Wrestling Recap: A McMahon in Every Corner! (WrestleMania ’00)

The Date: 2 April 2000
The Venue: Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim; Anaheim, California
The Commentary: Jim “J.R.” Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler
The Referee: Earl Hebner
The Stakes: Fatal-four-way elimination match for the WWF Championship

The Build-Up:
On March 31st, 1985, Vince McMahon changed the face of the wrestling landscape forever by bringing together the biggest names in wrestling (alongside a number of celebrity guests) for the very first WrestleMania, a pay-per-view extravaganza that became the hottest event of the calendar year for World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and what better way to celebrate than by looking back at one of the event’s most historic matches. By the late-nineties, the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) was clawing back to prominence after being beaten in the weekly ratings by World Championship Wrestling’s (WCW) Monday Nitro for nearly two years. Amidst the adolescent antics of D-Generation X and the violent rivalry between the Undertaker and Kane, fans were caught up in the rivalry between the loud-mouthed, anti-authority “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and WWF Chairman Vince McMahon. Unfortunately, Austin was written off television using a hit-and-run angle so that he could get much-needed neck surgery, and the main event scene of the WWF came to be dominated by Triple H. Triple H became an extremely powerful figure, both on- and offscreen, after marrying McMahon’s daughter, Stephanie, and throwing his weight around as WWF Champion, crushing those with either his political power, his trusty sledgehammer, or his buddies in D-X. After Cactus Jack failed to unseat Triple H, costing the man behind the persona, Mick Foley, his career in the process, the people’s last chance laid, fittingly, in the People’s Champion himself, the Rock. However, the Rock’s path to the WrestleMania main event was disputed by the Big Show following a botched finish to the Royal Rumble; the Rock’s attempts to regain his championship match were further thwarted when the Big Show aligned himself with Vince’s son, Shane, so Vince returned to the Rock’s corner to get a measure of payback against his children. Although Chris Jericho was initially scheduled to be added to the WrestleMania main event, Linda McMahon entered the fray and announced that she would accompanying Mick Foley to the ring at the Showcase of the Immortals and the sage was set for a fatal-four-way with a member of the McMahon family in every corner!

The Match:
I should say that, while many fans and critics out there don’t think too much to this match (or this WrestleMania, there’s a very good reason that I’m choosing to review it; this was the very first WrestleMania I ever watched, and I had just started really getting into wrestling just prior to the Royal Rumble, so I was all about Mick Foley, Triple H’s dominating run as champion, and the intrigue surrounding these larger-than-life competitors. As such, considering the emotional ending to their Hell in a Cell bout at No Way Out, I was fully onboard with J. R.’s call that Foley was the “sentimental pick” for this match and had absolutely no qualms about seeing him added to the contest so close to his “retirement” because it just added a lot more emotional stakes to the match after seeing him push Triple H to the limit as Cactus Jack and knowing it could very well be his last shot at reclaiming the WWF Championship. Arguably, if there’s anyone that people didn’t seem too interested in seeing in this match, it’s the Big Show; the mammoth Paul Wight had already switched alignments a handful of times by this point, and been the WWF Champion himself and, despite the allure of his size and strength, just wasn’t as beloved, hated, or revered as the other three competitors so he kind of stands out a little bit. Once the Rock comes out, it’s pretty clear who the crowd is really behind; despite being accompanied by the hated Vince McMahon, the Rock was firmly entrenched as the most popular star on the roster at this point and the people had been begging to see him dethrone Triple H ever since he won the Royal Rumble. And then, of course, there’s the champion himself; Triple H’s big run at the top wasn’t quite as self-serving as his later reign of terror, but he had gone out of his way to make sure that he was the most hated man in the WWF at that point; from throwing his weight around, stacking the deck at every turn, to firing and the retiring Mick Foley, Triple H had every advantage at his disposal, to say nothing of being physically capable of going toe-to-toe with any man, especially each of his opponents in this match.

Despite his size and strength, the Big Show is the first to go after the others team up against him.

With no count-outs, time limits, or disqualifications in effect, and three former World Champions gunning for him, Triple H was at a distinct disadvantage here; not only did he not have to be pinned to lose the belt, he could also be eliminated from the contest entirely if he wasn’t careful, and the four wasted no time in pairing off for a slugfest that saw the Game renew his rivalry with Foley and the Rock and the Big Show go at it in the other corner. Hyped up on adrenaline and emotion, Foley was able to beat Triple H down in the corner and hit his running knee spot, but both men were soon floored by a double clothesline from the Big Show, who showcased his physical dominance in the early going by manhandling each of his opponents indiscriminately with headbutts, tosses, and huge Gorilla Press Slams. Foley’s attempt to choke out the Big Show left him crushed beneath the giant’s weight, and he easily shut down the Rock’s offense with a sidewalk slam, but surprisingly Foley saved the Game from falling victim to the big man’s patented Showstopper chokeslam with a kick to the nuts. Triple H, the Rock, and Mick Foley then got on the same page to pummel the Big Show and finally knock him down for a group stomping. It’s Foley who breaks up the alliance, attacking Triple H and sending himself and the Game to the outside with his Cactus Clothesline; while the Big Show overpowers the Rock on the inside, Foley attacks Triple H with a steel chair in front of the announcers, then wallops the big man across the spine in retaliation for Shane tripping the Rock. Stunned by the shot, the Big Show lumpers right into a Rock Bottom and is summarily eliminated from the match.

It wasn’t long before Rock ‘n’ Sock Connection were battling for victory.

Triple H offers to join forces with each of his two opponents to take out the other, and ends up getting suckered in by the Rock as a result; the former WWF Tag Team Champions stomp the shit out of Triple H, smacking him back and forth between them and flooring him with a double clothesline before dumping him to the outside. Every time Triple H attempts to mount a comeback, the Rock ‘n’ Sock Connection shut him down, but Triple H is wily enough to duck a shot from the Rock that sees Foley get blasted in the head with the ring bell! Triple H follows up by running the Rock into the steel ring steps to turn things around, dropping the Rock chest-first on the barricade, but he’s left cowering in ear with Foley pulls out his trusty barbed wire 2×4! Thanks to a kick to the dick, Triple H fells the former Hardcore Champion and then uses Foley’s own weapon against him; thankfully, the Rock interrupts before Foley can get too shredded, giving Mick the opportunity to hit the Double-Arm DDT and pull out Mister Socko for the Mandible Claw. The Rock then smashes the WWF Championship over Triple H’s face, but Foley interrupts the People’s Elbow by slapping the Mandible Claw on the Rock (which a vocal majority of the crowd are not happy about) and this dissension allows both men to fall victim to a double low blow form the Game. The Rock and Triple H make it to their feet first, and Vince surreptitiously slips a steel chair into the ring for the Rock to use, but nearly has a heart attack when Foley attacks the Rock and almost scores a pin fall off the Double-Arm DDT. Foley’s momentum is cut off, however, when he charges at the Rock with the chair and gets a face full of steel for his efforts, but Triple H breaks up the Rock’s pin attempt (which the announcers question and hastily try to explain as the Game wanting to personally eliminate Foley from the match).

After injuring himself on a risky move, Foley is eliminated and Triple H focuses his wrath on the Rock.

Triple H then clotheslines the Rock down and he and Foley agree to team up to eliminate the Rock and then settle their score, which the crowd also isn’t happy about. Suddenly fending off two men at once, the Rock is pummelled by the unlikely duo’s attacks and double teams but refuses to let himself be pinned to the mat. Foley knocks the Rock to the outside, smashing the Brahma Bull in the face with the steel stairs and leaving him helpless as Triple H lays him across the Spanish announce table. Foley ascends the nearest turnbuckle and absolutely crashes and burns on a diving elbow drop, momentarily taking himself out of the match and leaving Triple H to quickly cover up by smashing the Rock through the table himself. With the Rock incapacitated at ringside, Triple H is infuriated when the injured Foley still manages to kick out of a Pedigree s he smashes the former King of the Death Match over the head with a steel chair and finally puts his dreams to rest with a devastating Pedigree to the chair. The crowd is a sea of boos at seeing their beloved hero eliminated, but applaud his efforts, continuously respectful of his tremendous effort and the sacrifices he made not just throughout his career, but also in this match. Before he leaves, though, Foley clocks Triple H in the head with the barbed wire 2×4, busting him open in the process and allowing the match to boils down to, arguably, the two men who should’ve had the main event to themselves all along: The Champion, Triple H, and the people’s last, best hope, the Rock. After kicking out of a pin fall attempt, Triple H gets decked by the Rock’s signature right hands, and then clotheslined to the outside after a brief miscommunication; the Rock forces Triple H up the aisleway for a brawl on the concrete and, naturally, out into the crowd and back over to the announce table. Triple H uses a steel chair to smack the ring steps into the Rock’s face and pin him to the floor, attacking the steps with the chair to increase the pressure, and then plans the Rock with a piledriver onto the other steel steps! Despite J. R.’s pleas to stop the match, and that such a spot probably should’ve been the finish, the Rock not only kicks out of a pin attempt but even fires up enough to go for a Rock Bottom! Triple H countered out of it but was toss over the top rope and back to the outside when the Rock countered the Pedigree!

Vince screws the Rock out of his victory, but the People’s Champ gets the last laugh on the McMahons.

The two brawl at ringside and through the crowd a bit more, an exchange that sees the Rock slam Triple H to the padded floor with a spinebuster and then smash Triple H through the remaining announce table with a beautiful suplex! When Triple H trips the Rock into the ring steps with a drop-toe hold, Vince attacks the Game and ends up being smashed in the head by a television monitor courtesy of his son. The two McMahons brawl at ringside and Vince gets busted open from a chair shot to take the focus off the ring and give the competitors a chance to catch their breath; this results in the Rock exploding with a series of punches and scoring a near-fall off a DDT and that cool twirling powerslam he used to do around this time. Triple H turns things around with Foley’s 2×4, but the Rock is able to slingshot the Game into Triple H and then plant the champion with a Rock Bottom. Unfortunately, the Rock is too fatigued to capitalise, but is saved from Shane’s chair shot by a returning Vince, who slaps his son around to thunderous applause. Vince grabs the chair and prepares to hit Triple H, but psyche! The WWF Chairman stuns the crowd, and Stephanie, and smashes the chair over the Rock’s head instead! When the Rock kicks out of the pin fall, Vince is infuriated and hits the People’s Champion again, harder this time, and Triple H finally snags the three count, becoming the first heel to ever successfully defend the WWF Championship at WrestleMania. The Rock is left a quivering, beaten mess, the crowd is so pissed off that they’re throwing trash in the ring, and Vince embraces Stephanie and Shane to birth a new alliance in the WWF. Angered at the betrayal, the Rock hits the ring and plants all three McMahons with Rock Bottoms and then hits the People’s Elbow on Stephanie to placate the crowd somewhat.

The Aftermath:
Naturally, the Rock wasn’t finished with Triple H following the end of this match; over the next few weeks, the People’s Champion was continuously on the backfoot as the combined forces of the McMahons and D-X conspired to beat him down at every opportunity. Although the Rock was able to earn a one-on-one shot at Triple H at Backlash, the McMahons stacked the deck against him by naming Shane as the special guest referee and Vince’s stooge, Pat Patterson and Gerald Brisco, in supporting roles. This led to Linda announcing that Steve Austin would be in the Rock’s corner at the event; although the Texas Rattlesnake wouldn’t show up until literally the very last minute during the match, his appearance not only helped the Rock to defeat Triple for the WWF Championship but also result in one of the most lauded and financially successfully pay-per-views of the year. The Rock’s issues with Triple H and the McMahons continued for a few months, with Triple H regaining the belt thanks to the return of the Undertaker, and the Rock continued to be pestered by Shane even as he faced new challengers like Chris Benoit.

Each competitor continued to play a pivotal role in the wrestling for years to come following this match.

The Big Show slid down the card after this and was reduced to a impersonator gimmick before being taken off TV completely so he could lose weight; he would make a dramatic return at the 2001 Royal Rumble, languish in the Hardcore division for a while, before finally getting renewed push to the top when he was paired up against rookie Brock Lesnar. Triple H saw out the rest of 2000 feuding with Kurt Angle and the Undertaker, before a horrific injury saw his power team with Austin disrupted. He returned to the ring to main event WrestleMania X-8 and remained in the main event picture scene for years thanks to his time in Evolution and feuds with Shawn Michaels and John Cena and transitioning into an authority figure. As for Mick Foley, he was soon back on TV as a beloved authority figure and mainly acted as a comedic figurehead or special guest referee. Foley returned to the ring in 2004 to team up with the Rock against Randy Orton, Ric Flair, and Batista of Evolution; Foley’s in-ring return was specifically to help sell Orton’s “Legend Killer” gimmick but he had a number of notable matches in the years after this against the likes of Edge, Ric Flair, and Terry Funk and Tommy Dreamer in WWE, and against such names as Scott Steiner, Sting, and Kevin Nash during his time with Total Nonstop Action (TNA).

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Did you enjoy the main event of WrestleMania 2000? What did you think to the a McMahon being in every corner? Who was your pick to win this match at the time? What did you think to Mick Foley returning to the ring so soon after his retirement? Would you have liked to see Chris Jericho in this match? Did you agree with the finish? How are you celebrating WrestleMania’s anniversary this year and what’s your favourite WrestleMania moment? Drop your thoughts below by signing up or leave a comment on my social media to let me know what you think about WrestleMania 2000 and check back for more wrestling content throughout the year.

Talking Movies: Shazam! Fury of the Gods [SPOILERS!]

Talking Movies

Released: 17 March 2023
Director: David F. Sandberg
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Budget: $110 to 125 million
Stars: Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Lucy Liu, Grace Caroline Currey, Helen Mirren, and Djimon Hounsou

Troubled orphan turned magically-empowered superhero Billy Batson/Shazam (Angel/Levi) struggles to keep his adopted family together as a superhuman team. However, when the daughters of Atlas – led by Hespera (Mirren) and Kalypso (Liu) – arrive seeking to reclaim the Wizards (Hounsou) powers, Billy and his family must come together to defend their city and reinforce their bond.

The Background:
In a bid to cash in on the success of Clark Kent/Superman and Bruce Wayne/Batman, Fawcett Publications drafted ideas for their own colourful superheroes, each imbued with the powers of Greco-Roman Gods, before Ralph Daigh combined them into a superpowered entity to rival Superman eventually dubbed Captain Marvel. While battling legal issues around his name, Captain Marvel and his colourful extended family joined DC Comics and found some success on the small screen with the 1970s live-action television show. Initially, Captain Marvels big-screen debut was to feature former wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Teth-Adam/Black Adam, though the project lingered in Development Hell before director David F. Sandberg delivered a critically and commercially successful action/comedy that was soon followed by the mixed reviews of Johnsons solo Black Adam venture. Plans for a sequel to Shazam! (Sandberg, 2019) began soon after the films opening weekend, with star Zachary Levi and many of his co-stars signed on to return for multiple films. Mark Strong was revealed to not be returning, and Sandberg was forced to cut classic Shazam villain Mister Mind from the script to keep the focus on the family dynamic and the battle against Atlass daughters, with veteran actress Helen Mirren landing a prominent role as Hespera. Although the sequel was delayed numerous times thanks to the impact and fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, Shazam! Fury of the Gods finally released earlier this month but, as of this writing, hajust barely cleared $100 million at the box office. Reviews also appear somewhat mixed; some saw it as corny, but harmless, fun, while others regarded it as one of the worst DCEU movies ever made. Although newly-appointed DCEU head honcho James Gunn expressed interest in continuing Shazam’s story in future films, director David F. Sandberg stated this would depend on the film’s reception and hinted that he was burned out with superhero films after seeing the mixed critical response to the movie.

The Review [SPOILERS!]:
I really enjoyed Shazam!; even now, it’s one of the better DCEU films since it really embraced the colourful spirit of the character and delivered not only some surprisingly poignant messages about friendship and family but stood as a stark contrast to the rest of the disappointingly bleak and gritty DCEU. Now, I’m not against this in principle; a great way for the DCEU to stand out against the Marvel films is to adopt a more mature and darker aesthetic, but that tone doesn’t work for every superhero. As much as I loved Henry Cavill as Superman, for instance, I don’t really enjoy seeing him moping about, barely saying a word, and being openly, routinely, and publicly criticised; similarly, while I like the idea of Ben Affleck’s older, jaded Batman, it’s not really true to Batman’s character to have him swearing and running around murdering everyone but his most iconic villains. Thus, yeah, sue me; I was all onboard for a more jovial adventure and, for me, movies like Shazam! and Aquaman (Wan, 2018) and even Wonder Woman (Jenkins, 2017) represented the direction I wanted the DCU to steer towards. Although I was annoyed and disappointed to find that Black Adam wouldn’t feature in the Shazam! sequel, especially as that would’ve made perfect sense and would’ve been a great way to expand on the lore established in the first film, I was still excited for it as I enjoyed the goofy humour, carefree action, and heartfelt message of Shazam!, especially as it co-existed alongside some surprisingly disturbing scenes.

Billy struggles to keep his family together as a superhero unit out of fear of losing them.

Shazam! Fury of the Gods picks up about two years after Billy and his adopted siblings – half-crippled Frederick “Freddy” Freeman (Grazer), budding academic Mary Bromfield (Currey), enthusiastic daydreamer Darla Dudley (Faithe Herman), gaming aficionado Eugene Choi (Ian Chen), and introvert homosexual  Pedro Peña (Jovan Armand) – defeated Doctor Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) and using their superhero forms, in which they possess the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury. Since then, this unnamed group have set up a base within the magical Rock of Eternity (an extradimensional cavern that was once home to the Council of Wizards and contains an endless library, countless doors to other realms and locations, and apparently a bitter Wi-Fi signal that most urban areas) and regularly workshop their strategies as superheroes. Unfortunately for them, their hometown of Philadelphia has been less than impressed with their superhero antics; they’re regularly called out for the destruction their blunders causes and it’s safe to say that they don’t have the best reputation. Nor, it turns out, do they have official superhero names or a team name; despite the fact that the Wizard clearly told Billy what his name was in the last film, a major side plot in Shazam! Fury of the Gods revolves around him – and his siblings – trying to settle on an appropriate name, something that vaguely ties into a general sense of teenage identity and the group forging a name for themselves individually and collectively, but primarily ends up being an extended commentary on how the characters are incapable of telling people their superhero names without turning to and from their child and adult forms.

Freddy’s role is greatly expanded as he seeks to strike out his own and embarks on a few side quests.

Oddly, Billy Batson is strangely absent from the film; he spends the majority of the movie in his superhuman form though, thankfully, there’s less of a disparity between the two; Shazam still acts like more of a man-child than Billy, but it no longer feels like they’re two completely different characters and there’s even an acknowledgement that he rarely employs the wisdom of Solomon and instead relies on his family, specifically Mary, to help him make decisions). On the cusp of turning eighteen, Billy is afraid that the only family he’s ever had will turf him out once he’s no longer legally obligated to remain under the care of his loving foster parents, Rosa and Victor Vásquez (Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews) and, since he’s been abandoned by everyone he’s ever loved up until this point, he’s holding on a little too tight, trying a little too hard, to keep his family together both in and out of costume. This is causes some tension between him and Mary, who it turns out didn’t go off to college (for unspecified reasons but it’s implied to be because of her duties as Mary Marvel), but more explicitly between him and Freddy. Freddy actually has a far larger role here than Billy; he he’s eager to go out on his own as “Captain Everypower” (Adam Brody) and, despite his love and friendship for Billy, can’t help but feel suffocated by Billy’s insecurities. When he meets and falls for new girl Anne (Rachel Zegler), Freddy gets an opportunity to stand on his own and forge his own path, one where his quirky, awkward sense of humour and encyclopaedic knowledge of superheroes is seen as a positive. Even when Anne begrudgingly betrays him and reveals herself to be the 6000-year-old Anthea, the third daughter of Atlas who wields the confusing (but visually impressive) power to rearrange the environment at will, and loses his powers to the Wizard’s staff, Fredy continues to play a prominent role. Imprisoned in a dungeon is the desolate realm of the Gods, Freddy teams up with the depowered but randomly very much alive Wizard in a bid to stop the daughters of Atlas from destroying Earth, thereby showing his heroism even without his amazing powers.

When the daughters of Atlas disagree, Kalypso seizes the staff and launches a campaign against the mortals.

The daughters of Atlas are, as far as I am aware, brand-new characters for this movie; rather than deliver on the promise of the Monster Society of Evil, led by Mister Mind (David F. Sandberg) teased at the end of the last movie (and this one), or include a throwdown against Black Adam, Billy and his family must contend with Hespera and Kalypso, the enraged daughters of Zeus who Billy unknowingly freed from confinement when he destroy the Wizard’s staff in the last movie. Hespera, who wields the power of the elements, is capable of turning men to stone and even encases much of Philadelphia in an impenetrable dome, to say nothing of being able to instantly nerf the Shazam Family with the Wizard’s reconstructed staff in a bid to rob them of the powers she feels they are unworthy to possess. While both she and Kalypso have a grudge against the Wizard and his Champions for stealing the power of the Gods, Kalypso is the only one of them driven by an inconsolable rage; able to twist the mind’s of others and bend them to her will, Kalypso isn’t satisfied with merely reclaiming the powers and the lost seed that will restore their world and instead turns on her sisters, planting the seed on Earth and birthing not only a legion of demonic, mythological creatures (including harpies, chimeras, and cyclopes) but also commanding the terrifying dragon Ladon, a being so immensely powerful that it cripples its prey by literally emanating fear and is cable to charbroil Shazam’s costume with is magical fire breath. Although Hespera attempts to oppose Kalypso’s plot, suggesting she has some morals, both characters are painfully one-dimensional and rely solely on the star power of their actors and the impressive visuals of their costumes and powers. Their anger is justified, and the power is more than a match for the Champions, especially as they’re able to remove their powers at will, and yet all too often the battle against them boils down to simple stuff like manhandling them or blasting them with lightning.

The Nitty-Gritty [SPOILERS!]:
Shazam! surprised me with it’s poignant message about family; Billy’s arc of being a bit of a troublemaker who had no interest in forging ties with anyone as he was determined to find his mother, only to discover that his true family lay in his adopted home, really separated the film from other superhero productions. In that respect, I can somewhat understand why Billy takes a bit of a backseat here; however, the name of the movie is Shazam! so I was surprised to see that Billy’s arc was more concerned with him not being such a control freak and learning to trust that he’s accepted within his family unit, and that more of the film focused on Freddy. As a result, there really isn’t much for his other siblings to do: Mary expresses frustration at having missed out on college but otherwise remains loyal to her siblings, with no real explanation given as to why she didn’t go or resolution to this plot thread; Pedro randomly blurts out that he’s gay and is immediately accepted by his family, with his only other characteristic being that even his superhero persona (D. J. Cotrona) sucks at dodging. Although Eugene is reduced to exploring the many doors in the Rock of Eternity, this doesn’t really factor into the plot in a meaningful way, though Darla is able to help the depowered Champions assist Shazam in the finale by randomly tracking down a herd of unicorns (strangely the only creature the mythological demons fear) and taming them with Skittles. Indeed, as much as I enjoy the Shazam Family, their colourful costumes, youthful demeanours, and fun dynamic, I can’t help but feel like there’s too many of them; just Billy, Freddy, and Mary would be enough, I think, as the other siblings are just left making up the numbers.

Some fun visuals and action scenes keep the film entertaining, if a little muddled at times.

Thankfully, there’s some decent action, effects, and visuals on offer here that help to keep the film entertaining. The Shazam costumes have been tweaked and now look better than ever (though Zachary Levi continues to look a little out of proportion, especially in the head and neck area), and I loved that we get to see more of the Rock of Eternity. The Champions have pimped it out with TVs and games and such, but the depths hide doorways to strange dimensions and a library full of flying books and home to a helpful magic pen named Steve. When the Champions are in action, they work pretty well together; there’s not a huge amount of forethought to their strategy, which mainly boils down to saving as many people as possibly and trying to prevent greater damage and results in a fair amount of resentment as they’d unable to fulfil this latter objective, but it like that Shazam tried to do post-mission team talks to help them improve as a group. Each of them exhibits the same powers, including flight, super strength and speed, and the ability to shoot lighting from their hands, but all of them are rendered powerless at various points throughout the film (with the exception of Billy) and are forced to find other means to help out. As fun as it is to see Shazam fist fight a dragon and slam it through a building, and as impressive as Ladon’s effects are, the CGI takes a serious hit once Kalypso raises her army of monsters. These scenes, and the opening heist in a museum, recall the disturbing violence perpetrated by the Seven Deadly Sins in the first film but are somehow rendered a little more toothless thanks to the mythological creatures lacking substance and looking a little too cartoonish. The daughters of Atlas showcase ill-defined powers that make for some interesting visuals, such as Hespera turning a room full of people to stone and Kalypso cutting through the skyline on Ladon’s back, but I’m still confused by Anthea’s powers. She appears to be able to rearrange buildings and the environment to confuse, teleport, and attack her foes, but at the same time she isn’t actually rearranging the city as it returns to normal and these powers are rendered mute when she tries to avoid Kalypso’s depowering shot only for the bolt to find her anyway.

Whatever meaning Shazam’s sacrifice has is undone when Wonder Woman steals his thunder…

Despite Freddy’s best efforts, the daughters of Atlas are able to retrieve the seed from the Rock of Eternity after Hespera allows herself to get captured and the Champions just…forget that she’s a God of immense power and believe a simple cage will hold her. From the seed spawns a corrupted Tree of Life and, from that, Kalypso’s demonic creatures, which lay siege to Philadelphia and force the depowered Champions to recruit the aid of a herd of unicorns to help create a distraction for Shazam, the last empowered Champion standing. Thanks to this, and his own unique blend of distraction and fighting, Shazam is able to retrieve the Wizard’s staff from Kalypso; realising that the staff absorbs magical power and can be used to destroy the Tree of Life, Shazam convinces the dying Hespera to help him contain the force of the explosion by reducing the protective dome to a small area, trapping himself, Kalypso, and Ladon within and preparing to sacrifice himself after a tearful farewell to his family. The bold move is successful; the Tree of Life is destroyed, taking all the mythological creatures with it and reducing the slighted Gods to ash, however Billy is killed in the process. Heartbroken, his family lay him to rest in the desolate God world but, at the very last second, Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) conveniently shows up (since Billy had been pestering her for a date throughout the film) and uses her divine power to restore the God world, and Shazam, to life, thereby allowing the Champions to return to action and the Wizard to begin exploring man’s world. This deus ex machina of a cameo really didn’t sit right with me; I think if they were going to do that, it would’ve been better to have Wonder Woman show up right as Billy lay dead on the battlefield rather than waste time pretending like he’s really gone, and it takes away from the characters to have all their problems solved so easily. Compounding matters are the two completely pointless post-credit scenes in which Shazam is approached about joining the Justice Society and Dr. Sivana continues to plot with Mr. Mind, two plot threads that I really doubt we’ll ever see resolved in the near future.

The Summary [SPOILERS!]:
To say I was disappointed by Shazam! Fury of the Gods would be a bit of an understatement. In many ways, I don’t think it’s fair to punish the film because egos, politics, and production shenanigans meant that we couldn’t see Black Adam in this film…but man, would have made so much more sense for Black Adam to have been introduced here, or at least show up looking to reclaim the power of the Gods from unworthy children, and therefore give the Champions a far more charismatic and interesting threat to go up against. There’s a lot to like here regardless, such as the expansion of this more colourful corner of the DCEU, the dynamic between the Champions, and Billy’s relationship to his family. I especially liked Freddy’s side plot of him wanting to strike out on his own, and Billy learning that he’ll always have a place with his family, but it’s very strange to see so little of Billy in the film. I equally found it odd that at least one of the characters, such as Mary, didn’t express relief at losing their powers and exploring what it meant to return to a more normal life. While the visuals were impressive for the most part, things got really muddled and CGI heavy once the digital minions swarmed the streets and the villains, while slightly compelling in their motivations, just didn’t interest me as much as I think the filmmakers were hoping for given the actors cast in those roles. I also feel like it’s hard to really care that much about Shazam! Fury of the Gods as we have no idea if these characters have a place in the DCEU going forward, resulting in a decent enough movie that just felt lacking in some areas; it’s a good companion piece to the first one, which I guess is a positive, but didn’t really impress in the same way and so, ultimately, I ended up feeling a little disappointed with the final product.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Did you enjoy Shazam! Fury of the Gods? Were you disappointed at Billy’s absence in the film? What did you think to his character arc and Freddy’s solo ventures? Do you agree that there are too many characters in the film to sustain the plot? What did you think to the daughters of Atlas, their powers and motivations, and were you disappointed that Black Adam or the Monster Society of Evil didn’t feature in the film? Where do you think we’ll see Shazam next, if at all, in the revamped DCEU? Whatever your thoughts on Shazam! Fury of the Gods, feel free to drop them below or leave a comment on my social media.


Talking Movies: Evil Dead

Talking Movies

Released: 5 April 2013
Director: Fede Álvarez
Distributor: Sony Pictures Releasing
Budget: $17 million
Stars: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore, and Randal Wilson/Rupert Degas

The Plot:
Mia Allen (Levy) is taken to a remote cabin by her friends and estranged brother, David (Fernandez), in hopes of forcing her to go cold turkey with her addiction to heroin. When they discover a macabre book filled with incantations in the morbid cellar, Mia is tormented by ghastly visions that turn out to be all-too-real as an ancient, demonic force seeks to brutalise and possess her and her friends.

The Background:
In 1981, critics and audiences were horrified when The Evil Dead hit cinemas. The result of a collaboration between now-legendary horror director Sam Raimi and his long-time friend Bruce Campbell (as well as friends and family alike), The Evil Dead might have been a low-brow, low-budget splatter-horror film, but it was a surprising critical and commercial hit. After failing to achieve mainstream success, Raimi reunited with Campbell for the bigger and better sequel; Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn (Raimi, 1987) became a cult classic thanks to its over the top gore and iconic action hero, however it was only this latter element that was expanded upon for the third film, Army of Darkness (ibid, 1993), which divided audiences due to its heavier focus on slapstick comedy. While the story continued in videogames and comic books, rumours of a remake or fourth entry circled Hollywood for years; although Campbell declared the project dead in the water in 2007, he later announced that it had found new life with a script that was more a re-imagining of the original film than a straight-up remake. Director Fede Álvarez made his feature-film debut with the remake, which he saw as a continuation of the original film; Álvarez also made the creative decision to focus on practical effects and make-up wherever possible even though it took longer and cost more. Evil Dead proved a surprising success; it made just shy of $100 million at the box office and was met with largely positive reviews that praised the brutal gore and grittier tone, though there were inevitably some who took issue with the debauched content and the absence of Campbell’s memorable protagonist. While these latter criticisms were addressed when Campbell returned for an admittedly awesome three-season spin-off, Sam Raimi teased a continuation of Army of Darkness before finally opting to produce another standalone entry in the franchise rather than a sequel to Evil Dead.

The Review:
I went into great detail in my reviews of the original Evil Dead trilogy about my thoughts on the franchise; while I can respect the hustle and ambition of the first film, and there’s an appeal to Bruce Campbell’s unfiltered bravado in the third, it’s the second one that strikes the perfect tone between horror, action, and comedy that I think works best for the franchise. I’ll always recommend people go to Evil Dead II before the original and had long held the belief that The Evil Dead just hadn’t aged as well as its far superior sequel. There’s often a lot of hatred levelled at remakes, and deservedly so at times, but I would argue horror, of all genres, has fared pretty well whenever it gets a new coat of paint. After seeing the first trailers and getting over the fact that Campbell wouldn’t be returning (and, wisely, wasn’t recast), I remember being really excited for this darker, gritter re-imagining of the first film, an almost comical venture in hindsight that was in desperate need of an update no matter how highly I regard its sequel.

After quitting her addiction, Mia is possessed and tormented by a spiteful evil force!

So, no, Ash Williams is not in Evil Dead. It would’ve been a fool’s errand to ask any actor to try and fill those shoes so, instead, we get an all new, young and sexy cast with an entirely different motivation behind isolating themselves in a creepy cabin in the woods. Like the original movie, Evil Dead features five main characters, two of which are brother and sister. Mia and David were close as children but have since grown apart and there’s a fair amount of bad blood between them since David left Mia to care for their dying mother all alone. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Mia has become addicted to heroin and has tried, unsuccessfully, on many occasions to kick the habit. This is the first time that David has been present for her intervention, however, and much of the film’s focus is on him trying to care for her and make amends with her as she struggles with painful withdrawal symptoms, which manifest in the form of horrific visions of a demonic force seeking to devour her. Mia is, at her core, a fundamentally broken character; she has a loving and caring support network but, despite their best efforts, none of her friends truly understand what’s going through and she feels increasingly isolated when her claims to be haunted by a malicious evil are chalked up to her going cold turkey. When they refuse to give in to her desperate demands to leave, adamant to force her to kick her destructive habit once and for all, she tries to leave by herself, only to crash and be confronted by the evil in the forest, which here takes the form of a demonic doppelgänger of herself. Targeting her as the weakest member of the group, the demon possesses her through a far more logical (though no less traumatic) version of the infamous “tree rape” scene and she’s driven to abusing herself and others through increasing violent behaviour.

Mia’s friends and family fall victim to the evil’s malicious influence and suffer terribly as a result.

Mia is cared for by her best friend, Olivia (Lucas), a nurse who’s suffered through Mia’s attempts to kick her habit before and is at her wit’s end with it all, especially after Mia not only previously made the same promises to quit but after legally died after overdosing in the past. Her previous experiences with Mia’s wild hallucinations mean she fails to heed her friend’s scathing warnings about the stench coming from the cellar (which is full of dead cats hanging on meat hooks!) and their impending doom after they discover the Naturom Demonto. It’s all new to David, however, who is so desperate to keep his sister safe out of a sense of guilt that he doesn’t hesitate to take her to safety after discovering her scalding her body in the shower, only to be undone by the rising evil forces in the area. Although he might not seem it, David is closer to Ash than you might think; he’s a “charming liar” who’s been through his fair share of women and has the same terrible taste in neck-wear, and he’s also a sceptic and reluctant hero whose concerns begin and end with Mia and only extend further once the shit really hits the fan. His current girlfriend, Natalie (Blackmore), is a stranger to the group and naturally quite dependant on David as a result; she’s struggles to fit in and is adamant that they should leave once things start to escalate but David remains largely dumbfounded, only really taking things seriously once Mia starts puking up red bile and mutilating her tongue with a box cutter! Poor Natalie ends up the most unfortunate victim of the horrific events at the cabin; driven to near madness by the rotting infection in her arm, she severs it in a daze before attacking her friends in a possessed frenzy and being put out of her misery. Things don’t fare much better for Olivia, who is equally driven to maim her face as per depictions in the Naturom Demonto and ending up little more than a crazed, bloodthirsty demon who needs to be beaten to death.

The evil force now has a consistent physical form that yearns to claw its way to life and wreck havoc.

The demonic force that plagues these characters is significantly altered in Evil Dead; the film opens with a young girl (Phoenix Connolly) suffering from the book’s possession and the lore behind it only escalates from there. Though lacking the monstrous visage on the front cover, the Naturom Demonto is still bound in human flesh and inked in human blood but now contains helpful warnings, written in English, not to read its incantations out loud. It also contains many drawings of the fates the characters later suffer before schoolteacher Eric (Pucci), who makes no bones about chewing David out for his absenteeism and who you’d think would be one of the film’s smarter characters, decides to ignore all these warnings and read from the book, awakening the familiar evil force from the woods. While Eric suffers greatly (and comically) for his foolishness, he also acts as a source of exposition for the events occurring; this time, the book unleashes a disembodied, demonic spirit known as “The Abomination” (Wilson/Degas), which possesses a host and then sets about claiming five souls in order to take physical form in a dirge of rain. The possessed are driven into a violent daze, mutilating themselves and attacking others in a spiteful rage, while Mia cackles and looks on with glee from the cellar. While the only way to stop them is again by bodily dismemberment, the victim’s souls can only be saved from damnation using “purifying” fire, driving grieving fathers to watch their possessed daughters suffer, or a live burial. While David is able to succeed at the latter, the evil force manages to claim enough souls to burst from the ground in terrifying and gore-soaked fashion, though it appears throughout the film as a snarling, animalistic doppelgänger of Mia that delights in her torment and commits the cardinal sin of driving her to bash her and David’s beloved dog Grandpa (Inca) to death with a hammer!

The Nitty-Gritty:
Evil Dead is easily the heaviest of the entire franchise thanks to its focus on addiction; Mia has struggled so badly from the trauma of watching her mother waste away and then die that she turned to heroin for a release and this addiction has caused her nothing but further pain. Her friends, though doubtful, support her attempts to get clean but very much prescribe toe a “tough love” philosophy since she’s sworn off the drugs before and always relapsed. This, as much as anything, proves to be their downfall when they fail to take her claims seriously, resulting in her becoming more and more possessed and them suffering greatly. Another prominent aspect of the film involves David trying to make amends for abandoning Mia; the brother/sister dynamic was barely a thing in The Evil Dead but, here, it’s at the forefront of these characters. It’s because of his guilt and love for her that David tries to get Mia to safety, and that same sense of duty compels him to defend her even when she’s a cackling witch and even sacrifice himself in an attempt to safeguard her, foolish as that decision was. Thus evil Dead thematically and visually has very few links to the previous films; the tilting and rushing camera is back but the cabin and book are both very different. The cabin now has a close link to the two main characters and brings back many painful memories for both Mia and David, the former because of how hard it was to see her mother suffer and the latter because of his guilt and not being there to support them. The location isn’t quite the same and the nature of the possessed and the evil itself are also much different, though you can still spot Ash’s prized Oldsmobile on the grounds and Campbell makes a completely pointless post-credit cameo (I would’ve much preferred he had waved the kids off at the start or even if they’d stumbled upon his corpse).

The film is unrelenting with the brutality and viciousness of its gore and effects!

As ambitious and admittedly impressive as the traditional make-up and practical effects were in the original trilogy, Evil Dead definitely reaps the benefits of modern technology, and from emphasising practical effects throughout its production. The gore on display is truly unsettling; you really feel the brutality of each wound and it’s genuinely sickening seeing Natalie’s arm drop to the floor with a wet squelch. Indeed, the movie really excels is in taking the concept and really treating it seriously; there’s very little humour in Evil Dead and the evil force is far more malevolent than playful, though elements of this latter characterisation can still be found when the possessed Mia spitefully barks at her friends. Instead, the focus is on brutal and unashamed gore; that girl is absolutely roasted in the opening sequence, Mia’s skin bubbles from the searing-hot water, and she sicks up a spew of blood bile onto Olivia, who is ten compelled by the book (and the evil force) to carve open her face with a shard of glass. Poor Natalie gets assaulted by the possessed Mia in the cellar in a disturbingly sexual way before receiving an infectious bite to her hand and being compelled to saw the diseased limb off with an electric knife in a far more gruesome scene than any of Ash’s struggles with his own infected appendage. She’s then driven to attack her friends with a nail gun, only to end up losing her other limb to a shotgun blast and bleeding out on the cabin floor! And that’s before we even touch upon Mia scalding herself, a demonic root forcing itself way down her throat, and slicing into her tongue with a box cutter! Of all the characters, it’s Eric who suffers the most abuse, however. This bespectacled dumbass sure as hell can take a licking and keep on ticking; he slips on a piece of Olivia’s skin, landing on the toilet as he falls, before being brutalised by repeated stabs to the face by a needle, riddled with nails, and ending up with his arm being bludgeoned by the possessed Natalie and a bloodied and beaten mess courtesy of her crowbar attack, and yet he still keeps breathing!

The Abomination puts Mia through the wringer in the blood-drenched finale.

In comparison, Mia gets off quite lightly; she doesn’t end up having her head bashed in with a piece of ceramic and all of the injuries and ailments she suffers while possessed magically disappear after she spontaneously returns to life following David’s effort to purify her with a live burial, though she makes up for this in grisly fashion in the last act of the movie. With all of their friends dead or springing to unlife as violent and crazed demons, and with the book proving to be indestructible, David is forced to step up and protect Mia despite his best, most futile efforts to lie to himself about her condition. He ventures into the cellar to confront her and is manhandled in comical fashion by her crazed attack; it’s only thanks to one last gasp of life from Eric that David is able to bundle Mia up and bury her alive, purging her of the evil’s malicious influence and then immediately jump-starting her heart with a jerry-rigged defibrillator that he stabs haphazardly into her chest! Though this works, Eric’s possessed corpse attacks him and David is forced to sacrifice himself to keep Mia safe, setting the cabin (and himself) alight with a small explosion. This, however, proves to be the final sacrifice needed to bring the Abomination back to life; the skies literally pour blood and the creature, a twisted and demonic mirror of Mia, claws its way out of the ground in a recreation of the original film’s iconic poster. It attacks Mia with a ravenous malice scalding her skin with the lightest touch; Mia’s desperate attempts to hide and fight back also mirror Ash’s panicked escape from the unseen evil, but this finale proves easily the most unsettling sequence in the entire franchise thus far thanks to actually being able to see the blood-drenched demon as it scrambles after its prey. Although Mia severs the Abomination’s legs with a chainsaw, the gnarled demon overturns David’s truck and crushes Mia’s left wrist! Desperate and in agony, Mia has no choice but to tear her wrist free! Considering the film already showed a severed limb, I had no idea this was going to happen at the time and, even now, it’s absolutely brutal to watch! However, it’s a fantastic character moment for Mia as she finally takes charge and attacks her demons, given horrific physical form, to put an end to her misery by thrusting the stump into the chainsaw’s handle, and sawing through the Abomination’s head in a crazy fury! Defeated, the creature sinks into the ground and the blood rain promptly stops, leaving Mia a dishevelled and traumatised mess as she wanders off for help, the Naturom Demonto left forgotten and very much intact…

The Summary:
I remember being stunned by Evil Dead when I first watched it. Although a long-time fan of the franchise, even I would admit that the only one of the original trilogy I really enjoyed and highly rated was the second one, with the first having aged poorly and the third being too comical for my tastes. Thus, I was excited to see a gritty, no-nonsense modern take on the concept and Evil Dead certainly brought the horror back to this cult franchise! While it’s true that the film isn’t as immediately iconic without its smart-mouthed action hero, no actor could really fill Bruce Campbell’s boots and the cast we have is surprisingly strong for a horror film. Mia’s struggles with addiction and the impact it’s had on her friends is violent, tragic, and palpable, even more so for David, who is burdened by guilt at having been absent during his mother’s illness and Mia’s suffering. Of them all, Eric proved the most exasperating character; he’s constantly giving David a hard time (and rightfully so) and stupidly reads from the book despite clear warnings not to, but he make sup for it being enduring some truly horrific abuse once the shit hits the fan! And that’s what really makes Evil Dead a standout entry for me and one of the top horror remakes; it takes the source material seriously, pays homage to the originals by reconfiguring some of their most memorable moments into a gory new context, and expands on the lore in ways that are both familiar and unique to this incarnation. The film is worth the price of admission for its unrelenting, sickening gore but it proves to be a visually stunning and ominously engaging, spiteful horror that makes no apologies for its content and proudly showcases some truly disturbing moments as if in defiance of a slew of poorly-regarded PG-13 horror productions. As much as I enjoyed the spin-off TV show, it never fails to disappoint me that we never got a follow-up to the remake; it made money and proved popular but, sadly, we never got to see Ash and Mia team up as chainsaw buddies, but luckily we can also return to this gritty, unrelentingly brutal film whenever we want a good taste of visceral horror!

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.


What did you think to Evil Dead? Where would you rate it compared to other entries in the franchise? Were you disappointed by Ash and Bruce Campbell’s absence? What did you think to the new characters and the depiction of addition? Were you impressed by the film’s unrelenting gore and effects or is it a little too much for you? What did you think to the changes made to the lore and the depiction of the Abomination? Were you disappointed that we never got a follow-up to this film? What are some of your favourite remakes? Whatever your think about Evil Dead and its franchise, feel free to leave a comment below or on my social media.

Back Issues [Mario Month]: Super Mario Bros. #1

So, for no better reason than “Mar.10” resembling Mario’s name, March 10th is widely regarded as being “Mario Day”, a day to celebrate Nintendo’s portly plumber, an overalls-wearing mascot who literally changed the videogame industry forever and shaped the home console market of the nineties.

Published: April 1990

Story Title: “The Legend”
By: George Caragonne, Art Nichols, Jade, P. Zorito, and Janet Jackson

Story Title: “Piranha-Round Sue”
By: Bill Valley, Mark McClellan, George Wildman, Jade, P. Zorito, Janet Jackson

Story Title: “Koopa’s Believe It or Else!”
By: John Walker, Ken Lopez, and Barry Goldberg

Story Title: “Cloud Nine”
By: John Walker, George Wildman, Jade, P. Zorito, Andrea Brooks, and The Gradations

The Background:
By the early 1990s, Nintendo’s mushroom-stomping mascot had firmly established himself as an icon not just in the videogame industry but in mainstream pop culture as well; with more than sixty videogames already released, and with Super Mario All-Stars (Nintendo EAD, 1993) being a blockbuster release for Nintendo (and a major player in the on-going “Console Wars” between Nintendo and SEGA), merchandising and licensing opportunities naturally increased as Nintendo sought to capitalise on the portly plumber’s popularity. Between 1990 and 1991, Nintendo partnered with Valiant Comics to published comic book adaptations of some of their biggest and most successful franchises, and Super Mario was naturally at the forefront of this. Mario’s Valiant adventures were based not just on his videogame adventures, but also his depiction in the animated Super Mario Bros. Super Show! (1989), and Mario featured in a number of Valiant’s comics, either as the main character or in cameo roles.

The Review:
Valiant’s Nintendo comics were basically like printed versions of their DiC cartoons and were short, slapstick, fun-filled adventures punctuated by advertisements both fake and real (mostly for videogames, other Valiant comics, and radical nineties toys and such). As a result, there are four stories contained in Mario’s debut issue, with two full length adventures and two interludes to pad out the comic, which was the style of many publications for younger kids as opposed to comics by DC and Marvel Comics, which generally had the one story contained in its page alongside ads and such. The first story is a two-page introduction to the general concept of the Super Mario Bros., their world, and their adventures; according to “The Interlude”, the magical Mushroom Kingdom was a peace-loving land of mushroom people until the evil King Bowser Koopa and his forces invaded the land and terrorised the kingdom’s patriarch, the Mushroom King, and his daughter, Princess Toadstool. Fortunately, their plight reached Mario and Luigi, two plumber brothers who “hungered for justice and thirsted for freedom” who heard the Princess’s cries for help through their pipes and…somehow (presumably by jumping in the pipes? It’s not made clear) journeyed to the Mushroom Kingdom with tools in hand to defeat Bowser, push back his troops, and rescue the Princess and then presumably stuck around for more adventures based on their experiences. The first story, “Piranha-Round Sue”, finds the Mushroom Kingdom being over-run by the titular piranha plants (leading to a somewhat amusing gag about the plants being “revolting”). The King doesn’t see this as nearly as much of a pressing issue as his current predicament; Koopa has randomly turned him into a chameleon and the King needs Mario and Toad to retrieve the Magic Wand to restore him. Quite how, where, and when this transformation took place isn’t established, but if you’re willing to overlook that then you’re probably willing to overlook the convenience of a Magic Wand only being located in the piranha’s headquarters in World One.

Despite Piranha-Sue’s best efforts, Mario and Toad manage to restore the King using the Magic Wand.

Although Mario’s exasperated by the King’s distracted nature, he is gifted a “Green Gecko Gem” that protects him (but not Toad…) from “only the strongest enemies” at the cost of them being unable to touch anyone else, and the two head out to get the wand. Almost immediately Toad gets left behind and Mario delights in being able to plough through Goombas without issue, allowing Piranha Sue to easily get into Toad’s ear and manipulate him into getting a hold of the Green Gecko Gem in the promise of a fleeting moment of power as King of the Mushroom Kingdom, but of course it’s a trap to get the gem into the hands of her fellow piranhas so they can be free of Koopa’s service. While Mario’s busy collecting Coins with reckless abandon, he stumbles upon the Magic Wand just randomly sitting under a rock and is startled to find Toad on the verge of going over a tumultuous waterfall and drowning in the water. However, Mario hesitates to act since he can’t touch Toad and doesn’t want to abandon the gem in case someone steals it, but finally drops both the gem and the wand when Piranha Sue drags the mushroom retainer under the water. Although Toad is saved, Piranha Sue swipes both items and instantly declares herself to be the new rule of the world; unfortunately for her, Koopa was just off panel and took offense to her declaration. Despite the gem covering her in a protective aura, Koopa is able to grab her in a strangle hold and reprimand her for her insolence and discards both items since he believes the gem is worthless and Mario swapped out the wand for a fake on Toad’s suggestion. Victorious, the two return to the castle and change the Mushroom King back to normal, though his subjects are dismayed to find he has developed a taste for flies.

The Mario brothers foil Koopa’s attempt to ruin the cranky King’s reputation.

The comic then shifts to a one-page fake infomercial, of sorts, “Koopa’s Believe It or Else!”, a series of random gags and panels that tell us such tall tales as “Koopa” meaning “Thing of beauty” in “lizard language”, stuffed plumber’s caps being a delicacy in the Mushroom Kingdom, the Mushroom King having over 2,000,000 crowns but only one pair of socks, and a gag about a plumber actually making a house call that’s lost on me since I’ve never experienced an issue with plumbers not coming when I call them out. Following this odd segue, the issue ends with another full-length story, “Cloud Nine”, which finds the Mushroom King aggravated to be woken up in a mood so foul that he chases his sentient alarm clock and dumps boiling hot water on Luigi’s crotch! The King complains that his bed is so lumpy and uncomfortable that he can’t sleep, so Mario and Luigi take him to a shop to purchase a new bed. The Marios are stunned to find the King unsatisfied with the shop’s selection as they’re too hard, too soft, too lumpy, and not lumpy enough, and so distracted by his erratic behaviour that they completely miss Koopa switching places with the shopkeeper. Any suspicions they might have about this shady new character are quickly forgotten when the shop (really Koopa’s minion, Pidget), announces a 100% off sale on all plumbing supplies, easily allowing Koopa to spirit the King up to the 2,927th floor to try out his “Cloud Nine” mattresses. Introduced to the “Cumulo-Nimbus Special”, the King instantly falls into a much-needed deep sleep and is unwittingly whisked away across the kingdom. In the middle of despairing over the King’s disappearance, Mario and Luigi spot the cloud bed flying overhead and give chase, though they’re unable to stop Koopa from framing the King for causing bed weather over the land. Eager to stop the King from tarnishing his reputation further, Mario and Luigi hop into a biplane and catch up to the slumbering King, with Mario using his plumbing tools to…fix the leak in the cloud…? and stop the rain. With the King well rested, his mood noticeably improves (though he still doesn’t have a new bed…) and he regales his subjects with a bizarre dream he had where the plumbers harpooned Koppa in the butt and had the biplane carry him out into the faraway Fungus Forest while the repaired cloud blasted him with lightning, bringing the story and the issue to a close.

The Summary:
Super Mario Bros. #1 is a fun enough comic; it’s a pretty juvenile and slapstick series of adventures and gag strips that definitely doesn’t take itself too seriously and leans very heavily into puns, sight jokes, and kid-friendly cartoony situations. If you’ve ever watched an episode of the Super Mario Bros. Super Show! then you’ll be more than familiar with this sense of humour and presentation, which is a great way to capture the fantastical whimsy of the source material. When you think about it, Super Mario Bros. has always had a weird premise and an oddball sense of humour; fire-breathing turtle-dragons, sentient mushrooms, subjects being turned into blocks, and all kinds of weird power-ups and collectibles make this a light-hearted and fanciful world that’s clearly separate from ours. Like the cartoons, Valiant’s comics run with the idea that Mario and Luigi hail from Brooklyn and what we know was the “real world” and bring their plumbing expertise to the fantastical Mushroom Kingdom, making them hardworking, everyday heroes thrust into the roles of heroes in a magical world, which was also reflected in the anime and live-action movie and is a plot point that’s largely been ignored these days.

A fun, whimsical comic book adventure with some amusing gags and references to the videogames.

One thing I enjoyed about the comic was its juxtaposition of the surreal cartoon version of Mario with more traditional elements from the source material; Mario and Toad’s search for the Magic Wand is framed to resemble gameplay from the videogames, with cameos from Goombas, musical blocks, and even showing Mario grabbing a whole bunch of Coins and stuffing them into a bag so he can buy a new adjustable socket wrench set. Indeed, “Piranha-Round Sue” is the best story in the comic in terms of fidelity to the source material, with Mario utilising a power-up (one not seen in the game, but still…), his incredibly jumping prowess to hop over pipes and piranhas in his search for the Magic Wand, and he’s teamed up with Toad to evoke Super Mario Bros. 2 (Nintendo R&D4, 1988). “The Interlude” is a similarly faithful recreation of the popular canon at the time and a summation of the first videogame, with Mario and Luigi trumping Koopa’s forces and even using the Fire Flower power-up (though without changing colours), and even “Cloud Nine” feature some call-backs to the videogames, such as the cloud-based stages, even though the story’s much more in line with the cartoons. Overall, I have a soft spot for Valiant’s Nintendo comics, especially their Super Mario Bros. publications as they reflect a different, far more whimsical time when adaptations just kind of did whatever they wanted as long as it was fun and entertaining for kids. The artwork, while a little sloppy and rushed at times (character dimensions and spatial awareness suffer a bit), perfectly reflects the Mario cartoons from the time and there were some fun moments that made me chuckle, so this was an enjoyable debut issue for the world’s most famous plumber brothers.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Have you ever read Valiant’s Nintendo comics, specifically their Super Mario Bros. publications? What did you think to them? Were you a fan of the comic continuing the slapstick nature of the cartoon and splicing in some references to the videogames? Are you glad that the franchise has slightly moved away from these depictions or do you miss when the Mario’s were plumbers from the real world? Did you read and collect Valiant’s Nintendo comics? If so, what were some of your favourite stories and moments in their publications? Did you enjoy Mario’s other comic book adaptations as well and would you like to see another produced some time? Feel free to leave your thoughts on Valiants Super Mario and Nintendo comics down below by signing up or on my social media, and thanks for being a part of Mario Month this year.

Game Corner: Resident Evil 4 (2016; Xbox Series X)

Released: 11 January 2005
Originally Released: 30 August 2016
Developer: Capcom Production Studio 4
Also Available For: Android, GameCube, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo Wii, Oculus Quest 2, PC, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox Series S, Zeebo

The Background:
Spearheaded by Shinji Mikami, Resident Evil (Capcom, 1996) was one of the seminal titles for Sony’s burgeoning PlayStation. By focusing on atmospheric horror and resource management, the title practically invented (if not massively popularised) the “survival-horror” subgenre. Despite its blocky graphics, clunky thank controls, and B-movie dialogue, Resident Evil was a critical and commercial success that was soon followed by a number of sequels that continued to refine the gameplay, add to the lore, and be equally successful. With the videogame industry firmly in its sixth-generation, one largely defined by the PlayStation 2, Mikami set about producing a fourth mainline entry in his survival-horror franchise, but Resident Evil 4’s development was fraught with issues. There were at least four different versions of the game, one that was so far removed from the franchise’s roots that Capcom spun it out into an all-new action-packed series, one that saw Leon trapped in a haunted castle, one where he was pursued by a hook-handed monster, and one where the player was beset by horrifying visions. Ultimately, these were all scrapped and Mikami took over the directing duties, intent on reinventing the series from the ground up; one major aspect of this was the shift away from static and cinematic camera angles and prerendered graphics to an over-the-shoulder perspective and fully modelled 3D environments and a greater emphasis on player control and action. New enemies were created to fit the new tone, ones that were more intelligent, versatile, and monstrous than Umbrella’s Bio-Organic Weapons (BOWs) and Leon evolved from a rookie cop into a bad-ass agent who spouted one-liners like an action movie star. Initially a GameCube exclusive release thanks to a pre-existing deal between Capcom and Nintendo, Resident Evil 4 was soon ported to multiple platforms; it became the second best-selling Resident Evil title, made it into the Guinness World Records for 2012, and is widely praised as one of the best (if not the best) entries in the franchise despite it paving the way for less acclaimed action-orientated entries. The game is so revered that it later received a high-definition port on modern consoles that included all of the additional game modes and unlockables alongside new graphical and gameplay tweaks before being completely remade in 2023 following the success of Capcom’s previous modern remakes.

The Plot:
After escaping from Raccoon City, Leon S. Kennedy, now a government agent, is sent to rescue Ashley Graham, the daughter of the United States President, from a mysterious cult in rural village in Spain. There, he encounters a group of hostile villagers who pledge their lives to Los Iluminados and have been infected by a mind-controlling parasite known as Las Plagas.

Unlike every Resident Evil game that came before it, Resident Evil 4 is a third-person action shooter with some light puzzle solving and additional mechanics sprinkled in. The entire complexion of the franchise has been altered; gone are the fixed camera angles and “tank controls”, replaced by fully rendered 3D environments, a much more action-orientated perspective, and a far greater range of movement. The player steps into the familiar shoes of Leon (but he’s changed so much between Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 4 that he may as well be a completely different character) and can choose from three different control types, with my preference being the first. In this configuration, X performs an action (such as opening a chest or a door or picking up items or vaulting over ledges), B does absolutely nothing except exit out of menus, Y brings up the map screen, and holding A allows Leon to run indefinitely. You aim with the Left Trigger (a function greatly aided by the inclusion of a laser sight to your weapons) and fire with the Right Trigger. Pressing LT and A will allow you to manually reload and you can perform a quick turn by holding down on the left stick and pressing A. Holding the Left Bumper and pressing RT sees you switch to your knife for close-quarters combat and to save ammunition, but it’s better to use this weapon when enemies are already down to avoid being grabbed. In the years since Resident Evil 2, Leon has become an absolute bad-ass and is now capable of some incredible physical feats. These range from simple things like double tapping X to kick open doors, diving out of windows, or jumping down from greater heights without worrying about damage, to more superhuman feats, such as smashing enemies with a variety of melee attacks when prompted.

A new perspctive brings Leon new, action-packed abilities and panic-inducing QTEs!

This is a great way to conserve ammo; you can fire a shot to stun an enemy, or slash at them with your knife, and then hit X to kick them away so you can follow up with another knife attack. Leon will often be tasked with barricading a room against swarms of enemies, which means pushing bookcases in front of windows, kicking down or raising up ladders with X, or shooting at explosive barrels to even the odds. If grabbed by an enemy, players can avoid or lessen damage by waggling the left stick, but you’ll also be required to pull off some quick-time events (QTEs) to get out of scrapes. When boulders come rolling at you or you make a desperate dive for a cliff edge, you’ll need to rapidly tap X to avoid being crushed; when the Verdugo or other bosses take a swipe at you, you’ll need to duck or dodge out of the way by pressing X and A or LT and RT together, and these skills are put to the ultimate test near the later stages of the game where you need to perform a series of acrobatic dodges to escape a laser trap. While QTEs aren’t as overused as they would be in later games, the developers clearly wanted to make the most of them; you’ll be rapidly tapping X to swim away from a gigantic sea creature or to slash at tentacles grabbing you, you can be sure that they’ll crop up in most boss battles, and QTEs even appear during cutscenes, meaning you can never put your controller down for a second or you’ll risk being stabbed through the heart! Another massive gameplay mechanic of Resident Evil 4 is the partner system; Leon is aided on a couple of occasions by the mysterious Luis Sera, who will help fend off attacking enemies at key moments, but obviously the most prominent partner you’ll have to look out for is Ashley. After rescuing her, Ashley will diligently follow you around and you’ll need to keep her safe to avoid a game over.

You’ll need to keep Ashley safe, and rely on her to solve certain puzzles, which constantly pepper the game.

Using the Right Bumper, you can command Ashley to stay in place or follow you, which is used to solve certain puzzles such as standing on two pressure pads or pulling two levers simultaneously, but she’s useless at defending herself so you’ll need to have her hide in dumpsters and such to avoid being carried away by enemies. Ashley can be very grating as she is constantly screaming for help and in need of rescue, and there are many times where you’ll have to provide cover fire for her as she turns cranks or searches for keys. Thankfully, you’re not handicapped by her the entire time; in fact, you play more of the game without her than with her, and she does help break up the action a bit in a later part of the game where you get to control her. Ashley carries no weapons but can toss nearby lanterns at enemies with RT and crawl under desks or through small spaces to avoid them entirely, turning cranks to progress and return to her saviour. If she really gets on your tits, though, you can unlock a suit of armour for her that protects her from all attacks and makes her too heavy for enemies to carry away, making her far less of a nuisance and being doubly useful as she acts as a human shield. The map screen is also far more user friendly here; you can clearly see locked and unlocked doors, treasure, save points, and other areas of interest, and your next destination, which makes navigation much simpler, something aided by the game largely being much more linear than its predecessors. Still, while much of the gameplay has been altered to make use of the new presentation and format, many of the classic Resident Evil tropes remain. You’ll be exploring areas for items, documents to expand the story, and keys to unlock doors; often, you’ll need two or more items, insignias or plates or the like, to complete a puzzle and progress onwards and you’ll be unlocking or clearing pathways to create shortcuts as you explore. You’ll sometimes need to examine, combine, or encrypt key items to progress, or activate (or deactivate) security protocols to acquire the items you need, awakening any dormant enemies in the area. Other times, you’ll be exploring maze-like areas, such as a particularly ominous hedge maze, raising a cannon to blast open a door, or receiving some much-needed air support from a helicopter.

It’ll take all your skills and weapons to conquer the game’s puzzles and swarms of enemies.

There are several familiar puzzles here, too, such as pushing statues onto pressure pads, angling mirrors to reflect lasers, picture puzzles, turning dials, and merging coloured lights to acquire new items or open new paths. These usually aren’t too difficult, and the solutions are normally provided by inspecting the immediate environment, or with a bit of trial and error. In addition to pushing crates into water to create platforms or off lifts to progress upwards and turning levers to open doors or activate traps, Leon is now able to jump across gaps, smash off padlocks, ride zipwires, and ride around in minecarts, blasting at barricades and enemies alike as he goes. Vehicles actually crop up a few times in the game, with you needing to shoot the drivers of trucks to avoid being crushed, defending Ashley as she ploughs through a facility in a bulldozer, riding a speedboat across a lake as a sea creature stalks you, and a particularly aggravating final section where you must race away from the island on a ski boat, flying over ramps and desperately avoiding falling rocks at high speeds. Not only can more enemies than ever easily swarm you, but the environments are littered with hazards, from annoying beartraps and explosive trip wires, to bursts of flame, swinging axes, and spiked ceilings. Some of these can be used against your enemies, but most you’ll either need to avoid with a QTE or shoot at panels to stop them from splattering you across the wall. While Leon is afforded more resources than ever, you still need to watch your ammo and be mindful of your stock of healing items; Leon can only carry so much, even with a fully upgraded attaché case, and you won’t have the benefit of Item Boxes to help you out here so it’s best to use the environment wherever possible, flee to higher ground, and force enemies into a narrow space to easily pick them off with as few shots as possible.

Graphics and Sound:
Without question, Resident Evil 4 was the best-looking Resident Evil we’d seen at that point. While I think the remake of the first game actually holds up better now, thanks to the restrictive angles and clever use of lighting, there’s no doubt that this was a dramatic shift away from the limitations of the previous generation and into a new era for the franchise. No longer restricted to tight corridors or prerendered environments, Leon explores some surprisingly large areas, with much of the game taking place outside and in a location decidedly removed from the urban trappings of its predecessors. Leon is now a large, versatile 3D model who can interact with his environment and enemies in fun new ways; from backflipping out of danger and kicking the heads off his attackers to simple things like being able to move and aim in all directions, the player had never had some much freedom in a Resident Evil title before…it’s just a shame you can’t move and shoot at the same time, which can make combat a little clunky, and the camera is a little too close at times, meaning it can be difficult to see what’s ahead of you.

The game certainly had the most visual variety of any Resident Evil title at the time.

Still, the game looks gorgeous; so much so that I really don’t understand the logic of prioritising a remake of it over the far more polygonal Resident Evil – Code: Veronica (Capcom Production Studio 4, 2000). Taking place in a desolate Eastern European nation, the game is awash with a gothic aesthetic that is both familiar and new. Leon explores barren, backwater villages and farmlands, an ominous graveyard, descends down into a number of sewers and catacombs, and even ventures into a dank mine and a dig site to uncover the origins of the Las Plagas parasite. Outside environments are plentiful, with Leon venturing around the outskirts of towers and castles so the game can impress with its graphical scope; crows, wild dogs, and signs of decay and the Los Illuminados’ influence are everywhere, giving even the smallest rural areas a sense of menace. Once inside the churches, castles, and stately manors of the malevolent cult, the game becomes a little more familiar; once again, we’re treated to vast and elaborate rooms filled with paintings, suits of armour, dining tables and joined by corridors bathed in moonlight. You’ll venture into disgusting kitchen and waste disposal areas filled with dead or dismembered bodies, wade through wretched water and creep through rusted, wrecked prisons and crumbling catacombs, past vast lakes, waterfalls, and waterwheels in the surroundings mountains, and even into industrial areas filled with molten metal, shimmering heat effects, and corroded elements.

Eventually, you’ll reach more high-tech locales, with the horror countered by the B-movie dialogue.

After battling through the boobytraps of the Los Illuminados’ grandiose castles, you’ll descend into dark tunnels filled with giant, skittering bugs, heavily fortified bases surrounding the Los Illuminados’ island, and eventually reach a disused, high-tech facility not unlike those Umbrella established under mansions and cities in the previous games. Here, you’ll be treated to bloodstained walls, trashed laboratories, and bizarre Las Plagas experiments, which all burst or shamble to life in the most horrific ways. Largely, there’s very little distinction between the CG cutscenes and the in-game graphics, especially in this remastered version of the game; while the same can’t be said of Ada Wong’s unlockable chapter, whose cutscenes are as low quality and blurry as they were on the PlayStation 2 version, the main game looks crisp and clear…perhaps a little too clear at times, though there are some suitably dark and spooky areas to help balance the lighting. The action is constantly interrupted by radio conversations between Leon and his allies and enemies, which really gives a sense of how much Leon has changed; he’s no longer a rookie cop and is instead a flirtatious, cocksure action hero who trades barbs and drops one-liners as often as he does chat up lines. The game plays its dialogue very tongue in cheek; while not as clunky and awkward as the voice acting in the original game, it’s as though the direction here was to treat it like a B-movie from the off, resulting in a strange mix of terror and ridiculousness at times. The music is suitably ominous and still used to great effect; you’ll always know when you’re in a save room or area or near the merchant, for example, and the music generally only kicks in when enemies or hazards are nearby and will fade out once the danger has passed. Enemies also shamble about, dragging their weapons across the floor, and shout when they spot you; they’ll chant strange phrases and mutter their loyalty to their masters even as they dissolve into a puddle of goo, making for far more visually interesting enemies than moaning zombies.

Enemies and Bosses:
Speaking of which, another way Resident Evil 4 separates itself from its predecessors is in the complete absence of zombies and Umbrella’s bio-organic weapons and viruses. Instead, every enemy in the game is infected with an ancient, mind-controlling parasite that makes them slaves to the Los Illuminados’ power and grants certain superhuman abilities. Your most common enemy are the Ganados; faster, more vocal, and more coordinated than zombies, these infected villagers will rush at you, try to eat you, and attack you with melee weapons from afar or up close. Many hold flaming torches, which you can use to set them on fire; others toss sticks of dynamite, which you can also use to thin out the hoards. You’ll also encounter robed variants who wield crossbows, man catapults, and carry maces, large wooden shields, and even scythes that they hurl at you! Soldier variants are further protected by armour and helmets and carry rocket launchers; additionally, Ganados’ heads will explode and tentacled parasite will swipe at you, or a Facehugger-like variant will pounce at you from the floor. Enemies also man fire-breathing statues and the local wildlife has also been infected, meaning you’ll come across some John Carpenter-esque wolves rippling with tentacles. The Plagas also control heavy suits of armour in the castle, but you can make surprisingly good use of the flash grenade against most enemies, in addition to shooting them into pits of molten metal or over the side of cliffs, blowing them up with flaming or explosive barrels, and you can even shoot their meat cleavers out of the air if you’re quick enough.

The game’s most horrific and formidable enemies crop up as mini bosses to get the adrenaline pumping!

It doesn’t take long for the enemy variety to ramp up and become more formidable, though. You’ll come up against a massive Ganado wielding a Gatling Gun on more than one occasion, or a Ganado in a red robe and sporting a ram’s head will mount a large rotary cannon and cut you down if you can’t make good use of cover to get a shot at him from behind. Raging, masked Ganados rush at you with chainsaws and can one-shot you if you don’t keep your distance and blast them with your heavy artillery, and you’ll even have to battle a few claw-and-armour clad psychopaths who charge at you, swiping madly with their clawed appendages, and can only be damaged by targeting the writhing parasite on their back. These Garradors are usually fought in an enclosed space as other enemies swarm around you, a common theme in Resident Evil 4 as the game loves to send a gaggle of various enemies at you, forcing you to stay on the move and switch up your weapons accordingly. Giant mutated locusts and bugs also crop up: some will hover about, darting at you from above; others skitter across the floor to slash at you; and some are invisible and will leap onto you to vomit acid over your face! By far the most disturbing enemy in the game is the Regenerator, a slender, ashen, zombie-like creature instantly recognisable by its distinctive and chilling breathing. As their name suggests, these wretches constantly regenerate, necessitating the use of high-powered explosives or an infrared scope to target the pulsating boils on their body. Their spiked variant, the Iron Maiden, is even more fearsome, exploding in an array of spikes as it ungainly shuffles after you, so it’s best to either avoid these creatures or make use of any nearby explosives to put them down, but keep your distance as they tend to explode in a shower of guts upon death. Many of these enemies are introduced in such a way that they could count as mini bosses; Doctor Salvador and the Bella Sisters, especially, mark key moments in the game that indicate how dangerous these enemies can as they can take your head off in one move!

Some monstrous and terrifying new creatures will take both heavy firepower and some skill to best.

You’ll also have to contend with some far bigger enemies, each one taking the disgusting body horror of the franchise in new, startling directions. One of the first is the gargantuan, troll-like El Gigante, a lumbering beast you first fight in an enclosed arena near the opening village and later battle alongside a second, similar beast inside a factory. Generally, these creatures charge at you and grab and squeeze you, things you’ll need to rely on QTEs to avoid; they also swipe, pound, and swing trees at you but are pretty slow so you can usually get around them easily enough. In the first battle, you’ll also be aided by a local dog if you chose to save it; in the second, you can drop one into a pit of molten metal, but you still need to avoid getting too close or you’ll be dragged under. Otherwise, unload on El Gigante’s face until the parasite explodes from its back; attack this until it bursts, and you’ll finally put it down, but keep your wits about you as you’ll need to hit LT and RT to avoid being crushed afterwards. When you reach the lake, don’t fire your gun into it (unless you want an Achievement…) because Del Lago will eat you up! This monstrous alligator…thing…attacks your little speed boat, requiring you to toss your infinite supply of harpoons at it and mash X whenever you’re knocked overboard. This can be very finnicky as it’s hard to line up your shot and the cooldown time between throws is substantial; also, don’t get complacent as you’ll need to mash X to avoid being drowned when it snares you with its tentacle. Before you can leave the Godforsaken village, you’ll battle Bitores Mendez inside a burning barn. This spider-like monstrosity slashes at you with his insectoid limbs and tentacles absorbing damage much like Mr. X before his torso completely disconnects from his body and scurries about the place, making him a difficult target to hit; thankfully, you can clamber up to a higher level and make use of the various explosives scattered about the place. When in the processing plant, you’ll constantly have to dodge the Verdugo’s spiked tail as it whips at you from above and below; after you restore power and wait for the lift to arrive, it will attack with lightning fast speed, putting your QTE skills to the test. The Verdugo seems to be completely impervious to all weapons; all you can to is topple over the nearby cannisters of liquid nitrogen to freeze it, buying you time and allowing you to briefly scare it away.

The game leans into body horror and the grotesque mutations popularised in Resident Evil 2 for its later bosses.

A similarly impervious Las Plagas monster awaits in an elaborate cage maze down in the tunnels; “U-3” is this scorpion-like mess of limbs and tentacles that you must dodge and scare away while activating consoles to drop each section of the cage. Once done, it will attack you directly on a cliff edge; here, it will burrow underground to slash at you, but you can make use of explosive barrels to damage it and trap it in an enclosed space to avoid being cleaved in two by its pincer! Resident Evil 4 also introduces a rival for Leon: Jack Krauser, a mercenary for hire who initially attacks with his knife, forcing you to win QTEs to avoid being unceremoniously stabbed to death. Later, he shoots explosive arrows, a machine gun, sends his explosive drones after you, and leaps out to attack you as you search for three tablets in some ruins. This culminates in a one-on-one boss battle where Krauser mutates a knife-like appendage on his arm which he uses to slice at you and shield against your attacks. You’re given about three minutes to defeat him and escape before the area explodes; your best bet is to target his legs and switch to the knife, which does far more damage in this battle than in any other. Leon is also mocked all throughout by the diminutive Ramon Salazar, who largely sends his minions and even a giant statue of himself after you rather than face you head-on. After scaling his tower, however, he’ll mutate into this massive, plant-like monstrosity and try to swat you with his huge spiked tentacles. Like in the battle against “G”, you need to target Salazar’s pulsating eye to deal damage and briefly expose him from his protective cocoon so you can fire at him with your heavier weaponry, ideally the rocket launcher for an instant kill. Finally, after dogging your progress and killing Luis, you’ll confront the leader of the Los Illuminados cult, Osmund Saddler, at a construction site; here, he transforms into a four-legged abomination that also sports eyeball protrusions that you must shoot to stun him and allow you to strike his exposed central eye. Eventually, Ada will drop a rocket launcher into the arena for you to finish him off, but this can be a tough fight if you’re low on ammo, especially as you need to rely on the knife to damage the main eye and you’re given less than three minutes to escape the island afterwards.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As ever, Leon can restore his health using first-aid spray and herbs and you can combine these to restore more health or his and Ashley’s health meters. You also won’t need to worry about being poisoned here, though do be wary when smashing open crates for goodies as you’ll sometimes be attacked by a snake! Almost every enemy you defeat will drop some goodies, such as herbs, ammo, or pesetas, the local currency. Smash open jars, crates, and barrels to reap the same rewards and you’ll often also find high value collectibles in the same way or twinkling at you around the environment. These can be sold to the merchant, who you’ll encounter many times throughout the game, usually right next to a save point; saving is once again done manually at typewriters, though you no longer need to worry about ink ribbons and the game does contain checkpoints, so you don’t have to start all over from your last save point. The merchant will buy almost anything off you and will sell you new weapons, ammo, health items, and upgrades to your outfit and weapons.

Weapons and upgrades can be purchased from the merchant to vastly improve your arsenal.

Occasionally, you’ll find new weapons and upgrades in cases or lockers around the environment but, for the most part, they’re also purchased from the merchant. Every weapon can be “tuned up” at the cost of more pesetas, allowing you to increase their damage, reload time, capacity, and firing speed, though the cost of this tune up increases each time. It’s also worth waiting for better weapons to become available; there’s little point in wasting money upgrading the standard shotgun, for example, when a more powerful one becomes available later on that is more worth your investment. Leon has access to a variety of familiar weapons, from a standard pistol (which can be upgraded to fire bursts), shotguns for close range combat, machine guns (which can also be fitted with stocks to improve handling), sniper rifles (which can be fitted with a better scope or an infrared attachment), and a variety of grenades (standard explosive, incendiary to set enemies alight, and flashbangs to stun enemies and instantly burst parasites). You’ll also get access to more heavy-duty weapons, such as the armour-piercing magnum, the mine launcher, and the rocket launcher; while the mines take a few seconds to explode and the rocket launcher is a bit unwieldy as it forces you into a scoped perspective, these are the most powerful weapons and make short work of any enemy, even the game’s large and grotesque bosses.

Additional Features:
There are twelve Achievements up for grabs in Resident Evil 4, seven of which are awarded simply by playing through the game and clearing each chapter. If you shoot the water and draw out Del Lago, you’ll snag another at the cost of Leon’s life; another has you holding out against the villagers at the start of the game until Dr. Salvador shows up; and another is given for beating the game on the far harder “Professional” mode. Beating the game on any difficulty will also unlock two alternative costumes for Leon, one a dapper film noir outfit and another his classic cop uniform, which also nets you an Achievement. The final Achievement is earned by winning all twenty-five bottle caps in the various shooting galleries found throughout the game; here, the merchant supplies you with a sniper rifle and another weapon and you’re tasked with shooting all the targets on the range to earn your prize, which is easier said than done if your aim is as bad as mine! There are also several blue medallions found all over the game; shooting them will unlock new weapons that the merchant will gift to you for free, which can be helpful on your first playthrough.

Take on side stories as Ada or battle for points in the all-action “Mercenaries” mode.

Beating the game also unlocks the “Assignment Ada” mini game; in this game, which is similar to the “4th Survivor” bonus game for Resident Evil 2, you control Ada on Saddler’s island and must track down five Las Plagas samples in one playthrough, managing your ammo and health without the benefit of save points. Ada is also playable in the “Separate Ways” campaign, a five-chapter side story to the main game which fills in the gaps around Ada’s involvement in the plot. Ada plays exactly like Leon except she’s faster, far more graceful in her moves, has access to a powerful bow gun and a grapple to reach higher areas faster, and takes more damage when attacked. In this mode, you’ll play through rejigged sections of the main game and even battle similar bosses, such as El Gigante and Krauser, and endure a unique fight against Saddler in his human form. Additionally, you can play the “Mercenaries” mini game, even playing as different Resident Evil characters like HUNK and Albert Wesker, in which you must defeat enemies to score points against a time limit in a fun arena shooter. Finally, you can view files and movies from the main menu and unlock additional costumes and weapons by clearing these game modes, though there are sadly no Achievements tied to them.

The Summary:
I can totally understand why so many people rave about Resident Evil 4. This was only my third playthrough of the game, and the second of this version; I played on a cleared game, so I had access to Ashley’s super useful suit of armour, upgraded weapons, and the infinite rocket launcher for the last half of the game and I still had an absolute blast. I’m a big fan of the original games, their focus on exploration, puzzle solving, and resource management and it’s true that a lot of the survival/horror aspects have been lost in this more action-oriented game. However, they’ve been replaced by a creepy, disgusting body horror; some genuinely thrilling moments thanks to the QTEs happening during cutscenes; and the spirit of the franchise is kept well alive even though we have better controls, a better camera, and far better graphics. Leon has always been my favourite Resident Evil character; while he’s a very different person here, this game went a long way to solidifying how cool he is, and I enjoyed his new abilities and gung-ho attitude. Even the annoying parts, like Ashley constantly being in danger, the swarms of enemies, and the occasional instant deaths are fun to replay; even now, some aspects catch me off-guard, like the trucks speeding towards you or Krauser’s sneak attacks. I may not fully understand why the game needs to be rebuilt from the ground up but I can understand the logic behind it; Resident Evil 4 is a popular and successful entry in the franchise, on that redefined the series for better or worse and which could benefit from a few modern tweaks, but at the same time this version still stands up as one of the most enjoyable in the entire franchise.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think about Resident Evil 4? When did you first play the game and how do you think it holds up today? Were you put off by the new perspective and controls scheme or did it reinvigorate your love for the franchise? What did you think to Leon, the changes to his repetoire and character, and the dynamic between him and the other characters? Were you a fan of the QTEs and Ashley? Did you ever collect all the bottle caps? Which Resident Evil videogame, character, monster, or spin-off is your favourite, and would you like to see a return to the original tank-control era of the franchise? Whatever you think, feel free to leave your thoughts down below.

Back Issues: Whiz Comics #25

Story Title: “The Origin of Captain Marvel, Jr.”
December 1941
Writer: Ed Herron
Artists: C.C. Beck and Mac Raboy

The Background:
After National Comics (the precursor to DC Comics) saw incredible success with their flagship superheroes, Clark Kent/Superman and Bruce Wayne/Batman, Fawcett Publications desired to get in on the fad with their own colourful superheroes. While the initial plan was for a team of heroes, each with the powers of Greco-Roman Gods, Ralph Daigh made the executive decision to combine them into one superpowered entity to directly oppose Superman. This magical superhero originally went by “Captain Thunder” and debuted in a comic published as both Flash Comics and Thrill Comics, however trademark issues saw Pete Costanza rechristening him as “Captain Marvelous”, which soon became Captain Marvel, and the character was a big success for the publisher. It wouldn’t be long before the initial concept of a team of magically-empowered heroes soon came to pass with the creation of the the Lieutenant Marvels; soon, though, Captain Marvel was sharing his powers with a colourful extended family, including his bungling uncle and a talking tiger, of all things, butit all began with a young boy named Freddy Freeman. It was editor Ed Herron who wanted Captain Marvel to have a teenage sidekick, and Freddy was purposefully written to shout his idol’s name every time he transformed to remind kids to buy Fawcett’s comics. Unlike Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel Jr. remained a teenager even when transformed and is rendered a cripple in his mortal form, making him slightly more reliant on his superpowers. Captain Marvel Jr. has forged a pretty decent legacy for himself, serving on teams such as the Outsiders and the Teen Titans. He even once graduated (albeit all-too-briefly) into the role of Captain Marvel, was one of many inspirations for Elvis Presley, made a handful of appearances in DC’s animated ventures, and was portrayed by Jack Dylan Grazer and Adam Brody in the critical and financial success that was Shazam! (Sandberg, 2019)

The Review:
The big story of “The Origin of Captain Marvel, Jr.” is the reign of terror being perpetrated by Master Comics’ Albrecht Krieger/Captain Nazi, a supercriminal whose powers are apparently comparable to those of Bill Batson/Captain Marvel and who has been “cutting a path of sabotage and destruction” ever since he “[smashed] his way in” from Master Comics. Plucky boy reporter Billy is in the middle of informing the audience (both inter- and metatextual) of Captain Marvel’s previous entanglements with the superpowered Nazi when his broadcast is interrupted by Sterling Morris, the head of Whiz radio station, who dashes in in a panic because Captain Nazi is at their sending station! In the time between Captain Marvel’s debut appearance and this story, it appears that Morris has been clued in on Billy’s dual identity as Billy transforms into Captain Marvel with his magic word (“Shazam!”) right in front of his boss. That’s not the only think that’s changed, though, as Captain Marvel can now fly at supersonic speeds, which means he’s able to dash over to the sending station in a flash and, once there, he finds that Captain Nazi is delivering an ominous threat over the airwaves to every superpowered do-gooder out there.

Captain Marvel struggles to get his hands on the sadistic Captain Nazi.

In a bid to disrupt Captain Nazi’s hate-mongering message, Billy’s fearless co-worker, Whitey Murphy, climbs up the broadcast tower, only to, of course, immediately be victimised by the garishly-clad and unnecessarily theatrical villain. As Captain Marvel flies up to rescue Whitey, Captain Nazi hurls his hostage right at the Big Red Cheese like a projectile, but luckily the white-haired newshound is only stunned (even though, realistically, he should’ve been mushed to paste as it’s not like Captain Marvel actually caught him…) Despite Whitey’s conviction and Captain Marvel’s resolve to make his rival pay, Captain Navi is long gone by the time our hero gets his ass back up there and, after a brief search, decides to simply wait for the villain to show himself again. After a couple of days without any sight or sound of the “One-Man-Blitz”, Billy can only speculate about when or where Captain Nazi will strike next, which just so happens to be at the activation ceremony of a new hydroelectric dam, an event that Billy (oddly dressed in blue for one panel…) just happens to be covering. Captain Nazi sabotages the turbines, causing them to rage out of control, and Captain Marvel finally manages to confront the maniac, who shows no fear and is unimpressed with his rival’s threats because he knows that Captain Marvel won’t waste time fighting him when hundreds of lives and millions of dollars are at stake. With the speed of Mercury, Captain Marvel bursts into dam and uses the mighty strength of Zeus to grind the out of control turbines to a halt; he even apologises for the damage he caused in the process, though the Major is more than grateful for the lives the Big Red Cheese saved. Although Captain Nazi managed to escape again, he strikes once more during a test flight for a new secret fighter plane and, wouldn’t you know it, Billy’s on scene again when Captain Nazi starts throttling the pilot and putting the plane in a death dive!

Captain Nazi’s heinous actions give birth to another member of the Marvel Family.

This time, Captain Marvel is able to correct the plane’s descent, levelling it out and causing Captain Nazi to black out from the sudden force. Finally getting his hands on the One-Man-Blitz, Captain Marvel sends his unconscious foe flying with a powerful uppercut. Unfortunately, Captain Nazi lands in the nearby bay and is hauled out by a kindly old man who’s out fishing with his grandson, Frederick “Freddy” Freeman. The old man’s kindness is repaid with a superpowered bitch slap that sends him tumbling into the water, fatally it turns out; when Freddy tries to attack Captain Nazi in a fight of rage, he too is smacked aside like a gnat. Thankfully, Freddy’s unconscious body is found by Captain Marvel, who spirits him to a hospital, barging right through the wall when a doctor denies him entry! After an indeterminate amount of time waiting to hear about Freddy’s condition, Billy is horrified to learn that the lad’s back is broken and that he’s expected to either be a cripple for the rest of his life or to pass away during the night. Perhaps feeling responsible for Freddy’s gruesome fate (and rightfully so), Billy steals him away in the middle of the night (despite the fact that his manhandling of Freddy would probably exacerbate the boy’s condition…) and takes him, via the strange subway train, to the ancient cavern of the wizard Shazam. Conjuring the spirit of the ages-old sorcerer, Billy begs the wizard to intervene and help save Freddy’s life and, while he can’t undo what Captain Nazi has done, the old sage bids Billy to speak his magic word and, when Freddy sets his eyes on the Mightiest Man in the World and speaks his name, he’s transformed into a similarly-clad teenage superhero. Restored to full health and gifted with the same powers as Captain Marvel (the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury), Freddy is dubbed Captain Marvel, Jr and (between panels) made privy to Billy’s secret identity. Although Freddy’s human form is still stunted by a crippled leg, Captain Marvel charges his young ward with joining him in the battle against evil and offers to send him over to Master Comics to confront and defeat Captain Nazi once and for all.

The Summary:
“The Origin of Captain Marvel, Jr.” was part of a crossover event that depicted the efforts of Captain Nazi to cause chaos and destruction all across Fawcett’s publications. As a result, the story really doesn’t delve too deeply into Captain Nazi’s name, origin, or even his powers; he’s apparently able to fly and is definitely depicted as having superhuman strength and resilience, but the limits of his abilities or how he came to be are not answered in this story. I feel that’s a moot point, though, as a supervillain carrying the name “Captain Nazi” really doesn’t need much clarifying. He’s the superpowered arm of the Third Reich, vehemently opposed to good and justice in all its forms and intent on proving the superiority of the Axis Powers using his superior strength. However, this does fall apart a little bit throughout this particular story; Captain Nazi takes control of the airwaves (something that seems to be a running theme in Captain Marvel’s comics….) to deliver empty threats and his plan to destroy the dam is easily thwarted. It might’ve been better if he’d destroyed the radio tower, killing some innocents, and then burst open the dam himself, rather than sending the turbines out of control; his attempt to down the test plane also lacked some agency to me, but there’s no doubt that he’s a violent and unhinged psychopath. Captain Nazi killed at least two people in this story, almost killed a third, and threatened countless lives at the dam, but then again he did also black out after a shift in gravity so…

The garish Captain Nazi tests Captain Marvel’s mettle and sees him joined by a teenaged partner.

Once again, the artwork is pretty stellar in this story. There’s a simplicity to C.C. Beck and Mac Raboy’s style that, again, falters with backgrounds (especially Shazam’s cave) but shines in characters and their Max Fleischer-esque facial expressions. Captain Nazi might not be blessed with the most intimidating outfit (a pitch-black Schutzstaffel uniform with blood-red accents would’ve been far better in my opinion) but Captain Marvel has improved a lot from his debut; now showcasing his mighty speed and strength, he’s a well-known and beloved superhero. The “wisdom of Solomon” appears to extend to him sounding more like an adult when transformed, referring to Freddy as a “youngster” and echoing the trustworthiness of Superman, though he’s still a bit impulsive and reckless. This is best reflected in him just punting Captain Nazi away without thought to the damage he could cause, which directly impacts poor Freddy. It’s bad enough that Freddy doesn’t actually get a name in this story, but he has to watch his grandfather be murdered before his eyes and is then left at death’s door or facing a life as an invalid. Thankfully, he’s renewed by Shazam’s magic, transforming into a blue facsimile of Captain Marvel and ready to get a measure of revenge against Captain Nazi. Captain Marvel, Jr has always been a bit of an oddity to me; it’s not explained why he remains a teenager when transformed (I’d assume it’s because he only has a portion of Shazam’s powers, or received them second-hand, but the story explicitly states that he has “all the powers [Captain Marvel] has”) and this kind of flies in the face of the wish fulfilment that’s central to Captain Marvel (say a magic word and a small child, the target audience, becomes an all-powerful, adult superman). I guess it speaks to a different kind of wish fulfilment, though; the youngers reading the comics want to emulate their heroes so it makes sense to have teenaged superheroes, and Freddy’s lame leg adds a level of representation that’s rare for comics from this era. Overall, this is an enjoyable enough story; it’s more like a series of madcap vignettes as Captain Marvel tries to defeat the sadistic Captain Nazi and the appearance of Captain Marvel, Jr comes far too late for it to properly have as much impact as it could but it’s very colourful and we get to see a Nazi scumbag get punched in the face!

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What did you think to Captain Marvel, Jr’s debut story? Did you like the idea of boy/man superhero Captain Marvel having a teen sidekick? What did you think to Captain Nazi as a villain and the evil acts he perpetrated in this story, and the crossover? Which of the Captain Marvel family is your favourite? What are some of your favourite Captain Marvel, Jr stories and moments? Whatever your thoughts Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family, feel free to leave them below or drop a comment on my social media.

Talking Movies: Army of Darkness

Talking Movies

Released: 19 February 1993
Director: Sam Raimi
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Budget: $11 million
Stars: Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz, Marcus Gilbert, Richard Grove, and Ian Abercrombie

The Plot:
Thrust back to medieval times by the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, Ashley “Ash” Williams (Campbell) finds himself the only hope of fending off a veritable army of Deadites, led by his own demonic doppelgänger (also Campbell).

The Background:
In 1981, up-and-coming director Sam Raimi and long-time collaborator Bruce Campbell brought together friends and family alike to produce one of the most controversial splatter-horror films of all time, The Evil Dead. Despite regular on-set mishaps and tensions, the film was surprisingly well-received and, after his mainstream career failed to take off, Raimi returned to the concept six years later for a sequel. Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn (Raimi, 1987) might have been part-remake due to rights issues but it was met with largely positive reviews; its over the top gore led to it becoming a cult horror classic, though it would take another six years before a third instalment would see the light of day. After Darkman (ibid, 1990) proved a modest critical and commercial success, Raimi began developing ideas he’d had for the third film while shooting Evil Dead II, primarily a large-scale medieval piece with a time-displaced Ash. Producer Dino De Laurentiis was still onboard to provide financing for the film, though Raimi and his cohorts still had to fight to get the funds they needed for this larger venture. As ever, production was troubled by difficult conditions; the sweltering heat and Raimi’s penchant for abusing his life-long friend Bruce Campbell, and the gruelling shoot caused issues during the production, to say nothing of the painstaking practical effects work needed to bring the much larger concept to life. Having struggled with the ratings board with his previous Evil Dead films, Raimi purposely set out to make Army of Darkness more a slapstick horror/comedy and toned the gore way down, only to be hit with an unfairly high rating as penance for releasing the previous films independently. Additionally, studio interference saw Raimi’s original vision for a bleak cliff-hanger ending changed to a more hopeful one, and it’s often not clear which version you’re going to be watching when you purchase a copy of the movie. Finally, while Army of Darkness$21.5 million box office gross made it a relative success, many have been divided in their opinions on the film; some praised the presentation and effects work, others criticised the slapstick approach. While the film went a long way to further cement Ash as a horror icon and is often seen as a cult classic, it remains a contentious entry in the franchise and its events are often overlooked or outright ignored in subsequent entries (though this is also due to licensing issues).

The Review:
In my reviews of The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn, I made it pretty clear that my bias is firmly towards Evil Dead II on being the best of Sam Raimi’s original trilogy. For me, it’s the perfect balance of horror and comedy and really cemented Ash’s character as a reluctant hero who transforms into a horror icon after being put through the wringer by a malevolent force. Evil Dead II set Ash up nicely as a cursed victim forced to see those he loves and cares about either turned into zombie-like Deadites or brutally murdered before his eyes, and constantly haunted by the evil force no matter how hard he fights, and Army of Darkness immediately sets about reminding viewers of this with yet another recap of the previous movie in the opening. This time, it’s narrated by Ash, firmly placing him as the main character and focus of the franchise and this movie, and quickly skims through the events that saw Ash lose his hand and end up being sucked through a vortex to medieval times.

A frustrated Ash must set aside his ego and assume a heroic role to clean up his mess.

Understandably, given the horror and the trauma that he’s gone through, Ash is pretty tetchy in this film. While it’s nice to get a sense of his life before the horrors of the cabin, seeing him as a dedicated and knowledgeable S-Mart employee, any vestiges of his original bookish demeanour have been completely swept away and replaced with a bitter, antagonistic bravado that sees him openly mouth off to anyone, regardless of their authority or stature. He has, officially, had enough of this shit, basically, and his only concern is finding a way back home; he doesn’t want to be some prophesised hero, he doesn’t want to get involved in the issues between Lord Arthur (Gilbert) and Duke Henry the Red (Grove), and he certainly has no intention of battling the Deadites any more than he has to. Thus, he makes a deal with the Wise Man (Abercrombie) to retrieve the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis to help them turn the tide in their war against the Deadites but on the proviso that the Wise Man uses the book to send him back home, no questions asked. Unfortunately for Ash, life is never that simple; the evil force constantly conspires against him but is only part of the problem in Army of Darkness. Ash’s ego and sense of superiority means he not only expresses his frustration to the masses but also fails to heed the Wise Man’s words; despite being little more than a retail employee, Ash sees himself as their physical and intellectual superior, a façade he maintains even as he’s blundering his way through the movie. This same bravado, brought on after the trauma he’s experienced, causes him just as much grief as any reanimated skeletons as he refuses to listen to proper instructions and ends up raising the titular army of darkness in his haste and selfishness to get back home.

A spurned Sheila finds herself transformed into a spiteful witch by the evil’s power.

The opening recap once again shows Ash at the cabin with Linda (Bridget Fonda) but skims past her relevance pretty quickly this time around (and even completely omits Annie Knowby (Sarah Berry) from the narrative) to instead focus on Sheila (Davidtz). Since Arthur captured Ash alongside Henry and his men, who killed her brother in battle, Sheila is initially instrumental in condemning Ash to the Deadite pit since he’s assumed to be one of them. Like all of the “primates” in Arthur’s kingdom, Sheila is suitably impressed by Ash’s prowess in battle and his “boomstick” and quickly reverses her ill will towards him, which he initially callously dismisses since he’s busy living up the rewards of being hailed a hero. Although he’s as gruff and flippant towards her as he is to the other “primitives”, Ash finally gets the chance to get laid after being impressed by her spirited nature, but bashfully spurns her when given the choice between returning home or helping her and her people fight off the evil he’s unleashed, with even Sheila branding Ash a coward for this choice. Although it seems as though Sheila is doomed to become little more than a damsel in distress when she’s swept away by a Deadite gargoyle, she actually assumes the role of secondary antagonist after being brought to “Evil Ash” and transformed into a Bride of Frankenstein-esque (Elsa Lanchester) witch by his kiss. Her kidnapping proves to be just the kick up the ass Ash needs to get his shit together, but her demonic visage almost proves his undoing in the finale when she causes his supped-up Oldsmobile to crash and delights in tormenting his body and his heart.

Ash has no time for the Wise Man’s riddles or the rivalry between Arthur and Henry.

This is the first Evil Dead production to have a large cast of characters, and all of them react to Ash in different ways. Initially, Ash is met with suspicion by Arthur, though Ash is far from impressed by either Arthur or Henry and, once he escapes the pit, Ash immediately punches Arthur out and humiliates him. Although flippant towards Henry, especially as he was in chains when they met, Ash earns the duke’s respect after allowing him and his men to go free, which pays off dividends in the finale. It’s thanks to the Wise Man, who has knowledge of Ash’s greater destiny from his familiarity with the Necronomicon, that Ash is able to win the awe of the crowd and begrudgingly quest for the book. However, he loses the respect of the masses after dooming them all to death and destruction through his ineptitude and, while Arthur and the Wise Man are honour-bound to uphold their end of the bargain, they condemn him for his foolishness, but are soon relying on his surprising scientific acumen and military tactics to defend the castle. Ash’s eventual leadership skills and engineering abilities are so impressive that even Arthur is forced to offer his begrudging respect. Though a proud and seemingly cruel king, one who’s not only ore than happy to toss his prisoners into his Deadite pit to the amusement of the braying crowd but also freely executes any escapees with a crossbow, Arthur’s first priority is the safety of his people. He’s waged bitter war against Henry the Red for some time but is driven to find and protect the Necronomicon not to use it against his enemy, but to put an end to the Deadites that have infested his land. Still, the rivalry between Arthur and Henry runs so deep that, at first, it seems as though the duke has condemned his enemies to their fate; however, thanks to Ash’s rallying cry in a deleted scene, Henry and his men arrive just in the nick of time to help turn the tide against the invading Deadites and peace is finally fostered between the two as a result.

Ash sprouts an evil double who raises an army of the dead and seeks to conquer the land!

Naturally, the evil force is back at work in Army of Darkness; somehow, it’s already been unleashed across the land, despite the Necronomicon being hidden in an ominous cemetery. The demonic forces it unleashes and possesses are now freely referred to as Deadites and attack people openly, causing much fear and panic in the lands, and the evil force continues to be both possessed individuals and an invisible, roaring spirit that relentlessly pursues Ash. However, Ash is wise to its tricks this time around; he knows when it’s playing possum, when to fight, and when to flee when it’s nearby, though he’s far more capable in a one-on-one situation than when chased by the invisible force. For the first time, the evil force is given stable and consistent physical form in this movie; previously, it was simply limited to cackling, monstrous possessed bodies but Army of Darkness sees Ash once again battle against himself when the force manifests through his reflection in scenes that recall his experiences at the cabin in the second film. The result of this is Ash literally (and bloodlessly) splitting into two after his evil twin sprouts from his body; despite being a morally grey character, the more recognisably “Good” Ash triumphs over his evil twin and leaves him for dead, only for “Evil Ash” to return to life as a rotting, skeletal corpse that acts as the embodiment of the evil force and seeks to conquer the living through the titular army of darkness. Evil Ash gives Campbell more chances to showcase his range, being a maniacal and raving, pirate-like figure that ramps all of Ash’s arrogance and hot-headed bluster up to eleven, taking a possessed Sheila as his bride and digging up an army of the dead to ravage the land. The Necronomicon also gains more personification this time around; there are three books, each capable of biting and attacking Ash when he screws up the magic words, and the Deadites take a number of forms, from gibbering zombies to screeching witches, but is primarily represented by an army of skeletons. The evil force is also far more playful this time around; it’s still spiteful and malicious, but its loquacious and quirky skeletal troops are just as likely to get into slapstick scrapes as they are the skewer their victims.

The Nitty-Gritty:
The Evil Dead films had always been fairly comedic up to this point; even the first, which is easily the grittiest and splatter-horror of the bunch, had its ridiculous moments, but Army of Darkness takes the comedy/horror atmosphere of Evil Dead II and runs with it! Some of this is a little lost on me; the Three Stooges were a bit before my time and I’m not really a fan of their slapstick comedy or repetitive routine, so seeing Ash fend off skeletal limbs as they bonk his nose and box his ears is a little too childish for me. A lot of the comedy is focused on Ash’s 20th century sensibilities, slang, and technology and the fear, awe, and confusion it inspires in the natives; to these people, Ash’s rudimentary science and bog-standard weaponry are like magic and his bravado is able to impress all the more since they are so enthralled at his ability to defeat the Deadites with his strange weapons. His grouchy demeanour is also a fun source of comedy; he’s far more selfish and outspoken this time around and only undertakes the Wise Man’s quest because he has no other choice to get home. The film also boosts his action hero status up to eleven, gifting him even more memorable one-liners and moments, as well as using his engineering abilities and 20th century science books to not only fortify the castle defences and turn his beloved Oldsmobile into a bad-ass fighting machine, but also somehow construct a working artificial hand using an armoured gauntlet and the gift of a montage!

Ash is now an arrogant fool who’s only separated from his evil double by a fine, grey morality.

Indeed, for me, much of the film is again carried by Bruce Campbell; I may not agree with every decision made to blow Ash’s characterisation so ridiculously out of proportion but there’s no question that, again, this is his show (as evident in the opening titles, which actually call the film Bruce Campbell vs. Army of Darkness). If you enjoyed Ash’s fight against his severed hand in Evil Dead II, Army of Darkness takes that horse and well and truly flogs it to death by having Ash be set upon by cackling, miniature versions of himself using some ambitious, if dodgy, composite effects. These diminutive little gremlins torment Ash, stabbing and tripping and mocking him at every turn and forcing him into more and more comical extremes as he tries to stamp and drown them out. Ash’s character is also expanded upon in ways that would continue to be featured in subsequent adaptations and continuations of the franchise; now a much more self-serving anti-hero, Ash primarily fights for himself and makes no bones about it. He basks in the adulation of the people only to feed his ego and is more than happy to leave them to their fate after unleashing the book’s evil since he’s fed up with all the fighting and everything it’s cost him and just wants to go home. He has a change of heart, of course, but Ash’s hesitant nature literally manifests itself into a separate being in this film and it’s a grey morality that separates “Good” Ash from “Evil” Ash. Evil Ash is more obviously the personification of the evil force that’s been hunting Ash all this time and is bent on the wholesale slaughter and possession of the living, painting him as more obviously “bad”, but it takes a great deal of motivation for Ash to get his shit together and start fighting for something other than his own self-preservation, turning him from a reluctant but bad-ass hero to a flawed braggart who needs to be pushed into defending others.

Some impressive effects feature in the finale, which sees Ash either stranded in the future or returned to his normal life.

Thanks to focusing more on bombastic action and wacky, slapstick comedy, blood and gore is all-but-absent from Army of Darkness. While there is an impressive geyser of blood when one of Henry’s men is tossed into Arthur’s Deadite pit, there’s none at all when the recap shows Ash chopping off his hand and even the Deadites are less intimidating, save for the decaying visage of Evil Ash, and more likely to rattle off quips and play fight than tear flesh from bone. However, Army of Darkness raises the titular army from the grave with some remarkable practical effects, puppets, and old school camera techniques in the explosive and overly ambitious finale, which sees Ash forging gunpowder and becoming a symbol for the people to rally behind in the battle against the stop-motion effects, corpse-like costumes, and gibbering puppets used to bring the army of the dead to life. Ash uses his steam-powered Oldsmobile to mow them down using a bladed attachment and, despite being physically outmatched, proves an adaptable, if desperate, brawler, when he clashes swords with Evil Ash. Ash manages to hold both Evil Ash and a Deadite soldier at bay with a surprising deftness before setting him on fire, reducing Evil Ash to another babbling skeleton, and blowing him up using a bag of gunpowder. This restores Sheila to normal and results in victory, but Ash finds himself conflicted; he briefly considers staying in the past, where he can continue to be hailed a hero and even live like a king, but ultimately he decides that he belongs in his own time. The Wise Man finally repays his bravery with a solution to his time displacement; depending on which version of the film you watch, Ash either has to drink five droplets of a special potion or repeat another magic phrase to enter a deep sleep. Either way, he screws up this process once again and either ends up sleeping too long and waking up in a post-apocalyptic future or returns to his mediocre life as an S-Mart employee where he wows his co-workers with his tall tales and continues to fend off the vengeful Deadites (which, incidentally, has always been my preferred ending).

The Summary:
To this day, I struggle with Army of Darkness. It’s certainly the biggest and most ambitious of the original Evil Dead trilogy, with a much larger scope and cast of characters and it really expands upon the lore of the franchise in its own way, but it’s such a jarring genre shift from the last two movies that it just doesn’t always land for me. Ash’s bravado has been ramped up to such an extreme that he’s gone from a quirky and unlikely action/horror hero to a selfish wise-ass who’s both too arrogant and blockheaded to remember some simple words and yet adaptable and knowledgeable enough to craft an artificial hand and a steam-powered quasi-tank using medieval technology. Ash is at his most unlikable here at times, which works in the sense of him setting aside his ego and fighting for something other than himself, and I totally get that he’d be frustrated after everything he’s been through, but it makes him more of a cliché than someone to root for. The film is super toned down compared to the last two, relying on slapstick comedy and over the top action rather than gore and horror, and sadly rehashing a lot of the entertaining aspects of Evil Dead II through a watered-down presentation. There are some good aspects, such as the impressive (if overly ambitious) special effects and Bruce Campbell’s charisma, but I’d argue they’re not enough to give this much consideration. While I prefer the “good ending”, it really doesn’t matter which version you watch as the film is barely ever referenced and I can’t say I’m sorry about that. You’re much better off sticking with the cliff-hanger of the last movie and assuming that Ash found his way back using the book rather than sitting through this, unless you have little kids who want to get into horror but aren’t quite ready to see the gory content of the first two movies.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Are you a fan of Army of Darkness? Which ending do you prefer? What did you think to Ash’s characterisation as an arrogant blowhard? Did you enjoy the shift towards slapstick comedy or do you prefer the gory content of the other films? What did you think to Evil Ash and the Deadite army? Did you enjoy the special effects used in the film or do you find it too dated and cringe-worthy? Would you like to see Army of Darkness get more recognition or do you think it’s better off ignored? Whatever your thoughts on Army of Darkness and the Evil Dead franchise, drop a comment below or on my social media and be sure to check out my other Evil Dead content.

Game Corner [Mario Month]: New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe (Nintendo Switch)

So, for no better reason than “Mar.10” resembling Mario’s name, March 10th is widely regarded as being “Mario Day”, a day to celebrate Nintendo’s portly plumber, an overalls-wearing mascot who literally changed the videogame industry forever and shaped the home console market of the nineties.

Released: 11 January 2019
Originally Released: 18 November 2012
Developer: Nintendo EPD
Original Developer: Nintendo EAD
Also Available For: Nintendo Wii U (Standard Edition)

The Background:
After the videogame industry crumbled following an influx of numerous overpriced consoles and mediocre titles, Nintendo pretty much single-handedly saved the industry with the runaway success of Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo EAD, 1985) and, following the “Console Wars” of the mid-nineties, Nintendo and their famous mascot continued to be an innovative and reliable staple of the videogame industry. After a successful venture into the third dimension resulted in some of Mario’s most beloved titles, Nintendo decided to return Mario to his roots with the release of New Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo EAD, 2006) on the Nintendo DS, a 2.5D title that spruced up the platformer’s classic sidescrolling gameplay with new features and modes and which proved to be a hit. Two follow-ups soon followed, one for the Nintendo Wii and one for the 3DS, with both receiving high praise for their multiplayer functionality and addictive gameplay mechanics, and the development of a further follow-up for Nintendo’s unfortunate Wii U console soon began. The first Super Mario title to feature high-definition graphics, New Super Mario Bros. U was designed specifically with the Wii U GamePad in mind and emphasised single-player vertical exploration. The game was highly praised and sold over 4.8 million units; as part of the 2013 to 2014 “Year of Luigi” campaign, an expansion pack was created as both a separate physical release and downloadable content which featured shorter, tougher levels and focused on Luigi’s unique playstyle. After Nintendo bounced back in the home console market with the Nintendo Switch and achieved great success with Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo EPD, 2017), this enhanced port of the game was developed for the console; containing all previously released material, and some additional features, New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe was also met with positive reviews and become one of the best-selling games for the Switch.

The Plot:
Bowser, King of the Koopas, and his children (Bowser Jr. and the Koopalings) invade Princess Peach’s castle and hold her hostage, flinging Mario, Luigi, and two Toads far away. The portly plumber and his friends then resolve to travel across the land, defeating Bowser’s minions along the way, in order to rescue Peach and restore her castle to normal.

Like the classic Super Mario games of the bygone 8- and 16-bit days, New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe is a sidescrolling platformer but, in the style of the New Super Mario Bros. subseries, it’s a 2.5D title. The game allows up to four players to team up and travel across eight colourful, whimsical Worlds, hopping across platforms and on enemy’s heads in their quest to defeat Bowser’s minions. Each of the five playable characters controls a little differently and has slightly different power-ups and mechanics tied to them, meaning that the game’s difficulty is directly tied to which character you pick (Mario is an all-rounder, for example, while Luigi has poor traction, and Nabbit cannot be harmed by any enemies, making him the default “Very Easy” mode of the game). Each character has their own set of lives, but shares any collectibles they find along the way, and you can easily revisit and replay previous Worlds with whichever character you like from the overworld screen and the submenu. As is also the style of these kinds of Super Mario games, the controls are as simple as you could want: by default, the A and B buttons allow you to jump and you can hold the X and Y buttons to run, though you can swap these two sets of controls around if you like. Jumping three times in succession, especially while running, will allow you to pull off a triple jump to reach higher areas. When jumping, you can kick off walls to wall jump higher or potentially save yourself from falling down a pit (though you’re just as likely to accidentally wall jump off a platform or block and die if you’re not careful), press down to perform a block-smashing butt stomp, or press A, B, L, or R to perform a little twirl for a bit of extra height. You can also climb up and down ladders, press down when on a slope to slide down and kick any enemies out of your path, and tap the jump buttons when underwater to swim along. X and Y can also be used to hold certain items or characters, such as a Koopa shell or a Baby Yoshi, and you can release the button to throw these at enemies or to collect out of reach Coins.

Play alongside your friends with five different playable characters, each with slightly different mechanics.

Jumping, however, remains your primary method of attacking enemies; with well-timed jumps, you can clear gaps and entire sections of the game using the triple jump and gaining extra height by bouncing off an enemy’s head, but it pays to not be too complacent as some enemies either can’t be defeated by jumping on them or will hurt you if you try. Similarly, other enemies can only be dispatched by jumping at the blocks or platforms beneath them to either knock them off or tip them over, and you’ll also want to make use of the game’s many different power-ups and suits to help take out enemies faster. By default, each character begins the game with five lives and in their base form; this means that one hit will kill you, so be sure to search out a Super Mushroom or similar power-up as soon as possible to gain an extra hit point. When playing as Toadette, the Super Crown will transform her into “Peachette”, allowing her to float and double jump just like Princess Peach is known to do, while Nabbit doesn’t actually power-up from any of the items (but is immune to damage to compensate). When playing, you’re battling against a time limit, which alerts you when it counts down to the last 100 seconds and speeds the game’s music up accordingly to help push you forward. As if this, and the high number of hazards and projectiles you’ll eventually face, wasn’t bad enough, you also have to keep an eye out for the bevy of bottomless pits, which eventually expand to cover the majority of the ground in later Worlds. Handy checkpoints placed within Worlds will power you up and allow for a respawn point, but you still get kicked out of the World and have to manually re-enter, in your base form, to try again. Fail enough times and a “Super Guide” block will appear to help show you how to succeed, but the World will be flagged as incomplete until you finally reach that flagpole unassisted by this mechanic. Your main objective, unsurprisingly, is to head to the right of the screen, jumping over pits, hopping to platforms and blocks, and taking out any enemies in your way to reach the flagpole. Along the way, you’ll contend with such hazards as fog-spewing clouds, rising and falling platforms, swaying mushrooms, giant toppling heads, cannons, temporary platforms, and plumes of both water and sand.

There’s plenty of variety, and challenge, awaiting in the game’s different Worlds.

While gameplay is, by the nature of its presentation, quite linear, there are opportunities for exploration; paths are hidden behind the background, leading to Coins and blocks, you can spawn vines to reach upper platforms, and you can enter pipes to explore underground areas, again usually for Coins or to find one of the three Star Coins hidden in each World. Sometimes, you can wall jump beyond the boundaries of the screen to take shortcuts or reach Secret Exits, which create new paths (or bypass Worlds entirely) on the overworld map so you can reach the Koopaling’s castle for that World. Some Worlds feature autoscrolling sections, either horizontally or vertically, that force you to stay on the move to keep from being crushed or boiled by rising lava, and, after clearing World 2, the game will ask you to choose a path to tackle either World 3 or World 4 (though you can, and absolutely should, backtrack to play both of these Worlds regardless). These Worlds add a new wrinkle to the overworld map in the form of the haunted locations (usually mansions, but there’s a shipwreck, too) infested with Boos. Boos will only advance towards you when your back is turned, and these stages tend to feature confusing door mazes, temporary platforms formed by hitting P Switches to turn Coins into blocks, and light-based mechanics where you need to carry a Baby Yoshi to light the way and scare off Boos. Other Worlds favour tilting platforms, slippery ground, an abundance of pits and crushing hazards, and you’ll even find yourself jumping to and swimming in bubbles when progressing vertically through World 7. You’ll also have to watch out for bigger enemy variants, instant-death lava and poison, and weighted platforms that either require you to jump to keep them moving or will stop if too many enemies and items drift onto them. There’s a lot of fun, colourful variety on offer and your platforming and jumping skills will be progressively put to the test as you clear each World, with more and more hazards and gimmicks being thrown in your path; thankfully, the controls are tight and responsive enough to manage these, but it’s true that the jumping can tend to be a bit spotty at times and you can easily find yourself slipping off a platform or falling to your death when you didn’t mean to.

Graphics and Sound:
I’d played New Super Mario Bros. before, so I was well aware of how great Mario and his Worlds look in 2.5D but New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe is absolutely gorgeous to behold; Mario, Luigi, and their friends have never looked better in 2.5D thanks to the Switch’s high-definition graphics, with each of them sporting cute idle animations and victory poses when finishing a World. This emphasis on adorable character models and animations even carries through to the enemies, who still hop and dance to the jaunty themes playing in the Worlds to not only give you an opening to attack but also to allow you to better time your jumps or anticipate enemy movements. As is often the case, there’s no spoken dialogue in the game and the characters largely rely on gibberish and pantomime and simple cries of “Yahoo!” and “Oh, no!” to make their point, which is fine by me, though you will encounter non-playable Toads who will offer encouragement, power-ups, and challenge you to mini games in their houses. There can often be a lot happening on the screen at any one time, between the enemies, moving platforms, obscured paths, and projectiles, but everything pops out and has a discernible pattern and it’s simply a matter of skill and timing to overcome the obstacles in your way.

The game shines in its visuals, making for probably the best looking 2.5D Super Mario title yet.

Similarly, the Worlds on offer here are just as vibrant and visually interesting as the character models; there’s a lot to see in the background and foreground, often to tease you into taking a risk on a hidden path or entice you into trying a different power-up to make a tricky jump. While the Worlds are pretty standard Super Mario fare, ranging from colourful fields to snowy landscapes and lava-ridden castles, there’s also some fun throwbacks to previous Mario games, like Soda Jungle (which features retracting vines, rotating logs over poisonous water, and enlarged enemies and blocks), and the haunted houses. You’ll also traverse a desert full of quicksand, shifting sand, and statues to jump from, a beach-front and coral reef where jets of water blast you along underwater, tricky jumps to chains and up and across the rocky landscape of the mines, and a whimsical but taxing trip through the clouds. Every World also features two castles, which adopt an ominous stone-and-magma aesthetic and feature crushing blocks, buzzsaws, and rotating platforms, and you’ll also have to endure a cannonball and Bob-omb filled obstacle course when whisked onto Bowser’s battleship.

Enemies and Bosses:
The vast majority of the enemies you’ll encounter in New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe are returning baddies from previous other Super Mario videogames, such as the mushroom-like Goombas, green and red Koopas, Boos, Thwomps, Chain Chomps, Bullet and Banzai Bills (which are frequently invulnerable), Piranha Plants, and Monty Moles. Most of these are pretty harmless, wandering back and forth or in easily recognisable patterns, but they quickly fill up the screen in larger numbers and some of the more annoying enemies, like the Hammer Bros (and their fire, ice, and boomerang variants) and Dry Bones, can cause headaches with their arching projectiles and ability to respawn, respectively. Naturally, there are also some new enemies in the game as well, such as the squirrel-like Waddlewings (which often carry Super Acorns for your consumption), walrus-like Flipruses, the screen-filling Dragoneel, homing Targeting Teds, and the mischievous Nabbit, who steals Toad’s items and must be captured in a race against the clock in previous Worlds.

A number of mini bosses will constantly return to oppose you, changing size and tactics each time.

In addition to the seven bosses you’ll encounter, you’ll also have to contend with a couple of mini bosses along the way. Not only will your platforming skills be tested if you choose to go back and capture Nabbit (and you really should, if only to get him off the overworld and get his items), but six of the Worlds include a tower guarded by Boom Boom, a muscular Koopa who is afforded new abilities by Kamek as the game progresses. Primarily, Boom Boom will attack by flailing his pythons at you, either in a charge or a jumping, spinning attack, but he also grows in size and sprouts wings to dive down at you. While the arena you battle him in is often altered by cosmetic changes befitting the World (such as water and lava), the area you fight him in is never really a hazard and it’s actually beneficial to use the walls to get better height and bop him on the head three times, which is usually easier to do than with the Koopalings since Boom Boom doesn’t attack while protected by his shell. In World 6, the tower is defended by a Sumo Bro who is enlarged by Kamek; this hulking brute can’t be attacked from above and causes electrical shockwaves by stomping his feet, and can stun you with his jumps. To defeat him, you need to jump into the platform he’s standing on while beneath him to tip him onto his shell and then jump on his exposed belly three times to put him away. World 7’s tower is guarded by Kamek himself, who magically spawns in blocks containing enemies. You can hop around on these to try and jump on his head when he teleports in, but he’ll cause them to rain down and hurt you, or release their captives, and he also flings magical bolts at you that cause the ground to become temporarily unstable. Sticking to a set pattern and staying off the floor is your best chance at winning this battle, and it’s not too difficult to jump on his head when he teleports in nearby. You’ll also battle Bowser Jr. one-on-one twice in the game, once after clearing World 5 and then again after World 7. You need to traverse the cannons of Bowser’s battleship to reach him, and both battles are a little different. In the first, you’re underwater and must lure the Targeting Teds into his craft while avoiding the Bullet Bills that fire horizontally and vertically through the arena. The second battle is much tougher; you’re on a precarious metal-blocked platform and Bowser Jr. floats just out of reach, occasionally tossing Bob-ombs at you. His craft sports boxing gloves which can wreck and temporarily destroy the ground beneath you, or extend to shove you right off edge, but you can quickly hop on his head as he passes by or run up them to bonk him if you’re fast enough. Bowser Jr. also causes trouble in World 8, ramming into you, blocks, and platforms to try and hurt, kill, and force you into lava and also joins his father for the finale.

The Koopaling’s each guard a castle filled with death traps and have some tricks of their own to slow you down.

Before you can reach that climatic battle, however, you have to contend with the seven Koopalings, each of whom awaits after clearing a castle filled with death traps and hazards, and each of them will erratically spin at you in their spiked shells after you land a hit, which can be tricky to avoid. First up is Lemmy Koopa, who tosses progressively larger bombs at you, though you can hop onto these for an extra bit of hang time. Morton Koopa Jr. awaits in World 2 and knocks segments of a giant, caterpillar-like Pokey at you from across the arena that you need to jump over or duck under. This battle’s made a little tougher thanks to Morton shaking the ground with his stomps and the two gaping holes to a bottomless pit at either side of the platform, though you can use the walls to help avoid the Pokey projectiles. After this, you have a choice of your next destination; I chose to visit World 3 first so I battled Larry Koopa next; this pint-sized sucker fires bolts from his magic wand and can be tricky to hit thanks to the three water jets that burst up from the arena floor. The arena is similarly against you when you visit World 4, as Wendy Koopa skates about on the slippery ice and causes icicles to drop from the ceiling. The only way to reach Iggy Koopa is to find the Secret Exit in World 5; this leads you to one of the more troublesome boss battles as Iggy constantly runs away through the pipes, appearing on the floor and the ceiling, and fires bolts at you that can also cause up to two large Magmaarghs to pop up. His shell attack is also a pain as he’ll reverse direction, which can catch you off-guard and result in a hit, but once you figure out which pipe leads him to where you can anticipate his movements and hit him accordingly. Roy Koopa is a pretty simple and enjoyable fight; he fires Bullet Bills from a bazooka and hops up onto the stream of floating platforms to evade you, which means there’s a fall hazard in play here, but I found this the easiest boss of them all as you can just hop on his head, take the high ground, and instantly repeat without him getting off another shot. Finally, there’s Ludwig von Koopa, who hovers at the top of the arena, duplicating himself and filling the screen with diagonal projectiles that can be tough to avoid. Naturally, you need to hop on the head of the real Ludwig to score a hit, and the projectiles only increase with each successful blow.

After making it through the lava-filled final World, you’ll have a face off against a gigantic version of Bowser.

Finally, after beating all the other Worlds and crashing Bower’s airship, you’ll dispel the dark cloud surrounding Peach’s Castle and tackle the final, most aggravating World of the game. The once lush and verdant castle has been transformed into a stony, lava-filled hellhole; flaming meteors fall from the sky, lava rises and falls beneath your feet, and you must not only cross the sea of burning magma on a raft but also watch out for Bowser Jr.’s attempts to crush and boil you alive. Succeed, and you’ll reach the final battle, which begins familiarly enough with you ducking under and jumping over fireballs spat by the Koopa King himself. When faced with Bowser, you’ll need to jump over or duck under his fireballs and quickly run underneath him to hit the switch and cause the bridge beneath him to collapse, but this is only the appetiser to the game’s true finale. Enlarged by Kamek’s magic and joined by Bowser Jr., Bowser battles you to the end on the castle rooftop, again spitting high and low fireballs and jumping about the place. To defeat him, you need to dodge Bowser Jr.’s Bob-ombs and hop on his head after avoiding his craft slam; you can then commandeer the Junior Clown Car with B, tapping B to hover over Bowser’s head, and then hit R to crash onto him. Like his kids, Bowser becomes a spinning dervish after he’s hurt and you’ll need to run under his shell when you get the chance to avoid being hurt or killed, and then dodge the rain of fireballs he spits into the air to repeat the same cycle over, dodging more Bob-ombs and fireballs as you go but, as long as you have at least a Super Mushroom and are mindful of your jumps and hit box, this shouldn’t be too difficult to do.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Many of Mario’s most famous power-ups are here for the taking, including the Super Mushroom, 1-Up Mushroom (with extra lives also awarded with every 100 Coins you collect), Super Stars, and Fire and Ice Flowers. Super Stars are rare in the Worlds themselves but endlessly helpful as they make you invincible for a short time (and speed you up and add a nifty somersault to your jump) and successfully defeating a bunch of enemies in a row in this state will net you an extra life, but it won’t protect you from instant death hazards, unfortunately. The Fire and Ice Flowers let you shoot off a bouncing projectile with X or Y, with the iceballs temporarily freezing enemies to create platforms or allow you to throw them. Other power-ups include the Mini Mushroom, which grants you a moon jump, the ability to run up walls and enter tiny pipes, but costs you your ability to actually defeat enemies. POW Blocks will defeat all onscreen enemies, the aforementioned Super Crown lets Toadette become Peachette, and you can also hover through the sky with the Propeller Mushroom or slide along the ground or water (and fire off iceballs) with the Penguin Suit.

There are plenty of fun power-ups, old and new, to help you in your whimsical journey.

If you can knock Lakitu out of the sky, you can briefly take control of his cloud to fly over stages, and you’ll also come across the new Super Acorn power-up, which transforms you into a flying squirrel and allows you to glide, cling to walls, and perform an arch to gain a little extra height. You can also win P-Acorns from the various mini games which allow you to mid-air jump indefinitely, and you’ll find Yoshi eggs hidden in blocks throughout the game. Yoshis come in four styles, the regular green (which you ride as normal, using his tongue to eat and spit out enemies, chow down fruit for power-ups, and make use of his flutter jump to reach higher areas), and three Baby Yoshis: magenta (which swells up into a balloon to help you bypass hazards), blue (which spits out bubbles), and yellow (which can light up dark and/or haunted areas). Each of these baby Yoshis will also automatically eat up any enemies or projectiles that come your way and can be throw, but it’s usually better to keep them in hand. Every now and then, a Toad will offer you a power-up at the end of a World, and you can play mini games in their houses to collect Coins and earn more power-ups (though you’ll lose out if you get a Bowser tile), and you’ll also find power-ups on the overworld on occasion, too.

Additional Features:
There are 246 Star Coins to find in New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe, three in every World, and collecting them will really test your patience and platforming skills as they can be well hidden or hanging in precarious positions. When you finish the game as any character, you’ll unlock the ability to save at any time on the overworld (previously, the game saved after towers and castles and you could only create a one-time save point), the Secret Island (a kind of pointless overworld inclusion that lets you view the credits and various other in-game records, and the Superstar Road. This is where those Star Coins will come into play as you can unlock eight new challenge stages by collecting every Star Coin in each of the game’s other worlds, which is easier said than done. Accomplishing all this adds another Star Stamp to your save file, which allows you to brag that you’ve finished the game to 100%, though finishing the game as the other characters doesn’t factor into this achievement. There are also some alternative paths on the overworld beyond the Secret Exits where moving to certain points causes you to collide with enemies and be warped to a special challenge (usually involving the Super Star) or be automatically taken to different Worlds.

New Super Luigi U adds a whole new level of challenge and difficulty to the game.

Being as it’s the most complete version of the game available, New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe also features the New Super Luigi U content, which excises Mario from the playable roster, expands upon Luigi’s controls and physics to make him slippery and light as all hell, and reduces both the length and time limit of each World. Worlds are also full of references to Luigi, from statues to sprite work and silhouettes and an abundance of green, as well as being restructured into bite-size obstacle courses that will offer the greatest challenge of the game by far. With checkpoints gone and hazards everywhere, it’ll take every bit of skill and precision jumping to best this mode, which pushes you to use your triple jump, loose physics, and the game’s power-ups in new ways to bop off enemies, avoid death traps and hazards, and reach the goal flag. The game also offers a few additional challenge modes, including time trials and speed runs, Coin collections, and 1-Up collections, all of which deny you the use of power-ups, put you against a tough time limit and meeting criteria (like not touching the floor), and award you either a Bronze, Silver, or Gold Medal depending how well you do. Boost Rush allows you to take on rejigged versions of the World’s according to certain criteria (such as focusing on the balloon Yoshi, Penguin Suit, or Squirrel Suit) to nab Coins and speed up the tempo of the game and the enemies. Finally, you can go head-to-head against other players in Coin Battle, or put together your own courses using Coin Edit to challenge your friends, and all of the game’s modes can be played with other players, who will respawn in bubbles after losing lives.

The Summary:
Although I’ve never had the greatest relationship with Super Mario titles since I notoriously struggle with his classic titles and only really got into the franchise once it moved into 3D, I really enjoy these 2.5D throwback games and New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe truly is an exemplary title that showcases the very best of this side of the franchise. Colourful, visually appealing, and bolstered by jaunty music and cute, cartoony attention to detail, the game impresses with its tight controls and a fantastic implementation of some of Mario’s 3D skills (such as the triple jump and wall jump). While it can be frustrating at times because of the precise nature of its platforming and how inconsistent the physics and wall jumps can be with some characters, this is purposely implemented as part of the game’s difficulty curve and, more often than not, any mistakes you make will be because of you rather than the game being unfair. Every enemy, challenge, and obstacle can be overcome with skill and patience, and you’ll find yourself using Mario’s power-ups (especially the new Squirrel Suit) to take risks that invariably pay off to launch you off enemies and towards the coveted flagpole. The inclusion of four additional playable characters, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, really helps to add some variety to the gameplay (though I would’ve preferred there only being one Toad and to have Peach be playable by default, no matter how little sense that makes) so that anyone of any skill level can pick this up and enjoy it, and the boss battles, while simple, were pretty fun thanks to the challenging castles you have to go through beforehand. Super Luigi U was a much-appreciated additional feature, if one I found far more harrowing and frustrating, and I enjoyed all the extra challenges and features to help extend the game beyond the main story. Overall, this is easily my favourite 2.5D Super Mario adventure by far; it takes everything that worked so well in Mario’s better 16-bit titles and infuses them with the Switch’s high-definition graphics and mechanics, and it was an extremely fun and challenging gameplay experience from start to finish.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.


Did you enjoy Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe? How do you feel it compares other Mario titles, specifically the previous Super Mario Bros. games? Which of the playable characters was your favourite and why? Did you enjoy the new power-ups and the challenge offered by collecting the Star Coins? Which of the boss battles did you struggle with, and did you ever get all of the Star Stamps on your save file? What did you think to Super Luigi U? Which of Mario’s Switch games was your favourite and how are you celebrating Mario’s birthday this year? Whatever your thoughts on Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe, feel free to share them below or drop a comment on my social media and be sure to check back in for more Mario content throughout March!

Talking Movies: Leprechaun

Talking Movies

Released: 8 January 1993
Director: Mark Jones
Trimark Pictures
Budget: $1 million
Warwick Davis, Jennifer Aniston, Ken Olandt, Mark Holton, Robert Hy Gorman, and Shay Duffin

The Plot:
After stealing one hundred gold coins from a mischievous and vicious leprechaun (Davis), Dan O’Grady (Duffin) manages to subdue to creature with a four-leaf clover. However, ten years later, a young family rent O’Grady’s property for the summer and accidentally release the leprechaun, who embarks on a murderous rampage to reclaim his gold.

The Background:
Leprechaun was the brain child of writer/director Mark Jones, who decided that a low-budget horror film was his best bet to break away from television. Inspired by adverts for Lucky Charms cereal and the science-fiction creature feature Critters (Herek, 1986), he decided to make a leprechaun the antagonist for his feature. Leprechauns are diminutive supernatural figures from Irish folklore closely associated with shoes, rainbows, and pots of gold but also known for playing pranks and even menacing people. Although largely caricatured in popular culture, star Warwick Davis jumped at the chance to play against type even though it meant spending up to three hours in the make-up chair. Jones brought the proposal to Trimark, who agreed to finance the film, and infused more comedic moments into the script at Davis’s suggestion. Trimark engaged in an aggressive marketing campaign that saw the film making $8.6 million at the box office, although critical reception was largely negative; reviews slated the film’s attempts at humour and horror alike, though Davis’s performance was largely praised. The film was profitable enough to inspire five sequels, a reboot, and then a direct sequel in 2018 that ignored all the other films, none of which were particularly well regarded critically but which have gained something of a cult following over the years.

The Review:
In the vast pantheon of horror movies and icons, it’s easy to dismiss or forget the leprechaun; like many horror villains, he quickly descended into parody and cartoonish violence and a string of low-budget, low-effort sequels saw this ridiculous concept run out of steam far faster than other more complex or alluring horror monsters. The core idea is ridiculous by its very nature and the film definitely doesn’t shy away from that, which I think is a positive, but I can’t say that I’ve ever been much of a fan of the film, the character, or this franchise as a whole. Granted, I’ve only seen about four of the eight films in the series, but none of them were as memorable or terrifying as the squat creature’s more influential peers. However, the 17th of March is St. Patrick’s Day and, since I make a habit of celebrating other holidays like Halloween and Christmas, it only seems fair to mark the occasion with a review of the first film in this often overlooked horror-comedy franchise. Unlike in the vast majority of horror films, the first character we even see onscreen is the villain of the piece, the titular leprechaun. Normally, there’s at least some kind of build up to the reveal of the killer or monster of a horror film but the monstrous little troll comes shambling onto the screen within the first minute of the movie. A squat, curious little fellow, the leprechaun is almost disarming in how absurd he seems; dressed in a bright green suit topped off with a fancy little hat, he seems like a figure of ridicule and his predisposition for talking in rhymes certainly ties into his ridiculousness. However, closer inspection reveals that he’s quite the disturbing little creature; with his deformed face, fangs, and claw-like hands, he’s more of a stout gremlin than a fanciful figure of folklore and he immediately asserts not only his avarice for his beloved pot of gold but his willingness to murder anyone who dares steal from him.

Tory‘s unimpressed with her rural surroundings and refuses to believe stories of a leprechaun.

The bombastic and painfully stereotypically Irish Dan O’Grady believes his financial woes have been solved when, while visiting Ireland to take care of his mother’s funeral, he comes across the leprechaun and manages to not only capture the creature but get his hands on his gold. He promptly brings the cursed coins back to the United States, much to the chagrin and annoyance of his wife, Leah (Pamela Mant), who learns the hard way that O’Grady’s tall tales of a gold-hoarding leprechaun are all too true when the vicious little sprite stows away in O’Grady’s luggage, lures her in by mimicking a child’s voice, and scares her into taking a fatal fall down the cellar stairs. Although O’Grady’s able to get the better of the leprechaun and trap him in a crate thanks to a four-leaf clover, he suffers a near-fatal stroke before he can set the creature on fire, meaning the leprechaun’s curse carries over to the next people to come onto O’Grady’s property. This ends up being J. D. Redding (John Sanderford) and his bratty teenage daughter Tory (Aniston), who rent the O’Grady house for the summer, much to Tory’s displeasure; she’s far from happy at being out of Los Angeles and in the middle of nowhere, and even more unimpressed with the state of the farmhouse, which has been left to go to ruin over the last ten years. While J. D. is excited to be away from the hustle and bustle of city life, Tory bemoans the lack of shopping malls and just wants to get back to civilisation, and to a hotel, and away from the dilapidated house. Tory’s solution to any problem is to throw money at it; as such, she doesn’t even think to apologise when she accidentally bumps into Nathan Murphy (Olandt) and spills his paint thinner, instead offering cold hard cash for the inconvenience. A vegetarian and a pacifist, Tory sees herself as an independent and forceful woman of the nineties, but she easily takes Nathan’s bait when he insinuates that she’s afraid of the house like some flustered female and decides to stay after all and even ends up helping him out with the chores because of an obvious attraction to the young painter.

Thanks to his child-like demeanour, Ozzie’s warnings of an evil leprechaun go unheeded.

Nathan has been hired to do some much-needed renovations around the house; while he’s a strapping young chap, he obviously can’t do all the work by himself so he brings along his little brother, Alex (Gorman), and their simple-minded but kind-hearted friend Ozzie Jones (Holton). The childlike Ozzie is obsessed with tall tales; he spins a yarn about aliens and UFOs that is dismissed by Alex, meaning no one believes him when he tries to tell them that he unwittingly freed the leprechaun from his trap. Ozzie’s maybe not the most politically correct character ever put to film; he’s dim-witted and clumsy and Tory loses patience with him on more than one occasion, but he’s fully accepted by Alex, Nathan, and J. D. despite him basically having the demeanour of a child. In comparison, Alex is startlingly grown-up for his age; he’s somewhat cynical, dismissive of Ozzie’s fairy tales, and watches over Ozzie the way an older brother might look after a younger sibling. Alex isn’t above playing pranks on his simple friend, however, which directly leads to Ozzie being lured into the cellar and freeing the leprechaun after being duped by the creature mimicking a child’s cries for help. Alex goes to make sure Ozzie doesn’t hurt himself when he chases a rainbow in search of the leprechaun and quickly takes the leprechaun’s bag of gold coins for himself, chastising Ozzie when he swallows one and formulating a plan to hide the gold in the well near the house so they can later exchange it for real money in order to pay for an operation to “fix [Ozzie’s] brain” out of a sweet, but misguided, concern for his friend’s welfare. Although Ozzie’s obsession with the devious little troll grates on the others, J. D. is the first of the group to suffer from the leprechaun’s wrath as the sprite takes a bite out of his hand; while this isn’t a life-threatening injury, it’s enough to see the patriarch sitting the rest of the film out at the local hospital. This leaves the youngsters to fend off the leprechaun’s assault alone, especially after he cuts the phone line, wounds Nathan’s leg, and Ozzie places a frantic call to Sheriff Roy Cronin (William Newman) that’s naturally laughed off for its ludicrousness, forcing them to tackle the malicious little sprite by themselves.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Unlike later films in the franchise, Leprechaun actually tackles its subject matter and titular monster with a modicum of seriousness; if I had to make a comparison, it’s very similar to how Charles Lee Ray/Chucky (Brad Dourif) was portrayed in the first Child’s Play (Holland, 1988) as a brutal, spiteful, and dangerous killer despite his diminutive size and ridiculous appearance, and how that film leaned more into semi-psychological horror than comedic shenanigans like its successors. In the spirit of this, despite the whimsical score and fanciful appearance of the leprechaun, the creature is kept largely in shadow in his first appearances; we don’t even get a good look at his face until about twenty minutes into the film and he’s portrayed as being a twisted little troll, mimicking the voices of his victims and toying with his prey with his childish rhymes and quips while cruelly taunting them. However, the film is unashamedly a horror-comedy rather than a straightforward horror movie and it tentatively walks the line between both genres in a way its sequels didn’t; it’s not as ludicrous as the two Hood films (Spera 2000; Ayromlooi, 2003) or a generic monster film like Leprechaun: Origins (Lipovsky, 2014) as it features scenes with the leprechaun gleefully chasing after his victims on a child’s tricycle and pounding a pawn shop owner (John Voldstad) to death with a pogo stick! Moreover, the leprechaun is functionally immortal (claiming to be six-hundred years old) and invulnerable; although bullets and blunt objects can hurt and slow him, he’ll “keep coming back” until he’s retrieved his gold.

The leprechaun is the star of this ridiculously bizarre horror-comedy.

While the leprechaun’s outfit is a bit much (it’s like something out of a pantomime or a costume shop and could’ve done with looking a bit more worn and faded in some places), Warwick Davis is completely unrecognisable beneath the creature’s malformed visage; sporting a permanent leering smile and a mouthful of rotten fangs, the leprechaun is a disgusting little troll who showcases an array of magical powers. Initially weakened from ten years of the four-leaf clover’s influence and barely able to cause a door to shut with his magic, the leprechaun rekindles his strength naturally over time but the film also implies that terrorising and killing others restores his power as much as being in possession of his magical gold. To that end, he delivers some of the most bizarre kills in horror cinema; because of his short stature, it’s easy to dismiss the leprechaun’s threat but he sports razor sharp nails, has a tendency to bite chunks out of people, and exhibits a strength beyond his size that borders on the superhuman. As mentioned, he crushes a man to death with a pogo stick; he claws at Deputy Tripet’s (David Permenter) face and then uses his teleportation powers to toy with him before snapping his neck with his bare hands; he also threatens to cut Nathan’s foot off with a rusty hatchet after injuring him with a bear trap and even exhibis control over his severed hand after it’s cut off by a door. The leprechaun’s only real weaknesses is his obsessive compulsion to stop and shine shoes when he spots them and the magical powers of a four-leaf clover, which is enough to keep him trapped in a crate for ten years and ultimately cause him to melt into a skeleton (and even then he just keeps coming). While some horror monsters and slasher villains have reasonably vague motivations, the leprechaun is fixated on finding his crock of gold; while he delights in tormenting and killing others, that’s really more for fun and in pursuit of his goal and there’s definitely a suggestion that he’d be placated if his gold were simply returned to him.

The leprechaun’s tenacity is finally put to an end with a four-leaf clover and a load of gasoline.

Indeed, this turns out to be the case when Ozzie and Alex let slip about the gold they hid in the well; Tory manages to retrieve it and return it to the leprechaun, but he pursues them with a vengeance when he finds one coin missing (since Ozzie swallowed it earlier) and assumes he’d been tricked. While trying to get some help at the hospital, Tory takes a detour to a nursing home to consult with O’Grady, only to find that the leprechaun has attacked him, taken his place, and to be chased by him in a wheelchair. O’Grady manages to cling to life long enough to reveal that the leprechaun can be subdued with a four-leaf clover and, despite the leprechaun hounding her at every turn and even ripping out and eating Tripet’s eye, and the insurmountable odds of finding the rare flower, Tory’s able to pick out from a patch of clovers. When the leprechaun tries to shove Alex’s head into a bear trap, Ozzie bravely endures the creature’s wrath after revealed that he’s got the missing coin in his stomach; Alex is then able to deliver a decent quip (“Fuck you, Lucky Charms!”) before firing the clover into the leprechaun’s mouth when he’s slashing at Ozzie’s face. This causes the leprechaun to melt from the inside out, reducing him to a putrid, melting, skeletal visage that stubbornly continues to go for them until Nathan finishes him off in disappointingly unspectacular fashion by simply pushing him down a well and blowing him up. While the film ends with the leprechaun’s disembodied voice vowing to curse the well and rebuild his magic to recover his gold (and certainly he would return on more than one occasion in future sequels), I can’t help but feel his end would’ve been more impactful if it’d been more like Child’s Play and Gremlins (Dante, 1984) and focused more on the leprechaun’s flesh dissolving and his charred skeleton crawling after his victims before he went up in a burst of flames but the more important thing about the ending, whatever it’s form, is that it meant this weird little film was finally over.

The Summary:
As I’ve heavily alluded to, I’m not really a big fan of Leprechaun or its sequels; they’re not really scary and just a bit too ridiculous for me in concept and execution, so it’s perhaps no surprise that I don’t rate this first film very highly. I’ve watched a lot of horror films and am very familiar with the horror icons of the nineties, but the leprechaun has to be one of the weakest of the bunch, seconded only by Chucky. For me, it’s simply because they’re too short and too ineffectual to really be all that much of a threat, however they manage to hold their own through their cackling demeanours and creativity. Certainly, Warwick Davis shines in the title role and throughout the film; every time he’s onscreen, whether shrouded in shadow or galivanting around in his little go-kart, he seems to be having the time of his life and absolutely devours the scenery whenever he’s shuffling about and taunting his prey. While we don’t really get to see the extent of his powers, he’s certainly a persistent and imaginative little monster, though this first film doesn’t really do justice to his particularly cruel brand of brutality. The other actors do a decent enough job; Alex and Ozzie are the standouts of the group, surprisingly considering children usually aren’t that impressive in films and the potentially insensitive nature of Ozzie’s character. Thankfully, Leprechaun doesn’t take itself too seriously; it’s more of a grim, whimsical modern fairy tale than a dark, gory slasher, and while that works for the film I just feel like the entire execution and concept is lacking somewhat. You’re not really missing all that much if you’ve never seen Leprechaun and I can’t really recommend it or the franchise beyond sheer morbid curiosity, but I guess there are worse ways to spend St. Patrick’s Day.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Are you a fan of Leprechaun? What did you think to the character and concept? Were you impressed with Jennifer Aniston and Robert Hy Gorman and do you think Ozzie’s characterisation has aged poorly? Which kill was your favourite and what did you think to the leprechaun’s make-up effects? Which film in the franchise was your favourite and would you like to see a more serious take on the concept? How are you celebrating St. Patrick’s Day today? Whatever you think about Leprechaun, feel free to leave a comment below or on my social media.