Author Archives: knightrider42

Revisiting Mass Effect: Andromeda

As Bioware releases Anthem to a chorus of how buggy the cutscenes are, you get a feeling of deja vu.

It’s been two years since Mass Effect: Andromeda’s lacklustre launch, with fans rushing to criticise its buggy gameplay and terrible character animations. If it wasn’t for Battlefront II’s even more disastrous launch later in the year, Andromeda would probably have gone down as the worst big release of 2017. I did one playthrough of it after release, got bored, and left the game alone for the next 2 years.

But now, with a lot of patches and fixes and no new Dragon Age or Mass Effect in sight yet (and no interest in purchasing Anthem – like Fallout 76, it just isn’t something I’d have ever been interested in, good or not), I got back into Andromeda and was able to give it a second chance. Given that I couldn’t be asked to review it first time round, I thought I’d get round to it now. And I have one key question to answer: now the bugs are mostly fixed, is Andromeda worth playing?

Andromeda always had some plus points. The dialogue system had borrowed some good ideas from Dragon Age and was a lot more unique than the mostly binary good or renegade choices of Mass Effect 3. The planets always looked amazing and the graphics were very good quality for the environments. The combat was far more fluid than in previous games and the ability to mix and match combat, tech and biotic abilities gave you a lot of freedom in how you shaped your character. Ryder (male or female) is actually a great main character – in several ways they are more interesting than Commander Shepard, if nowhere near as badass.

There were also several drawbacks that are still present. The soundtrack is pretty forgettable compared to the first three games. Ryder’s crew has a few bright sparks but is not as engaging as the Normandy’s squad mates. Some of the choices Ryder has to make aren’t particularly consequential, and several of them are so one-sided that its unlikely you will ever pick the alternative (such as not allying with the Krogan in exchange for a power core that does not impact the game). Some of the romance options are quite badly implemented – with progression locked behind long questlines and some options which get locked if you go too far down another romance sub-plot (the lack of clarity on this is quite irritating).

However, several things that were initially irritating won’t bother you so much on a second playthrough. The fact that Andromeda only introduced two new alien races was originally quite disappointing, but it won’t bother you on a second playthrough. Equally, the similarities between the Kett and Remnant storylines and that of the Reapers and Protheans aren’t really an issue once you know what to expect. The fact that there are only 7 or so planets to explore is still a bit annoying, but to be honest if you enjoy what’s already there it won’t be a huge factor in your opinion of the game.

Then we get to the bugs. The facial animations are, mercifully, all fixed by this point, with no more dead eyed expressions or creepy smiles. There are far fewer bugs present that shortly after launch – a few still remain (such as people or things randomly floating) but I’ve yet to find one on my replays that has impacted gameplay or forced me to reload a save.

Overall, Andromeda is quite a fun game if you’re willing to forgive it’s shortcomings. Once you accept it isn’t up there with the first trilogy, it becomes a lot more palatable. The gameplay is fun, the game looks great and the storyline is mostly engaging. A few bland characters and forgettable side quests aside, you’ll enjoy what you find here. If you were put off by initial reaction to it, it might be worth picking up now, particularly as it’s currently very cheap to buy.

Rating: 4 out of 5

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A Series of Unfortunate Events, Season 3 Review

Starring: Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Warburton, Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, Presley Smith and Lucy Punch

Warning: Minor Spoilers Follow

I wasn’t all that impressed with the first season of Netflix’s adaptation. Sure, it was entertaining in its way and better than the film, but let’s be honest, that isn’t hard. The second season picked up a bit, but mainly because it was based on some of the better books in the series (and even then, it’s Vile Village adaptation was dire). Fortunately, it’s a case of third time lucky for Netflix. I don’t know whether or not its that the scriptwriters just kicked things up a gear or the fact that these episodes are based off the best books in the series or that because the final season its more focused on wrapping things up in a satisfying way, but this one WORKED!

Neil Patrick Harris, now freed from the need to play a different version of a disguised Olaf every week, is at his best here. Olaf is menacing, OTT, world-weary and maniacal, sometimes all in the same scene, and he generally carries it off with aplomb. Malina and Louis are as perfect as ever as Klaus and Violet, and Patrick Warburton finally feels like a worthwhile addition to the series. The direction and look of the thing is as great as ever, but crucially, the scripting feels a bit tighter, and boy does that make a difference. Notably, the episodes are a bit shorter than previous seasons, which seems to have been a smart decision. There’s noticeably less padding and everything just flows better.

There’s still the odd change from the books which doesn’t really strike you as necessary, but by and large, its a pretty faithful adaptation of events. But there’s one bonus here book readers will love – you finally get answers that the books, crucially, did not give you. Flashbacks in the Penultimate Peril two-parter really help to flesh out the schism, the sugar bowl, Olaf’s turn from Volunteer to Villain and Lemony and Kit Snicket’s characters. Kit Snicket is perfectly cast as well, which is crucial seeing as she’s so important to the last few books. The other bonus is the welcome return of Carmelita Spats, who is perfectly done and is endlessly entertaining when onscreen. Lucy Punch isn’t quite as memorable as Esme as she was last season, but she still gets the odd moment.

It’s not perfect by any means – Phil still seems miscast, the Violet and Quigley subplot seems rushed and the decision to spare the bald man and the henchperson of indeterminate gender last season doesn’t really serve any purpose, but for the most part, this is a big improvement over the last two seasons. But for everything that doesn’t work, there’s plenty that does. Usman Ally nearly steals the show as the hook-handed man, while the Klaus and Fiona subplot works very believably.  The Man with Beard but no hair (played by Richard E. Grant) and the Woman with Hair but no Beard make a great set of villains to throw both Olaf and the Orphans off balance in this series as well.

Overall, Netflix finally manages to strike the right tone and conclude the series in an engaging, satisfying way. The cast give their all and the writing’s stepped up a gear from last season. The flashbacks alone give book readers a reason to check this out – it really answers any questions the books ever left you wondering…

Rating: 4 out of 5

The theme tune really is catchy isn’t it?

My Top Video Games of 2018

As usual, this list is compromised of favourite video games that I’ve played in 2018. I should say this doesn’t mean only video games that were released in 2018. I normally also throw in a couple from the last few years that I’ve just got around to. It doesn’t include every game that’s been a hit in 2018 either (I haven’t really played enough of Spider-Man to have an opinion of it yet, nor have I got Red Dead Redemption 2). Equally there are plenty of games which I’m just not interested in (Black Ops, Fortnite, FIFA etc.) so don’t expect to see them here.

7. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey: Odyssey is easily the best Assassin’s Creed game in a long time. The combat finally feels fluid, the game looks amazing and Ancient Greece is a really interesting setting. You can finally choose the lead (either Kassandra or Alexios. But I’ll save you time – choose Kassandra) and the game is now pretty much a full on RPG with a revised skill tree, better weapon/crafting systems and the ability to not only choose dialogue but even romance/flirt with NPC’s. Naval combat is back too, with a fully-upgradeable ship again. Unfortunately, the game’s still not perfect. The approach to in-game quests is unfortunately one of quantity over quality – there’s actually too much to do in a single playthrough, but the problem is that the quests tend to be quite repetitive – go to this location and wipe out this bandit camp, fetch this item from this location etc. while the setting and characters make a fair few of the quests memorable, I doubt you’ll remember even half of them by the end of the game. Ultimately, it’s a beautiful game world and the gameplay is a definite improvement on Origins, but I must say, Origins handled side quests better and had a more involving main questline. On the plus side, Kassandra is possibly the best lead we’ve had in the series – yes, including Ezio.

Rating: 4 out of 5

6. Onrush: Onrush isn’t so much a racing game as a full vehicular combat sim. For example, it has four different event types, none of which have a finish line you need to cross first. The game is far more unique than that. Instead, you gain points for boosting, rushing, jumping, performing tricks and wrecking opponents. If you fall behind the pack, the game simply respawns you back into the action, so there’s never a need to restart a match. It has four event types: Overdrive (two teams compete to earn a higher score), Countdown (teams race through gates, each of which adds time to their clock until one team runs out of time), Switch (each player starts with three lives, first team to run out of lives loses – but everyone you lose a life you switch to a tougher vehicle, and once you’ve lost all three you switch to the mega-tough trucks and must hunt down the enemy team) and Lockdown, where teams must compete to capture moving zones. They’re all great fun, and fans of Motorstorm games in particular will love it. Best of all – if you have PS Plus, you can get it for free right now as its one of the monthly giveaway games!

Rating: 4 out of 5

5. Titanfall 2: The only entry from 2017 on this list, I picked up Titanfall 2 for £4!!! Best buy I’ve made all year. Sure its campaign may be relatively short, but this is a far better shooter than COD or Battlefield games have ever been, and it has a good story to boot! Set in the future, there’s a mix of high-tech weapons for you to play around with, but the main draw for this game is the ability to control a titan – a hulking robotic weapons frame that seriously gives you an edge in combat, which can be upgraded with a wide variety of weapons. Before you buy tat like Black Ops IV or overpriced releases like Battlefield V, give this a shout. You won’t regret it.

Rating: 4 out of 5

4. Hitman 2 (2018) I’ve really got into Hitman games this year. First off I completed Hitman Absolution on PS3 (which I’ve been meaning to get round to for years) and enjoyed it quite a lot, so I thought I’d give the 2016 sandbox a look. I loved it over the summer, and happily picked up this year’s sequel once it was on sale. Not only does Hitman 2 give you 6 new areas to play around in and plan/improvise your assassinations (the most memorable of which include a slum in Mumbai, an expo park + racetrack in Miami and a medieval castle on a French island) but it also throws in legacy additions of Hitman 2016’s levels for anyone who already owns that game. Given that Hitman 2 has really improved the graphics and the shooting mechanics, this is extremely welcome. The game gives you a ridiculous amount of freedom in how to assassinate your various targets (please take note Assassin’s Creed) and whether your weapon of choice is a sniper rifle, explosives, poison, silenced pistols or 47’s signature garrotte, you’ll still stumble across some incredibly inventive ways to complete your mission (the standouts so far have been throwing a drug dealer down a mineshaft, locking a ruthless businesswoman in a medieval spiked effigy and subtly manoeuvring your targets out in the open to help a rival assassin execute them with a sniper rifle). You’ll need patience, and often things will go dramatically wrong and you’ll have to improvise, but perfectly your strategies if half the fun here. Best Hitman game ever, if not one that is particularly revolutionary.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

3. F1 2018: F1’s simulation games have got stronger year on year since 2016, and this year was no exception. The addition of ERS management added another degree of difficulty to racing, while the rain and car damage effects feel more realistic than ever before. The R&D mechanics have been streamlined and it now feels legitimately possible to turn a middle-field car into a frontrunner over a few seasons. There’s still the odd niggle (driver AI could be slightly better when there’s several cars following close behind each other) and the interviews are overused, but to be honest, given how much freedom you have to scale back or disable parts of the sim you aren’t interested in, any problems are mildly inconvenient rather than consistently irritating. As a bonus, the number of classic cars you can drive in the championships mode and time trials has gone up too. Its a refinement of F1 2017 rather than a huge leap forward, but ultimately, its the best F1 game on the market, and is well worth the upgrade.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

2. Detroit: Become Human: Made by the creators of Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls, Detroit: Become Human is set in 2038, where androids have become an integral part of human society, but, predictably, are starting to rebel against their servile situation and become ‘deviants’ outside human control. The game follows three very different strands which cross over with each other at various points. First off, there’s Kara, an android housekeeper charged with protecting a young girl called Alice, who becomes a deviant to defy her owner: Alice’s abusive father, Todd. The two then must go on the run together. The second story follows Markus, a prototype android who initially has a pleasant existence tending to his pleasant human owner, Carl, but then sees the callous disregard other humans have for androids and begins encouraging them to rise up against their creators.  Finally, there’s investigative android Connor, who’s paired with a human detective called Hank and assigned to investigate the cause of android deviancy. The amount of choice the game gives you is staggering – as is the number of places you can screw up, especially on harder difficulty. All three of the lead characters can be killed if you make the wrong choices, and the way the game ends can vary markedly depending on your choices. Markus can either lead a peaceful protest against humanity or a violent revolt, while Connor can either obey his programming and hunt Markus down or become a deviant himself. Kara and Alice may escape together or one or both of them may die depending on the choices you make. As is usual for story-driven games, the gameplay is mainly focused on quick-time events, but its the story where this really shines – there’s tons of replay value here and trust me, even though the ideas here are very common sci-fi tropes, they’re done so well you will get sucked into the setting.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

1. God of War (2018): Kratos is back, only this time he had Norse Gods and monsters to contend with rather than Greek. Moving from a bloody hack-and-slash to a violent RPG was a bold move for the series, but boy did it pay off. The gameplay is wonderful, with players either utilizing Kratos’ Leviathan Axe (which works a lot like Thor’s Hammer) or his more traditional Blades of Chaos to dispatch enemies. The game world is absolutely beautiful and epic in scope – not only can you explore a sizeable area, but you get chances to explore several of the ‘nine realms’ of Norse mythology including Muspelheim (Realm of Fire) and Helheim (Realm of the Dead). Combat is challenging on normal but not inaccessible to either newcomers or existing fans of the series. There’s a vast range of enemies, ranging from undead to giants to the awesomely powerful (and crucially, optional bosses) Valkyries. You’ll need to switch up your strategy for a lot of enemies, with good tactics and timing more important than button mashing. But its the story where this really shines, as Kratos struggles to deal with his wife’s death while trying to be a good father to his son, Atreus and fending off attacks from various Norse monsters and Gods, including two very irritating sons of Thor. It’s been a good year for gaming (especially on PS4) but nothing could outdo this. A stone cold classic.

Rating: 5 out of 5

My Game Awards:

Best Looking Game: Titanfall 2

Best Level Design: Hitman 2

Best Story: God of War

Best Combat: God of War

Best Hero: Markus (Detroit: Become Human)

Best Villain: Baldur (God of War)

Best Soundtrack: Detroit: Become Human

Best Character (Female): Kassandra (Assassin’s Creed Odyssey)

Best Character (Male): Connor (Detroit: Become Human)

I won’t do any ‘Worst’ awards because I haven’t played any particularly bad games this year. Just assume they’d all go to Fallout 76 and Bethesda. Congrats guys. You managed to temporarily replace EA as gaming’s signature villain. Good job. You’re second only to Doctor Who’s Chris Chibnall in not listening to what the fanbase wants.

Overall though, it has been a fantastic year for gaming, with numerous classics and good instalments from long-running franchises. If your still messing around with COD and Fifa… wake up people. There’s far, FAR better things to spend your money on. Finally, if you’re a Xbox gamer… you have my sympathy – because the amount you’ve missed out on the past few years isn’t even funny anymore (God of War, Spiderman, Detroit: Become Human, Uncharted 4, Ratchet and Clank, Horizon Zero Dawn, The Last of Us…) no amount of console loyalty is worth that. Microsoft better buck up their ideas – because Sony is killing it right now!

Anyway, that’s it, my last blog post of 2018. Thank you all for reading and subscribing in what’s (just about) been a record breaking year for this blog.

Have a happy new year everyone. I’ll be back in 2019!

The Best and Worst TV of 2018

So, after films, we’re onto TV. I’m not going to run through all the stuff I’ve seen for this one, mainly because I’ve not caught up with a lot of US TV shows like Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow, so I can only review half the episodes from this year. Bear in mind I’ve not seen some of the best received stuff this year (The Bodyguard, A Very English Scandal etc.) so this is basely solely off what I’ve seen and is my opinion, not a definitive list! Feel free to comment your own best/worst shows below.

I’ll try to keep this as spoiler free as possible.

Top Five:

1. The Americans (Season 6) – The best way to some up the quality of this sublime spy drama set in the cold war is as follows: even if Game of Thrones absolutely nails Season 8 next year with battle scenes above Lord of the Rings intensity and standard, I’ll probably still name The Americans as the TV show of the Decade. It’s been that good. It’s had 5 great seasons and 1 that was merely good, but that’s still a better hit rate than any other six season show I can think of. I’ve given perhaps one episode in its entire run 3.5/5. Everything else has been 4/5 or (usually) even higher. The final season somehow managed to ramp things up a gear while still remaining the slow burning tense classic its always been. Not only did it use the masterstroke of having lead KGB spies Philip and Elizabeth on opposite sides for most of the season, but we finally saw FBI agent Stan Beeman close in on them, leading to an electrifyingly tense and devastating finale, as the Jennings finally had to face the consequences of their actions. It didn’t tie up all lose ends, but this show has always been too clever for that. After all, how many spy operations do you think have a definite, clean ending? Either way, it was utterly unmissable television, and while its one for the connoisseur rather than the mainstream, it still seems a shame that most people still haven’t had a chance to see it.

2. I’m a Celebrity (UK Series 18) – I’m not normally one for reality TV, but this had such a good line-up that I just had to give it a go. I do like I’m a celeb, but usually they have truly detestable celebs on there, like Katie Price or Gemma Collins, so I’ve avoided it for the past few years. This year though, has to be the best run the shows ever had in the UK. Not only did we have Harry Redknapp turning himself into a true national treasure with his stories, but we had Anne Hegerty battling against the odds to overcome some deep personal challenges. The show was largely heart-warming because everyone there was genuinely pleasant for the most part. Even Noel Edmonds, who you could tell was only brought in to stir things up, proved to be a pretty nice guy for most of the run. Even more surprisingly, the celebs were all very good at the trials – I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many full houses of stars! Though admittedly, they were amusingly awful at the dingo dollar challenges. The best thing of all though, had to be the cute friendship between John Barrowman (who had a song for every occasion) and Emily Atack (who was adorably cute and mischievous). If 2018 needed something, it was definitely this series, which for a few blissful weeks almost made you forget about Trump and the mess being made of Brexit.

3. Orange is the New Black (Season 6) It may not have been OITNB’s best season, but it was still Netflix’s top effort this year. Throwing all the inmates into maximum security really allowed the show to mix this up with a tenser atmosphere and some new inmates and guards. With the usual mix of comedy, dark storylines and romance (including some very surprising pairings – who’d have thought 5 years ago that Caputo and Fig would be the easiest couple on the show to root for?). ‘Badison’ made one of the show’s most detestable villains in years (probably the nastiest one since Vee in season 2) and the shows closer focus on some of the characters really allowed them to shine more than normal (Daya, Freida and Nicky in particular). Ultimately, it could have had a better overall plotline, but its set the stage for the final season well enough to scrape into my top 3.

4. Big Mouth (Season 2) Easily the funniest show on Netflix at the moment, Big Mouth is a hilarious send up of puberty that only an animated show could get away with (for obvious reasons). It has its share of family guy-esque gross out comedy and your typical teenage awkward humour, but what makes this unique is the fact it takes time to focus on both genders difficulties (usually these kind of comedies only go with one or the other) and actively personifies those awkward, stupid teenage impulses in the form of ‘hormone monsters’ who actively encourage the characters to ask each other out or to do any number of stupid things, usually with hilariously destructive or embarrassing results. It may sound ridiculous, but its worth a shot and will probably have you poking fun at your own awkward teenage experiences subconsciously – while answering all the questions you’d wished you’d had answers to ten years ago. 

5. Jessica Jones (Season 2) Despite the lack of a signature villain to rival David Tennant’s Kilgrave, Jessica Jones managed to be the most compelling superhero show this year (bearing in mind that I don’t watch Daredevil). Krysten Ritter remains one of the best actresses in Netflix’s employ, and Jessica’s self-destructive tendencies remained firmly in sight this year, particularly with Trish, Malcolm and Hogarth all having various crises of their own around her. Trish really became one of the most hateable characters on TV this series, and whether season 3 pulls off one hell of a redemption story or has her go full villain it’ll be interesting to see. The icing on the cake though, had to be Jessica’s Kilgrave hallucinations in episode 11. It was great to have David Tennant back even for just one episode, and having him play the devil on Jessica’s shoulder was a stroke of genius! Sure the first episode wasn’t great and it was still 2 or so episodes too long, but overall the series was less padded than arrow verse shows, more interesting than Luke Cage and less ridiculous than Gotham or Black Lightning.

Bottom Three:

3. Lost in Space (Netflix) – Netflix’s Lost in Space remake looked amazing, but felt hollow. It was billed as old-fashioned sci-fi, and to be honest that’s what it felt like. It was an adventure with plenty of threat and peril, but little substance or innovation. The cast worked well for the most part, even if Parker Posey’s Dr. Smith was an underwhelming villain. It was well directed and had good special effects, but ultimately, it was a very forgettable ride. Netflix can do a lot better.

2. Doctor Who Series 11 (BBC One) – Oh god, where to start with this one. How to ruin a 50+ year old show in one series? The most miscast actress possible in the title role? How to lose all the shows’ hardcore fans in a single series and achieve an audience score of 28% (and FALLING!) on Rotten Tomatoes? This isn’t Doctor Who. Its a Politically Correct Nightmare of ham-fisted dialogue, woeful villains, weak companions and patronising themes. Chris Chibnall shows his mishandling of Torchwood Series 1 and 2 was no accident – he’s even worse here. Bradley Walsh is the sole redeeming factor, but he can’t save this mess by himself. If you get past episode 5 without giving up, you’re probably a masochist or someone who’s never seen the show before. Utterly dire.

1. Britannia (Sky) – This is one mindf*ck of a show. Set during the Roman Invasion of Britain, it features a heavy emphasis on the Celts’ reaction to the Roman threat and the druids’ influence over the Britons. It has an all star cast, including Zoe Wanamaker, David Morrissey and Ian MacDiarmid, but its just so weird. The plot makes no sense, the supernatural elements feel decidedly out of place, the theme music is dire and some episodes are a real slog to get through. You might be intrigued by it initially, but honestly don’t bother. Its a total waste of your time.

Best Actor: Matthew Rhys (The Americans)

Best Actress: Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones)/Keri Russell (The Americans)

Best Supporting Actor: Mustafa Shakir (Luke Cage)

Best Supporting Actress: Selenis Leyva (Orange is the New Black)

Best Special Effects: Lost in Space

Best Animated Show: Big Mouth

Best TV Show: The Americans

Best Episode: The Americans – Dead Hand

Best Writing: The Americans

Best Soundtrack: The Americans

Best Theme Tune: Big Mouth

Best Direction: The Americans

Best on-screen pair: Emily Atack and John Barrowman (I’m a celebrity)

Best Hero – Jessica Jones

Best Villain – Bushmaster (Luke Cage)

Worst Hero: The 13th Doctor (Doctor Who)

Worst Villain Tzim-Shaue/Tim Shaw (Doctor Who)

Worst Actor: Nikolaj Lee Kaas (Britannia)

Worst Actress: Jodie Whittaker (Doctor Who)

Worst Supporting Actor: Tosin Cole (Doctor Who)

Worst Supporting Actress: Parker Posey (Lost in Space)

Worst Writing: Chris Chibnall (Doctor Who)

Worst Episode: Britannia – Episode 7

Worst Soundtrack: Britannia

Worst TV Show: Britannia

 

Best and Worst Films of 2018

This is a run-through of all the films I have watched that were released this year – and a quick comment about each one, plus the rating I would give it. Films are ordered from worst to best. Needless to say, this isn’t a definitive list – there’s various films I haven’t seen this year (Aquaman, Venom, Into the Spider-verse etc.) but it includes all the ones I have managed to catch – either in cinemas or on Amazon/Netflix.

The Death of Stalin: I expected better from Armando Iannucci. I really can’t work out this film’s intended audience or why critics loved it so much. Its not funny enough to be a comedy, not cutting enough to be a satire and not believable enough to be historically accurate. The thing is wonderfully shot and well-directed, but ultimately that isn’t a big comfort. The cast by and large try their best, but Jeffrey Tambor is a total waste of space and the whole thing is just dull and uncomfortable.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom: You know, after watching this, I’m glad Star Wars fired Colin Trevorrow. The film is pretty much your standard B-Movie: entertaining, but utterly ridiculous and so, SO STUPID in places. Still not the worst Jurassic Park Sequel (III will always be the series nadir – at least you’d hope so) but it came close. Its cast keep things watchable and the special effects are good, but the villains are way too cartoonish, the script laughable and the direction flat. Talk about a fall from grace.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Deadpool 2: Oh dear. I really wanted to like this one. In places, it’s up their with the first movie. Josh Brolin is great as cable and Zazie Beetz perfect if underused as Domino. But the rest of the cast are not on form – Firefist is a very forgettable villain, Morena Baccarin is wasted in a thankless and predictable role and TJ Miller is still the biggest waste of space in acting. It makes an effort to have a less predictable (if still cliched) plot than the first movie, but isn’t anywhere near as funny. The action sequences are better, but honestly, I’m not sure I’ll bother with the inevitable third film.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Slaughterhouse Rulez: The latest Pegg/Frost film gives the duo less screen time than normal, but the young cast by and large make up for it, particularly the wonderful Asa Butterfield. The script isn’t their best, but its still involving and funnier than some of their previous efforts (looking at you World’s End) if nowhere near their best work (Paul and Hot Fuzz).

Rating: 3 out of 5

Solo: A Star Wars Story: Once it stops pandering to its intended audience with on-the-nose fan service, this actually becomes quite an involving heist/action film. The cast are good value and the direction and soundtrack work well, but ultimately, it’s all a bit too predictable and lightweight. Alden does the impossible in actually playing Han Solo in a way that feels plausible but not a parody of Harrison Ford. Donald Glover nails Lando (who really should have been the main star in a spin-off) and Phoebe Waller-Bridge has a nice role as a comedic, rebellious droid companion of Lando’s.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald: An entertaining if convoluted film. The cast all perform well, but the variable direction and an overpacked script let things down a bit. Depp and Jude Law are the standouts as Grindelwald and Dumbledore, and the final act is worth waiting for. Not bad by any means, but not one of JK’s best either.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Black Panther: A milestone for cinema, but a very overrated one. While the script was quite good, its execution could have been a lot better. With a forgettable soundtrack, predictable plotline and some of the worst CGI we’ve ever seen in a Marvel film, Black Panther was entertaining and thought-provoking, but nowhere near the classic some reviewers seem to have tried to frame it as.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Tomb Raider: While this didn’t prove video game films are good, it did prove they aren’t universally terrible. Alicia Vikander is perfect in the role of Lara Croft, and the film is well-structed and shot beautifully. That said, the script isn’t the most original, and the dialogue could definitely be better in places. Still a pleasant surprise though.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Avengers: Infinity War: Probably the most ambitious superhero film ever made, Infinity War is a bombastic crowd pleaser that mixes Marvel’s first truly great villain Thanos with tons of fan-service and excellent action sequences. Its still a Marvel film though, and pulls its punches too much and is hampered by very much being ‘part 1’ of 2, whatever the film’s title says.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Incredibles 2: It doesn’t match the original, but boy, they gave it a good go. Incredibles 2 features some of the best animation I’ve seen in a long time, and is a very engaging, slick ride. Its humour is on-point throughout, and while the villain doesn’t match Syndrome, the films plot and script have few flaws. Very entertaining stuff.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Top of the pile again? Ant-man remains the best and most undervalued of Marvel’s franchises, with this funny, heartfelt sequel. Like the original, it takes 45 minutes to really get going, but once it gets there, its utterly brilliant. Paul Rudd remains an extremely likeable lead, and Evangeline Lilly is ever bit his equal. The villains aren’t that memorable, but for once, I didn’t really care.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Overall, I think its fair to say this hasn’t been a classic year for cinema. Most films I’ve seen have been underwhelming or distinctly average. The rule of increasingly inferior sequels has definitely reared its head again (aside from the odd exception like Avengers and Ant-Man). Here’s hoping for better in 2019. To finish off, here’s my awards for the standout actors, actresses, soundtracks and direction from films this year.

My Film Awards 2018:

Best Actor: Josh Brolin (Thanos/Cable)

Best Actress: Alicia Vikander (Tomb Raider)

Best Supporting Actor: Asa Butterfield (Slaughterhouse Rulez)

Best Supporting Actress: Letitia Wright (Black Panther)

Best Animated Film: Incredibles 2

Best Film: Ant-Man and the Wasp

Best Script: Black Panther

Best Director: Ron Howard (Solo: A Star Wars Story)

Best Special Effects: Infinity War

Best Soundtrack: James Newton Howard (Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald)

Best Hero: Iron Man

Best Villain: Thanos

Worst Actor: Rafe Spall (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom)

Worst Actress: Amber Heard (Aquaman) – I haven’t seen this yet, but given her performance in the trailer, it seems like a sure fire bet. Also – I couldn’t think of anyone in the films I have seen who deserves it.

Worst Supporting Actor: TJ Miller (Deadpool 2)

Worst Supporting Actress: Brianna Hildebrand (Deadpool 2)

Worst Film: The Death of Stalin

Worst Script: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Worst Director: David Leitch (Deadpool 2)

Worst Special Effects: Black Panther

Worst Soundtrack: Avengers: Infinity War (Alan Silvestri)

Coming up next, my look at 2018’s TV highs and lows before I sign off the year with my take on the hit Video Games of 2018.

 

 

 

10 Things to watch out for in 2019

Before I get to my traditional ‘Best of Year’ articles, I thought i’d take some time to do a preview of the likely hits that 2019 might give us. While this type of article is pretty common for this time of year, I’ve never done one before, but I thought I’d try my hand at it. So without further ado, here’s my pick of what films, TV and gaming to watch out for in 2019.

1.Game of Thrones, Final Season: Season 7 really upped the scale of events in Thrones and gave us cinematic battle sequences and long-awaited character interactions into the bargain. Now Season 8 has 6 hour-plus long episodes to wrap everything up. With the White Walkers finally past the wall, expect huge scale battles and significant character deaths. However it ends, its sure to be unmissable television.

2. Avengers: Endgame: Infinity War broke all kinds of records and finally, FINALLY delivered a truly great villain for the MCU. That said, it wasn’t a flawless film, even if it was extremely entertaining. But it set the stage for this: the final Avengers film (at least for this group of Avengers). With a high probably that Iron Man and Captain America will either die or bow out at the conclusion, this might finally be the Marvel film where there are actual consequences. But whatever the fate of the heroes, its another 3 hours (supposedly) of Thanos, and that alone makes it worth seeing.

3. Captain Marvel: Marvel finally gives us a female-superhero movie. Brie Larson certainly looks the part, and the trailer really gives you a sense that there’s some ambition in this one. Expect it to lead straight into Avengers: Endgame too. Throw in a significant role for Samuel L. Jackson, and this could be Marvel’s best origin story since X-Men: First Class. Its only real hurdle is it has to live up to Wonder Woman. Speaking of which…

4. Wonder Woman 1984: One of the two good Worlds of DC films (aside from Man of Steel) finally gets a sequel. With iconic Wonder Woman foe cheetah and a no-doubt rousing soundtrack from Hans Zimmer, this might finally be the film where DC turns the tide. Or it could be the final nail in its coffin if DC screw it up. Either way, its Wonder Woman, so you know its worth a shot.

5. The Last of Us, Part 2: After the first Last of Us and the Uncharted Games, expectations are sky-high for this PS4 exclusive next year. Not only does Naughty Dog have a great track record, but the first game is still one of the best we’ve had this decade. With the same mix of epic storytelling and zombie survival horror, I’ve got very high hopes for this one.

6. The Outer Worlds: Made by Obsidian, this looks like it could be the Dark Horse of gaming releases in 2019. Not only is it the product of the brains behind Fallout: New Vegas (AKA one of the best Fallout games) but it looks like a mash-up between Borderlands and Fallout. That can only be a good thing. We haven’t have a good sci-fi RPG since Mass Effect 3 came out.

7. Stranger Things, Season 3: With House of Cards finished, most Marvel shows cancelled and Orange is the New Black drawing to a close, Stranger Things is kind of Netflix’s last standout show. Its also the best Sci-Fi show on television right now (admittedly not hard when its up against Star Trek: Discovery and Chibnall’s bastard version of Who) with one of the best young casts in television and superb support from Veteran actors such as Winona Ryder and David Harbour. With an incredibly catchy theme, a great soundtrack and brilliant special effects, you’d be mad to miss it.

8. Metro: Exodus: Since there is suddenly an unexpected market for a decent post-apocalyptic RPG game, Metro: Exodus seems likely to do very well next year. The Metro series has always had an interesting story, set in the tunnels underneath a nuclear devastated Russia, it had a pretty unique tone and feel. With Exodus its third and easily most ambitious entry, this not only looks set to pick up many disaffected Fallout fans, but also has little competition in the February release window. I’d put money on it doing quite well so long as they don’t botch the release (looking at you Bethesda).

9. Orange is the New Black, Final Season: Netflix’s longest running hit finally comes to a close in 2019. While the last few seasons have been divisive, I’ve loved them, and I’ll be sad to see it go. With several characters fates up in the air after S6, it’ll be interesting to see how they wrap it all up. With the usual mix of comedy, drama and heartache, i’m sure it’ll be a memorable ride.

10. Star Wars, Episode IX: After the critically successful but audience divisive Force Awakens and Last Jedi, Disney has a fight on its hands to bring the Star Wars fanbase back into balance. With yet another film which had to change director halfway through (this time bringing back J.J. Abrams to replace Colin Trevorrow) we know very little about how this will go. Will it be a Rogue-One-esque triumph? A Force-Awakens style remake of Return of the Jedi with plenty of style but no substance? An innovative yet divisive entry that keeps fans guessing like Last Jedi? (yeah right, this is Abrams. The guy hasn’t had an original idea ever aside from how to overuse lens-flares). Or will it be irrelevant and will audiences just stay home like they did for Solo? Wherever it ends up, it will either be the end of an era or the moment the Star Wars franchise goes back on hiatus. So either way, its going to be an unmissable end to 2019!

The three things I’m most hyped for at this point have to be The Last of Us Part 2, Avengers: Endgame and Stranger Things S3, but who knows – one of the others may pleasantly surprise me and outdo all my expectations. Either way – 2019 is definitely looking good in the entertainment industry (which is reassuring, since the outlook is dire everywhere else!).

Next Up: My look at the best and worst films that have released in 2018, with TV and Video Game articles close behind…

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald Review

Starring Eddie Redmayne, Dan Fogler, Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller,  Johnny Depp and Jude Law.

Warning: Minor Spoilers.

The first fantastic beasts film was a charming, entertaining spin-off that, a few duff side-plots aside, was up there with most of the Potter films in terms of quality. It’s likeable lead quartet of Newt, Tina, Jacob and Queenie were worthy replacements for Harry, Ron and Hermione, even if Graves/Grindelwald didn’t match up to Voldemort as an antagonist. The cute, loveable magical creatures made up for the dull New York setting and the stupid second salemers subplot. The film’s simplicity, by and large, played in its favour.

The second film always had a few more hurdles to negotiate. Would fans like Jude Law’s take on the young Dumbledore? Would Johnny Depp’s performance put fan discontent at his casting as Grindelwald to rest? Would Rowling tell an inventive story without getting too bogged down in laying the groundwork for film 3 (and potentially films 4 and 5?). Well the casting fears proved unfounded. The script problems reviewers have been mentioning are, unfortunately, evident throughout. There’s too many characters and subplots competing for screentime, which leaves the main quartet a little hard done by, particularly Tina (who is split from Newt thanks to a needless plot contrivance) and Queenie, whose character arc comes a bit out of nowhere and leads to a rather unconvincing twist. On the plus side, Newt and Jacob’s double act is just as heart-warming and funny as it was in the previous film, and both get a decent amount of screentime. Another bonus is the switch of setting from New York to Paris and London – America just isn’t a natural fit for Potter and Paris definitely felt like a more ‘magical’ place for the story to take place.

The film does definitely benefit from having closer ties to Hogwarts and the existing Potter mythos than its predecessor. The flashbacks to Newt and Leta’s time at Hogwarts are some of the best parts of the film, while Jude Law is so perfect for the role of Dumbledore. His performance is the highlight of the film – seeing Dumbledore actually teach was great too – Law gives just the right balance of encouraging, mischievous mentor and regretful, sombre figure who’s still coming to terms with his past. Matching him, somewhat surprisingly, is Johnny Depp’s Grindelwald. Depp’s fallen a long way in the past few years – he’s had more misses than hits in the films he’s done and his personal life has come under intense scrutiny and alienated a sizeable part of his fanbase. All of which makes it all the more surprising that he’s one of the best things in this film. Grindelwald feels a lot more layered and real than Voldemort ever did. While Voldemort was always supposed to be a manifestation of pure evil, Grindelwald is the more real, familiar kind of monster who sees everything he does as right, regardless of the cost. He has a very much ‘ends justify the means’ rationale in this film, and is a lot subtler than Voldemort in the way he tries to win followers to his cause. Depp plays him perfectly, which I never thought I’d say – there’s a lot of charisma, underpinned by malevolence bubbling away underneath the surface  – and most crucially, he feels like a real match for Dumbledore, both in power and intellect. Much like Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot in Batman vs Superman, he’s nowhere near as miscast as everyone feared.

Unfortunately, the rest of the new characters struggle to have much of an impact, mainly because there’s just too many of them. Zoe Kravitz gives a good turn as Leta Lestrange, but she’s the exception. Newt’s brother Theseus and newcomer Nagini get bugger all to do throughout, Grindelwald’s followers are all one-note characters with minimal screentime, and none of the ministry figures are as memorably characterised as the likes of Fudge and Umbridge were. Arguably this is a result of Rowling trying to cram too much set-up into this film – everyone’s so busy jockeying for screentime that it’s inevitable some of them get pushed to the sides and largely forgotten. The fantastic beasts themselves don’t fare much better – the Niffler gets plenty of laughs, but there’s only really 3 others on display and they’re more window dressing that essential to the plot this time. Credence’s plot arc takes up a lot of the runtime, and while Ezra Miller plays him well, its still hard to be overly invested in him, and his whole ‘real family’ plotline wasn’t set up well enough in film one to merit so much emphasis here. As for the final twist… we’ll wait and see. It smacks of Rowling re-writing her own mythos, but it could work depending on what they do with it in the next one.

David Yates’ direction isn’t as assured as usual this time round. Given he’s helmed the past 5 Potter films, this is both surprising and rather disappointing. While the visuals are generally stunning, there’s WAY too much cutting during the action scenes (the opening escape sequence is one of the worst shot chase sequences I can remember) and while the effects are good, it’s nothing special until the finale, which finally gives us something memorable as Grindelwald proves just how powerful he really is (seriously, it bests anything Voldemort did on screen). James Newton Howard’s soundtrack is more sombre and foreboding this time round. While its probably not as memorable as the first films, it suits this film well. There’s only a couple of tracks I might consider buying though.

Overall, Fantastic Beasts is an entertaining film which benefits from closer ties to Hogwarts and Dumbledore than its predecessor, but is let down by messy plotting and haphazard direction. The cast work well together, and Johnny Depp and Jude Law are fine additions, but it suffers from trying to cram in too many plotlines and too much set-up (in some ways it reminds me of Amazing Spider-Man 2). The Final act and the Hogwarts flashbacks are great, but we’ll have to wait for film 3 to really get a sense of how all the twists and turns are going to play out.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

I may do reviews of a few more films before the years out (I’ve just rented Solo: A Star Wars Story and I may go and see Mortal Engines in cinema soon).