Friday, March 16, 2007

Passing Sentences: March 16

Hellboy - Sword of Storms: So close. This animated movie did almost everything right: it appropriated Japanese demonology fairly well, presented accurate characterizations of the main cast (for better or worse - I found Liz Sherman to be as irritating as she is in the comics, which counts as a mark of accuracy, I guess), and had some great action scenes... it also has one of the most abrupt and unsatisfying endings I've ever seen in comic adaptations. Horribly anticlimactic, to the point where it really ruins the film.

Invincible Iron Man: Another kinda-sorta-okay cartoon flick. Again, the technical quality is very good, a near-seamless blend of conventional animation and CGI, and the voice acting's strong - somehow, it seems completely appropriate for Tony to have a phone sex operator voice, even if this movie's supposedly PG. But anyway, it's a surprisingly old-school interpretation of Iron Man as the rich, sex-addled playboy who just happens to whip up Iron Man suits in his spare time. The Mandarin revamp was nice too. But once again I can't help but feel a little disappointed with the end result - not so much because there's anything wrong with the film's climax and conclusion, but because everything more or less plays out the way you'd expect it. I don't know if being formulaic is a bad thing, given that this is supposed to be an introductory vehicle for the character to the mainstream audience (even though this version of Iron Man no longer exists in the wake of "Civil War"), but it just wasn't exciting or unpredictable for me at any point. Well, okay, except for that scene where Pepper Potts walks in on Tony in the shower, casually opens the door and delivers her report without once looking south. Realistic? No. But impressive nonetheless. :)

Rome, Death Mask: Last week's episode, which I missed. Anyway, it's a very apt title - we have two marriages, lots of sex, at least one pregnancy, but death hangs over everything, very much like a mask. The cast is whittled down a little more, and losing Servilia (and Eleni) was a major shock not just because I didn't see it coming, but because she doesn't achieve anything in death. I don't think I ever felt much sympathy towards her, given that - in this version of history - she caused three civil wars and countless deaths because her sekrit MARRIED boyfriend dumped her ass. But she loses everything as a result of her own pettiness, to the point where she can't even muster the strength to deliver a last blow more substantial than ineffectual curses (I mean, last time she put the Evil Whammy on Caesar, he defeated Pompey and won the Egyptian campaign). So it's kind of sad on that level.

Rome, A Necessary Fiction: Another two recurring characters meet their end, and unlike the previous episode, I was happy to see both of them go. Memmio's scum, so no big loss there. Eirene, though... I always had a problem with Eirene, and not because she was cockblocking Vorenus and Pullo. It's more that she never had much of a personality, or any kind of character arc, that made her more than a piece of furniture. I mean, if you compare her to Niobe, it's not just that Indira Varma was a better actress, it's that she had a function that went beyond just being her husband's anchor. She had a whole seasonal arc about her secret, and her attempts to enter Roman high society, and her reconciliation with Vorenus after their long separation. Eirene never did anything, despite the fact that she had motive - from the moment she agreed to marry Pullo, I was sure she was plotting to get revenge on him for turning her last boyfriend's head into coleslaw. Not only did that not happen, but the summation of her life on-screen was Slave, Wife, Pregnant, Dead. The only effect her death had was showing us that Vorenus is much less a friend to Pullo than Pullo was to him (compare Pullo's grieving process and Vorenus' participation to the reverse when Niobe died), and, well, that's hardly something that'd make me remember Eirene fondly. So long, doormat.

Veronica Mars, Papa's Cabin: I'd completely overlooked this episode when it aired, which probably says more than I'm comfortable saying about where "Veronica Mars" is located on my list of priorities. This is the first mystery that ends with Veronica having the upper hand throughout, and she knows it, and her enemy knows it, and there is no physical violence of any kind. And you know what? It worked for me. The Landry/Mindy/Batando axis got a bit too convoluted towards the end, but it wrapped up nicely and I thought that last scene - with Keith glibly realizing there's no point in trying to shield Veronica from the world's uglier moments - would have been perfect as a series finale. Of course, I later discovered that the series is in danger of cancellation yet again, and if it does survive this time it'll undergo a paradigm shift even greater than the ones that came before it... although now that I think about it, there's something appealing about skipping down the timeline, ditching most of the cast and tightening up the focus on Veronica herself. It just might work if it's given the chance.

Supernatural, Roadkill: Eh. Nice twist with Molly's true nature, but this is going back to "Houses of the Holy" in terms of tasteless filler.

Marvel - Ultimate Alliance: Magnificent game, but when held up to its predecessor "X-Men Legends 2", it loses just a bit. I'll admit that the graphics are outstanding, the plot's better, and there's a significantly greater variety in terms of settings, gameplay sequences (ie: the reflex/puzzle-oriented boss battles, the minigames, the optional quests, etc.) and character selection, which means the replayability factor is much higher than XML2... but at the same time, the auto-target is very unreliable (especially problematic for someone like Storm, whose primary offensive powers aren't line-of-sight), using powers can be sluggish, inventory has been downsized so every character can only equip one item (and there's not a single item that's really worth seeking out), and your inability to set your characters' stats pretty much forces you to pick and choose your team members based on attributes you can't control or change.

As with XML2, Simulator missions ensure you get a chance to control every hero (except for the secret ones, obviously), so you can get a clear fix on which heroes work best for you. Unlike XML2, skins (costumes) actually have a function here, each with their own bonuses, but they can only be gained by killing lots and lots of enemies (or, for the most powerful skin, by completing the character's personalized Simulator challenge). Both powers and skins can be upgraded with obscene amounts of money, but since money has no real value anywhere else in the game, you might as well spend that million on another skill point. There also doesn't seem to be any set pattern to powering up: sometimes gaining just one level is enough to advance an ability, sometimes you need two skill points, sometimes three or four.

Still, even with its flaws, "Ultimate Alliance" is a must-play game for any Marvel fan (and even moreso for lapsed Marvel fans, as this game really recaptures some of the MU's best attributes). I started out with Storm, Spider-Woman, Deadpool and Ms. Marvel, and slowly cycled in hidden characters until I had Silver Surfer, Doctor Strange, Daredevil and Iron Man. Much fun was had by all. :)

Dragonsphere: Despite the antiquated graphics and atrocious voice-acting, "Dragonsphere" has real substance. It's pretty short, as fantasy/adventure games go, but it manages to create a world that is at once familiar via the usual Tolkienesque tropes and new, strange, unknown. It also helps that the game is very forgiving: while you can make mistakes that will get you killed, you will immediately resume from the point prior to the fatal error, allowing you to learn from your missteps without interrupting the story flow.