Monthly Archives: July 2015

Arrow Season 4: The Make or Break Season?

Warning: Spoilers for Series 1-3!

Every TV show gets to a point where it’s beginning to waver or viewing figures are declining and the next season is arguably a crucial one. Game of Thrones Season 5 was one, because it was adapting the weakest parts of the books, and despite a few stumbles, it came through unscathed and as good as ever. Homeland redeemed a weak third season with an excellent fourth run. Doctor Who Series 8 proved Moffat wasn’t done as showrunner just yet after the fanbase was beginning to tire of him. And now Arrow faces a 4th Season which has to repair the damage of season 3.

What went wrong last season? Several things – the side-villains who only appeared in one or two episodes, just weren’t as good as in previous seasons. Olicity (i.e. fan pairing of Oliver and Felicity) was badly-mishandled (what is it with DC and rubbish love interest storylines?) and too much time was spent on characters we don’t care about (Laurel… why hasn’t she been killed off yet???). The flashbacks have always been a mixed feature – but this season they were simply abysmal until the final few episodes. And most annoyingly of all – the main storyline, with Ra’s al Ghul and the league of Assassins, got dragged out far too much – it had some great moments ‘The Magician’ ‘The Climb’, ‘Nanda Parbat’, ‘The Offer’, ‘Al-Saheem’ ‘This is Your Sword’ and ‘My Name is Oliver Queen’ were arguably the best episodes of the season – but everything else either felt like filler or a slow burner building up to these episodes – and when you’re talking 23 episode seasons, it’s a serious problem if 2/3 of them either aren’t addressing the main storyline or aren’t moving it forward enough.

Not to say the other episodes were bad – Arrow has never delivered an episode I’d give less than 3.5/5 to. But the problem was that not only were they a step back from the astronomic high of season 2 (where I’d give almost every episode 4.5 or 5/5) but that Flash did such a better job in it’s first season. For the first third of the seasons, the two shows were equal as Flash started to find it’s feet, but in the remainder Flash was better than Arrow almost every week without fail. Why? It’s more light-hearted tone was far less draining than Arrow’s most sombre season yet, with far more comedy moments to alleviate the tension. It also had better guest villains (helped by the fact most of them had super-powers, which makes even a bland villain watchable) and a more compelling main villain (which they integrated into the season far more effectively). Arrow Season 3 in many ways reminded me of Merlin‘s final season – the individual episode quality was high, but overall the season was too frustrating and drawn out to be satisfactory. So what should Arrow do in season 4?

1. Be less bleak: Arrow was simply too draining last season – from ‘the Climb’ onwards the tone was consistently dark and the characters rarely had a moment of relief. Killing one of the main characters in the opening episode, one of the most popular recurring villains late season, fake killing both the main character mid-season and his support team in the penultimate episode… plus killing and then resurrecting another one of the main characters… you get the idea – and while this gave us some great cliffhangers it was too emotionally draining to watch and set a too sombre tone for the entire season. Barring characters like Felicity’s Mum and villain Cupid there wasn’t a whole lot of comic relief either to alleviate the tension between the main characters. This needs fixing next season, and fortunately the showrunners have already indicated season 4 will have a somewhat lighter tone attached.

2. A more compelling main villain: Deathstroke and Malcolm Merlyn were great villains. Ra’s al Ghul was a good villain but lacked links to any characters save Nyssa and Malcolm, and hence wasn’t as effective as either of them. H.I.V.E. (the company that killed Diggle’s brother) and Ra’s old enemy, Damien Darhk, are being lined up for next season, but I’m hoping they have a more renowned supervillain tucked away – the season could use something that isn’t a faceless military group (like General Sharif’s men in the Hong Kong flashbacks…) or else it risks being a let-down.

3. Better Side-Villains: Can Flash lend Arrow some Meta-humans? (Ideally more interesting ones than Deadbolt). Flash’s rogues gallery was pretty impressive, and would certainly present a different kind of challenge to Oliver. I’ve got my fingers crossed the Trickster might make an appearance as well (just because it’s Mark Hamill – villain of the season on Flash? He came very close). Otherwise we could be relying on a returning villain: is it time for Huntress or the Clock King to return? Shame they killed off Count Vertigo (the replacement Vertigo was a real let-down) – but could Deadshot still be alive? Here’s hoping!

4. Kill Laurel: Seriously. It would solve an awful lot of problems and please 99% of the fanbase. Just do it!

5. No more crap romance plots: Let Olicity work – the two characters have enough chemistry not to need drama to be interesting. Diggle and Layla managed it. Don’t give Thea a new boyfriend – Thea is a good character but it would seriously lessen Roy’s exit if she immediately moves on.

6. Either Give Us Decent Flashbacks or Just Scrap them: Flashbacks worked well in Season 2 and the Second Half of Season 1. Because they were relevant to the main storyline. In season 3 the Hong Kong flashbacks were mostly irrelevant till the last 3 episodes where everything came together. However they were very good when Oliver wasn’t the focus – flashbacks into Deadshot’s past or showing us how Malcolm Merlyn joined the League of Assassins were interesting – so maybe limit it to flashbacks for villains or simply give Oliver something more interesting to do next season – maybe with the Russian Bratva? That’s the only part of his five years they haven’t shown yet that could be interesting…

Game Review: Batman: Arkham Knight

Batman: Arkham Knight starring the voices of Kevin Conroy as Batman and John Noble as Scarecrow.

Warning: Major Spoilers for Arkham City and Minor Spoilers for Arkham Knight

This is it. The big one. The Finale. The entire Arkham series has built towards this point. From the very first line in the game you know its significance – ‘this is the night the Batman died’ says Commissioner Gordon – so one way or another, it’s clear Batman will lose in some way, either his life, his allies or his secret are going to be over by the end of the game. Knight does a great job of throwing red herrings throughout the game, there’s one moment shockingly early on where the game actually succeeds in making you believe the Bat’s had it – and another 2/3 of the way through where it looked like you might spend the remainder having to play as Robin or Nightwing. Arkham Knight is the first game in the series where the Joker isn’t the main villain, due to his death at the end of Arkham City, but Scarecrow proves an effective replacement – he always seems two steps ahead of Batman in a way the Joker never was in the preceding three games. You will also spend half (or more) of the game trying to work out who the titular Arkham Knight is – because it predictably isn’t an original character beneath that mask – I guessed who it was roughly at the halfway point, but only because i knew the comics. There were a lot of theories before release (i advise that you don’t read them, working it out for yourself is better) and again the game has a red herring or two thanks to Scarecrow’s hallucinations, but the reveal is worth waiting for.

Is the Joker Back? In one way yes, as Scarecrow’s fear gas causes Batman to repeatedly hallucinate Joker’s presence, and there’s another reason that the clown turns up so often (but it’s too spoilerly to mention) so don’t worry Joker fans, if you wanted him to be back so badly, you only had to ask… Scarecrow gets some fun bonus ‘Nightmare missions’ dlc in addition to being the main villain, probably to make up for the fact there isn’t a boss fight with him in the main game (instead you get one mind-bending sequence in Batman’s mind where he battles Joker one last time). The Arkham Knight however, appears for three boss fights, of which the first, in which he commands a heavily armoured tank and multiple escort drones against the outgunned batmobile, is the best and the most tense. The second fight (where he uses an armoured drill vehicle to chase the Batmobile through some tunnels) is less fun, and requires near perfect mastery of your ability to drive the car, but feels like it is killing time until the reveal (if they dragged it out any longer it wouldn’t work, the final third of the game loses too much intensity after the first boss fight and only regains it in the final section where Scarecrow captures Robin). The third boss fight is a multi-stage predator battle against the Knight, his identity now revealed, but isn’t as good as you’d expect for the final battle.

The game mechanics are largely unchanged, but there are a couple of decent additions such as the environment takedowns in combat (such as Batman slamming opponents into electrical generators to instantly knock them out), the ability to wield melee weapons like baseball bats temporarily in combat, and new ‘fear takedowns’ which allow Batman to takedown multiple foes in rapid succession if undetected, which is extremely useful in predator combat. However, while the game provides a good level of hand-to-hand combat sections, there isn’t as many predator sections as I’d like, mainly because of the over-emphasis placed on the batmobile. It’s integrated into most parts of the game – boss fights, riddler trophies etc. – you’ll probably spend around a third of the game in the thing either racing through the streets or battling the unmanned tank drones controlled by the Arkham Knight. However you spend so long in the batmobile that some of the elements that made the previous 3 games great, such as the predator sections and on foot boss fights, are neglected.

Many other supervillains are back as well, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn crop up in the main storyline, but its the side missions that excel. As well as teaming up with Nightwing to take down Penguin and stopping Two-Face from robbing Gotham’s various banks, several new villains, such as Man-Bat, Deacon Blackfire and Professor Pyg (no i hadn’t heard of those last two either!) make appearances. None of the new villains are that interesting save for Man-Bat, but their side quests are nevertheless good. The main side quest yet again is Riddler, who has kidnapped Catwoman and placed a bomb collar on her neck, forcing you to complete 9 challenges throughout the game (both on foot and with the batmobile) to rescue her – some of the batmobile races are really tough though! In addition, there are still plenty of Riddler trophies scattered about the place needing collecting and for anyone still claiming Origins doesn’t count as a true Arkham game, i’m happy to report this game proves you wrong by including the two characters whose boss fights were the highlight of Origins: Deathstroke and Firefly – though both of them have boss fights involving the Batmobile – which is fine for Firefly, but it’s disappointing not to be able to have a rematch hand-to-hand with Deathstroke after the vehicle combat. Some villains are conspicous by their absence (notably Bane and Mr. Freeze don’t appear, having been so prominent in the previous games) but given how much dlc is on the way, i guess this may be deliberate and that they’ll turn up eventually. The existing DLC includes the Red Hood and Harley Quinn episodes, which are fun but far too short – but getting the Red Hood version of the game gets you these and the Scarecrow Nightmares for £5 extra, so they are worth it.

Overall the game is a must buy for Batman fans and is another decent Arkham game, but an over-emphasis on the batmobile, a few weak boss fights and one or two overlong quests prevent it from being as perfect as I’d hoped. Now can DC give us a movie version of this series please? All 4 games have been cinematic material and the storylines up there with the Dark Knight Trilogy – it’d be worth it!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

So what is the best Arkham game?

Best Tone/Atmosphere/Setting: Arkham Asylum
Best Predator/Combat maps: Arkham City
Best Soundtrack/Best Gameplay: Arkham Origins
Most intense/Best Side Missions: Arkham Knight

Best Game: Arkham City (with Arkham Origins a VERY narrow second)

Game Review: Batman: Arkham Origins (PS3)

Batman: Arkham Origins starring Roger Craig Smith as Batman and Troy Baker as the Joker.

Warning: Spoilers!

I’ve finished Arkham Knight, but for the sake of completionism, here’s my review of the previous game in the series: Arkham Origins.

Arkham Origins takes place 5 years before Asylum when Batman (this time voiced by Roger Craig Smith) is beginning his crime fighting career – and features his first encounters with adversaries Bane, Penguin, Riddler, Killer Croc and the Joker. The plot is thus: crimelord Black Mask puts a bounty of 50 million on Batman’s head, leading to 8 assassins (Killer Croc, Electrocutioner, Deathstroke, Deadshot, Shiva, Firefly, Copperhead and Bane) arriving in Gotham trying to collect the prize. Herein lies one of Arkham Origins’ strengths – it has the best boss fights of any game in the series (Asylum’s were generally disappointing, City’s varied in quality a lot and Knight’s are equally variable). The battles with Firefly and Bane are two of the highlights in the series, and the fight with Deathstroke is easily the most difficult (a good reason to do your first playthrough on easy!). These may not be the most famous Batman villains, but they all add something to the game.

The game lacks the atmosphere of Asylum and the tension of City, but it’s storyline is gripping nonetheless. SPOILER WARNING (skip to next paragraph if you care – though the main twist is predictable). This is mainly due to the Joker plot. Black Mask is the main villain? No he isn’t (thank God, as he has no depth whatsoever and was wisely relegated to a side mission at the game’s halfway point) – instead it is revealed that he was being impersonated by Joker, who hired the assassins and then begins to become obsessed with Batman after the Bat saved his life. Troy Baker is great as Joker, playing him similar enough to Mark Hamill that the two characters are believably from the same series, but far enough away to leave his own mark on the character. The game is also the only game in the series (unless Knight has some DLC which changes this) to give us a great version of Bane. His Boss fight is great, and the character is the secondary villain and is fleshed out to an extent only the Dark Knight Rises has achieved (but with a traditional take on the brute).

The game also makes the best use of Batman’s ‘detective mode’, although that said some of the detective bits are slightly too long. The stealth predator sections have the exact same gameplay (barring one new gadget) as Arkham City, but it does improve the hand-to-hand combat sections, with new enemy types such as ninjas, who are immune to certain types of attacks, and Bane’s venom henchmen adding a bit more challenge to the combat sections. The predator maps are decent (better than Asylum’s, worse than City’s) so you can easily lose a few more hours on those. The Riddler sections are the least interesting of the four games, however, although it is worth doing them to unlock extra audio files on the games characters with a wealth of easter eggs for Batman fans. Penguin and Mad Hatter also have side missions that show Batman’s first encounters with them, but the majority of side missions are simply ways of killing time between main missions – the only one which leaves a lasting impression is newcomer Anarky, who has placed bombs around the city in an attempt to kill Gotham’s most corrupt (the bankers, the police the politicians etc.)This game, being larger than Asylum and City, also introduces fast travel, which can save you a lot of time.

The downloadable content, Cold, Cold Heart takes place a week later and focuses on Batman’s first encounter with Mr. Freeze, and is worth buying. Fans will recognise the comic-book storyline it is based on, and the final boss fight with Freeze is similarly challenging to the one in Arkham City, with Batman having to use multiple stealth takedowns to defeat the heavily armed Freeze.

Overall the gameplay is the best in the series with good boss fights and a gripping story. A lack of innovation and some by-the-numbers side missions are the two issues that prevent it surpassing City.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
DLC Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Next Time: My Review of Arkham Knight is finally here as the Batman’s story reaches its end…

Article: Which Batman film is the best?

With the much anticipated Batman vs. Superman out tomorrow it is inevitable it will be compared to previous DC films, especially the Batman and Superman ones, as well as the Avengers films. But in terms of Batman films, what does it have to live up to? (and what should it avoid?)

Warning: Minor Spoilers for the Dark Knight Trilogy, Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher Batman films.

Note this list will not include Adam West’s feature length Batman from the 60’s for two reasons: 1. I haven’t seen it and 2. the Joel Schumacher films are campy enough – i have no desire to see the infamous 60’s version as well. While some of the animated films are good enough to make this list there are far too many to include (and i’ve only watched half of them) – but if you want to give any a try go for The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 and 2 (Part 2 has elements that will probably be used in Batman vs. Superman as well) or Under the Red Hood. But now on to the question itself: which is the best Batman film?

7th (Last). Batman and Robin: Oh dear. Bad place to start but none of the others (thankfully) come close to the franchise-killing travesty that was Batman and Robin. It was a miracle George Clooney’s career survived this mess. He actually isn’t bad as Bruce Wayne, but he really coasts through playing Batman and is the worst of the actors to play the role. Mind you, he delivers a masterful performance compared to Robin and Batgirl. Alicia Silverstone is so out of place as Barbara that you wonder if she walked on set accidently, while anyone who gets through this film without wanting to kill Robin (Chris O’Donnell) has the patience of a saint. The film also manages to ruin two of the most iconic Batman villains: Mr. Freeze and Bane. Uma Thurman manages to make the seductive Poison Ivy watchable (though still too camp and OTT) but Arnie was always the wrong choice for Freeze. One-Liners abound through this film and are totally inapproriate for one of the more serious and tragic Batman villains, while Bane is reduced to a monosyllabic henchman with half a brain. A subplot involving Alfred dying from the same disease Freeze’s wife is afflicted by is probably the only plus-point, as it briefly gives Michael Gough (Alfred) and George Clooney some decent material. Joel Schumacher – you really f*cked this one up! If you’re curious watch the 20 minute cinemasins version – it’s far less painful!

Rating: 1 out of 5. The lowest score i’ve ever given on my reviews, for it’s value as a comedy (after a few drinks preferably) – for a serious Batman film it would get 0.

6. Batman Forever: Joel Schumacher’s first attempt contained many warning signs, but avoided falling over the cliff entirely as it’s successor did. The villains are just as OTT, but thankfully they avoid speaking in puns the whole time, and Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones make Riddler and Two-Face a hilarious combination to watch (if not to take seriously). Robin isn’t quite as annoying in this film, and Val Kilmer tries harder (admittedly with better material) than George Clooney to give a memorable performance, but ultimately neither of the dynamic duo are as likeable or badass as they should have been, and this hampers the film. Kilmer’s romance with Nicole Kidman’s Dr. Chase Meridian is by the numbers, but Kidman is far from the worst superhero love interest DC has given us. The best scene is Two Face’s murder of Robin’s family – the only time the film comes close to provoking a response from the audience that isn’t laughter or embarassing groans. Speaking of embarrassing – why the hell does the Batsuit have rubber nipples on it??? While this is watchable for laughs again, those serious Batman fans might want to opt for the cinemasins version. (Again plus 20 mins – never a good sign).

Rating: 3 out of 5. Again best approached as a comedy, fortunately the Riddler is a villain that can be used this way without ruining the character. Two-face fares less well, but Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey are undeniably funny and you won’t be bored.

5. Batman (1989). The original and Tim Burton’s first effort, this has a very film noir feel about it with a distinct gothic undertone – it’s mostly a brooding character piece with touches of romance and action. Not for fans of Blockbuster superhero films, but comic book fans will appreciate its characterisation of Joker and Batman. The supporting cast is great, Danny Elfman delivers a good soundtrack (bizarrely combined with songs by Prince – which somehow works…) Nicholson’s intrepretation of the Joker is by turns darkly captivating and insanely OTT, but it stands up with Hamill’s and Ledger’s as a class performance – what version Leto gives us will be interesting to find out. Michael Keaton remains the best ‘Bruce Wayne’ from any of the films but his Batman isn’t as good as Christian Bale’s. Kim Basinger is easily one of the best love interests Bruce gets, and while she does revert to damsel-in-distress at times, she’s got more depth than many of her rivals- not as good as Katie Holmes or Michelle Pfeiffer but a mile better than Nicole Kidman or Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Rating: 4 out of 5. A weird combination of prince songs, Jack Nicholson and trademark Tim Burton gothic drama deliver a good Batman film, if an unusual one.

4. Batman Returns: The best of the original four, this film gives us a masterclass in handling multiple villains which only Batman Begins (out of ALL the DC superhero films) has matched – Danny Devito’s Penguin is a repulsive, unstable yet calculating villain who nearly but not quite matches Nicholson’s Joker. Christopher Walken (if there was there ever a man born to play villains it’d be this guy) gives a chilling, cold yet OTT performance as Max Shreck, and Michelle Pfeiffer remains my favourite version of Catwoman (even if Burton takes certain liberties with her character’s abilities) – Burton, Keaton and Elfman all return to make this a classy sequel. If only Burton had done the following sequels instead of Schumacher, this list could have looked quite different.

Rating: 4 out of 5. Only weak action sequences and the bizarre March of the Penguins sequence (you have to watch it to get what I mean) let it down.

3. The Dark Knight: No that wasn’t a misprint. I didn’t leave Rises off the title – The Dark Knight is a fantastic film and Ledger knocks it out of the park with Joker – but it’s my least favourite of the Dark Knight Trilogy (which isn’t saying much – I love all three of them). Leto’s biggest problem is living up to Ledger, but while Ledger is amazing and gives us by far the most unique Joker interpretation, there are other parts of this film. And those parts have issues. The major issue is Maggie Gyllenhaal putting in a strong call for worst Batman love interest – she lacks any charisma with Bale, and her romance with Harvey is more irritating than touching – i have to partially blame the otherwise faultless scriptwriters for this. But the biggest problem is it feels like she’s playing an entirely different character from Katie Holmes’ Rachel in the first film – the character’s depth and strength is gone, and her romance with Harvey Dent is only there to help create Two-Face and create emotional trauma for Batman. The other issue is the change in atmosphere – Begins and Rises were on the same wavelength but Knight has a very different tone – and i simply don’t prefer it’s approach. It is the most modern/realistic Batman film, the supporting cast are all brilliant (apart from Gyllenhaal) but it veers too far from its predecessor for it to be my favourite.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5. If Katie Holmes had stayed as Rachel, this would get a 5 (and maybe be top of the list).

2. The Dark Knight Rises: It was very hard to split the final two. But this films plot holes and the fact i couldn’t think of a weakness in Begins means it just falls short of the top spot. Tom Hardy reinvents the character of Bane and redeems the character assassination he suffered in Batman and Robin. Anne Hathaway is decent as Catwoman, Marion Cotillard is perfect as Talia and Joseph Gordon-Levitt does the impossible in making Robin cool. The final hour is utterly perfect and the RISE section in the pit and the Batman/Bane fight sequences have a strong contention for best moments of the trilogy. Scarecrow’s cameo and the final scene with Alfred are nice touches. I know there are plot holes in the second half – but no one cares about the many, many ones in the Avengers series so cut Rises some slack people. A rousing, bold, bombastic soundtrack from Hans Zimmer is the icing on the cake.

Rating: 5 out of 5! Screw the plot holes, i love this film and its getting a 5!

1. Batman Begins: My favourite superhero film – from either DC or Marvel. Unless they base a film on the Arkham games i doubt i’ll ever prefer anything to it. The characterisation of Gordon (Gary Oldman), Alfred (Michael Caine), Bruce (Bale), Lucius (Morgan Freeman) and Rachel (a wonderful Katie Holmes – note to Arrow – this is what love interests should be like!) is spot on perfect. Liam Neeson is a memorable Ra’s al Ghul with excellent support from Cillian Murphy as Scarecrow and Tom Wilkinson as Carmine Falcone. Aside from the acting, Nolan is brilliant as director, Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard create a memorable score and the action sequences (particularly the fight in Wayne Manor and the final train fight) are top notch.

Rating: 5 out of 5! Origin story perfection, no wonder they basically used its formula for Man of Steel! Honestly can’t think of a single flaw?

Ben Affleck clearly has a lot to live up to! Fingers crossed Dawn of Justice can match the Dark Knight Trilogy (as big an ask as that is!).