There’s the Rock making jokes about his muscle, a giant monkey, a giant flying wolf, and a giant crocodile.
I hope I don’t need a spoiler warning for this one.
What could I possibly spoil?
Not only has it been *insert number of months/weeks/days since movie release here*since I’m a lazy writer, but also it’s a movie based on a 1980s arcade game that didn’t have a plot other than basically those three above causing a ra—… havoc across America.
That’s basically the entire plot.
Animals got big and they decided to go smash, smash, smash. And the American treasure, The Rock, has to save the day.
Trying to go any deeper or even explaining the plot of this film is doing it a disservice.
And why are you going to go see Rampage for some clever plot? You need to accept that if you go watch this film with an analytical mindset, trying to break down all of its components to judge its merits by some aristocratic standards of cinema, you’ll come out of the theaters dumber.
There’s a monkey giving the middle finger, more blood and gore than I expected from a PG-13 movie, and surprisingly fun jump scares.
The jokes are low brow and predictable but I still found them amusing (and pleasantly surprised there wasn’t a poop throwing scene. I fully expected it from this film).
Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is playing a token-Texan Negan.
There’s the guy (Jake Lacy) who was in the last few seasons of The Office and it seems like he’s just not giving a damn about being part of this film. Actually, no one seems like they’re giving even half of an effort except the American treasure, The Rock.
Seriously. He seems like an awesome guy.
In short, it’s a dumb film with some really well-done moments that if you were to see those moments by themselves in isolation, you might be tricked to believing that its a better quality movie than it actually is.
In some sense, I guess it’s respectable effort given the source material…
…and probably the best film adaptation of a video game I’ve ever seen…
…Wow. I just depressed myself a little.
Go see this film for a mindless fun. Just sit back, sip on your soda, and enjoy. It’ll be as worthwhile as spending that 25 cents back in the day to play the arcade game at the bowling alley.
Except this time you’ve spent 20 dollars and 2 hours of your life.
I’m going to go look through the list of film adaptations of video games to see if I can cure myself of this depression.
Expected: 2 / 10
Got: 4 / 10
I’m not done yet.
Just don’t do the 4DX.
Just why? Why does this exist as the means to save the theaters?
Do kids really enjoy this?
The 4DX experience preview was better than the actual experience watching the film.
Water spray smelled funny.
Air blow was annoying.
The seat shook and tilted too much that it turned from fun to a road trip across the Rockies on a Daewoo Tico.
AND I KNOW. I’m sure there are a lot of you out there who enjoy it very much and I seem like a guy who finds shaking canes at dead cats and being charmingly anachronistically racist as my idea for fun.
But as it is now, 4DX is a gimmick and films haven’t found a way to properly incorporate this technology to actually enhance the experience.
It’s just distracting.
I felt like I was sitting on a lap of a Russian circus strongman as he rocked me and shook me around while watching the film.
I see potential with the technology purely based on its preview experience but have doubts any studio will invest the effort and money necessary to synchronize film experience with the 4DX experience.
I’ll keep the first part of this completely spoiler-free as it’s necessary for this film. It’s that integral to the experience and it’s not an experience that should be meddled with if you’re a fan of the series. However, it’s also a type of film (and perhaps speaks for my liking of it) that even any praise or criticism may sort of being a spoiler for those who truly want a genuine experience with all of its integrity intact.
I will note, however, that I have no idea how this film will be for those who haven’t watched many, if any, of the other Marvel films.
But if you have any inclination towards watching this film, stop reading, watching any reviews—such as this one—any interviews, any previews, etc., and just…
…go see it. Now.
This is probably not only my personal favorite of the Marvel films but also simply the best one yet. The writing and presentation of the film surpass the films of the past so superbly that the film may set a new standard too high for the next, inevitable, collaboration Marvel film.
I won’t be posting any pics from the film in this entry because that in and of itself would be doing a disservice to those who are thinking of seeing this film.
The tone is almost perfect with just the right balance of humor and gravity. It’s the near-perfect execution of what most of the Marvel films wanted to accomplish in the past. And it’s everything Justice League wanted to be and wished it could be.
It’s a writing marvel (no pun intended) regarding how meticulously and masterfully the writers wove together all the different characters and narratives.
The film is visually stunning and audacious. There are moments where you feel like you’re completely watching a different genre of film. There hasn’t been a Marvel film yet that could inspire such visual sense of awe.
Musical scores are complex and perfectly captures the valiant but seemingly futile efforts by the heroes, the bittersweet moment of the small victories, and the most complicated emotions portrayed yet by the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
If you’re a fan of Marvel films in any sense—hardcore or casual—do yourself a favor and watch this film. If you’re a fan of writing, I’d recommend watching all the Marvel films and then watching this one to truly appreciate how deftly the writers wove the tales together, bring to life the flavors of each franchise, and still make it as much of an organic movie experience as this film was.
Go buy the tickets now. It’s worth it.
Is this the greatest film ever made or even in the Top 50?
And it’s not trying to be. But Marvel has shown that it’s best at what it does and squishes any hope DC films had of having their own entity in this space.
You want humor? You got it.
You want serious? You got it.
You want dark? You got it.
You want heart? You’ll choke on it.
This may be the only Marvel film so far that I’d consider seeing again in theaters. Perhaps, on the IMAX this time around. Maybe even give 4DX ago again if there’s a version available.
One of the best aspects of the film is obviously how the film’s narrative can be seen in two different ways. It’s the story about the Avengers and/or it’s a story also about Thanos. In fact, the movie begins with Thanos and ends with him.
It’s a bold and creative way of establishing a villain that’s been only hinted throughout all the previous films over the years. Arguably, he’s earned the space of having his own film given the presence he’s had looming in the shadows of all the films in the past. He’s the most intriguing and humanized villain MCU has had yet and there are moments where the audience can genuinely connect with the Mad Titan.
My only concern going forward is that the writing has put them in such a hole that they may not be able to dig themselves out of it without some copout or cheesy solution to all these problems.
AKA most likely Magic + Time Stone. But given how impressively they accomplished a film of this magnitude, the writing team deserves our faith in them.
While there were other few problems I think the script had regarding forced action scenes, action scenes that didn’t make sense within the logic of the film’s universe, characters acting not like themselves but acting based on what the plot demands, and etc. But these are, ultimately, pedantic problems given what the film has accomplished.
I’ll personally be very sad to see it all end next year. I can’t imagine the next phases of Marvel Cinematic Universe having the same amount of wonder and grandiosity.
Alright, we understand Thanos is the Mad Titan, but why does he actually think his ideas make sense? It becomes established that he was some sort of a figure in an advanced society that people would actually listen and ostracize him for being mad (or he was that crazy homeless guy). If you suddenly take away half the population from a planet, more than likely their societies will collapse. I guess technically that’s okay with his logic?
How does Thanos maintain the economy of his armada? Are there no single galactic police patrol What was Thanos’ plans after succeeding? Watching the Sunsets and then doing what his army?
I was truly hoping to not see a post credit scene with this one. It cheapens the wholeness of the experience. Especially by the fact that the post-credit scene was a hint to the next film in the franchise, and thus, sort of taking away the feeling of encased experience of an enclosed storyline.
Where’s Nova or the Nova Corp?
So did Captain America get an upgrade? How is he strong enough to handle Thanos’s heralds? How is he strong enough to hold back Thanos with the freakin’ Infinity Gauntlet?
I’m a sucker for those “good guy finally showed up moments” and was absolutely giddy like a child when Cap finally showed up.
So did Vision get a nerf? Are we just going to accept that the weapons… uh… blocks (?) intangibility? Can’t vision download all the fighting techniques around the world? And isn’t he supposed to have enhanced strength or whatever? And the laser beams?
Why is opening the barrier at Wakanda and bottlenecking the swarm a good idea to prevent the alien dogs from going around them? Why can’t the dogs just run around them once they make it in? They were seeming an endless swarm. And aren’t they worried about other threats that may potentially get in? What if they’re just overrun? No one tested these dogs in a fight. Does Wakanda not afford some sort of a drone that can watch the perimeter? Have some sensors? They have forcefields on a cape for heaven’s sake. What about those future jets they had to provide cover fire? What about some tanks? Wtf Wakanda? #WakandaForever
Thor had the worst of them all in this film. It’s heartbreaking seeing this film shortly after viewing Thor: Ragnarok.
Only weeks after his lesson, Thor proved that he is indeed a God of Hammers. Or hammer-axe in this case.
How’re Groot’s branches so strong anyways?
Why didn’t Thor take out the big threats right away after he joined the fight at Wakanda? Why the hell did he think it’s alright to let the rolly-tanks go all about and the heralds fight normal human beings?
Okay. I know we’re taught to aim for the torso. But is there a reason why Thor didn’t really have a concern about the gauntlet? It seems like he definitely could have at least stopped the snap. Are we just all supposed to accept these heroes let their emotions get the best of them?
Conveniently the original Avengers surviving is convenient.
Also, Thanos really underutilized the Reality stone after showing us exactly how powerful that stone was.
The scene with Gamora’s death was surprisingly emotional and did an incredible job of allowing the audience to finally connect with Thanos a bit on a human level. Even the cruelty of his actions added to his humanity. Arguably, the humanization begins when Gamora and Thanos begin to interact.
I’m okay with Red Skull the Soul Stone keeper. It’s a very comic book moment.
The scene with Nebula’s torture is a lot more gruesome than I anticipated from these films.
I wonder if they’ll ever add the Sentry as a storyline for the older audience. Most likely for Netflix or something. But not sure how they could portray him without movie budget.
Doctor Strange’s banter with Tony Stark was worth waiting for.
Peter Quill was more annoying than endearing in this film. The fact that he possibly ruined (or followed) Dr. Strange’s plan was a bit infuriating as it seemed too obvious it was going to happen and felt a bit forced. We’re coerced to understand humans act very erratically when they hear their loved ones die. We get it. But I could also see Peter help to get the gauntlet off sooner to beat Thanos with it.
What the f— was Thanos doing for 2 years? What grand schemes? He just brute forced this whole shebang. And it becomes established in the films that he had his armada for quite a long time. The gauntlet was also made not too long before this film since it had to have happened during Ragnarok.
Loki’s death, while setting quite the tone for the film, felt a bit forced.
He’s probably coming back to life.
On that note, some of the jokes in the film were too on the nose.
Dr. Strange really underperformed the fight against Ebony Maw.
Dr. Strange was very anime against Thanos.
Thanos dropping the moon was one of the coolest scenes I’ve seen in these films.
Iron Man’s new suit was very anime. How far we’ve come from Iron Man 1.
It was really hard to keep up with the names of the Black Order.
I ended up just calling them heralds, to those of you who were wondering, because Thanos is basically acting as Galactus of this universe so far.
Finally, the film essentially broke itself when it established that portals can indeed cut off limbs.
There was a thought that I chewed over about a week before seeing Blade Runner 2049 (henceforth, Blade Runner 2).
I was sitting on the toilet and wondered—with enough self-awareness that I may seem like I had a bit of the stinky grass—
“Does your life end when there are no memories left or does it actually end if there are no moments left ahead that’ll be worth remembering?”
That thought was a byproduct of a dream I had the night before.
A dream of arriving at a hotel in the middle of the desert. In the hotel, murky, emerald water slowly rose at a steady pace. And like the few other occupants of this soon-to-be corpse aquarium, a wide-grin stretched across my face. I was so jubilant as the water slowly crept up above my lips sucking in its last breath. And I woke up in serene tranquility and felt enigmatically liberated.
Thinking back, I don’t really remember the transition from my white porcelain thinking chair to the gas station ran by an elderly Russian couple.
Getting gas was an excuse to be there; buying a lotto ticket was the true goal. I was convinced that the dream meant something. Something good. Maybe I wanted the money in some vain attempt at ensuring worthwhile memories in the future.
The urge was a ridiculous conviction probably deriving from my mother who believes in these sorts of superstitions. And as much as I persist away and criticize her for her unjustifiably-believing-in-supernatural-causation ways, I couldn’t help but buy that lotto.
The old man kept telling me, “This is the winning ticket!”
As if he knew of my dream.
“Bring me back just five dollars if you win!”
He kept asking me for that five dollars as I walked out.
It’s not that I thought I’d win—though I thought might. It just that felt like the event of the day that I had to make happen in reality.
If it wasn’t clear, this isn’t a review for the film.
It’s a blotch of my take on a film that made me want to share my thoughts on it enough to dust off this blog. So I’ll just do a quick run-through of the review-y things and move on.
Obviously, there will be spoilers.
Also, I’ve seen the film only once in theaters as I’m writing this piece.
The film is a bit longer than it needs to be. There are moments where subtlety is thrown out the window and the film feels condescending to the intended audience. Or, perhaps, the film wasn’t really certain who the audience was going to be. While all the performances are strong, not all characters ends up being fleshed out. The final act of the film felt too convenient at times. With all that said, Joe (Ryan Gosling) is one of the most well-developed characters I’ve seen in a long while and viewers caring for the character’s ending is the film’s greatest testament to its endeavors.
Do you need to see the previous film?
No. Absolutely not. It’ll add a lot to the experience but the film can completely stand on its own. You don’t need to know who Rachel or Rick Deckard are.
Did I think Joi in the China Dress was gorgeous?
Yes. Of course, I did. We all did, damn it. Why would you ask such a question all of a sudden?
Does the film have the same depth as the first film?
I enjoyed the first film immensely but never thought it had that great of philosophical depth as many of the cult followers would suggest.
However, I thought Blade Runner 2 had much more interesting pieces in play that provided a more substantial conversation for the topic it wanted to explore.
I’ve read some internet chatter that the film is a discussion of the philosophy of identity. Personally, I think that’s a bit off-mark.
The film is more like a simple program sequence to test the philosophy of being human. Each of the main characters is a different variable raising certain questions, and consequently, becoming a case of an anthropomorphic discussion of what it means to be human.
Joe (Ryan Gosling)
Protagonist for this film is one that I personally found most interesting in recent years. There are many ways the character could have gone wrong. Many ways where the lead character would have kept us bored and frustrated by design.
Joe, aka a serial number he goes by through most of the film that I can’t remember and apparently am too lazy to look up, is supposed to be as emotionless a person could be. That’s how he was built and if he acts otherwise it’s considered a malfunction and due for termination.
The movie opens up with him killing a fellow replicant with a recognition that he’s taking a life-of-sorts but doing so without an inkling of hesitation. Joe does his job well and with frigidness expected by his masters.
Great, the audience may think. Is he one of those “stoic, aloof, always-too-cool, killing machine” types?
And we’re certainly led to believe that until we see another side of Joe in the scenes that follow afterward.
The film had convinced us at this point that Joe is a badass replicant Blade Runner. But as he walks through his precinct, his fellow human officers are blatantly hostile to Joe. And Joe, unlike the tough killer we’ve seen him with the giant, brawny replicant (Dave Bautista), retracts into being a young boy bullied by his schoolmates.
This is the first step we see the film developing Joe into a human being in the audience’s minds.
In the end, Joe dies. Well, at least I like to believe that he died as it gives the movie the most poetic finish. And the audience cares because the film had successfully convinced us that he was a person. A person who’ve felt something, who’ve lived a life with happiness and pain, and a person the loss of whom was a loss on all of us who’ve gotten to know him.
Joe, in a sense, is an appreciation of a life of being human. A rough and succinct definition of being human.
A replicant near the end of the film tells Joe along the lines of: “Isn’t dying for something the most human thing that you can do?”
They tell him this as they comission Joe to kill Deckard to prevent any chance of having their plans foiled.
But Joe had found something hauntingly more human than the other replicants could ever know. He understood the intimate, selfish, and devastatingly powerful relationship of a parent and a child. A relationship tied by blood and birth of life.
He chose that human relationship over a revolution and ideals of his species. Even after he realized he had only experienced the bond and its definitions artificially.
In other words, to give Deckard and his child a chance to celebrate that relationship, Joe sacrificed everything that he had left of his past, everything that could have been his future, and even his own chance of having a father and being a child.
In some sense, Joe’s appreciation of parent-child relationship probably exceeded that of many humans who take it for granted. Both ways.
Joi (Ana de Armas)
Joi became my favorite character after thinking about the film and the topic at hand.
She’s an A. I. hologram that’s so sophisticated that she fools you into thinking that she’s human.
But isn’t she human?
At what point does an A. I. stop being just lines of codes and pre-programmed responses to having enough of those to be human?
It reminds me of the old Chinese room thought experiment.
To simply put, if you tell a computer to translate a word in Chinese to English or vice-versa, does it actually understand the languages and the definitions it’s translating or is it simply mimicking the ability to understand?
When Joi flirts with Joe, feels intimacy with Joe, asks Joe about his day, does she actually understand what she’s doing or is it something else?
If an A. I. has enough responses, can create enough responses for any particular and peculiar types of situations, does it eventually reach the point of being human?
Or does it still lack the fundamental consciousness, the awareness of understanding the responses, to be considered human?
Before Joi ‘dies’ in the film she tells Joe one of the most powerful, mysterious, and most human phrase one could communicate to another.
“I love you.”
But as her memory stick is crushed under Luv’s (Sylvia Hoeks) feet—effectively killing her—Luv tells devastated Joe, “I hope you’ve enjoyed our product”.
Next time Joe meets Joi is in the city.
She’s not his Joi but an advertisement for other Jois for willing customers. She can be whatever they want her to be.
She was whatever he wanted her to be.
We don’t know what Joe’s thinking as the ad speaks to him. Seeing his once properly dressed wife being offered as almost a sex object for lonely city dwellers.
Maybe he’s regretting ever have fallen for her.
Maybe he’s reconsidering what a relationship even means. A very artificial and invented relationship of the future versus the primal relationship that Joe felt he had when he thought he was a child with a parent and not a product that was born without one. And the camaraderie of a romantic relationship Joe felt with Joi as a real human would with a loved one.
Maybe he’s now just understanding true loneliness.
He and the other customers like him aren’t anything special from the perspective of those who are providing Joi for them. Though to many of them, their Joi would be their one and only Joi.(No pun intended)
Oddly, this does sound awfully similar to how one may view their exes after a break-up.
I recall a class discussion about a picture of a unicorn. When you think of a picture of a unicorn you’re not thinking of a unicorn but a picture of it. And if you’ve never seen a unicorn in real life, then that’s all a unicorn is to you.
But if a unicorn doesn’t exist—and as far as I know it does not though I wonder what made narwhals so special—does it really matter if that picture is all you have for a unicorn?
Or is our quest to define the unicorn properly, after a certain point, simply our desire to quench the need to be as intricate as possible with our definitions.
Because at the end of the day, what good is a reality if our definitions of it are as blurry and undetermined as that of a dream.
Niander Wallace (Jared Leto)
Beauty of the character comes from the fact that his shame for being a mere human manifests not necessarily with melodramatic monologues but from his appearance and demeanor.
A man who invented replicants, a superior species in his mind, is a mere human.
To escape from his own mediocrities and failings he augmented his physical attributes with cybernetics and perhaps the insecurity is also a quiet motivation for him to play Jesus for a species that he doesn’t belong to.
His mannerisms are probably the most inhuman of anyone in the film. Though oddly frustrating to watch at times, Wallace was memorable in his own right.
But I’ve mentioned earlier that there are characters that don’t end up being really fleshed out.
This is a big one.
I never felt like he did anything to contribute to the film other than being the mysterious, all-powerful villain. Not to mention my general distaste for characters that I can’t ever imagine functioning in normal social settings. But I guess that’s a bit of an oxymoron to the praises I gave the character just a few lines above.
Niander Wallace is one of those guys you meet at parties who use eloquence and Oxford vocabularies to go on spiels to exude their supposed intelligence but never… really does anything to demonstrate it in a meaningful way.
Since he’s a movie villain he gives his monologues menacingly and hides in bad lighting to be frightening while throwing in a good literal stab here and there to remind the audience that this guy is cold-blooded corporate of the dystopian future personified.
But he feels surprisingly one note and it’s a note of cliche. Like a guy who sings Don’t Stop Believing at a karaoke and is pretending to be ironic about it because he’s so aware how overdone the song is at karaoke.
A human that’s the least human of them all. I wish there could have been a more discussion in the film regarding this character but the film was already almost 3 hours long. So I digress.
Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford)
The straight man of the film. Almost unnecessary for it to be Deckard but is Deckard to provide us an intimate connection to the first film and for the fans to finally get some answers after all these years.
I only mention Deckard because I was the fan of the first film and he can’t go on unmentioned when discussing Blade Runner 2. Though integral to the central plot of the film, Deckard himself doesn’t really play a big role per say. Deckard could have been replaced with a completely original character and the film would have been no different.
He adds to the discussion of what it means to be human by being the father figure who sacrificed everything to fulfill his duty as a father.
In many ways, Deckard is also the most human character we meet in this world of humans living in urban destitute, humans that simply digressed to their functions, and beings that are up for debate whether or not they’re human.
There’s a lot the film does to connect Deckard to nature. Something closer to what humans once were compared to the world we see portrayed.
He’s found through his connection to a wooden artifact—a rare material in this bleak future.
He has bee farms and raises a dog.
He shows a variety of emotions and connection to history in a very unsubtle ways that unfold in the film.
Also, his daughter is first seen observing a rain forest.
All that and more is what makes Deckard the straight man to the film. The most identifiable character to the audience and perhaps the last bastion of humanity in the dystopian future while ironically also perhaps being the key to the end of it simply by being a father.
There are other explorations in the film that are probably worthy of discussion.
The religious notes, the dystopian future, and why no one else other than Joe seems to drive.
But for me, the main exploration of the film was being human; what it means to be human.
The level of quality of the film dawned upon me actually days after I saw it. I realized it when I found myself having intriguing conversations about the film with my date days after we watched it together. While engaging debates about the film with friends as we had lunch. And even finding myself engaging in fresh discussions with people at my gym.
There’s a lot more I wish I could gush out about the film. Perhaps I wrote this blog after not having written anything in so long because I just wanted to share my thoughts and have even more conversation about it.
Is this a film that was groundbreaking in terms of how it presented its topics? No.
Were there other films that have done it better? As one can infer from above, arguably yes.
But is it a film that’s worth watching and perhaps rewatching?Definitely. Especially for those with a creative itch and an eye candy itch. I’d considerBlade Runner 2 as much of a classic as its predecessor.
By the way, I won nothing from that lotto.
Sorry, old man.
Maybe the next ticket.
Minor Gripes + Praises
( – ) Maybe I’m getting old but the fonts were small. I get it’s stylish but they were so damn small.
( – ) It’s never established how strong Joe is through the film. The film sort of misleads the audience into believing that Luv was perhaps particularly strong even for Joe’s standards given how surprised Joe seems to be at how she opened the archive door. But as my date pointed out, perhaps he’s just surprised because he expected her to be a mere secretary? But the movie really doesn’t prepare people for the fact that Joe starts running through walls near the 3rd act of the film. Not to mention how he ends up killing Luv seems a bit farfetched given what was established. But perhaps that was a testament to Joe being human and demonstrating the majesty of the human will or something. I don’t know.
( + ) The film has more than simple nods to the previous film in regards to how cleverly it incorporates the world the franchise built in the early 80s into the imagining of the same world in the late 2010s.
( + ) I like how they included a variety of cultures and languages intermixed in this imagining of LA… even if it felt a bit nonsensical at times. In fact, there are some choices that just seemed nonsensical in general. Like what was up with the sex statues?
A very quick review of the film after I just finished watching it in the theaters. Straight from the head, the gut, and my bladder that held on for more than an hour. No edits, real talk!
3 / 5
Maybe 3.5/5. I’ll definitely watch it again when I can since you need to watch a film more than once to get a proper assessment of it.
The score I give is a bit misleading since the movie isn’t bad. Actually, if anything, it made me really excited for Episode 8.
I didn’t watch the movie and think, “huh, why did they do that?” or “why didn’t they do this?” Rather, I thought, “they’re trying very hard to make this exposition chapter of the trilogy really exciting and not bloated while keeping it as informative as possible.”
Because that’s exactly what it was. The movie was a great introduction to the trilogy while trying to remain as wholesome as it can be on its own. But due to how much it wanted to… HAD to introduce us, the pacing was inconsistent and it did feel a bit too packed.
And by the way, people freaking out about spoilers–don’t worry. There are no real spoilers in this movie. They made it a point to not have a “big reveal” or to dramatically play up a mystery with a simple answer like that of a character’s identity.
This time, it doesn’t matter who’s behind the mask, what matters is WHY he’s behind the mask.
Fine. Simple Spoiler Alert:
Watch how quickly and anticlimactically Kylo Ren reveals his face beneath the mask in the film. It was as if J. J. Abrams wanted to shake the idea off from the audience that there will be a Darth Vader like mystery in this film. It’s not meant to be simple like that. Rather, it’s about learning these characters and how they got there because there won’t be three additional prequel movies to the two more movies coming out to explain all that. The films this time are about plot progression and development rather than big surprises to spike the plots… even more than before, they want us to really connect with these cast of characters.
Spoiler Alert Over.
It’s less about reliving the experience but rather giving the experience to the new generation with the modern updates and education.
The new cast of characters are great and it’s great to see they’re adding minority characters (whether by gender or race) into prominent roles and in roles that are really under portrayed by those genders and race in Hollywood.
BB8, the R2D2 replacement, or the magical fairy creature companion of Star Wars is incredibly endearing and has his own distinctive personality to help him standout to our old faithful droid.
Plot itself is a bit predictable, and at times felt purposefully so, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t interesting or engaging. I mean… were people really surprised what happened at the end? It was to the point where I kind of felt it was overplayed leading up to the predictable conclusion.
Another SPOILER ALERT? Ironic given what I said? But just to help people maintain their integrity of the film? In case I’m wrong and it does detract from the film that you know these things? Since everyone’s view experience is different?
Shorter dialogues would have made a greater impact I think.
Spoiler Alert Over.
But! Even if I could tell where the general direction was going and what surprises lied ahead, I still felt involved just to see HOW we got there and HOW the characters we met would react.
I’m not entirely sure if the former happened just because I’m a fan of Star Wars, but the latter is only really possible I think if the characters themselves proved worthy of an audience’s affection.
Want to keep this short so I’ll end on this final note that J. J. Abrams was amazing on not only giving this film a consistent Star Wars feel, but also very subtly adding his own flair to make it all feel fresh.
And because of all that was done to give this sort of a fresh start feel, this is a decent place to start if you haven’t seen any of the Star Wars films yet.
So oddly enough, even if I give this film 3/5 or 3.5/5, I highly recommend others to go see it not just for the experience but to be ready for the proceeding films ahead.
It was great to see how they expanded on using the Force as a tool, as a weapon, and as an entity. This was long needed in the films.
Not sure if this is the “best” Star Wars film as some people are praising it to be. I think The New Hope did the “first chapter of trilogy” a bit better. But again, I might need a second watch.
The writing for the dialogues and character interactions were far more modernized and intelligent (compared to the prequel trilogy) that not only did they have personality but also felt grounded and human.
I always felt like the the saber fights in Star Wars was a bit off. For example, the famous fight in Phantom Menace threw me off a bit when it was clear that the combatants were specifically aiming for each other’s blades instead of body parts. Why? Why would you do that?The saber fights in The Force Awakens were far less flashy but they felt so much more organic that not only did they feel more “right” but also felt much more dire and engaging.
…Can’t talk about more without “spoilers” so I guess I’ll stop it here.
That game definitely deserves a quick mention as it is probably one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in terms of storytelling in a game. I debated whether or not to continue this series of blog entries… but… I just had to say this piece to get it out of my system.
Most people are already aware of what The Walking Dead series is about. It’s the zombie apocalypse and instead of focusing on the zombies, the series focuses on the people. We quickly learn that the dead is not what we need to be concerned about but rather the living.
Originally a graphic novel by Robert Kirkman, the series blew up when it was turned into a popular TV-Show on AMC. Now there are novels, games, and bobble heads as we ride through this zombie-mania.
As a game, The Walking Dead is a very evolved form of visual novel games. It’s different than games like Heavy Rain where I’d say that’s more of an interactive movie than a visual novel (for me the differentiation comes from that biggest and majority of game decisions in games like The Walking Dead happens in static, paused moments while in Heavy Rain lot of it happens in dynamic, ongoing moments. There are other differentiation as well but that’s for another day).
To those unfamiliar, visual novel games are games where you spend most of your time soaking in the story. In the olden days, visual novels games were generally you sitting and reading through bunch of dialogues, watch the pictures change (scenery, characters, etc.), and sometimes make choices and play minigames.
In many sense, visual novel style of games seems to be the “easy” way of using video games as a medium for storytelling. There’s less gameplay than RPGs and a lot more of reading/listening.
So was The Walking Dead really innovative in terms of innovating the storytelling in video games? I’m not sure. I’m inclined to say that it’s not.
Wait, WAIT, put down the pitchforks for a second.
I’ll publicly admit that The Walking Dead by Telltale Games has to be in the Top 5 Video Game experiences I’ve had in my life. There’s no other word than “masterful” to describe the writing and the utilization of using video game as a medium to present a story.
By that in and of itself, even if the game didn’t innovate it definitely advanced and reinforcedthe video games’ credibility as a storytelling medium. It gives you an experience that can’t be replicated in any of the other current formats.
As an aspiring career writer, I was more than excited to try out this game after hearing so many good things about the plot. I prepared myself to take notes as I slowly became sucked into the world of The Walking Dead. I immediately found myself filling in the shoes and the mind of Lee Everett, the protagonist.
The way the game begins like a TV show (episodic and even having previews and reviews at the end and the beginning of each episodes) already prepares the players minds to absorb the story. But the choices given, turns of events, camera angles, music, and even the moments of gameplay really works altogether to immerse you not just into the world but into the circumstances and stakes of this apocalypse.
But it also didn’t take long to realize that anything I learned while playing this game would be… fairly useless as someone who’s currently not a writer for video games.
And that, to me, is a one of the best evidence of how well they took advantage of their format as a video game.
All the powerful moments in the game have such an impact because… it’s a game. Because you’re the one making the decisions and making the connections with the characters and the events. There’s no barrier of having to relate to a character experiencing these things as in books and movies.
This is also why The Walking Dead by Telltale Games is the best experience of The Walking Dead that you can have.
As I mentioned before, The Walking Dead is less about the undead and more about the living. It’s about the people re-evaluating the meaning of humanity when the civilization that shielded it and gave it a definition is gone. For some it’s reaffirmation, for some it’s redefinition, and for some it’s defending its old definition in the changing, trying times.
The trials of making tough decisions of life or death, the anguish of realizing how what seemed like a minuscule decision had led to devastating consequences, and overflowing joy of small victories and crushing sorrow from great defeats only truly ring with the audience when they can feel it’s themselves facing those tribulations.
Though the game makes the players play a character (e.g. Lee Everette), you acting as their moral and mental compass makes you feel like you’re the one in this world and you’re just borrowing Lee’s body and tongue for it.
The novel and the show, although great on their own merits, ultimately cannot do what the game offers its audience. What makes the original premise so interesting and compelling is the moral dilemma it poses on the readers and the viewers. With the game, now you can actually have those moral dilemmas and see where you stand in this bleak world. You have the chance to learn about yourself.
You don’t have to watch Rick and his friends make the decisions. It’s you. All you.
And don’t get me wrong, it’s not without its flaws. At times the choices feel misleading or limited. It is a game after all. There are definitely forced moments in plots that makes you slightly disappointed that you only had the illusion of freedom. And the plot itself can sometimes be predictable. But its masterful presentation and unique experience of really putting you in this virtual simulation of moral philosophy makes you easily forgive the game for its flaws and still love every second of it.
(I specifically remember in Season 1 there were events unfolding at a farmhouse that to almost everyone should have seemed blatantly obvious of what’s to come but I never felt the game became dull because of it. Even though I knew what was coming… I was eager to see how the game was going to make those events happen)
There’s really no need for me to praise this game more. It already has a slew of accolades and acclaims. But still, nevertheless, I’ll recommend this game to any gamers out there and even non-gamers who just dig good stories and good demonstration of the art of storytelling.
Don’t feel like you’re too late to jump on the train. You have the fortune of not having to wait for new episodes as Season 1 and Season 2 have already finished. And by the time you’re done, you can get excited for Season 3 which is supposed to start sometime this… year?
I’m too lazy to Google.
I’m no game news reporter.
If you’re reading this you have internet. Google it.
P.S. Oh! Another mention of memorable moments in the game! “Final Boss” of S1 and even S2 were spectacular moments of really testing all the decisions you’ve made until the final moments of the game. It really gives you a chance to have an introspection of where your moral compass lie.
Also, at the end of each episode the game gives you a comparison of your decisions to other players’ decisions. It’s an interesting experience to see how you compare to others in terms of the moral choices you’ve made.
This is a series I thought of writing a while ago–discussing different storytelling mediums (initially focusing on the very new medium, video games). Nothing really happened with it but I thought it might be nice to share it here (the featured image is the podcast/blog my friends and I were working on that’s currently in development hell).
DISCLAIMER: This was written many months ago and I just had the opportunity to finish playing The Walking Dead by Telltale Games… a game that would have had a significant influence to this article.
Games… have changed.
They’re no longer about cut-scenes, dialogue, or laughable dubbing. They’re an endless series of cut-scenes and dialogue, played by actors in motion capture suits… kind of. Alright maybe they haven’t so much changed in general, but there’s definitely more capacity for ingenuity and innovation when it comes to storytelling in video games now.
Gentlemen (and gentlewomen), we have the technology.
Metal Gear Solid 4, a game considered a modern classic by many, is the perfect example to discuss videogame storytelling.
Grab a few kids in a local high school and ask them what they think of MGS4 and they’ll tell you, “Please let us go. You’re frightening us. I don’t know what MGS4 is. Is it a drug?”
You’ll realize how quickly you’ve aged and how the heroes of your childhood are nothing but buried pages of the past.
Go home, drink some bourbon (because now you’re old enough to), and replay more of the outdated has-beens of your time. Console yourself in the fact that you can rent cars now and that you got to experience, in your youth, one of the greatest recessions of your country’s history.
What was I talking about?
Yes. Storytelling. Video games. Metal Gear! Otacon?
Grab a few betterbred kids and they’ll tell you it’s either the greatest game of all time or a movie disguised as a game.
It’s not too farfetched to say that I bought my PlayStation 3 specifically for Metal Gear Solid 4. I’ve been a lifelong gamer, and I’ve been obsessed with storytelling (be it games, books, or films) for just as long.
After being blown away by Metal Gear Solid 3 (MGS3) and after having the hope rekindled within me that games can actually tell stories (someone should really fuel my narcissism and tell me to write about MGS3 so that I can tell the world why MGS3 is one of the best examples of game storytelling of all time. ALL TIME!) I had high expectations for MGS4 that were only made higher by the trailers and the demo.
But after playing through the entire game, I ended up agreeing with both parties. This was “Option C”: they’re both right. No game has done more amazing things as a medium for storytelling, and no game has committed more crimes against its genre.
There was once a time when people really didn’t expect much of a story at all—much less a decent one—from any video game. It was a pleasant surprise if a game had even a palatable plot. This isn’t even that far back: not only was this true of classics like Pong and Tetris, but also as recent as the PS2/Xbox era. It was around the PS3/Xbox360 era that as budgets for game development grew higher, gamers got older, and video games became more mainstream, and people gradually began to expect a decent plot from most of the games they played.
But to this day, I’d argue, that most people still don’t expect a quality story from a video game in the same way they would from a film or a book. This is due to the fact that most games still have an awkward relationship with storytelling and are very unaware of their capabilities as a storytelling medium.
Videogames are still teenagers trying to find their inner-selves, and they’re going through a goth/emo/punk rock/military phase. They’re still trying to prove that they can deliver a decent story—that’s a hard sell to people who aren’t already gamers.
However, not all games face this same stigma—some are even expected to deliver an adequate, if not compelling, plot.
Most of those titles belonged to RPGs (Final Fantasy traditionally being the series most expected to provide a quality story…until recently anyways) which made Metal Gear really stand out as one of the few non-RPG franchises with a reputation for quality stories.
But why? What made Metal Gear stand out in the first place?
Let’s cover one of the foundational points here before we get into the meaty parts of the discussion, because I may have started house fires by calling the whacky, 80s-action-movie-over-the-top-tin-foil-hat-jump-the-shark-with-a-jet-pack-on-story of the Metal Gear franchise “decent.”
POINT 1: A Plot’s Quality Doesn’t Depend on its Innate Characteristics.
So, this may be so basic that it’s annoying, but bear with me here… because it’s very important.
The way I worded this point might make it more confusing than it should be… it’s basically saying “you do you.”
Is that worse?
If you’re a film, be a film. If you’re a simple plot, be a simple plot. If you’re a (insert genre here) game with a simple plot, be that game with a simple plot.
You didn’t need to know the story to enjoy Super Mario. If you started asking questions like “Why is there an overweight, midget, Italian plumber running through pipes, eating shrooms, and punching turtles for a living?” then you would be giving the game more complexity than it deserves and more depth than it was asking for.
It doesn’t pretend to be a storyteller—it knows what it is.
Let’s level up here.
Take a recent game like Braid. It proposes a relatively complex story and does so nearly seamlessly with its thematic gameplay mechanic of rewinding time.
The story is ingrained within the gameplay.
Level up again?
ICO and Shadow of the Colossus are fantastic examples of simple stories done well with complex simplicity. (Is that worse?) They’re like Miyazaki films in that they take simple ideas and characters but employ them so effectively that they become instant classics.
What makes ICO’s storytelling exceptional is that it realizes what it is: a game. Instead of spoon feeding the plot to its audience, ICO’s gameplay immerses the player inside the story. Without any words, the game mechanics, the objectives, the camera, the lighting, the stages, the enemies, and all the obstacles work together to fully realize the relationship (character development) between Ico and Yorda. ICO is amazing because it is a game telling a story, not simply a game with a story.
So where does Metal Gear come in? We’ll use Metal Gear Solid as example.
From the opening conversations, cut-scenes, to a few minutes of gameplay, the game immediately familiarizes you with its world. It knows—and admits—that it’s going to be a slightly over-the-top spy game chalk full with conspiracies, sci-fi elements, and some whacky humor.
If you start listing the elements of the game, it sounds ridiculous. But when it’s presented in a single package, it works.
Its sequel, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (MGS2), is a great example of a game that pushes its own boundaries so far that it ends up becoming a parody of itself. It became almost so self-aware that it went too far. Or maybe it wasn’t self-aware enough.
MGS2 started well by presenting its familiar formula in an updated engine. Things changed, however, when the character Raiden was introduced in the second half of the game.
Despite what most U.S. and European fans may say, Raiden was an excellent character as a plot device. He essentially allowed the audience to experience the MGS world from an outside perspective and experience their hero (Snake) not as the hero himself, but as a person interacting with him.
But where the game failed was in its inability to understand its own limits, even with its ridiculous universe and plot delivery mechanics. The plot simply couldn’t justify (SPOILER ALERT) that Raiden was basically Snake in making. The whole PATRIOT system went beyond the reach of its own universe, and the famous codec dialogues of the series seemed out of place and poorly thought out in the Raiden segment of the game (I mean, why is Rose talking about their relationship problems during a highly classified and volatile espionage mission with the fate of the world on the line?).
Here’s where MGS4 succeeded extremely well for the most part.
It was well-aware of the mistakes it made in MGS2 and—whether the audience liked it (or even noticed it) or not—it took the liberty of basically retconning all of its mistakes.
The game did it smoothly enough that players could swallow it easily.
Its nod to its previous games by making each chapter represent the thematic environment of its predecessors was an excellent and subtle plot device.
POINT 2: Video Games Have to Establish Their Own Identity as a Medium.
…BEFORE WE START DISCUSSING THE OBVIOUS SINS OF MGS4! Let’s talk more about how plots in Video Games are supposed to work.
Games are incredible because they are the only medium with the potential to make the audience active participants in the plot. Despite this, games have more often than not failed to take advantage of this gift.
Where the plot was involved, the first games had little by way of audience involvement—plots were literally delivered by strings of text. Since then we’ve moved on to delivering the story though cut-scenes that let us see and hear the story, but the audience remains a passive observer of the story unfolding in front of them.
Moreover, not all games are created equal—the ability of a game to tell its story is bound to the particular genre of that game.
RPGs probably have the easiest time since they can generally get away with the same old delivery. Players expect them to move more slowly and spend more time developing a heavy exposition, so reading dialogue and watching cut-scenes does less damage to the immersive experience. For instance, Final Fantasy Tactics offered an incredible narrative experience that was achieved merely through text dialogue boxes.
(With that said, Dark Souls is probably one of the best and bravest storytellers of the PS3 generation, and it’s an unsung hero insofar as it goes unrecognized for showing new ways for RPGs to tell their stories. But that’s a tale for time.)
FPS has the luxury of being first person. The format itself just makes easier to engage the audience and make them feel like they’re part of the story. I mean, you literally put them in the shoes of the character (though sometimes when you look down in those games you wonder if you have feet at all) I’d argue it’s one of the easiest genre to innovate and be creative with storytelling.
Say what you want about Call of Duty titles but it was one of the first franchises (Medal of Honor: Allied Assault deserves mention as well) to really take storytelling to another level in terms engagement and continued lead the pack with their Modern Warfare titles in the recent generation of gaming. It took idea that “you’re this character” to another level by using cut-scenes that didn’t cut away from the first-person perspective and making the actions occur in a way that it affects the character directly (blindfolds and such).
(Half-Life deserves a mention here for their very unique take on storytelling by making it almost passive. You’re in the thick of it but you always feel like you are a victim of greater events and the ever growing world around you. They achieved something with their games that’s hard to replicate. It’s like writing a successful 2nd person narrative story)
Good story telling in the Open World genre is best demonstrated with titles like Red Dead Redemption where it showed that less is more. Not that many sound a bit weird with a game with such a giant world to explore such a diverse cast of characters but really think about it for a moment. The whole point of this genre is being organic (whatever that may mean to the style of game it is i.e. Saints Row series) as possible. Let the people discover the plot and have breadcrumbs if they want to follow but what’s really important in this genre is allowing the players to make their own stories. Give the players a world where the world itself is a story and a playground. Where they can be part of a grand story (the main plot line), the sub stories (stories of the world’s inhabitants), or make their own legends and tales.
With all that said, games always will have the fallback classic style storytelling of simply unfolding the plot through dialogues and cut-scenes.
This doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing although in many ways it is uncreative, lacks courage, and doesn’t really help the storytelling aspect of the game industry to grow and evolve.
I’ve recently played the Borderlands series and it’s a perfect example of this. It doesn’t really try anything innovative in terms of storytelling. The characters are generally cookie cutter, story presentation (using games as a medium) is pretty cookie cutter, and story content and pacing is… damn, we are out of cookie dough. But what makes it work is that it baked some awesome cookies. Lesson here is if you can’t innovate – just do what works well. This is self-awareness all around (awareness of their own story, audience, and how their game should interact with their story) + hard work + excellence.
So where does MGS4 fall into all this?
The best thing a video game can do with its plot is taking advantage, as much as it can, of its capabilities of having the audience as an active member of the story.
As mentioned previously one of the best thing MGS4 has done with this is making the protagonist old and letting the players experience the character’s age. It made you, the player, feel what the character is feeling.
Snake coughs, he can’t smoke as long without trouble as he used to, he groans about his back and you have to apply some treatment on it to make him feel better (awesome).
You can look around during cut-scenes to take in the plot in your own way or at times to discover what Snake’s really up to (stop looking at the cleavage or trying to do a panty peek you pervert).
MGS4 used its stamina system many times to make players experience literally in their gameplay what the character was experiencing. If Snake was hurt in a cut-scene you’d see the stamina dwindle or if Snake was in a situation where he was injured you may play the game with a reduced stamina for the stage.
Those were all great and expected plot delivery from a Metal Gear game. And those were also excellent way of using video games as a proper medium for storytelling.
Ironically, as honed and sharpened as its good qualities seemed to be, Metal Gear franchise’s borderline flawed plot delivery system, i.e. long cut-scenes, were worsened in MGS4.
No cut-scenes should be 10 minute + in a video game outside of its ending—and even that’s a maybe. This should be a written rule somewhere. At which point do you differentiate between a game and a movie?
It’s not a problem if the game is based around player taking the backseat to the plot or based around watching cut-scenes.
Games like Heavy Rain and even L. A. Noire demonstrated that the taboo of games taking lot of control away from players can still work if the game itself is based around that idea.
MGS4 did not make much effort to work around its long cut-scenes. It made you sit through 10+ minutes of cut-scenes after giving you so much control and linked experience with the character that it felt like suddenly you were crippled as a player.
The most tragic thing about this is that there were ingenious moments in MGS4 where it combined its strength and weakness and gave its audience something magical. Where it delivered the story so powerfully that I’ve still have yet to find many games that replicated that energy.
A good example:
Near the climax of the game, our protagonist Old Snake has to drag his beaten body across a hellish path to prevent calamity. Tension is high as a war rages on outside counting on Snake to beat the clock before his own time runs out.
The game engaged the players by dwindling Snake’s health as he walked though the oven like tunnel, by taking away the smooth controls as players forced Snake through the physical turmoil to move forward, and if Snake ever happened to lose his strength players had to mash a button on the controller to get him back up.
As this is happening the screen is split in two with cut-scenes showing all that’s going on outside as Snake is making his way to put in scope of importance of Snake’s success and continuing to build tension with the plot.
This demonstrated that cut-scenes and gameplay can coexist in modern gaming and be used in a powerful and unique ways to deliver a story that’s only possible in video games.
This wasn’t the first time MGS4 did something like this and each time it did it added so much to the plot experience that it’s a shame the game didn’t incorporate it somehow into its longer cut-scenes.
But one thing that’s still undeniable about Metal Gear franchise is that they are unafraid to approach storytelling in their own voice and in their own innovative ways to incorporate their medium as a videogame.
It’s a shame that so many games that are released these days follow the archetype set by popular titles of their genre.
So many games copy FPS storytelling style of Call of Duty. Not many dare even try to gamble to copy the more complicated style of Half-Life.
So many RPGs fallback to read dialogues and make choices made popular recently by Bioware and their games. Even Elder Scroll series simplified their story mechanic for Skyrim.
Most innovations in storytelling these days in videogames are found in the indie games. Braid,Gone Home, or even Bastion.
Seeing how large of a team a game requires these days I can see why it’d tough for the creators to really focus on the plot delivery. It’d take a huge coordination between the programmers and the writers.
But this is why I look forward to Metal Gear Solid 5 (MGS5). Because even with its failures in MGS4 the things it did right was a refreshing breeze in the stale video game storytelling.
It seemed at least Kojima and his teams are not satisfied putting out a game that’s like everything else. MGS5 being an open world game where the storytelling of that genre is still only really cultivated by Rockstar…. really is exciting news.
Because if MGS5 decides to be even a little bit as innovative (even if not brave) as they were with MGS4 and learn from their mistakes, it’ll pave roads for other companies to explore what’s possible with video games as a medium for storytelling. And hopefully, that’ll continue to develop the medium and push the industry to see what’s possible with the modern storyteller.
Alright, that’s it.
I’ll end this with another cheesy parody of MGS4.
The age of technical limitations has become the age of self-imposed limitations, all in the name of keeping status quo from not averting from the tried and tested formulas.
When innovations are under total control, the medium becomes routine.