Author Archives: knightrider42

Article: Why the Flash has become the worst of the DC TV shows.

From Hero to Zero

Warning: Contains Spoilers for seasons 1-3 of The Flash and Seasons 4/6 of Arrow

It’s generally been a good year for the DC TV shows. Legends of Tomorrow, Gotham and Black Lightning have all had great seasons. Supergirl’s third season has so far been by far the strongest in the shows history. Even Arrow managed to have a strong end to an otherwise bland and uninspired run. But while reviewers have hit arrow hard, its arguably the Flash that deserves the most scorn.

The flash’s first season back in 2014/15 was one of the strongest the Arrowverse had ever delivered. The first half of season two kept that momentum going, but then things started to go downhill after the mid-season break. Zoom didn’t work as a lead villain once he took his mask off, and the Earth-2 dopplegangers were so thinly drawn and one-note I don’t know why they bothered with them. Still, while not a triumph, season 2 still had plenty of good to balance out one or two issues. Then season three happened. Flashpoint remains the moment the Flash lost something it could never recover: quality and fanbase goodwill. It was done TERRIBLY and made Barry far, FAR too unlikable. But that was only the tip of the iceberg.

Season 3 had a multitude of problems. H.R. was the least interesting Wells incarnation and took a long time to come into his own. Too many filler episodes were bland and were merely used to drag out the season’s main plot far longer than it deserved. The whole ‘Gorilla City’ two-parter ended on a whimper rather than an adrenaline rush. Jessie was completely wasted in a thankless role that mainly revolved around being Wally’s love interest, despite looking far more capable as a speedster than either Wally or Barry at times. The Killer Frost plotline was predictable, lacked nuance and was resolved far too easily in the season finale. And then we have Savitar. The reveal of his identity took far too long, which backfired as, by the time it happened, we’d all worked out who he was anyway. Not to mention he was the third speedster villain in a row, which led to a whole feeling of ‘really, again?’ about proceedings. Not to mention his grand plan made even less sense than Zoom’s, which is saying something. Don’t get me wrong, season 3 had some great episodes (The Present, Dead or Alive, The Wrath of Savitar, Duet and Infantino Street) but it also had a finale that sucked so badly, that I gave up on the show.

I kept an eye on reviews of season 4 to see if was worth giving the show another shot. The reviews seemed unanimous – no it wasn’t. Even though there were clearly some good episodes, clips I’ve seen and the plot summaries clearly show the key issues I have with the show are either still there or have got worse, and even Den of Geek, who defended Season 3, seem to have lost patience. Hence why for the first time, the Flash must be considered the worst DC show on TV. And this can be blamed on 5 separate issues:

1. The Quality of the Villains dropped. 

The Flash did such a good job on its villains in Season 1 and 2 that it was always going to be hard to maintain that standard (Arrow has sometimes struggled with this as well but not to the same extent). Just think of S1 and S2’s villains: Reverse-Flash, Captain Cold, Weather Wizard, The Trickster, Gorilla Grodd. They were all great beyond measure. Sure, Zoom stopped being threatening the instant his mask came off, but he was an exception. Name one villain of the same quality in S3 or S4? Struggling? While Savitar and Devoe have clearly both had their moments, there wasn’t a single stand-out showing from the one-off or support villains. Mirror Master and Abracadabra disappointed, and the show seems to have run out of good villains from the comics to introduce. It’s not the showrunners fault that some of its best villains are no longer available (Snart’s become an anti-hero, the Reverse-Flash has been used too much for any major further appearances, Mark Hamill has been too busy with Star Wars to play the Trickster etc.) but its clear both that the Flash’s original villains have a tendency to run out of steam (Grodd’s S3 story was rubbish and he was beaten far too easily by Solivar) and that these villains work better on Legends of Tomorrow. I honestly don’t know how the Flash can fix this problem, but I’d have two main suggestions: 1. cut the episode number from 23 to 16/17 so there’s less weak filler episodes with throwaway villains. 2. Have more than one main villain per season. Then their plot won’t get stretched out so much.

2. Killer Frost has been severely mishandled

I wasn’t a fan of Earth-2 killer frost. She was a pretty one-note character who seemed to just be evil for the sake of it. So when Caitlin’s KF persona started manifesting on Earth-1, I hoped they might do it in a more nuanced way. While the first few episodes looked promising, once Killer Frost fully emerged she was exactly the same as her Earth-2 counterpart. This could still have worked if the show had shown the battle between the two personas in a more interesting way that just flicking between them when the plot called for it (for example, how Ed Nygma has struggled with his Riddler persona on Gotham). If Gotham has done a more convincing character arc than you, you know you’ve really f*cked this plotline up. Add in the predictable and all too easy change of heart Killer Frost had in the S3 finale, which was entirely unjustified (Arrow did a far better job of this in S6 with Black Siren, whose shifts in allegiance played out over several episodes and wasn’t always predictable). Again, if Arrow season 6 did something better than you… Season 4 hasn’t fixed the shows Killer Frost problem, and at this point I’m not sure they can – they made her too much of a pantomime/cartoon villain at the start for her to work effectively as a character now.

3. The show doesn’t use its supporting characters well

There’s a reason Wally buggered off to Legends of Tomorrow (where Keiynan Lonsdale has seemed far happier). He had so little to do since becoming a speedster other than back-up Barry, get beaten by Savitar and hang out with Jessie. The character was being wasted on the Flash, because the writers couldn’t figure out what to do with him. Jessie has had similarly short shift, appearing only in a few guest appearances that haven’t done her justice – her abilities as a speedster are clearly strong, so why they don’t bring her in more often (or at least let her be part of the crossovers) is beyond me. Again, the writers clearly don’t know what they’re doing with her character. It’s also becoming noticeable that the writers flat out refuse to ever kill one of the main cast (Barry, Iris, Joe, Cisco or Caitlin) so its always the supporting characters that get chopped, because the show clearly regards them as expendable (see Eddie, Ronnie, Henry Allen and H.R.). This leads to the supporting characters being chopped and changed too often for any of them to have a lasting impact or stronger character development. Even if they aren’t killed off, promising supporting characters are often written out despite being more interesting than the main cast (i.e. Patty and Julian, both of whom brought some fun and tension to the show that it badly needed but no longer possesses). I mean, I know Tom Felton probably has other things to do, but he was the best thing in season 3, so to lose him so quickly and without a proper send-off was downright annoying.

4. Barry has caused too much suffering to be a likeable lead anymore

The list of people who’ve died either for Barry or because of him is too long: – Eddie, his parents, Ronnie, H.R., Cisco’s brother. Not to mention all of the lives he impacted adversely with Flashpoint. Barry has never really paid the price for all that suffering, which is why season 3’s ending was so misguided. Had Barry lost Iris, it would have been the perfect reminder that Barry’s actions have consequences. It might have allowed the show to shake up the character in a big way. Instead, H.R. took the fall and Barry carried on as normal (his visible relief that it was H.R. not Iris REALLY pissed me off – that’s at least the 3rd person to sacrifice themselves to save you Barry, which is at least 2 too many). Barry doesn’t deserve a happy ending when so many others have lost theirs because of him. If Iris had died and he’d changed his ways (and then eventually gotten over it, perhaps ending up with Patty instead, it would have been far more interesting).

5. Iris.

I deliberately left Iris till last so this article doesn’t just get dismissed as another Iris hate forum. But even hardcore fans of the show have to realise, Iris has driven away a LOT of the fanbase. Even Laurel and Felicity on Arrow aren’t this annoying. But at least Laurel and Felicity’s roles on Arrow have always made sense. Laurel was a kick-ass lawyer and eventually trained herself into becoming a somewhat capable vigilante, but not one who ever magically became anywhere near as capable as Roy, Diggle or Thea, who’d all had much better training. Felicity has always been the super-hacker the team needs to get sh*t done, as well as trying to be the (irritating but necessary) voice of reason who keeps the team together. Both characters become more annoying over time, but both had character arcs that made sense.

Iris’ character arc has never made sense. Her initial role as a journalist/Eddie’s girlfriend worked well enough, but the whole journalist thing was never embraced in a convincing way after S2 (say as Kara’s is on Supergirl, where her human job has played a significant role at times). Worse, while Iris had plenty of chemistry with Eddie, she has rarely had as much with Barry, which undermines their whole relationship (I’m not blaming the actors – Grant Gustin and Candice Patton do what they can, but it rarely convinces). Her becoming the leader of Team Flash was the nail in the coffin. It smacks of being a girl-power statement rather than making any narrative sense (and I’m all for girl-power – Legends and Supergirl both have it in spades, but the difference that Sara, Amaya, Kara and Alex have all earned their roles as Captain/Superheroes/Secret Agent. They own those roles and make sense in them. Iris doesn’t and has never justified her elevation to such a role). It also smacks of just giving the character something to do rather than just be Barry’s fiancé/wife, which is fine, but she really should have just focused on the journalism, which would have made a lot more sense.

Finally, the big problem with Iris stems from the fact that Barry literally has more chemistry with virtually every other female cast member on the Flash. Him and Patty were perfect, him and Caitlin had a spark in S1, him and Kara were adorable in the crossovers and even Felicity would have worked better as a love interest. You can’t credibly pair up Barry and Iris in this scenario – the writers have only done it to be in line with the comics, not because its what’s best for the series.

Ultimately, I doubt I’ll ever go back to the Flash at this point except for crossover episodes. Unless they bring Julian back or kill Iris off, neither of which I can see happening, I don’t see the show improving enough to be worth the effort. Arrow may be on thin ice at the moment, but the Flash has already sunk into the depths, which is a crying shame.

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Avengers: Infinity War Review

Starring Josh Brolin, Robert Downey Jr., Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana and Chris Hemsworth. (I’m not listing all of them or we’d be here all day).

Warning: Full Spoilers. Only read if you’ve already watched the film or don’t care about spoilers.

Infinity War had a LOT of expectation riding on it. How could it not? It’s the centrepiece of Marvel’s ‘phase 3′. It’s made by the Russo Brothers, who produced Winter Soldier and Civil War, two of the best Marvel films to date. It has the largest cast of any superhero film to date. It finally, FINALLY had a villain who might just be an opponent deserving of the Avengers’ attention. It’s predictably braking all sorts of box office records. But does it live up to the hype? Answer: mostly.

Is it a fun, really entertaining film? Yes.

Is Thanos a great villain? Hell yes!

Will it surprise you in any way? I doubt it.

Is it the best ever Marvel film? No.

Let me go into a bit more detail. The film looks great, and the vast number of different locations, some new (like Titan, Thanos’ homeworld), some familiar (like Knowhere from Guardians 1), are all brilliantly created and all have a suitably different feel from each other. It is really nice to see a superhero film that only spends 10 minutes in New York, not the whole bloody runtime. The direction is pretty flawless, and the fight scenes are all very well choreographed (a refreshing change, as the fight scenes in Spider-man and to a lesser extent Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther were not particularly great). The script is full of witty lines and seems to know when to dial down the humour (though there’s still a few too many quips mid-fight scene) and the plot is straightforward enough that you can probably follow it as long as you’ve seen at least half the previous avengers films. The only letdown on the production side is the soundtrack, but that’s what happens when you hire Alan Silvestri. Given the number of good composers Marvel has used for its 19 films, why they picked him is beyond me. The score is very generic, and not remotely memorable. It serves its purpose during the action scenes, but does nothing to heighten the tension and really fails to hammer home the impact of the various death scenes or the ending sequence.

Superhero team-ups always get a LOT of mileage from seeing the various heroes or hero groups interact. Seeing Iron Man, Thor and Cap meet up and lock horns for the first time was one of the best things about the original Avengers, and its the same story here, as the two factions from civil war regroup and meet Doctor Strange and the Guardians of the Galaxy for the first time. Watching Star-Lord and Tony Stark bicker or Thor bonding with Rocket Raccoon was fantastic, as was seeing the developing relationships between Quill and Gamora and Vision and Scarlet Witch. Not all the characters got a huge chance to shine (mostly the ones who survived the ending, which is understandable as you’d expect them to have a large role in Avengers 4) but it was very nice to see some of the supporting characters come to the fore. War Machine and Falcon had some particularly epic fight scenes, while Beneditch Cumberbatch was stealing every scene he was in as Doctor Strange (who came off much better here, interacting with others, than he did in his own movie) helped by some spectacular magical moves done by him and Wong.

So the fun’s still there. Let’s move on to Thanos and the Black Order. The problem both previous avengers films (and most marvel films in general) have had is that the villains haven’t been that engaging, and the heroes have all too often found themselves facing easily defeatable CGI armies (let’s be honest, the Chitauri sucked and Ultron’s minions were weak as hell). This film finally broke the mold. Thanos’ minions actually provided some genuine challenge to the Avengers (though predictably still couldn’t kill any of them). That said, Cull Obsidian, Ebony Maw, Proxima Midnight and Corvus Glaive (none of which are referred to by name) were suitably menacing and physically imposing enough to provide a challenge that the avengers needed before Thanos shows up.

Moving on to Thanos himself, Josh Brolin gives a powerhouse of a performance to establish Thanos as one of the all-time great supervillains of cinema. Thanos is mutli-faceted, layered and has the depth that so many Marvel villains have lacked. He isn’t entirely unsympathetic either, despite the devastation he causes in this film, and his motives are actually well explained and understandable, which was always my biggest worry about him. He needed a better reason than lust-for-power or petty vengeance, which have been done to death at this point, and the writers delivered. The infinity stones gave him some pretty cool abilities too, which helped the fight scenes immeasurably. Thanos beating down Hulk and holding his own against entire groups of heroes at a time really helped establish him as a credible, juggernaut of a threat. The visible increase in his power with each additional infinity stone was equally well done. It was particularly nice to see his relationship with Gamora fully explored, which gave Brolin and Saldana some great material to work with. While Guardians had delved into this to an extent, it helps explain the edge Gamora’s character had at the beginning and gives Thanos some extra depth as a character.

So we have a great, well developed, villain with actual depth. So why doesn’t this film work perfectly? Because of the way the MCU works. There’s little to no point killing characters we know have to return for Guardians 3 or the Doctor Strange, Black Panther and Spider-Man sequels. Notice how every character who dies in the final sequence is one almost certain to be resurrected in the sequel. That makes it kind of hard to feel anything about the film’s cliffhanger. Aside from Vision, Loki and Heimdall, I doubt anyone who died in this film will stay dead. If say, Stark, Thor or Cap had disintegrated i’d feel a lot more sad and concerned (because their contracts are all up after Avengers 4 so there’s no gurantees they’d be back). Equally, you can’t really have the MCU carry on as normal with half the universe wiped out – humour based flicks like Ant-Man, Guardians and Thor: Ragnarok won’t really work with that as a backdrop. So it seems nigh inevitable this movies ending will be completely undone in the sequel, which, to me anyway, makes it feel a lot less impactful.

Another problem the film has is it’s predictability. All the major deaths are signposted well in advance or were generally predictable (i.e. Heimdall’s an expendable character, Loki’s run his course, Vision has an Infinity Stone in his head etc.). That said, Gamora and Vision’s deaths were pretty impactful, mainly because of the performances of Saldana, Brolin, Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen. The largest problem, however, is that Thanos’ victory seems inevitable throughout (both because of the way the film plays out and the fact we know there’s a directly linked sequel). The fact no avengers die during the battles in New York or Wakanda just signposts the fact that things are going to go very, VERY wrong at the end, which undermines any uncertainty the audience may have had about how things are going to play out. The Wakanda battle does work better than the equivalent ones in New York or Sokovia, mainly because the CGI is more convincing and the fight scenes are larger and better choreographed, but it was stretching the limits of believability that no main cast members fell during it due to the sheer amount of chaos.

Overall, the cast are great, the fight scenes are the best Marvel’s had in a long time and Thanos is a marvellous villain. But the whole thing’s undermined by a lack of predictability – the Red Skull cameo is a nice touch but its the only time the film surprised me. Alan Silvestri’s rather generic soundtrack really isn’t up to much either. Why they picked him over Tyler Bates (Guardians) or Brian Tyler (Thor) is beyond me. I’d still say its the best of the three Avengers films – its got more gravitas than Age of Ultron and the plot and script are more interesting than Avengers Assemble. But it falls short of Marvel’s best efforts, and is a very good film rather than the great one I hoped it would be.

Rating: 4 out of 5

P.S. for anyone wondering about the significance of the post-credit scene, Nick Fury’s S.O.S. is supposedly being sent to Captain Marvel, the star of one of the two marvel films before Avengers 4, suggesting that she might have a large role in saving the Avengers and Guardians.

 

 

Call of Duty: WWII Review

Sometimes, simpler is better.

As I mentioned in my article about a possible MW2 remaster, the Call of Duty Series has lacked direction for quite a while. Infinite Warfare, quite rightly, got a massive backlash from gamers, not even because of its quality, but because they disagreed with the entire direction it took. COD is not Halo and never should be. A general rule is that the more futuristic the COD series has got, the more its popularity has declined. Advanced Warfare’s Combat Exo-suits and 2050 setting were about as far as you should push either the timeline or the technology in this series. The original Black Ops and the Modern Warfare trilogy remain the most acclaimed games in the series, and its easy to see why. They were grounded, they were relatable, and the multiplayer felt balanced.

Fortunately, the series’ producers seemed to notice that fan enthusiasm was waning, and decided to take the Call of Duty series back to its roots: World War 2. This meant no exosuits, no stupid wall-running, no drones and no OP killstreaks. And boy, is that a breath of fresh air. As a result, they’ve actually made a decent multiplayer for the first time in what seems like forever. All the standard game modes are back (Team Deathmatch, free-for-all, search and destroy, domination etc.) with the addition of a new War mode, which features teams either attacking or defending a series of varying objectives. The maps are actually all pretty good for the first time since MW2, varying from London Dockyards to a USA battleship to German artillery installations, there’s enough of them that you won’t get bored or need to purchase the expansion packs for extra variety. All playstyles are viable, even if you’ll find yourself sticking to assault rifles or SMG’s for most of it. A real bonus is that snipers are no longer as overpowered as they used to be. They’re still an ever present threat if they find a good position on the map, but most of the time they’re pretty easy to flank, and its no longer an option for snipers to try 360 no scopes and other stupid trick shots. If they try, they will die constantly. Similarly, grenades and rocket launchers will get you some kills but are far less effective than previous games – spamming the damn things doesn’t work very well. All of this provides a much more realistic experience and actually makes it challenging to earn kill/scorestreaks. These streaks range from Molotov cocktails to flamethrowers to strafing runs from fighter planes and bombers. While some are quite powerful, you won’t get one player decimating entire teams with successive kill streaks like in previous games. This all makes it far easier to get into games at low levels, and rewards skill a lot more than some previous games. The multiplayer is a definite highlight.

Zombies mode is also pretty great, and feels more accessible than it has done in a long time (it’s easier not to get hemmed into tight spaces on the maps, although you still have to know what you’re doing). The maps seem better designed than they have in a while, and the variety of zombie types has definitely improved. David Tennant even voices one of the four playable characters. Ultimately I’ll spend more time with the multiplayer, but the Zombies mode is a good one for fans who are mainly after that.

The only disappointment is the campaign. Admittedly, the gamemakers have done a good job of bringing the horrors of WWII to life. It feels real and visceral in a way other World War 2 games like COD 3 did not. But there’s nothing new on offer here. It’s the same mix of the usual COD levels (provide sniper cover, clear out enemy positions, defend chokepoints, infiltrate an enemy base ex cetera). It’s reasonably fun to play through, if not particularly challenging, but it’s really not all that memorable. Even Advanced Warfare and Ghosts’ campaigns are a cut above what you get here (as well as being significantly longer). It seems a bit like they threw something together because they thought fans expected some sort of campaign, not because they had a particularly great idea of what to include in one. Honestly, I can see why there are rumours Black Ops 4 will ditch the campaign entirely. The same old stuff just isn’t cutting it anymore.

Overall, the campaign might be a few hours of token adventure you won’t remember a day afterwards, but the fun zombies mode and brilliantly back-to-basics multiplayer make this the best Call of Duty Game since Modern Warfare 3. I’m not convinced the series is getting back to its best anytime soon, but this is a step in the right direction.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Black Panther Review

Starring Chadwick Boseman, Lupita N’yongo, Letitia Wright, Michael B. Jordan, Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis

Warning: Contains Spoilers (it’s been out two months so why not)

It’s difficult for superhero films to stand-out at the moment. There’s an average of 6 or 7 of them a year currently, and while my enthusiasm remains high for Infinity War, the showpiece of Marvel’s phase 3, I’m getting slightly fatigued by all the others. After the twin disappointments of Justice League and Thor: Ragnarok, which both wasted a lot of potential, I was hoping the generally positive reaction to Black Panther was justified.

It was. It’s entertaining and stands out from the crowd. But it’s far from the classic some people have made it out to be. First off, the good stuff. Chadwick Boseman gives other sublime, confident performance as T’Challa (he’s definitely a character with enough potential to lead the Avengers once Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans bow out as Iron Man and Captain America). The other cast members are equally good: Letitia Wright is a stand-out as T’Challa’s adorably kick-ass younger sister, while Martin Freeman makes the most of his expanded role as Everett Ross, one of only two white characters to have a significant role in this role. It is refreshing to have a superhero film NOT set in America, and the African setting and the majority-Black ensemble cast give this film a unique feel. It is definitely ground-breaking for a superhero film, and Wakanda’s culture and technological superiority is well-conveyed without the film getting too bogged down in world-building or info-dumps.

Unfortunately, it all never feels quite real. Between the overly CGI Wakandan city and the fact all of the main characters are tribal leaders rather than ordinary-people, you can’t quite fully immerse yourself in the setting. It also kind of lessens T’Challa’s turmoil about the film’s central issue (should Wakanda keep itself hidden away or try and help those in need) that we never see what ordinary Wakandans think about the issue. T’Challa’s decision at the end of the film never really seems in doubt, so there’s no real tension anywhere. This, arguably, is the film’s biggest weakness: its predictability. Oh look, no one dies here except the villains and the hero’s mentor. Where have we seen that before… Honestly, for 17 films out of 17, Marvel has utterly failed to EVER make me think a significant character might actually be in jeopardy (okay, the Infinity War trailers confirmed at least 3 of the main cast survive, but even supporting character’s like Ross and the tribal leaders are never really under much threat).  Other typical Marvel clichés are rife here: the good guys are saved by a convenient change of heart late on that EVERYONE could see coming! T’Challa’s fake death halfway through is irritating through its sheer pointlessness (we know he isn’t actually dead so why hide him off screen for 20 minutes?). Ulysses Klaw is ANOTHER weak marvel villain (not helped by Andy Serkis, who for the first time that I can ever remember isn’t an asset to the film, mainly because his OTT arms dealer feels like a caricature rather than a genuine character). Although Michael B. Jordan’s Kilmonger is much better as the other villain, the film doesn’t really do anything interesting with him. Yes, his backstory is sympathetic and he gets more screentime than most Marvel villains, but he’s still no Ego or Loki.

Back on the positive side of things, the production is nevertheless strong. The dialogue is never clunky or convoluted and the film isn’t hamstrung by an over-emphasis on humour like Thor: Ragnarok was. The action scenes are generally better directed than they were in Spider-Man: Homecoming and Ragnarok (a car chase in South Korea and a ritual combat atop a waterfall being the standout set-pieces), even if the final battle isn’t as emotionally charged or thrilling as you might hope. The music fits the film well even if it isn’t particularly memorable. The film looks great for the most part (the sequences where T’Challa communes with his dead father on the ancestral plain are visually stunning). Ultimately, your enjoyment of this film is probably down to how sick you are of repetitiveness in Marvel films. What we get here is good, but we’ve seen too much of it before, which like Doctor Strange in 2016 limits the score I can give it.

Overall, Black Panther is an entertaining, well-acted film that breaks plenty of ground, but one that remains hamstrung by the traditional Marvel clichés. There’s a lot of potential for future adventures in Wakanda, but this one doesn’t quite hit the heights it could have. It’s a step up from Thor: Ragnarok though, which bodes well for Infinity War.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

I’ll do a couple more Marvel related updates in the run-up to Infinity War – which hopefully will be the perfect knockout hit we all want it to be. But there really needs to be some genuine fucking consequences in that film, or my interest in the MCU will be permanently broken, no matter how entertaining it is.

A Series of Unfortunate Events, Series 2 Review

Starring Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Warburton, Malina Weissman and Louis Hynes

Spoiler Free

I loved the Series of Unfortunate Events books as a kid. Like many, I was slightly disappointed by the film adaptation starring Jim Carrey as Count Olaf, which lacked the soul of the original. While Series 1 of the more successful Netflix adaptation was undoubtedly a step up, it still wasn’t quite on par with the standard of the books. However, as books 1-4 weren’t exactly the best in the series, I was curious to see if the TV show would improve when adapting better material frim books 5-9. Has it? Sort of.

As with series 1, my main praise would have to go to the show’s cast and production. It looks amazing and you can’t really pick out a weak link in the cast. Neil Patrick Harris excels with most of his various guises (only Detective Dupin from a Vile Village is disappointing, and I’d blame that firmly on how poorly he’s written rather than Harris) and the Baudelaire’s actors keep the children easy to root for. The new additions to the supporting cast are generally great. Lucy Punch in some ways overshadows Harris as Esme Squalor, while Carmelita Spats is done absolutely perfectly in Austere Academy. Fellow newcomer Nathan Fillion also makes Jacques Snicket one of the best things in the first half of the season.

Unfortunately the writing isn’t always as spot on as the casting. While the series gets a strong start with Austere Academy and Ersatz Elevator, the Vile Village adaptation is resolutely dull. Hostile Hospital is watchable despite being based on one of the weakest books, while Carnivorous Carnival is a game of two halves (the first episode is great, the second not so much). I feel like one problem the series has is that the two episode per book structure is hamstringing some of the more slow-paced books, like Vile Village, as the increased focus on the Volunteers and the Villains forces the show to condense a lot of what the children got up to in the books. Books fans might also be perplexed by one or two changes from the novels (for example, two of Olaf’s henchmen who died in books 8 and 9 are inexplicably still alive at the end of series 2, for no apparent reason).

While there’s a lot of fun to be had from the performances, I still feel like this show doesn’t know exactly what it wants to be. It isn’t funny enough for a dark-humoured comedy and its tone isn’t dark enough (despite the subject matter) for it to be a great drama. Sure, it’s entertaining, but Olaf is still nowhere near as menacing as in the books, and you don’t feel tension anywhere near as often as the show seems to want you to.

In short, this is slightly better that series one, but only because it’s based off some of the better books, not because they’ve drastically improved things. So if you liked the first series, the second will happily give you more of the same. If the first series left you sceptical, the second won’t change your mind. Hopefully Series 3 can end this adaptation on a high, but I’ll be watching it for completionists’ sake, not because I consider it essential viewing.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Next up, I finally get around to reviewing Black Panther…

Jessica Jones Season 2 Review

Starring Krysten Ritter, Rachael Taylor, Eka Darville, Carrie-Anne Moss and Janet McTreer.

Warning: Minor Spoilers Follow for Season 2 and Major Spoilers for Season 1

Jessica Jones is easily the most interesting of Marvel’s TV superheroes. Her first season was gripping in a way that Luke Cage and Iron Fist never came close to. Yes, it was three episodes too long (like almost ALL Marvel Netflix productions – even the 8-episode Defenders had that problem) but for the most part it was very engaging stuff, helped immeasurably by Krysten Ritter’s tortured ‘not-a-heroine’ Jessica and David Tennant’s chilling villain Kilgrave. The series 1 finale saw Jessica finally get the upper hand and snap Kilgrave’s neck, which begged one obvious question: how the hell do you follow David Tennant as a villain?

Season 2’s answer is to have multiple antagonists. Between dickhead lawyer Pryce (Terry Chen), fellow Metahuman Alisa (Janet McTreer) and scientist Karl (the one who gave Jessica her powers) there’s a lot of potential bad guys floating around. But, unlike the black and white films Marvel is so fond of, there’s a lot of grey here. Jessica, Trish and Hogarth all go to some pretty dark places this season, while none of the villains are the out-and-out monster Kilgrave was. This helps keep the season somewhat unpredictable, even if none of the new characters come close to being as memorable as Tennant.

Fortunately, even if the show can’t live up to season 1’s villain, it does fix a lot of that season’s other problems. The pacing, while slow for the first few episodes, never feels padded out in the way season 1 was. There’s actually 12-13 episodes worth of story to tell here, not 8-10 stretched out like was the case last time. The show also cuts out some of the slack from season 1 (Simpson’s role in events is minimal but effective, Hogarth’s storyline actually leads somewhere) and develops the supporting characters a lot more (Trish and Malcolm have very different season long journeys, while the Jessica who comes out of episode 13 is definitely not the one we see in episode 1). The show also gives Jessica a new love interest who is a really good replacement for Luke, which I wasn’t expecting. The various plot twists don’t derail things the way they scuppered Luke Cage’s last season either, even if the mid-season twist is equally cliché.

Its not all good: the first episode is pretty dreadful, the season’s arc takes a while to become clear and Hogarth’s storyline isn’t always engaging, but overall I think I actually preferred this to season 1. Even if Tennant’s involvement is minimal, the season is much better structured and the production, direction and writing are all pretty consistently strong from episode 2 onwards. If you like darker, more meaningful superhero shows that feature actual detective work and real consequences, Jessica Jones is still the only Marvel offering worth looking at… well unless you happen to find Daredevil interesting (I don’t but I know plenty of people do).

Rating: 4 out of 5 (I gave the first season 3.5/5)

Next up: My review of the second season of ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’. Or Black Panther if I finally find time to see it.

Article: Why Modern Warfare 2 needs a full remaster!

There’s been a lot of rumours recently about a possible Modern Warfare 2 remaster coming out this year or next year. After the remaster of the original Modern Warfare, this doesn’t seem that unlikely, given that COD’s current run of games are becoming more and more derided by the fanbase, and the Modern Warfare series was a high point for many.

The Call of Duty franchise is arguably lacking direction at the moment. Infinite Warfare was widely condemned as the wrong approach for the series (it’s not Halo and it never should be) and while Ghosts, Advanced Warfare and Black Ops III all had some plus points, none came close to matching the best COD games (virtually every gamer I know who plays the series would pick an entry between World at War and Modern Warfare 2 as the series highlight). WW2 was sighted as a return to form, but let’s face it, that game only happened because of how well Battlefield 1 was received, and COD jumped on the bandwagon and decided to return to conflicts set in the past. I doubt anyone’s particularly excited about Black Ops 4 either, given that neither of the last two Black Ops games have come close to matching the original. The studios seem to have lost the sense of what the fanbase wants from new titles. The Modern Warfare remaster, on the other hand, was very well received (at least, it was once fans could buy it separately and not in a bundle with Infinite Warfare), so it feels natural that the COD studios will want to cash in on a nostalgic desire for its most successful games. I wouldn’t be surprised if a Black Ops or World at War remaster happens at some point either. But, arguably, Modern Warfare 2 is the obvious candidate for a remaster, as, for me at least, its the apex of the COD series.

I say this because its one of the only games in the series where all three parts of the game were great. The campaign may not be as iconic as the first Modern Warfare’s, but I found it equally fun and very intense in places. Who can forget the chase through militia infested favelas, storming a Russian gulag or fighting your way through a burning White House? The controversial ‘No Russian’ level aside, there’s barely a duff moment to be found in the campaign, and the shock betrayal from the Loose Ends mission is surely one of the most memorable twists in any COD game. Hans Zimmer’s rousing soundtrack stands out from the blander, by-the-numbers scores of both previous and future entries and doubles down on the intensity of both the action sequences and cutscenes. Spec Ops mode is great too, and genuinely challenging in places (normally whenever Juggernauts are present) and features a great variety of wave defence, snowmobile races, and assault missions.

Now we come to the elephant in the room. The most recent rumours about a possible remaster suggest that the remastered version will only include single-player, not multiplayer. THIS IS FUCKING POINTLESS!!! As good as the campaign is, why would you buy a £20 remaster just for that? I don’t know about you guys, but as long as your ps3 or Xbox 360 or PC still works, why spend money just to get extra graphics for something you can already replay at leisure? Even if Spec Ops is included, you could still replay missions whenever you want on your old console or save files. Most people only buy remasters for 3 reasons: 1. They never had the original game in the first place; 2. They didn’t have DLC that comes with the remaster; 3. The remastered version fixes bugs or other issues or simply performs better than the original.

Modern Warfare 2’s singleplayer was never buggy or had any issues with save files. There’s no singleplayer DLC for either the campaign or spec ops. The only reason you’d want a remaster of this game is because the one thing that no longer works on the original is the multiplayer, because the servers are largely empty and any game you can find is normally overrun by hackers who’ve turned off the gravity or made numerous other annoying glitches. If the remaster is single-player only, no one needs to buy it. No one except people who never tried the original, but they’ll probably prefer a new game that has multiplayer included anyway.

This is a real pity, because Modern Warfare’s 2 multiplayer is arguably one of the best in the series. The maps are near-universally good (There’s one or two exceptions: Underpass isn’t great and the DLC map packs aren’t worthwhile). Between Skidrow, Derail, Wasteland, Quarry, Favela, Terminal and all the others, there was something for everyone. The game modes all had their moments; Demolition, Search and Destroy and even Sabotage offered different challenges that were worth trying out whenever you got bored of the Deathmatches or Domination, while the Hardcore game modes really ramped up the intensity if you were feeling brave. Okay, yes, there were a few pointless perks and the Noobtubers were irritating as hell on some maps, but the killstreaks seemed balanced (I always loved shooting down helicopters the instant someone called them in) and almost all playstyles were viable, whether you used Sniper rifles, SMG’s, shotguns or Assault Rifles. While I know Black Ops’ multiplayer has its fans, for me, none of the CODs after MW2 managed to match its multiplayer for sheer fun (I rarely play multiplayer – this is one of only 3 games where I’ve really gotten into it, which speaks volumes about how addictive it was).

So to sum up: I hope that the rumoured remaster really is on the way. But only if it has multiplayer. If it doesn’t, this is the stupidest decision in gaming since Battlefront 2’s progression system/loot boxes. It would be that much of a let-down. And one I (and many, many others) would never forgive the Call of Duty series for.