Tag Archives: Fanboy Opinion

An Open Letter to the Cast of Avengers: Endgame from a Humble (and Grateful) Fanboy

Dear Cast of Avengers: Endgame

This next Tuesday, April 26th, marks three years since the release of the final installment of the Infinity Saga. At the time, I wasn’t sure if anything could truly cap off 11 years of the MCU, including 22 movies and one helluva setup with Infinity War. I should’ve known all of you would knock it out of the park.

Of course, the odds of any of the actual cast reading this are admittedly pretty slim, but writing this is cathartic for me after the emotional roller-coaster that is Avengers: Endgame that still lives rent-free in my head now in 2022.   

Ohhhhh Yeaaaaah! (*said in the Kool-Aid Man voice*)

First, the general stuff:

This goes out to not only the cast but the crew as well. It took a literal army of people to bring this movie to life. No matter what your role was on this film, on or off the screen, it’s clear that your passion for the work came shining through in a way that’s seldom seen. I’m sure there were a myriad of frustrations and obstacles that we, as the viewing audience, will never understand or even know existed. But you persevered, laboring to create something truly beautiful.

And what you have created is nothing less than a love letter to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As both a comics fanboy and movie enthusiast, I am humbled by the feature you collectively delivered. Truly. Humbled. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. You have no idea what your work means to me.

There are a few folks in particular I would like to address. Obviously, I can’t cover everyone involved in a production this size (this may lead me to write a Part 2 to this eventually), so let me simply say that every actor who made an on-screen appearance played their part to perfection. Every single one. The MCU has always had pretty inspired casting, and I can safely say that the acting here is phenomenal across the board. I love you all.

Okay, now the specifics:

Jon Favreau – Where would we be if you hadn’t directed the original Iron Man? For me and many of my friends, it’s been our collective dream to see an interconnected universe where these heroes could team up and interact with each other. You set that in motion, and I’m really happy (note the use of the word) that you have maintained a recurring character. I always look forward to seeing him, and wow-oh-wow did your scene with young Morgan strike home, post-funeral scene.  While it’s not strictly on topic, I have really enjoyed The Mandalorian and other Star Wars projects that you and Dave Filoni have created. I look forward to many more.

Alan Silvestri – I’ve been listening to your Endgame score while writing this letter. It’s so evocative. There’s pain, and despair, but there’s a slender thread of hope that runs through it. One of the hardest things about watching this movie was seeing all these characters I love in such pain, and you underscore it beautifully. Let me add that I’ve been a fan of your scores since Back to the Future. Your work regularly appears on my writing playlists. Your ability to inspire, or to break my heart, through music is astonishing. When your Avengers theme comes on, I feel like I can fly.

The Russo Brothers – You did the impossible. You brought a million disparate threads together, weaving them into a tapestry worthy of Odin’s great hall. Your contributions to the MCU in the past have been top-tier. Winter Soldier and Civil War are visual poetry. And now with Infinity War/Endgame, you have created the crown jewel of the Infinity Saga. You should be proud.

Tom Holland – I know that you weren’t in this film very much, but every moment with Spidey is absolute gold. You really twisted the knife in Infinity War with your “I don’t feel so good, Mr. Stark” line. I’m still not sure I’ve recovered from it. And then, the look on your face when the tables were turned at the end here — wow. Peter’s vulnerability is something that really shines through every time you’re in the role. Also, as I said in my No Way Home review, that was pretty much everything I could have ever asked for as a life-long Spider-Man fan.

YAAAAAAASSS!

Jeremy Renner – The first scene of this movie really allows you to shine. As a parent, it really struck home. The confusion, which quickly turns to fear, it was all there on your face. This was a Clint that was hard to watch because he was just so dead inside, and we as the audience were witness to the moment it happened. I think you are a fine actor, and I think that this is some of the best work I’ve ever seen from you. I was also very pleased by the Hawkeye Disney+ series. I hope that this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Clint Barton.

Scarlett Johansson – What a legend. Thank you for being an integral part of the MCU since Iron Man 2. I know that death in the comics, and often in the movies, can be more of an inconvenience that anything else. That wasn’t the case with Nat’s death. It felt pretty permanent, and thus more real. I gotta say, Endgame had me crying about six different times, and I when saw Nat fall, I was bawling. No more red in her ledger. She made the hard call. It was incredibly harsh to watch, but what a way to go out.

Paul Rudd – I have to tell you that Scott’s reunion with Cassie was incredibly moving, and one of many places where the screen was suddenly blurry for, ahem, no well-explained reason. There are so many emotions playing across your face in that moment. I love that Ant-Man is the key to the Avengers’ eventual victory, and that you had so many great moments. You, sir, are a national treasure. I look forward to seeing you return in Quantummania.  

Mark Ruffalo – You took one of the most challenging characters to portray in maybe of all of Marvel, and you make it look effortless. I can’t even imagine the level of motion capture rigs and general weirdness it must take to turn in a Hulk performance. I loved seeing Professor Hulk in this, where Bruce had found a kind of balance with the dual sides of his nature. While Tony may have defeated Thanos in the end, it was the Hulk that undid the Blip. Half of the universe returned to life because of his direct actions. As accolades go, that one doesn’t suck.

Chris Hemsworth – Of all the Avengers, Thor is the one who internalized the failure to stop Thanos the most, taking him down a self-destructive path. I know that a lot of it gets played for laughs, thanks in part to your incredible comic timing, but those moments when we see Thor reflect on his role in events is moving. He’s always the hero who is exactly where he needs to be when it matters most, so for him to fail by a matter of seconds was gut wrenching. I noticed in the recent Thor: Love and Thunder teaser that Thor is trying to find his place in the universe after all of that. I am here for it.

5 Years Later

Chris Evans – Oh Captain, My Captain! I remember seeing Cap standing alone on the field facing Thanos, hurt, dirty, with a broken shield in hand. I knew that this would be the last movie where you played Steve Rogers, and I was painfully aware of how that confrontation played out in the Infinity Gauntlet comics. I remember sitting in the theatre thinking, “Oh god, this is where we lose him.” Even when it all seemed hopeless, when the Avengers were scattered, we see that Steve is ready to fight to the last.

But then…

Then we get perhaps my favorite moment in any MCU, set to this piece of music. There used to be these promotional posters that just said “Marvel Universe” on them. They were entirely covered with overlapping superhero art. There was one of those hanging up at the local comic shop (local being a relative term) when I was a kid. I used to stare in awe at it. Every single hero on that poster had a story, an origin, dreams, challenges, victories, and defeats.

Yeah, this one. I’m still in awe of it.

Seeing Cap lead the Avengers into battle one last time took me back to that poster, a reminder of my earliest interest in Marvel comics. Of course, finally hearing you say “Avengers, assemble!” was the cherry on top. Thank you for a great run as Captain America.

Robert Downey, Jr. – Here’s the thing about Iron Man for me: My love for the character is second generation. I got it from my Dad, who read Iron Man comics as a kid in the late ’60s. He encouraged me to read the comics, and love of the character is something we’ve bonded over. His birthday is in May. Since Marvel tends to kick their summer off around that time, practically every year I’ve had a movie to take him to around his birthday. In 2008, we saw the first Iron Man together in a little theatre in East Texas. When we saw Endgame together, it was in the same theatre. We ended our journey with Tony Stark in the same place it began. Just thought I’d share that.

You are a once-in-a-generation casting for this role. Others might have been able to do him justice, but you took the very real pain from your personal life and used it to bring Tony to life in a way that felt right, felt true. I am thankful for every second of every appearance of your Tony Stark. From the bottom of my fanboy heart, thank you.

Part of the journey is the end.

Truth is, I’m super selfish. If you had played him 100 times, I would want to see 101. I know that there comes a time for all things to end. And as heroic ends go, Tony’s is pretty hard to beat; he not only defeated Thanos, but saved the life of every living being in the universe. Every character we see from now on in an MCU film owes Tony a debt of gratitude. We’ve already seen the shadow that his absence casts, particularly over Peter Parker. I am curious to see how his legacy unfolds moving forward, especially as we get into shows like Armor Wars and Ironheart.

I’m sure that you’ve heard this a million times by now, but I sincerely mean it:

I love you 3000.

And really, that goes for everyone associated with this movie.

You are all my heroes.

Thanks for all your time and consideration.

Si vales, valeo.

– Matt Carson


Fred vs. Hannibal: Strange Headcanon #1

[Full disclosure: I wrote the bulk of this blog post a while back as a fun, tongue-in-cheek sort of writing prompt. As it deals with some themes of war, and we find ourselves watching in collective horror at what’s going on in Ukraine, I’m putting a mild trigger warning on this one.] 

So…

The pandemic has seen me return to a number of my favorite shows. Needing a little levity and excitement, I decided to pick up all five seasons of The A-Team. I have fond memories of seeing it as a kid, and let’s face it…you just can’t be unhappy when that iconic theme song is playing. It is simply the way of things.

*cue that theme song*

Well, in one of the earlier episodes, Face, Murdock, B.A., and Hannibal are on a mission in South America. As it’s pretty warm there, we see George Peppard wear a bandana around his neck like an ascot as he merrily smokes cigars and fights the assorted baddies in that week’s episode. At that moment, I was struck by how much Hannibal looked like an older, extremely badass version of Fred Jones from Scooby-Doo.

He love it when a plan comes together.

And that got me to thinking: What if the two men were actually the same person?

What follows is the resulting story as my mind started making connections between the two.

_______________________________________________

The child that would come to be known as Fredrick Jones, Jr. was born in the autumn of 1932 in Crystal Cove, California. The son of the mayor, he never knew his mother who (supposedly) left when he was very young. A curious and intelligent child, Fred had a natural knack for mechanics, gimmickry, and gadgetry, particularly in the area of building traps. He was also fascinated by the True Crime comics of his day, leading him to take an interest in investigation and deductive reasoning. This would lead him to meet and befriend Norville “Shaggy” Rogers and his Great Dane, Scooby-Doo, the incredible genius Velma Dinkley, and the woman who would become the love of his life, Daphne Blake. 

Fred and Daphne in early 1950.

As he grew to be a teenager, he excelled at sports and athletics, turning into a handsome young man who was socially popular. Even with all the attention, he only had eyes for Daphne. The four of them would solve many mysteries and strange occurrences before founding Mystery Inc. officially. Upon earning his driver’s license in 1949, his father rewarded him with a bright teal Volkswagon minibus, one of the first ever sold in the United States. Shaggy would paint green flourishes over it sides, while Daphne and Velma added orange daisies. Together, they dubbed the van the “Mystery Machine.” The vehicle would come to symbolize their unique bond, and it would become their home for the next two years as they toured the country, investigating hundreds of supernatural phenomena and mysterious happenings.

The Mystery Machine.

In every instance where they meddled, they found it was someone merely attempting to frighten people with clever light shows, special effects and — most notably — personal disguises. While the majority of the disguises turned out to be rubber masks that could be easily pulled off, a fair few of them used makeup, wigs, and spirit gum in ingenious ways to give their appearance realistic and convincing details. Little by little, Fred learned from their disguise techniques, stowing them away to one day become a master of disguise himself.

During this time on the road, Velma kept a detailed journal of their adventures. Years later, a copy of this journal would wind up in the hands of executives at Hanna-Barbera, who would translate the colorful adventures contained within into an animated series named for Norville’s mystery-solving dog.

In early 1952, Mystery Inc. went their separate ways. Velma went to MIT on a full-ride scholarship for math and science. Daphne went to study architecture in places across Italy and France. Norville and his dog became nomads, continuing to seek out adventure and oversized hero sandwiches wherever the winds of fate might carry them. With a tear in his eye, Fred handed Norville the keys to the Mystery Machine to aid them in their travels, and said good-bye.

One of the last photos of them all together. (March, 1952.)

The breaking of their band was hard on Fred, but the loss of Daphne made the familiar sights of Crystal Cove too painful to bear. Wanting to get away from it all, he secretly created a false identity for himself and enlisted in the Army. Knowing that his father would not approve, Fred signed his papers with the most non-descript name he could think of, one that would be virtually impossible to track: John Smith. He would likewise wear gloves at almost all times to keep from being tracked by his fingerprints.

His exceptional physical abilities, combined with his innate leadership skills and cleverness, made him a natural choice for the Green Berets. Once in training, he drilled on a host of skills, including operating small arms, parachuting out of a plane, and outflanking and out-thinking an enemy in virtually any environment. In short order, he deployed to Korea in the final year of the war. The unorthodox methods he employed while in the field won him the nickname “Hannibal,” a nom de guerre he would carry for the rest of his life.

“John Smith” reports for duty. (September,1952.)

After leaving Korea, he was tapped for Officer Candidacy School (OCS), where he underwent his transformation from an enlisted soldier to an officer. Over the next few years, the Army would invest heavily in Hannibal’s education, heaping upon him extra training and learning opportunities. He excelled at every turn. He was among the first American ‘advisors’ to reach Vietnam in the late ’50s. While the fighting did not quite reach the fevered pitch that it would a decade later, Hannibal wearied of fighting.

By 1962, Hannibal’s term in the Army was almost up. He toyed with the idea of leaving the fighting behind and settling down. While on leave in the United States, he looked up Daphne, hoping to rekindle their old flame. He proposed on the spot. Unfortunately for Hannibal, she was already considering an engagement to Jack Harmon, a successful businessman. While Daphne still harbored feelings for Hannibal, she ultimately chose Jack over her old Mystery Inc. friend and lover. Hannibal was still an adventurer, still destined to travel the world, where as Daphne had dreams of starting a family.

Though brokenhearted, Hannibal knew that Jack was a good and decent man who would take care of Daphne. Hannibal and Jack parted ways as reluctant friends. With nothing left for him in the United States, Hannibal re-enlisted in the Army and once again shipped out to Vietnam. In 1965, Jack and Daphne welcomed a baby boy into their family, Fred “Kid” Harmon. Hannibal would visit them often when he returned to the States, where his namesake would recognize him as “Uncle John.”

“Kid” Harmon. (November, 1985.)

In Vietnam, Hannibal would continue to make a name for himself. While he remained fit and operational, his blonde hair slowly turned into a silvery gray, but his signature blue eyes remained bright, however. While never a hard drinker, the years of war and conflict did see him pick up the habit of smoking cigars, particularly Cuban panetelas.

Hannibal on leave in 1971.

Always one to surround himself with talented people, he came to build a new core team in the jungles of Vietnam, somewhat modeled after his experience with Mystery Inc. Shortly before the Tet Offensive kicked off in 1968, he recruited and befriended four other Green Berets: the handsome, fast-talking swindler, Templeton “Faceman” Peck, the half-crazed Huey pilot with an invisible dog, Captain H.M. “Howling Mad” Murdock, and the tough-as-nails Sergeant Bosco Albert Baracus (or simply “B.A.”), who would prove to be the most capable fighter Hannibal would ever encounter.

While Hannibal hadn’t planned it that way, the four of them mirrored the structure of Mystery Inc. Hannibal was once again the leader, with Face as the resident convincer and influencer, and Murdock as an analogue to Norville’s zany antics. Oddly enough, B.A. was the genius of the group like Velma had been all those years before. Instead of a scientific genius, however, Mr. Bad Attitude himself was an absolute wizard when it came to vehicles and mechanics. The four of them together had a knack for kit-bashing what they needed for the mission out of the materials at hand, including elaborate traps, which Hannibal excelled at building. 

The four of them would come to form a crack commando unit tasked with the most difficult missions the Vietnamese theatre could throw at them. They were known as Alpha Team during their early exploits, a name which would later be shortened to the A-Team. They would become the most famous soldiers in Vietnam, though H.M. Murdock’s role as the team’s resident pilot would remain ambiguous, at least as far as the Army was aware.  

The A-Team attending a funeral in full uniform.

At various times, they would cross paths and run missions with the likes of fellow Green Beret, Michael Arthur Long, the ingenious bomb specialist, Angus “Bud” MacGyver, noted college athlete, James Crockett, and decorated Navy SEAL, Thomas Sullivan Magnum IV. There was even a friendly rivalry that developed between fellow helicopter pilots Murdock and Stringfellow “Stray Dog” Hawke.

In 1972, their commanding officer, Colonel Morrison, ordered them on a super secret mission to rob the Bank of Hanoi in an attempt to end the war. While they were successful in completing the mission, they returned to their base to find it utterly destroyed and Colonel Morrison killed. Without any evidence that they were ordered to rob the bank, it appeared to the Army that the A-Team had gone rogue. Upon reporting in to clear their names, they were arrested.

From Col. Decker’s casefile. Photographer unknown. This mission would alter the trajectory of their lives.

These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground, where they survived as soldiers of fortune. Glad to be back in his native California, Hannibal found that he had traded the steaming jungle terrain of Vietnam for the concrete jungle of modern-day LA. For the next 10 years, the four of them used their skills to fight for those in need, sometimes for pay, sometimes out of the necessity of the cause.

Still wanted by the government, and pursued by the tenacious Colonel Lynch, and others like him, Hannibal mounted a successful mission back to Vietnam in late 1982 to recover the gold taken on that fateful mission. Once in hand, they divvied up the money. H.M Murdock gave most of his away to various animal charities and checked himself into a military psychiatric ward to avoid suspicion. Face spent his reward on the finer things in life, but his pockets were soon emptied. Hannibal anonymously invested his earnings into his adopted nephew’s fledgling racing career.

If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them…

Yet, the part that made Hannibal’s heart soar was when B.A. spent his reward on a black and gray 1983 GMC Vandura with red turbine wheels, a spoiler, and slanting racing stripes down the sides. B.A. had supercharged the engine, reinforced the frame with bulletproof panels, and installed secret compartments, including weapon storage and even a full photographic and printing suite.

B.A. had prepared for them a mobile command center, a home away from home, a vehicle that would be emblematic of their loyalty to one another. Once again, the man from Crystal Cove, who had worn many names in his lifetime, and helped countless people, slipped into the seat of a van with his closest friends to seek out adventure in the great unknown.

Photo from shortly before their nationally televised court-martial.
(August, 1986.)

_______________________________________________

There you have it, folks. If you write fan fiction of either property, feel free to take this information and do with it what you will.

This was an interesting thought experiment for me that I really enjoyed writing. Would you like me to do others in a Strange Headcanon series? Would you like to continue the timeline of this particular thread? If so, leave me a like or a comment to let me know.

Take care, and thanks for reading!


Fanboy Movie Review #14 — Spider-Man: No Way Home

[Note: I do not consider myself a movie critic. What follows is just one fanboy’s opinion based off of a single viewing of the film. Oh, and there are SPOILERS ahead for this movie, Loki and Hawkeye, so take heed.]

At the time of this writing, Spider-Man: No Way Home has taken the world by storm, clocking in at a whopping 1.6 billion at the box office. According to Box Office Mojo, it’s already surpassed Black Panther to take 4th place in the top domestic earners of all time and 8th place worldwide. That’s crazy in the best sense of the word. I only wish that Stan the Man was still with us to see not one but three versions of his famous creation save the day on screen. Together.

YAAAAAAAAASSS! (I might be a little excited.)

Since we are going to be talking about different actors playing the same character, I’m designating them in order of chronological appearance, so:

  • Peter-1 – OG Spider-Man/Tobey Maguire
  • Peter-2 – Amazing Spider-Man/Andrew Garfield
  • Peter-3 – MCU Spider-Man/Tom Holland

First Impressions:

There was no way I wasn’t going to see this movie. I wasn’t super keen on heading to a packed theatre to see it, but I did so anyway. Tom Holland has proven himself an inspired casting choice for Spider-Man, and seeing him in the role would have been enough to motivate me. The studio leaks that said that Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield would reprise their roles as the titular character gave me a little pause. Not because they weren’t great, but I was somewhat worried that too many things would try to be smashed together into one movie. You don’t have to look any further than 2007’s Spider-Man 3 to see how a story can falter for having too many elements going on at once.  That many characters on screen, even with a long run time, can be challenging to land just right.

All of my concerns proved unfounded, however.  To say that this movie sticks the landing is the understatement among understatements.

What I LIKED:

DAREDEVIL! – I let out an excited yell in the theatre when Charlie Cox showed up as Matt Murdock. And this within days of Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk showing up on Hawkeye. It still remains to be seen how much they are like their Netflix appearances, but to have them as an official part of the MCU after being consigned to legal limbo is incredible. Now that it’s been established, I hope we start seeing Charlie Cox show up in other Marvel projects and eventually headline his own series or movie again. 

Peter-3’s Sense of Compassion – Peter didn’t take the easy way out. At any time he could have pushed the button and made the issue of the villains (literally) disappear. Even when they turned on him, his goal was to help them, a decision that ultimately costs him dearly. Yet, he still does it. At the battle at the Statue of Liberty, his goal wasn’t just to punch them, but to cure them. It all calls back to Peter’s innate humanity and compassion. Yeah, he got a little carried away with Green Goblin there for a moment, but it’s hard to blame him. And, wow, can Norman Osborn take a punch. That formula must’ve been really something.

Real Consequences – I’ve heard it said that nothing in the MCU feels like it has any real stakes since it can be undone or retconned easily enough. That’s less of a problem with Marvel movies and more an issue with comics in general, I think. But here, Peter’s choices have lasting consequences. From the looks of it, the aftermath of this movie doesn’t feel like it will be overturned.

Returning Heroes – If there’s a trope that’s my literary kryptonite, it’s the returning hero. Especially if the hero was thought lost or has been away for a long time. Seeing Peter-1 and 2 show up again is a warm hug straight to the heart. It’s great to see Tobey and Andrew step into these roles when we weren’t sure if we would ever see them wear the red and blue again. Love it.

“Maybe she didn’t die for nothing, Peter.”

Aunt May Says the Words – When Spider-Man showed up in Captain America: Civil War, I had assumed that this version of the character had witnessed Uncle Ben die as well. My guess was that after seeing that event happen twice on screen that the screenwriters (wisely) didn’t want to show us all that again. From how this played out, it looks like Aunt May might have been with Ben when he died instead. Spider-Man is, unfortunately, fated to lose someone he loves dearly. Yet, he always takes that loss and transforms it into something positive. We hear Marisa Tomei say the immortal words that Stan Lee left us with all those years ago, and it really hits home. Tom Holland brings such a wonderful vulnerability to the character, and his performance is so good in that scene that it feels like the loss we see on screen is really happening.     

Spider-Man vs. Doctor Strange – I normally don’t like it when superheroes fight, but I felt this one was justified, even if I think Strange should have at least heard Peter-3 out. While it would seem that Strange should just be able to roll over Spidey without issue, that Peter was able to use math to find a way to beat Strange at his own game shows us just how smart our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man really is.

The Scooby Gang – Some of my favorite moments in the movie are when Peter-3, Ned, and MJ are together as friends and trying to determine what they’re going to do. The chemistry of those three actors is fantastic. Spider-Friends…go for it!

Still got it.

The Sinister Six Five – Each of the villains had their moment to shine with stand-out performances by Alfred Molina and Willem Dafoe as Doc Ock and Green Goblin, respectively. Seeing both of them step back into these roles is a real treat.

J. Jonah Jameson – If ever there was an actor who really nailed it in bringing a character from the comics to life, J.K. Simmons did that with the bombastic editor-in-chief of the Daily Bugle in Peter-1’s continuity. Seeing him reprise his role in the MCU is a real bright spot. Any time we get hear him say, “He’s a menace!” I am there for it.

Happy Hogan – This one hurt. This really brought home the extent of what Peter had to sacrifice to win the day. We see the full extent of Strange’s spell in effect here. Jon Favreau helped start the wheels of the MCU turning with the original Iron Man. I’m always glad to see him as a recurring character. I hope he’s able to keep going with Happy for as long as he wants.

Venom – If I’m being frank, I haven’t been a big fan of either of the Venom movies that have come out. I didn’t hate them, but I wouldn’t say that I liked them. I was a bit concerned by the stinger in Venom: Let There Be Carnage. I didn’t really want that version of the character in the MCU. Thankfully, we got the best of both worlds. Tom Hardy’s character was banished back to his own continuity, but we got a trace of the symbiote left behind that could be a catalyst for other stories. Since Secret Wars is in the production pipeline, maybe that’s where it will come into play.

What I DIDN’T Like:

Doctor Strange’s Initial Spell – As a long-time D&D player, I have a special appreciation for the wish spell. Specifically, how you should approach it carefully and go into it with clearly defined goals and intentions. If you’re asking a wizard to cast wish on your behalf, you should probably have a bit of a chat beforehand, yeah? Make sure that you’ve thought it through, worked through all the possible ramifications, and set the conditions that are important to you. I know this is a plot device showing itself here, but it’s odd that Strange would put such a major spell in motion without knowing all the caveats Peter wanted in place. Also, from the way it’s presented, Strange would have blanked his own memory if the spell would have gone off. He has that wonderful “So long, kid,” moment at the end of the movie, but here it looks like he’s ready to edit Peter out of his life without hesitation.  

Doctor Strange’s Final Spell – I had a disconnect here, and I’m curious if anyone else had this as well. The first spell was designed to make everyone forget that Peter Parker was Spider-Man, not to forget Peter entirely. My understanding of it was that everyone would still know that Spider-Man exists, but they would lose all knowledge that Peter Parker was the one behind the mask. So, those who knew Peter personally, like say Flash Thompson, wouldn’t forget that he exists. When the spell is finally unleashed at the climax of the movie, however, it makes everyone forget who Peter Parker is entirely. Ned and MJ don’t just lose the memories of Peter-3 being Spidey, they don’t know him at all. Yet, everyone still knows that Spider-Man exists. Anyone else feel that this didn’t exactly add up?

Take my advice, I’m not using it.

Doctor Strange’s Sudden Lack of Empathy – Okay, I know it sounds like I’m ragging on Strange a lot here. Benedict Cumberbatch turns in a great performance, as always. My issue with this portrayal of the character is that he’s willing to condemn the Sinister Five without much thought or contemplation on the matter. Where is his Hippocratic Oath in all this to do no harm? Even if it was their fate to die, clearly that can be changed as evidenced by the ending of the movie. He’s the one who said that simply killing people means that you lack imagination. If someone could find a way to defy fate, it’s the guy who literally messes around with the source code of reality. That he’s not willing to hear Peter out on the matter strikes me as weird and puts the characters into direct conflict with each other.

Some Connecting Scenes – Seeing the three Spider-Men fighting together around the Statue of Liberty was mind blowing. A few of the scenes of them interacting as Peter Parker, however, felt a little ad-libbed. Mainly, I’m talking about the lab scene and where Peter-2 is popping Peter-1’s back. The direction in those scenes felt suddenly unsure and flat, whereas much of the rest of the movie had a much more noticeable dramatic weight to it.

*mind blown*

Unresolved Questions:

How was Electro brought into the spell when he didn’t know Peter-2’s identity? What becomes of Peter-1 and Peter-2’s timeline since their villains were redeemed? Harry Osborn from Peter-1’s timeline became the Green Goblin (and subsequently died) only as a result of his father’s death. Does the newly reformed Norman Osborn returning to the moment before he died change all that? What about Doc Ock who went into the water near a raging ball of fusion? One hopes that Doctor Strange had the presence of mind to return them to someplace safe. Speaking of whom, how does the fracturing of the multiverse at the end connect to the same effect we see in the Loki series?

Beyond that, what will become of all three Spider-Men? Will we ever get to see Tobey Maguire in the role again? What about Andrew Garfield? Would that change the outcome where he lost Gwen Stacy? Regardless, if the studios haven’t approached Emma Stone about playing Spider-Gwen at some point, I feel like they’re missing a step.

Lastly, what will happen to our beloved MCU Spider-Man? When we leave him, he’s all alone in the world. He has no family left, his friends have forgotten him, and even the Avengers won’t remember him if they bumped into him on the street. While that means that he can operate as Spider-Man without the fear of a backlash to those he cares about, Spider-Man has never been a lone wolf. His relationships and attitudes towards other people have been a big influence on him. Where will he go from here?

Meta in the extreme.

Conclusions:

What a ride. What. A. Ride. I have enjoyed the MCU offerings post-Endgame, but there hasn’t been the same unified meta-structure as in the Infinity Saga. This movie feels like it sets in motion what Doctor Strange will have to contend with in Multiverse of Madness this May. That feels like the next big narrative thread that the next cycle of movies will explore. So, in addition to being an incredible accomplishment of its own, No Way Home gives us that next big landmark, and delivers it in a larger-than-life way that I wouldn’t have thought possible. I honestly could not ask for more from a Spider-Man movie.

Of course, it’s also a big reset button to everything we’ve built up for Peter-3 so far. I do hope that future installments (which given the incredible earnings of this film make them virtually guaranteed) will start to rebuild the Wall-Crawler’s interrelationships. We get a hint of that in the donut shop scene, but we need more of it. A lot more. Regardless of where the franchise goes from here, I think Spider-Man: No Way Home absolutely deserves every penny it’s earned.  

And that’s the way this fanboy sees it.


Fanboy Review #6 – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Before I get into the particulars of the movie, I wanted to say a few words about Carrie Fisher. Like so many, I was shocked to hear of her passing. First there was the news of her heart attack, then her death, AND THEN her mother’s death. I can only imagine what the family is going through right now, and my heart goes out to them.

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To me, she’s royalty.

Of course, growing up with Star Wars I had a huge crush on Princess Leia. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, and it actually wasn’t her slave-girl outfit that did it for me. The moment that I think I truly fell in love with Princess Leia is when she removed her helmet after thawing Han out of the carbonite. “Someone who loves you,” she said, and there were anime-style hearts in my eyes. And if that didn’t really drive it home, the moment when she turns the tables on Han on Endor, stealing his own line of “I know” just before she zaps a Stormtrooper cemented in my mind that she was no wilting daisy. True, she was the damsel in distress in Episode IV, but her sass and overall attitude showed us that she was anything but the standard-issue screen heroine of the day. Bear in mind that is was 1977, a time when the changing role of women in fiction, particularly science fiction, wasn’t even a conversation we were having as a society.

But fan worship aside, I respected Carrie Fisher for her abilities as a writer, and for her outspoken stances on mental health and substance abuse. Unfortunately (for me, at least), in all the sci-fi conventions and events that I’ve attended over the years, I never had the privilege of meeting her. From what I hear, she was quite a lady. And though Leia Organa may be the role she is remembered for the most, I appreciate the real person who brought her to life, and the lasting impact her work has had on the world. Rest in peace, Carrie Fisher.

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Now, to the review. Roll the standard spoiler warning:

[Note: I do not consider myself a movie critic. What follows is just one fanboy’s opinion based off of a single viewing of the film. Oh, and there are SPOILERS ahead, so take heed.]

The first of what could be an endless series of standalone Star Wars movies, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hit theatres a couple of weeks ago. In that time, it’s made over $650 million worldwide. With the original extended universe cannon gone, Rogue One steps up to fill the gap of how the Rebel Alliance got its hands on the Death Star plans. With a new cast of characters, we embark upon the first of the non-episodic Star War stories.

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The ‘One’ and only. Trust me.

First Impressions:  Despite my damaged-but-still-intact love of the franchise, I wasn’t looking forward to this movie. It felt unnecessary, like an obvious attempt by Disney to milk their purchase of its revenue potential. The trailers didn’t do much to change that idea. Still, it is a return to the era of Star Wars that I love the best, so it’s not like I wasn’t going to see it. (Let’s be real here.) I liked but didn’t love The Force Awakens, so let’s see how it goes.

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LIKE. A. BOSS!

What I Liked:

DARTH FRIGGIN’ VADER! I thought he really was going to be a minor cameo in the movie, but Great Scott…that end corridor scene. Why do people fear Darth Vader? This is why. Plus, it also seems to give us an answer to why Vader is so angry when he first boards the Tantive IV. He’s calm and collected the rest of the time, but I now see why he wants to ‘tear the ship apart’ when he finally catches up to it.

– The Battle of Scarif. If you’ve read my sci-fi, you know I’m a sucker for a ground battle going on while a gigantic space battle rages overhead. We got that in Return of the Jedi, and the climactic battle sequence here is pretty much everything I could have hoped for, and more.  This definitely puts the ‘wars’ back in ‘Star Wars.’

– Perhaps a better name for the movie should be ‘Suicide Squad.’  The movie pulls no punches. I had thought that perhaps our band of misfits might be return for a sequel, but that will not be the case. One of the problems with an epic story like Star Wars is that the death of a major character will be rare. For a one-time cast, each of our intrepid heroes steps up, does their job, and goes down like a boss. When the bill came due for Imwe and Malbus, I genuinely teared up. I am one with the force, and the force is with me. I am one with the force, and the force is with me.

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– Seeing Biggs and the Red and Yellow squadron leaders back in action through unused footage from Star Wars. Now we know why there was a vacancy for Luke in the form of Red-5, and why there was no Blue Squadron attacking the Death Star around Yavin. Plus, seeing some minor characters like General Jan Dodonna  and Mon Mothma recast so that they can still be a part of story was cool as well. And that leads me to my next point…

– CGI Characters. This is perhaps my most divisive opinion on the film. Bringing characters back to life was handled pretty well and with respect, I thought. When I first saw Governor Tarkin, I thought he would be a brief cameo. Nope. He plays more of a part in the story than I would have thought. While we’re not quite there yet with the technology, we’re still better than we were with Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy. I do wish the voice actor for some of Tarkin’s lines had stayed more with Cushing’s sharp British delivery, but that we got as much as we did was great. CGI Leia was a bit less impressive, but hearing Carrie Fisher say “Hope” was moving, especially now.

– The Score. John Williams didn’t do the soundtrack for this movie, but Michael Giacchino does a pretty good job at capturing Williams’ trademark Star Wars style. I do wish the main theme had been used a bit more, though. It’s not just for Luke!

– Expansion of the New Lore. From the Guardians of the Whills, to reaffirming Kyber crystals while establishing that this is what powered the Death Star’s planet killer, this story does a lot to fill in the gaps of the continuity, particularly since the old lore is dead, dead, dead.

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Cool shot. Too bad it’s ‘Sir-Not-Appearing-In-This-Film.’

What I Didn’t Like:

– The TRAILER. Part of the reason I wasn’t excited about the movie was because of the trailers leading up to it. It felt like one big warning that Jyn might somehow betray the Rebellion and join the Empire, that she should remain true to herself no matter what came her way. Well, almost none of the footage or lines from the movie trailer made it into the final movie. Jyn’s dramatic turn in an Imperial uniform while the lights in the corridor go up? Nope. Any hint of her joining the Empire? Nope. Cassian and Jyn on the beach fighting AT-ATs? Nope. Vader talking with Krennic on the Death Star? Nope. Jyn’s whimsical line of “It’s a rebellion. I rebelled”? Nowhere to be found. I understand that footage can be cut different ways to dramatically change its meaning, but the footage they used is not even in the movie. Not just a scene here or there, but a sizeable chunks of what was shown just isn’t there. It’s too bad, because I enjoyed the movie that I got a whole lot more than the movie the trailer previewed.

– No Title Crawl. Yeah, I know that it’s not part of the trilogies, but I still missed it. The slow scroll of words while the Star Wars theme blasts is an essential part of getting me hyped for what’s to come. It wasn’t there at all, and its absence was ringing.

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Yaaaaas!

– The Names. Aside from Krennic, Jyn and Galen, I had a hard time remembering the names of the characters. Maybe it’s just how long the Star Wars universe has been around, and the memes that go with it, but the names sort of went in one ear and out the other. They also didn’t seem to use them in dialogue very much, so that part made it even harder to catch them. If you don’t know a character’s name, I think it’s a little harder to sink your teeth into them, figuratively speaking.

– The Beginning of the Film. It felt slow and overly complicated. To be fair, there were a bunch of characters to introduce, but it seemed like a lot of explaining on a theme that we likely already know going in. We get to Jedha and things pick up, and then sort of fades again at Eadu. Scarif is pure joy and awesome, however.

– This is kind of a weird one, but important to me nonetheless: I know that having the Rebellion do shady and horrible stuff is a way to make it more realistic, but I like the clear dichotomy between the good guys and bad guys in this franchise. I generally prefer more morally ambiguous stories…just not in Star Wars. It’s for all the same reasons why the ‘Section 31’ episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space 9 don’t work for me. Yeah, that’s great for another sci-fi property, but keep it out of this one.

– A Nerdy Nitpick: I realize that Diego Luna was using his normal speaking voice in his portrayal of Cassian Andor. While he is from Mexico, his accent came off as French (which struck me as on-the-nose considering he’s in the resistance against a jack-booted fascist regime). We’ve never had much variance of accents in Star Wars, just the occasional British accent, so that was a little distracting from his performance.

– A REALLY Nerdy Nitpick: Galen’s farm at the beginning bears a striking resemblance to Uncle Owen’s farm on Tattooine. The equipment, the interiors, even the layout all have a similar look. The thing is, Uncle Owen wasn’t into growing crops — he was a moisture farmer. Tatooine has so little moisture that a whole industry had to spring up around coaxing moisture from the air and turning it into usable drinking water. The planet Lah’mu, however, is wet. Really wet. So wet that Krennic walks through a puddle to get to it and it’s sprinkling while they are talking. So what kind of farming was Galen doing?

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Questions you have. Resolution to them we have not.

Unresolved Questions:

If anything, Rogue One does a pretty good job of tying up loose ends, especially with its rather Shakespearean ending. If Galen thought that the Empire would never find the hidden weakness he installed, why was it found so easily in A New Hope, leading to Tarkin’s “moment of triumph” speech? Also, why would Leia even pretend to be on an ambassadorial mission when it was clear that she had just been at Scarif? Vader would be like, “Dude, I saw you take off from that Mon Calamari ship like 30 minutes ago.” Deny it to the end, I guess. And would Leia be surprised that Darth Vader was on her tail when she says, “Only you would be so bold.” Or was that, again, for some sort of deniability?

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So what’s your point, Matt?

Conclusions:  I realize that it might be hard to know whether or not I liked this film based on what I stated above. I like this movie, I really, really do. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was far better than any one-off film had any right to be. Believe it or not, it reignited my love for the franchise far more than did last year’s The Force Awakens. While I still worry that the anthology stories may overstay their welcome in the future, this was a welcome addition to the Star Wars universe, and a pleasant surprise to this very jaded and cautious fan.

And that’s the way this fanboy sees it.


My Love/Hate Relationship with Transformers: The Movie

In honor of the 30th anniversary of Transformers: The Movie, which premiered in U.S. theatres in August of 1986, I thought I would comment on what was simultaneously one of the fanboy landmarks of my childhood AND perhaps the movie that scarred me the most as a kid. No really, the emotional scar tissue is still there. First world problems, yeah?

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I mean, what’s the worst that could happen?

If you’ve been with me on this blog for any length of time, you know that I love Gen 1 Transformers. It is both my favorite toy line of all time as well as my favorite ‘80s cartoon. Of course, the cynical adult side of me sees the cartoon for what it was: a half-hour commercial designed to sell more toys. But there’s also the kid in me that remembers when I could come home from school to be greeted by Prime, Bumblebee, Jazz, Hound, Prowl, and the irascible Ironhide. They were friends of mine, and in my mind’s eye I rode shotgun with them through a hundred adventures.

I remember well when I first saw the teasers for Transformers: The Movie. It looked incredible, with some of the slickest animation Sunbow has ever produced. “Two years in the making,” the TV spots proclaimed, “an incredible adventure and spectacular wide-screen animation with an original story that will shock and surprise you!”

Boy, did they have that right.

Before we get to the crying-so-hard-I-had-to-be-taken-out-of-the-theatre part, there are some things I genuinely love about this movie. Let me spell those out first.

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I may or may not have a replica of this sitting on my writing desk.

1.) The Lore – In the comics, the Matrix of Leadership was just a computer program in Prime’s head. The movie is where we first see the iconic, semi-mystical talisman, and find that the one who carries it is the anointed Prime, AND that it has a will and power of its own. Throw on top of that the Universal Greeting (say it with me: Bah-weep-grah-na-weep-ninni-bong), Unicron the Chaosbringer, Autobot City, and the saying ‘Till All Are One! We meet the Quintessons for the first time, along with the Junkions and the ill-fated Lithonians. The Transformers universe expanded well out of its TV cartoon roots with this movie.

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Yeaaaaaaaaaaaaah!!!

2.) The Soundtrack/ScoreYou got the Touch! You got the Pow-wwwwer! Yeaaah! From the mindblowing hard-rock reimagining of the main theme by Lion, to both of Stan Bush’s classic TF anthems (The Touch and Dare), this soundtrack is great throughout every track. At times it almost gives the movie a kind of Heavy Metal feel to it. That’s Heavy Metal in a ‘one-way ticket to midnight’ kind of way with rock paired with animation. There’s also Nothin’s Gonna Stand in Our Way, Hunger, and Instrument of Destruction. And did I mention that Weird Al Yankovic has a spot on this album? That’s right, Dare to be Stupid. And my hat’s off to Vince DiCola on his scoring the movie itself. It really added some emotional weight to a certain scene I’ve yet to discuss.

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The man himself.

3.) The Voice Cast – I met Peter Cullen once at a convention. It was less than a minute, and I was just one fan out of a hundred waiting to get something signed. Even though it was only a few seconds of my life, I will remember it always. Always. These names, now so familiar, like: Scatman Crothers, Jack Angel, Chris Latta, Frank Welker, and many others, are the ones who really brought the characters to life with their voice work. This dream team of actors was then joined by the likes of Eric Idle, Robert Stack, Susan Blue, Leonard Nimoy, and friggin’ Orson Welles as the voice of Unicron. I think even the much-maligned Judd Nelson did a fine job as Hot Rod and Rodimus. All those talents under one roof…it’s amazing.

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Gorgeous. Simply Gorgeous.

4.) The Animation – Once again, this is some of the most beautiful animation that Sunbow ever created. The coloration, the cell-shading, the grace with which characters move through the frame, all of it is beautiful. The characters seem to take on a new life and vitality, and look better here than just about anywhere outside of Transformers: Retribution.

And here are the parts that left their mark on me as a child:

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Pretty much the look on my face, too.

1.) The Casual Deaths of Supporting Characters – The first scene, the destruction and subsequent consumption of Lithone, really set the tone for the movie. But then we get the credits sequence, and we’re back to the Autobots that we know and love. Previously, we’ve seen the Autobots get hurt or shot up, but they were all better by the end of the episode. The one ‘perma-death’ they had in the cartoon, Skyfire, was later undone by Wheeljack and an ice jackhammer.

I still remember the battle on the Autobot starship. Prowl, one of my favorite characters, takes a direct hit in the opening shots. Fire comes out of his eyes and mouth, and he falls over dead.

Let me say that again: Fire came out of his eyes and mouth.

I remember trying to explain why I was so upset by this to my mom and she didn’t get it. She thought that was just one of his special features or powers, like he had fire breath or heat-ray eyes or something. Nope, that was the Autobot version of blood coming out of his mouth before he died.

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Wut?

But it didn’t stop there. In a scene that takes less than a minute of screen time, we see Ratchet riddled with holes and die, Ironhide is given a contemptuous coup de grace by Megatron, and Brawn charge the Decepticons only to take a hit in the shoulder and fall, presumably finished off afterwards (though he does make an appearance in Season Three, so perhaps not all was lost.) In a word: Brutal.

Then we get to Autobot City. We see RC dragging the corpse of Windcharger, which she dumps next to poor old Wheeljack. We don’t even know how they died. We don’t see them make some heroic sacrifice or stand their ground against impossible odds. We just see their dead bodies, discarded and sad. By this point in the movie, Kid-Matt was mighty uncomfortable with how things were going in that movie theatre in Athens, Texas. But none of those deaths prepared me for the emotional gut-punch of what was to come.

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Worst. Marketing. Decision. EVER.

2.)  The Death of Optimus Prime – Let’s talk about the elephant in the room, shall we? Remember those TV spots I mentioned? Well, as an adjunct, there was a Transformers toy commercial tie-in. It featured Frank Welker in his Megatron voice introducing the heinous Galvatron toy, and Peter Cullen’s Prime introducing Ultra Magnus. At the end, there’s a movie tag that shows Optimus being shot up pretty badly and the announcer asks “Does Prime die?” I remember watching that in my grandfather’s living room and thinking, “Naah, they’d never kill off Optimus Prime.”

Right?

But, as Kid-Matt watched several of his favorite bots terminated with extreme prejudice, a gnawing suspicion began to dawn that his favorite of favorite characters was about to go down. We get the glorious fight with Megatron, Prime at his fighting best, and then the idiot Hot Rod gets in the way. Way to go. Perhaps just saying “Hey, watch out! He’s reaching for a gun! Shoot him!” would have been better, yeah?

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Way to go, Hot Rod. Tool.

But with one final, mighty uppercut, Prime ends Megatron’s reign of tyranny before collapsing. As Kup says, he turned the tide in the deadliest battle us little’uns had ever seen these characters fight. Not content with that, the sadistic bastards making this movie make us watch as Prime slowly slips away on life support to a musical score that STILL hurts to listen to. He gives the Matrix to Ultra Magnus, tells us not to grieve, and then the bright blue light fades from his eyes. And in case that wasn’t enough to show us that Prime is finally, irrevocably dead, we see his iconic red and blue color drain away to a grey-black, and then his head lolls to the side.

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😥 *buckets*

 

At this point, my godmother had to take me into the hall because I was crying so hard. Like snot-coming- out-of-my-nose-with-my-bottom-lip-quivering-uncontrollably kind of crying. I missed the next 10 minutes of the movie, and didn’t see that part until a few years later when I chanced to watch it again on VHS.

So, seeing my favorite childhood character die hurt pretty bad, but what hurt worse was when I learned the real reason that had Prime died. Hasbro wasn’t going to sell the Optimus toy the next season. They were clearing the way for new characters to sit on the shelves, and killing them off in the story was the perfect way to get them out of the way and explain their absence at the storefront.

Ouch.

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“…”

Even as a kid, I knew that the cartoon was just a way to promote sales, but I was okay with it because I was already sold on the toys. But to cynically kill off a fan favorite just because he wasn’t being sold anymore? What. The. Hell? Worse, this set the precedent for Prime dying in other interpretations of the character. Revenge of the Fallen, anyone? Transformers: Prime?

But in a twist of what I guess is karma, I wasn’t the only kid who had a freakout moment in the theatre. Lots of parents complained, and there was so much fan outrage over Prime’s death that Hasbro brought him back six months later in the two-part episode aptly named The Return of Optimus Prime. Of course, that was right as Transformers as a cartoon was sinking into the morass of “Seasons” 4 & 5, but at least Hasbro did the right thing in the end.

But the scars remain. #thankshasbro

3.) A Whole New Cast – Take a look at the official movie poster. Go ahead, take a look.

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Despite it all, I have this framed.

Notice anything? If you aren’t familiar with the characters, here’s a hint: All of them are new. Every character displayed here, with the exception of what might be Laserbeak in the background, is first introduced to American audiences in this movie. I remember seeing this poster hanging in the lobby of the movie theatre and wondering why Bumblebee, Prime, Jazz, Prowl, and the others weren’t on it. Sure, these new guys looked cool, but who were they?

So, if you had been watching the cartoon for two years, and then went into the movie thinking the main story would revolve around those guys (as I naturally assumed it would), that’s a negatory, Ghostrider. Only the Dinobots play any significant role, and live. Old characters die and are replaced, or are reborn as other characters, complete with new voice actors. It’s a bit of a cinematic bait-and-switch when you think about it, like going into the next Avengers movie to find that all the main heroes have been replaced with Squadron Supreme. Nothing against Squadron Supreme, but that wasn’t exactly what I thought I was getting.

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Eh, not so much.

4.) Rodimus Prime – To be fair, Optimus Prime is a tough act to follow. But since Prime dies, the Powers-That-Be apparently had to have another Prime. Instead of picking Ultra Magnus, who shares a lot in common with Prime, including a fancy name made up of superlatives, and an identical base toy, the Matrix instead goes for the punk kid, Hot Rod. Because…reasons. There is an admittedly cool transformation scene where we see Rodimus grow in size and the ghostly voice of Optimus saying, “Arise, Rodimus Prime.” He quickly kicks Galvatron’s butt and goes on to declare an end to the Great War. Roll credits.

But then we get Season 3 of the cartoon, now with the new guys in lead roles, with little of the old guard remaining. Rodimus is now the Autobot Supreme Commander, and it’s clear that he’s no Optimus Prime, either in the strength of his leadership abilities, his ability to inspire others, or his lackluster combat skills (especially compared to Galvatron who seems waaaaay more powerful by comparison). Worse yet, Rodimus knows he’s not nearly the leader that Optimus was. And he’s right, he isn’t. So it goes.

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I much prefer this version, even if it’s a tad misleading. I also have this one framed.

Conclusions: 

As you can see there’s a lot to love and hate about this movie. In only 85 minutes, it embodies both the best and worst of what Transformers had to offer in the 1980s: callous disregard for what fans wanted based off of changes in a toy line, mixed with incredible jumps forward in the universe of Transformers, given to us with animation that looks like visual candy.

So when it comes to the cinematic vomit/explosion orgy offered up in the new series of Transformers movies, I honestly can’t say that Michael Bay is stepping all over my childhood. Transformers: The Movie did that during my childhood. And yet, there’s still a part of me that can’t help but smile when I hear Stan Bush belt out The Touch.


An Open Letter to Bethesda Game Studios from a Humble Fanboy, Concerning the “Contraptions” DLC

Dear Bethesda Game Studios,

Let me start by making my position clear: I LOVE YOU GUYS. You have given me two of my favorite games of all time, and you can bet your bottom bottlecap that Fallout 4 is one of them. This letter is not meant to be abrasive, mean, or to otherwise throw shade in your direction. I merely want to ask some questions, knowing that in all likelihood I won’t receive answers. But if Socrates has taught me anything, aside from that I know nothing about everything, it’s that I should ask questions anyway, even if there is no clear answer.

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That said, let’s talk about your Contraptions DLC. This feels the most ‘unlike’ you so far, and I can’t really see the point to it. I enjoy building my settlements, but I do so either for role-playing reasons (e.g. literally rebuilding the Commonwealth), or as way stations to give me a safe haven when I need to rest, repair, and resupply. Do I indulge in a little trophy building? Sure. You should see my Power Armor museum in Sanctuary. Boy, is it ever self-aggrandizing.

But what I don’t want is to build just for the sake of building or to see what ‘clever’ things I can cook up using Settlement mode. This is what perplexes me so much about Contraptions: it seems that this is for players who couldn’t give two shakes about the game’s story and just want to use the game as high-res version of Minecraft. A lot of thought and energy went into things like the ball tracks, new switches, mortars, and logic gates, etc.

Why? (No really, that wasn’t rhetorical. I really want to know why.) Was there that much call for it? Is this just for Twitch and streaming players to show off?

What’s more, those things that do appeal to a more utilitarian player like myself seem oddly executed or not thought out completely. Some of them really have me baffled, because this is not like you. Even though Wasteland Workshop was panned by some, we still got fusion generators, concrete structures, and the contamination arch out of the deal, which I have made extensive use of in my Survival run.

Maybe you’ve spoiled me, but I’m used to your products being polished and well reasoned, maybe a little buggy sometimes, but I am pretty forgiving on that last score. Contraptions, however, feels more than a bit frustrating. Thus begins my list of questions to you:

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Workshop Link-up? — Was there some reason we couldn’t link manufacturing machines up to our Settlement’s Workbench? Carting resources back and forth, and worse yet, scrolling through hundreds of items trying to find items that contain fiberglass is a bit of a pain. I’m not sure why this couldn’t work like armor and weapon workbenches, that draw resources directly from the main workbench’s pool. If you were worried about accidentally depleting certain resources, particularly if you have supply lines to other settlements, could we have set a limit for our factories to produce? So, a Vault-tec lunchbox costs 3 steel. I could potentially make 10,000 of them, but I don’t want to utterly deplete my steel reserves, so I instead a put on cap of 50 on the production run. It prints off 50 and then stops, regardless of how many more it could create.

Factory Automation? — Why are factories limited to producing goods only when I’m present in the settlement? Isn’t the point of automation that it does its thing while you’re away, so you can come back and collect? It is cool to watch the conveyor belts and all, but when I’m creating 30 sets of 2mm EM cartridges, I don’t necessarily need — or want — to watch them roll off the assembly line. I know that settlements do at least some resource bookkeeping while I’m away, so wouldn’t it make sense for this to be a part of it?

Dress Dummies/Weapon Racks — I hope I don’t sound like an ingrate when I say this, so here goes: why are we just now getting these? I’ve been wanting to display weapons and armor since the game premiered in November. So, why did you wait until the fourth DLC to finally give them to us? Not to make too many comparisons here, but Skyrim had this in the base game. Also, what gives with the ‘corkboard’ weapon displays using so much space to display just one weapon? The game’s title sequence shows several weapons and add-ons together in a fairly tight area. Is there no way to be a little economical with the wall space?

Fireworks – Misc Tab — Was it necessary to have these guys live on the ‘Misc’ tab of the inventory, instead of, say, the Weapons tab? The Misc tab is likely the longest of all of them. It’s not too bad to scroll down to ‘F’ for ‘Fireworks,’ but it is quite a chore to scroll down to ‘W’ for ‘Weather Control’ whenever I want to get rid of a rad storm.

Armor Forge — Okay, this is a big one. Why would you randomize the armor pieces that are produced? Why can I not specify that I want the right leg of Sturdy Combat armor? Or the left arm or Heavy Leather armor? Why can’t I tell the machine exactly what I want on the terminal? It feels like the cost in terms of resources is the equivalent of convenience store prices for an unmodified piece of armor, so why must I then waste even more resources waiting for it to produce a full set? You see, I wanted to build a museum of the different armor types because they look so cool and distinctive. Doing so is surprisingly difficult and wasteful with the armor forge as it stands, when it should just be point-and-click.

Also, where is the Synth armor? Or the Trapper armor from Far Harbor? Or the Robot Armor from Automatron? It feels like if you have completed these DLCs you should be able to produce those armor types as well. Possibly more than other aspect of Contraptions, the Armor Forge is the one that leaves me scratching my head. Honestly, how did all this get past you? Surely, you didn’t make it almost unusable on purpose, right?

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Mark it on my map, will you?

Ammunition Plant — In contrast, the Ammunition Plant is perhaps the most useful thing I’ve found in this DLC. It fills a gap that seems long overdue. I use a Gauss Rifle, so ammo is always rare, and this allows me to do something about it. But I have to ask…why are there ammo types missing from the line-up? We’re already paying a premium cost in terms of resources to use this, so where are the mini-nukes? The rockets? The fusion cells? The flamer fuel? Heck, where are the railway spikes? Those are literally iron or steel spikes. Why were those ammo types left out, along with many others?

Food Processor — I think I can sum up my confusion with this facet in just one word: Cram. It takes mongrel dog meat, Brahmin meat, and radstag meat to make a single Cram. In terms of healing, each component is comparable or far better than the end product, and the bonus 25 to carry weight for grilled radstag is really too valuable to waste. Why would I do this for anything other than novelty purposes? I don’t understand. The same could be said of the Builder. Other than the Vault-tec lunchbox, why would I want to pay more to produce a teddy bear/Jangles the Moon Monkey/etc. than what I can scrap it for?

Explosives Mill — Maybe I’m missing something here, but we could already make explosives at the Chemistry station. If automation is not a thing, why would I use choose to produce grenades at the Explosives Mill and receive no XP for it, when I could just as easily do it at the Chemistry station gain XP for every one? You basically gave us something we already had, though with no XP reward and more complicated. What gives?

Autoloom — It’s interesting to be able to make new, clean clothing. I like putting my settlers in new clothes rather than the rags they rolled in wearing. Still, and this seems like a no-brainer, but where is the ability to make Vault-Tec jumpsuits? It would be so cool to make jumpsuits from any of the vaults that we’ve visited, even ones like Vault 118 that didn’t have a jumpsuit you could pick up. That’s an iconic part of the game, so why was this overlooked?

Okay, so I could go on and on, but those are the major points. If you’ve stuck with me, kudos to you. Now let me hit you up with my wish list of things I’d like to see for settlements and general gameplay convenience. Submitted for your consideration:

More Reasons to Have/Make Settlements in the First Place — My first run through I built all sorts of stuff in more than 20 of the settlements, and I tried to make sure I built each one with the idea that people would actually live there. Much of it was just RP, of course, but it dawned on me that there was really no point other than to have them as a convenient place for various workbenches, to store stuff, and to sleep. Settlements take on a whole new dimension in Survival mode, but with a lack of fast-travel abilities, it’s better to never set up that recruitment beacon. If there are no settlers, they don’t get attacked at random intervals.

To me, settlements should be more than just blank canvasses to build wacky or over-the-top stuff, they should have some reason for being. Right now, they really don’t.  Even if you set up a robust set of shops, it takes far too much effort, perks, and caps to get them going properly, and even longer for them to start making money to justify their existence. If caps are what you want, you can do more with a couple of perks in Fortune Finder and then just wandering the wasteland.

So why not give us something in Settlement mode that we can’t get anywhere else? Say there’s a key ingredient in something we want that only grows at one or two farms. What if one settlement had a power switching station that could provide power to settlements around it, using the existing and still-standing power lines, if you made extensive repairs? What if there were Settlement perks that we get if we bootstrap the Commonwealth back up to a certain point? Not just achievements, but something worthwhile, like unlockable upgrades that benefit the player personally, but also help the settlements out. Really, what I’m trying to say is here is: give us an incentive to care about these settlements beyond just the basics.

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You made it this far? You are awesomely awesome with that unmistakable air of mystery and danger! Read on!

Fixed Level 4 Vendors — Speaking of the shop system, could we get a fix for Level 4 vendors? Smiling Larry and the Scribe continue to be bugged beyond repair. I play on the Xbox One, so I don’t have the console commands to teleport them to my location. And really, I shouldn’t have to. This has been a problem since day one, and none of the patches have thus-far fixed this.

New Unique Items — If you can get the top tier vendors to work correctly, it seems that they have only a single piece of unique gear in their inventory. If you want to spice things up for a workshop DLC, how about giving us new unique items in all of the named vendors, across the Commonwealth? Perhaps this is a tall order, but it might give us a reason to revisit some of the guys that are no longer really relevant just to see what they have.

Named/Unique Settlers — You guys are all about immersive play, which I adore. So when I have to sort through 20+ men and women who are just called ‘Settler’ it gets a little stale after a while. Why not give us the ability to name them ourselves, or have them come with randomized names (or both)? Also, it would be great to find unique settlers that did something extra. I wooed Sheffield to my side with a Nuka Cola, but he does not do anything more than any other settler. Maybe we find a badass mercenary who alone raises the our defense score by 25 or more, or a gardener that can tend far more food than normal, or make it produce more often. Perhaps there’s a negotiator that brings prices down in whatever settlement he’s assigned to, or a chef that improves the quality of the food that you bring to him. The possibilities are endless here, and you haven’t even scratched the surface of it.

Permanent Item Placement — This goes back to a gripe of mine about Skyrim. I would like to place objects on tables or shelves and have them stay there. I don’t want to leave and come back and find my carefully placed items on the ground or knocked over. Again, this goes back to immersion. Let us set up a bar with a myriad of different bottles, or place sentimental items together without them going all over the place.

An “Opt Out” Clause for Settlement Attacks — My version of Sanctuary Hills has a defense of over 300. Only the wildest, most unthinking beast or the most stupid Super Mutants would ever consider attacking it. Yet, Raiders, Gunners, and the Brotherhood do, even though it’s suicide. Perhaps they will slightly damage a few of my turrets before they are cut down, but it makes no sense and is just sort of mindless. Plus, Settlement attacks have the worst timing. I once got a notice that Tenpines was under attack just as I was going through Kellogg’s memories. Sorry, Tenpines…it’ll be a minute before I can make it. Another was Oberland Station while I was deep in the depths of the Mechanist’s Lair. Ugh. In Survival Mode, it really sucks to hear that the Abernathy Farm is under attack when I’m hanging out at the Castle. So, give us the option of either turning that functionality off, or give us some in-story way to avoid or stop it. Pretty please, with sugar on top.

Sort Items In the Order They Are Picked Up — This is more of a convenience thing, but while I’m wishing, here you go. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked up a holo-tape and then can’t find it again because I don’t remember the name. It gets lost in the tons of keys, notes, and other miscellany of that tab. Is it possible to get a sorting protocol that can show me the last thing I picked up? Even if it’s only for the ‘Misc’ tab, that would be a HUGE help.

Increased Stability in Survival Mode — Again, nothing to do with settlements, but just for my own sanity. I’ve noticed a dramatic uptick in game-terminating bugs while playing on Survival mode. Since you have limited save points to beds (and for some reason you can’t carry a bedroll around with you), nothing chaps this player’s hide like getting through a long section of the game, where there are no beds to save along the way, only to have the game freeze up before I can save. Too much of that makes me think ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.’

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Whew…

Okay, so if you made it this far, you are a darling. Thanks for listening, or reading as the case may be. If anyone from Bethesda does read this, I hope you will think about what I’ve said here. Food for thought, at least. I have spent more hours than I care to count in the world of Fallout 4. It is a titan of a game, and the DLCs don’t fall far from tree. Automatron was a bit light on story, but the Robots! Holy cow, the ROBOTS! Wasteland Workshop had some useful things in it, and I always appreciate more lighting options. Far Harbor was beyond awesome, with a story that was incredibly engaging and morally ambiguous. Love it!

But then there’s Contraptions, which has some of the Sesame Street vibe of “which one of these is not like the others?” It wasn’t meant to have a story, but the utility it does have seems half-hearted and half-baked at best.

Now I don’t say these things to tear you down. Quite the opposite, in fact. I’m used to getting a certain ‘plussed’ experienced from you, to use a Disney term, and Contraptions is lacking that. It’s like a friend who is super extroverted becoming suddenly withdrawn and anti-social. It just doesn’t fit the pattern of behavior I’ve come to expect. You have to stop and ask, “Are you all right?”

I hope that you are. All right, I mean.

And here’s hoping that the upcoming Vault-Tec DLC will put you guys back on the top spot.  Not to blow too much smoke here, but you guys are the best.

Respectfully,

– Matt Carson


Fanboy Review #5 – Captain America: Civil War

[Note: I do not consider myself a movie critic. What follows is just one fanboy’s opinion based off of a single (let’s be real here) double viewing of the film. Oh, and there are SPOILERS ahead, so take heed.]

This is the year of heroes fighting heroes. Batman and Superman. Daredevil and the Punisher. And, of course, #TeamCap and #TeamIronMan. Here are my thoughts on this pivotal moment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain America: Civil War.

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What’s so civil about war anyway?

First Impressions: I was not a fan of the Civil War comic book arc, and I could not wait for Marvel to hit the proverbial reset button on it. Furthermore, I’m not generally keen on superheroes fighting each other, but I understand why it happens. So, I’m already a ‘hard sell’ going into this, but this is the Russo Brothers we’re talking about, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier was excellent. Let’s see how this turns out.

What I Liked:

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UNDERROOS!

– I think the ideological conflict between Captain America and Iron Man is well argued on both sides. I can see why Tony believes that the Avengers need to be accountable to the nations of the world, and why Cap thinks that giving up the freedom to choose is a bad idea. I was afraid that the arguments would all be for Cap (since it’s his movie), but I felt drawn to both sides of the conflict at different times.

– SPIDER-MAN! Wow, Tom Holland totally nailed it. The scene between Peter Parker and Tony Stark may be my favorite scene in the entire movie. I am really looking forward to Spider-Man: Homecoming.

– Ditto for BLACK PANTHER! Chadwick Boseman was incredible as T’Challa. I can’t wait to see him in his own movie.

– The action set pieces in this movie are eye-popping. The fight at the airport is one of the best superhero action sequences I have ever seen on film. Full stop.

– We got Giant Man at last. 🙂

– Even the heroes that didn’t have much screen time all had their moments. Colonel Rhodes, Vision, Antman, Hawkeye…every single performance was outstanding.

– I loved Falcon’s new gadgets and how he used his wings as a shield to ward off bullets.  Also, his little drone “Red Wing.” Nice Easter egg there, guys.

– The moment when we see Tony firing his repulsors directly into Cap’s shield in slow motion. It only lasts for a second, but that scene is visual poetry.

– The Feels. I genuinely care about these characters, and watching them fight is rough. Heartbreaking, more like.

– These heroes at least try to talk to one another before coming to blows, unlike another much-publicized superhero showdown this year.

What I Didn’t Like:

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So was I…

– The VILLAIN. He seems completely superfluous, and is easily the weakest part of the story. The clash of ideas here was strong enough that they really didn’t need a puppet master behind the scenes. And this guy’s master plan requires far too much to go exactly the right way (factors he can’t possibly control) for it to go off.

– The villain’s plan actually works. Not completely, mind you, but he does a good enough job of splitting the Avengers to the point where it will take some time to get them back together.

– The underlying theme of blaming the heroes for stepping in to stop horrible things from happening. If an arsonist sets your whole city block on fire, and you lose your family in the blaze, would you really blame the firemen for not saving them? Or would you blame the arsonist who set the fire in the first place?

– How quickly Tony Stark turns on Cap and Bucky – again. I understand that Tony sees Bucky murder his parents, but it has been said time and time again that Bucky had been brainwashed to do it, that he was clearly not in his right mind. I understand the anger, and the feelings of betrayal since Cap knew about it and said nothing, but to immediately attack the both of them? That seemed like too much of a stretch.

– I find it a little hard to believe that the Avengers would have just packed up and left after Sokovia, and not stayed around to help with search and rescue efforts. In fact, we hear Tony mention the ‘Stark Relief Foundation’ after his rumble in the Hulkbuster armor. So, it sounds like the Avengers don’t just shrug their shoulders and peace out after one of their epic throw-downs.

Conclusions:

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How did it come to this?

I really liked this movie. When the MCU gets it right, which it does more often than not, it is a wonder to behold. The characterizations are all spot on, the acting first-rate, and the action gorgeous without being empty spectacle. I rate this newest offering right up there with the first Iron Man, Winter Soldier, and the first Avengers. It sets my little fanboy heart all aflutter. I hope to catch it another time or two before it leaves the theatres.

Hopefully, we are done with the heroes-fighting-heroes trope for a while, or worse yet, heroes being punished for doing right thing, risking their lives for others, and taking the blame anyway. We don’t need that kind of Christopher Nolan-esque crap in the MCU.

And that’s the way this fanboy sees it.

 


Galaxy Quest – Why I Love It Like Wrath of Khan

In honor of the late, great Alan Rickman, I watched Galaxy Quest again the other night. In my mind, I know that it’s a fantastic movie, but seeing it again always surprises me at just how good it is. Not only is it infinitely quotable on the order of Big Trouble in Little China or The Princess Bride but I think it’s one of the greatest Star Trek movies ever made.

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Ooooooooh Yeeeeeaaaaaahhh! *said in a Kool-Aid Man voice.

No really, I love it in many ways as much as Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and for those who may not know me, let me tell you that’s saying something. The bagpipes at Spock’s funeral and Kirk’s voice catching when he says “His was the most…human” still bring tears to my eyes. True story.

So why do I love Galaxy Quest so much? Good question, I’m glad you asked.  Here’s the rundown of my top 3 reasons:

#3 It Understood Star Trek Better Than Star Trek Did:

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Nope.

Galaxy Quest arrived right between the rather ‘meh’ offering of Star Trek: Insurrection and the soul-numbing death knell of the TNG movies, Nemesis.  The Next Gen movies were often a bitter pill for Trek fans back then. Yeah, First Contact was quite good, and certainly the best of the bunch, but I never cared for the idea of a Borg Queen, or at-will time travel (again), or their portrayal of Zefram Cochrane. But I digress…ahem.

In truth, Galaxy Quest seemed to have a better understanding of Star Trek and its fans FAR and away better than the people who were in charge of the actual franchise at the time. From the fans who seem painfully familiar on the convention floor, to the tropes of the Original Series (and straight through the chompers…), all of these things told me that it was a parody made with utmost love for the source material. The elevator scene where the actors see the NCES Protector in space dock, glowing like an angel, could have been the Enterprise clearing its moorings to the sweep of a James Horner score.

Dean Parisot, David Howard, and Robert Gordon knew what we wanted to see in a Star Trek movie, and in so doing, gave us a parody that was better than the thing it was imitating. You know, like a cinematic Weird Al Yankovic.

#2 Brandon & Quellek:

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Yeah, I was totally this guy.

There are two characters that deeply capture what it means to be a Trek fan (no, I’m not using ‘Trekkie’ or ‘Trekker’ here. Debate the usage elsewhere, please). The first is Brandon, the nerdy teenager played by Justin Long. He totally echoes my 15-year-old self who dreamed that my incredible Trek nerdiness and knowledge of the official tech manuals might one day come in useful when William Shatner or Patrick Stewart showed up and needed my help. When Brandon exclaims, “I knew it!” it speaks to the hope that somewhere, out in the vastness of space, the Enterprise is a real ship, a real place you can go, and not just a TV set made of wood and Christmas lights.

The other is Quellek, the Thermian who idolizes Dr. Lazarus. Ask yourself this: How many real-life scientists were inspired by Leonard Nimoy’s Spock? A great deal, I’m sure. The characters that actors portray can mean something to us deep down. Really mean something. They can inspire us in ways the actor may have never imagined. Quellek says, “Even though we had never before met, I always considered you as a father to me.” That really sums up the actor-fan relationship, especially for that one character that really speaks to you. Galaxy Quest understood that, embraced it, and made it part of the story.

#1 Alan Rickman:

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😥

The cast of this movie (including the Queen of Sci-fi herself, Sigourney Weaver) really shines, no doubt about it. Alan Rickman, however, is off the chain as Sir Alexander Dane/Dr. Lazarus. For an actor so celebrated for his villainous roles, it’s refreshing to see his comedic side as an actor who feels trapped by the role of Dr. Lazarus, and constantly upstaged by his rival, Jason Nesbitt.

But as funny as he is, it’s during those serious moments in the film that Rickman really brings it all home. Going back to Quellek’s death, we see that Alexander, who has never liked his character’s oft-repeated tagline, says “By Grapthar’s Hammer, by the Sons of Warvan, you shall be avenged.” And we know that he means it thanks to Rickman’s masterful dramatic delivery.  I think this is the most powerful scene in the movie. It gives the movie, which is mostly parody, a dose of real gravity. It would be like getting a full-on “Live Long and Prosper” from Leonard Nimoy if we thought he was, in fact, Spock. Oh, the feels. THE. FEELS.

Conclusion:

This movie has a special place in my heart, not only because of the reasons I listed above, but because as a whole, it just works. To me, it’s about hard reality intruding on fantasy, which makes watching it bittersweet since Alan Rickman is now gone, along with his character’s real-life analogue, Leonard Nimoy.

You know, writing that last sentence, putting it into words, really hurt.

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“…”

Being a Star Trek fan is in my blood. I was blessed to grow up with two parents who both liked the Original Series, and embraced Next Gen immediately when it came around. I went to Star Trek conventions when it was actively uncool to do so, but I met a lot of my fellow fans. For a kid who was incredibly shy and introverted, it was such a relief to strike up a conversation with a total stranger on the convention floor just because we both loved something.

The fans are, and shall always be, one of the greatest things about Star Trek. That is what Galaxy Quest included that other actual Star Trek films just can’t. This is why a parody like this rates right up there with Wrath of Khan. It taught me that if you truly love something you should…

…say it with me…

Never give up! Never surrender!


Fanboy Movie Review #4 – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

[Note: I do not consider myself a movie critic. What follows is just one fanboy’s opinion. Most of the time with these reviews I watch the movie only once, but let’s be real here…it’s Star Wars. I’ve seen it twice at the time of this writing. And as always, there are MAJOR SPOILERS ahead, so take heed.]

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Great! What does that mean, exactly?

Just as we thought, Star Wars: The Force Awakens has indeed shattered all sorts of box office records. Considering the dark, yawning abyss of the prequel trilogy (easily the greatest cinematic disappointment of folks my age), I went into this movie with neutral to low expectations. Fortunately, I had avoided spoilers with ninja-like online reflexes. J.J. Abrams is normally very good at what he does, but Star Trek: Into Darkness didn’t work for me on many levels, so it was with a fortified and guarded heart that I entered the move theatre.

First Impressions: I took the movie trailers with a grain of salt.  Phantom Menace’s trailer is still one of the best of all time, and we saw how that movie turned out. But, Disney is distancing itself from the prequels as well as tapping into the vast well of nostalgia that folks of my generation have for the original trilogy.

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Real guys don’t look at explosions…

What I Liked:

  • THE ACTING! Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac. I really can’t say enough good things about the new folks. Absolutely amazing. Harrison Ford is one of my favorite actors of all time, and his return to Han Solo is some of the best acting I’ve seen from him in years.
  • The fan service. I won’t lie, I enjoyed seeing throwbacks from the original. Seeing Han walk into the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. Seeing him with Leia again. All those things really struck my nostalgia vein, even if I felt like they took it a bit far at times (see below).
  • The cinematography is gorgeous. They really used a good mix of practical and digital effects to push the story forward without it feeling like just a CGI beauty contest with no substance underneath.
  • BB-8. I didn’t think I would like him because he was an obvious stand-in for R2-D2. I was wrong. BB-8 is awesome and had a similar-but-different-enough personality from R2. *flashes a lighter in a thumbs up*
  • The moment when Rey calls the lightsaber to her to face Kylo Ren. When she ignites it for the first time…this is perhaps the most powerful scene in the movie, and that’s saying something. Wow. Again, Daisy Ridley. Totally sold.
  • Chewy’s rage. When a Wookie sees his best friend go down, fear for your freakin’ life. I just wish there had been more of it. Also, Leia feeling Han’s death through the Force. It was as though a billion fanboy voices cried out at the death of a fan favorite.
  • The emotion. After suffering through Manikin Skywalker, it is SO refreshing to see fear, happiness, pain, and sadness on the faces of our heroes. It brings it all home.

 

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Fine, just don’t take off the mask.

What I Didn’t Like:

  • The similarities to Episode IV. It’s been said before, so I’ll keep this one brief. If the movie has a major flaw, it’s that it takes perhaps too many cues from the original trilogy, right down to bringing in the Death Star by another name. My hope is that Episode VIII can do something else that doesn’t feel like a remake of what has gone before.
  • Lightsaber usage. They are one of the coolest weapons ever, but they are super impractical if you don’t have training. You are more likely to lop off your own leg than do anything to an enemy. Both Finn and Rey use lightsabers without any sort of training and actually do pretty well for themselves. Rey even bests Kylo Ren (who himself was trained by Luke). That was a bit hard to swallow. Luke didn’t have a lightsaber duel with anyone until the end of Empire, and that was at least after his training with Yoda.
  • The score. When I think of incredible movie scores, John Williams springs immediately to mind. Even through the wasteland of Phantom Menace, we at least got Duel of the Fates, one of the coolest pieces of movie music ever. Here, the score was just sort of ‘there’ and the moments where it really shines are really just rehashes of previous leitmotifs. It’s serviceable enough, but not really memorable. That’s disappointing.
  • Captain Phasma. She was billed as kind of a new kind of Boba Fett, and it’s Gwendoline Christie for crying out loud! She’s barely in it, and gets coerced into dropping the shields pretty easily. Why was she not the one that Finn fought with the lightsaber instead of random Stormtrooper #34, I’ll never know. Let’s hope she’s still alive because she had better play a bigger role in the next installment.
  • Kylo Ren. I appreciate that he’s not a mustache twirling villain, but I think Adam Driver was a complete miscast for this part. He is an able actor, but when he took his mask off for the first time, I thought “Wait, did they get Marilyn Manson to play this guy?” He’s whiny, he’s petulant, emo, and ignores the call of the light side of the Force for reasons we haven’t found out yet. Aside from looking completely badass with his mask on (which he certainly does), he doesn’t seem like he’s very good at being a bad guy. The only reason he gets Han is because he sucker punches him. Functionally, as the villain of the story, he’s pretty weak. With the heroes being miraculously good at what they do, he’s really out of his league.
  • General Hux. This guy is the most experienced commander the First Order has at its disposal? Despite being young and unimpressive, he is the direct analogue to Grand Moff Tarkin, played by the legendary Peter Cushing. He falls far short of anything approaching Tarkin’s screen presence or gravitas. Again, a complete miscast.
  • Han’s Death. It was a powerful moment to be sure, but one that was painfully telegraphed ahead of time. And THEN there is no real moment of mourning or ceremony to mark the passing of a legend. I understand the emotion surrounding it all, but that seemed like a lackluster end for a fan favorite. In a movie that doesn’t seem to take a whole lot of risks, and one that is all about fan service, killing off Han Solo seems like it is necessary only because Obi-Wan died in Episode IV.

Unresolved Questions (At Least in My Mind):

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More than I can count, I have.

Where to start? The movie leaves so many things unexplained. If I numbered them out, this blog post could wallpaper the Starkiller Base, so here’s just the highlight reel. Who left Rey on Jakku, and why? Is Rey Luke Skywalker’s daughter? If so, who is her mother? Or is she the twin to Ben Solo? Why did Ben turn to the dark side? Did no one (Luke, I’m looking at you) ever tell Ben that Anakin turned from the dark side before he died? Who is Supreme Leader Snoke? (The horrible Star Wars name generator strikes again!) How does Finn fit into all of this? Why did Han go to see Maz when BB-8 knew where the Resistance base was? Why was the Hosnian system so important that destroying it could ‘destroy the Republic,’ a polity which presumably consists of thousands of systems? How could the First Order, a shadow of the old Empire, build something as massive as Starkiller Base without anyone noticing? Why had they not used the super weapon before this time if it was already loaded? Why don’t they just drain a system’s sun and leave the planets to die in the cold? The list goes on and on. Let’s hope that Mr. Abrams doesn’t repeat the mistake with Lost and actually explains to us what’s going on.

Let’s Talk About Rey:

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There…is…annoootherr…Sky…walllkeerrr…

The character of Rey is pretty divisive, it seems. Is she a Mary Sue? Is she OP? Is the whole debate over her inherently gender-biased? Would we even have this discussion if the character were male?

Here are my thoughts: Yes, she does seem to be good at everything. She’s a good pilot, hand-to-hand fighter, mechanic, climber, pistol shot, etc. She picks up Force powers with no training, and she bests Kylo Ren when she has never wielded a lightsaber before. It does seem a bit unbelievable, but it is a movie called ‘The Force Awakens,’ and Rey is obviously more steeped in the Force than anyone else around her. Isn’t that enough for us to suspend our disbelief?

But there’s something else going on here that I think is important. Star Wars isn’t really science fiction. Sure, it has starships and lasers and Wookies, but at its core, Star Wars is really a fantasy tale. A straight-up Joseph Campbell Monomyth. So, I think the character should be judged by fantasy standards. If we take Rey and plop her down into Middle-Earth or Krynn, do any of the arguments against her have validity?

Do we really question that Eowyn is able to take down the Witch-King of Morgul? What about Tauriel? We buy that she is excellent at everything (except perhaps picking a significant other) and practically indestructible just because she’s an elf. Why is Rey any different? Here we have a cool female protagonist that’s interesting, heroic, brave, athletic, and one that is not portrayed in a exploitative or sexualized manner.

We have been waiting for a character like Rey to come along. And if there’s going to be someone like her in popular fandom, Star Wars is the natural place for her to live.

 

Conclusions: 

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Oh, so THAT’s why Luke isn’t on the movie poster.

It always does my heart good to see good work rewarded. The last few years have made me a bit cynical on this point, particularly due to Michael Bay’s hatchet job on the Transformers franchise. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a good movie, and I wish it well.

It is far from a perfect movie, however, and its flaws led me to merely like it a whole bunch rather than love it like the first Avengers. Still, it is wholly worth the price of admission. I plan to see to see it at least one more time before it leaves the theatres.

But walking out of the movie theatre twice, with all the feels I’ve carried with me, has made me wish that the name “A New Hope” hadn’t already been taken.

Onward to Episode VIII!

And that’s how this fanboy sees it.


Fanboy Game Review #1 – Fallout 4

[Note: I do not consider myself a game critic. What follows is just one fanboy’s opinion. Oh, and there are some mild SPOILERS ahead, so take heed.]

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War never changes, but the UI certainly does.

Fallout 4 is big news in the media. It’s all over YouTube, news outlets, and TV. There’s a promotional Nuka Cola Quantum soda available at Target (if you lined up at 8:00 am on the day the game came out). Conan O’Brien even donned a Vault-Tec jumpsuit and Pip-Boy to give his take on the game. While reviews overall are mixed, with passionate viewpoints on both sides of the fence, I decided to put my two cents in about this blockbuster video game release.

So, here we go…

First Impressions:  Bethesda has a pretty good track record. Let’s see…Oblivion, Fallout 3, and FREAKIN’ SKYRIM! That last one is in all caps for a reason. SKYRIM is one of my favorite games of all time. So, the developers are going next generation with the Fallout series, one of the most beloved IPs in modern gaming. Okay, Bethesda, you have my attention. Let’s see what you’ve got.

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You are S.P.E.C.I.A.L!

What I Liked:

  • Since the original Legend of Zelda, I have always loved open-map games. Don’t put on me on rails, just turn me loose and let me decide where I want to go, and the order in which I tackle objectives. Fallout 4 gives me this freedom. Even when I’m not sure what to do next, I appreciate the ability to set my own course and blaze my own path.
  • Junk is useful. Pretty much anything you pick up can help you do something in the game. I have a suit of power armor optimized for carrying capacity so I can ‘clean up’ areas after I’ve cleared them of baddies. Nary a coffee cup or battered clipboard escapes my clutching grasp.
  • VOICE ACTING. Bethesda is known for their incredible voice talents and Fallout 4 does not disappoint. The male/female protagonist talent is top-shelf all the way, and the supporting cast is diverse and rarely if ever repeats. And Lynda Carter is in it as a character you can flirt with. By all that is right and holy in this world, my dreams have finally come true!
  • The story. I know that this is a problem for some folks, but I find it engaging. Now that I’m a parent in real life, the very thought of someone taking my kids away is a strong motivator to me, and very personal. Give me powered armor and I would hunt the Institute to hell and back if that’s what it took.
  • Fallout 4 avails itself of the rich lore built up and established in previous titles. I love reading through the journal entries and letters. Every location has a story and creates something of a snapshot of how things were as the bombs fells. I love unraveling the mysteries and finding those hidden pre-war caches of goodies. Love it, love it.
  • Powered Armor. I AM IRON MAN. *da-duh-da-duh-da-duh-da-duh-dun-dun-DUN-dun*.
  • The Perk System. I know is this a sticking point for some, but I enjoy it. Deciding upon which perk to get in SKYRIM was one my favorite parts of leveling up. This is just taken one step further. I didn’t mind the skill point system from Fallout 3 and New Vegas, but I like the perks system quite a bit better. Nothing is wasted, and it’s all useful.
  • The crafting system. Wow…the permutations of this are staggering. Weapons, armor, powered armor, settlements…it’s adult, post-apocalyptic Minecraft. I was never this much of a kid in a candy store even when I was, in fact, a kid in a candy store.

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Why is there never enough Aluminum? Or Adhesive? Gaaaah!

What I Didn’t Like:

  • For a game with such a robust crafting system, there is virtually no tutorial for how to use it effectively. And for things like establishing trade routes, I had to look that up. It’s not intuitive at all. Or when you retain mods for weapons that can be used again.
  • Settlement crafting is seems like it is really meant for building entirely new buildings with almost no consideration for making repairs to existing structures. Try putting a door in a door frame that you didn’t build, or patch a roof that isn’t flat. Nope.
  • I’m in powered armored but sheets of particle board shoddily nailed across a door or window are utterly impenetrable. Can I build my settlement defenses out of that stuff?
  • I have an Agility of 9, but I can’t climb. At all. I have to go waaay out of my way, jumping on shipping containers like Super Mario to get to higher ground or onto a rooftop. Really?
  • The lack of non-violent/diplomatic solutions to problems. If there are raiders attacking a nearby settlement, your only real option is to hunt them down and kill them all. I get that this might be the case for the worst of the lot, but for all of them? Without exception?
  • The Dialogue Wheel. I know, this is has been beaten to death in other reviews, but there is often a dissonance between what I think I’m going to say and what actually comes out of my character’s mouth. It feels like this greatly cuts down on the role-playing aspect of this RPG because you can’t carefully consider your words ahead of time.
  • The facial animations are behind the curve. As cool as Piper is as a character (and I love her), hers seems worst of all. I realize the open world means that the graphics can’t be as photorealistic as Rise of the Tomb Raider, but here the facial animations seem only marginally better than SKYRIM.
  • The type on the screen is sometimes hard to read. Every time I find a comic book, I immediately have to swivel it around to the back so I can actually read the benefit it gives me. There are also a few times when trading with an NPC will cover up key parts of the trading interface.

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Maybe, but I bet the Spartans would have welcomed powered armor. Just sayin’.

Conclusions:  I love this game, and don’t kid yourself – it is highly addictive. Be prepared to lose sleep and make apologies to friends and family. It’s immersive with a sense of place that is wonderful, terrifying, and rich. The attention to detail is off-the-chain nuts. Seriously. This isn’t a ‘once a year’ title that you’ll play through in a week or two and then put down for months or years. No, this is a game, much like SKYRIM, that you’ll be playing for years to come. Considering the breadth of content in the base game alone, Fallout 4 is utterly worth the price of admission.  You’ve done it again, Bethesda. My thanks.

And that’s the way this fanboy sees it.