Star Wars: Battlefront 2 Review

Yep, I brought it. A bit of a gamble to be sure but it’s not the worst purchase I’ve made this year (for anyone interested that would be either Mass Effect: Andromeda or my rather underused Gym membership). If by some miracle you’ve missed the furore that has seen EA being repeatedly eviscerated on Reddit, Twitter and every conceivable form of social media because of this game, let me explain. Battlefront 2 costs full price at release (£50 for either console or PC) but features a levelling and reward system so slow and complex that the only way to get everything out of it was to either sink weeks-worth of time or fistfulls of extra cash into the game. Even then you aren’t guranteed to get exactly what you want, because the reward system relies on (sigh) random loot boxes, which leaves a very ‘luck of the draw’ feel to which players are rewarded most. As a result, Battlefront 2 has had the most difficult launch of any game since Mass Effect 3, whose ending got ripped to shreds by fans. And, as with that mess, EA has backed down. Sort of. Scrapping the ability to buy extra in-game currency with real cash does cut out the whole play-to-win issue, and they have reduced the cost required to unlock heroes and weapons. But the game still has plenty of other problems. So why’d I buy it? Simple: the gameplay’s actually quite good.

I loved the first remake last year (at least at launch). The multiplayer was really good, the servers were normally reliable, and everything felt pretty balanced. I didn’t really miss a substantial single-player mode because the online was nailing what I wanted from the game. Then EA messed about with it and fucked it up a bit. They did this because they wanted to sell £30-40 of DLC, which you basically had to buy to access all the new abilities and heroes the DLC packs included (the multiplayer became significantly harder if you persevered with the abilities/heroes from the base game only). The DLC was also a mixed bag (Outer Rim and Death Star were good expansions, but Rogue One and Bespin were undercooked and the maps nothing special). Although EA/DICE did balance out a lot of issues through updates, the gameplay wasn’t as pure as it had been at launch. I’ve still got the original, but I was kind of falling out of love with it, which is part of the reason I brought the new one (which EA has guaranteed will only have FREE DLC).

First up: the good news. Visually, the game’s a massive step up from its predecessor (which looked pretty damn good). The space battles in particular are stunningly rendered. You now can also play as Light or Dark Side in any of the three Star Wars eras (and you get heroes from the Prequel and Sequel trilogies into the bargain, such as Yoda, Darth Maul, Rey and Kylo Ren). Fans of the original Battlefront series will be pleased to hear that it feels a lot more like the originals than last year’s battlefront did (mainly because it has its own unique combat system and classes this time, not just a Battlefield 1 system with a Star Wars paintjob). The multiplayer has also been simplified, now there are only 5 distinct game modes: Blast (Team Deathmatch), Heroes vs. Villains, Starfighter Assault (Space Battles), Galactic Assault (Massive 40v40 game modes) and Strike (a smaller, 8v8 mode similar to Galactic Assault but easier for low level players). While the loss of modes like Cargo and Drop Zone are a slight shame, the lack of crap modes like Turning Point, Infiltration and Sabotage is an improvement, as is the new system of picking one mode and sticking with it for as long as you like (not cycling between modes, as happened in the first game’s DLC). I’m sure EA will throw in extra modes in DLC packs, but the original 5 are more than sufficient atm. The main improvement is the scrapping of power ups. Now, instead of having to memorise where power-ups appear on the battlefield, you get battle points from kills and completing objectives, which you can trade in to get access to jump troopers, flame troopers, heroes and vehicles. It’s a much better system, and ensures that only good players actually get the power-ups, which feels a lot fairer.

Heroes vs. Villains has actually been significantly improved. The new 4v4 battle between heroes is much better than the old version, simply because you don’t have to spend one of every two rounds waiting to be a hero (and getting repeatedly slaughtered as a standard soldier). Instead, each side has 4 heroes, one of which on each side will be marked as a target for the other side to kill. After a minute or so (or when a target is killed), the target player will switch (first side to 10 target kills wins). This allows for some great battles, as most heroes are pretty evenly matched (The Emperor and Lando are still pretty crap to play as but they’re the only duds). Well, they’re evenly matched unless there’s a single high level hero in play, which can get annoying very fast (especially Boba Fett, because Jedi are next to useless against him while he’s airborne).

This can be a recurring problem in the other modes. Galactic Assault, Strike and Blast can all be really fun, but players who’ve sunk time into the game or got lucky with loot boxes can repeatedly annihilate low level players (I know this is normal for multiplayer, but normally a skilled-enough player can compensate at low-level, but the difference here between low and high level players seems a bit more pronounced that it needs to be. Fortunately, there are no such problems in Starfighter Assault, i.e. Battlefront II’s best game mode. Ship combat and handling has been massively improved since the last game, the variety of Hero ships is better and they are all less overpowered. High level players won’t walk this mode, as skill is much more important than levelled abilities here. There are now 3 classes of ship: Interceptor (good at ship to ship fighting and very manoeuvrable but bad at doing damage to objectives), Bombers (highly damaging but slow and hard to manoeuvre) and Fighters (good all-rounders but not perfect at either style).

Looking at the single player, we’ve actually got a campaign this time. It’s a bit short (4-5 hours) but I suspect DLC will add to it. There are some great set pieces (The Battle of Jakku is a highlight, as are Luke and Leia’s levels) and Iden Versio makes for a compelling enough main character, even if the storyline is VERY predictable and the first few levels nothing special. Single-Player/Co-Op Arcade Mode is pretty fun, but is weakened by another stupid game mechanic, which limits the number of credits you can earn from Arcade mode in 24 hours. This seems utterly needless, given that you only get 100 credits per round (and thus would need 100 rounds worth of credits to unlock heroes like Chewbacca anyway) and disincentives you from completing the various challenges.

Overall, the gameplay, feel and look of the thing are perfect, so well done DICE. It’s just a shame you’re owned by EA, whose greed and outright stupidity have left a levelling system and in-game currency that are both needlessly complicated and rather frustrating if you’re not lucky with the loot boxes (Loot Boxes seriously need to DIE! This is the last multiplayer game I will buy which uses them. They are a toxic idea dreamt up by fat executives in suits who presumably could rival Jabba the Hutt for Greed and general Morality). In short, this game still needs work, but it is worth buying (preferably when its on sale – its worth £30, but not the £50 release price), so long as you’re willing to put the time into it. If you’re after a game you can play every so often but not consistently, ignore this. It isn’t an entry for casual gamers.

This isn’t a total failure, and it doesn’t miss the point of what fans wanted from it, but it could (and should) have been a lot better.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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Injustice 2 Review

A superhero fighting game that’s actually good? Believe it or not, that’s exactly what we’ve got from NetherRealm Studios. For those who don’t know Injustice 2 is a Tekken/Street Fighter style fighting game which allows you to pit 2 DC heroes or villains against each other. Each Hero/Villain has their own abilities, attacks and Supermoves, ranging from Batman’s melee and gadget attacks to Superman’s various powers.

Minor spoilers for Single Player plotline follow.

The sequel to Injustice: Gods Among Us looks better than its predecessor and features a wider roster of DC characters. You don’t need to have played the original to get to grips with this or to follow the single player storyline (long story short: the first game featured Superman going off the rails and forming a tyrannical regime backed by Wonder Woman, Aquaman and several other superheroes after Lois Lane was murdered by Joker, only for Batman to rally other superheroes, such as Green Lantern and The Flash, against the regime and take Superman down). The story this time continues the power struggle between the two factions while also seeing Earth come under threat from Brainiac, the villain responsible for Krypton’s destruction.

The single player campaign takes between 3-4 hours depending on difficultly setting and your own proficiency. The game features an extensive tutorial mode which YOU NEED to try before jumping right in – it will take you several fights to get up to speed. While the campaign is short, there are so many single player modes that Injustice is well worth the £20/30 price tag. As well as a battle simulator and 1v1 modes, Injustice 2 introduces the ‘Multiverse’ section, which features a daily/weekly selection of challenges (involving a series of events featuring anything from 3-10 matches and an occasional high level boss fight). Multiverse challenges will often feature an additional twist, such as having a secondary hero who will occasionally support you, or added arena hazards to worry about. Given that the multiverse challenges refresh continuously, you’ll never really run out of single player. At least not until you’ve levelled EVERY character up to level 20 (the maximum) at which point only the hardest challenges or the extensive multiplayer might still provide challenges. This would take weeks if not months of gameplay, so you really don’t have to worry about running out of things to do.

As for what Heroes and Villains are available? Well put it this way: if you’re a fan of DC movies, the Arrowverse, Gotham or the various cartoons from when you were kids, you’ll be happy with the selection. Injustice 2 features:

Justice League Members: (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Cyborg, Green Lantern and Aquaman)

Batman Villains: (Harley Quinn, Joker, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, Bane)

Arrowverse characters: (Green Arrow, Supergirl, Black Canary, Firestorm, Captain Cold, Gorilla Grodd, Deadshot)

Others: Swamp Thing, Black Adam, Cheetah, Atrocitus, Blue Beetle and various other characters who you may not have heard of before also feature, but are all surprisingly fun to play as.

The season pass is well worth getting as well, as this gives you access to a whole host of extra characters, such as Starfire, The Atom, Raiden, Red Hood, Enchantress, Darkseid and, believe it or not, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!?!?! I don’t think anyone expected them, but there they are.

Incidentally my personal favourites to play as so far have been Starfire, Harley Quinn, Joker and Swamp Thing, but I’m sure everyone will have their own preferences in this game.

Injustice 2’s reward system is a bit more complicated than it needs to be (i.e. 3-4 types of currency where 2 would have really been sufficient), but its not a f*cked up mess like Battlefront II’s seems to be according to reviews, and any pay to play retards (i.e. ones who waste real money buying credits so they can level up faster) won’t actually get themselves much of an advantage in multiplayer. You may get loot crates throughout the game, that’s true, but most of the time the gear they provide is either immediately useable or only 1-3 levels above your characters level, so it isn’t a big problem. They also provide additional skins for your characters, some of which are really cool.

Overall it’s great value for money because of the wealth of potential single-player and multiplayer content. The currency system is a bit contrived and the gameplay can get repetitive, but overall its a fine fighting sim, and a must for DC fans!

Rating: 4 out of 5

Next Up: Horizon Zero Dawn (i.e. the game of the year so far).

Skyrim Special Edition Review

As PSN had it on sale, I finally decided to get the upgrade and re-purchase Skyrim for PS4. Was it worth it? In short… hell yes.

The original Skyrim had several major problems bugging it. The loading screen times were unacceptably long (particularly once you got past Level 30), the save files took up a ridiculous amount of room, and the game was prone to crashing when trying to save or load at high levels. This got so frustrating I finally threw out the PS3 version earlier in the year, as I was wasting 10 mins on loading screens for every hour of gameplay once my character had got up to level 40. Not the case anymore.

The Special edition fixes the loading screen problem completely. The longest I’ve had to wait so far was about 10 seconds, and this makes the game a lot less frustrating. The number of glitches is down as well (noticed two minor glitches and had one crash by level 26, which is a vast improvement on the original). The quicksave feature also helps speed up gameplay, while the game no longer risks crashing everytime it tries to autosave. The PS4’s vast memory also means the large save-file size is no longer an issue.

In short, the Special Edition fixes 95% of the original games problems. It also gives the graphics a welcome upgrade – the game always looked good, but the landscape almost feels real now in a way it didn’t before. The light and shadow effects are something truly special, especially the way that sunbeams and moonlight visually change the light level outdoors. Water, plantlife and weather look more realistic too, while sunrise and sunsets are truly beautiful. One side effect of the improved graphics is that character creation is now actually worth your time – (Argonians, Elves and Khajiit are now far more worth customising than previously, and you can see the effect minor changes make much more easily). Previously you could be done making a good-looking character in 1 minute, now you can take 5-10 to perfect all the details (or 20-30 mins if you’re like my friend Molly 😉 The new version also adds full mod support if that’s your thing.

The Special edition also comes with all 3 bits of DLC attached (Hearthfire, Dawnguard and Dragonborn), so if you never brought those its definitely worth the upgrade. For those who don’t know, Hearthfire allows you to build your own houses/manors, adopt children and, most crucially, helps you level up that Smithing skill really easily! While it’s a fun addition, the other two expansions are far more worthwhile. Dawnguard introduces two new factions: the Dawnguard, an order of vampire hunters armed with Crossbows, tough armour and a few armoured trolls, and the Vampire Lords, ancient vampires (with some really irritating drain health spells) and their minions (mindless thralls, Death Hounds and living Gargoyles). If you side with the vampires you gain Vampirism and the attached strengths and weaknesses (immunity to poison and disease, weakness to fire, improved powers, no health/magicka/stamina regen in sunlight), including most notably the Vampire Lord form, which features a truly brutal drain health spell and complements mages extremely well. Dawnguard also makes the Werewolf much more useful, as the new Werewolf perk tree allows you to make your bestial form much more powerful for every human you slay and feed on (a must for anyone doing the Companions Questline!). Dragonborn adds an entirely new area to explore (the Island of Solstheim), new enemies and a boss fight with Miraak, the original/first Dragonborn. Oh, and the ability to tame and ride dragons.

To sum up, the Special Edition fixes a lot of problems and really beefs up the graphics, but adds little in terms of gameplay. However, if you never brought the DLC for your previous gen version, would like to try out some mods or are just sick of frequent crashes and slow loading screens, get the upgrade. Just maybe wait till its on sale on PSN or Xbox Live. It’s worth a £20 spend, not the full price £35 it came out for.

Rating: 4 out of 5 (A worthwhile if overpriced upgrade)

I’m in a gaming mood atm, so expect reviews of Injustice 2, Horizon Zero Dawn, Assassin’s Creed Origins and Star Wars: Battlefront 2 over the next month, though I will find time for Thor Ragnarok and Justice League as well.

 

Star Trek Discovery Review

Starring Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Jason Isaacs, Mary Wiseman, Antony Rapp and Michelle Yeoh.

Contains Minor Spoilers

It’s not been the best year for Sci-Fi on TV. Doctor Who’s run was distinctly average, Red Dwarf has only given us 1 good episode from 4 so far and then there’s Star Trek Discovery, whose opening episodes have majorly disappointed me.

I only got into Star Trek recently, thanks mainly to Netflix who put all 5 (The Original Series, Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise) live action Star Trek shows on its roster last year. I watched Voyager’s entire run and loved it, and I’ve delved into one or two of Next Gen’s episodes (mainly the ones with the Borg or Q) and enjoyed them. So when Netflix debuted a brand new Star Trek series with modern effects and a cast featuring a couple of famous faces, I thought I’d give it a go. I wish I hadn’t.

It does look brilliant. We’re talking cinematic level quality here. Netflix clearly spent a lot of money on this. A big space battle in episode 2 is up there with the kind of fights we’ve got from the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. The direction isn’t bad either, and the action scenes in general are high quality. But now I start running out of positives. There are several things which will annoy existing Star Trek fans, such as the utterly pointless redesign of the Klingons and how much more advanced the technology looks than the previous star trek series (which considering this is a prequel to every series but Enterprise is a bit stupid). But these are minor issues compared to the big one. The series’ tone and characters completely suck. It tries to be very dark and gritty, which is never what Star Trek has been about. The whole Klingon-Federation war which drives the shows plotline doesn’t really work because of the shows prequel status (i.e. you know the humans and their allies won’t lose, so the stakes are limited to the survival of the main cast). Sure, the TV series and movies occasionally veer into very dark territory, but normally as a exception to the more usual fun and hopeful vibe they have. Discovery is so concerned with putting flawed characters in morally compromised, depressing situations that it completely forgets to have any fun. (I.e. they went the Batman vs. Superman route when they should have been going for a Rogue One kind of tone). The characters don’t help matters either.

Sonequa Martin-Green isn’t a bad actor, but most Star Trek series hinge a lot on their lead, and Human/Vulcan hybrid Michael Burnham just isn’t interesting enough as a character to merit being a series lead. She lacks the likeability and charm of a Kirk, Picard, Sisko or Janeway, and to be honest, Vulcans are always pretty dull characters to focus on in Star Trek, so having a Vulcanized Human as the lead was probably never a good idea (Spock and Tuvok had their moments, but there’s not a lot of places you can take people who have such a limited emotional range).

The support cast aren’t much better. Jason Isaacs gets stuck in a pretty clichéd and thankless role as Captain Lorca, Doug Jones fails to give you any reason to care about Saru, and Antony Rapp’s engineer sucks the joy out of every scene he’s in. Mary Wiseman is the lone exception, as her perky, optimistic character offers much needed light relief. Unfortunately, she has no one similar to bounce off and this limits how well her character works. Michelle Yeoh is the best thing about the cast, but as a recurring guest star isn’t heavily enough involved to make much of a difference.

The Klingon sections also grow tiresome, mainly because the one Klingon with any screen presence is killed off early in the shows run, leaving a load of inadequate stand in villains to step in for the rest of the run. There’s no Worf or B’Elanna to give the Klingons a sympathetic face, and that makes the whole Federation-Klingon war a very one-sided affair.

After 4 episodes, I ran out of both enthusiasm and patience. Even though the individual episodes were relatively engaging, the overall plotline and cast weren’t. I’ve given up because I didn’t see any reason to persevere (normally I give a new show 5 episodes to prove itself, but this one showed so little potential I couldn’t be bothered). I started watching Deep Space Nine instead, and even though the first series of that show is a VERY mixed bag in terms of quality, the characters are engaging enough and the show delivered enough good episodes with the bad that I’ve stuck with it.

To sum up: if you have Netflix and want to try Star Trek, don’t bother with Discovery. Go watch Next Gen, DS9 or Voyager instead (or even the Original Series or Enterprise if your feeling brave). Discovery isn’t just bad Sci-fi, its bad Sci-Fi which barely qualifies as Star Trek. Honestly haven’t been this disappointed with Netflix before. The show may improve, but frankly, I’m not interested enough in its plot or characters to care.

Rating: 2 out of 5 (Lowest Series rating I’ve ever given).

Also: blandest Star Trek theme tune ever? Its just downright dull compared to the epic, mysterious or triumphant themes the other shows (and films) have.

 

 

 

Marvel: The Defenders Review

Starring Charlie Cox, Krysten Ritter, Mike Colter, Finn Jones and Sigourney Weaver.

Contains Minor Spoilers.

I should say before starting that I’m not a massive Marvel TV fan. I liked Jessica Jones, despite its overlong runtime, but thought Luke Cage was a wasted opportunity. I didn’t watch Iron Fist because it got savaged in reviews, nor Daredevil because the character doesn’t interest me (thanks, but if I want Vigilante Justice I’ll stick to Batman or Green Arrow). Ultimately though this wasn’t a massive problem (I read a brief summary of Iron Fist first and that sufficed) as all the plot points from Daredevil and Iron Fist are brought up during Defenders dialogue anyway, so its pretty easy to get up to speed. Obviously you’ll get more out of this if you’ve seen all four of its predecessors, but as long as you’ve watched at least 2 of them I’d say its perfectly accessible.

The other Marvel shows on Netflix suffered because they were 13 episodes long, at least 3 more than needed in both Jessica Jones and Luke Cage’s case. The Defenders solves this problem by only being 8 episodes long, and although it’s initially a slow-burner (you don’t see the 4 heroes all interacting together until episode 3 and 4) it feels appropriate. The interaction between the four is definitely the highlight: Luke and Danny make a surprising good pairing, while Jessica holds her own and remains the most stand-out of the four. Luke is far better here than he was on his own show (as Jessica Jones proved, Luke works better as a co-star rather than a leading man) and from what I’ve heard about Iron Fist Danny is similarly improved by being one amongst equals rather the focus of everything. Charlie Cox gives a fine performance as Daredevil, but his reluctance to get back in the suit is something we’ve seen again and again in Superhero stories (Spider-Man 2, Superman 2, The Dark Knight Rises, Arrow etc.) and makes him the least engaging to watch.

Several supporting characters return from the individual shows, though most don’t do an awful lot, with four exceptions: Foggy, Misty, Claire and Colleen. While Claire and Colleen merit more screen time than they get here, Misty’s presence brings back a few of the issues that dragged Luke Cage’s show down. The Police vs. vigilantes conflict is downright tiresome at this point, and Misty’s interactions with Jessica are just frustrating. The final episode renders the whole going above the law issue pointless, something which is irritating when you could have easily cut an episode’s worth of padding out without this plotline.

The villains suffice but don’t really steal the show the way David Tennant’s Kilgrave did in Jessica Jones. Sigourney Weaver is obviously good, but  her character is ultimately too sidelined in the second half (another problem familiar to Luke Cage fans) and the rest of ‘The Hand’, while getting a handful of cool fight scenes, aren’t much better. Speaking of fight scenes, this is where the Defenders soars. Several of the heroes clash with each other in beautifully choreographed sequences, while the group fights against the villains are also a treat, even if you never really believe the heroes are in danger (this is Marvel after all…). The direction as a whole is superb, and the show is nicely complimented by the musical score. The acting is consistently good, as is the production, but ultimately, like EVERY Marvel TV series, the writing lets things down a few too many times. The Defenders is better than Luke Cage and about equal to Jessica Jones, but falls short of DC shows like Arrow, Gotham or Legends of Tomorrow.

Overall its entertaining but carries over a few problems from previous series, and the last few episodes are riddled with plot holes. Classic Marvel: high on spectacle, low on substance, despite its pleasingly adult tone and superb direction.

Rating: 3.5 of 5

Given how good Jessica and Luke were here, I’ll keep going with their shows. Danny and Colleen were engaging enough that I may give Iron Fist a shot, but The Defenders didn’t change my opinion on Daredevil. Still not interested.

Ultimately while the Defenders is cool, Marvel still has a long way to go before they match DC on TV. This was a step forward though.

Game of Thrones: The Spoils of War Review

The Spoils of War by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS!!!!

WHAT. AN. EPISODE.

That final sequence was simply mind-blowing. Even though it was one of the shortest episodes in Thrones history, it could very well be the best we’ve had so far. Between another long awaited reunion, a fantastic duel between two of the shows most badass characters, Jon and Daenerys growing closer and THAT final battle, it had everything i’d want from an episode and more!

Before I get to the climatic battle, the earlier scenes are worth commenting on because of their own extremely high quality.

First, Arya’s return to Winterfell! Now Sansa and Arya never liked each other in season 1 (the last time they saw each other) so it made sense that their reaction to seeing each other alive was mutual relief and respect rather than unrestrained joy. Arya sparring with Brienne was fucking epic as well, loved every moment of it (especially Sansa’s WTF expression and Podrick’s glee at seeing Brienne sweat for once). Great fight choreography. Sansa (and Littlefinger, more worryingly) now have more of an idea of what Arya’s capable of, particularly after Bran revealed he knows about her kill list.

Bran is a dick. Though seeing him creep out Littlefinger (I.E. the creepiest motherfucker on Game on Thrones) was hilarious, him being cold to Meera after all she’s done for him was very, very cold. Bran was always one of the least interesting Starks (after Rickon) but he’s borderline unlikeable now – though him giving Arya his Valyrian steel dagger was a nice touch at least (money on Arya killing a White Walker has to be high now). It was just great seeing the three Starks reunited for the first time since Thrones’ first ever episode (yes – THAT long ago!), but it was also a reminder of how broken they all are; Arya’s turned into a smiling assassin who loves killing, Bran’s a cold shell of himself who has visions and Sansa’s only just turned a corner from all her trauma in seasons 1-5. Can’t wait for Jon to come back and complete the circle (even if Bran might ruin it by telling Jon who he really is!). Now Arya’s in the North that reunion with the Hound might be on the cards soon too. Could have don’t without the two dickish guards on the gate at Winterfell, whose sole purpose seemed to be a reminder that not all the Stark soldiers are nice guys (the same way Ed Sheeran’s crew in the premiere reminded us that not all Lannisters are heartless bastards – more on this later).

Meanwhile on Dragonstone the groundwork was being laid for the perhaps inevitable union between Jon and Dany. Jon: ‘She’s got a good heart’. Davos ‘Yes, I’ve seen you staring at her heart’ might have been one of the funniest one-liners we’ve got this series, and one which makes it clear Jon likes Daenerys. The one-liners were certainly out in force this episode [Daenerys: ‘What Happened?’ Missandei: ‘Many things ;)’ and Brienne: ‘Who taught you?’ Arya: ‘No one’ were just perfect]. Back to Jon and Dany; their scene in the cave (what is it with Jon and women in caves?) was sweet, and the fact that Daenerys now seems convinced about the White Walkers is a definite plus point – and her opinion of Jon seems to be improving – though for now it seems to be mostly respect rather than anything else. Jon’s brief confrontation with Theon seems to have placed these characters in an uneasy truce for now (Jon hasn’t forgiven Theon for betraying Robb, but spares him for Sansa’s sake) but didn’t really add much to the episode (that said it only lasted like 1 minute).

Before I get into the battle scene, I should note that this is the FIRST ever episode of Thrones Matt Shakman has directed. What a brilliant debut. This battle scene not only rivals Blackwater, the Battle for the Wall, Hardhome and the Battle of the Bastards – it comes mighty close to beating them (I might JUST prefer the Wall and Hardhome but its a mighty close thing – who’d have thought back in 2017 that Blackwater would have been surpassed not one but FOUR times? This show is incredible). The whole battle of Dothraki and Dragon vs. Lannisters was amazing, but there were two simply stupendous scenes (I’m running out of adjectives strong enough to convey how fucking good this was). First: Bronn vs. Drogon. Bronn man’s Qyburn’s Scorpion (a type of Ballista) and actually manages to wound the Dragon (whose plummet almost had me thinking Drogon had it). He hadn’t, but fortunately Bronn survived anyway. Tense and nerve-wracking, this was the first time Daenerys and her dragons had been pitted against a character we really cared about. And in typical Thrones style, the next bit was even more tense.

Still recovering from that last scene. Jaime knows the Lannisters have lost the battle. The Dothraki have overwhelmed them and they have no weapons left capable of killing a dragon. He could run. But he doesn’t. He charges down Daenerys while she’s trying to wrench that bolt out of Drogon. As Tyrion watching on comments ‘You idiot. You fucking idiot’. The music swells (Ramin Dwajadi is the best bloody composer on TV right now). Then Jaime and Daenerys lock eyes. Shivers. For one moment as he charges you think she’s dead – then Drogon swivels into view and Jaime looks certain to die – then Bronn crashes into him and knocks them both into the river. This has to be my favourite scene in the show so far – both Nikolas Coster-Waldau and Peter Dinklage knock it out of the park – and its probably Jaime’s best scene since his bathtime confession with Brienne in Season 3.

I could go on and on about how great this battle was, but more importantly, it does something no battle on the show has done so far. It pits characters the audience all care about against each other and forces them to finally pick a side. In every other battle on Thrones 99% of the viewers were on the same side (i.e. Tyrion vs. Stannis, Night’s Watch vs. the Wildlings, Jon vs. the Walkers and the Starks vs. Ramsay). I doubt that was the case here. Jaime and Bronn are fan-favourites – and they’re on what is almost certainly going to be the losing side this season. Supporting Dany means hoping they die instead at this point and supporting Jaime the opposite (its Thrones – Euron and Cersei won’t be the only two who die in the next 3 episodes – that would be a massive cop-out). That considered, this battle finally made me realise whose side I’m really on (apart from the Starks, but that’s a given – I’ve never felt much for the Lannisters or Targaryens).

I’ve never been a massive fan of Dany (I love Emilia Clarke, but Daenerys has been so irritating for half of her screentime, even if she was badass for the rest of it, that I’ve never wanted her to sit on the Iron Throne). Her arrogant demand that Jon bends the knee didn’t help (whose pride is the issue here Dany? You hypocrite!). But because Tyrion, Varys, Missandei, Jorah and Grey Worm are all characters I like, I thought I wanted her to beat the Lannisters. I’ve realised I don’t – I actually want Jaime, Bronn and even Cersei to win (or at least lose but kill Daenerys in the process). I realised this when Bronn faced down Drogon and I actually punched the air in triumph when he shot the dragon. And then when it looked like it was a clear choice between Jaime and Dany and I was willing him to kill her. I really don’t want him or Bronn to die. Even Sam’s brother Dickon seems like a nice guy. Yes, their side is flawed, but Daenerys is the one burning men alive (and we all know how the last leader who did that fared…) and leading a horde of pyschopaths (the Lannister/Tarly soldiers are a mix of good and bad led fighting for an evil queen – the Dothraki are far, far worse overall when you look at their history – even Khal Drogo wasn’t really the nicest guy). And Daenerys’ right to be on the throne comes from what? That she’s the daughter of the worst king in Westerosi history? No wonder Jon doesn’t want to Bend the Knee. Sure a lot of you disagree with me, but I just thought I’d point out how much the show could polarize its fanbase from this point forward.

Overall everything came together: the writing, the direction, the music, the effect and the acting combined to deliver what was, in my view, the best episode of Game of Thrones to date. If I could give it 6 stars for the last sequence alone, I would, even without the wonderful scenes at Winterfell and Dragonstone.

Rating: 5 out of 5!!!!

Next Time: Who the fuck cares, if its half as good as this I can’t wait!!!

So if we’re talking reality here, Jaime really should be dead (armour that heavy in water will almost always drown the person wearing it), but he probably isn’t – which means Bronn probably survived to, so someone could save Jaime. At least I hope so. It’s gonna be a long wait till next time!

50 min episode = my longest Thrones review. This show is anything but predictable.

 

Spider-Man: Homecoming Review

Spider-Man: Homecoming starring Tom Holland, Michael Keaton and Robert Downey Jr.

Warning: Minor Spoilers

Every actor has brought something different to the role of Spider-Man/Peter Parker. Tobey Maguire was a great Peter Parker but never completely convinced me as Spider-Man – apart from his brief turn to the dark side in Spider-Man 3. Andrew Garfield was immensely likeable as both but wasn’t really a great fit for Peter Parker – he has too much natural charm to play a socially awkward geek. Tom Holland was impressive in his brief civil war appearance, but Homecoming gives us a proper look at his take on both sides of the role. As Peter, he’s more believable in the role than Garfield and less wet than Maguire, while as Spider-Man he’s an improvement on Maguire but not quite as loveably cheeky as Garfield.

The script is nothing revolutionary, with a very familiar coming-of-age style plotline, but the dialogue is decent and downright hilarious in places. They’ve prevented this being too similar to previous entries – Harry Osborn and J. Jonah Jameson are nowhere to be seen, Peter has a love interest who isn’t Gwen or MJ and we (thankfully) don’t have to see Peter’s origin story or Uncle Ben’s death for a third bloody time. The direction is generally good, although the final fight between Spiderman and Vulture isn’t all that well shot. The soundtrack isn’t all that memorable. Its the tone of the thing where the film succeeds – the interplay between the cast is very good. Downey Jr. steals all the scenes he’s in (predictably) but is used sparingly enough that he doesn’t overshadow proceedings.

The one aspect the film nails completely is humour. Peter’s friends Ned and Michelle get most of the best lines, while Peter’s youthful ineptitude often raises a few laughs. I won’t go into detail because I don’t want to spoil anything – but its funnier than Guardians Vol. 2 was, so you should definitely go check it out for yourself.

In ways, this film feels like what an Iron Man 4 might have looked like. Between Tony’s significant role in events, Peter’s AI in his suit, a more ordinary villain whose interested in profit than world domination and appearances from Stark’s bodyguard Happy (Jon Favreau) and partner Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow). Given how much I don’t like the Iron Man trilogy (the villains were bland, Paltrow terrible and Favreau dull – Downey Jr. was the only good thing in them) I was surprised how little of an issue for me this was. But for several reasons Homecoming was considerably better than the Iron Man films; the support cast was better, the script was much more humorous, and the villain was considerably better acted. On that note…

Adrian Toombes/Vulture is a more grounded villain than we’ve seen in a long time. He doesn’t want to rule the world or destroy the Avengers – he simply wants to do right by his men and his family and give them comfortable lives. He also has something of a personal code – on two separate occasions in the film he spares/defends Spider-Man despite their rivalry because he has reasons to be personally grateful to him. He’s still a villain, but he’s a relatable one, and his hatred of the 1% like Stark and governments who prop them up probably struck a cord with some of the audience. That said, in other hands, he might not be all that memorable, but Michael Keaton brings a certain gravitas to the role, and while he isn’t spectacular, he has a certain understated intensity that works wonders. His henchmen are less memorable, though their alien weaponry allowed for some cool fights with Spider-Man, particularly his clashes with Shocker.

I liked how they chose Vulture and Shocker for the villains in this film – Spider Man has a huge rogues gallery (only Batman has a better one) but we’ve not seen that many of them in the 5 previous ones, so it was nice to see a different two here. The first post-credit scene also hints at the villain for the sequel, who will be another character we haven’t seen on screen before. Speaking of post-credit scenes, the second one is Marvel massively trolling the audience (kind of a more tongue in cheek version of Deadpool’s ‘why are you guys still here’). So its not exactly an essential one if you can’t be bothered waiting through the credits.

Overall I’d say this was one of the best Spider-Man films. Its funny, entertaining and well-acted, but isn’t perfect – the direction could be better, its a bit clichéd and predictable in places and Jon Favreau’s Happy is a complete waste of space. Still a very, very fun superhero movie though.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Marvel really has been full of surprises this year hasn’t it? I wasn’t expecting Guardians Vol. 2 to have the stronger storyline than Spider-Man or Spider-Man to be funnier than Guardians. Not only that but both films have had strong villains, and its been a long time since two Marvel films in a row have achieved that. Hope Thor: Ragnarok can keep the momentum going!