Game Review: Spider-Man PS4

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Fans of Spider-Man will be happy to know that the new PS4 game does for their favorite wall-crawler what the Arkham series did for Batman, but hardcore gamers may be disappointed that in terms of groundbreaking gameplay Spider-Man on PS4 doesn’t swing too high above the watermark that Arkham set. The open world gameplay is heavily indebted to open worlds past, specifically those inhabited by Batman, Ubisoft’s many Assassins, and the Infamous gang. Spider-Man‘s Manhattan is littered with colorful icons indicating side missions to delight, distract, and occasionally bore the player. Of course this is all par for the course for the modern open world gamer. What sets Spider-Man apart is the sweet sublime feeling of swinging through the city streets, a kind of divinely relaxing routine that allows the player to forget their worries and get lost in the fun.

The story will be hard to discuss without spoilers, but I’ll try my hardest to keep this review spoiler-free. Suffice it to say that in general, the narrative takes an awfully long time to reach some familiar places, pitting Spidey against supervillains while his alter ego Peter Parker is dealing with guilt, grief and relationship woes. The game opens with Spidey on the verge of a criminal bust after eight years of work. Once a renowned mob boss is in jail, Spider-Man is forced to deal with the power vortex he’s created. A new supervillain rises to power, Mr. Negative, a photo-negative look-alike who can zombify people by unleashing their inherent darkness. This darkness idea isn’t really explored so much as it is shoehorned in amongst all the other madcap nonsense involving Dr. Otto Octavius and Norman Osborne, characters so thoroughly established that they feel like an odd mix of nostalgia and redundancy here. The story isn’t as artfully crafted as the dialogue, and eventually the crime narrative rubber-bands to a rapid conclusion, one feeling a bit short and sluggish. Thankfully the character moments are charming and nuanced enough to counter-balance these flaws.

Underwhelmed by is offerings, I rushed through the story so I could dig into what I cared about the most, swinging around the city and stopping crimes. Once the story is complete you’ll have plenty of time to explore, collect backpacks, try on new super-powered suits, and do whatever a spider can, even though sometimes ‘whatever a spider can’ feels oddly familiar to ‘whatever a bat did yesterday.’ The stealth mechanics aren’t quite as polished as Arkham‘s, but they get the job done. Combat is a bit looser and doesn’t feel as much like a rhythm/puzzle game as Arkham. Once you get a hang of the many different mechanics and how they can be hybridized to create your own natural rhythm, things get fun and fluid. Sometimes you’ll find yourself scrambling for that perfect swing or shot and inadvertently doing something more spectacular than you could have imagined. That moment of discovery and the glee that comes with it is enough to make any comic book fan feel like a kid again.

For the Spidey Squad this game is a clear no-brainer, but for everyone else I’d offer a caveat. Spider-Man feels more like a game that might have been released prior to Breath of the Wild or The Phantom Pain in terms of its workhorse aplomb. It never tries to push any boundaries or exceed expectations. It merely tries to match them and provide a game worthy of the name Spider-Man. By that metric it succeeds, and likely will pave the way for DLC and sequels that push the game engine to exciting new heights.

Movie Review: Avengers: Infinity War

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In truly spectacular fashion the masterminds at Marvel have cracked the code of putting comic book action on the big screen. Not only does Infinity War capture the jaw-dropping visuals of classic comic books, it also captures the medium’s devastating twists and turns. Your expectations may be decimated, and you may feel heartbreak- that is if you’re willing to put your cynicism aside and let yourself be moved by nearly three hours of superhero carnage. I know it’s not for everybody, but for those who have kept up with the connective tissue between all these Marvel movies, Infinity War feels like a knock-out punch.

But of course it isn’t the end. Another Avengers movie comes out next year to continue the story left behind in this installment. Clearly the filmmakers wanted to ape Empire Strikes Back, but even on its own terms Infinity War feels like the definitive Marvel movie. Nitpicks aside- Peter Dinklage phones in his performance- this movie hits on practically all cylinders and is packed to the brim with so much explosive action and crazy cartoon cross-overs that it almost feels like the fever dream of a five year old. Most surprisingly, this fever dream threads together plot lines from countless superhero stories and crafts them into something inexplicably consummate. In that weird way that the Fast and Furious franchise inexplicably started feeling more necessary over time, Infinity War is the best justification for superhero cinema yet.

I urge you to run out and see Infinity War, even if your understanding of the Marvel movies is tenuous. It’s a litmus test for the power of these movies. If you can sit through Infinity War without a shred of interest in any of the plot lines, then let Marvel be damned. Curse it to the winds. But for the rest of us, this is paradise.

I cannot go forward without spoilers, so just stop reading now and go reserve your seats if you have not seen it.

(SPOILERS BELOW:)

Good riddance. Now we can get to the real meat and potatoes.

So wow, that ending, huh?

Pretty great. Thanos just chilling out, enjoying himself.

I have heard it before and I really agree: It’s Thanos’s movie.

Josh Brolin is barely evident. It is the story of Thanos, not some actor. Thanos is a kind-hearted soul who merely wishes to nobly destroy half of all living things to bring balance to the universe. Cool.

Steve Rogers and Tony Stark have a bug up their butt about that, so they launch an interstellar wizard / spider-team into space, then send everyone else to Africa. Thor asks a giant dwarf for help with a star axe. Nat fights interstellar warriors with judo kicks. The Guardians of the Galaxy are perhaps the funniest they have ever been, especially when Pratt and Hemsworth are both on screen. There is so much going on in this movie that it is almost an afterthought that Spider-Man dies.

Web-head is one of maybe dozens of heroes who die in the final scenes of Infinity War. Everybody gets turned to dust. Except for Gamora, who has already been fucking brutally murdered by her own father. Also Idris Elba dies like five minutes into the movie. Thanos is so scary that the Hulk won’t even come out anymore.

Everyone dies. Thanos warps back in time and kills everybody. Only the original Avengers and Michonne are left. But wait a minute- didn’t Black Panther make crazy money at the box office? How could they kill him? Unless…

UNLESS EVERYONE COMES BACK FROM THE DEAD NEXT MOVIE! OF COURSE!

And that’s why I’ll be there opening day, weeping and screaming.

Movie Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming

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Like Wonder Woman before it, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a fun-filled adventure that falls apart under scrutiny, more a movie theater equivalent of a Disneyland ride than a fully formed story. What keeps the action piping along is the charismatic acting and winsome dialogue that manages to genuinely capture the quippy character of Spider-Man. Star Tom Holland works well, but baddie Michael Keaton shines especially brightly in this flick. It’s just that- as the third film incarnation of Spider-Man in the past fifteen years, and the umpteenth film under the Marvel Cinematic Universe umbrella, certain aspects of the movie feel tired, if not wholly redundant.

Much was said about how Homecoming wouldn’t be an origin story, but in terms of how adept the web-slinger is with his abilities, it might as well be. Spidey stumbles, slips, slides and argues his way out of jams so consistently that he feels more like Spider-Twerp than Man. Again, Keaton is the real star of the show here. Not to disparage Holland’s performance, which is wonderful in its own right, but Keaton pushes the MCU into Oscar-worthy acting, a feat previous performers have failed to accomplish. His sinister sneer and hard-luck, working-class-hero routine alternate keenly to give the MCU something it’s been sorely lacking- a villain with some measure of depth. Keaton has the skill of taking even the most generic dialogue and infusing it with real, relatable character. Holland’s performance, for all its charm, never exceeds the bounds set in Captain America: Civil War.

Beyond the leads, Homecoming’s supporting cast is packed with lovable character actors and comedians. The casting and referential writing do a good job of playing bait-and-switch with the audience, hinting at the potential for certain players to take other forms in future films, but never revealing more than they need to. Most of these players inhabit Peter Parker’s school life, making the movie more coming-of-age comedy than superhero adventure. Compared to other Spider-flicks there’s less time slinging webs, and more time slinging one-liners.

The action is well-conceived, fairly inventive and occasionally well-shot, but never so iconic as the train sequence in Spider-Man 2. The movie is light on melodrama, choosing cerebral comedy and a few brief moments of visceral tension instead. A better Spider-Man movie might have borrowed some of the physical humor of Raimi’s films to fit more snugly into the same vibe as the raw physicality of Keaton’s drama, but that’s more of a nitpick than a glaring error.

The real glaring error is the hovering parental supervision of Tony Stark. The gag here is that Tony has Spidey on “training wheels” protocol, and the storytelling reiterates this fact constantly. Whenever there’s an opportunity for Spidey to be- dare I say, spectacular?- Tony swoops in and provides his trademark brand of ‘do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do’ lecturing. For a hero who was totally okay throwing Spidey against Captain America last time, (not to mention having a ten-year old rebuild his suit in Iron Man 3) this new, sterner Stark is more a deus-ex-killjoy than a wise-cracking mentor. Those hoping for scenes of Tony and Peter soaring through skyscrapers after a winged foe (and solving their differences) will be sorely disappointed.

The messaging of the movie is kind of corrupted by the randomness of Tony’s intrusions and the fact that character motivations stop mattering by the three-quarter mark. Keaton’s Vulture vows to kill Spider-Man around the same time a twist provides reason for him not to, but due to the necessity of a surprisingly sinister car ride scene, this logicality is ignored. Who needs to make sense when you have Keaton acting his ass off? A friend once criticized my writing by saying, “I guess nothing else matters so long as it’s funny,” and I see the point of his sarcasm here. Sometimes an acrobatic hero like Spidey bends so far backwards to get a reaction, the reasoning for it suffers.

This is not to say you will not enjoy Spider-Man. You’ll likely have a blast, as I did, for the most part. This just isn’t that perfect Spider-Man movie fans have been waiting for, in the sense that The Dark Knight is the perfect Batman film for many Bat-fans. Nothing in this movie sings as loudly or as memorably as that great airport fight in Civil War, though overall this story is more consistently enjoyable. And certainly this is leaps and bounds above the travesties of Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. This is more of an improvement on Amazing Spider-Man 1, a fun, watchable entry mostly distinguishable by its villain. But like many a Marvel movie, I was left hoping they’d get to the “really good part” in the next one. Knowing Marvel, there’ll be no short supply of “next ones” to keep that hope alive.