Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Last Witch Hunter Review

I hadn't heard anything at all about this movie, so certain things that I'm sure anyone who's seen the trailer would know caught me by surprise, which is a good thing in my opinion and probably made it easier for me to enjoy the movie. And overall I did enjoy it; it's probably one of the better movies of it's kind that I've seen in a while.

Let's start with one of the best parts: the protagonist, Kaulder, is NOT a Reluctant HeroTM. I was actually pretty confidently expecting them to have him spend the entire movie whining about how he "didn't ask for this" and so on, but no; Kaulder seems to be at peace with what he does. In fact he even seems to enjoy it sometimes - not when he's actually killing thankfully, but generally he seems to be reasonably happy with his life. It was a refreshing change.

Partly for that reason, I found Kaulder to be a likeable character overall. I also appreciated that he wasn't just some musclebound brute, he actually spent more time investigating than bashing heads; you could say that they didn't forget the "hunt" part of Witch Hunter. Oh, and Vin Diesel looked really cool with hair and a viking beard. Shame he didn't keep that look for the whole movie.

Unfortunately I didn't like Chloe (played by Rose Leslie) as much. I don't really know why, but I just never warmed to her. Maybe it's because the "romance" between her and Kaulder was so underdeveloped, or perhaps it's because her presence in the plot felt a little forced at times, I'm not sure.

I enjoyed Micheal Caine and Elijah Wood as the two Dolan's, and wish they could have gotten more screen time. Especially Elijah, I liked his character's part in the story and would have liked for it to be a bit more fleshed out.

I don't think anyone else got enough screen time for me to really comment on them, not even the villains. Which actually ties into one of my biggest complaints about this film: it's too focused on Kaulder. He is basically the center of the entire universe, everything begins and ends with him; eveything ties to him personally, and all that we see from anyone else is how they interact with him. Even the antagonists seem to spend most of their time working to stop him rather than actually working to further their own goals. Hell, Kaulder himself ends up searching for the villains by trying to investigate his own past!

To me, it made the movie feel small and a little shallow. Nothing much was fleshed out or given depth. There's only a small handful of characters and we don't get to know much about most of them; even the motivations of the main protagonists are only really hinted at; witches don't like humans because we build buildings or something. We hear about an Order of the Axe and Cross (I think) that Kaulder works for, but we never find out anything at all about them or how they support Kaulder. There's great little moments when we catch glimpses into a hidden world inhabited by magic-using witches, but they are too brief and far between. We get snippets of the mechanics of magic, but not quite enough to understand how it works, or even what exactly witches are. I just wish the movie had immersed itself more in the idea of this fantasy world.

The plot was not very deep and had it's share of holes, but I will say that it held up better than I expected overall, and it had some decents twists, some of which I kinda saw coming and some of which I didn't. The action scenes weren't amazing, but they were stylish and provided entertaining visual spectacles, as did other scenes in the movie, thanks in part to good use of quality visual effects.

Overall I'm giving it a 7/10. I found it entertaining and stylish, if not very deep or impressive.


I tried to avoid mentioning in the main review that the bulk of the film is set in the modern day world, because I actually didn't know that going in and was surprised when it happened. I'm not sure if I prefer it this way; I really liked Vin Diesel as a viking-esque warrior, but to be honest I'm not entirely sure he could have pulled it off for a whole movie - at least I've never seen him in that kind of role before so I just don't know. And I do like the whole "magic hidden in the shadowy corners of our world" thing when it's done well, so I didn't have a problem with it here.

I liked the fact that Kaulder was so well adapted to the modern world; it was a bit of a reversal of expectations. I was probably a very good move too, as with characters like Captain America running around on screen these days the "man out of his time" cliche is becoming a bit familiar.

I found it a bit funny that everyone kept trying to tell Kaulder that he's lonely, but I never actually saw it in his actions. Yeah, OK, he fixes clocks in his free time, I get that you think that makes him look lonely, but to me it doesn't really, it just tells me that you want me to think that he's lonely since you don't understand why people would enjoy something like watch repair. I mean, I'm fairly certain that there's married men with children who like to do a bit of watch repair, or similar handcrafts, when they can find a bit of free time.

Do the Axe and Cross do anything at all? Perhaps they just gather information on witches then tell Kaulder where to go and who to kill? I assumed that they bankrolled him, but seeing as he's been around for so long I don't think it would be too hard for him to sort out his own finances.

Why is he the last witch hunter anyway? Is it because of the peace treaty? He was part of a group of witch hunters before, so people have hunted witches, and now that there's all sorts of advanced weapons and technology - you know, equalizers - surely it should be easier than it was before? I mean, I know not many people believe in witches, but you'd think an organization like the Axe and Cross would make it a point to keep a few dozen trained warriors armed and ready at all times, right?

He put the heart in his safe? In his apartment? Is that really the most secure place he could think of? Where was it even hidden before it was stolen? The Axe and Cross never noticed it was missing - or did they and they just never bothered to tell Kaulder about it? Maybe the told Elijah's character and he just kept the information to himself?

Why did they need to get the location of the heart from Micheal Caine when Elijah Wood would have known the location himself as the next Dolan? Was it something to do with what he was saying about Micheal Caine taking pity on Kaulder; did that mean that he had stolen the heart or was planning to destroy it so Elijah had to act quickly or something?

How come nothing could kill Kaulder but the Witch Queen was pretty easy to kill? I mean, he didn't even stab her in the heart, he actually missed, yet she basically disintegrated. Did she have a weakness to fire that he didn't or something? I mean, at the end he killed her after he had lost his immortality then been stabbed and shot multiple times; she clearly wasn't all that tough.

When he "unleashed the storm" at the end, what was his plan? Did he know that the sword would act as a lightning rod, but only after he threw it and not before? Or was the storm just a distraction, or possibly a light source? Maybe he just wanted to kill the Witch Queen in a dramatic way; he had her at his mercy before but stood around delivering one-liners instead of finishing her off after all.

Was it really so important to stop him from getting his memory back, even though it seems they needed him to be there for the return of the Witch Queen? How did the memory even reveal to him that the heart was still intact when he hadn't been concious to see it (and even if he had picked up some sounds or something he wouldn't have seen the dude hide the heart)? That's not exactly a memory anymore.

What was that powder that he used, and what exactly did it do? Neutralize magic? How does that work? Like, can you just scatter some around your bedroom and be immune to bad juju? Can you just wear some in a necklace? Can you put it in a bullet or shot shell and shoot down magical spells? Is it magical itself? In which case where did he get it? What about that symbol that appeared in glass when he breathed on it? Can anyone do that or is it something you need to know how to do?

So Chloe didn't actually do ANYTHING at all at the end? She stopped the chant for a while, but then it continued to completion later anyway, and then she just got used as a hostage; she really didn't do anything in the finale. Well, other than tell that obvious lie about how there's "other, worse things" out there just waiting for Kaulder to die. I mean, that's got to be a lie, otherwise the entire universe really does revolve around him. Besides, I don't think his healing factor is so scary that creatures more powerful than the Witch Queen would spend 800 years in hiding because of it.

I just keep thinking "this is so much better than I Frankenstein"!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Riddick Review

Let me start by saying that I'm quite fond of Pitch Black and I like the character Riddick (ugh, this review is going to be hard to write so it's not confusing when talking about the previous entries in the series...), so even if this movie had completely ignored The Chronicles of Riddick and just been Pitch Black again I wouldn't have minded too much.

That's not to say that I didn't enjoy Chronicles of Riddick because I actually did; the action was entertaining, I liked the worlds they created, and Riddick himself is just fun. However the movie as a whole just didn't quite work. The reason I think is that the scope of the movie was too big for the character. They had a huge galaxy-conquering empire and they tried to make us believe that it was defeated by a guy with a couple of funny-looking knives and better-than-average eyesight.

They lionized Riddick to an excessive degree; while fun at times, overall it just... didn't work. In Pitch Black, Riddick was a tough guy but he wasn't "the galaxy's biggest bad-@$$". He spent much of the film in chains, and even when he escaped the first time he was taken down pretty quickly by just the one guy. No, what Riddick was in the first movie was an unknown quantity; he was unpredictable, dangerous but mysterious.

Thinking about it now, I would say that Riddick was the star of Pitch Black a bit like the Predator was the star of Predator; he's not the character that we follow and empathize with even if he's the one we remember the most; he's the scary and mysterious monster that the audience love even though he's not a good guy. Like the Predator, Riddick is often at his best when you can't see him, but you know he's out there, somewhere. Chronicles of Riddick changed that by making him, well, the Hero.

It's somewhat unfortunate then that this entry in the series inherits some of the problems of the second film even when trying to emulate the first. Chronologically it takes place after Chronicles of Riddick, and yet thematically it tries to go back to the first movie; borrowing so heavily from Pitch Black that some of the scenes are almost exactly the same. Sometimes that works well, other times not so much. Speaking personally at least, I couldn't quite consolidate what I view as two different images of Riddick, which they were trying to present in the same movie. One minute he's standing there challenging the world with a smile on his face, confidant in his invulnerability, the next he's running for his life; five minutes later he's lounging around like he's untouchable again. Perhaps the problem isn't the character himself, but the ease with which I buy into the tough-guy act that Riddick puts on for others?

Having said all that, I enjoyed this movie. I thought the early parts with Riddick alone on the planet worked well, I liked the environment and creature designs, the mercenaries were characterful, the acting appropriate, there were some good action scenes and some nice visual spectacles and Riddick himself is still entertaining.

Overall I give it a 7/10. If you enjoyed Pitch Black you'll probably enjoy this one too... which shouldn't come as a big surprise really.


Ah, now for the obligatory nitpicking! Let's start with the dog. I liked the dog. Riddick liked the dog. There's this fairly powerful scene where Riddick is trying to save the dog - which risked it's life to save him - but fails. The scene would have been better if it hadn't felt as if it should have been possible for Riddick to avoid the situation, but nevermind. My problem is that Riddick passes out to the sight of his dog dying. Then, when he wakes up, he doesn't mourn or grieve or anything, he just slips straight into his "you may think you've captured me, but I'm still in control of the situation" routine, antagonizing his enemies while flashing his pearly whites. Yes, I know that the first thing he did was announce that he was going to kill Santana, but it was still too... quick and easy I suppose. I know he's supposed to be a tough guy who doesn't show his weaknesses, but still, the audience needs to see him react to know that he cares. We don't so we're left with the impression that he didn't really care, that the death of his companion didn't really matter to him.

I enjoyed seeing Batista and Katee Sackhoff, but I felt they were underused. Batista was entertaining when he spoke, unfortunately that didn't happen all that often. Katee's character was so completely unnecessary to the plot that I ended up rather disappointed; it seems she was just there to be the girl, nothing more. Perhaps that's not fair since most of the mercs were pretty much just there to stand around and die, but she's one of only three faces that I recognised so I kinda assumed she would have a bigger role.

I didn't quite get why Diaz betrayed them at the end. Perhaps it was revenge for Riddick killing Santana, or maybe it was to make sure that Johns didn't force them to give Riddick their ship? Also I'm not sure why he sabotaged one of the hover-bikes since he was planning on just killing them there, but that's not really important so never mind.

I didn't quite buy into Johns' change of heart at the end. Riddick says he didn't kill your son but won't actually give you the details of what happened, so you decide to save his life and give him a ship? Eh, I just wish there had been more time for the relationship between Riddick and the  surviving mercs to develop, I think it would have been more enjoyable if they'd been forced to work together more.

I really like the design of the scorpion things, but I didn't understand how they hunted without eyes. If it's all by sound then I kinda feel that they would have a hard time picking up on things outside the water when they are completely submerged, plus I don't think they could have homed in on Riddick even when he wasn't moving if they were just hunting by sound. Maybe it was smell as well? There was a lot of noise going on with those tails, were they sniffing the air? Perhaps that coupled with sound would be enough, I don't know, I don't feel it was clear enough (or maybe I'm just thick). It's just that Riddick was being super-sneaky around the humans but the weird water creatures had no trouble spotting him at all times.

I liked the hints of former civilization that we saw on the planet, it would have been nice if that angle was fleshed out a little more. You know, what happened to them, etc. It seems a shame to have a couple of interesting ruins then just change location without anyone even acknowledging them.

I found it a bit strange that everyone was ready to kill Riddick even though he was the only one who knew where their power nodes were hidden. I guess they figured they could find them eventually or that they could send out a call for help - this was before they learned of the scorpion creatures - but he had seemed quite confident strolling up to them earlier so I assumed from his behavior that he should have been safe. I guess he overestimated them?

Santana was... inconsistent.  Fun, but inconsistent. He lets Dahl beat the crap out of him without resistance or retaliation, then starts picking fights with her later for no apparent reason. One minute he gets in people's face, the next he shrinks away. Perhaps I'm just assuming that, because he's the villain in a Riddick movie, he's supposed to be a two-dimensional cartoon character, and as a result I'm just not able to accept that he's actually a reasonably deep human being who gets scared or swallows his pride some times but stands up for himself others? Perhaps they just wanted to keep him a little unpredictable?

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

White Male Comic Heroes Coming To A Screen Near You!

So a while back I started watching Arrow. I enjoyed it at first, but by about the eighth episode I stopped. Recently my friend suggested I watch Flash. I wasn't expecting much, but I gave it a shot.

Now I love the Flash in the comics and even the Justice League cartoons; he's easily one of my favourite superheros, but I've always believed that he's a hard character to persistently write good stories for since super speed (at least at his level) pretty much trumps most things that aren't super speed. Now that's a problem that Superman has since he's so powerful, but in some ways it's worse with the Flash since he can solve most problems in the blink of an eye, so you have to come up with some contrived crap to regular create drama or even just to keep things moving for a whole comic book / TV episode.

Another problem that I expected a TV show to face was that super speed is not cheap. Drawing super speed is easier than filming it, meaning that typically a movie or TV show would either need a huge budget or have the Flash spend most of his time moving at regular speed.

Overall what I expected was a show with overly-contrived story lines, manufactured drama (as I like to call it, that is most of the problems are caused by the main characters being stupid), and the Flash spending most of his time moving at normal speeds. Well, I've finished the fourth episode and so far it's had all those problems, though none were as bad as I had feared. However, it had another problem that I hadn't considered; in retrospect I probably should have.

Lets talk about the Arrow for a moment. In early episodes that I have seen, Arrow - a white male - dispensed justice aided by his black male sidekick. As Oliver Queen he had feelings for a woman that he couldn't be with, but he tried to maintain his long-standing friendship with her without revealing that he was the Arrow, which resulted in him continually making promises to her then letting her down, meaning he had to keep awkwardly apologizing to her all the time. Her father, by the way, is a police detective who has a special interest in Oliver. Also, as practically every episode takes pains to point out, someone very close to him is harboring a dark secret, a secret that ties into how he became a superhero in the first place.

Now let's get back to the Flash. In the early episodes that I have seen, Flash - a white male - dispensed justice aided by his black male sidekick. As Barry Allen he had feelings for a woman that he couldn't be with, but he tried to maintain his long-standing friendship with her without revealing that he was the Flash, which resulted in him continually making promises to her then letting her down, meaning he had to keep awkwardly apologizing to her all the time. Her father, by the way, is a police detective who has a special interest in Barry. Also, as practically every episode takes pains to point out, someone very close to him is harboring a dark secret, a secret that ties into how he became a superhero in the first place.

Hmm, where have I heard that before? I guess if it ain't broke don't fix it? Now I'm not saying that it's "exactly the same show", but it does feel very familiar - more so than can be attributed to it just being another superhero TV show. And that's just disappointing, even more so since they are both being made by the same company. Give us some variety DC!

Speaking about variety, how about some superheroes that aren't white males? So far you've given us movies or shows about Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and the Flash. I mean, unless you count Superman (and I don't), all of those characters are American! You couldn't even give us a non-American white male superhero? Hell, the actors playing those characters are more ethnically diverse than the characters themselves!

Yes, I know that these are some of DC's oldest - and therefore most established and loved - characters, dating back many decades to less enlightened times. I just think that we need to grow beyond that. Hell, these days the market is so multicultural and the superhero genre (on-screen at least) so full of white males that it's just good business to have a more varied product line.

But you know, what bothered me even more about the Flash than the fact that it was so unoriginal, was the way the female characters were written. There are two recurring female characters so far: Iris West and Caitlin Snow.

Caitlin is one of the three former STAR labs staff members who are the first to know what Barry is capable of. Harrison Wells was the head of STAR labs; he's responsible for everything that has happened, and is also possibly a time-traveller who has a mysterious connection with Flash. Cisco is an inventor/engineer, who made Flash his suit and designs all the gadgets that they use for, well, everything. Caitlin is a bio-engineer; I'm not sure why you need a "bio-engineer" to build a particle accelerator, but hey, what do I know? Anyway, she's basically the medic. She's also the blandest and least likable character in the series so far. Plus by episode three she already needs Barry's help with her emotional problems.

Iris is Barry's oldest friend. He has a really obvious crush on her which she (so far) has not returned or acknowledged. Her father is a police detective, Barry's foster father and boss. She's currently dating her father's younger parter. What the hell is this, a soap opera? Geez. Anyway, so far she's been robbed in the middle of a huge crowd in a secure location; a pre-Flash Barry got beat up chasing after the thief and then missed the historic event that he had been looking forwards to for ages as a result. Whenever he tries to talk to her about his interests, she just stares at him until he apologizes, at which point she tells him in a condescending voice that he's an adorable nerd (seriously DC?). Barry's had to keep the secret of her boyfriend from his boss/foster father/confidant, as well as his own secret from her. She's constantly making out with her boyfriend right in front of him, which needless to say is painful for him (she has even gone to visit Barry in his lab just so that she can meet her boyfriend there out of her father's sight). Because of his feelings for her he couldn't form a relationship with Felicity - an attractive woman who really likes him, knows his secret identity, is equally intelligent, shares all his interests and even enjoys his nerdy jokes that no-one else gets.

In other words, her only purpose is to make his life harder and more complicated. Hell, it gets worse. Because she's dating her father's partner, apart from how awkward that makes it for him, her father now feels uncomfortable exposing his partner to risk knowing how badly it would hurt her if anything happened to him. As a result he very nearly gets himself killed when he tries to tackle a dangerous villain on his own. So yeah, basically every single thing this woman does makes life harder, more complicated, and even more dangerous for the menfolk. I'm actually surprised that she's only needed to be rescued once so far (twice if you count the laptop robbery).

This, it seems, is what DC thinks of women. I'm not a woman, and I know that DC is a large company and certainly not all people who work there think like that, but still I kinda have to say: screw you DC.


And now, just for my personal satisfaction, I'm going to randomly complain about a bunch of other crap from the show.

So some guy grabs Iris' laptop when they are right in the middle of a crowd, halfway through STAR labs presentation for the start of the completed particle accelerator. Who the hell picks someone IN THE MIDDLE OF A PACKED CROWD IN A SECURE LOCATION SURROUNDED BY VIDEO CAMERAS RECORDING THE HISTORIC EVENT TAKING PLACE to try to snatch a bag from? Like, if you had to try to stage a robbery in the worst possible location, wouldn't you at least pick someone on the fringes of the crowd, not right in the middle? And then after pulling this huge risk to try to steal a laptop, rather than just run away, he rounds a corner then waits for the guy chasing him so he can assault him... WITH THE LAPTOP HE'S TRYING TO STEAL? Seriously? Aren't you planning on selling the damn thing? How are you going to do that after you've broken the damned thing? Oh, then he climbs over a chain fence and walks right into a police offer; the dad's partner in fact. Look, I don't know where they were in relation to the building and everything, but it didn't look like a place where people are that likely to be walking around - it was completely empty apart from them after all - so I find it quite unlikely that the partner just happened to be there at that exact moment. Ugh, something tells me that somewhere down the line it's going to be revealed that Harrison Wells set the whole thing up to make sure that Barry would be in his lab instead of at STAR when the accident happened.

He needed to run over 700mph to stop the twister? Don't most twisters have winds moving at like 200mph tops? And those are massive ones that destroy whole cities, not something 5 meters across. Plus we only ever see him running under 300 on the treadmill, and that's in a straight line - he was running in a tight circle around the twister, so... dunno, seemed to me like they just threw a big number in to sound dramatic.

Every single one of the first three episodes ends with Harrison Wells doing something suspicious. OK guys, it was surprising the first time, but every episode? It had seriously lost it's impact by the third time.

Felicity hacked the whole city's communication network in like 5 seconds with probably less than 20 keystrokes. Apart from the fact that she wasn't actually typing very fast, I'm fairly certain you need to type more than two words in order to hack into an entire communication system.

So their plan is to lock super-villains in tiny boxes and just forget about them? Really? That's inhumane, illegal even in prisons (fairly certain there are laws determining how long you can put someone in solitary), and just stupid; are you going to let them out some day? If not, I would argue that it's actually more humane to kill them. I suppose that they aren't thinking that far ahead, but right now I find the idea disturbing. Eh, considering that these people are supposed to be geniuses I would have liked a bit more discussion about the details and long term solutions, but maybe they'll build on that later, so I guess it's too soon to get too annoyed.

So his Mom was killed by someone with superpowers? Someone who no-doubt has some stronger connection with him (it probably involves time travel). I dunno, I'm just really sick of "chosen ones". I mean, lately everyone is a chosen one and it's never just a coincidence anymore. Maybe all the script writers are parents who thing their children owe them everything and should be more grateful for it? I just don't know.

I was not impressed with Flash for being angry with Cisco for building a freeze gun to use against him just in case (quite why a freeze gun sounded like the perfect weapon is beyond me, surely a laser or something would at least be too fast for him to dodge. Hell, if you made it emit light outside of the visual spectrum he wouldn't even be able to see it to dodge it!); after all they made such a big deal about working together to stop other people who were given superpowers without even discussing the idea that said other super-powered-individuals might not be villains, so clearly being prepared to deal with super-powered opponents is the name of the game here. Besides, what if you ran into someone with mind-control and he told you to kill everyone? Or just someone else with super-speed? What makes you think you're the only one with that particular power set? Hell, it looked like the guy who killed your mom was pretty fast, so... besides, you don't get to be angry at someone you just met recently because they don't completely trust you yet. Trust isn't something you're owed.

Speaking of the freeze gun, they said it receives regular firmware updates? From Cisco? Then why the hell doesn't he just pass it a firmware update that renders it inoperable, rather than some mumbo jumbo about boosting signals in order to track it? And how the hell did "Captain Cold" block the signal later? There was no indication that he was tech-savvy enough to modify this extremely advanced and non-standardized piece of equipment, EVEN IF he was able to figure out that they were tracking him through it (I mean, they caught up to him after he was in a shootout with the police in a museum that they already knew he was going to try to rob, so I'm not sure what the tracking thing was about anyway).

Also, they said the freeze gun runs on fuel; what kind of fuel? Is it something that will run out anytime soon? Is it something Captain Cold can figure out how to replace? Less of a complaint I suppose, I just think that this is a rather important detail that they should have thrown in a few lines of dialogue to explain, it would have fleshed it out a bit more.

Ugh, that nonsense with Cold and the train was so bad. So Barry runs of from Star labs to where they have determined Cold is. Cisco, Caitlin and Felicity decide to follow. Captain Cold gets on a train just before the Flash arrives, so he jumps on as it's leaving the station. So now he's on a train, which is super narrow; he's going to have an extremely hard time dodging Cold's fairly wide freeze beam. So what does he do? Stand there and talk to Cold instead of knocking him out before he can do anything. Cold then basically foreshadows his plan; we see Flash stop smiling as he starts to realise that something is wrong. Then Cold points the gun at the floor. So what does Flash do? Knock the gun out of his hand before he can pull the trigger right? Nope, he just stands there and waits for Cold to shoot the floor with his freeze beam. Then Cold opens a door and drops a one-liner before jumping out (of a moving train, did he really think this was a good plan? Did he even really know he would have time to jump out before the train wrecked? Or that he would be able to keep his footing as it started shaking? This is a terrible plan!). So naturally Flash hops over and knocks him out before he can jump, right? Nope, he just stands there and stares at him. He may be the fastest man alive, but it seems he has the slowest reflexes in history.

Anyway, so Cold jumps out of the train - we see him land to the right of the tracks btw. The wheels lock due to the ice, which apparently causes the whole train to derail spectacularly, with cars flipping over and bursting into flame (not sure what's burning, it's not like they store fuel on those things). It travels a good, I don't know, fifty meters? More? I can't tell, but it's a fair distance. During this time Flash jumps on and off several times carrying passengers. The final time that he jumps off, we see a car fall perpendicular to the track, effectively blocking sight from where Cold should be, farther back. Flash lands on the ground to the right of the tracks and collapses, then is instantly hit by a freeze beam that comes from where Cold is standing further along the tracks rather than further back! Even if I'm wrong about the directions and positions - and if I am it's the cinematographer's fault for not communicating everything properly - then Cold is still FAR too close to Flash's final position.

They talk for about twenty seconds, then suddenly the Cisco, Caitlin and Felicity are right behind Captain Cold. In the middle of a train wreck. That doesn't seem to be close to any roads. How the hell did they get there? And they're holding a vacuum cleaner that Cisco says he stuck "a lot of LEDs" on it. So let me get this straight: Flash leaves STAR labs traveling at over 200 mph, jumps straight onto a train, then withing one minute he's frozen to the ground with Cold standing over him. In this time those three normal-speed human beings found the (fairly huge and heavy looking) vacuum cleaner, stuck working LEDs on to it, carried it out of the fairly massive STAR labs complex into the parking lot, hopped into a car (I'm assuming they used a car?), drove to town at, what, 70 mph? Let's say 100 mph max (but we're talking about inner city driving here so realistically it would be far slower than that), stopping for traffic lights and so on, drove along or parallel to the train tracks (?) until they reached the site of the crash, bundled the vacuum cleaner out of the car, and wondered around until they found those two in the middle of the burning wreckage? OK, I'm starting to understand: turns out the Flash is actually a hell of a lot slower than advertised! Either that or the writing on this show is garbage.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

How To Train Your Dragon 2 review

According to IMDB, this movie has the same director (well, one of the directors anyway) as the first one. Which is very puzzling to me since it seems to have no idea what made the first one so good. In fact it almost seemed to be going out of it's way to destroy the legacy of the original.

Let's start with the positives. The animation is much improved over the first. There were some beautiful landscapes and gorgeous scenes that did a great job of capturing the feeling of the joy of flight. It was fun to see all the characters again and there was some really great chemistry between them at times.

So what didn't I like about it? Well, I'll go into details in the spoilers section, but I think my biggest issue was the message. The message of the first movie was to try to see past surface differences and old grudges; to bridge boundaries; to break cycles of violence and find peace. It's about forging friendships and learning to accept each other even if we initially appear to be different.

In contrast, the message that I get from the sequel is "you have to protect your group against others, even if it requires violence". The phrase that they keep quoting is in fact "a chief protects his own". In other word, "it's us versus them". OK, look, I don't object to the basic idea that we have to be ready to fight to protect ourselves and those we care about, but the message of this movie is basically THE EXACT OPPOSITE OF THE FIRST ONE!

And you know what? I like the first movie's message more. I mean, "a chief protecting his own" is exactly what Stoick was doing in the first film, and it pretty much claimed he was in the wrong. If Hiccup had been all "a chief protects his own" in the original, he would have just killed Toothless at the start and there wouldn't have been any movie.

Furthermore, to a lesser extent there was also a message in the original about about solving problems by carefully studying them and trying to find intelligent solutions rather than attacking them with brute force, as exemplified by how Hiccup studies the dragons and is able to pass various challenges using his knowledge of them rather than by attacking them with weapons. In this one, they solve all the problems in the end by just being physically more powerful.

For example (spoiler warning for this paragraph), in the first movie they defeat a giant dragon by using teamwork and figuring out and exploiting it's weaknesses thanks to their understanding of dragons. In this one they defeat a giant dragon by Toothless just standing on a rock and spitting fireballs at it until it gives up. Because he's just inherently superior apparently. The hell was the point of that?

Another thing that I took issue to was that in the first movie Hiccup was shown as being different from everyone around him, and suffering because of that, but eventually he and his village learned that being different wasn't a bad thing, that he didn't need to be ashamed of being different. Again, that's a good message. But in this movie, they basically take that away from him. I'll leave the details to the spoiler section, but suffice to say it felt like downright character assassination to me.

What's more, the story felt like a mess to me. It's rather hard to pinpoint why other to say that there were a lot of characters running back and forth without achieving anything or really contributing significantly to the story. Many characters felt marginalized; all of the kids, including even Astrid, have a lot of screen time but don't actually contribute at all to the story: with the single exception of mentioning Hiccup and Berk to Drago, you could take out all the scenes featuring the kids and it wouldn't affect the plot at all. In fact, to me, even Hiccup seemed to be little more than an observer for most of the film, and Toothless was actually very passive until right at the end.

To be honest, I feel like the first movie was made because there was a story that the creators wanted to tell, while this one felt like is was made because... somebody needed their next paycheck. It just doesn't seem to have a prevailing theme or direction or message; it's just about some stuff that happened to some guys we know.

Overall, I give it a 6/10. It's... not a terrible movie on it's own, in fact if the first had never existed I probably would have enjoyed this a fair deal, it's just that it's so much stupider and less meaningful that the original that I was severely disappointed.


Let's talk a bit more about the the whole "us versus them" message. Hiccup spends the whole movie trying to find a peaceful solution (although he doesn't do a very good job of it, he can't even convince his father to give peace a chance), and as a result of this people get hurt and his father dies. So the message isn't just "it's us versus them", it's also "don't be naive and try to find a peaceful solution"? I guess it's supposed to be "if peace fails then be ready to fight", but the fact that his attempt to find peace just made the situation worse creates the impression that the movie is preaching against even trying. What makes it worse is that from the start his parents are saying "a chief protects his own", then at the end Hiccup starts saying it too; the implication being that they knew better all along and he was just being naive, that he learned the lesson and that we should learn it too. It's us versus them. At least that's the impression I got. It didn't help that the antagonist was basically unreasonable and insane, as if to say "don't bother trying to reason with your enemies, they are inhuman and won't listen".

I'm like a stuck record but... the first movie was about breaking barriers, unlikely friendships, and doing what you know to be right despite how much everyone around you ridicule's you for it. This one was about how important it is to fight and be strong. I mean, yes, they beat the big dragon in the end of the first, but they did it by outsmarting it, using knowledge gained by careful observation, and thanks to courage and teamwork. They beat the big dragon at the end of this one by... Toothless being more powerful. In the first one the Hiccup's redeeming features were his intelligence, compassion, curiosity and observation skills, as well as his creativity and crafting skills. In this one his redeeming features were... having the more powerful dragon as a pet.

They won by being stronger, not smarter or more caring or braver or by putting aside personal gain and ego in order to work together. While I enjoy plenty of movies where the good guys at the end beat the bad guys by being stronger (which is not always the case; often they "win" through intelligence or perseverance or plain old luck), it's usually because they worked harder or had, lets say, "purer" motivations that allowed them to push themselves harder, or thanks to their courage and willingness to put themselves at risk for others, that they found the strength or skill to win. In this movie, it's mainly because Toothless was just inherently more powerful. He was basically born superior. Yes, his motivations are arguably stronger, but we don't see that as being a factor, we just see him get angry and start shooting fireballs at the big dragon until he wins. I don't think that's a very useful or strong take-home message.

Dragon-riding feels a whole lot less special now that everyone and their mothers (literally) have been doing it for decades. Personally I didn't like the whole "Oh yeah, you're not actually all that special, you're just doing what you were genetically programmed to do" inheritance thing. What, was he "destined" to make peace with dragons? Makes his achievement a lot less special or meaningful in my eyes if it's just something that's in his blood, rather than something that he did himself out of courage and compassion. He's not a person, he's just a set of lucky genes it seems. This is what I meant before when I said that they took his uniqueness from him. I mean, why does everything have to be some sort of destiny that our parents have already created for us? It really seems to be all the rage in Hollywood these days, and it's stupid. It's just a way to try to make things seem more important, when in fact it makes them less so. I mean, if Valka was the first person to ever ride a dragon, then why wasn't the first movie about her instead of Hiccup? Her story is the more historically significant and impressive, Hiccup is just some guy who came later and followed in someone else's footsteps.

Besides, it really didn't make any sense that his mother was like that. In the first movie Stoick gives Hiccup a helmet made from Valka's breastplate, and says his helmet is the matching pair. This makes us believe she was a large strong warrior woman, probably with a similar frame and personality to Stoick. But when we see her in this movie, not just in the present but also in a flashback, she clearly could never have worn such a breastplate. Plus, she never comes across as a tough Viking warrior who's used to having to fend off dragons; it's almost like she's never seen them before and is completely panicking.

While it's not unbelievable that Stoick would have married a woman like that, it seems a bit out of character; remember that the whole village is very much more like Stoick than like Hiccup, so if she was so much like Hiccup that he inherited his... whatever it is that made him different enough that he could make friends with dragons, then she would have been essentially a social outcast as well. Plus she clearly had more of it since the dragons took one look at her and carried her away to... be their pet/queen/dancing monkey or whatever. Why the hell did the Dragons even choose her anyway? Cos that's basically what they did. Did their dragon-sense tingle and tell them she was special? Basically she was a chosen one, and Hiccup's achievements were all hereditary and not in any way his own doing, and Toothless was just born better. Everyone in this movie was just born special it seems.

One thing that annoys me though about how they made out that he just inherited all his "uniqueness" (I can't think of a better word for it I'm afraid) from his mother, is that if that was the case you would have expected Stoick to make some comment at some point in the first movie about how Hiccup is "his mother's son" or something, perhaps be slightly less surprised about how Hiccup is so different, or even be more accepting of it because it reminds him of his wife, but there was just never any indication originally that she was any different in any way to the rest of the dragon-killing vikings of old Berk. Them portraying her as the first dragon rider in this movie just doesn't fit with what we already know.

Also, she's a terrible mother and a horrible person. She clearly never even tried to come back and see her son, never mind try to stop Berkians from killing dragons. She had the dragons eating out of the palm of her hand, she easily could have had them drop her off somewhere and wait, then just walk into town. But she says she's too scared. Well, I'm sorry, but if the choice is take a risk (I'm not even really sure what the "risk" actually is; was she expecting Stoick to kill her or something if she ever came back?) or never see your son again, most mothers I think would take the risk.

Having said all that I really liked the scene where Stoick was reunited with Valka. It was sweet and emotional and I liked the singing bit.

Oh, and by the way: "Drago"? Really? Running out of ideas for names are we?

What's up with that flaming sword? It doesn't make sense and also doesn't look like the kind of thing the Hiccup that I know would spend time and effort to create, seeing as -unlike the other children- he was never portrayed as being interested in playing with swords or anything like that. Ditto with the weird full-leather body suit and face mask. Maybe it makes sense if you watch the series?

That whole "love quadrangle" thing was kinda funny, but also kinda weird and pointless, and I felt it lacked a payoff at the end, being kinda just dropped with no real conclusion.

What was with all the dragon mind control crap? How did Drago control the alpha? How did Hiccup's mother get Toothless, who was in a decidedly hostile mood, to roll over and go to sleep with a single wave of her hand? I don't even want to try to think about the logic behind experienced veteran dragons - Toothless killed a damned Dragon Queen last movie! - being completely powerless to resist an "Alpha", but baby dragons - who are developed enough to fly after all - not even noticing his mind control. I mean, Toothless risks his own life to save Hiccup every other day, yet here he was actually forced to attempted to kill Hiccup and he didn't seem to hesitate at all. Hell, Hiccup didn't do a damn thing to stop it either, other than hold his hand out. "Oh, but it's OK, because he overcame it in the end". Yeah, when the bad guy just stood there and let him get close instead of killing the little twerp himself. I guess it was supposed to be the triumph of friendship over adversity, but it just didn't work for me at all.

How did the alpha understand what Drago wanted anyway? Does he speak English? Hell, how can he even tell the difference between one human and the other? They're like the size of ants to him.

So Drago has been building a dragon army for something like twenty years? That's... quite a long time, I just feel as if I need more information about what's been happening all that time. I mean, he killed a bunch of chieftans with dragons, then just sat around collecting more dragons for two decades? Or has he been involved in constant war, but no-one in Berk (including Stoick, who was already kinda involved before) ever heard anything about an army of vikings and dragons working together?

Personally I felt that there were too many times when they could have killed Drago but chose not to. I know that it's a kids cartoon, but after Stoick got killed, I kinda expected Hiccup to be a little more willing to use lethal force if that's what it took, but instead he just kinda stands there talking to him at the end and forgets that there's a dragon the size of an entire mountain standing just five feet away. Hell, they didn't even kill him at the end despite how much harm he'd caused and even though it's been shown that he's a very dangerous guy to forget about, one who is perfectly willing to spend twenty years preparing his revenge if that's what it takes. So the writers were willing to kill Stoick but not Drago?

By the way, I'm not happy that Stoick did not kill a one-armed man in personal combat when he was fighting to protect the woman he loved - this was after he had already disarmed Drago by the way. He was clearly willing to and I have a hard time believing he didn't have the skill or strength.

Nobody ever really did anything that could actually be described as intelligent, which I find disappointing. I mean, what was Astrid thinking, telling Drago about Berk? After both Hiccup's father and mother, who both hold opposing views, tell him you can't reason with Drago, he still doesn't listen, and gets his dad killed as a result. I can't help but blame Hiccup for Stoick's death; which again makes me feel that the movie is preaching against even trying to find a peaceful solution, if it managed to make me angry at Hiccup for not going straight for the jugular.

Why did Drago let them live after taking their dragons?

How did Drago learn to fly Toothless so quickly? Learning to coordinate tail movements is not easy, assuming he could even figure out what the apparatus was, but he just hopped on and flew away.

Since Hiccup added a lock for the tail to allow Toothless to fly independently, and we know from the short that he's figured out how to allow Toothless to control the tail fin and fly, why didn't he leave it locked or put the full controllable system back on? Seeing as he kept falling off and leaving Toothless stranded, I think it's something he should have thought of.

The final battle scene was much, much, much less impressive and intelligent and entertaining and understandable and believable and sensible than the final showdown of the first movie. Seriously, they just stood there and breathed fireballs at each other? Or rather one breathed fireballs while the other just stood and shook his head. Who came up with that idea? Whoever it was, fire him.

So they won the day in the end by Toothless realizing he had new powers and turning out to be the most powerful dragon in the world? What is this, a video game? I mean, seriously, they won because their pet dragon was more powerful than the other guy's pet dragon: it's Pokemon.

Hiccup's mom jabbed Toothless in the neck and suddenly a bunch of flappy double fins popped out of his spinal column? Apart from the questions "What the hell was that?" and "What the hell was the point of that?", I think they looked terrible and ruined a very cool dragon design. Again, it felt like video-game logic more than anything else. Perhaps it was so that they could sell Toothless toys to people who already bought the old one?

Those glider wings are way too small for Hiccup to be flying so vertically. And can't he steer at all? Remember Hiccup has basically understood how dragons fly so as to work with Toothless to fly again, yet every time he uses the glider an obstacle magically appears right in front of him - not a large wide obstacle, but a single spar of rock or ice that he should be able to steer around if he has any control at all, but he doesn't - and Toothless has to save him. Seriously, EVERY SINGLE TIME! I counted three occasions where he used the glider wings and had to be rescued, and none where he used them and didn't. And he doesn't even bother to say thank you, he's really taking Toothless for granted these days. I mean, why did he even try it without considering a way to steer or picking a nice safe stretch of air where he knew there was nothing in the way first; he's supposed to be a smart guy after all, otherwise he wouldn't have been able to put together the glider wings in the first place.

I know I shouldn't complain about this since it's not really that much less believable than anything else, but... breathing ice? The films don't address the idea of magic, but from the way that Toothless analyses dragons and we see the mechanics of how they work to some extent, it gives the feeling that their fire is some kind of organic process rather than magic. But as breathing ice could only be magic, I kinda felt that it didn't fit the tone of the rest of the movie. Meh, it's a really minor complaint I suppose.