Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The Amazing Spider-Man 2's defining images are of a beanpole teen stretching and twisting in impossible directions and loving every second of it. Spider-Man isn't your rote movie superhero. He hasn't been hardened by an ill-defined training, nor does he possess the body of a Mr Olympia contestant. Most importantly, he wears a mask. Not some pathetic little domino affectation, but a full-on identity cancelling disguise.

Peter Parker's superform stresses an androgynous, everyman secrecy. Characters in Amazing Spidey 2 talk around the hero incessantly, abstracting him and his drives. They don't define him as a supernatural vigilante or an all-powerful justice God, instead he's an avatar for a deep-seated sense of human decency. You know, like Superman used to be.

The DC cycle has blown its heroes up to absurd, Wagnerian proportions in an attempt to capture the magic of 1980s Frank Miller comics. Their lack of levity makes them po-faced and exhausting. Marvel themselves have boiled their superheroes down into a basic action narrative that reeks of repetition. Against this landscape even a mumbling, compromised thing like Amazing Spidey 2 can look and feel exciting.

Sony's relentless mission to thread in as many sequel embeds as humanly possible makes the film play like mid-season oomph for a dubbed and chopped kid's cartoon. I've read a few reviews that compare the film to Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, as if to invite scorn. It's a pretty on-the-money note, and actually speaks to the ideas that keep the film feeling relatively fresh.

Firstly, the villains aren't apocalyptic monsters, they're slighted nerds dabbling with powers that allow them to push people around. Crucially, these new abilities are milked for maximum pop impact rather than danger. Electro may be rendered as an invincible, incorporeal djinn, but his presence in a Kamen Rider narrative means his Dr Manhattan powers are nothing compared to a well aimed punch.

Spider-Man himself is exclusively presented as a cocksure rock star with energy to spare. He's a skinny tokusatsu entertainer that's on buddy terms with the local emergency services. This isn't a grim-dark attempt to graft Christopher Nolan ideas onto a bright, friendly character. It's Nicholas Hammond TV movies with a billion dollar budget. Spidey 2 plays like Richard Lester and the Salkinds were allowed to hold the wheel, churning out cheery irreverence for people who would rather see Superman twisting people's heads off.

Granted, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 makes very little sense. Central relationships are lost in the noise and a key conspiracy hinges on Parker Snr making a sacrifice that not only doesn't ensure his child's safety but actively, aggressively accelerates the danger surrounding Peter. What it does have though is a centrepiece, computer generated tech demo that has apportioned time, money, and effort towards rendering baggy lumps into the Spider-Man suit. Sony's war chest has been hijacked, the Japanese conglomerate burning disaster relief money to simulate the pure unadulterated joy of seeing two men in shapeless spandex trading blows in a gravel pit.

Sunday, 14 September 2014


In response to a waning financial forecast, Capcom is re-releasing four of its best fighters on Taito's online arcade system NESiCAxLive. Japanese players will be able to log wins against networked opponents on Hyper Street Fighter II, Vampire Savior (known in the West as Darkstalkers 3), Street Fighter Zero 3, and Street Fighter III: Third Strike.

Hamster Corporation is taking a different archaeological tact. The company is licensing ancient arcade games like Rygar and Renegade, then putting them out in a no-frills shell on PS4 for ¥823 (about £5). Trophies range from brain dead bronzes - access the Options menu - to a couple of reasonably challenging golds tied into posting high scores.

For a title like Renegade getting to the top of the table is gonna take an hour or two of learning how your attack windows work and what you can do to exploit them. It feels like a worthwhile time investment, you get to engage with the game on a deeper, systemic level and, if you care, your gamer card just ticked up a few numbers.

Hamster has about eight titles available at the moment with more, including Double Dragon, on the way. Aside from the games mentioned, Ninja-Kid is fun. It's a cutesy screen-clearer with a peculiar jump system based on forward momentum. Considering the steady stream of releases, I presume the Arcade Archives series is turning a profit. Hamster's games are even starting to make the jump to the US store, although the prices have stayed a little excessive.

Capcom has tried churning out their older coin-ops like this before, last gen it was Capcom Arcade Cabinet, but the packaging has never been particularly attractive. The bulk of the games are early 80s efforts that have been released and re-released over and over. It's clear Capcom covet their late 80s / early 90s era games and expect them to stand on their own, in an individual package that never materialises. Thus Capcom's re-release schedule remains dull. Where's Strider or Captain Commando?

Capcom also need to learn the value of an easy achievement list. Every single title they release has a trophy set that reads like a part-time job application. An arcade game re-release should attempt to capture the same kind of bright, colourful, instant gratification as the coin-ops they're emulating.

Whether consciously or not, trophy lists set an objective. If the climb looks too long versus the points or rewards you can expect to accrue, the people who care about these things will immediately lose interest. I can't have been the only person who looked at the Darkstalkers Resurrection list and decided to skip it. I wanted to dabble with a game I used to play on the Saturn, not embark on a 2D fighter doctorate.

Given the huge success of the PS4 it's baffling that Capcom hasn't got anything ready to go. I've been expecting an announcement about Ultra Street Fighter IV or a port of the brushed up PC release of DmC: Devil May Cry or even Dragon's Dogma, but they've never materialised. Capcom made inroads last-gen with an early, opportunist release of Street Fighter II' Turbo on Xbox 360 (indeed that's what prompted the revival of the Street Fighter brand). Why aren't they attempting to repeat this trick? Individual arcade releases, attractively priced and following Hamster's hardcore hooking trophy model could be the zero-effort money-spinner Capcom is looking for.

Slash by Dave Rapoza

Death From Above 1979 - Government Trash

Perturbator - Raining Steel

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Blue Ruin

Macon Blair's Dwight is the least mechanical avenger in recent memory. Blue Ruin impresses by laying a solid foundation of scenes in which Dwight fails to be The Terminator. Dwight has the same concise thoughts, but he keeps pushing up against reality. In Dwight's world lifted guns aren't plot expedients, they're useless lumps imprisoned in unbreakable clasps. Attempts at self-surgery are, despite gathering all the usual merchandise, complete fiascos.

Blue Ruin is revenge as a series of gauche punchlines. Dwight isn't hard. He hasn't been built to crush. He's a cuddly bushwhacker that builds forts out of dining chairs and trembles in the shadows. Writer-director Jeremy Saulnier doesn't even give him a memorable outfit. He starts in beach rags and ends dressed like an office dork at a party thrown by his boss. Most telling of all are Blair's eyes - they're brown and bovine; bulbous bug eyes set in a face quivering with worry. There's no confidence in him or his ability to accomplish, at critical moments he fumbles or hesitates. Everything about Dwight seems designed to induce anxiety.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury - Inhale (from Drokk: Music Inspired by Mega-City One)

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Transformers vs GI Joe #2 (Cover RI) by Tom Scioli

Bad Boys 2

There's an argument to be made that Michael Bay's Bad Boys 2 is the purest attempt by Hollywood to recreate a Hong Kong style action film. Bay's film doesn't try to replicate the platonic ideal of John Woo's The Killer though, instead it's closer to something people in Hong Kong might've actually wanted to see, a film like Sammo Hung's dayglo matinee My Lucky Stars.

Like Hung's film Bad Boys 2 has wild mood shifts and a dramatic premise completely subservient to seeing our favourite film stars yukking it up. Terrifying action choreography is bracketed by scenes of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence bickering about upholstery; Michael Bay cross-pollinates Golden Harvest star vehicles with rap album skits and gun porn. Countries are invaded, routines about buck-toothed Klansmen track into gooey head shots and two entirely separate sequences objectify cadavers.

A significant chunk of the middle section is given over to the two leads posing as pest exterminators in an effort to infiltrate the bad guy's mansion. There's no attempt to build any real tension - we don't feel like either of their lives are in danger. Instead it's an opportunity to push a camera in extremely close to Martin Lawrence's awed, sweaty face as he watches two rats copulate missionary.

Basically, Bad Boys 2 lives to entertain you. It doesn't know what you want, so it tries to give you everything. Here are some apocalyptic car crashes. Maybe you didn't like that so here's Smith and Lawrence talking about anal sex. If that didn't do it for you, how about a shoot-out in which the camera moves in and around the combatants like a snake? Bad Boys 2 even has the good grace to roll with an adult certificate - this isn't bad taste cinema as smuggled Summer product, it's brazen. Invectives and exit wounds, intended to be seen by its most enthusiastic audience on home video.

Bad Boys 2 doesn't pretend to be a tight narrative experience, it takes the bare model of a cops and robbers movie and embellishes, hurling money and ego and reality TV musical punctuation at you. Action cinema as a hyper-caffeinated variety act whose sole aim is to make you feel like you got your money's worth. Bad Boys 2 wants you to feel like your price of admission was nothing compared to how many fresh-off-the-assembly-line cars got rolled and gutted.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Leonardo by Dave Rapoza

Michelangelo by Dave Rapoza

22 Jump Street

In terms of action sequels 22 Jump Street has a lot in common with Die Hard 2: Die Harder. Like that film 22 Jump dumps any pretence of reality, amping up the characters based on basic, demonstrable traits. So instead of multi-dimensional personalities we have action figures with special abilities.

Channing Tatum's ditzy Jenko is transformed from a well meaning lummox into a hyper-athletic superman. Likewise, Jonah Hill's Schmidt gets to be an invincible, elastic Looney Tune able to bounce alongside trucks and rebound off iron girders. Although handy for a couple of sight-gags, this sequel inflation undermines one of the basic appeals of 21 Jump Street - two shell-shocked goons stumbling blindly through a series of action set-ups. By making them active, indestructible, participants, 22 Jump falters.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare - TRICKSTER

On one hand this trailer for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare reads like a mean-spirited attempt to absolutely bury Respawn Entertainment's Titanfall. On the other there's the idea that Sledgehammer Games have sat down and played some stone cold classics like Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening and had a good think about how they can incorporate that total movement model into a first-person military shooter. Double jumps and air dashes in Call of Duty? Even the boring laser rifles can't take the shine off that.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Sold as all-things to all-people, Guardians of the Galaxy is a thoroughly pleasant reorganising of Star Wars that makes Leia damaged and vengeful, doubles down on Han Solo and Chewbacca and drops Luke altogether. Stuck delivering flavour for another Avengers ejaculation, James Gunn and pals punch up your basic Marvel adventure with Awesome Mix Tapes, Boogie Nights actors, and a few sideways glances at genuine pain.

As expected it's Rocket Raccoon that stands out. Bradley Cooper's voice work is complimentary but the real work is done by Sean Gunn's on-set acting and an army of digital animators. Even how the raccoon holds his head speaks volumes. Naturally subordinated due to his diminutive size, Rocket refuses to be dominated. He doesn't scurry around, craning his neck to meet eyes. He points his nose down and peers upwards, sneering. He isn't short. You're just too tall.

Rocket is a head-on collision between Lee Van Cleef and the Jim Henson Creature Shop's work on Splinter from the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie - a beguiling rodent with the body language of a gunslinger. I presume Gunn loves him too. The co-writer (with Nicole Perlman) / director gives the other Guardians beats that tell you who they are and what their objective is. Rocket gets a comedy bounty motivation and a vague, upsetting past that splutters out in visual asides and drunken mumbling. In a film full of heroic archetypes, Rocket is contradictory and exciting.

Guardians' only real problem is that by now Marvel movie action beats are becoming routine. As with The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians ends with a skyborne threat to a picturesque city. Thanks to this film's space opera bent, we get a multi-tiered assault that accounts for multiple, co-habiting planes of action. The CG overload is kept personal with some Chris Foss designed fighter jets that swarm over their prey like Japanese Honey Bees, attempting to cook the evil Ronan in his mausoleum ship. Still, the basic heft of the final attack plays like a Star Wars prequel.

James Gunn's film even has an embedded solution - embrace the cosmic realm. We see one of Jack Kirby's Eternals obliterating a planet and an entire civilisation is built around mining the disembodied head of a galactic space titan. The film teeters on the edge of intergalactic histrionics, but never really commits. Ronan the Accuser is a shonen villain, a space pirate swinging his dick about whilst in possession of reality bending jewellery. There's never a sense our heroes can beat him - he's on a different level entirely.

Marvel need to start looking to more melodramatic solutions. Bone up on Akira Toriyama or marathon some Attitude era WWF. Holding hands while purple electricity vaporises the baddie isn't particularly satisfying. Why aren't the Guardians throwing themselves at this monolith man as a unit, sneaking in the odd blow, but ultimately proving themselves ineffectual? Maybe then have a death or two, followed by a rage fuelled counter attack that gets Ronan wobbly and staggering back?

Ronan instantly recovers like his name is M Bison and lands a devastating blow on Gamora, forcing an intervention from the unfathomable Thanos. Why else was the Mad Titan telling us who his favourite daughter was? It's about time Marvel put their big bad over, particularly if all he's doing is glowering until 2018. Ronan's world ending club? Thanos shrugs the blow off with a laugh then dismantles its owner with slow, measured body blows. If you're going to invoke Darkseid - even through Jim Starlin's avatar - he should figure as part of the destination. Otherwise he's just advertising. Marvel's films drip feed like television, they need to embrace something wild and cinematic.