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Man of Steel: the Grumpy Fanboy review

15 Jun

Man of Steel is thrilling, audacious and sometimes even touching. But it’s too damn loud for its own good. 

Henry Cavill as Superman

Man of Steel is the re-telling of the origin of Superman by director Zach Snyder (300, Watchmen). It reboots the Superman franchise with a new hero played by the impeccably-cast Henry Cavill (The Tudors) and a grittier tone, possibly one that sets up a series leading to a Justice League movie. Man of Steel is filled with the impressive cinematography and special effects one would expect from a superhero-genre film.

That’s not to say Man of Steel isn’t without its tender moments. The flashback scenes between Clark and his foster parents Jonathan and Martha Kent (played by Kevin Costner and the eternally-beautiful Diane Lane) are genuinely touching. Cavill also convincingly portrays the tragically lonely but gentle alien trying to find his place in the world. But ultimately, this film suffers from being too imbalanced, toggling awkwardly between otherwise well performed character-development scenes and the obligatory action sequences of a ginormous summer blockbuster.

Despite its intense buildup, action and moving origin story (the scenes with the Kents were by far my favorite moments), I found myself looking at my watch midway through the film. Characters talked about their motivations rather than acting them out. Supporting cast members ate up large amounts of screen time without moving the story forward. And after seeing it for the third time, even watching an invulnerable Kryptonian being punched through entire office blocks gets old really fast.

Superman’s ability to fly, the feat that captivated audiences’ imaginations when the character debuted on the big screen in Richard Donner’s 1978 film, is relegated to motion blur and sonic booms. It’s hard to feel a sense of awe and majesty when Superman simply bends his knees and disappears from view in a split second.

This is a very loud movie. Its action sequences are bombastic to the point of distraction and feel unnecessarily extended. It’s as if either the studio or Snyder himself was under constant pressure to outdo last year’s superhero summer blockbuster Marvel’s the Avengers. (That film’s climactic action scene was also an alien invasion in the heart of a major city. Coincidence?) Man of Steel‘s response is simply bigger explosions, more buildings destroyed and people being killed on a disaster movie scale.

In the end, Man of Steel may be a credible addition to Superman lore but it is sadly unrewarding. The arrival of the world’s greatest superhero is no triumph when it happens amidst the deaths of tens of thousands. As the credits roll, you find yourself wanting more. Not more super-powered battle scenes but more character.

I really wanted to see more Clark. And much more heart.

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End of Days

1 Dec

City of Heroes, the world’s first superhero-based MMO, shuts down for good today.

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29 April 2007: the Justice Jabs assemble in Talos Island.

If you’ve never played a massively multiplayer online (MMO) game, it may be hard to imagine what thousands of die-hard City of Heroes fans are going through. After eight years, a beloved world of custom characters, city-sized maps and online communities will be switching off its servers for good today.

MMO role playing games differ from any other form of entertainment because, unlike even story-driven single player video games, you spend thousands of hours inside the game’s virtual world. Try to imagine a favorite long-running television series, except rather than follow the story of the hero, you are the hero. You design your character from the ground up, choose how the character looks and how his abilities develop over time, explore more and more of the world through missions and play alongside other players just like yourself.

080427 Wolf Boy night patrol - crop

27 April 2008: Wolf Boy on patrol in Steel Canyon.

COH was a breakthrough on so many levels. At launch it was hailed as “a super powered gust of fresh air into an increasingly stale sword-and-sorcery MMO world” (Computer Gaming World). While most MMOs immersed you in fantasy settings, the COH world offered the familiar backdrop of a large, meticulously detailed and bustling city complete with traffic, skyscrapers, garbage-strewn alleyways and innocent citizens to rescue. And you had super-powers.

By design, the game captivated you instantly. A new character could jump into costume and battle villains within minutes, unlike other MMOs that required you to spend hours doing mundane tasks to scrounge up enough gold to buy yourself a sword. Its character design engine offered an unprecedented amount of customization, making it virtually impossible for you to encounter another character with a costume and character features identical to yours. COH was also the first to introduce the “sidekick” system, where you could pair with players several levels apart from your own. (You either moved up close to their level or they moved up to yours, making the formation of temporary teams so much easier.)

But, most of all, COH was a game that was lovingly nurtured by its developer team, constantly refreshing the content through 24 Issues (major game updates) over the past eight years that introduced new missions, characters, enemy and ally factions and maps. It was a game that constantly reinvented itself, giving players like myself reasons to keep coming back for more.

24 May 2004: SPEED (center) patrolling the streets of King’s Row while on one of his first team missions.

I have been playing City of Heroes since its launch in April 2004. Not only did I spend hours in the game’s character design engine, the frustrated comic book writer in me insisted that I conceptualize and write a back story for each new character I created. I would even take the time to chronicle (screen grab) memorable missions, some of which are displayed on this blog. (You can see more screen grabs here.) Eight years is a long time to build fond memories.

You never forget the first time your character hits Level 14 and earns a “travel” power. (You could choose from Flight, Super Jump, Super Speed or Teleportation.) I spent hours flying through the skies about Atlas Park, first swooping to the top of the Atlas statue globe, then looking down at the city from above the tallest building and finally flying alongside the Atlas Park blimp — close enough to hear its engines! Six months after launch, COH would introduce capes, which your character could earn by completing a special mission at level 20. Flying was never the same again. A few years later, the game would add the option to equip your character with fully animated wings.

26 June 2005: Queen Maleficent in flight.

In 2005, the Winter Lord attacked, freezing lakes and spawning random ice monsters all over Paragon City. But the best part was forming teams to take down the Winter Lord himself, which meant tons of XP!

Most of all, I will remember Sundays with the Justice Jabs. We formed an all-Controller super group (guild) with real life friends Nic, Angie, Stefan & Simon (players based in Singapore and Sydney). At the same time every Sunday we would chat over Skype and play through task forces (extended mission story arcs) and take down roaming monsters over several hours at a time.

Towards the end, my time in COH would taper off. Eight years is a long time for a game and there would be other shinier, more attractive gaming options. Sometimes, I would stay away from the game for up to 10 months at a time. But COH was the game I would always go back to. It was familiar surroundings, like returning to your home town. Like visiting an old friend.

In a few hours, it will all be over. No more Paragon City. No more Rogue Isles. No more Imperial City.

This post is dedicated to the developers of City of Heroes and its loyal player community. Thanks for the memories.

2012-12-01 01:11:25

30 November 2012: waiting for the End of the World. G0LDSTAR joins other players as they hold vigil at the steps of the Paragon City Hall.

Top 5 Most Improved Superhero Franchises

5 May

Can you imagine David Hasselhoff as Nick Fury? Yes, it really happened. Be happy Samuel L. Jackson replaced him for the Marvel movie francises.

Super hero franchises don’t always get it right the first time. A number of comic book franchises today flopped miserably in their first forays into television and film. Through some trial and error (Captain America with a plastic shield? A Batman suit with nipples?) , various comic-book movies and television shows have gotten their acts together and delivered incarnations that audiences have finally come to embrace.

See the full list published in Yahoo!

 

Here are clips from the Captain America TV movies:

 

Here’s a clip from that awful Justice League live action pilot:

 

And finally, here’s “The Hoff” as Nick Fury:

Join the Avengers!

14 Apr

SingTel allows you to create your personalized Avengers Priority Card

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Get your very own Avengers identity card that grants you access to special offers at retail partners right here in Singapore, including the SingTelShop.

This is for a limited time only so better sign up for one now! Only at SingTel’s Facebook page.

The Avengers opens in Singapore on 1 May 2012.

Amazing Spider-Man Trailer!

7 Feb

Okay, okayyy … all scepticism aside, this does look pretty cool.

Why the next Batman movie should be in CG animation

5 Nov

The time has come to make a full-CGI / motion capture Batman movie. To make it work, Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill have to be in it. Batman: Arkham City proves that it would be all kinds of awesome. Who’s with me?

With the Christopher Nolan series of Batman movies coming to an end, the opportunity will arise again to reboot the Bat franchise on film. But does it really have to be live action?

My vote is for an CGI / Motion-capture Batman movie in the tradition of films like Beowulf and Final Fantasy: the Spirits Within. But to make this work, the film must feature the voice talents of two men who have brought these classic characters to life for almost two decades: Kevin Conroy as the Batman and Mark Hamill as the Joker.

What? A “cartoon” Batman feature film? Here’s why the idea isn’t all that crazy:

First, Batman the Animated Series is regarded by many Batman fans as the best incarnation of the Dark Knight in any medium. Conroy and Hamill have been fan favorites ever since they first starred in the series in 1992. Since then, they have been brought back in a number of animation projects featuring Batman and the Joker, including Superman, Justice League, Batman Beyond and two direct-to-DVD feature films. They are also both marvelous actors, as this scene from one of the animated series shows.

Most recently Conroy and Hamill reprised their roles in the hit video games Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City. The latter has already sold over 4.6 million units since its release on 18 October. (That’s about US$230 million in gross revenue after only two weeks, which puts it in the same league as any Hollywood blockbuster film.)

Finally, technology is now able to give us the dramatic performances we need to make this an excellent film. Both actors will not only be able to voice but to fully perform these characters. With CG, whether or not the actors resemble the characters in real life is no longer an issue, as the following clip from the making of Beowulf shows.

We’ve all seen how full CG characters — from Yoda to Gollum — can command emotional performances onscreen. I am very excited at the prospect of both Conroy and Hamill fully performing these iconic characters. Plus, the action should be spectacular. Take a look at this trailer for Arkham City.

If you would like to see this film made, please Like this page on Facebook and help spread the word!

New Batman: Arkham City trailer!

16 Mar

The trailer for the sequel to my favorite super-hero game of all time, Batman: Arkham Asylum, is out! This time the action leaves the confines of Arkham Island and now plays out in a city-sized map. At least, that’s what the folks behind Batman: Arkham City promise!

Not only was Arkham Asylum one of the best stealth / action games of all time, it was one of the best Batman incarnations of any medium. This Batman may be considered an extension of the one we saw in Batman The Animated Series and Justice League cartoons, complete with voice talents of Kevin Conroy as the Batman and Mark Hamill as the Joker.

Can’t wait to get my hands on this sequel!

Batman: Arkham City will be released on 18 October 2011.