Thoughts: Guardians of the Galaxy - Why Does the Caged Bird Sing?

Written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman Directed by James Gunn

10 films and 6 years in to this proven experiment, it isn’t hyperbole to call Guardians of the Galaxy the riskiest looking venture for the sure footed and colossal Marvel Studios. Guardians is a feature based around an obscure ramshackle team from the Marvel cosmic side of things, defiantly lacking the comic book name power to draw the mainstream. A cultural cache that doesn’t belong to cult famous James Gunn (Slither, Super) either, but it does have the well known TV actor Chris Pratt leading the charge, casting that is spot on and keeping within Marvel’s track record.

Guardians is the weirdest Marvel venture and the studios first real bend into new genre, space opera and action-adventure comedy. The previously released Captain America: The Winter Soldier only portends towards being a political thriller in its second half and succumbs to super heroics for its third act. Guardians isn’t different, it has a massive blockbuster trailer shot filled third act finale involving hundreds of space ships evoking the Death Star run from A New Hope. James Gunn like Shane Black with Iron Man 3 manages to bring some of his personality to bear, just look at how weird this film and the off kilter humor. But like Shane Black, Gunn can only do so much before the Marvel Studio machine takes precedence, it’s these moments that make this film a Marvel Movie, an object part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and not just a really good movie featuring Marvel characters. Those moments hold the film back. By showing a large amount of creativity and uniqueness, Guardians of the Galaxy stands out among its contemporaries but also shows the limitations of the Marvel formula as it stands. 10 films over the past 6 years and the marvel formula is starting to get a little boring.

The first 15 minutes of this film will tell you if you’ll be in or out. Peter Quill(Chris Pratt), he’d prefer you call him Star Lord, explores the remains of a tomb dancing to Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love” as the credits role. Calling Quill the Han Solo type is incredibly apt; he likely thinks he is Han Solo by this point. Abducted from his family in 1988, Quill works as a low level ne’er-do-well and scoundrel with the Ravagers led by Yondu Udonta(a very blue Michael Rooker). The Raiders of the Lost Ark inspired opening is interrupted not soon after Quill acquires the films macguffin, an orb with an infinity stone inside it. It acts much like the Aether from Thor: The Dark World but is purple instead of dark red this time around.

Quill, The Ravagers, and their various buyers aren’t the only ones who want the orb, what good macguffin isn’t over prized? The Kree terrorist, Ronan the Accuser(Lee Pace) also desires it as part of deal with Thanos(Josh Brolin). The orb sets off a chase plot that ties the film together, allowing for easy transitions from comedic to action beats and somewhere in between. Once again there is no fault to be found in the structure of these films, repetitive as they are.

Quill is eventually captured by Marvel’s space cops the Nova Corp and sent to the space prison called the Kyln along with his future comrades: Rocket, Groot, and Gamora. Star Wars: A New Hope is a major reference point for this film from the grungy sci-fi aesthetic to its use of archetype characters to round out its cast. The films use of archtypes works for the majority of its cast but the attempts to expand on Gamora (Zoe Saldona), one of Thanos’ daughters, is ham-fisted. The film really wants to impress upon you that despite being called by Rhomann Dey(John C. Reilly) a living weapon, assassin and killer during processing; she’s really a good person. How does it go about this? By having Gamora constantly reiterate that the fate of millions Xandarian lives hangs in the balance if Ronan gets the stone. Gamora has suddenly found her heart, somewhere off screen. Reiterating the stakes once or twice would be ok but script turns that into Gamora’s only talking point at times, turning the character into a nag. The film tells more than it shows about Gamora, and making her a physically strong but not really strong character. This is likely due to Saldona’s star power and placement in the films hierarchy as the female lead and perceived love interest to Peter Quill, there must be no doubt that she is a good person. We can’t have our heroes falling for morally grey women.

This is a characterization failure that stands out more when looking at how the film treats its trio of weirdos: Rocket, Groot, and Drax. These are supporting characters, two of which aren’t physically there, and the film is confident enough to let them be weird off in the corner. The films treatment of them nearly lets them run away with the film. It isn’t just because the pair of Rocket and Groot could be this generations C-3PO and R2D2, assuming the robotic duo do not appear in Star Wars 7 – infinity. Their lower status in the hierarchy allows the film to just let them be themselves “Ain't nothing like me, 'cept me” the experimented on, tortured rodent voiced by Bradley Cooper brags. These characters get to operate within the periphery. Only to be focused on in moments of humanity and vulnerability, like a drunken rant in a bar. In the case of the films two CGI rendered Guardians, it is a humanity well rendered. Gunn also does wonders with actor and part time pro-wrestler Dave Bautista, turning the muscle bound actor’s limited range into a terrific comedic engine.

The lack of doubt surrounding Gamorra’s heroic or villainous feelings is what makes this a Marvel Movie; it has the emotional and moral subtlety of Ronan’s hammer. Gunn dose turn this into a bit of an asset at times, using the films eclectic pop soundtrack (a huge improvement of the generic ones most Marvel films have) and references to turn these moments into a delightful bit of camp. The moments where he can’t talk about the great hero Kevin Bacon or set a scene to some 80’s or 70’s pop is when the film noticeably drags to a halt as it drops exposition for characters and objects in the most leaden obvious manner. Sure these moments may be important to other unannounced films or Guardians of the Galaxy 2 announced for July 2017 but they ruin the films flow. This film by its genre is separated from the terrestrial films but when it is forced into dropping lore exposition, the weight of these connections is the films undoing. Guardians of the Galaxy becomes a pretty bird in a gilded cage.

The films epic scale doesn’t leave it wanting for antagonist, you’ve got Ronan, Nebula, and Yondu all circling the film. All this antagonistic force is why Ronan, played by Lee Pace, is one again a forgettable and boring Marvel villain. Beyond a monologue at the beginning meant entirely for the audience, that to its credit is handled decently, he is evil for the sake of evil. Angered that the Kree government has signed a peace treaty with long time enemy’s the Xandarians(in place of the Skrull), Ronan goes into league with Thanos as a means to destroy his enemies. He talks of his religious duty to destroy the Xandarians and his cultures superiority but we are never given a hint of this 1000 year conflict beyond a news flash talking about the peace treaty. It reduces what could’ve been an interesting complex antagonist into a lame terrorist character from some 80’s action movie.

Which is why the cyborg daughter of Thanos, Nebula(Karen Gillan), is the more interesting antagonist in the film. As with Rocket, Groot and Drax the film allows Nebula to operate in the periphery and have Karen Gillan act under an immense amount of make-up and voice modification. We get to see her and be drawn into this damaged cyborg with daddy issues. Which is to say nothing of the relationship she has with Gamora, an under explored element of the film that could have done wonders for both characters.

Guardians of the Galaxy is weird, and I want to see more of it and the places Quill and his motley crew adventure to next. It is the most visually unique Marvel film yet even in the couple moments of incomprehensibly edited action set pieces. It’s just the moments that bring it into the greater marvel lore that drag the film down as it is forced to conform to barriers and a 10 year plan in obvious fashion. Overall this is among the better blockbusters this summer and should be a star making endeavor for director James Gunn and Chris Pratt.

I am Michael Mazzacane and you can find on Twitter @MaZZM and at weekntv.com or comicweek.com

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Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past - Generations

14 years ago Brian Singer directed the first X-Men film, kicking off a new age of comic book cinema. Now 7 films later, the franchise about the slightly altered genes that divide humanity has been indelibly linked to how modern comic book franchises function. The first film is a bit of a surprise and proof of concept. Its sequel is a classic and appeared to signal the fact that entry number two would likely be the highpoint for franchises going forward. The third entry utterly crashed and burned (for myriad of reasons) and seemed to kill it, signaling the hardships third entrees face the majority of the time. It had a spin off film that really seemed to kill it. There was the reboot that studio 20th Century Fox wouldn’t really call a reboot, stretching the ideas of film cannon to logical breaking points. Than The Avengers came out and there was a new hill for the X-Men franchise to conquer: the team up movie.

Over a decade since the last ‘X’ film Singer directed, the original director returns with the seventh entry in the franchise, Days of Future Past. Based on one of the most popular storylines ever “Days of Future Past” from Uncanny X-Men #141-142, its feature film adaptation uses the time traveling conceit to try and reconcile the franchises contradictory continuity and erase the two major black marks on its record. Fox clearly sees this has a pivot point towards a bright new chapter in the franchise. It’s that last part that easily could make one cynical about the films prospects towards critical quality. Days of Future Past is the type of film I would normally dislike immensely. It is highly plot driven with the emotional arc of the film, like it’s lead, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) flung miles away at the flick of wrist in the name of grandstanding blockbuster DRAMA. Yet on the strength of the performances from the First Class crew largely and the time travel conceit inescapably linking it as a part of a long running franchise with a history, Days of Future Past manages enough emotionally earned moments and block buster fun to be a highly enjoyable film. For viewers who haven’t seen the first two films, The Wolverine, or First Class it’s hard to say if they’ll even be able to pick up these emotional threads. Days of Future Past quality may make me to reconsider my attitudes to some of the more serialized (and commercially minded) ways of structure these features have.

Boasting a cast that is easily describe as “everyone in an ‘X’ film plus some new mutants”, the huge cast (and demanding stars that come with it) could have crushed the film, whose screenplay is written by X3 scribe Simon Kindberg. Logically the cast is largely thrown to the side in the form of fantastical scenery or cameos. Fans of the original trilogy will be left wanting, Ian McKellen is largely silent, Halle Berry says perhaps 20 words the entire film. The original trilogy members are there more as a frame device and one last hurrah in the black leather.

Simon Kinberg, who shares story credit with First Class writers Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman, screenplay is a spiritually faithful adaptation of the Claremont and Byrne arc. The present(?) X-Men along with the rest of the mutant race find themselves on the edge of extinction and forced into one last gambit involving a newly developed ability by Kitty Pryde. She has the ability to project consciousness back in time and thus change the future. Don’t waste any sort of brain power trying to figure out how this mcguffin works, it is a nice homage to the source. Wolverine elects to have his consciousness sent back over 50 years to 1973 in order to stop Mystique from assassinating a high ranking official that starts the domino effect that leads them to their dystopian present.

Yes, this is could be classified as yet another Wolverine and The X-Men film. But in sending Wolverine back, Days leverages the franchises original breakout star as the emotional keystone for original trilogy viewers and the film (at first). Even though he is literally flung miles away at the flick of the wrist later, Days of Future Past sending Wolverine on a mission of rehabilitating a young Professor X(James McAvoy) has a surprising amount of earned emotional resonance. This foundation mixed with some given time travel humor and chemistry between McAvoy, Fassbender, and Hoult make for an enjoyable team up of generations.

First Class’ exploration of the relationship between Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr was touching and more than carried by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. Getting to see two separate pairs of X and Magneto both bounce off of each other at different times in their lives made for an interesting mirror in which to view the franchises foundational relationship.

Inevitably with a cast this large, characters are left underexplored and ask viewers to bring in emotional weight to little sustained shots of eye contact. Mystique, played by the franchises other clear breakout star Jennifer Lawrence, is one such character. Xavier and Magneto talk to her about how she has changed, if she is Xavier’s “Raven” or Mystique now. But other than moments of plot and history ordained action, viewers are never given the sense of history or conflict within this key player in Days of Future Past. The same goes for Sentinel creator Bolivar Trask ably played by Peter Dinklage. Dinklage gives the military scientist a passion and fire but he fails to stand out as true villain real or imagined. The failure in casting Trask as a villain with social conviction beyond some talk of uniting humanity and commercial gain is yet another film in this franchise where for all the talk of humanities discontent with mutants, fails to really show them as a threat. Where are the Purifiers?

As they have aged, the Singer films clearly show themselves to be of a time and place where bright and colorful uniforms were thought to camp and unbelievable. Honestly they still are, but the cold sci-fi by way of Spielberg aesthetic Singer brings to his ‘X’ films is the nail that locks the first 2 films in temporal place. Singer as a director is just very cold; he’s the cold cousin of Ron Howard filmicly. First Class director brought some real fun to that film, casting it as a 60’s Bond thriller. Singer takes some of that fun found in First Class and runs with it during the 1970 segements.

With a cast this large and power set this varied, Days of Future Past is perhaps the best translation of mutant powers from page to screen. Singer has found a crew that can make some absolutely stunning set pieces. The opener that explains the conceit lives up to the headline from #142 “Everyone Dies”. New mutants like Blink(Fan Bingbing) with her portal ability create a great sense of scale for the small areas of combat. Then there is the inclusion of Evan Peters as Pietro Maximoff aka Quicksilver. Issues you may have with his outfit, it does look really dumb, they cannot be had with his involvement in breaking Magneto out of the Pentagon (long story).That sense of fun Vaughn had is mixed with Singer’s cold methodical way of showing action, making for a hilarious example of the power of inertia.

Days of Future Past is one part of a continuing franchise of films, it isn’t the end. Not when Bryan Singer has announced X-Men: Apocalypse for 2016 (stay for requisite post-credit stinger). If this isn’t the end, emotionally it at least feels like the end of a chapter. The fond farewell to the original trilogy cast who can now regale Wolverine with whatever happened in the 1980’s.

I am Michael Mazzacane and you can find on Twitter @MaZZM and at weekntv.com

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So this is how Nintendo could have shut down SSBM at EVO

Ever since that kerffule surronding Nintendos want to shut down not only the stream of EVO's Super Smash Bros. Melee tournament but the actual tournament itself, I have been wondering what legal ground does Nintendo have to do this.

Well acording to Ars Technica

Video games are treated differently, though, primarily because they exist on a screen rather than a board. "A video game under copyright law is an audiovisual work, which gives a public performance right of the copyright holder," Dallas attorney and Law of the Game blog author Mark Methenitis explained in an interview with Ars. "Under the public performance right, the copyright holder is allowed to say when, where, or whether something is publicly performed, meaning displayed in front of a group of people larger than, say, at your house."

In other words, if you want to put on a Street Fighter tournament and charge people to watch, Capcom can make you get a license for the "public performance" of the game.

Which makes sense but also seems kind of shitty. There is a lot more going on in the orginization of these tournaments beyond setting up a DVD and hitting play in a public place. The attraction isn't just the game but the people playing the game, the stream, and enviroment. It's interesting to see the distction made between video and board games. The latter dosen't run into many of these issues because it dosen't require a screen to play it on.

More worrisome is that this is a bit of a leagle gray area because there is not easy way to pay a licensing fee for a "public preformance". This is just like many gray areas in the Games Industry, where it's up to publishers and developers to just not really care about these events in a legal sense. Or things like streams, lets play's of their games, and others. Capcom does charge a licensing fee, which appears to be a subject of conttention among eSports organizers like MLG.

Personally I think this is just another sign of how boned our copyright system is in terms of catching up to new media and how we interact with it.

cheap plugs: you can find more random postings by me, usually about film and TV on tumblr at mazzz.net

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Spector Wants Ebert I Want New Voices

What we need, as I said in an earlier column, is our own Andrew Sarris, Leonard Maltin, Pauline Kael, Judith Crist, Manny Farber, David Thomson, or Roger Ebert. We need people in mainstream media who are willing to fight with each other (not literally, of course) about how games work, how they reflect and affect culture, how we judge them as art as well as entertainment. We need people who want to explain games, individually and generically, as much as they want to judge them. We need what might be called mainstream critical theorists.

Warren Spector: Where's Gaming's Roger Ebert?

Warren Spector dreams of an age when places like the New York Times (beyond the Totillo stuff) covers video games the same way they do film. While I think hoping that video games in particular find their Ebert to be a bit misguided, I really wouldn't mind more coverage of Games in the LA times.

Video Games can't have another Ebert because no one else is getting another Ebert. Which is a shame. I LOVED Roger Eberts writing and TV work. If it weren't for him I wouldn't be going into Film/media studies at this very moment. But what he represents, a highly accepted critic embedded in the mainstream, isn't likely to happen again or at least not on a large scale. He was also a LOT more than just the thumbs up or down guy on TV. He was a great writer who spent years writing for Chicago Sun-Times and published many books. Than once his voice left him made the jump to the digital space better than anyone his age ever did. Guys like that don't come along very often.

Video Games don't really make for good TV. No, it isn't that G4 failed. The regmimented way broad and cable cast television is presented has strict deadlines. Unless you have perfect demos that encapsulate a game in 30 seconds of montage, it would be hard to encapsulate a game in a 5-10 minute conversation. Also the amount of time necessary for both hosts to just play all the games they were going to talk about would be emence. These things create lag in production and an inability to change midstream to talk about recent developements. Things Adam Sessler, now at Rev3Games, has complained about his time at G4. Even than with his weekly shows like Spoiled Games (on the Internet) it's hard to do.

Maybe if things started small there would be enough lead time to work out the kinks. Ebert started out on a public broadcast station where the show grew and eventually became syndicated nationwide. With his co-hosts Gene Sskel and Richard Roeper he had frank thoughtful discussions on the latest (and some older) films. These weren't high falutin discussions they were ones everyone could understand.

I would love for Gaming to have it's Roger Ebert. I'm just not going to wait holding his bag. Where Warren gets it 100% right is the want for video game writing like he sees in the New York and I see in the LA Times about Film,TV, and Art. Print is dead but those are still institutions that will stick around, giving their content prestige and validation.

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Tekken Revolution Initial Impressions: F2P model Obscures Solid Fighting Game

Sounds Like A Good Deal Right?

Free To Play is becoming a more and more popular business model, it was only a matter of time until console games got into game. Free To Play in general has gone through a variety of stages as developers and publishers try to maximize profit while still making what people would consider “a video game”.

The Fighting Game genre appears to have good parallels to the MOBA genre making the Free To Play model actually seem logical. You could go the League of Legends or DOTA2 model easily. Give some fighters away for free and charge say $5 for fighters and of course charge for a variety of costumes.

Fighting Game developers have already gotten in on the F2P action. Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate from Team Ninja recently released a F2P edition, subtitled Core Fighters, in Japan (coming to North America September 3). Core Fighters comes with four playable characters: Ryu Hayabusa, Hayate, Kasumi, and Ayane, with tutorial,training,arcade and multiplayer free. Additional characters and the Story Mode cost $4 and $15 respectively. Sounds good but this is North America so Core Fighters will have to wait. A new Killer Instinct game was annouced on Monday at the Microsoft press conference at E3. The new KI will be Free To Play on Xbox One, with Jago being the lone free character with all modes unlocked.

A F2P fighter you can play now is Tekken Revolution exclusively on Playstation 3. It is 2 gigs. I have always been more of a 2D fighter but from what I’ve played and from some friends, Tekken Revolution appears to be Tekken Tag Tournament 2 (TTT2) just without the Tag part, which makes sense. The core of this game seems interesting but the Free To Play aspects of it are just getting in the way.

Revolutions starts with 8 characters for free: Kazuya, Asuka, Paul, Law, Lars, Jack-6, King and Lili. Press releases have said you will be able to unlock more characters via Gift Points. I unlocked Alisa Bosconovitch after play like 10 matches. There are other characters locked away in the game right now, in Arcade you have the possibility of facing off with Bryan, Leo, Steve, Heihachi and Ogre as the end boss. These characters will most likely be unlocked over time but after Alisa was unlocked that was the last of the Gift Point Box in Character Select. It is also unknown at this time how much characters will cost to buy or if you will even have to pay real world cash for additional characters.

Each character comes with 4 Critical Arts and one Special Art. Critical Arts give players a chance to land increased damage on critical hits. Special Art moves have invincibility properties. You will be able to see these special moves by the blur and particle effect accompany them. Critical Arts appear to be reddish and Special is blueish.

I Liked Kaz So I Just Stuck With Him

There is a meta layer over all of this due to level progression. Pick your favorite fighter and stick with it. As you play with him/her you will level up and be able to spend skill points in one of three slots.

  • Power - Increase the damage done by your character. I’ve leveled this up to about 20 now and haven’t noticed anything major in damage output. Maybe like 2-5 more points which is a lot with how fast Tekken rounds can go.

  • Endurance - More Health. I have touched this but played against people with plenty of points in this area and it’s not that much of a difference again. Going by eye it seems like you can take one more Jab. Nothing game breaking at this point.

  • Vigor - Increased critical hit chance or chance to enter rage state. Effect is determined by the difference between you and your opponent.

This leveling system is akin to League of Legend and appears to be an interesting way to create character loyalty.

Like most F2P games there are multiple layers of abstraction. Such as Namco Bandai putting in 4 types of currency!

  • Arcade Coins (Up to 2) - Used to play Arcade Mode. 1 Arcade Coin is replenished every 60 minutes.

  • Battle Coins (Up to 5) - Used to play Ranked or Player Match Multiplayer games. 1 Battle Coin is replenished every 30 minutes

  • Premium Tickets (Up to 999) - Used to play any mode in game. Use to play Arcade Battle or Multiplayer to receive more rewards. If you use it for multiplayer and win a match you will get another ticket. If you use it and lose you get more exp for you character.

  • Premium Coins (Up to 999) - Used the same as P. Tickets except you can buy these from the PS Store. 4 coins = ¢.99 10 coins = $1.99 30 coins = $4.99

Critical and Special Arts Are Colored Attacks

Yea, that just is needlessly complicated. League of Legends,DOTA2, Tribes and other F2P PC titles don’t put restrictions on how many times you can actually play a game without waiting or buy back in. This is a strategy taken from mobile games, where it makes sense to have the time mechanic. The game even starts with an information screen straight out of Puzzel&Dragons, consecutive daily login bonus included. It makes zero sense to have these time lockouts on a console. Tekken Revolution becomes like a classic arcade game where it’s ¢25 a pop to play a match.

The Battle Coin restriction makes having two types of multiplayer supfurlous. In both cases you need a coin or ticket to play a single match. In single ranked matches that isn’t to bad. In Player lobbies the currency makes less sense. There are no free training areas with this game and free multiplayer matches would of elevated that problem.

Mobile inspired currency options and the lack of a Training Mode has me ready to not play the game any more. At least not in a serious manner. This game could've been a starting point in the Tekken franchise with tons of new players trying things out and getting hooked. With the arcade-esque F2P options the pre existing and well played Tekken players will be able to stay on and acquire Premium Tickets at an easier and faster rate than the noobs Who will either have to wait hours to get coins or buy back in with no real way of getting better beyond fighting in a meat grinder.

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