Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Magnificent Seven review

Another remake? Sigh. OK, let's get started.

I've seen the 1960 original several times, but not recently, so it's not fresh enough in my memory to really compare the two properly. What I will say is that I feel this new version is true to the overall story but doesn't feel chained to the details, and the result is a film that echoes the original without being an exact carbon copy. That seems to me to be a reasonable approach to making a remake.

Is it good? I think so. Is it as good as the original? I don't really know, I think there's definitely ways in which it's better and ways in which it's worse; I can only really say that overall I personally didn't like it as much.

Look, it's a big modern movie, the cinematography and action scenes were pretty much always going to be better. The characters are more culturally varied, which is something that I personally like to see. I feel that the Seven were more unique and had a little more personality than the originals, though I didn't feel as if they had more depth.

But there is one area where I felt this one had problems, and that was in the characters' motivations. I'll go into a bit more detail in the spoilers section, but I just didn't feel as if we were given convincing motivations for most of the characters to be there. This is an area where I feel the original was stronger.

I don't really have much else to say about it; for me it was a 7/10 (hmm, irony?): it's a fun western action movie.


In the original Magnificent Seven, the seven gunmen signed up with the belief that all they had to do was present a show of force to scare a group of bandits away; they weren't signing up for a suicide mission. When they realised that it wouldn't be that easy, they debated what to do. In the end they decided to stick it out; they'd started it, they would finish it.

But in this one, they pretty much all know right from the start that they will be fighting against impossible odds for people they don't know, and none of them even gives it a second thought. That I could not buy into. We're not really told how much money they are being paid, but there's no indication that it's very much; I seriously doubt it was enough to walk into near certain death for. So I guess right from the start, they are all doing it out of the goodness of their hearts?

Except that the main character, Chisolm, isn't. We find out at the end that he's doing it all for, wait for it, you'll never guess, really original stuff this: revenge! Sigh. <sarcasm>Never seen that before</sarcasm>.

Personally I'm not a fan of the desire writers seem to have to forcibly insert a deeply personal and selfish reason for the protagonist to fight the antagonist into stories where there isn't a reason for there to be one. I get that normally it makes sense to give the protagonist a strong motivation, usually something personal, because it makes the conflict feel more meaningful; if the protagonist is more emotionally invested that makes us more emotionally invested. But you don't always have to force it in, and why does it always have to be something self-centred? Do you think the audience can't accept someone doing the right thing simply because it's the right thing? Is that what writers think of us, or is that just something that doesn't make sense to the writers themselves, and if so then what does that say about them?

The problem here though is that, because we don't find out about Chisolm's desire for revenge until after it's all over, it doesn't actually fulfil the normal purpose of such a plot device; we aren't watching the film eagerly wondering if he will / waiting for him to get his revenge. It doesn't increase our emotional investment. We only find out that it is in fact revenge after the fighting is over, at which point all it does is retroactively rob his actions thus far of their nobility. It suddenly transforms him into the most selfish of the Seven; the rest all stayed to fight for the people, while he manipulated everyone just to get his revenge. His own friends died for it in fact.

What's more, the scene where he finally reveals his history with Bart really annoyed me. I always remember a line from a Discworld novel:
"... if a man has you entirely at his mercy, then hope like hell that man is an evil man. Because the evil like power, power over people, and they want to see you in fear. They want you to know you're going to die. So they'll talk. They'll gloat. They'll watch you squirm. They'll put off the moment of murder like another man will put off a good cigar. So hope like hell your captor is an evil man. A good man will kill you with hardly a word."  - Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms.

Chisolm could have killed Bart right away, but he didn't. He wanted to torture him. He put off the moment so long that Bart almost managed to turn the tables. This is not "good guy" behaviour. This is the thing that Bond villains do, that allows Bond to escape. Chisolm is not a good man.

Even though I've already asked about why they are all there to begin with, I have more questions concerning character motivation. For one thing, if Chisolm wanted revenge against Bart so badly that he was willing to risk his life (nevermind the lives of a whole bunch of other people), why didn't he do anything about it earlier? Surely a man with his skills could have found an opportunity to kill Bart if he put his mind to it.

Why did Goodnight join them in the first place if he was too scared to fire a single shot? And why didn't Billy follow him when he left? And what exactly changed his mind and brought him back; did he catch sight of the gatling gun and decide he had to warn everyone?

Why were those hired guns still running around trying to kill people when their own side was strafing the whole town with lead? At what point do they decide it isn't worth it anymore? How come we didn't see any of them get hit when they were out in the open, while all the townsfolk who were in cover were getting shot up? I still don't get why nobody fired at the group manning the gun even though they were out in the open; the Gatling gun has a fast rate of fire but it doesn't out-range normal rifles. Also, where exactly were the children hiding? I though it was underground, so why did they feel the need to relocate them?

Why did Bart decide to mosey on into town after his entire army had been completely wiped out? Did he really think those last two guys he had left would were enough? Was he just assuming that everyone was dead by then? Just... he had no reason to do it, other than because some guy he never met called him a coward. That's kindergarten logic right there. Ah well, I'm pretty sure the guy was on opiates or something.

This might be a weird thing to say, but I felt that there was too little internal conflict in the group. Now this all took place when racism was kind of a thing, and the Seven were very varied in their backgrounds. Two characters fought on opposites sides of the civil war, two mention that their grandfathers fought on opposites sides of the Alamo (there's even a line that goes somethign like: "Hey, maybe my grandfather was the one who killed yours!"), one scalped Native Americans for a living and another is a Native American, and of course Faraday is just constantly make fun of the others.

Despite all this, nothing really comes of it; they keep insulting each other and they all just let it slide. We never get a scene with a real argument, no-one ever has to say "Come on guys, we're one the same side here, save it for the enemy" or whatever. Now these are fighting men; the first we see of many of these characters is them killing someone. They are used to solving problems with violence is what I'm saying. So how is it they are all so congenial and easy-going about being insulted? Especially when they must be under so much stress, you would expect them to be on edge. It's not like these are old comrades, they literally just met. It was all just too easy, and what's more it was a missed opportunity to give them a little depth.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Kickboxer: Vengeance review

I saw the original Kickboxer decades ago, and probably rewatched it once or twice since. I remember it as a fun martial arts movie, and one of Van Damme's more memorable roles. Normally it's not the kind of movie that I would expect too much out of a sequel for, but... Van Damme, Dave Bautista, and Gina Carano? Yeah, I allowed myself to be optimistic about this one. That was a mistake.

This is a martial-arts movie, so let's talk action first. This movie was yet another victim of modern Hollywood crappy camera work; all quick-cuts and excessive close-ups. Now it wasn't nearly as big a problem here as it has been in some other movies - nowhere near as bad as Jason Bourne for example - but it was occasionally bad enough that I didn't really enjoy some of the big fight scenes.

It's a shame because all the actors handled themselves quite well in the action scenes, with better camera work I think I could have enjoyed this movie a lot more. There were actually some fights that I did like quite a bit, but ironically these were the "smaller" ones; it felt as if the more important the fight was the more they tried to make it feel fast and hard-hitting by speeding up the camera work, which sadly just made fights harder to follow and robbed them of their impact.

Unfortunately the last fight was the probably worst one, which is a problem because it's pretty much the last impression the movie makes on you and ends up being what colours your opinion of the whole thing the most.

Outside of the action scenes the acting was a different story. To be honest few of the cast had that much to do outside of the fights, and what dialogue they did get was generally not very good. Bautista might have had the worst of it; he felt as if he was sleep-walking most of the time. I feel as if he was directed to act aloof and unreachable, to try and make him seem like a more imposing villain? I dunno, it just made him seem uninterested.

At least Bautista probably a had few decent lines (the scene where his character first meets Kurt was not bad), Van Damme might have had even less to work with. He was great physically, and that includes some small elements of physical humour, but he never had any dialogue that allowed him to do anything more than that. I mean, he's not exactly known as a great actor, but I know he's better than this. Actually the abysmal dialogue his character had during some scenes was a big problem; literally the most meaningful line he had during the final fight, when you expect him to impart some wise words of wisdom or encouragement to his student, was "coconut". Spoken twice, by the way. I mean, coconut? What the hell?

They might have been the lucky ones though; at least they had some screen time. Gina Carano had hardly any dialogue, almost no impact on the plot, and didn't even get a single action scene. Seriously, why would you hire Gina Carano, put her name on the poster, then not give her anything at all to do? Again, what the hell?

Alain Moussi was OK. He didn't do anything acting-wise that impressed me, but as you might have guessed by now it's not like he had much to work with. Again, he handled the action scenes just fine, no complaints there. I didn't like Sara Malakul Lane in this movie; again, it could just be the material - her character was just so weak - but... I don't know, I didn't like her. At least Georges St-Pierre was mildly amusing. Sam Medina was just annoying.

The reason why the cast had so little to do other than hit each other was that the plot was pretty much as simple and straight-forwards as it gets; not a good thing when it's literally exactly the same story as the movie that it is a sequel to. Yes, there's a subplot about corrupt cops or something, but it really doesn't matter except for providing a bit of busy work and a couple of extra fight scenes.

The real problem though wasn't just the simplicity of the plot, but the complete lack of character and relationship development. The characters were given very little to flesh them out, to make them feel human, and what's more there was just... there was no chemistry between anyone. Other than Kurt's anger towards Tong Po and Liu's weird obsession with Kurt, I never got a sense that any of the characters felt anything towards each other. I don't know if this was caused by or a cause of the fact that I often didn't understand why the characters did certain things that I couldn't see a reason for them to do.

As a result I found it increasingly hard to care about the events and characters; coupled with my problems with the camera work, I was feeling pretty indifferent by the end. Which is a shame, because I wanted this one to be good.

Overall I'm giving it a 5/10; there are some good fight scenes and some that are not so good; everything else is sub-standard.


So why exactly didn't Kurt kill Po when he had the gun pointed at him? We aren't really given an explanation, other than maybe it was cowardly so he didn't do it, cos he's the hero so he would never do something cowardly? I guess we are just supposed to be on board with the idea that shooting someone is cold-blooded murder, but deliberately and intentionally beating them to death in a fight is somehow just fine?

While I can accept that a fair fight is somehow more noble than killing someone in their sleep, I don't accept that it's somehow right while the other is wrong: if a person should be killed, then the quick, painless, reliable method is not worse than the slow, painful, low-probability-of-success method. But what's worse perhaps is that even if we believe that it is, that still doesn't explain why he didn't do it.

I feel that this is important enough that his reasons really should have been made clear, rather than just assuming we're already on board. I mean, he's developing this relationship with the cop, and she keeps telling him not to go after Po, why not have a scene where they actually talk about it? Instead of her just saying "you're not allowed to go after him" and walking off, why not have her ask "If you're so determined to go after him, why didn't you kill him when you had the chance?". Then he talks about what was going through his head, etc. It helps us sympathise with the character and his goals, and also makes their relationship far more believable. Two birds with one stone! I really think that a little scene like that would have made the whole movie much better. In fact, a part of me hopes that such as scene was actually shot, but got cut from the version I saw for some reason. Who knows, it could have happened.

As it was, the relationship between Kurt and Liu was by far the least developed romance I have ever seen. We pretty much never see them talking, then in the middle of a training montage there's suddenly a scene of the two taking each other's clothes off. I genuinely didn't even know it was her; I was literally sitting there asking myself "Who is that? Did his girlfriend follow him from America? Wait, did he even have a girlfriend? I don't remember them introducing one."

It just doesn't make any sense. He's both a felon and a witness to an important investigation that she is risking her life and her career to follow, they have nothing in common and never had a chance to bond, then suddenly boom, she's jeopardizing the case and her job. I guess it could be argued that he had just saved her life or something, but a) she's a cop, she's probably a little bit more accustomed to having her life endangered than the average movie token female, and b) her life wouldn't have been in danger in the first place if it wasn't for him.

Is sleeping with a witness illegal, or just against regulations? Speaking of ways she broke the law, why didn't she take him to the police station after arresting him? Instead she, let's call it "leaves him in the custody", of a civilian that we didn't really have any reason to believe she even knew (she knew of him, that doesn't mean she knew him well enough to ask him to harbour a fugitive). And why didn't she break up the fight at the end? She was never behind his quest for revenge, why was the sight of him battered and bleeding, his life in serious peril, enough for her to decide to break the law and just stand around watching? Even when Po was inches away from killing Kurt, she just stood there and watched.

And why didn't she arrest him later (and why did none of the other cops with her say anything either)? He had just killed a man in an illegal fight; something that she was trying to arrest Po for earlier. Why is OK for Kurt but not for Po? Let's face it, she's just as corrupt as the guy she was trying to take down.

Speaking of poorly developed relationships, the movie really should have worked harder to develop the one between Kurt and his brother. As it is, we see one scene with his brother talking about how Kurt takes good care of him, then the very next scene he's yelling at Kurt for holding him back, then he dies. That's pretty much it. Talk about inconsistent and ungrateful. And we're supposed to care about this guy? It's not exactly lending weight to Kurt's quest for revenge when we don't really believe that the two had a good relationship.

What's more, it's this weird victim-blaming situation; Eric should have known better than to go get himself killed, the hero told him not to do it but he didn't listen, etc. Basically, it's his own fault he died, but the hero is going to avenge him anyway. I really don't see how this helps us to care about the Kurt's motivation; if the death had been in some small way his fault (maybe if he encouraged his brother to take the fight rather than the opposite) then we could understand his motivation a bit better. It would be a bit deeper anyway; it would be about a little more than just revenge - which is such a stupid and lazy protagonist motivation. There's nothing noble about it, nothing good about it, it's just a desire to cause pain.

Remember the first Mortal Kombat movie? Liu Kang wanted revenge, but it was more than that: his brother had died trying to shoulder the responsibilities that he had run away from. He felt guilt and shame as well as grief, and seeking revenge was his way of dealing with that. And while that alone is nothing new, the point of the movie was that revenge was a terrible motivation; by the end he had learned that it wasn't all about him and his pain. When he defeated Shang Tsung it wasn't because he had murder in his heart, it was because it was the right thing to do, it was what people were relying on him to do. Kickboxer: Vengeance does not have any of that. And that was videogame movie!

So... Gina Carano doesn't get to fight; in fact she has almost no screen time at all. Not sure why they bothered to get a reasonably famous actress known for her action skills, and put her name on the poster, only for her to do nothing at all. They actually seemed to be trying to set her up as some sort of a villain, but it was so underdeveloped and unimportant, that they might as well have not bothered. I mean, why would this random American fight promoter be some kind of underground big-shot in Thailand, who even has the police chief on her payroll? And if she was so important in Thailand, why would she go and ask some random American fighter to join in person, especially knowing that he didn't actually trust her (and therefore that she'd have a better chance of getting him to agree if he didn't know she was involved)? If so many people are getting killed in these underground fights that the police are trying to break up, why would she go to the police station to pay her respects to Eric's corpse in person? We know she had some kind of relationship with him, but if she cared about him why did she sign him up for a death fight (we know that she's working with Po and we know that Po has killed a large number of fighters in just the past year)? In fact, why did Eric even agree to an underground fight?

Plus, she kinda starts acting cartoonishly evil near the end, and she clearly has a deal going on with Po. If that's the case, why did she arrange for the best kickboxing trainer in Thailand (as she puts it) to train Eric? Unless of course that was a lie and Durand isn't atually anything special, he's just some washed-up old has-been. Which would make sense since his only other student is some old guy doing Tai-Chi or something.

What the hell was that lame assassination attempt on the cop? Earlier on that promoter guy gives a vague "make sure she doesn't get where she's going", and five minutes later there's a dozen guys ambushing a car with elephants. But when they have actual time to plan and prepare, there's just one guy with a gun and no plan? And he waits until they reach the only cover in an empty warehouse before opening fire? It was literally the worst "set-up" I've ever seen.

It's kind of weird that in his first fight after the first training montage, Kurt gets his behind handed to him, the Durand walks up and easily takes out the other fighter, but then we never see Kurt go back and defeat that guy or some other fighter who we can accepts as being of equal or greater calibre, so there's no reason to believe that he's ready now when he wasn't before.

The last fight was probably the worst in the movie. Partly this was probably the camera work, but also it wasn't fun because it was so one-sided for most of the fight that the actual combat just wasn't interesting, then suddenly it flipped and became completely one-sided in the other direction (there really wasn't much middle ground), which again wasn't interesting and also wasn't very believable (especially not with the beating Kurt had taken by that point). And the way he kills Po at the end? I can accept Kurt somehow beating Po in a test of skill, but he just straight up overpowered him. How the hell does that make any sense? We clearly see over and over again how much stronger Po is, so how does Kurt suddenly out-muscle him in the end(again, especially after the beating he'd taken up to that point)?

So why did Kurt hold up the amulet he ripped off Po's corpse at the end? Was he fighting to earn some sort of symbol of status? Here I thought this was about avenging his brother! There was no reason for him to care about that amulet. I guess you could say the it was some way of insulting Po, of taking away from him that which he held dear, but it really didn't feel like the was the cause, not the way he was holding it up like a trophy. Plus, he'd already taken away his life, wasn't that enough? The simple act of picking it up actually weakened the impact of his victory because it further divorced his actions from his supposed motivation. Yes, I know it seems like a small thing, but it actually really bothers me.

Typically the wise old trainer is expected to provide some meaningful advice and/or moral support to his student in the last fight, but we really didn't get that from Durand. I mean, the best thing they could think of for him to say was "coconut"? This right in the middle of the dramatic climax of the last fight? Sigh. That was just such a terrible decision. He didn't do much the rest of the fight either; no advice, not even a "believe in yourself" or "remember your training" or something safe like that, just a "you're doing fine" (when Kurt was getting seventeen shades of sugar beaten out of him) and a shoulder rub for some reason. It was just terribly written. Well, the whole character was quite terribly written to be honest.

I mentioned in my Mechanic: Resurrection review that I really liked some of their establishing shots; I thought they did a great job of showing off the beauty of some of the locations. Kickboxer had a couple of establishing shots where we saw forests and interesting architecture, but it never managed to make them look particularly appealing. Which is a shame because I understand Thailand is a very interesting place. This is not the sort of thing that I would normally notice or think about, but I saw Kickboxer so soon after Mechanic that the difference stuck in my mind.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Mechanic: Resurrection review

I do like Jason Statham, but ever since the Crank series I'm a little bit wary of his movies - amusing as the concept was, those were a little too nonsensical for me - and as a result several of his recent movies passed me by. What I'm saying is, I haven't seen the first Mechanic movie.

That didn't stop me from enjoying this one though; while I might be missing a little backstory, Resurrection doesn't seem to lean too heavily on the character's history. That's not to say that the plot is bad or anything, personally I thought it did a decent job of setting up the action and the stakes without overstaying it's welcome; we're here to see Jason Statham punch people in the face after all, I don't think anyone went in to this hoping for a deep story.

The film does take a little time to explain the characters' motivations and let us see them interact and form relationships, but personally I felt that part was little rushed. It was handled better than some movies I've seen recently though, so I'm going to give it a pass on that count.

The acting was sufficient; no-one is going to be winning any awards, but personally I think Jason Statham does just fine as a tough-guy with a soft center. Jessica Alba didn't get very much to do other than sit around looking worried most of the movie, but I thought she had some good moments in the early scenes when her character is bonding with Jason's. Sam Hazeldine was OK, but his character wasn't a particularly intimidating villain - he didn't do anything impressive or even particularly evil, he just talked a bit and gave some orders - so I don't think he really had enough to work with.

It was nice to see Michelle Yeoh; it would have been nicer to see her kicking people in the head, but oh well; she did a great job of bringing a lot of warmth to her character. Tommy Lee Jones didn't have much screen time, but he was entertaining in his few scenes - funnily enough I can't remember the last time he looked like he was enjoying himself as much as he did here.

But of course, this movie was all about the action, and on that front it delivered. The film alternated between intense fist-fights, fast-paced gunfights, and more methodical assassination scenes. Jason Statham is one of the few Western actors who seems to deliver really good fights, and that's exactly what he did here. Jessica Alba only had a few short action scenes, but she handled those well too.

I rarely find Hollywood punch-ups very impressive, especially now that it has been infected by the insidious disease of the quick-cut shaky-cam, but I really liked the fights in Mechanic: Resurrection. They were fast, intense, and a little bit clever.

To be honest, typical gunfights don't tend to interest me very much as they tend to be a whole lot of static shots of people just standing or kneeling, waving guns around missing everything. While there wasn't all that much gunplay here, what we got was some of the better stuff; again, these scenes were fast paced and a little bit smart, and I enjoyed them.

The assassinations scenes were like miniature heist movies, with a bit of suspense and a quick pay-off. They weren't great to be honest, but I thought they were fun and they did a good job of changing up the pace, which of course helped keep the faster action scenes from getting monotonous. Plus they added to the intelligence quotient of the whole endeavour; this is an action movie, but at least it's not a dumb action movie - well, at least the action isn't dumb.

While I've complained a great deal about quick camera work ruining action scenes in movies these day, the camera work here was definitely more Hollywood than Hong Kong, and yet it worked. I couldn't tell you what the difference was between the camera work in this movie and in Jason Bourne, but this one worked while that one fell flat on it's face. This is why cinema is an art I suppose.

Talking about the cinematography, there were some beautiful establishing shots that genuinely made me wish I could see those locations in person. That's not really something I can about a lot of movies. It was a nice touch.

Overall I'm rating this one an 8/10: objectively this is the kinda movie I normally would rate around a 7, but I enjoyed the action so much that I have to give it a bit more credit than that. So yeah, a good action movie.


Despite his age, Jason Statham is in great shape; I know because he took of his shirt a lot in this movie. Like, a LOT.

Jessica's character turning out to be bait rather than a damsel in distress was a nice touch, or it would have been if she didn't immediately transform into a damsel in distress. Somehow her role was still better than Jane in Tarzan.

There were a few times when important character details were narrated, when I think it might have had more impact if they gave us something visual to go along with the narration. I dunno, show don't tell right?

It's a small thing, but the villain's second-in-command died too easily; I was expecting him to put up more of a fight. You know: the second-to-last boss fight, sort of thing? We didn't even see him die. Hmm, perhaps he didn't; perhaps he'll be the villain in the next one? Naaah.

That first assassination was a bit too convenient I thought. I loved the second one though; that pool looked amazing, and the kill was entertaining. Unfortunately the last one felt extremely rushed; yes, it wasn't actually an assassination, but still, it really felt like Bishop was just teleporting around wherever he wanted for that one.

About the only time that I was having trouble following the film was the part when Bishop was bonding with Gina. Bishop knew that he'd been followed and was being watched, but his plan was... to just wait and let himself get captured? He was talking about smuggling Gina to safety, but that didn't happen: was he lying to her or did the bad guys make their move too soon? I dunno, it all just felt excessively passive for Bishop considering the action scene we'd just witnessed - they'd established him as a man of action who always has a plan a moment ago, only to have him sit around and wait for the bad guys to capture him with no plan of escape. Well, that quiet time was necessary for character development, so I understand why it was there, it just didn't quite fit thematically I guess?

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Jason Bourne review

I loved the first Bourne movie. It wasn't a big movie, but it was tight one. The action was fast, clever, and somehow personal. The plot was interesting and kept your attention; you might have a pretty good guess about what the big secret was, but you still wanted to know for sure. Bourne was likeable, and had actual human interactions with other important cast members.

I think I've talked about this before, but I would say that there's three basic approaches to making sequels. The first is to try to do something different, the second is to do the exact same thing again, and the third is to do the exact same thing again but to make it bigger and better. Well, to make it bigger anyway; the thinking seems to be that making it bigger automatically makes it better. I don't believe that is inherently the case though.

The Bourne series chose the third approach. Every sequel had less of what I liked about the first and more of the kind of generic big Hollywood action set-pieces that don't really do much for me. What's more, I feel that there was less of a sense of danger after the first; they made a big point of lionizing Bourne (one of the big lines from the Bourne Supremacy trailer was "They don't make mistakes"), meaning that you no longer really wondered if he would fail or not, you just knew he wouldn't - he was Jason Bourne after all, and he was basically super-human.

Consequently, I enjoyed each sequel less and less. But I still enjoyed them. Unfortunately this latest one is the first that I didn't enjoy at all. Why? Well, the biggest reason is the scourge of modern cinematography: super-quick cuts and constant shaky cam. I'm not even exaggerating when I say that I'm quite certain the camera never stopped shaking. No matter how little was happening, no matter how quiet the scene, the camera was shaking. It actually gave me a headache at times.

I could never see what was happening in any of the action scenes. By the end I had given up; as Bourne was engaging in what I think was a big car chase and the final boss fight, I could not see a single thing and was just waiting for it to end. I no longer cared; I was done.

Also, the plot is the most basic version of the Bourne sequel pattern: he gets pulled back in from hiding, there's some kind of secret about his past that he wants to discover, a government agency led by a corrupt old dude hunts him while one woman on the inside inexplicable decides that he's not the bad guy and decides to secretly help him (oops, spoiler warning? Bleh, who cares, it's not really a surprise and not worth caring about). There's really nothing at all new here, and the old stuff isn't even well fleshed out.

The details holding the different scenes together didn't even amount to much in my view; most scenes basically just start with "the magic computer box says Bourne is here, go get him". Tracing hackers, facial recognition, whatever; it's all very lazy: people in a room stare at a computer and declare that person X is in location Y and a chase scene happens. Rinse and repeat.

What's more, this Bourne has zero personality. He has almost no dialogue, no emotions to express, and to be honest not much reason to even be there. Oh, there's a secret about his dad or something, but it is easily the weakest motivation they've come up with for him to be... I dunno, running around kidnapping old dudes or whatever. And there's straight-up no payoff at the end; the secret is so inconsequential that nobody really cared, not even Bourne as far as I can tell.

You know, I think I'm going to have to score this as a 4/10. This is probably the lowest score I've ever given in a review; I've certainly seen worse movies (usually not all the way through...), but I don't usually feel the need to review them. And even movies that I hate far more than this one I usually end up rating higher because I can at least see that they do some things well even if I don't like them. But I just don't think Jason Bourne has any real redeeming features: the plot was weak, the action was terrible, the characters were boring... I just never saw anything about it that was ever anything more than sub-standard. It's just... it's just bad. That's all.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Legend of Tarzan review

There's probably some unique challenges involved in writing a movie based on source material as old as Tarzan. Times change after all, and in trying to adapt the story to appeal to modern sensibilities you might lose something essential to the original piece. I don't know if that's what happened here, but I did not find this movie to be very enjoyable.

The plot was not bad, but the movie was very slow to get started: it took a while for anything to really happen. The first half was heavy with flashbacks filling us in on Tarzan's history, but I found these to have little impact, perhaps due to their short fragmented nature. It never really managed to make me care about the characters, and overall I just wasn't drawn into it.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that Tarzan himself is just plain boring. He has almost no character or personality, he never comes across as more than just a dour set of muscles. Neither his expression nor his voice ever really changed no matter what the situation.

Jane was more expressive and had some scenes that fleshed out her character a little bit, but it wasn't really enough, and it was dramatically obvious right from the start that she was just going to get kidnapped and Tarzan would have to rescue her. Hell, we even saw it in the trailer; her whole character was undermined before we even set foot in the cinema. But what made it worse is that Tarzan told her not to come but she insisted: the film-makers want us to believe that it's her fault that she was kidnapped, if she had just quietly stayed at home like (what I assume they believe is) a "good wife" then Tarzan wouldn't have had to rescue her. What's up with that?

Now she did have, like, one single scene where she was arguably actually useful, but it was far too little. I mean, at one point she actually had to be rescued in a flashback; she really never did amount to anything more than just a damsel in distress. What makes it really sad - apart from how clichéd and generally insulting that kind of writing is - is that even by being kidnapped and needing rescuing, she really didn't contribute very much to the plot. Ugh, I'd better leave this topic to the spoiler section actually.

I loved Christoph Waltz in Inglorious Basterds, and I felt that his character in this movie borrowed heavily from that performance. Unfortunately the character was never really allowed to be very menacing or impressive, and as a result it just didn't work; Leon Rohm just wasn't a very impressive villain in the end.

There were a number of scenes in this movie that I did enjoy, and every single one of them featured Samuel L.M.Fing Jackson. He was genuinely the best thing about this film; his character was entertaining, relatable, and had a little more depth than I had been expecting. In fact, I found his back-story, delivered in a two-minute monologue, more intriguing than all of Tarzan's flashbacks.

The action was nothing special, with some potentially decent scenes let down by the now-standard Hollywood quick-cut shaky cam. The VFX wasn't quite good enough to bring some of the ambitious scenes to life; generally it was OK but there were a few moments troublesome enough to bring me out of the movie - but to be fair, I might be a little bit more sensitive to this kind of thing than most people.

Overall I'm going to give it a 6/10. There isn't really anything bad about it, there's just nothing particularly good about it either.


I mentioned that Jane being kidnapped wasn't even important, and that's because several members of the village were also kidnapped, and Rohm just generally needed to be stopped, so Tarzan was going to chase him down either way. So yeah, not only was it a tired cliché, it was also ultimately superfluous.

The film had some minor sub-plots that were probably intended to add depth, but really didn't amount to very much. Initially Tarzan seems to hate Africa, probably because of how much he suffered and how much family he lost there; I believe at one point he called it a "wretched place". But when he goes back... he gets repeatedly beaten up, his old friend gets killed, and his wife gets kidnapped and they both almost die. After this, he... stays there? What part of all that made him hate Africa any less?

Also, there's some brief hints that they want to have a baby, but no explanation why they haven't. Then at the end they have one. I assume that's supposed to be a happy ending, but they really didn't give me any reason to care, them having a baby at the end just didn't carry any weight.

Tarzan sure did get his bee-hind handed to him a whole lot this movie. I mean, out of several fights that he got into, he only really won one of them. The bit at the end where he finally faces off against Leon Rohm was particularly disappointing.

Speaking of Leon Rohm, him apparently falling for Jane just undermined his character, it didn't strengthen hers. I don't really understand the rationale behind it, other than perhaps to try to crib the scene from Inglorious where Hans Landa is having dessert with Shosanna Dreyfus.

By the way, near the end of the movie we finally hear Tarzan's roar, but I don't recall ever seeing him making it? Slightly strange that they didn't show him actually producing it, but I guess that would have required Tarzan to actually display energy or emotion, which they didn't seem to want for some reason.

The movie keeps going on about how big a deal Tarzan is; he's "Africa's favourite son", villages sing songs of his legend. And what legend is that exactly? All we see in the flashbacks is a wild boy lead a group of apes to hunt down and murder some typical tribesmen, and then get beaten up by another ape and need to be rescued by some white people. What part of that made him a famous legend that eveyone loves?

One issue I had was that I found the film's portrayal of animals to be somewhat inconsistent. The apes (which it claimed were not gorillas but something else?) were vicious bloodthirsty beasts. Hippos sped towards distant humans in water like they were planning to eat them, while lions nuzzle people affectionately (they seemed to have far more affection for Tarzan than the apes that were his family) and herds of elephants stop their nocturnal migrations (is this a real thing? Nocturnal elephants?) to have extended telepathic conversations (sort of) with strange humans. He was able to communicate well enough with apes and lions to get them to herd oxen, but not enough to say to his brother "Hey bro, don't mind us, just passing through". I dunno, I wish the film had been a bit more straight about saying something like "most herbivores won't go out of their way to attack you, but they will protect their territory", rather than "Not-gorilla apes will kill you, hippos will kill you, elephants are cool though" or whatever.

Also, whatever those apes were supposed to be, I had no sympathy for them. I'm surprised that the film seemed to expect us to at times. They were brutal and violent creatures that killed humans on sight, completely unlike my understanding of actual gorillas. By the way, why the hell was Jane wandering alone two steps away from their territory at one point?

I really liked the scene where Doctor Williams is sewing up Tarzan's wound using ants. That was pretty cool. Also, that man knew his guns!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Suicide Squad review

Suicide Squad was not exactly what I had been expecting. The trailers had led me to believe it was something of a dark comedy, but the actual movie was more of a straight-up action flick. Pretty much all of the jokes in the movie are in the trailer, and I actually thought they worked a little better there. I'm not sure why exactly, something about the timing or the tone of the surrounding scenes or something.

What's more, after seeing the bright colours and and characterful costumes in the movie posters, I was a little surprised at how generic most of the film was visually. While there were some moments with visual flair, most of the movie's settings are kind of bland; dark prison cells and dead-standard city architecture (usually at night) - we don't even see any interesting buildings, just typical square skyscrapers. While the "main" villains were pretty cool, the "grunts" that fill most of the action scenes were just boring, and it was usually so dark that they were little more than just moving black blobs. Mild spoiler warning for the rest of the paragraph: the big doomsday device was just a beam of light shooting into the sky, same as we've seen in Avengers and Man of Steel; again, generic at this point.

Having said that, it was a pretty good action movie with pretty entertaining characters who are given enough depth for us to care about (some of) them even though they are "bad guys". While the basic set-up is not complicated, the plot does have a few cool twists; there's enough parties working against each other that I was never quite sure how things were going to turn out.

There's some enjoyable acting here; it was pretty obvious from the trailers that Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn was going to steal the movie (which she did), but I was personally impressed with Viola Davis' turn as Amanda Waller. Cara Delevingne had some stand-out moments as Enchantress; she had some really great body language that made the character feel so alien. Will Smith was fine as Deadshot, but the character - while strong - was a little bland next to the rest of the crew, so his acting was never going to stand out as much as some of the others. Jared Leto's Joker... didn't really work for me. While he definitely pulled off the "crazy", "unpredictable", and "dangerous" aspects that are vital to a good Joker, I never really felt as if he was having fun, which is kind of a big part of the character to me. Jay Hernandez was great as Diablo, I would have liked to see more from him. The rest of the cast did well but didn't really get enough screen time or juicy material for me to be able to say very much more than that.

In the end I'm going to give it a 7/10; it's a good action movie with an engaging plot and entertaining characters.


Let's have a quick look at my earlier wishlist for Suicide Squad. I said that I wanted:

1. For characters to betray each other.
This I got. Enchantress turned out to be the main villain, Boomerang goaded Slipknot into making a break for it so that he could test whether the explosives were real, and Harley ditched the team and ran.

2. For important characters to die.
Kind of. Several characters died, but the only one we actually cared about was Diablo, and that was a heroic sacrifice right at the end. They killed Slipknot, but he'd only had about three seconds of screentime until that point, and the only thing we had seen him do was punch a woman for talking, thereby making damn sure we didn't like him and didn't care about his death. Enchantress died, but then she was the villain, that's not the kind of thing I was talking about, and in fact June Moone survived (something that I felt was just too convenient). Overall the effect that I wanted, that is for them to create the feeling that any character could die at any time, even ones that we like, did not happen.

3. For them to remember that these are actually bad guys and not to just have them turn into heroes at the end.
Yeah, they totally went heroic at the end. Stood together as a family and strode forwards into near-certain death and everything, when they could have turned around and walked away. I mean, sure, it's all great cinema and everything, just a little, you know, clichéd. Plus, it creates a situation where you can't really tell the difference between the heroes and the villains in the DC cinematic universe: both kill without remorse and both save the day at the end, just the "villains" have a little more fun doing it (and they don't whine as much).

So overall I felt that they tried to stay true to the source material but ultimately made the concessions that you would expect for a movie aimed at attracting as large an audience as possible. I guess I can't blame them for that. To be honest the only time that I really felt they did something that I would consider "not true to the comics" was when Harley came back after escaping.

That's probably my biggest complaint actually. Why did she come back? If she believed that the Joker was dead, wouldn't she go on a killing spree, murdering everyone she thinks might be even remotely responsible for his death? And why did everyone, both military and criminal, just accept her back with hardly a word despite the fact that she had betrayed them and ran away? This is after her friends opened fire on everyone with heavy weaponry and stole the helicopter that they were going to use to get out of the city by the way.

Although there is one interpretation of the movie where it makes sense. One thing we've been discussing is just how much of the movie was actually just happening in Harley's head. The bit at the end where Joker suddenly just busts in and rescues her? Clearly just a delusional fantasy. But what about the rest? I mean, think about it, what's easier to believe? That the U.S. government would pick a normal human with no military training who's only notable for being an insane and uncontrollable killer (a flashy one at that) to be part of a covert team assembled to fight superhumans, then send her into battle armed only with a baseball bat and an archaic pistol to fight against a pair of resurrected deities building a floating lightning machine that will destroy the world? Or that an insane person is having a weird dream? Plus it explains how no-one objects when she just rejoins the team after betraying them, or how Enchantress is willing to accept her as a servant even though she was a party to killing Enchantress' brother, and how she was personally able to trick the ancient deity with such an obvious ruse to save the day.

I rather wish they hadn't tried to tie this movie to the Justice League stuff they've got going on as the less I'm reminded of the B.S. movie the better, but they did, and so I have to ask: if Enchantress spent three days building this doomsday machine of hers (as is mentioned at one point), then where were all the superheroes that we know exist in this world the whole time? Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash; these are all established superheroes at this point, yet we don't hear a whisper from them. Don't tell me they didn't hear anything about half a city being evacuated while a giant magical storm hovers in clear sight. At the very least Batman should have caught wind of something; he's supposed be to be fairly plugged in, right? Well, it's always possible they'll retro-actively explain it in a future movie: "Huh, looks like something weird happened while I was busy fighting parademons on Apokolips, oh well" or something like that.

As usual I do have a few nit-picks, but I'm not going to bother writing them out as I don't think any of them are important enough to matter really, I'm just going to ask one last question. With the death of Diablo, they don't really have any actual superhumans left on the team other than Killer Crock, who isn't really that big a powerhouse. And the most popular character, Harley, has escaped (maybe). So... what are they going to do for the inevitable sequel? I guess the obvious answer is "introduce a whole lot of new characters". They just have to balance doing that with keeping the old guys relevant I guess.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Anticipating Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad had a fantastic trailer; it was so good that even though I've disliked most of DC's screen projects lately and I'm a little tired of comic-book movies in general, I've really been looking forwards to Suicide Squad ever since that first trailer. Such is the power of Queen I suppose.

But now that the movie is almost here, I've starting thinking about just how badly this could all go wrong. Let's take a look at some DC superheros shall we? We've got Superman himself, the big blue boyscout, the most well-known icon of super-heroism (both in DC's fictional universe and in the actual real world), who's logo is the Kryptonian symbol for hope. Wonder Woman, the symbol of truth and equality, who was sent to Man's world as an envoy of peace. Batman may be increasing seen as a dark character, but he's always been fighting for what's right, devoting himself entirely to protecting the innocent. The Justice League themselves are DC's premier superhero team, icons and inspirations to those they protect.

And how did Batman v Superman, DC's movie about these champions of light, turn out? It was so dark and depressing that it literally started and ended with funerals. Almost all the characters were violent psycopaths casually murdering people and picking fights with each other for no good reason. I've never left a movie theater feeling so down, so thoroughly drained.

If that's how DC makes a movie about it's brightest stars, it's most noble paragons of virtue, then what they hell are they going to do with a movie about a bunch of psychopathic killers forced to undertake suicidal missions under pain of death? I'm half expecting the name Suicide Squad to prove unexpectedly suitable as the entire audience spontaneously commits suicide after watching the movie... although to be honest, I don't really see how it could possible be any more depressing than the B.S. movie, so maybe not.

Ironically, the trailers are selling this as a light-hearted comedy. How backwards is that? And while a light-hearted comedy sounds good to me, I'm actually going to say that I think it's important they don't go too far; this movie actually should have some darkness in it considering the subject matter and source material.

Specifically, there's a few traps I'm worried they might fall into:
1. Having most or all of the team survive at the end.
2. Having the team basically all be good guys at the end (Guardians of the Galaxy style).

For the first point, they're called the Suicide Squad for a reason: they are specifically sent on missions so suicidal that even Uncle Sam's darkest of black-ops divisions aren't willing to commit their own people to. They should not all make it out alive (especially as most of the team should have no trust, teamwork, or willingness to take orders). Even Marvel killed characters (ostensibly) in some of their movies, like Age of Ultron; DC should not be afraid to do so here. And I'm not talking about knocking off a disposable character or two that we never really cared about; I think there should be actual, meaningful deaths.

As for the second point, it's important to remember that these characters are predominantly psychopathic killers who have commit crimes so serious that their only hope of ever seeing the light of day again is to accept missions so dangerous that they are, you know, downright suicidal. These are bad guys, I don't want the movie to forget that. It might sound a little dark (perhaps uncharacteristically so for me), but I want to see characters betraying each other, putting their own interests first, and so on.

Both of these are things I've seen in the comics. I haven't actually read too much Suicide Squad, but in the few issues I did read some characters died while other's betrayed the team. That's part of what made the series so unique and different; genuinely not knowing what the cast was going to do or who was going to survive was a big part of what made it so strong, and it's what I think they need to do here. I'm especially worried about Harley Quinn: she's become such a fan favourite now (which I believe the Arkham games are partly responsible for) that the trailers basically make her look like the star; this worries me because I fear that the writers will basically turn her into the hero.

But she's not a hero: she's an insane criminal who practically worships a psychopathic killer in a clown suit. If she doesn't stab a team-mate in the spine and run off to play house with the Joker at the worst possible time, I'll be very disappointed.

Now that's not to say that I want the movie to be entirely about bad people doing bad things; far from it. It's important to me that there be characters we can care about, sympathize with, and root for. I just don't think that should be true of all of them, given the subject matter.

Having said all that I'm still pretty hopeful. I mean, I enjoyed Deadpool a great deal despite disliking or hearing bad things about every other Fox comic book movie, so maybe DC can pull off a good Suicide Squad. I guess if you're determined to make all your comic books movies really dark, then maybe a dark comedy is something you could actually make work, right?

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Central Intelligence review

I was looking forwards to this ever since seeing the trailer. While that kind of anticipation can lead to disappointment, Central Intelligence actually surpassed my expectations.

Kevin Hart can be annoying to me sometimes, and Dwayne Johnson was playing a character type that I usually don't enjoy watching, but somehow in this movie they both had me literally laughing out loud for most of the film's run-time. In fact I would even go so far as to say that I found it to be one of the funniest movies I've seen in years.

I think a big reason why the humour worked for me is that the writers did not sacrifice the characters' humanity and relate-ability in exchange for a few quick gags. The protagonists both had issues that I felt I could sympathise with, yet they didn't simply wallow in their problems, and while both displayed exaggerated acts of stupidity for the purposes of humour, they didn't go so far as to become simple one-dimensional caricatures. This made me care about them more, and as a result I enjoyed everything, including the humour, more than I otherwise might have.

Having said that, I did feel that the way the movie tied up their personal dramatic arcs at the end was a bit weaker than I would have liked; though overall the story was enjoyable. The action was decent but not amazing, and while I appreciated the plot overall I felt it dragged a little around the middle. Also, being something of a spy movie Central Intelligence featured some obligatory plot twists and double-crosses, and while they served their purpose thematically, I thought they were mostly quite predictable. Not that it matters really; this is a comedy not a thriller after all.

I must mention of course that from the moment I first saw the trailer, this film reminded me strongly of Knight and Day. I didn't think that was a bad thing as I enjoyed that movie a great deal, and after finally watching Central Intelligence I would say that it's not really too similar overall. It does hit a lot of the same story notes, but I believe it has a broader appeal thanks to a more varied sense of humour and characters that are deeper and more believable. Having said that, I seem to remember Knight and Day having better action and a slightly more streamlined plot, so I at least am not going to say that either one is straight-up better than the other.

Central Intelligence was probably one of my favourite comedies of the last few years. I'm giving it 8/10: a solidly entertaining movie.


As far as I could tell, Calvin's issue was that he was dissatisfied with himself: he had shown tremendous promise when young, yet he had simply settled into a safe, boring, unadventurous accounting job. He had been expecting better from himself. So when he declared at the end that he was happy with his life because he loved his wife, well, to me that doesn't really feel like he's actually worked through his issues and solved his problems, rather it felt like the movie was ending and needed to wrap everything up. Yes, he is later shown joining the CIA, which is a much stronger ending for him as his life will be more challenging and meaningful, but only happened later, after he was shown as having found his "resolution".

Furthermore, I didn't really understand how Bob overcame his hang-ups in the end. One minute he was clearly still suffering from the painful memories of the humiliation he had suffered, and the next he was fine. Was it meant to be something to do with Calvin's faith in him restoring his confidence or something? I don't know, maybe I just missed something, but again it felt to me as if it was simply wrapped up at the end for expediency's sake.

It might be a small thing, but personally I didn't like how many times Calvin flip-flopped between trying to help Bob and turning against him. I get that he was unsure at first, he had every reason to be, and I get that he had reason to change his mind or doubt things at various times, but overall I just found it annoying and I felt the movie kind of dragged a bit when it kept happening; I would have preferred it if that part had been streamlined a bit.

One thing I liked about this movie was that Calvin's skills were actually shown as being genuinely essential. Yes, he spent a lot of time having to be saved, and yes, a lot of what he contributed was physical, lucky, or required very little skill, but at the end of the day it was his accounting skills that made him indispensable, and the movie did not gloss over this. Even now too many movies and T.V. shows feature insanely talented super-intelligent geniuses solving what are actually tremendous difficult problems in mere seconds, providing solutions that the jocks would be nowhere without, and yet they are still often treated as second-class support characters while the jocks get all the glory. I appreciated the fact that Central Intelligence was more even-handed.

By the way, why did Calvin shoot Bob? At first I thought he had secretly dialled agent Harris (or just, I dunno, 911 or something) on the phone we saw him use earlier and was deliberately baiting Phil into a confession, but then when Bob congratulates him for getting that confession we are led to believe from Calvin's actions that he hadn't actually planned it. Also we never see a phone or any kind of recording device, so what good did the confession do? Especially since Bob then threw his body into the river, so there isn't really any evidence that he didn't die and was actually the Black Badger. To me, this felt like one of the times when going for a gag actually hurt the movie overall.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Overwatch review

Ever since the first teasers came out ages back, I've been looking forwards to Overwatch. My initial interest took a bit of a hit when I realised it was an online multiplayer only game as that's not normally my kind of thing, but the character designs and in-game abilities looked so cool that I was still interested. Plus the humorous and exciting animations did a good job of drawing you into the world, and I really wanted to know more about the characters even if I didn't end up playing much.

Well, I got the game as soon as I could and before I knew it I was hooked. Despite my self-proclaimed lack of interest in online-only multiplayer shooters, and despite my usual claims that I tend to loose interest in games rather quickly if the story isn't at least mildly interesting, and despite the fact that I've long considered Activision-Blizzard to be the most evil videogame company in the world - yes, even more than E.A. - this one has kept me playing it exclusively for a lot longer than I expected, and I'm not bored of it yet.

I think a big part of that is the massive roster of characters who all play so differently. You basically never get bored because as soon as the game starts to feel a touch repetitive, you simply swap to a different character and the experience changes dramatically. Most of the characters are well-designed and fun to play and can contribute in some way to your team. Team composition is important, so you can't always just pick whatever character you feel like playing as they may not mesh as well with the rest of your team, or might not fill a necessary hole, but I believe that's a small price to pay for the depth and variety that the system has.

I'm going to spend a lot of this review talking about those characters because, really, they are the heart and soul of this game, so it's hard to discuss any part without mentioning them. While they aren't always the most original designs, they are all very cool. Take for example McCree: he's a cowboy. That's pretty much it. But he's a really cool looking cowboy with some small but characterful touches, like his robotic arm and vanity belt buckle. Contrast this with something like Battleborn, where the character designs are all HIGHLY unique, but just not really all that cool or aesthetically pleasing; to be honest I prefer the Overwatch approach.

Besides, I'm not saying that the designs are all generic; most of them have some kind of unique touch or interesting take. Genji is a cyborg ninja with folding shuriken that pop out of his forearm, Reinhardt wears a particularly knightly suit of powered armour that bears a curious resemblance to a certain chess piece (the rook or "castle", quite fittingly), Zenyata is a levitating robot monk with floating rosary beads who manifests multiple ethereal arms, etc. I would like to take a moment mention my absolute favourite character design here: Pharah wears a very cool ancient-Egyptian-themed suit of power armour; her name is clever too as it looks and sounds like Pharoah but Farah is actually a common Arabic name - the primary language of modern Egypt.

Something that I found quite impressive is that, despite having a couple of dozen great character designs, each character actually has multiple skins, and many of those skins are significantly different while still being as good as or better than the defaults. Those skins, along with victory poses and other little aesthetic options, represent the rewards you earn for playing the game, unlocked randomly through "loot boxes" that you get as you play. That's kind of a potentially large topic that I don't really want to get too deep into, so I'll just say that the system does a pretty decent job of motivating you to keep playing, but it can be a bit frustrating and I for one have no intention of paying money for loot boxes with random contents. The most important thing I think is that they offer no gameplay advantage, which is a good thing.

Despite having multiple costumes, most characters have a sufficiently unique silhouette as to be easily and instantly recognized from a distance regardless of which costume they are wearing. Well, OK, I can't always tell at first if I'm looking at a Tracer or a dismounted D'Va, but for the most part characters are quickly and easily recognizable, which is important in a game like this where very different responses can be needed depending on the opponent you're facing.

I really would have liked a strong story to go with the cool characters, but sadly the game itself has very little in the way of storytelling going on - not surprising considering the format. Having said that, there have been a number of short animations released online, and I understand there's other media that fills out the world (I think I heard something about comic books), so I guess there is more story out there, but personally I would have liked for it to be in-game (if not actually revealed through play, then at least collected in a menu in the game itself); I'm not a big fan of having to go hunt online for this sort of thing. Put it in the game people! Additionally, there are small snippets of story hinted at in character dialogue and the game environments, such as small conversations between characters while you wait for the game to start that depend on the environment and selected characters - a very cool and characterful touch that fleshes out the world more than you might expect it to.

I've spoken about the gameplay being based on the character's different abilities working together in a team. This isn't something new; Team Fortress is probably the most famous example, and Overwatch clearly borrows heavily from the older game; the instantly recognizable character silhouettes, for example, is something that Team Fortress was known for. There's nothing wrong with that of course, and Overwatch arguably moves the genre forwards a great deal with it's significantly larger roster of characters and abilities - but bear in mind that I haven't played Team Fortress so I can't really compare the two games directly.

I can only say that I think Overwatch works very well. There are many different ways to play the game based on strategy and team composition. There's a certain paper-rock-scissors aspect to character selection, which makes teamwork doubly important and also means changing character mid-game can sometimes be a good strategy, potentially leading to a lot of back-and-forth as teams shift in order to try to counter each other and win the upper hand.

Unfortunately, in addition to imposing certain character selection requirements on you, this also means that jumping into the game alone can be very frustrating if your motley collection of complete strangers can't come together to work as a cohesive whole. I've heard it said that this game is best played with friends, and I can easily see why. Well, that just comes with the territory for any game where teamwork matters, so it shouldn't be taken as criticism; in fact the game does a decent job of encouraging you to at least form a balanced team by providing useful suggestions on the character selection screen.

In fact my only real core gameplay criticism is that the controls aren't as responsive as I would like. This is probably a good time to mention that I'm playing the game on the PS4, and that - while I'm actually OK with the PS4 controller, which I consider an improvement over that of the PS3 - I still prefer the XBox 360 controller. Obviously a mouse and keyboard trump both for first person shooters, which can affect some characters in this game more than others and could mean that the PC experience is quite different.

But as I'm playing on the PS4 I can only comment on this version, and this version is not as responsive as some other first person shooters that I have played on the 360. When I push the analogue stick to aim in Overwatch, there is a noticeable interval before my character starts to turn on-screen. At first this annoyed me immensely,  but after playing for a very short period of time I stopped noticing it. However, I still feel that it negatively affects my aim, and can make the game frustrating without it being obvious why when things get intense.

Compare this to Titanfall, which I find instantly responsive on the 360 despite being a similar online multiplayer shooter. While it might be naive of me to say this, I feel like if Titanfall managed it on much older and weaker hardware while also including dozens of A.I. bots in addition to the players in every game, then Overwatch doesn't really have an excuse. Although it's possible that the issue might have other causes, such as the PS4's analogue sticks (that I don't think are as good as the 360's); even if that were true it would not change the fact that the issue is there.

What's more, because I can't aim as precisely as I would like due to the slightly unresponsive controls, I've had to turn down the aiming sensitivity a fair bit to help me aim at fast moving character, but a side-effect of this is that it takes me longer to turn and face attackers to my sides or back, meaning I'm much more likely to just die the moment I'm flanked. While this isn't really a big problem on it's own, along with the slightly slow response and resulting difficulty aiming, it significantly exacerbates the REAL problem that Overwatch has: Turrets.

Here's the thing: I like this game a lot. That means I'm invested in it, which makes the frustration of turrets so, so much worse than if I didn't like the game at all. You see, I'll be playing an intense game or series of games, where both sides are giving it their all and there's a constant stream of amazing moments; the game is balanced on a knife's edge and could go either way right to the very end. If we win I experience a great deal of elation, but even if we lose then I've still had a great deal of fun and I can appreciate the skill that the other team showed.

So I'm riding high, having a great time and loving every minute playing a fantastic game, then suddenly I'm up against turrets and the game is no longer fun, it's just tremendously frustrating and I'm wondering what the hell happened and why the hell am I playing this stupid broken piece of crap game. It's infuriating, and that anger can stick with you for longer than you would expect. I'll save casual readers the whole rant for now, you can read it after the actual review, just know that I despise turrets and genuinely believe that they are downright bad for the game. They are, quite simply, not fun. However, it seems that Blizzard understands that there is a problem, at least on the console versions, so hopefully they will fix it eventually.

In conclusion, this is a great game with a few small issues and some balance problems that are to be expected and hopefully will be improved over time. Overall I give it a 9/10: if you like the gameplay of first person shooters you will most likely enjoy this game... if you have a good internet connection.


I figured it would be better to separate this part from the main review. I should probably apologize in advance, because this topic has caused me a great deal of frustration over the past few weeks, so I'm going to have to take this opportunity to rant a little. Well, a lot. But then, the clue's in the blog's name, right?

There's number of reasons why I don't like online-only games, but rather than talk about it right now, I'll just leave these here:

This kind of thing happens more often than I would like. By the way, if it looks like I'm doing weird things like trying to walk into a wall or repeatedly switching back and forth between Bastion's modes: that's the lag, somehow preventing the system from figuring out what I'm actually trying to do. Honestly, Overwatch on the PS4 seems to behave worse around lag than Destiny or Titanfall on the XBox 360.

Let's talk characters. First off, Mei... SCREW YOU, MEI! Mei is the only character who I consider to be genuinely overpowered. I'm not the only one who thinks so; I often hear her referred to online as "Satan". Tells you something about how much people hate her, right?

Let's get the easy bit out of the way first: why the hell does Mei have 250 health? Consider that Tracer and Widowmaker and even Zenyata - who is entirely made from metal - only have 150 health. I mean, Pharah is a battle-hardened military officer clad head-to-toe in a full suit of power armour, including a helmet, and she's only 200 health. Meanwhile Mei is a small scientist wearing a parka, and she has 250 health. It just makes no sense, and it's infuriating in-game; the number of times I've almost killed her only for her to suddenly turn invulnerable and heal right back up... Seriously, whoever it is who works in Blizzard that thinks cotton and wool are somehow stronger than metal and kevlar, please: go back to school. You moron.

Also, her offensive power is kind of crazy; I can only think of one or two characters who might be able to reliably take her in a close-range fight (I'm thinking Reaper and Roadhog), but unlike those two predominantly close-range characters she can work at long range too, and she has powerful control abilities as well. Plus I still think she'll probably still win if she gets the drop on them because she shuts people down so fast with her freeze spray.

Compare her to Soldier 76. He's a highly decorated and experienced veteran soldier armed with a massive assault rifle with built-in rocket launcher, while she's a small scientist armed with an ice-cream maker; you would expect him to be the better damage dealer, yet in a close-up match she is almost guaranteed to win. As soon as she starts waving her magic wand in his general direction he completely loses the ability to aim and then, a second later, the ability to do anything at all, and she will easily kill him before he breaks out. Plus she has more health than him for some reason. And while they can both heal themselves, doing so leaves him vulnerable for a moment and he can still take damage, while she becomes completely invulnerable while healing (I think maybe Reinhardt's charge can get her, but that's the only thing I know of). What's more, she's actually arguably better than him at long range too; he has to fire very slowly to maintain long-range accuracy, significantly reducing the speed at which he does damage, but her ice-spike doesn't have that problem. I might even argue that her ultra is probably better than his as it can shut down an entire team and leave them all vulnerable while his doesn't do as much against tank characters and is more easily shut down or avoided. The only place that he's actually better than her is at medium range, and it's usually not to hard for her to avoid that kind of confrontation - at worst she can throw up a wall to buy her time to close or escape, but if you run into Mei in close range, you have a lot less options for trying to force an advantage before she freezes you solid then kills you.

The problem isn't just that she's powerful, it's also that she's incredibly annoying to play against because she interferes with your movement and aiming. For a long time my philosophy has been that you need to be really careful about taking control away from the player; I'm not saying that you should never do it, but it's a technique that should be used sparingly and only when it serves a very good purpose. Consider the first Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. There were a couple of sequences where it limited player control, which it did to very good effect in that it increased the impact of those scenes on the player. But after that, every single modern-style fps game (including the Modern Warfare sequels) aped it without really understanding what they were doing, and took control away from the player at every single opportunity they could find. This quickly became a meaningless annoyance that broke the player's immersion rather than enhancing it, and is one of the biggest issues I've had with shooters over the past few years.

And almost every one of Mei's abilities interfere with your control over your character. Her normal attack freezes you, her ultra freezes you, and she can suddenly bring you to a complete stop with a surprise wall. Plus her healing ability suddenly stops you from doing damage; not the same thing but kind of in the same ballpark, especially since if you ignore her and move away you run the real risk of getting killed from behind, so often your best choice is to sit and wait for her to emerge from the ice again, indirectly limiting your movement. This is not a "once or twice in the whole game" thing; these are all abilities she can use all the time, and it's infuriating.

So yes, she's annoying and I hate the philosophy behind her design. I would like if Blizzard reduced her health to 200 and did something about her instant-freeze primary weapon; I don't mind it as much for her ultra, but that primary weapon is insane. Personally I would suggest buffing her secondary fire mode and turning it into her primary, then just dropping the stupid freeze spray thing, but I doubt that will happen. By the way, how the hell does encasing herself in ice heal her? I mean, she's not immune to cold; if she was she wouldn't need that parka, and other Mei's ice guns still hurt her, so clearly being encased in ice should not be beneficial to her health!

I would like to take a moment to mention Junkrat. I would call him the coward character because every single ability he has allows you to damage enemies while being out of their line of sight. However I'm not saying he's unbalanced or easy to play: I actually think it takes a lot of skill to play him well. So while he can be annoying, I don't think there's anything wrong with him and I think he does add to the game.

By the way, I've heard complaints about Bastion, but I don't think he's OP on the the consoles at least. Perhaps on PC where it's faster to aim, but on consoles it's not so bad. He has high damage output but does have limits (unlike turrets can be flanked and he's vulnerable while reloading, for example). I don't have a problem with bastion and I think he's a nice design.

Tracer scares the hell out of me, I can't deal with her with anyone except maybe Winston; I normally just run and/or pray when I see her (or get desperate and chase her to try to kill her as quickly as possible to reduce the number of jumps she can use). But I believe she takes a lot of skill to play well and I don't really think she's unbalanced either.

Winston seems a bit underpowered to me. Once  when I was playing as Winston I was trying to kill someone who had one of Zenyata's healing orbs on them, and as far as I could tell that little orb was healing him as fast as I was damaging him, making me helpless against him. That doesn't feel right, especially considering that having the orb out was not preventing Zenyata from debuffing and attacking normally. Of course there are some situations where Winston works well, so he has his place, I just feel like he needs a bit of a buff somehow. Maybe a bit more health or damage output?

Mercy feels almost superfluous sometimes: Zenyata can similarly heal and increase your team's offensive power without needing to put himself in as much danger or sacrifice his own offense, and Lucio passively heals the whole team (well, as long as they are close enough) without any effort on his own part, allowing him to focus on attack. Meanwhile if you pick Mercy you probably won't do anything all game but hide or run around like crazy putting yourself at risk to try to heal everyone who needs it. She's effective, don't get me wrong, but other characters seem to do the same job a little more easily. Still, her alt is fantastic, so that's something.

I hate the temple of Anubis; that first archway you have to get through on the attack is a killer. If an enemy team takes a couple of Bastions and a Reinhardt to protect them, good luck getting anywhere without a fantastic and highly coordinated team. Honestly just a horrible map to have to go on the offensive on.

As mentioned in the review, the real problem this game has is turrets. I realise that in a competitive game anything that keeps killing you can feel frustrating even if it is in fact balanced, and I've already spoken about  how several character who can be frustrating to play against are still balanced and have their place, but I genuinely believe that turrets actually break the game. You might say that that's just my opinion, but please hear me out.
First of all, let's talk about how turrets work. They almost instantaneous lock-on to an enemy character, then they simply shoot them continuously with 100% accuracy. There's no way to dodge; they never miss so long as you're in their line of sight and in range. They have 360 degree vision, so you can't flank them either. They also ignore some ultras for some reason: Hanzo's dragons don't hurt them, Soldier's auto-aim doesn't lock onto them, etc.

There's two types of turrets: Torbjorn puts down one big turret that has a lot of health and a pretty long range. Torbjorn can repair it, and his ultra makes it much tougher and fire much faster (and I think might instantly repair it? Not sure). As far as I can tell it can kill most characters faster than they can kill it if facing off across an open space (obviously there are exceptions).

Symmetra meanwhile has these tiny sentry turrets that she can put on most any surface. I believe she can have up to six out at any one time. They have short range and are destroyed by just about any damage at all. However, once they start shooting at you they reduce your movement and turning speed, and the effect stacks. Plus they are pretty much always going to attack you from your blind spot. This means they almost always start to damage you before you see them, and if there's three or more you'll be taking damage very quickly; since you're slowed down you can't run away easily, and since it's messing with your turning speed it becomes very hard to turn and aim at the tiny things, meaning even if you manage to destroy them you'll take a lot of damage while doing so. If you get hit by a full six of the damned things, you'll probably die before you can really do anything.

If after reading all that you're thinking that turrets might be a source of some frustration, then you'd be right. Turrets are simply annoying in a number of ways:
  • They have instant lock-on, perfect aim, etc; all the things that humans don't have and struggle with in a videogame, they just do automatically. It's a slap in the face, it really is. It makes you wonder why Overwatch needs this cast of zany characters when a bunch of turrets on a remote controlled car would do the job much better most of the time. In other words, it basically destroys your immersion and invalidates your involvement in the game. It destroys the illusion.
  • Turrets usually win a one-on-one battle unless you know where they are ahead of time, because by the time you've realised that they are there, spun to face them, and performed the fine aim needed to target them, you're probably almost dead already if not actually dead.
  • If you know where a Torbjorn turret or Symmetra nest is (probably because it's already killed you once or more) then it still takes a lot of work to kill it one-on-one with most heroes and will still take a bunch of your health, but you're almost never going to be going one-on-one against a turret. Torbjorn or Symmetra will often be there, and that seriously tips the odds in their favour against most characters because it's a two-on-one fight against you.
  • And while two-on-one fights against turrets are fairly common, what's more common is trying to clear out a zone being defended by their entire team, in which case even if you have your entire team, the enemy still outnumbers you, because Turrets are basically extra players (really good ones too).
  • In any case, when trying to gun down a turret, unlike when attacking other players, you pretty much have to stand still to maximize your aim, or dodge very predictable in and out of cover to get to the same point each time for best aim (because a turret has perfect accuracy and ignores dodging you need to maximize your accuracy in order to compete); this leaves you highly vulnerable to other players taking you out while you're distracted by the turret. If you ignore the turret and try to deal with the other players, the turret kills you because dodging doesn't work against it. So you're damned if you do, damned if you don't.
  • After you've put all that effort into destroying a Torbjorn turret (or almost destroying it) and then died because you left yourself vulnerable to the rest of the enemy team while trying to deal with it, Torbjorn just fixes it or deploys it again a few seconds later. Symmetra nests aren't always as quick to put back up, but it's the same problem.
  • This might just be my slanted perception, but I get the impression that Torbjorn builds up his Ultra very quickly, between the turret auto-hitting anyone it sees and Torbjorn himself running around shooting, fixing, and tossing out armour. Also he can tell if his turret is taking damage even if he's some distance away, as he can see it's status icon through walls and stuff. So all too often when you go in and try to face down a turret, he'll suddenly trigger his ultra and the turret will start doing a lot more damage and become basically unkillable (plus you end up with an angry nigh-unkillable dwarf running around shooting you in the back at the same time). Also, and again I could be wrong about this, but it seems like the turret gets it's health topped up to full when he trigger the ultra as well, so any damage you've already done is just erased. Considering how hard turrets already are to deal with that can be very annoying, especially when it happens over and over.
  • Symmetra turrets screw up your movement and aiming, which is just annoying (especially the aiming) and leaves you highly vulnerable for other enemy players. I've talked already about how that's something you should do sparingly if at all in a game, and Symmetra turrets do it all the time; that's very, very frustrating, especially when you're trying to gun the stupid little turrets down and you can't do it because you can't aim anymore. It's basically the videogame equivalent of being repeatedly pinned to the ground and kicked in the sides by a pack of schoolyard bullies as a kid: painful, humiliating, and you can't really fight back no matter how hard you try.
  • Symmetra turrets are ALWAYS BEHIND YOU. Even if there's no-one else there it's annoying for that to happen over and over, but if there's enemies in front of you then what do you do? Turn your back on them and try to destroy the turrets, or ignore the turrets and hope you can get out of their range before they do too much damage? Either way, you're probably about to die. Let's not even talk about adding Junkrat beartraps into the mix.
  • They seriously screw up flanking and disrupting, which is what some characters are kind of designed to do. They also really hurt characters who depend on their speed and agility for survival. Perhaps the character who suffers most of all however is Pharah. Playing Pharah is highly depending on the environment and how enclosed it is; I at least find she only does well in some levels or areas of levels, so it can already be difficult to justify taking her. Unfortunately Torbjorn turrets simply murder her; the moment she takes to the skies she's basically signed her own death warrant if there's a Torbjorn turret around. And if you're playing an assault map, there's almost always going to be at least one Torbjorn turret. In other words, she can be very hard to use for assault. So now there's whole environments and whole game modes where she basically doesn't work. That hurts.
  • They ignore (some) ultras. Look, when you've charged up and released your super-ultra-final-attack-power, it's annoying that bloody turrets don't even notice.

No, the fact that turrets are annoying isn't of itself necessarily wrong; there's plenty of good characters who can be annoying in the hands of a good player: Mei, Junkrat, Tracer, any sniper, etc can all get you red in the face - though a turret is annoying all on it's own regardless of the Torbjorn or Symmetra player's skill. I'm not saying it should never be possible to get annoyed playing against an enemy. But turrets aren't just annoying: they basically just ignore the entire game itself. There are a number of elements that form the "gameplay" in Overwatch:
  • Reflexes: in a face-off, whoever reacts faster has an advantage. Turrets lock on automatically, requiring no reflexes on the part of the owning player.
  • Precision: in a face-off, whoever is more accurate - meaning they are able to get the cross-hairs on target more quickly, and keep them on target as the two players move around - has the advantage. Turrets have perfect accuracy, which is automatic and takes no skill on the part of the owning player.
  • Movemement: dodging around to ruin aim, using terrain to duck in and out of cover, playing games of cat-and-mouse with opposing players, is a big part of how most fights go. Turrets don't move, so the owning player doesn't need to worry about all that. Plus you can't dodge them, or fake them out, only try to use cover, so that part of the game doesn't exist for the attacker either.
  • Strategy: flanking the enemy and hitting them from where they don't expect is a big part of the game. Turrets have 360 degree vision and seem to lock on just as fast no matter how far they need to spin to do it, meaning they don't try to outmaneuver or flank and trying to flank them is mostly meaningless.
  • Teamwork: coordinating your movements and attacks with your teammates is a big part of being effective in Overwatch. Turrets don't coordinate with people; though teammates can support turrets in various ways, that still means that the turret owner needs to worry a lot less about how to best work with his teammates.
  • Timing: when you die in Overwatch you respawn some time later back in your base, meaning you lose time travelling back to join the action. Not only does this mean that you lose time before you can contribute to the fight again, it also means you often need to wait and coordinate large pushes with your team or risk a constantly imbalanced fight as just a few member of your team face the entirety of the enemy. Turrets can be almost instantly respawned wherever the owner wishes, taking all that out of the equation.

Those are all ways in which turrets and turret owners operate outside of the normal gameplay of Overwatch. To be fair the Torbjorn or Symmetra player might not be sitting around staring at the wall while the turrets do all the work; they will probably be doing something too. Of course that's kind of an issue too, as has been mentioned, because you're now facing two opponents instead of one. It's also worth noting that Symmetra has an auto-locking weapon (so she doesn't have to aim), that is so short-ranged that she really can't do very much until the opponent gets very close (meaning she really doesn't get involved in assaulting or flanking or anything), so there's a lot of normal gameplay that she simply isn't experiencing either, while Torbjorn often spends a lot his time repairing his turret, which is not exactly skilled gameplay.

Every match of Overwatch ends with a "play of the game"; a replay of the single most effective few seconds that any character on either team had for the entire game. Depressingly often, this replay is just a view of Torbjorn repairing his turret or staring at a wall while his turret racks up a bunch of kills. Think about that for a moment, really think about it: the most effective action that anyone took in the entire game is very often just staring at a wall while the computer plays the game for him! That's not OK, right? There's no denying that that's a problem, right?

Think I'm exaggerating? Consider for example these amazing displays of skill:

So far I've talked about how turrets are always very annoying and how turret characters ignore the gameplay, which I consider a big problem, but originally I said that turrets were actually broken. In some ways this is more subjective, but the way I see it there's a number of things they do that aren't just overpowered or annoying, but they fundamentally break the rules of the game as they apply to most other characters:
  • Turrets have 360 degree vision. I'm not sure what the actual viewing angle is for regular players, but let's just say it's 90 degrees. So players can be blindsided from the sides or back, but turrets cannot.
  • Turrets have instant response times. Their lock-on times are extremely fast, but once they are locked on they move in the same rendered frame that you move (at least as far as I can tell): they have 100% accuracy from that point on. That's something that humans cannot do because even if we had perfect reflexes, we can still only react after we've seen the rendered frame. Obviously we don't have perfect reflexes, and as previously mentioned the controls aren't even perfectly responsive, so it takes us a while to adjust to what happens in game.
  • Turrets have perfect aim. On consoles, no matter how fast you are it takes time to maneuver your crosshairs over your target because of the limitations of the control system. Turrets do not have that problem.
  • Turrets can track at any speed. When a player tries to turn to confront an enemy behind him or track a fast-moving opponent at close range, they are limited by the sensitivity of their control scheme; as mentioned above more sensitive controls means faster turns but lower accuracy and longer aiming times. Turrets have perfect accuracy and very fast aiming times, but without the disadvantage of long turning times; in fact they turn at amazing speeds.
  • There are meant to be six characters on each team, for a fair fight. Turrets change those odds: they are typically as dangerous and hard to kill as a human opponent (if not more so), while not counting as a player, meaning you're effectively facing seven or more opponents rather than six. It might be argued that the turret owner is not very effective, but in fact Torbjorn and Symmetra are decent combatants; not as powerful as some front-line fighters, but not weak either. Symmetra can reliably kill many fast characters who are normally hard to kill thanks to her auto-lock weapon; in fact I'm terrified of her when playing as Reinhardt as she can stay out of my melee range while ignoring my shield. She's also probably one of the best characters to take on Lucio as he can be very hard to hit for most people. Also her teleporter is game-changing, actively tipping the balance of the attrition situation. Torbjorn has good close-range and long-range fire modes, good health (and he can buff his own armour), and is a little harder to hit thanks to his small size. Plus his ultra is pretty decent. Both characters can also support their team by giving them armour buffs.
  • Turrets ignore a number of ultras. Why? I don't know, it doesn't really make sense "fluff-wise". For example, Soldier's aiming visor doesn't lock onto them. That can actually be incredibly frustrating, since it means he actually can't hit a turret while his ultra is on and there's any other enemies nearby, while the turrent can often be the more dangerous threat that needs to be neutralized first. And think about that for a moment: Soldier's aim-bot (which is an ultra, and ultras are supposed to be powerful game-changing abilities that take a long time to charge and only last for a few seconds) can't lock onto Torbjorn's aim-bot, but Torbjorn's aim-bot (which is available all game and lasts until something kills it, at which point it's instantly available again) can lock onto Soldier.

These may sound like similar points that I'd already made, but before I was talking about ignoring gameplay, here I'm talking about things that turrets do which normal players actually can't do. Ignoring gameplay is counter-intuitive since you're diminishing the depth and richness of the game, but breaking the game rules is even worse because it feels unfair. The discussion of whether games should be fair or not is probably a big one with lots of special cases, but in an online multiplayer game when it's being unfair on behalf of one player and penalizing another, I think things are a little more cut-and-dried. And yes, a lot of things can feel unfair in any game, including this one, but I believe I've made some pretty good points for why turrets are objectively unfair in this case.

And while it might be super-salty overkill, I'd like to illustrate my point with an analogy. Imagine you are playing in a football tournament, which you are quite invested in. You play against a great team; it's a hard-fought game full of great sportsmanship that both sides enjoy and feel proud of. Then the next team comes up, and for some bizarre reason there's 22 players walking onto the field rather than 11. Then the game starts and a player runs up and kicks you between the legs as hard as he can, when you fall over in pain the ref comes over and gives you a card for "faking it" and gives the other team the ball. Turns out this team is made up of the children of the tournament organizers, the tournament rules have been written in bizarre ways to favour them, while the ref has basically been paid off and always rules in their favour, no matter what. Every time you get near their goal, the ref calls a foul and gives them the ball, you touch them and it's a penalty. They just push, shove, punch and kick your team without a care. Is this fun for you?

To give a more reasonable comparison, imagine you start a game of Overwatch. You have six players, the other team has six players. Then suddenly six more people join the other team. These six players have aimbots active all the time so they never miss, you can't flank them, they ignore your ultras (but you don't ignore theirs), and if you kill them they respawn nearby almost instantly rather than respawning later somewhere far away and having to waste time traveling to where the action is. Also they can teleport around the map as long as a member of their friendly team is there. Does this sound fair?

Yes, it's an exaggerated example, in fact in a real game six Torbjorns is probably not actually as good as, say, three Torbjorns and some support. Athough, as you might have noticed in one of the videos I posted above, I was in a game against four Torbjorns, a Symmetra, and a Junkrat. That's five turret users and a guy who throws beartraps that locks you in place making you easy prey for the turrets. Also a teleporter so if you actually do manage to kill a Torbjorn somehow, it doesn't take them long to get back to the point. That was a very frustrating game in which we lost badly and which left a bad taste in my mouth.

But anyway, the reason why I'm exaggerating is to better illustrate the point: When you're up against a turret, you're not playing against another player, you're playing against the computer itself, which has sided with the other player against you. The computer is supposed to be the impartial medium in which we play against each other, but when one player picks Torbjorn or Symmetra that very medium becomes your enemy.

Which is very screwed up. Basically, PLAYING AGAINST TURRETS DOESN'T FEEL FAIR. When I'm killed by a turret, it feels like I was cheated. When I lose to a team that plays well, I can relax and admire their skill, telling myself I'll get better and I'll win the next one. When I lose to a bunch of turrets, I get so frustrated that I just wonder why the hell I'm wasting my time on this nonsense.

So why are turrets in this game if they are so bad for the game? I have a few theories. One is that there are turrets in Team Fortress (not a very good reason to my mind). Another is that they aren't as big a problem on the PC thanks to the superior aiming abilities of the mouse and keyboard, they simply haven't been balanced properly on consoles (although I'm not sold on that to be honest). But perhaps the strongest argument for their inclusion is that some game modes might favor the attackers.

There are a couple of game modes where defenders have to defend a point. No matter how many times the defenders wipe out the attacking team, the attackers only really need to clear off the defenders once to win the game (at least in the later stages). This seems to favor the attackers. Which is why there are specific defensive characters who seem to have been balanced in such a way that they are very powerful, but primarily when defending a static location. Clearly that includes the immobile turrets, but also Junkrat's traps (and his grenades, which are great when you have to come towards him but not as much when he has to come towards you) and Bastion's super high damage output in his immobile form.

So that would explain why turrets are quite powerful, and in that context even their immunity to offensive ultras makes sense, since an offensive ultra can completely clear out a whole team and give you the point, handing you the win; at least having a turret there can potentially reduce the impact a little. Although having said all that, I have seen turrets used to some level of success in offense as well, though only rarely.

So yes, in that context the advantage turrets give defenders can make sense, but I believe that the execution is flawed. It would have been possible to make turrets that give the defenders an advantage without feeling as unfair, mainly by reducing the ways in which they break the game:
  • Increase the lock time to something a bit more reasonable, like a human would need.
  • Reduce it's reaction times so it isn't completely locked on to a player, it has to try to chase and even lead them, just like a real human would.
  • Reduce it's maximum turn speed so that there is an advantage to trying to attack it from the side or alternating attacks from different sides.
  • Introduce an element of randomness (same as all games have been doing for all time to all their bots) so it doesn't perfectly lock-on as quickly or as consistently, just like a real human.
  • Reduce it's field of view to 180 degrees or less so that flanking does give you an advantage against it (but of course it will react to being shot in the back so it's not completely helpless), same as it would against a human.
  • Perhaps reduce it's immunity to ultras? Maybe not, I'm willing to concede this point for balance reasons.
  • Prevent Symmetra turrets from interfering with movement, or at the very least with aiming. Seriously, not letting me aim is just too much.
Now I've heard that a new patch is about to be released that will reduce the damage that Torbjorn turrets do by 30%. This shows that even Blizzard has had to admit that there is a problem with the current balance, but personally I don't think that a damage nerf is the right move, since it doesn't change the fact that turrets ignore basic game rules and gameplay elements. I honestly think the best thing they could have done was to reduce turret's aiming perfection: do that and they would feel more like just another player and less like the computer itself hates you and wants you to die. Still, it's a step in the right direction I suppose.