Wednesday, 27 February 2019
Despite the decision to swerve away from the suicidal splatterpunk of Yukito Kishiro's original manga, Robert Rodriguez's Alita: Battle Angel stands out from the superhero crowd thanks to a gleefully confrontational title character and a structural framework that doesn't feel the need to position her desires in terms of higher, altruistic goals. This Hyper Future Vision keeps things personal. Rosa Salazar's Alita is the jet engine that powers James Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis' writing, a personality so powerful that the diversions and setbacks usually trotted out to frustrate a hero's progress are, here, easily surmounted.
This is partly a knock-on effect of abridgement. Cameron and Kalogridis' screenplay pulls in material from several successive volumes of Kishiro's work, chopping and changing characters and situations to the point where the film is closer to an expanded adaptation of Hiroshi Fukutomi's 1993 home video telling than Kishiro's originator text. Alita's decisions are often binary, she either loves people or she hates them, reacting accordingly. This simplicity of purpose allows the filmmakers to constantly push at events that might otherwise inspire pause or reflection, then smash through them, off to the next adventure. That the film never feels so nakedly mercenary is thanks to Salazar's passionate, luminous performance.
Found in what amounts to heaven's landfill, Alita begins the film as a nameless trunk, lost in a sea of trash. Her remains are found by Christoph Waltz's Dr Ido, a cybernetics doctor on the hunt for freebies to use in his community clinic. The good doctor's decision to not immediately cannibalise her body for spare parts or monetary remuneration speaks to an innate goodness, which then helps to massage the faintly desperate relationship he goes on to presume. After discovering that her brain is still intact, Ido marries the shattered carcass to an ornate, delicate body he originally designed for his sick daughter. Ido assumes a fatherly role, gifting his new charge the name of his dead child as well as her futuristic frame.
Key to the idea of Alita, the character, is that she never actually feels threatened. Despite her amnesia, Alita still possesses a built-in confidence that she can deal with, basically, anything. Ido may both physically and mentally position her as a baby in need of protection, but the idea doesn't even occur to her. While Ido's assumption of a fatherly role isn't rejected outright, Alita makes him work for the title. As with Cameron's earlier film Aliens, names like father and mother carry a heavier weight than anything simply circumstantial. It's a rank you achieve. So while Alita is grateful for her rescue from oblivion she doesn't let the emotion render her subservient. Neither does she let it cloud her instincts when she hears about a series of gruesome murders and see's Ido dressed suspiciously, sneaking about at night. Her intent isn't merely investigation either, she clearly aims to stop this speculative murderer too.
Alita's first body, which we come to understand in terms of physical limitation, is small, childlike. The clothes Ido gives her are bright and poppy. Given that the doctor has some familiarity with her internal mechanics, perhaps he seeks to divert her attention, to saddle her with a borrowed vessel, steering her away from the conflict she craves? Alita's second body, an intergalactic suit of armour that she carries out of a lake, forces Ido to accept her as she is, not as he wants her to be. The film doesn't ask us to mourn Ido's idea of a replacement daughter either, it's too busy delighting in Alita's fibre optic gymnastics. Battle Angel's biggest departure from Kishiro's text then, and indeed cyberpunk as a genre that interrogates fracturing identities, is that Alita is already emotionally complete and thrusting forwards.
The memories that bubble up in moments of crisis, while intriguing, are treated as curiosities, their weight transitional rather than debilitating. They occupy a separate time and emotional space, one that may fill in some details but will not dictate the current objective. Alita is far more concerned with the present. Unlike her milquetoast, arm-jacking boyfriend Hugo, Alita's wants aren't material, they're interpersonal. Her emotions are raw, terrifying even. A scene in which she opens up her chest and pulls out her heart to underline her investment in a relationship is discussed within the film as alarming. Alita embraces her power and, frankly, delights in violence. We hear her thinking over her cool lines before she delivers them - subconscious memories or purpose that arrive inside specific, heightened instants. She won't allow them to dissipate. Alita's journey does not chronicle circuitous internal discovery, it's about the external realisation of a core, personal ideal. Decisions are discussed and interpreted as physical data then translated into blistering action.
Hey! I don't just like to sneak around in Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII's Blackout mode, you know? I'm quite happy to stand very still in multiplayer too, blasting anyone unlucky enough to stumble into my general vicinity.
Monday, 25 February 2019
Saturday, 23 February 2019
Finally scored another Quads win on Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII's Blackout mode. I've checked with the two guys I usually play with and they have assured me that rather than pick up that clutch final kill, they were instead cowering in a nearby windmill waiting for everybody else to die off in the gas cloud. Given that I finish this game crawling around on my hands and knees pissing blood, it looks like it was our assigned rando, xenonillume, who snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
Wednesday, 20 February 2019
Monday, 11 February 2019
The relationship between humans and machines has been a major theme in the live action Transformers films. Michael Bay's quintet, a loosely assembled series if ever there was one, may have taken a different tact every instalment but the underlining thesis was one of disgust. The humans trembled in the company of these walking gun platforms while the Cybertronians regarded their flesh companions with the kind of revulsion usually reserved for vermin.
In Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, the massive, barbed Megatron toys with Shia LaBeouf's Sam, delighting in his fragility. The contrast is clear - the Decepticon leader is built to hurt, his hands betray no other function than to slash and tear. Sam is the perfect target, a tiny, blubbery curiosity that would smear at the lightest touch. Even the heroic Autobots recognise a basic disparity between the two races that, apparently naturally, tracks into an acute revulsion. Transformers: Age of Extinction gave us a shellshocked Optimus Prime driven into hiding by mankind's treachery.
Prime's distaste runs deeper than Megatron's tactile disconnection too - he doesn't hate humans because they're physically weak, he distrusts them for their moral and ethical failings. After winning the Battle of Chicago single-handedly, slaying both a mortal enemy and his mentor in the process, Prime's reward is for his friends to be stalked and murdered by American special forces. Their remains pulled apart and reconfigured as toys for the consumer end of the military spectrum. Michael Bay's Optimus Prime is an engine of pure destruction, an indefatigable God Emperor powered by four million years of war and a violent, inflexible idea of egalitarianism.
Travis Knight's Bumblebee, written by Christina Hodson, is the first live action Transformers film that really pushes at an idea of healthy, mutually beneficial symbiosis between mankind and the Cybertronians. Not even just in a material or technological sense either, the film is built around the friendship between Bumblebee, presented here as an amnesiac child soldier prone to post-traumatic outbursts, and Hailee Steinfeld's Charlie, a lonely teenager who feels alienated from her family. It's the same basic set-up as 2007's entry, except the filmmakers have spent time trying to engineer a dramatic hook with a little more heft to it than Sam Witwicky's eBay grumbles.
Both Charlie and Bumblebee are in mourning. Charlie missing her father, an auto-mechanic whose death curtailed his daughter's interest in, well, basically everything. Charlie stopped diving competitively, the activity too wrapped up in painful memories of Daddy-Daughter bonding. Charlie has grown distant from her remaining family, resenting her mother and brother for allowing another, and as far as she's concerned lesser, man to enter into their lives and take her father's place. Charlie isolates herself, working a demeaning Summer job (hotdog serf for jocks and princesses at a local fair) to hustle up enough cash to continue working on an apparently unsalvageable Corvette, her last physical link with her departed Dad.
Bumblebee's pain is founded in extreme shock. His movement (here called the Autobot resistance) has been routed and the planet he calls home has fallen, consumed by Megatron's lieutenants. Most tragic of all, Optimus Prime is apparently dead, last seen surrounded by an army of cackling Decepticons. Prime's portrayal in this film skews nostalgic and idealised, calibrated to appeal to those raised on Sunbow, Marvel and Toei Animation's The Transformers TV series. Prime pops in and out of the film, springing onto the screen from Bumblebee's fragged memories. The diminutive Autobot recalls his commander as explosively powerful, utterly fluent in combat, but equally willing to lay down his life for his smaller, weaker comrades. Essentially, Bumblebee is pining after his own lost father.
Bumblebee, as in the film, feels unexpectedly fresh because it allows these two characters the time and space to just be in each other's company. They hang out, listen to tapes and talk through their problems. Knight's film isn't an excitable gag machine pushing at slashed-up, chromed-out absurdity, it's actually interested in locating a sombre emotional tone then working through it. The Transformers are allowed to navigate scenes as dramatic participants, responding to, rather than contrasting with, their human companions. That the film is able to carry this off is mainly down to Steinfeld and how she is able to anchor rote situations with a delicacy and innate likeability otherwise lacking in this snorting, reptilian franchise.
Digital Foundry take a look at SNES classic Contra III: The Aliens Wars and its various conversions. Not to spoil the surprise or anything but who knew that Konami repurposed levels and bosses from (superb) Mega Drive exclusive Contra: Hard Corps to fill out their Mode 7 challenged Game Boy Advance port?
Thursday, 7 February 2019
Finished up Claire's A scenario in Resident Evil 2 earlier, the last stretch was surprisingly difficult. Any sense of confidence earned through running laps and outwitting Mr X in the police station all but evaporated when heading down into the sewers. The final section, set in a laboratory-cum-conservatory, bled me dry, offering only the bare minimum of supplies to run the hothouse gauntlet.
This penultimate boss, the third form of William Birkin's G monster, was a late-game highlight, coming on like a flesh lump that required the player to simply drain their (dwindling) resources when, in actual fact, the correct approach involved baiting swipes, using acid grenades to halt his approach then popping his bloodshot eyeballs with some precision aiming. In many ways the boss reminded me of Bloodborne's Cleric Beast, a towering, surprisingly swift monster who chewed the player up if they tried keeping their distance. Stay close then run into his heavily telegraphed swipes though and the player can slip under his arm, catching the creature unawares.
Wednesday, 6 February 2019
Saturday, 2 February 2019
Digital Foundry compares and contrasts the original PlayStation release of Resident Evil 2 with its recently released remake, examining the titles in terms of how they approach the same basic scenario. I've had a few hours with Capcom's wonderful overhaul, the most impressive aspect so far is how it handles an idea of gearing up, not just in terms of player controlled weaponry or inventory space, but in how the game presents threat beyond simply stacking rooms with respawning corpses.
The game's first act is dark, tinged with horror, the player pecking away at shuffling meat with underpowered pop guns. After a few laps, the hallways clear out, promising either a brief sense of release or (if you enjoy the hassle) a mid-scramble slump. Just when you think you've achieved some breathing room, a trench coat Tyrant appears. Pursued room-to-room by this towering monster muscle, Capcom R&D Division 1's game provides its players with a damage dealing incentive to not just wander aimlessly, but to learn layouts and connecting corridors, powering the player towards the kind of interactive fluency that tracks naturally into speed-running.
With Mega Drive super-brawler Paprium missing in action - despite a leathered-up launch party late last year - it falls to Bitmap Bureau's Xeno Crisis to deliver on modern, tricked-out 16-bit thrills.