Ready Player One review: Spielberg’s film hits home behind enjoyment and nostalgia

Imagine a kid in the middle of their room playing with a wide variety of action figures. They’re bashing them together, doesn’t matter what world, universe, or dimension they’re from, it’s an all-out war. Now, imagine Steven Spielberg being that kid and the action figures represent every possible pop culture property ever created. You’re ready to jump into Ready Player One.

Based on the novel by Ernest Cline, Ready Player One follows Wade Watts, an avid gamer in the virtual space known as the OASIS. The OASIS contains virtually every possible game, world, and quite literally *anything* you’re imagination could think of. Set in the year 2045, the majority of humanity spends their time in this virtual paradise. The real world is a bleak, desolate shell of what planet Earth used to be, but no solid explanation is given as to how that happened. It’s a bit unfortunate that the film did not go into more background depth about how the Earth became borderline uninhabitable, and why people spend so much of their time in a virtual space.

After the famous creator of the OASIS, James Halliday, passed away, it’s revealed that he hid the ultimate Easter egg in the virtual world. The player must obtain three keys, all hidden behind complicated puzzles that can only be unlocked as you receive each key, in order to retrieve the egg. The first person to complete each puzzle and possess all the keys will receive Halliday’s majority share of OASIS, and thus, be king of the virtual dimension.

Sounds pretty easy, right? Solve a few puzzles, then make more money than you could possibly imagine? Not so fast. The puzzles that Halliday created are very in-depth and revolve around his own personal life. Not only must you be a skilled gamer, but you must also know your knowledge about Halliday and the creation of OASIS. Ready Player One does a tremendous job of presenting these challenges in ways that make the audience question themselves until they’re actually solved. I found myself thinking that I’d figured out the puzzle, but discovered that I would never have won any of the keys.

Ready Player One has a wonderful cast that work quite well together. I felt true chemistry between Tye Sheridan (Wade Watts) and Olivia Cooke (Samantha Cook) when they were working together in the OASIS to solve the challenges, as well as when the film switches back to reality. Ben Mendelsohn played an interesting villain in Nolan Sorrento; in a movie like this, it can be very easy to have a lackluster antagonist, but Mendelsohn’s Sorrento proves to be every bit of a bad guy in his attempt to obtain all three keys. Lena Waithe (Helen), Phillip Zhao (Sho), and Win Morisaki (Daito) gave quality performances that helped round out the supporting cast and made me truly care for all of the characters.

Since this film was released, it has been showered with praise by some and shrouded in disappointment by others. It seems that the people who had more issues with the film also read the novel, and it didn’t quite meet that bar of expectation. However, if you’re like me who didn’t read the novel, or someone who just enjoys an action-packed science-fiction film with more recognizable characters on screen than you can count, Ready Player One is excellent. The plot was sound, the cast all performed brilliantly, the CGI was well-done and the puzzles weren’t a waste of time. I wish the film did a better job with the overall narrative on the dreary state of the real world, and at times the film moved a bit too fast on screen to genuinely enjoy and appreciate all the amazing cameos. Regardless, Spielberg’s film is a wonderful ride and is a must-watch for fans of virtually anything.

Final Score: 8.5/10

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A Quiet Place review: John Krasinski’s directorial debut is a silent killer

Throughout the hour and a half long movie, I couldn’t help but wait for that precious moment when John Krasinski’s character would turn his gaze to the camera and give the audience a classic Jim Halpert smirk n’ shrug. Alas, it didn’t happen…

Now that we’ve gotten the obvious “The Office” joke out of the way (pretty poor one at that), let’s dive into Krasinski’s directorial debut A Quiet Place. The film takes place in a rural, farmland area that looks to have been abandoned by all civilization. Just as the movie title would entail, being silent is imperative for survival. There were moments in the theater that I seriously wondered whether or not the sound had cut out, that’s how quiet they had to be.

Floating between the two genres of thriller and horror, A Quiet Place is a sort of hybrid film that accomplishes quite a few things. For starters, the 90-minute run-time was the perfect length that ensured my full attention and kept me entertained throughout the movie. Krasinski and Emily Blunt were sensational on the big screen as the two leading big names, while the two children, Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe, provided extraordinary performances for this type of movie.

The narrative of the film was simple, yet effective: keep quiet or risk getting torn apart by monsters. While Krasinski’s film did an excellent job of providing suspenseful moments that at times reminded me of Jurassic Park, A Quiet Place isn’t without its flaws. The method of how the film distributed background information was a bit unorthodox. The origins of the monsters or why this is happening was never touched on, so I spent some time during and after the movie developing my own theories. Not to say that that is a bad thing, but it might’ve added more to the overall plot if we knew that the monsters were aliens or man-made. Krasinski might’ve gone against that idea, because then it could’ve altered the genre to more of a science-fiction film so I can understand that hole, but it would’ve been nice to have. Although we didn’t get a good sense of what these monsters were, the concept behind them was very original and creative.

Krasinski’s debut as a director was an interesting one. His film wasn’t perfect, but it did enough creatively and in a precise manner that he seems to have a bright future behind the camera as much as in front of it. Blunt does an amazing job as the second lead in A Quiet Place, and the overall pace was very good. While I wished that more background information behind the monsters and the seemingly world-wide crisis would’ve been given, it does leave a bit of intrigue and allows one to fill in the blanks with their own creative theories.

Final Score: 7.5/10

Black Panther review: Wakanda forever

The final film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe before the mad titan Thanos descends on Earth might be one of the best we’ve seen. Throughout the entire development process, the hype surrounding Black Panther grew to astronomical heights. Not only was this movie going to sport a predominately African cast, but also shine light on certain political issues.

Directed by Ryan Coogler, also known for his award-winning film Fruitvale Station, Black Panther’s list of cast members is one to behold. Chadwick Boseman delivered another amazing performance in his second appearance as T’Challa, Lupita Nyong’o was brilliant as Nakia, and Danai Gurira (known more commonly for her role as Michonne in The Walking Dead) played the fierce role of Wakanda’s top general Okoye. But the two shining stars in Black Panther were Michael B. Jordan as the villainous Erik Killmonger and Letitia Wright as T’Challa’s little sister Shuri.

While the Marvel films have become the staple for the superhero genre, they’ve had a recurring problem regarding their villains. Other than Loki, many of the Marvel villains are easily forgotten and lacked any true depth or scope. That’s not the case with Jordan’s Killmonger. Some might’ve been skeptical about Jordan being in another superhero movie given his inclusion in the Fantastic Four reboot, but just as Chris Evans resurrected his Marvel standing with Captain America so does Jordan with Killmonger. Coogler developed an intriguing backstory to the Wakandan villain that will make you think twice about whether Killmonger’s motives are actually evil or if he’s slightly misunderstood. His reasons for what he does in the film are somewhat sound, given how he was brought up in Oakland and what’s happening around the world. The concept of how there are impoverished people around the world and how countries don’t use resources to help them when it’s clearly possible is a main theme throughout Black Panther. Coogler does an excellent job of highlighting these complex issues without forcing the audience toward a conclusion.

Wright’s Shuri steals the spotlight in nearly every scene she’s in. The younger sister of T’Challa, Shuri is the head of the Wakanda science and technology division, and is arguably the smartest character in the MCU (sorry, Tony Stark). She’s responsible for developing the invaluable Vibranium into various weapons and defense systems, while also providing new enhancements for T’Challa’s Black Panther suit. It was also revealed in the Avengers Infinity War Prelude comic #1 that Shuri is the one who cures Bucky Barnes of his brainwash problems that have plagued him since Captain America: Winter Soldier. Given her technological intellect, it would be fascinating to see her and Stark together onscreen.

Black Panther is a tremendous film for Marvel, and has the potential to have an affect on real-world issues. Even if Black Panther and its characters are fictitious, seeing young black people, such as Shuri, have an impact on the world can be inspiring. Many films depict black people as hoodlums, gangsters, drug dealers, slaves or simply uneducated. These depictions tend to generalize how black people are viewed in society by other people, but also how black people generalize themselves. Coogler’s film provides empowerment and a sense of pride for black people. His vision characterizes black people as a demographic that has the ability to blaze their own path and create their own narrative. Black Panther displays an image of self-confidence that not many films have conveyed in the past, and not only do I hope more films follow share Coogler’s vision in the future, but that black people around the world truly embrace his ideals moving forward.

Final Score: 9.5/10

Dragon Ball FighterZ Review: Kaaaa-meeee-haaaa…..

As a kid, I’ve always wanted to perform a Kamehameha. I know, it’s impossible (*whispers* still holding out hope). One year, I even dressed up as Goku for Halloween. If you haven’t caught at what I’m getting at, it’s that Dragon Ball has had quite an impact on my growing up. Once I got into video games and tried The Legacy of Goku games on the Game Boy Advance, I knew nothing would come close to that enjoyment…until I picked up DragonBall FighterZ.

Having skipped out on most of the well-regarded Budokai series and only dipped my toes in Xenoverse 2, the anticipation to jump into FighterZ was over 9,000. Taking many elements from the Marvel vs. Capcom series, Dragon Ball FighterZ (pronounced as “Fighterz”, not “Fighter-Z”) offers 3-on-3 team-based combat. The roster contains plenty of the iconic Dragon Ball characters: Super Saiyan Goku, Super Saiyan Vegeta, adult Gohan, teen Gohan, Gotenks, Krillin, Yamcha, Piccolo, Trunks, Cell, Frieza, Majin Buu, Kid Buu, Tien, Nappa, Captain Ginyu, Beerus, Hit, Goku Black, Android 16, Android 18, and Android 21. In addition to these characters, the Super Saiyan Blue versions of Goku and Vegeta are also available through either paid-DLC, earning enough Zeni (in-game currency), or by completing certain Arcade modes on Hard difficulty.

The plot of FighterZ is split into three distinct, but roughly similar, story arcs: Super Warrior Arc, Enemy Warrior Arc, and Android 21 Arc. The “main” arc, Super Warrior, features Goku as the main character as he and the Z fighters battle a new enemy in Android 21. FighterZ does a creative job in explaining how the player controls each of the fighters by stating certain waves around the Earth have suppressed everyone’s power and only you are able to fully unlock it. The Enemy Warrior Arc puts you in the driver’s seat of Frieza, and the Android 21 Arc has you primarily in control of Android 18. Each arc revolves around the general story-line of fighting Android 21 in some capacity, but taken from different perspectives. The timeline of FighterZ in relation to the anime places the game sometime after the Resurrection F movie.

In order to appeal to a mass audience, developer Arc System Works crafted FighterZ to be very kind to novice players. The mechanics present the standard light, medium, and heavy attacks, while also incorporating special abilities and the use of assists by your idle teammates. Just like any fighting game, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of button-mashing, but learning how to properly string together attacks is quite satisfying. An added bonus in stringing together long combos is being able to secure the Dragon Balls. You must land seven individual combos of 10-19, 20-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59, 60-69, and 70+ to have the ability to summon Shenron. While it doesn’t necessarily matter what order the Dragon Balls are collected or who even collects them (the Dragon Balls are shared in a pool between you and your opponent) the player who has the max seven power bars filled will be able to summon the dragon. Once Shenron is summoned, the dragon will grant one of four wishes: heal your current fighter to full health, revive a fallen teammate with 50 percent health, automatically boost your Ki gauge (power bars) back to max, or restore five percent of your health and grant you a second Sparking Blast icon. The icon can only be used once in a match and it grants you a temporary raise in power. This mechanic is extremely important to master, because it can easily turn the tide in battle.

Aside from the standard fighting mechanics, each individual fighter has their own pros and cons. For example, Cell is able to perform an aerial Ki blast that lays waste to roughly half of the ground on the map, but the android has a grab move that can sometimes mess up a combo if you aren’t close enough to your enemy. Fans have already begun constructing lists online with various team builds that suit a wide-range of players.

Developing a video game is hard enough, but based on a franchise as popular as Dragon Ball can be daunting. Arc System Works and Bandai Namco went above and beyond the level of expectation in FighterZ. While certain parts of the plot are a bit weak, the voice acting and dialogue between the characters rival the anime itself. The bickering between Goku and Vegeta about who will fight first, and the extreme narcissistic attitude of Cell transform FighterZ beyond a standard fighting experience. Coupling the precise voice acting is the beautiful art work. Even though FighterZ is primarily a 2-D fighting game, the special attack animations make the game look three-dimensional and present a smooth, dramatic flow like the anime. The vibrant colors make the art pop out, and each set-piece is as beautiful to look at as nostalgic. Whether or not FighterZ becomes the next big thing in the fighting community, it will absolutely rank high on your own Dragon Ball gaming experience.

Final Score: 9/10

Best of 2017: A year to remember

We’ve made it. Another year gone, another chapter in our lives finished. Looking back on the year that was can be either sentimental, regretful, or really any type of feeling depending on what you may or may not have accomplished in the last 365 days. There was a lot of good, but also a lot of bad that happened throughout 2017: our country divided, possibility of war, questionable political decisions to say the least, natural disasters ravaging people’s lives, and much more. But, let us not dwell on the bad, for plenty of good arose from 2017. Let’s take a walk down old memory lane and reminiscent on the best games, movies, and television shows that brought us so much joy and entertainment.

Games:

Persona 5

My personal Game of the Year, Persona 5 was a welcoming return to the world of turn-based JRPGs. I’ve never played a Persona game before, so the sheer scope of it was overwhelming. However, once I got past that, it was a wonderful game. The art design blew me away and the character development was superb. Atlus did a perfect job crafting a well-told story, presenting intense situations and memorable characters. Hopefully the next major entry doesn’t take nearly a decade like the gap between Persona 4 and 5, because I believe many more people, myself included, are anxious to experience more of what Atlus has to offer.

Horizon Zero Dawn

Sony has a treasure trove of iconic figures: Nathan Drake, Crash Bandicoot, Kratos, Jak and Daxter, and Ratchet and Clank. Now, we can add another one to the list in Horizon Zero Dawn‘s Aloy. The young orphaned warrior conquered the tremendous odds stacked against her to help save not only her tribe, but her entire world from utter destruction. The idea of a post-apocalyptic world has been thrown through the grinder many times before, but Guerrilla Games took it one step forward and added their own unique twist to it: robotic dinosaurs. Just imagine if Jurassic Park and Terminator had a baby, well Horizon Zero Dawn would be that offspring. Guerrilla’s presented a gorgeous world and the story was riveting full of twists and turns. Sony has ruled supreme when it comes to exclusives and Horizon Zero Dawn was no different.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

If there’s one company that might not want 2017 to end it’s Nintendo. What seemed like forever of playing third fiddle behind Sony and Microsoft, the fabled company erupted out of the gates with their brand new console the Nintendo Switch. Initially clouded with skepticism, the Switch quickly broke sales records and became a staple in consumers homes. Something that might’ve helped the Switch hit the ground running was the latest entry in Link’s never-ending battle against evil, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The first open-world Zelda game in the franchise, Breath of the Wild added new dimensions and evolved the franchise in the best way possible. Having the freedom to go and explore any part of Hyrule you’d like at any given time was a type of flexibility that’s never been seen in a Zelda game. The art design was incredible and the story felt a bit more mature. Moving forward, it might be time for Nintendo to give Link a voice perhaps?

Super Mario Odyssey

If we had to pick a developer that won 2017 it would be Nintendo hands down. Starting the year with the Switch and Breath of the Wild to only cap off 2017 with Super Mario Odyssey might be one of the best 1-2 punches out there. Mario’s latest adventure was one of his best, as he battled the King Koopa Bowser to rescue Princess Peach. Odyssey overflows with charm, and the various kingdoms are wonderful to experience. Introducing the ability to literally take over other beings and objects by the use of Cappy was a fresh new take on Mario. Also, the final scene of the Metro Kingdom in New Donk City was arguably the best moment in games this year.

Cuphead

Microsoft didn’t have the greatest of years in 2017, but lucky for us they gave the world Cuphead. Studio MDHR’s indie platformer garnered much attention due to the colorful art design reminiscent of the old 1930s cartoons. Although the art style looks quite welcoming, the actual play-through of the game was very difficult. That gratifying feeling when you finally vanquish a boss after countless deaths was one of the best feelings I’ve experienced all year.

Fortnite

The end of 2017 was pretty major for me as I was properly introduced to PC gaming. My friend helped me build a quality gaming PC and the first game I downloaded was Fortnite. After watching a few of my favorite Twitch streamers play it (CDNthe3rd, Ninja, and Summit1g), it instantly hooked me. What separates Fortnite with other battle royale games such as PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and H1Z1 is the bright, colorful art style and the exclusion of vehicles but the inclusion of building mechanics. Epic Games has done a tremendous job of listening to what players want in the game, and seem hellbent on supporting the Fortnite community well into the future.

Movies:

Get Out

Known for his comedic role on Key & Peele, Jordan Peele made his directorial debut with the thriller Get Out. While the movie took a surprising turn near the end, Peele was able to encapsulate the idea of what it feels like being black in a white world. The many obstacles that must be hurdled along the way is highlighted perfectly in his movie. Lead actor Daniel Kaluuya was tremendous, and hopefully he continues to find himself on the big screen.

Wonder Woman

Warner Bros.’s idea of a connected D.C. cinematic universe to rival that of Marvel’s hadn’t gotten off to the start that many had hoped. Man of Steel was adequate, Batman vs. Superman was laughable, and Suicide Squad wasn’t a true representation of what its trailers presented. So, in an 0-3 hole, Warner Bros. turned to the Princess of Themyscira to save them. Wonder Woman righted the ship, for now, and showed audiences that we can have a quality D.C. superhero film. Gal Gadot was absolutely brilliant in the film and I hope remains a staple in the future D.C. movie plans. Although the rest of the cinematic universe seems to be crumbling down (i.e. Justice League), at least there’s been one constant joy and that’s Diana Prince.

Blade Runner 2049

The long-awaited sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 film, Blade Runner 2049 is a spectacle to behold if anything else. The visuals and cinematography throughout Dennis Villeneuve’s entire film is breathtaking and makes the near three hour run-time feel like nothing. Blade Runner 2049 presented a strong cast which featured Ryan Gosling, Jared Leto, Robin Wright, and the return of Harrison Ford. The end of the film left it open for a continued story, so let’s hope the next entry doesn’t take another 25 years.

IT

It was only a matter of time until someone remade the 1990 IT film, but thankfully, this iteration was something special. The children of Derry battled back against the forces of evil and, for the time being, vanquished their clown foe. Bill Skarsgård’s rendition as Pennywise was excruciatingly terrifying. Unlike the 1990 version where it transitioned back and forth between the past and present, this film was set strictly in the past. The next film will be part two and feature the children as adults.

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

Many Star Wars fans thought the previous film, The Force Awakens, was a bit too safe and essentially a carbon copy of the fourth film, A New Hope. Lucky for those fans, director Rian Johnson took this eighth film and ran with it in the opposite direction. No Star Wars film has had this much scrutiny and discussion surrounding it since the prequels and Jar-Jar Binks. Whether it be Finn’s character arc to Mark Hamill’s return as Luke Skywalker, there’s many, many things that this film introduced that will have people talking until the final entry in this trilogy. The Last Jedi and Johnson blazed their own path, and in an age where people tend to avoid risks, it’s refreshing to see someone take a plunge like he did. It’ll be very interesting to see how J.J. Abrams concludes Rey’s story as she continues to walk down the path of the Jedi. However, if there’s one thing that Johnson did perfectly in The Last Jedi, it’s that he crafted Kylo Ren into one of the best Star Wars villains.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Baby Groot. That’s all.

TV Shows:

Game of Thrones

Truthfully, I hadn’t gotten aboard the Game of Thrones train until this year. Previously, I had watched the show through the infamous Red Wedding, but stopped shortly after that right before Joffrey’s demise. I persevered though, and thankfully I did, because stuff really hit the fan in Season 7. Finally, after years of waiting, Daenerys Targaryen made landfall on Westeros and her claim for the Iron Throne truly began. Seeing her dragons wage war against the Lannisters was a spectacle to behold, but what was truly terrifying to witness was the rise of the White Walkers. Game of Thrones is known for having epic season finales and this season was no different. The Night King, with a zombified-dragon in tow, had begun his march down south, and oh, Jon Snow and Daenerys were having sex while Bran’s voice over revealed them to be aunt and nephew. Go figure.

Stranger Things 2

Netflix has taken audiences by storm with the quality of their original content, and they easily hit a gold mine in Stranger Things. The second season picked up where we left off with Will Byers trying to get accustomed back to society after being trapped in the Upside Down. The creators, Matt and Ross Duffer, did a phenomenal job of expanding the cast just enough to introduce compelling characters, while also spending quality time building on already established characters. Discovering that there are other people out there with unique abilities like Eleven opens up this world to new possibilities, even when this story of Stranger Things ends. Hopefully Season 3 either offers a firm resolution to Eleven’s story and the Upside Down, because it does feel to be on the verge of redundancy. Oh, and also Steve Harrington better not die or we’ll riot.

Master of None

After I finished watching Season 2 of Master of None, I confidently proclaimed it to have been one of the best seasons of television I’ve ever watched. Looking back on it, I’d say the exact same thing. Aziz Ansari’s Netflix-original is a thoughtful, slightly comedic, deep look into people’s lives. He examines the everyday issues people go through like finding a job, making friends, dealing with unexpected situations, love and heartbreak. One of the best episodes is when Aziz is hardly even in it. In the episode “New York, I Love You”, it shows how the lives of random people in New York intersect together. It’s a wonderful, charming episode that encapsulates the idea of America being a melting pot of culture and perfectly showcases the notion of “walking in someone else’s shoes”.

Mindhunter

Why does someone decide to murder another person? Why do they decide to do it multiple times? Netflix’s Mindhunter tells the story of FBI agents Holden Ford and Bill Tench studying how the minds of sequence killers (soon to be serial killers) work. Based on the true crime book Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit written by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker, Ford and Tench expand upon the simplicity of how people view crimes. They cross-examine real murderers and find that sometimes there’s extreme thought that goes into the process, and some reasons for killing people are due to actual mental problems that they’ve suffered in the past. For a person who’s not super into the history of serial killers, this was a amazing story that does a great job conveying the information in an interesting way.

Rick and Morty

Just like Game of Thrones, I hadn’t fully gotten introduced to Rick and Morty until this year. In my mind, better late than never. The cleverness and thought that goes into this show is literally out of this world. One of the most well-talked about moments in entertainment this year, regardless if you watch the show or not, was Pickle Rick. The first two seasons were pretty lighthearted up until Rick turned himself in to the Galactic Federation, but Season 3 is really when things start to take a dark turn. There never really seemed to be an overlaying plot in this show, but during the third season it’s revealed that an evil Morty has effectively taken over the Council of Ricks, setting Season 4 up to be quite a dozy.

The Punisher

Jon Bernthal’s iteration of Marvel’s Punisher burst onto the scene in Daredevil Season 2. Listening to him and Matt Murdock battle psychologically with their ideals of how crime-fighting should happen was quite interesting and eye-opening. Sometimes heroes that perform well in a supporting role might tend to take a step backwards on their own, but that’s nowhere near the case with Frank Castle. The pseudo-origin story of Castle is a wonder to behold in that Castle has suffered things that no man should ever have to suffer, and he continues to fight everyday. Bernthal himself continues to make himself a household name, bringing a truly gut-wrenching performance in a good way. I’m still holding out hope that we somehow see the Netflix Marvel heroes on the big screen, because the idea of Castle interacting with Captain America, or I guess whoever remains after Infinity War, would be fantastic.

Wrap-up

As you can see, this year produced a tremendous amount of good, and this was only a small sample of it. I’m sure there were plenty of other games, movies, and shows that captivated your attention as you got through 2017, and I hope you found just as much joy in it as I did. No year will ever be perfect, we will always have to overcome obstacles and bad days; but remember, no matter how bad it gets, we will get through it. I’ve grown a lot over 2017 and my eyes have opened up to many things. Keep growing and know that when things seem rough you’re not alone. I thank everyone that has helped me this year and can’t wait for what 2018 has in store. I’ll see everyone next year!

Happy New Year’s!

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi review: The Force is mostly strong in this one

**SPOILER-FILLED REVIEW**

Coming out of The Force Awakens in 2015, many fans voiced their concerns that Episode VII was merely a carbon copy of Episode IV: A New Hope. Director J.J. Abrams was described as being “too safe” and didn’t take many chances in further expanding upon this incredible universe. While The Force Awakens was still received in a fairly positive light, new director Rian Johnson had a difficult task before him: continue down that safe path that Abrams paved or ruffle up the feathers, so to speak.

And boy, did he do some ruffling.

There were quite a few questionable decisions that Johnson made in Episode VIII: The Last Jedi that we won’t know how big of an impact they’ll be until this current trilogy concludes with Episode IX. One of the biggest mysteries heading into The Last Jedi was Rey’s parentage. Many fan theories linked her with the Skywalkers or even Obi-Won Kenobi, due to her raw power of the Force. She had to be some long-lost relative of either of those Jedi names, there was no other way to explain it.

Well, Johnson took those theories and threw them out the window. In the aftermath of Supreme Leader Snoke’s surprising demise (more on that later), Kylo Ren tells Rey that “she came from nothing” and that “her parents sold her for drinking money”. That’s a bit of a disappointment, considering most Star Wars fans had been trying to piece together Rey’s origins for the past two years. Johnson’s message behind this revelation is that heroes can come from anywhere, which includes nothing. You don’t need to be born into power to amount to greatness. While I admire this concept, I’m still holding out hope that this was one big fake out for the ultimate reveal in Episode IX. Fans have already begun creating new theories, the most interesting one being that Rey might be a clone from Luke Skywalker’s severed hand.

Now, let’s circle back to Snoke. Abrams built this polarizing villain in The Force Awakens who was shrouded in a cloud of mystery. This “being” was the one responsible for turning young Ben Solo to the Dark Side, the leader of the tyrannical First Order, and determined to destroy Luke. It was never explained where or how Snoke became to be in Episode VII, and now, it looks like we may never know those answers. While it’s unknown what sort of plan Abrams had in store for Snoke, Johnson decided the Supreme Leader had overstayed his welcome. Kylo Ren dispatched his former master and ascended to the top of the First Order hierarchy. Snoke’s early demise was a shocker to say the least and makes the upcoming Episode IX that much more intriguing, but still leaves me wanting more. I understand we aren’t owed anything from Johnson, or Abrams to that extent, but it’s strange that Johnson included moments in the movie where Snoke proved to be a pretty important character, like when Luke explained to Rey that Snoke had already turned Ben to the Dark Side in his flashback while at his Jedi temple. Johnson’s explanation behind Ben succumbing to the Dark Side feels incomplete. Again, we can hope at the very least that Snoke and Kylo’s early relationship gets flushed out in the next movie.

If there’s one thing that this new trilogy has not had a lot of, it’s lightsaber battles. This notion doesn’t change with The Last Jedi, but it does feature the best lightsaber fight scene of the new films. After Snoke’s shocking demise, Kylo Ren and Rey team-up to take down the former Supreme Leader’s Elite Praetorian Guards. Seeing Kylo and Rey work together, even if it was for different reasons, was pretty cool to see. The continued character development for Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver throughout The Last Jedi was very interesting to watch, as they both struggled with the ideals of the Light and Dark Sides of the Force. Kylo seems overwhelmed by the idea that he is destined to be the new Vader and wants to pave his own path in the galaxy (possibly explaining why he ended up killing Snoke). He also believes it’s too late for him to return to the Light. Rey, on the other hand, appeared to have been inching closer to the Dark Side. On Ahch-To, she descended into the mysterious dark hole that Luke told her was the Dark Side to search for answers about her parents. And following her team-up battle, she gave the brief impression that she was at least thinking about joining Kylo and the First Order. Although Rey ultimately escaped Kylo’s grasp and seemed to be fully committed to the Light, I can’t help but think there’s more behind her lack of resistant toward the Dark Side. Maybe the idea of “balance in the Force” is effectively using both the Light and the Dark Sides?

Even though Rey and Kylo’s character developments continued in a proper way, others did not yield the same progression. John Boyega’s Ex-Stormtrooper Finn is an intriguing character. Since The Force Awakens, we’ve seen him defect from the First Order, join the Resistance by accident, try to flee the Resistance to find Rey, lead a virtual suicide mission with newcomer and fan-favorite Rose, attempt an actual suicide mission but fail due to Rose, and then seemingly engage in a confusing and quite rushed romantic relationship with Rose. To put it simply: Finn’s development has been all over the place. Is he a coward? A hero? Somewhere in between? Johnson didn’t do Finn any favors with how his story played out in The Last Jedi. Instead of feeling like Finn is a definitive member of this new trinity with Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron and Rey that mirrors the original big three of Luke, Han Solo, and Leia, Finn comes across more as a complicated third wheel. Sure he’s proven his ability to rise up to the occasion in fighting the First Order, but something just feels “off” with his overall character. And the romance with Rose, if it’ll blossom into that in the final installment, doesn’t seem right (and that’s not because I personally endorse the idea of Poe and Finn getting together). There never seemed to be any chemistry between the two, other than Rose gawking over Finn when they first met because she thought he was some famous hero. The two spent less than 24 hours with each other during the failed mission in disabling the First Order’s tracking device and that somehow correlates to romantic feelings? I’m not buying it. I’m going to keep my dream of Poe and Finn finding happiness together alive.

The use of Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi was a little puzzling as well. Mark Hamill was a treasure once again as the former Jedi Master, but with what was viewed as one of the biggest moments of cinema in 2017, the return of Luke Skywalker, I couldn’t help but feel a bit underwhelmed. Essentially a hermit now following the horrific events at his Jedi temple, Luke seems to be a fraction of the hero we last saw in Return of the Jedi. While he eventually decides to teach Rey some Jedi lessons (which were a bit on the lame side), Luke never really displayed his tremendous Jedi power. Having him speak with Force ghost Yoda and seeing R2-D2 try to convince him to help the Resistance by playing the old Leia “You’re My Only Hope” recording was a nice shout-out to nostalgia, but other than that, what really was Luke’s purpose? He filled in the plot hole of what happened to him following Episode VI and how he’s mostly responsible for Ben taking that final step toward the Dark Side. So why was Luke so sheepish to help the Resistance? Wouldn’t he have been eager to right his wrong and try and bring Ben back to the Light, just like he brought Anakin back? Even though it was a clever plan of Luke’s to use the Force to project an image of himself to confuse Kylo Ren, did he really have to die? I’m assuming Luke will be back in Episode IX as a Force ghost to give Rey additional guidance, just for the simple fact that I’m not sure his ending in The Last Jedi truly honors him.

Johnson and his team had big shoes to fill, as anyone would when it comes to properly making a Star Wars film. Coming off of what was basically A New Hope 2.0, it was up to Johnson to deviate from that path and not re-create The Empire Strikes Back. He might’ve not hit the right cords for some fans, he did accomplish what he set out to do and that was to create an overall compelling, fun, and intense Star Wars adventure. The subtle inclusion of witty humor throughout the movie made it feel fresh, and the character developments of Rey and Kylo were done perfectly. Finn and Snoke felt underutilized, and the overall reveal of Rey’s origins were a huge disappointment. Luke’s overall arc felt slightly confusing and out of place for the former Rebel hero. However, with so much stacked against Johnson, he was still able to deliver a quality middle entry in this trilogy.

Final Score: 8.75/10

 

*Special Carrie Fisher note*

Johnson’s portrayal of Leia could not have been executed any better. Actress Carrie Fisher’s death in 2016 was devastating, but Johnson effectively showcased why everyone grew up loving her. The hope, wisdom, and courage she’s presented over her illustrious career has impacted so many people. The Last Jedi properly displayed how strong and important Leia is to the Resistance, and in extension, Fisher in real life. The end credits put every fan’s emotions toward Fisher very nicely:

In loving memory of our princess, Carrie Fisher.

Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus Review: Killing Nazis never felt so good

Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus released in a very unusually bright spotlight. Already regarded as a highly-anticipated holiday title, Bethesda’s game posed a scary resemblance to real-life developments happening in America. The emergence of “Alt-Right” believers and Ku Klux Klan followers brought the crazy “what-if” scenario of if the Nazis had won World War II in the world of Wolfenstein to the forefront. The idea of fighting against such atrocities and exterminating Nazis in The New Colossus already seemed like a wonderful idea, but now there’s a heightened sense of satisfaction in killing Nazis.

The New Colossus continues the story of protagonist William “B.J.” Blazkowicz following the events of the first game, The New Order. Don’t worry if you haven’t played the first entry, because New Colossus presents an informative video at the beginning to get you caught up. Wolfenstein’s campaign runs for about ten hours depending on which difficulty you select. There are five different difficulty selections, and while it might seem there isn’t much difference between them based on their descriptions, think again. I learned the hard way that there is a considerable spike in difficulty even between the two easiest ones.

Once you’ve figured out which difficulty suits you best, the actual game is fantastic. The gameplay reminded me a bit like DOOM (not surprising, as DOOM is a Bethesda product as well) with a nice variety of weaponry and fast-paced movement. The different types of weaponry range from simple pistol-type guns to full blown lasers. Most of the weapons can be upgraded through kits found throughout the game that can provide enhancements such as silent gunfire, faster reload, or larger magazine clips. While most of the action is heavily fast-paced, certain areas tend to be easier by taking a stealthier approach. Wolfenstein 2 has perk lists that keep track of the different types of kills you perform: stealth, explosive, environmental, heavy, and dual-wield. Each perk presents a permanent bonus for Blazkowicz that helps him take down Nazis.

It’s hard to give criticism toward a “what-if” situation, but certain technological advances in a bizarro 1961 are a bit too far-fetched to believe sometimes. Flying drones, laser guns, and giant robotic fire-breathing dogs are just the tip of the iceberg. Maybe the Nazis prioritized different scientific areas when they won the war to further their grip on the free world? Who knows? From a video game standpoint, it makes for a kickass experience. From a historical perspective, however, I’m sure there would be an endless list of questions to answer.

Blazkowicz might not be the most engaging of characters, but his team of Nazi-killers more than make up for it. Whether it be his wife Anya Oliwa, former Black Revolutionary Front member Grace Walker, or Nazi-turned-freedom fighter Sigrun Engel, each supporting character deservedly feels needed in aiding the fight against the Nazis. In between missions, Blazkowicz can interact with other people and explore the submarine headquarters that they are stationed in. Standing by and listening to them talk to each other was an unexpected joy. New Colossus does a decent job developing characters during the normal progression of the game, but the more meaningful and deep connections can only be discovered through a player’s own exploration in the base.

Although much of Wolfenstein 2’s secrets are discovered through thorough exploration in the game’s submarine hub world, I long for more linear games. As I mentioned earlier about being similar to DOOM, I would’ve enjoyed if Bethesda created Wolfenstein more in that aspect as something that pushed you forward and didn’t have much options of side activities. The endgame content is a nice treat for more hardcore players and fans, but having to spend time running around (a much larger than originally thought) submarine to encounter new experiences is tedious. It might be the fact that so many games released nowadays contain some sort of sandbox-element to them that for once I’d like a more linear experience.

Even without the craziness of reality, Bethesda’s Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus is another gem among the treasure trove of what 2017 has had to offer. Yes, the frighteningly close similarities between alternate 1961 and real life 2017 are striking, but there’s an underlying joy in it all. Channeling your frustrations of the world into slaughtering virtual Nazis and white supremacists might be the best remedy. From a gaming angle, the gun-play is one of the fastest FPS I’ve played which creates many hectic situations. The variety of weaponry and different ways to kill people add a funny, creative way to dispose your enemy. Wolfenstein’s characters, Blazkowicz to a certain extent, push the story forward in a compelling way; if only there was more in your face development and not hidden among side conversations. Finding concept art throughout the levels and seeing how the Bethesda team designed them was also very interesting to look at, and I wish more developers would follow suit. Regardless of if you’re a Wolfenstein fan or a newbie like I was, New Colossus is a wild ride that should absolutely be ridden.

Final Score: 8.5/10