not accepted by the black or the white

I don’t give a fuck, praise God, I could see the light

Everybody talkin’ ’bout race this, race that

I wish I could erase that, face facts

 

Or these, the hook of the song:

Everybody people, everybody bleed, everybody need something

Everybody love, everybody know, how it go

 

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This. Goddamn. Song.

Every word in this track is a cry for help. A desperate attempt, a far-fetched hope that perhaps, just perhaps, those listening in would understand, change their outlook on race, and do their bit, whatever it may be, in propagating the message of harmony. The walls erected by race are seemingly insurmountable. And they only seem to be growing taller as we progress. The key to happiness, to key to joy, is realising that the color of your skin is just that, a color. Sure, it may also be a fairly accurate representation of where you are from, your culture, the food you eat and the festivals you celebrate, but it can never define who you as a person are. Underneath, we are all the same.

Whew. Boy. That was some heavy stuff right there. But there’s just one more track that needs discussing here. The second track, one that hit me like a ton of bricks, is America. This track is Logic’s way of expressing his political thoughts. This is also the first time he has ever made a statement about politics in his music. That itself piqued my interest. And obviously, the title track earned him a fan for life. America, thankfully, is just as brash and relentless. Featuring prominent Black voices like Chuck D and Black Thought, this song features five artists in total, all rapping about their own perception of America; the America that is, the America they want to see and the America that should be. The voices are all distinctive and powerful and their sequential entry makes for a seamless transition from one issue to the other. The lines are spewed with such a sense of urgency and uninhibited aggression, they slightly throw you off balance. Logic comes in with his take on White Supremacy:

Fight the power, fight the power

Fight for the right to get up and say fuck white power

Everybody come and get up, get on

And no matter what you fighting for I promise that it’ll live on

 

Black Thought takes over with his take on the dark path the county is headed on:

The world going mad over one drug

I’m filling up a bag at the gun club

In the shadow of a nation that it once was

All this false information I’ma unplug, young blood

 

Chuck D takes a not-so-subtle dig at Trump and his misguided anti-immigration, US-First stance:

Gotta to go to ban the whole

Refugee population from the land they stole

In the name of the government

Rich white man while the rest be suffering

 

Logic closes the track with a verse that drives the point home in an unforgettable fashion, one that has now become one of my absolute all-time favorites:

George bush don’t care about black people

2017 and Donald trump is the sequel so

Shit, I’ll say what Kanye won’t

Wake the fuck up and give the people what they want

To make it happen though we gon’ need patience

And not violence, giving hospitals more patients now

Don’t burn down the mom and pop shop

I’m just as angry another person got shot

Don’t be angry at the color of they skin

Just be happy that as a people we could begin again, and

I’ma tell you what I need right now

I’ma tell you what we all need

I need my people of color…

Don’t run from Trump, run against him

I mean, jeez. I know the need of the hour is to be fearless and stand up for what’s right, but man oh man, this is one song that does NOT waste any time in hitting the countdown and pulls absolutely no punches.

It’s quite appropriate too. In an age where the various Late Night TV show hosts like Seth Meyers and Stephen Colbert are doing an exponentially better job at covering the Trump presidency than traditional media outlets, the onus of rallying the masses and initiating action lies with the artists. It’s up to them come out of their shells, raise their voices where it’s needed and justified, and do their bit in starting a movement, consequently making an impact on their fans and followers. Many celebrities already are. It’s a fearless new era where the love for one’s country and a sheer intolerance for injustice and discrimination is making activists out of everybody. And that’s what it will take to change the world.

(Since this is neither a full-fledged op-ed piece nor a review of the whole album, I’m restricting myself to sharing my thoughts on two of the most influential tracks in this album, but I encourage you to give the whole thing a listen)

Let’s Talk: Assassin’s Creed

Let’s Talk: Assassin’s Creed

Requiescat in pace. If I was to be inflicted with an incredibly bizarre and ridiculous disease that affects memory power and causes the victims to only remember three words of any given language, these three would be at the tip of my tongue as far as Latin would be concerned. For Spanish, they’d have to be Hijo de puta. Because, Escobar.

What I mean is that the stories Assassin’s Creed has told over the years have been profound, meaningful and extremely emotional. Which is how the above mentioned three words, uttered by Ezio Auditore da Firenze after every kill, are etched in my memory. Consistency might not be the series’ biggest virtue, but largely, the various assassins I have inhabited across time periods and geographies have felt like real, tangible characters with a well-founded motivation driving their actions. Altair was struggling with his identity in a world at war with itself; Ezio set out to avenge his family and discovered what love, loss and brotherhood meant; Kenway was a badass pirate who…….actually, that’s it; Jacob and Evie Frye fought for their city and restored London to its glory. Every story arc had a central conflict, well-written characters and a satisfying conclusion. Even Desmond Miles and co.’s modern day struggle with Juno, the Apple of Eden and Templars is engaging. More or less. Fassbender’s Callum Lynch however, and even Aguilar by extension, feel like empty husks that merely exist to drive the story, if I may call it so, from one set piece to the next with no satisfying emotions or motivations to anchor the proceedings. And therein lies the movie’s biggest flaw.

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If my movie was this bad, I’d consider jumping 50 feet from the top of a spire too.

Michael Fassbender plays Callum Lynch who, having had a troubled childhood, ends up getting executed only to realize he was merely a pawn in a game being orchestrated by Abstergo, the big bad corporation being run by Jeremy Irons’ Alan Rikken, bonafide Templar and boogeyman. His daughter, Sophia played by Marion Cotillard, is tasked with finding the location of the mythical Apple of Eden by putting Callum into the Animus and tapping into the memories of his ancestor, Assassin Aguilar de Nerha, the last known person in possession of the apple.

The plot is quite straight forward, which is all good and fine because let’s face it, a 100-minute movie can’t possibly capture the intricacies of the whole Templars vs Assassins feud. Moreover, to cater to the fancies of the larger movie going audience, more time would need to be spent on the action sequences. Even with that said, the plot feels bland and the characters one-dimensional. There is no real world-building done. Viewers are thrusted into the movie with zero explanations. Even the description of the apple itself is frustratingly vague. Everyone incessantly repeats ‘it contains the seed of mankind’s first act of disobedience’, and ‘it controls free will itself’ without ever specifying how it is supposed to achieve that and what exactly it does.
The audience is given no context as to who exactly the Assassins are, where their conflict with the Templars stems from and why we are to root for them. For all the non-gamers know, these could be two random factions fighting for the control of the artifact, each ready to die/kill. The only perceptible difference was that the Assassins were shown to display some sense of morality and brotherhood, which automatically made them the good guys. Random, nonsensical dialogues like ‘Your blood is not yours. It belongs to the Creed’ have no context; there is no backdrop to the Creed or where they come from or why they’re fighting the fight they are. The movie restricts the scope of the conflict to a mere battle for possession of the artifact when it’s actually a centuries old enmity borne out of a clear need to maintain balance in the world. What a shame.

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Why? WHY!?

The movie conveniently sets up moments of exposition when they need to drive the action forward. Need to convince Callum to get into the Animus? Well, how about the fact that his father is alive and in the facility, sending him on a self-destructive path fuelled by blind rage! Need to get him to start fighting with the other captives? Cue a sequence where all the members of the creed goad him to fight the Assassins’ cause. Which he completely buys and abandons his previous stance with alarming swiftness. This trouble is not just limited to the modern day sequences. The 1492 part of the movie has absolutely no story to offer. It is nothing more than a series of action set pieces stitched together. Nothing makes sense, but hey, you’re in it just for the action, right?

Luckily though, that is something Assassin’s Creed gets very, very right. The sequences set in the Spanish Inquisition are breathtaking to look at. The cinematography is spectacular. The set pieces beautifully capture the agility, strength and precision that maketh the Assassin. The parkour sections are masterfully recreated. Close up shots really put you in the middle of the chaos as Aguilar and his partner in crime Maria stab, shoot, slash, smash and punch their way to the Apple. The hidden blade is put to some gleefully bloody uses too! It goes to show that the makers understood the style of the video games extremely well. It’s the soul that they failed to grasp, miserably. Needless to say, the immensely talented cast is wasted in colossal fashion.

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The action sequences save the movie from being an utter trainwreck. Brilliantly choreographed, spectacularly shot.

In restrospect, this movie merely confirms a long held belief of mine. Filmmakers, and really the non-gaming community at large, fail to see video games as an effective medium of telling strong, emotional, impactful stories. The only thing paid attention to when giving a video game the celluloid treatment is getting the visuals bang on. The characters, costumes, set design, signature moves, dialogues, everything is faithfully copied. The story is given the cold shoulder. I am willing to bet the same problem will plague the Mark Wahlberg Uncharted movie, if it ever sees the light of day that is. I only hope that when Good Universe brings the Firewatch movie to the big screens, the endearing conversations between Henry and Delilah are given the respect they deserve. Firewatch, for all its flaws, is a beautiful game that explores the relationship between the two entirely though long distance communication set in a gorgeous wilderness. If done right, it could finally be the one that breaks the curse afflicting video game movie franchises.

Until then, we have to make do with dreadfully passable and disappointing movies like Assassin’s Creed. Ultimately, it’s just an infuriating experience that leaves you wishing the team had consulted a bunch of gamers before greenlighting this project. Ubisoft being at the helm makes this misstep feel all the more unacceptable. A video compiling all the cutscenes from Ezio’s story would make for a better watch.

Humor, Sexism and Amrish Puri.

Humor, Sexism and Amrish Puri.

They say every war has casualties, and no war has been as all-encompassing as the one that’s being waged across the globe today; sexism, racism, anti-nationalism being few of the many notions persistently targeted fueled by a seemingly endless ammunition of free speech, revolts, rallies, bans and outcries. It’s no wonder then that the collateral damage too is just as significant and grave. But perhaps one that really needs to be acknowledged is something that is just as old and precious as humanity itself, give or take a few million years: humor.

Humor as a concept is quite underplayed. We take it for granted, and treat it simply as something that provides us with a much-needed respite from our daily chores and stress. For the average human being, humor is just something that manifests itself in the form of movies and TV shows, painfully unfunny WhatsApp forwards, memes, one-liners, puns and videos of people getting kicked in the nuts, among other whathaveyous. It’s not wrong to treat humor as such, but take a long, hard look and you’ll know that humor is arguably THE most powerful means of affecting change in the society. And it’s not something that has been happening recently.

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Cat Memes. The world can never have enough cat memes.

Deep within the annals of the internet are buried articles that bear witness to the fact that humor has always been used as a tool to provide commentary on the social state of a community, bringing forth its many fallacies and also victories in equal measure. Many black comedians have time and again used the power of the stage to throw light on the race relations in the United States, and one worthy of mention is comedian Dave Chappelle who, in one of his mostly widely acclaimed sketches as part of Chappelle’s Show, plays a blind white supremacist named Clayton Bigsby who’s never realized the fact that he is actually black. And he frequently embarks on hateful rants about African-Americans. Look it up, it’s freakin’ hilarious. Watch it and you’ll realize that I’m not overstating things when I say that humor changes things. It drives the point home but doesn’t bombard you with distressing imagery or messages, and doesn’t bludgeon your senses into submission and acceptance. The laugh takes away the sting. Perhaps Mary Hirsch says it best: “Humor is a rubber sword: it allows you to make a point without drawing blood”.

And this is just one of countless examples. Political satire is an old concept, one that has been in existence for long and is used during times of war, political change and strife or even in general to bring to the forefront the government’s failures and missteps in a way that the common man appreciates it, understands it, and feels empowered and informed enough to be able to do something about it if he/she so wishes.

Standup comedians have, for long, been known to push the social boundaries in terms of representing potentially taboo topics as part of their material. They generate laughs, but also create some much needed awareness towards hush-hush subjects. They don’t set out to change the world, but a lot of them end up doing so. An example closer to home is AIB. The comedy collective’s ten-episode news comedy show ‘On Air With AIB’ highlighted many issues plaguing our country; some we absolutely had no idea about, and some we are too afraid to talk about.

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See what happens when you jump to conclusions and work on incomplete information? Context, guys!

Hell, humor even allows you to soften the blow when it comes to delivering bad news to someone. Picture this:

*Sans Humor*

Person A: Dude, I kinda broke your phone today. Really sorry.

Person B: Goddammit. I knew it. I never should have trusted you with it. You always do this. I’ve had it with you. Get me a new one or I swear to god Bonnie and Clyde will pound your face till it’s red as a baboon’s ass. [Person B is a bit of a maniac. He named his fists Bonnie and Clyde]

*With Humor*

Person A: Dude, you would not BELIEVE what happened today! Ok, so I was walking down the street just listening to some music on my phone. Out of nowhere, this guy on a skateboard bumped into me from the side. Dude loses his balance, runs over a dog’s tail so of course it starts chasing him. Then he knocks this lady’s bag out of her hand, the veggies in her bag fall out, the dog trips on some melons, skateboarder is still flying down the street. He finally crashes into a car, goes through its window, and his ass is still hanging out, and the dog starts yanking at his pants while he tries to hold it up. It was HILARIOUS! I recorded it all on my phone. Here, take a look!

Person B: Hahahadamnthatishotstuff.

Person A: Of course he knocked your phone out of my pocket too and a car ran over it so it’s basically a hunk of useless metal now. But hey, you at least got a good laugh out of it. amirite!?

Person B: You’re damn right I did man! It’s alright, I don’t mind. It was only a super expensive phone. Totally worth the 76 seconds of laughter I got out of the situation!

Ok, that may not be how this situation might go in real life, but you get my point.

You might be thinking ‘Alright alright. Your impeccable writing skills, your sweet sweet sense of humor and your ability to draw a picture as it were have convinced me that humor is important. Even so, what exactly is the point of this article, oh wise blogger?‘ Let’s cut to the chase then.

Of late, it seems like with the rising need to cultivate sensitivity among people towards issues like sexism, racism, violence against women, religion, cultural appropriation etc., humor and consequently outlets of pop-culture have really taken a bad beating. The threshold people have for cultural representations in cinema/TV/books, edgy and probably-maybe-slightly offensive humor has taken a nosedive.

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Hahahahwait. Can I laugh at this without coming off as a regressive, sexist creep?

Consider the image above. It hangs outside Jimi’s Beer Cafe in Bengaluru. Clever, wouldn’t you say? A bit funny maybe? Well, it surely can’t be sexist, can it? It’s only trying to market the establishment with a bit of humor dammit! Well, apparently not. Scoopwhoop ran a rant of an article about the above image is sexist, an insult to feminism, and makes fun of women yaddayaddayadda.

REALLY? Is it though? I mean it’s just a bit of humor if nothing else. It’s very clearly meant to be a joke and not a representation of the “establishment’s regressive mindset” as the article puts it. It’s meant to catch attention and probably generate some laughs, and win over some customers. Seems to be doing its job, but it’s apparently a disgrace to women all over. Go figure.

Jumping to something that’s more up my alley: comic books! There’s been a huge controversy surrounding casting Tilda Swinton as Ancient One in Marvel’s upcoming film Doctor Strange. In the comics, Ancient One is a master of the mystic arts and, more importantly, a seemingly immortal Tibetan man. In the movie adaption, well, it’s the White Witch. Which is the bone of contention as people are accusing Marvel of whitewashing the character by not hiring an Asian actor to play the role. As I see it, Marvel would’ve had 3 ways to go:

  1. Hire a Tibetan actor to play the role. Which is Marvel’s main issue that if they acknowledge the character being Tibetan, they risk alienating the Chinese. And with over a billion people there, that’s not a wise movie for an entity that still, at the end of the day, needs to make money. (Still find this argument weird. Yeah China, you’ve got your beef with Tibet. Or the other way around, I should say. Why bring that nonsense into the sacrosanct world of comic books!?)
  2. Hire an ‘Asian’ actor to play the role and not identify the character Tibetan. Marvel gets accused of cultural appropriation. Bam.
  3. Hire a Chinese actor to play the role and identify the character as Tibetan. This way they’ll at least appease the Chinese. Marvel still gets accused of racial misrepresentation and generalization. Double Bam.

There’s no possible outcome that plays out favorably. Marvel seemingly took the wises possible choice. I don’t blame them for it. Hell, Tilda Swinton is a terrific actor and the best part about adapting comic books into movies is that as a filmmaker, you have the liberty of interpreting the source material in your own way. You can take creative liberties as long as it makes sense in the grand scheme of things and keeps the spirit of the story alive. But people just can’t seem to suck it up and move on.

We all know the Kiku Sharda case. No need to dig that up again.

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Sam Jackson approves.

I’m not saying everything needs to be let off the hook in the name of humor. What’s wrong is wrong. The JWT ad campaign for Ford Figo featuring caricatures of Silvio Berlusconi and three bound and gagged women in the trunk (meant to highlight the awesome boot space of the car) is one such example. Unfunny and just plain tasteless. Even so, we need to learn to lighten up a bit. Everyone got up in arms about Coldplay indulging in cultural appropriation with their portrayal of India in the video of ‘Hymn For The Weekend’. Really? What do you expect makes good material for a music video? The many skyscrapers, half-constructed flyovers and swanky malls that dot the Indian cities? Or the wide, open areas full of greenery and natural beauty that we have so much in abundance because we totally care about deforestation? I never felt like the video meant to demean our culture, or show that it’s still a third world nation. It fit the video, and it was beautiful, and it showed one side of India. Granted, as a citizen of the country you’d want artists from the West to probably the other, developed and technologically advanced side of India too, but you can’t place the burden of your expectations on one artist/band.

Amrish Puri Meme
You know it.

I’ll sign off by bringing up Amrish Puri into the conversation [Randomness. Deal with it!]. For me, he epitomizes the ‘who gives a shit’ attitude. Why? Well, for the uninitiated, he played the big baddie, Mola Ram, in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The movie has frequently been accused of a wrongful portrayal of Hinduism, especially Maa Kaali, as well the India culture. He offers human sacrifices to Kaali in the film. And there are scenes that depict Indian Royalty enjoying delicious delicacies such as eyeball soup, snakes, and chilled monkey brains for dessert. You know, like we all do.
The reason I mention this is because probably if the movie were to release today, it’d be ripped to shreds. Hindus across the world would ban it to limbo and make sure Steven Spielberg never works a day in his life. And Amrish Puri? Guy probably won’t even be allowed to set foot in India. Did I mind it? Not really. The movie might have gotten it painfully wrong, but I still love it. It was good entertainment. Those who need a reason to demean a particular culture/race/nation would do so anyway. Someone who has it for Indians and just derives great pleasure in insulting them won’t need to say’ You Indians so nasty, you eat monkey brains. Heyo!’ He’ll find some other pointless argument. For the educated, it’s clearly meant to be an exaggeration.

Here’s hoping we learn to take things the way they’re meant to be and laugh at ourselves every now and then!

Let’s Talk – Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

Let’s Talk – Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

Let me come right out and say it. Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (BvS) is a disappointment,not because it is a terrible movie but more because of the promises it made and the expectations it was poised to deliver. It comes very close to being great (yeah, I actually liked the movie, quite a bit)  but, sadly enough, ends up buckling under its own weight. There’s a lot that it gets right and a lot it doesn’t. However, it isn’t bad, or pathetic or ‘joyless, dull and boring’ as many have emphatically deemed it to be. I believe the negative reception, particularly among the critics and some fans, arises from the inevitable comparison it ends up generating viz a viz previous DC films and its more recent Marvel brethren. The plethora of TV shows and films has subconsciously shaped the ‘Superhero Film’ for all of us. Any deviations are not received kindly. Moreover, Social Media has a way of sweeping people up in a collective mindset or opinion, leaving very little scope for an isolated, truly individual opinion to take shape.

Anyhow, I’ll go ahead and list down the stuff that I liked in the film and stuff I didn’t. But before that, some observations and personal opinions about stuff that I noticed in the movie:

  1. Snyder had a lot on his plate. This movie not only had to set the tone for a completely different, un-Nolan Batman, it also had to introduce the members of JLA, establish the titular rivalry and conclude it (more on it later), throw hints at the possible big baddie of the Justice League movie, flesh out Batman and Wonder Woman with no origin movies to do that, give Lex Luthor a lot of material to cement his part in the DCEU and so on. You can’t fault Snyder for being ambitious. With absolutely zero work having being done toward  giving DCEU any semblance of an identity, this movie had to take that responsibility on itself. But could it all have been done better without turning the plot into a pile of mashed potatoes? Definitely.
  2. Yes, Marvel did it better. It was meticulously planned. Individual origin movies, tying them all together and finally leading up to the ultimate superhero teamup movie helmed by Joss Whedon. DC has struggled to set up a shared cinematic universe for quite a while now. The reasons are manifold. Nolan himself took a brilliant yet extremely individualistic take on Batman, which made it difficult to have a MCU equivalent till the trilogy concluded. Green Lantern was tried but failed miserably (and that’s putting it mildly). DCEU is taking shape, but the seeds had to be planted in BvS. DC is lagging behind Marvel already, hence I believe the studio had to take the decision of going ahead with introducing Wonder Woman and Batman here with no origin movies to predate this one. That, for a lot of people, spelled trouble.
  3. Yes, BvS was grim. And moody. And dark and extremely brutal. It has been faulted by countless publications for being dark and devoid of any fun. I could not disagree more. If your idea of a ‘fun’ superhero movie is one which is completely light-hearted, has goofy humor, and is chock full of characters which are simply there to serve as comedic relief (Michael Pena in Ant Man, I’m looking at you), then BvS was not fun at all. In my opinion, this idea of a ‘fun’ superhero movie has been completely perpetrated by the entries in the MCU. But a movie that does not conform to the Marvel notion of ‘fun’ can’t be labeled devoid of any fun. Sure, BvS can be faulted for not having enough action sequences, or not as much humor as its Marvel brethren or even other DC movies, but it being dark and gritty is no grounds to call it so. I had my share of my fun in the movie, albeit in fragmented bursts. Go back to the comics. Marvel’s Punisher issues #1-#60 under Garth Ennis are the some of the darkest works in the history of comic books. Replete with graphic violence, curse words and an overpoweringly sombre mood, it was as dark as superhero stories can get. Nowhere near close being ‘fun’ in the traditional sense. Yet it is one of the most loved Punisher runs ever. Even Frank Miller’s TDKR, which BvS seems to draw heavy influence from, was an extremely serious take on an ageing, bitter Batman who’s reached the end of his line. Superhero movies are allowed to be gritty. Marvel does not get to decide how a superhero movie should be. DC has always maintained that to a large extent, be it in its TV properties (Arrow and partly The Flash) or cinematic outings. A movie can be faulted for not being well made, gritty or light hearted. And that, BvS is guilty of.
  4. Snyder and team clearly took the liberty of assuming that people watching the movie would have read the source material very well. It was very apparent in the way Batman’s visions were given absolutely zero explanation [SPOILER ALERT: The Omega sign, the flying insectoid warrior creatures. All clearly pointing to Darkseid. The big baddie of the Justice League movies?], or the scene immediately after that featuring Flash and the Speed Force was barely talked about, or how it was taken for granted that the decision to not cast Bale as Batman would be obviously understood (Bale’s Batman lived in a world that had basically zero supernatural / superpowered beings. He would have been a complete misfit in a movie with Alien Gods and Immortal Princesses). Clearly, more had to be done to include the average viewer or someone who’s not totally familiar with the source material.

I guess that covers everything. Now, let’s move on to stuff I liked, and stuff that stank like a donkey’s butt.

What Worked:

 

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Oi. Gimme it.
  1. I did go in with an open mind despite all apprehensions, but I have to hand it to Ben Affleck. He made for a brilliant Batman AND Bruce Wayne. Batffleck was physically imposing, something that’s extremely important for The Dark Knight to possess, the ability to inflict serious physical damage. He had the requisite body language, understandable motivations and he mixed sly smirks with angry scowls very effectively. He might be faulted for being pissed all the time, but this particular universe required him to be so. Batffleck is bitter, has a borderline-nihilistic view on the world at large and still wants to protect his precious city over anything else. Zack Snyder handles Batman’s portion very well. He subtly explains the reasons for him being so (“20 years Alfred. How many good guys did we see? How many stayed that way?“), something I highly appreciated. It was very clear he wanted to make a Batman film, but the bitter realization that this movie is a sequel to Man of Steel soon dawned on him. Comparison with Bale’s Batman would be a little unfair, though I actually prefer Affleck over Bale for a couple of reasons. (Was never a fan of Bale’s fighting style, for one)
  2. Jeremy Irons. One hell of an Alfred. As an antidote to Michael Caine’s calm, supportive and helpful butler, Irons’ Alfred carries a sardonic, dry wit, is dripping with sarcastic commentary and aids Batman in his research and combat-heavy missions.
  3. Snyder’s visuals. This man knows how to pull you into the action like no one else. His dynamic camerawork is just a treat to the eyes. From a purely technical standpoint, the action sequences in BvS were fantastic. The Doomsday fight, in particular, was mind-blowing. The way the camera follows a tumbling, lunging Wonder Woman across the devastated battleground is nothing short of breathtaking. Speaking of, how great was Gal Gadot!?

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    The visuals in this scene. The cinematography. Visceral and MARVELous. Apologies for making such an obvious pun.
  4. The background score. Hans Zimmer. ‘Nuff said.
  5. This might be a rather controversial statement to make, but I loved Jesse Eisenberg. Many people seem to have not taken kindly to the fact that hes’s been portrayed as a psychotic, ill-mannered teenager as opposed to his traditional suited, bald avatar. Firstly, the beauty of comics lies in its malleability. Different writers and authors come and play with the universe the way they please, give it their own touch. Whan Geoff Johns would do for a Batman novel is something Alan Moore cannot do and vice versa. There is no compulsion for a certain character to be the same across various works. Creative liberty is of utmost importance when it comes to superhero lore. Something the writers of BvS seem to have availed. Moreover, Eisenberg portrays Alexander Luthor Jr. For all we now, he may not even be the Lex Luthor we know. Even if he is, Lex has frequently been portrayed as a redhead recluse. His primary attributes that remain consistent are that he is a charming, extremely intelligent business magnate with a burning desire to bring down Superman. His motivations have been as diverse as the writers who’ve penned Superman stories are. And Jesse Eisenberg clearly foots the bill in that respect.
  6. The Action. Whatever little there was, was quite spectacular.

What Sucked Balls:

  1. Very little of the aforementioned action. For a movie that promised ‘The Greatest Gladiator Match in the History of the World’, the amount of time the characters were seen in their costumes was woefully short.
  2. The conclusion to their rivalry. As much as I loved the way it was given shape and the way the motivations of both characters were explained, its conclusion was laughable.
    Bats: Whatchu sayin’ bro? Yo momma is called Martha?
    Supes: I ain’t shitting you bro.
    Bats: Let me save your contact as ‘Kal-El BFF’
    The enmity deserved a better, more believable resolution. Alas, we did not get it.

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    Let’s build up to the rivalry for like 50 minutes and wrap it up in 3. MAN OH MAN, it’s gonna be awesome!
  3. The movie’s structure. As I said before, Snyder had a lot to deal with. Still, there was a noticeable lack of coherence. Too many characters with too little fleshing out, unnecessary complication of the plot. The list of faults Snyder indulged in is quite large.
  4. The runtime. At 153 minutes, BvS was 30 minutes too long. What’s worse is that a lot of it was spent on completely pointless sequences. The entire intro sequence depicting the death of the Waynes. AGAIN. Why? As beautifully shot as it was, it was not at all needed. Superman’s introspective scene at the snow-capped hilltop with a vision of his father. Why? Laurence Fishburne being hyper, loud and incredibly animated. Why(was he even in the movie)? BvS  would have benefited from some crisp editing. And the rest of the runtime being devoted to character development. Which brings me to my next gripe.
  5. Superman. I guess I’m in the minority when I say I actually did not hate Man of Steel. I’d go as far as to say that I liked it. And I like Henry Cavill. But here, he just did not work. He barely had any material to work with. The current geekdom’s fascination toward Batman cost Superman to lose out in his own feature film. Sad. And Lois Lane. Seriously. What?
  6. In hindsight, it was absolutely unnecessary to spoil Doomsday in the trailers. Even the final trailer of the film beautifully depicted the boiling rivalry we’d be in for without even hinting at Doomsday.

All said and done, I genuinely liked BvS. I loved Ben Affleck’s Batman, and I cannot wait to see more of him in action in Suicide Squad and future DCEU entries. This movie had a humongous set of expectations to fulfill which it clearly could not. For every thing it got right, it royally screwed another one up. It was not the movie we were hoping for, but it still isn’t the miserable lump of sadness that the world at large is making it out to be. This is going to be the stepping stone for DCEU, for better or for worse. Hopefully, with the numerous responsibilities this movie has not-so-successfully got rid of, future entries will be a lot more comprehensive and sensible. Here’s hoping!