Saturday, 28 April 2012

Avengers (Film Review)

There’s only one thing which really needs to be said about this film –it’s the best superhero blockbuster to date. Having seen this I can die a happy man.
The Avengers is effectively a culmination of many of the Marvel films to date, starting with Iron Man and finishing with Captain America but not including the X-Men or Ghostrider films. Having been years in the making it was well worth the wait and in terms of enjoyment, quality and action it completely destroys Battleship without any effort.
The story is actually very simple for a film of this magnitude. Having been last seen falling into a void at the end of Thor, the asgardian Loki arrives on earth without warning and manages to single handily destroy S.H.I.E.L.D.’s headquarters. Displaying new powers and having forged a pact with an unknown force, Loki steals the cosmic cube tesseract device from the Captain America film, planning to use it to bring a powerful army through to conquer earth. Remove its superhero aspects and this film is effectively an alien invasion plot, but what makes it stand out is its build-up and development.
In every prior connecting film we’ve had growing hints to what is going to happen here from small scale things such as Nick Fury turning up at the end of Iron Man to Avengers’ MacGuffin being plot device in Captain America. Whoever planned out these films clearly took their time with throwing out occasional hints of a much bigger picture making it clear to audiences something important was to soon happen, and in many respects that is what happens in Avengers itself.
Rather than just having Loki’s army arrive during the first act, there is clear escalation throughout the film with the battle scenes getting bigger and the stakes getting higher to build tension. The best example of this is actually not the villain but one of the heroes, Bruce Banner. From his very first scene the film builds up this tension about what will happen if the Hulk is let loose and people carefully tip-toeing around him, with the performance of Mark Ruffalo giving undertones of having to constantly try and remain in control. This makes the Hulk’s first appearance at the half-way point have much more gravity and generates far more interest.
Speaking of the characters, the film manages to get each of them spot on. With each instalment having been helmed under a different director using very different styles of presentation there was a big risk Avengers wouldn’t be able to properly characterise them. Instead each hero acts exactly as they did in their previous film, in no one scene doing something which makes you think “no, they’d never do that.” In the few cases a character does behave differently it’s due to having not seen their true character until now or a significant change in setting, the keymost examples being Loki and Fury.
In Loki’s case he spent most of Thor acting under a façade of being a very different person, so what we see now is effectively his true self. Furthermore actor tom Hiddleston noted that he has experienced things since Thor which brought about changes within him - "I think the Loki we see in The Avengers is further advanced. You have to ask yourself the question: how pleasant an experience is it disappearing into a wormhole that has been created by some kind of super nuclear explosion of his own making? So I think by the time Loki shows up in The Avengers he's seen a few things."
In the case of Nick Fury, we’ve only seen him briefly in the past usually trying to recruit the superheroes to his cause. In Avengers we see him in command for the first time, having to deal with the politics of S.H.I.E.L.D. and displaying a much darker, manipulative streak than before, especially when facing desperate odds.
What really helps the characterisation, even when egos are clashing and skyscraper destroying battles are taking place, is the humour. It’s never out of place and even when it turns up in the middle of tense scenes it only enhances the viewing experience rather than ruining it in some way. You can have Thor and the Hulk fighting atop the bastard child of a Lord of Winter, completely trouncing every foe around them – then something genuinely funny will happen to keep it from turning into a grim faced, overly serious bore of a film.
Even though the Avengers lacks some of the depth seen in other popular superhero productions, namely Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, there’s only one criticism worth giving – this film is for the fans. To truly enjoy it to its fullest extent it is intended for you to have watched the majority of the Marvel films, Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America, to truly get what is going on. Even then that is part of Avengers’ appeal and helps to emphasise upon the scale of its events, showing how comic continuity can translate to the big screen.
So, Great characters? Check.
Every person gets a chance to shine? Check.
Brilliant action pieces? Check.
A well written script? Check.
Excellent pacing? Check.
Lives up to the hype? Absolutely.
Sets the standard for the summer blockbusters, is one of the best superhero films of the decade and is a must see while it’s on the big screen? Without a single doubt.
Go watch it while you still can.


The Avengers and all related characters and media are owned by Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Studios and Motion Pictures.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Lockout (Film Review)

Now, this is how you make a popcorn action film. No attempts at overly serious drama, no illusions as to having some major social message, no delusions on the part of its makers in thinking it’s a masterpiece – Lockout is simply a dumb, enjoyable ride from beginning to end. Everyone involved clearly knew what they were making was insane and created purely for the fun of it when they heard the description: “One man army takes on army of cryogenically frozen psychopaths in a space prison facility to rescue the president’s daughter”.

Honestly this feels like it was supposed to be a remake of a much older film. It’s at least as cheesy as something from the early to mid-80s, on par with Commando at times, and the very premise feels so old and clichéd that even after seeing it I’m having trouble believing it was an original pitch. Probably the only reason it did get funded was because Luc Besson was head writer on the project, so perhaps someone at Open Road Films thought they would end up with the next Fifth Element. Oddly enough you can see threads of that film’s DNA present in Lockout. Between Guy Pearce’s wisecracking disgraced government agent believed to have betrayed the USA, Lennie James as a former boss character trying to convince him to take on the mission and Maggie Grace playing a girl who has to be protected but visibly toughens up as events progress – it’s easy to draw parallels between the two.

There is only one thing really worth criticising about the film it’s the amount of money which went into it. With an even cheaper budget than you’d find in the Transporter films there are some very clear limitations placed upon Lockout, with a few of the more elaborate CGI’d scenes looking like they’ve been rendered using a last generation gaming console. When there’s not much going on or they can use explosions to hide any diminished visual quality it looks perfectly fine. It’s just that when the film’s get to its bigger set pieces it feel jarring due to the visible difference in quality between the two.

Along with the CGI, the budget did clearly cause problems for some of the film’s events. For one thing it didn’t seem to have the money available for any major gun battles or a climactic brawl between the protagonist and the film’s villains. While this did mean the film had to be creative and think up ways to keep it interesting without relying purely upon the action, not seeing a fight between Guy Pearce and the Scottish Joker as played by Joseph Gilgun was definitely a let-down.

All in all Lockout really is what Battleship should have been - Self-aware and utterly ludicrous. Everything it lacks in true cinematic quality is easily made up for by its fun factor, so give this one a look.


Lockout and all related characters and media are owned by Open Road Films.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Battleship (Film Review)

This is what happens when someone tries to mimic Michael Bay’s films and does it badly. No really, the repeated use of slow motion, the love for military equipment, generic stereotypes, mass destruction, slow motion and glorification of the American military is all there. It’s just that director Peter Berg manages to do it all much worse.

Allegedly based upon the tactical guessing game with pegs, Battleship very vaguely resembles its toy franchise. Okay, not even that, it has one scene in which it sort of resembles it for a couple of minutes. The plot of the film is that a scout force for a hostile alien race lands on earth during a joint naval exercise between Japan and America’s navies. Upon reaching the alien ships and activating them, a small destroyer group ends up trapped inside an energy field created by the invaders and its radar equipment being jammed. Now, as dumb as it might sound this idea might have still made a good film had they taken it in one of two routes:

One – Make it into a tense guessing game of tracking, pot shots and genuine intelligence with occasional bursts of combat. Something we’ve not seen since the days of Red October and Wrath of Khan.

Two – Turn it into a full blown action set piece, focusing entirely upon big explosions with Liam Neeson on a heavily damaged flagship firing a heavy machine gun at the aliens and yelling “You sunk my battleship!

It failed to do either. What we end up with is a film which makes Green Lantern look like a masterpiece, limits Neeson to a glorified cameo and feels more like a product put together in a factory than it does a directed film. Every modern gimmick is on display here from speed-up-slow-down action scenes, which half the film seems to consist of, to almost bland stereotyped characters – most notably a cliché storm of a computer geek. Bay’s films might be filled with insulting ethnic caricatures which leave the audience in a rage, but at least they’re creating some sort of solid emotional core in the film. These ones give you no connection to them, no desire to see them survive or get killed, and in all honesty this leaves you feeling bored.

Even the big explosive set pieces don’t stand out that well, with the aliens only using one of three weapons. Sure the car sized razorballs of death might be somewhat impressive at first, and the explosive “pegs” they fire might get a laugh initially, but they’re used so often they get old very quickly. There’s no real wow moments to the constant barrage of action, occasionally you’ll get something which makes you think “that one was pretty good” but it just starts to become repetitive due to the lack of variety.

With much better films like the Avengers coming very soon there’s absolutely no reason to see this one. If you want mindless action just go watch one of Roland Emmerich’s better films like Universal Soldier. If you want to see a good alien invasion film, track down a copy of the War of the Worlds remake. If you want to see Liam Neeson or Taylor Kitsch in explosive, fun films re-watch A-Team or wait for John Carter to come out on DVD. Just don’t waste your money on this soulless mess.


Battleship and all related characters and media are owned by Universal Pictures.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

The Iron Warriors Omnibus (Book Review)

Yes, we’re finally getting back to this at long last. It’s about damn time too.

There’s one thing to make clear before we start – this won’t be like the other omnibus covered. The Iron Warriors omnibus only has one actual novel in it and mainly consists of a number of short stories. Aside from The Heraclitus Effect, these are all of a consistently good quality and most don’t need to be commented upon. If anything the biggest criticism and strength of them is their length so instead they will generally be commented upon rather than individually. But as the omnibus begins with its only novel, we’ll start there:

Storm of Iron

If Nightbringer is the personification of the Imperium’s plights, this is almost certainly the personification of Chaos’ assaults upon their loyalist enemies. In this single story you effectively learn just why Chaos Space Marines are so much of a threat and why, despite losing thirteen – nil to the Imperial Guard, their massive crusades are regarded with great severity.

The story behind this one is that the sparsely populated Imperial world of Hydra Cordatus is attacked without warning by a massive force of Iron Warriors, who quickly isolate the planet and in a single massive strike takes the spaceport. The only stronghold on the world, the massive imperial fortress complex sharing the planet’s name is the only hope for holding back the tide of traitor marines. Heavily armed and well-defended the fortress is a symbol of Imperial strength, host to an army of disciplined soldiers, but the Iron Warriors are not without allies and know the prize awaiting them within its walls.

This book is often cited as being one of the best examples of writing in 40K and with good reason. While it is not as ground-breaking as Eisenhorn or well written as the Night Lords series, it gives very detailed and loyal depictions of both sides. The Imperial Guard commanders are presented as being competent, a thankful change from their reputation of all being clones of General Melchett, but with character flaws. Despite being outnumbered and outgunned, they respond with bravery and intelligence to each attack. It’s only due to the Iron Warriors’ experience with siege warfare, or in one occasion the appearance of a much bigger threat, that they fail. They don’t throw away their troops, they are not utterly incompetent, and when the fortress begins to fall they are fighting against the space marines, not hiding from combat.

The Iron Warriors space marines are similarly well portrayed. Unlike the ones in Night Lords and Word Bearers, they do come across as being very typical chaos space marines. Complete monsters, who will gladly backstab one another and gladly sacrificing the human forces under their command. They are barely united under one banner and feel very little comradery towards one another. At the same time however they are highly disciplined, skilled at combat, and the characters have some surprising depth to them. This is best seen in a discussion between the first captain Ferrox and champion Honsou, and Ferrox’s apparent disillusion with the with Chaos’ continued crusades against the Imperium of Man. Furthermore, while Chaos is the obvious protagonist and clearly winning throughout the conflict the Imperials do achieve minor victories making the events more interesting than a prolonged curb stomp.

You really need to read this one for yourself to see just how good it is. Trying to describe its events and cite examples of its themes makes it sound unremarkable, like it’s covering old territory but upon reading it the book is very fast paced. It thoroughly details a short but destructive planetary campaign and brought the Iron Warriors to the foreground after they had been in the shadow of more prominent Chaos legions for years.

And atop of all this it introduced the character of Honsou, an oddity amongst the traitor marine characters of the Black Library. He had neither been present during the Horus Heresy nor was he thousands of years old with a very personal hatred of the Emperor, but he had ambition and a vicious, brutal intelligence which gave him an edge over his fellow officers. A character with potential to be something more than just a character in a one-shot tale and enough of a threat to be the villainous archenemy of one of McNeill’s heroes.

Short Stories
Now, as mentioned before these will be looked at generally rather than individually for a number of reasons. The first is that their inclusion is both the Omnibus’ biggest strength and biggest flaw. Due to their length they very rarely consist of epic battles as seen in Storm of Iron and the one attempt to display something on that scale, The Heraclitus Effect, felt very rushed and did not properly emphasise upon the gravity of what took place. It felt like the Iron Warriors’ attack had been far too easy, that the destruction had been made with little effort and despite its impact the attack felt oddly petty for Honsou to do.

Another problem as a result of their length was they do not allow for prolonged character interaction or a well-developed character arc, instead they are at best given brief bursts or characterisation at points in the short stories. So we never really get characters who feel like they’re as fleshed out and built up as the protagonists of the Ultramarines series. This is especially disappointing as it makes the character introduced at the end of Dead Sky Black Sun feel like he was underdeveloped, and the redemption of another character much later on feel contrived.

Despite this, at the same time they did allow for much more variety than you would usually see in a three book omnibus. Like the acclaimed Brothers of the Snake, the stories are linked together and are progressing towards a single conclusion but they take place in far more locations. At best with a novel you would see two, perhaps three different planets but in the omnibus each short story takes place in a very different location. These range from New Badab, a world completely corrupt and home to the Red Corsairs, to a star fort which imprisons something Honsou needs to enact his revenge. They also help to build up towards the events of the Ultramarines’ conclusion, The Chapter’s Due, making its major conflicts feel much more like a grand finale than it would have on its down.

All in all, this is probably the weakest of the Black Library’s three Chaos series. While it’s good a good author behind it, the series after Storm of Iron feels mostly like it’s a side story to the Ultramarines series. Used to boost the importance of some events and hype up the conclusion, so it doesn’t really stand on its down. In spite of this, there is some hope this might become a standalone series as the final short story, Beast of Calth, takes place after The Chapter’s Due and gives some hope for Honsou to return some time in the future.

On the whole this is a good collection, but it’s only recommended to people following the Ultramarines series.


Warhammer 40,000 and all related characters and media are owned by Games Workshop and Black Library.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Confrontation (PC Video Game Review)

Read the review in full on

If this review needed to sum up Confrontation in one word it would be “unpolished”. This was a title with massive amounts of potential, something which could have been adapted into a very successful game – but is held back by some very obvious mistakes.
Based upon the fantasy tabletop wargame of the same name, Confrontation is set in a grimdark world divided by continual war, besieged by horrors and on the brink of Rag’Narok. The tabletop game focused upon small bands of individual heroes, each with their own class. Better yet it was being made by the developer Cyanide Studios who successfully created a faithful adaptation of another tabletop game, Blood Bowl.

With in depth backgrounds, a system which could easily be adapted for video games, a developer who had shown they knew what they were doing - this should have been a solid title. Instead what we got was something which felt like it needed several months more work or a much clearer idea of what was being made. The biggest example of this is the campaign which feels very minimalist and lacks immersion due to the makers making the number one mistake in storytelling – the player is constantly told things rather than being shown them.


Confrontation and all related characters and media are owned by Rackham Entertainment. Confrontation (Video Game) was developed by Cyanide Studios.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters (PS3 Video Game Review)

For years licensed games have been consistently known as being failures. Attempts to cash in on a film and quickly squirt out something to get a series or movie a small amount of money with apparently the least possible effort. There have been repeat offenders towards this, Transformers I’m looking at you, and many which have failed due to the company making the film pressuring the people making their game.

So considering these points how does Green Lantern fair? In all honesty it’s actually not bad. It’s nothing groundbreaking but considering it’s from a genre which produced such games as Superman 64, Catwoman, Thor and Aquaman: Battle for Atlantis it’s outstandingly good. It’s the latest in a recent trend of licensed games which have been fairly fun for something I’d usually criticise, but it makes a lot of sense here. They’re copying more popular releases.
Due to the rushed schedule of licensed games to capitalize on their film’s release, developers don’t have as much time to work on an entirely new game as other titles do. Using an already successful game as a template makes for a much higher quality product. You can probably think of a few just off of the top of your head, Tron Evolution using many aspects of Prince of Persia, Captain America: Super Soldier have obvious elements of Arkham Asylum, especially in its combat. Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters is itself basically a God of War clone.

The story, as is the case with the better licensed games mentioned above, distances itself from the plot of the film as much as possible. During the funeral of Abin Sur the now homicidal predecessors to the Green Lantern Corps, the robotic Manhunters, return to the Corps’ base of power on Oa to try and enact a campaign of revenge. The player uses Hal Jordan to try and hold off the legions of robots in their invasion attempt and get to the bottom of who is apparently helping them from behind the scenes.
Unfortunately, anyone who has read the comics knows who this will be right from the first cutscene. The player also isn’t given much more of a story than the first cutscene and it’s only a single line which gives the background to the Manhunters, so the basic story isn’t that great. There are some parts of it which stand out though such as the inclusion of elements from the Green Lantern mythos such as the Zamarons and the use of the different energy types (yellow, blue etc) give spikes of interest, but it’s overall unremarkable.

What does help it a lot is the voice acting which for the most part is good. The quality in which Ryan Reynolds delivers his lines varies greatly, frequently sounding directionless or phoning in his performance but when he’s given something of substance to work with he gives some emotion to his character. Sinestro’s voice actor, Martin Csokas, gives a much more villainous sounding performance than Mark Strong but seems into the character and Kevin Michael Richards delivers a very solid Kilowog. Other background figures such as Ganthet have good voice acting talent behind them, so while the hero might be giving an occasionally lackluster performance those he’s talking with can usually pick up the slack.

So that’s the story related stuff out of the way now for the graphics and gameplay. As I mentioned before this is mostly a God of War clone so you already know what to expect, lots of hacking and slashing, but unfortunately the Green Lanterns don’t allow blood crazy madmen into their ranks. As such there’s no gory finishers or watching as Kilowog rips the eye out of a cyclopse after stabbing it repeatedly or dismembering Manhunters. Actually, for the first part of the game the Manhunters really don’t stand out very well as the villains. The average muscle bound linebackers with energy swords backed up by Iron Man clones with projectiles don’t present that much of a challenge.
You could be fighting over a dozen of them at once and you’ll never run the risk of them taking off any health, much less killing you.
This does thankfully change later on to provide you with some challenges, but it can become a real slog to get through the early stages on Oa to reach the game’s more interesting challenges. One thing which does help keep you interested in playing, and makes up for the lack of gore, is the way the energy constructs are used.

While what the Lanterns start out with is fairly generic, just a pair of sword constructs and giant fists, what you unlock and buy quickly starts to make the game fairly interesting. One especially fun very early edition is the Grab Throw which allows you to summon a hug three pronged claw, pick up enemies and then lob them several meters in any direction. Being able to use enemies as projectile weapons to destroy targets, others in their squad or throw them off bridges proved to be endlessly entertaining and it only got better once more abilities were unlocked.
Between cluster missile launchers, flying buzzsaw blades, jet fighters, a giant freaking assault mech, it is clear Double Helix Games was trying to give some variety to how you took out enemies. Some are definitely broken, spamming the aforementioned jet will kill anything in your way, but it remains undeniably amusing. Even more so when you’re playing co-op and have two people doing it at once, sure it’s repetitive hack and slash gameplay but it’s fun repetative hack and slash gameplay.

Unfortunately the third playable mode, Take Flight, is fairly dull by comparison. It’s just a rail-shooter and in all honesty not a very good one at that. You just fly, dodge and shoot down enemies, killing hordes of them over and over again. And while the other two modes do pretty much that, they at least have some innovative ways of slaughtering Manhunters in them. The only noteworthy thing is the environments and backgrounds in this mode, both of which look very nice, but you see far better in the other two modes.

The environments in the core gameplay mode look very nice, while you’re limited to ruins at the beginning there’s much more variety displayed as you keep playing ranging from the catacombs containing the central power battery to the Manhunter’s stronghold on Biot. Each has its own type of atmosphere and has been artistically designed to have its own theme and feel to it and they’re well done, at least on par with the designs of War for Cybertron. Speaking of War for Cybertron, one of the reasons I specifically mentioned the backgrounds is this one of the few other games which displays the sheer scale of war in the same way.
The first level you enter shows a massive Manhunter invasion force behind you, demolishing buildings, bombing cities and landing troops. The specific way it’s shot and is displayed emphasises your small role but makes you feel like you’re a part of a much bigger fight. It also helps offset the average graphics which, while a cut above that of other licensed games, are visibly worse than stuff like Arkham City.

Between its enjoyable hack and slash gameplay, short campaign and co-operative; Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters is fun if flawed and short lived. It’s a good game to rent for a weekend and blitz through with a friend, but unless you are a fan of both the comics and film it’s not worth buying. Even then it’s only worth getting if you can find a copy with a very cheap price tag attached.


Green Lantern and all related characters and media are owned by DC comics. Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters was developed by Double Helix Games.