Talking Movies: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever [SPOILERS!]

Talking Movies

Released: 11 November 2022
Director: Ryan Coogler
Distributor:
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Budget: $250 million
Stars:
Letitia Wright, Tenoch Huerta, Angela Bassett, Danai Gurira, Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Dominique Thorne, and Martin Freeman

The Plot:
With Wakanda in mourning after the tragic death of their beloved monarch, T’Challa/The Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Princess Shuri (Wright) is forced to step into the unlikely role of ruler and protector when her nation is threatened by their imperious K’uk’ulkan, Namor (Huerta), who wishes to wipe out the surface world.

The Background:
Readers of Marvel Comics’ Fantastic Four were introduced to the first-ever black superpowered character, the Black Panther, for the first time in 1966. After a Wesley Snipes-led live-action adaptation languished in Development Hell for decades, the Black Panther finally made his debut in Captain America: Civil War (Russo and Russo, 2016), setting the character up for his own critically and financially successful solo film that impressed with its performances and candid themes of racial oppression. Sadly, the character’s future was thrown into doubt when star Chadwick Boseman sadly passed away after secretly battling cancer; Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige promised that the role wouldn’t be recast to ensure a lasting legacy for Boseman, surprising and devastating writer/director Ryan Coogler, who had been working with Feige and Chadwick to develop the character’s reign as Wakanda’s monarch. Rather than recast or utilise a CGI double, the script was reworked to expand upon the supporting characters and culture of Wakanda. The script also introduced Marvel’s first Mutant, Prince Namor McKenzie/The Sub-Mariner, to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), albeit with a heavily altered background; to avoid comparisons with Arthur Curry/Aquaman, the script changed Namor from a prince of Atlantis to the God-king of a hidden, underwater Mesoamerican subculture and leaning into star Tenoch Huerta’s Mexican heritage to bring the complex anti-hero to life, ankle wings and all. Switching Atlantis for Talokan, the film took visual inspiration from Mayan culture and Jack Kirby’s comic book imagery to bring Namor’s undersea kingdom to life, and employed anamorphic lenses to warp the screen with the fog of loss to reflect the cast and crew’s grief over Chadwick’s passing. Although COVID-19 didn’t affect the film’s release, a series of injuries and delays did interrupt filming and star Letitia Wright attracted some controversy after speaking out about the COVID-19 vaccination. Regardless, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever released to largely unanimous praise but reviews were a little mixed; critics praised the film as a celebration of Chadwick’s life and the individual performances but many took issue with the film’s length, worldbuilding and believed it struggled with Chadwick’s absence. Still, the film was a financial success, bringing in over $355 million at the box office and setting up not just another Disney+ spin-off but also sparking discussions for a third entry in the franchise.

The Review [SPOILERS!]:
Like many, if not all of us, I was stunned to learn of Chadwick’s passing in 2020; it really did come out of nowhere and raised some uncomfortable questions about the future for the character of the Black Panther. Obviously, real world tragedies like this are more important than any fictional narrative but it was still a difficult situation for the MCU to address; a recast could anger Chadwick’s fans, ignoring his passing could be seen as disrespectful, and the question of whether anyone would accept a new character taking on the Black Panther mantle led to some pretty despicable shows of toxic masculinity across the internet despite the fact that Shuri has adopted the role in the source material. Personally, as much as I enjoyed Black Panther (Coogler, 2018), it almost felt as though it might be best to downplay Wakanda’s influence in the MCU going forward; perhaps merge any future stories into other movies, such as their upcoming Fantastic Four reboot, since the situation was so delicate. Instead, the decision was made to forge ahead and immortalise Chadwick’s legacy with a celebration of his life and to allow every involved, the creators, characters, actors, and the audience, to commemorate his life and mourn his loss collectively in this sequel. Even with this in mind, I was very surprised to see the film open on the eve of T’Challa’s death not long after the events of Avengers: Endgame (Russo and Russo, 2019); like the late Chadwick, T’Challa was stricken by a fatal illness and suffered in silence, with his condition being discovered far too late for Shuri’s advanced technology to be of any help. Indeed, she was so desperate to try and artificially recreate the mystical heart-shaped herb to cure her brother than she spent all her time in her lab and even prayed to the panther god Bast for help, only to be devastated to learn of T’Challa’s untimely passing despite her best efforts.

Wakanda mourns their loss, but none feel T’Challa’s passing more so than Queen Ramonda and Shuri.

The entire nation of Wakanda was united in mourning for their fallen king and protector; Wakanda’s traditions teach that death is simply the first step on a great journey in the afterlife, a belief that brings little solace to Shuri. With one foot planted in science and the other in spirituality, she’s conflicted over the loss, finding little comfort in the assertions of her mother, Queen Ramonda (Bassett), that T’Challa lives on in spirit around them. Instead, she’s abandoned her efforts to recreate the heart-shaped herb, believing that it and the symbol of the Black Panther are relics of the past that should be laid to rest with her brother, and has been busying herself crafting new weapons and technology for Wakanda’s all-female army, the Dora Milaje, much to the chagrin of her mother and General Okoye (Gurira). In the wake of T’Challa’s death, Queen Ramonda has had to forge on as Wakanda’s sovereign ruler; though the tribes of Wakanda are fully united and behind her, with even the hulking M’Baku (Duke) and his Jabari tribe now represented on the council, Wakanda has come under fire from the United Nations as the world’s superpowers begin to feel threatened by Wakanda’s advanced technology and exclusive access to Vibranium. Although T’Challa opened Wakanda’s borders and established a number of outreach centres across the glove to help oppressed and struggling people, Queen Ramonda resolutely promises swift and aggressive retribution against any party or nation that tries to take Wakanda’s resources (especially their Vibranium) by force, upsetting the geo-political perception of the nation and putting Wakanda at risk of all-out war.

Shuri forges new relationships to work through her grief, including protecting Riri from Namor’s reprisals.

Of all the returning characters, Shuri obviously receives the most obvious growth; in the first film, she was an outspoken rebel, as arrogant in her scientific acumen as Anthony “Tony” Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and who openly mocked Wakanda’s traditions. Now, she’s a broken young woman struggling with a burning desire for vengeance; grief is consuming her and has hardened her demeanour, yet her moral integrity is strong enough to oppose Namor’s desire to kill scientific prodigy Riri Williams (Thorne) after she creates a machine capable of detecting Vibranium, purely on a whim, and threatens to expose the lost underwater nation of Talokan to the world. Although clearly wanting to be seen as an intimidating figure, Namor makes an effort to appeal to Shuri, bringing her to the depths of Talokan and sharing both his backstory and some of the history of his aquatic people. Believing he’s found a kindred spirit in Shuri and that she will join him in launching a pre-emptive strike against the surface world, Namor proposes an alliance while both threatening Riri’s life and promising that Talokan’s superpowered forces, further empowered by their own Vibranium weapons, are no match for Wakanda. Ultimately, Shuri chooses to protect Riri, who meant no harm and poses no threat to anyone, incurring Namor’s wrath; his attack upon Wakanda sees the capital city partially flooded, eventually evacuated, and leaves untold numbers dead, including Queen Ramonda. With this act, Namor only further stokes the raging fire burning within Shuri; having literally lost her entire family, she now finds herself promoted to sovereign ruler and having to live up to expectations that were never asked of her before, and is finally compelled to continue her research into the heart-shaped herb so that the Black Panther can live again and give her the means to take her revenge upon Namor.

In addition to fleshing our returning characters, the film introduces a new child prodigy to the MCU.

T’Challa’s passing means a greater focus on Wakanda’s supporting characters; as mentioned, M’Baku and the Jabari are now fully integrated into Wakanda society, though he remains a proud and outspoken man mountain. He’s given greater depth, however, by him assuming the role of Shuri’s protector and confidante; charged by T’Challa with providing Shuri with council, he urges her to embrace her role as Wakanda’s leader and protector while also warning against provoking endless war against Talokan and killing their God-king since this would set not only her down a self-destructive path but bring ruin to their homeland. The stoic and implacable Okoye is equally devastated by her king’s passing; as loyal as ever, she convinces Queen Ramonda to allow Shuri to accompany her to Cambridge, Massachusetts to intercept Riri, only to end up being disgraced and discharged from her duties after failing to protect them from Namor’s forces. Despite her resistance to utilising Shuri’s technology, Okoye upgrades to a superhero persona of her own by the end of the film as she and fellow Dora Milaje Aneka (Michaela Coel) make use of Shuri’s “Midnight Angel” armour in the final battle against the Talokan warriors. While Riri’s involvement in the movie is somewhat akin to the introduction of Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) to the MCU and has more than a few parallels to Iron Man’s origin, she quickly forms a bond with Shuri, Okoye, and Nakia (Nyong’o), with the four being united in their grief and common enemy. Since the first movie, Nakia has left Wakanda and become a schoolteacher; the pain of T’Challa’s passing was too great for her to attend his funeral, but she readily agrees to rescue Shuri and Riri from the outskirts of Talokan after Okoye’s dismissal. Everett K. Ross (Freeman) of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) also returns in a small role as an outside ally to Wakanda; with the United States legitimately considering going to war with Wakanda over their Vibranium, he tries to convince the Secretary of State (Richard Schiff) and CIA director Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) of the Talokan plot only to be arrested on charges of treason by Valentina, who’s revealed to be his ex-wife, further placing him in Wakanda’s debt. Ross is right to be concerned; Talokan is a serious threat not just to Wakanda but to the entire world. Their people’s origins are as seeped in mysticism as the Wakandans, with their ancestors being directed to the same heart-shaped herb by divine intervention, however this one was found near an underwater deposit of Vibranium and thus mutated the Talokan into a water-dwelling species.

While his enforcers aren’t very flesh out, Namor is a complex and alluring anti-hero who hates the surface world.

Establishing a fully functional city deep beneath the ocean, one seeped in Mesoamerica traditions and aesthetics, the Talokan have been ruled for centuries by their God-king, Namor, whom they refer to as “K’uk’ulkan” (or “Feathered Serpent God”). Born a Mutant, able to fly thanks to wings on his ankles and drawing both superhuman strength and oxygen from the water directly through his skin, Namor is the child of two worlds but has absolutely no love for the surface world. After witnessing first-hand the aggression of colonisers and invaders, he has prepared a dedicated and formidable water-dwelling army to strike back against humanity before they can even think about trying to raid Talokan’s depths for their resources and Vibranium. Although charming, alluring individual who makes intelligent and persuasive arguments, Namor is nonetheless an aggressive and driven warrior who’s willing to threaten not just Wakanda but also Riri’s life since he doesn’t want her creating any more machines that could expose Talokan. While the Talokans are far more tribalistic in their ways and strategies, they’re no less dangerous; they’re capable of luring targets to their deaths with a hypnotic siren’s song, boast superhuman strength and speed and Vibranium weapons, employ destructive concussive water grenades, and can both command water and travel through the sea on whales. Namor’s chief enforcers are Namora (Mabel Cadena) and Attuma (Alex Livinalli), two characters with little personality or development beyond forging a rivalry with Nakia and Okoye, respectively, but I can forgive this as the film rightfully forces on fleshing out Namor’s character. He’s a very layered antagonist, assuming more of an anti-hero role since he fights to protect his people and prove Talokan’s strength rather than simply for sheer bloodlust but, as understandable as his motives are, he still strikes a devastating blow against Wakanda and Shuri when both were already struggling with their grief and comes very close to sparking a global conflict.

The Nitty-Gritty [SPOILERS!]
As you might expect, a major theme in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is grief. Although Wakanda celebrates death and makes a big exhibition about honouring T’Challa and seeing him off to the Ancestral Plain in glorious fashion, it’s of little comfort to Shuri. Even Queen Ramonda and Okoye, who staunchly uphold the traditions and beliefs of Wakanda to the letter, after clearly shaken by their loss, and the pain was so great that it drove Nakia away from her homeland for six years. Since she’s a scientist first and foremost, Shuri struggles to find the same comfort in her spiritualism as her mother and isn’t ready to let go of her pain, fearing that it would mean forgetting her brother or lead her to resent the entire world in her grief. Although she’s putting on the face of a strong leader, Queen Ramonda has been deeply affected by the loss of her husband and child; when Okoye delivers news that Shuri has been lost as well, the queen launches into an emotional outburst while stripping the general of her duties, showing just how deep her pain runs. Shuri’s own pain is only exacerbated by her mother’s death; although she was awestruck by Talokan and felt a kinship with Namor’s tragic childhood, she resorts to pure, unbridled vengeance after he attacks Wakanda. Her determination to see Namor dead unsettles even M’Baku, who is resolutely against killing Namor and risking a lifetime of war against Talokan’s formidable forces, yet Shuri is able to convince…no, demand…his loyalty and assistance by finally asserting herself as Wakanda’s leader and protector, showing just how far her character has grown given the hardships she’s suffered.

Namor and the Talokan deliver some of the film’s most impressive visuals and action sequences.

Black Panther impressed with its picturesque beauty and its sequel is certainly no slouch in this department; Wakanda is bathed in the red-orange glow of dusk and bustling with celebrations and tributes to their fallen king, with new aspects of their culture being highlighted as a result of this loss. Their technological acumen remains as advanced as ever; Shuri now has the capability of replicating organic life, eventually extracting the essence of the heart-shaped herb from Namor’s bracelet to repopulate the flower, and has become far more reliant on her interactive artificial intelligence, Griot (Trevor Noah), in creating new weapons and tools for her people. Riri holds her own in this area as well; like Stark, he’s able to cobble together unimaginably advanced tech from spare parts and her own initiative, building not only a machine that can detect Vibranium but also a fully-functioning (if crude) Iron Man-esque suit for herself. Astounded by the resources on offer in Wakanda, she’s able to create a much more impressive armoured suit, one that’s sleek and aerodynamic and gives her the tools to play and active role in the finale but is inexplicably taken from her by Shuri so that Riri can rediscover her origins in her upcoming Disney+ spinoff. However, as impressive as all this is, one of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’s primary goals is on establishing the underwater nation and race of Talokan. Their city, which is reminiscent of Mayan architecture and society, is hidden deep beneath the ocean depths; unlike Aquaman’s (Wan, 2018) elaborate and fantastical representation of Atlantis, Talokan is dark, devoid of tangible gravity, and is seeped in a tribalistic mentality the sees them worship the seemingly ageless Namor like a God. Namor brings light to his kingdom through an artificial sun, has equipped them with the tools to pose a significant threat to surface dwellers, and reveals in this worship, sporting ceremonial beads and pieces of armour, comprised of Vibranium, to cut an intimidating figure. While his race is depicted with blue skin on the surface, speaking in an ancient dialect and utilising special masks to breath out of the water, Namor is freely able to come and go as he pleases and speaks a variety of languages. Namor also delivers some of the film’s best action sequences; while the majority of the action is centred on wide-scale conflict between Wakanda and Talokan, Namor darts around the sky in a really unique way, cutting through bodies and vehicles alike and is both touted, and presented, as an incredibly formidable superhuman force against which Wakanda’s armies potentially stand now chance.

Ultimately, Shuri assumes her brothers role and leads her people in meeting the Talokan, and Namor, head-on.

This is, of course, unless Shuri is able to synthesise the heart-shaped herb; since all of Wakanda’s supply was torched by N’Jadaka/Erik Stevens/ Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) in the last film, their enhancing properties and the mantle of the Black Panther had remained dormant as Shuri has focused on other things. Namor’s threat leads her to finally making a breakthrough and, as Wakanda’s ruler, drinking the herb’s liquid to enter the Ancestral Plane. There, rather than meeting with her beloved family, she has an emotional confrontation with Killmonger’s spirit as he tries to foster the rage building inside of her. Indeed, upon assuming he mantle of the Black Panther, Shuri is hellbent on drawing Namor out, weakening him with intense heat, and battling him to the death to make him pay for killing her mother and endangering her people. Despite showcasing a superhuman agility and a multitude of technological armaments built into her nanotech Black Panther suit, Shuri is no match for Namor one-on-one so she works with Riri not only to perfect her Ironheart armour but also to trap Namor in a super-heated prison that will sap his strength and even the odds. While her allies battle the Talokans in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, Namor and the Black Panther have a brutal fight in the sweltering desert that leaves the K’uk’ulkan severely dehydrated and scarred by Shuri’s talons and the young princess impaled on a pole. Through sheer force of will, she’s able to free herself, sever (or, at least, severely wound) one of Namor’s ankle wings, and force him to yield after catching him in a burst of jet flame. Queen Ramonda’s spirit is able to calm Shuri’s rage and convince her to show Namor mercy and the conflict comes to an end; however, while Namora expresses disappointment in Namor’s surrender, he insists that it’s all part of a larger plan to allow Talokan with Wakanda for an inevitable conflict against the surface world and the question of Wakanda’s position within the geo-political climate is left up for debate. Although Shuri appears to step away from her role as Wakanda’s ruler, she finally achieves a measure of peace, burning her ceremonial funeral garments and discovering a lifeline to her lost family in the surprising appearance of Nakia and T’Challa’s young son, Toussaint/T’Challa (Divine Love Konadu-Sun) and having forged new relationships with both Everett Ross and Riri Williams and a newfound level of respect for the likes of Okoye and M’Baku.

The Summary [SPOILERS!]:
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever had an unenviable task; not only did it have to follow up one of the most influential and well-regarded superhero movies of all time, but it had to tackle the tragic passing of its star actor. Fittingly, the film is dedicated to Chadwick and the first part, especially, is focused on giving him a celebratory send off and allowing us to all collective mourn his passing. It’s a tall order to ask anyone, man or woman (or otherwise), to fill his shoes and I think there’s always going to be that cloud of trepidation surrounding the character going forward, but the film did a really good job of exploring that journey and those emotions through Shuri. Her development into a much more hardened and well-rounded character was great to see, and hit a lot of similar beats to T’Challa’s journey in the MCU with her learning to work past her personal grief and rage for a greater cause. The film also nicely established that the MCU can continue trucking along quite nicely by building up secondary characters; increasing the prominence of the likes of Okoye and M’Baku gives Shuri a strong support network and introducing new characters lie Riri Williams continues to expand the MCU, even if her role could’ve easily been cut from the film without impacting the narrative all that much. For me, though, the true highlight was Namor; I loved the changes they made to his backstory and how multifaceted his character and motivations were. He continues the staple of having more human and understandable villains who are more shades of grey than purely black or white and added another new visual flair to the already jam-packed variety of the MCU not just in his appearance and portrayal but in the presentation of Talokan. I think we’ll come to find Black Panther: Wakanda Forever one of the most pivotal MCU films going forward, not just for establishing these new characters but also for the way it alters the existing lore; big things are clearly brewing, and I think this will be where that all links back to. Overall, this was an enjoyable experience; it was a tasteful tribute to Chadwick and treated his memory with dignity and respect while actually tackling the subject of death head-on in a way most superhero films simply gloss over.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Did you enjoy Black Panther: Wakanda Forever? What did you think to the way it handled Chadwick Boseman’s passing? Were you happy to see Shuri step into the title role or would you have preferred a different character take up the mantle? What did you think to Namor, the changes made to him and the presentation of his culture and abilities? Where would you like to see Wakanda go in the future? What do you think to the building intrigue surrounding Valentina Allegra de Fontaine? Whatever you think about Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, feel free to share your thoughts and memories of Chadwick Boseman in the comments below or on my social media.

Wrestling Recap: Team Hogan vs. Team André (Survivor Series ’87)

The Date: 18 November 2001
The Venue: Greensboro Coliseum Complex; Greensboro, North Carolina
The Commentary: Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse “The Body” Ventura
The Referee: Joey Marella
The Stipulation: Ten-man elimination tag team match
The Competitors: Team Hogan (WWF Champion Hulk Hogan, Bam Bam Bigelow, Don “The Rock” Muraco, Ken Patera, and “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff), Team André (André the Giant, “The Natural” Butch Reed, King Kong Bundy, One Man Gang, and “Ravishing” Rick Rude)

The Build-Up:
Over its many decades as the dominating force in sports entertainment, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) has been known for creating some of the industry’s most successful competitors, changing the face of pay-per-view entertainment, and delivering genre-defining match types and wrestling cards. In 1987, the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, as it was known then) had taken their first step towards global domination with the successful gamble that was WrestleMania, a pay-per-view showcase of their greatest talent that brought the organisation into the mainstream with celebrity cameos. With the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) due to broadcast their Starrcade event over the Thanksgiving weekend, WWF chairman Vince McMahon add the Survivor Series event to the WWF’s calendar and strong-armed many cable companies into showing his event instead of Starrcade or risk losing out on WrestleMania IV. The entire event was comprised of four ten-man elimination tag team matches, with the main event pitting WWF Champion Hulk Hogan and his team against bitter rival André the Giant and his team of bad guys (or “heels”). The motivation behind the two forming teams and squaring off came from André’s heel turn earlier that year, which saw him memorably challenge the Hulkster at WrestleMania III only to be planted with an iconic body slam. Since André was managed by one of wrestling’s greatest heel managers, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, it made sense for him to ally with Heenan’s smorgasbord of man-mountain wrestlers, though Hogan wasn’t short on allies either, with the recently debuting Bam Bam Bigelow and the now-righteous (or “babyface”) Ken Patera joining Hogan’s team to get some payback against Heenan and his goons.

The Match:
Honestly, I’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship with the Survivor Series over my many years as a wrestling fan. When there’s an actual storyline behind it and the teams make sense, it can be a fun concept but, often, the WWE cobble together teams just because the event is coming up and they even stupidly diluted the concept by having a separate Bragging Rights event that really should’ve just been merged with the traditional Survivor Series card. The WWE fluctuates its focus on tag teams at the best of times and large teams (or “stables”) of wrestlers are difficult to come by in the modern WWE landscape, which can make justifying a ten-man elimination match difficult. However, when it works and is used sparingly, it can be a unique concept and, from what I can tell from my research, it made sense to form these two massive teams and extend the Hogan/André rivalry in a way that both protected the latter, whose health was deteriorating rapidly at this point, and build anticipation for their inevitable rematch for the WWF Championship. The match began with Heenan in the ring giving a special introduction to the “Eighth Wonder of the World”, who lumbered to the ring and greeted his teammates. Jesse Venture raised the question of whether Hulk Hogan could truly trust Paul Orndorff who, until recently had been more of a heel, teasing the potential for dissention within Hogan’s team but, when interviewed by “Mean” Gene Okerlund backstage, Team Hogan seemed incredibly fired up for the match. Each man made his way to the ring to an ever-increasing rapture from the crowd, which exploded into a crescendo as the Hulkster came down the aisle way carrying Ol’ Glory, his focus squarely on André (and playing to the audience).

Although Rick Rude took the brunt of the early assault, it was Butch Reed who was the first to be eliminated.

Don Muraco and Rick Rude started the match for their respective teams, with the two exchanging blows in the corner before Rude took advantage with an eye rake. A boot to the gut cut off Rude’s attack, however, and Rude tagged in Paul Orndorff, who came off the top rope with an elbow strike. A shot to the gut and a knee strike saw Rude on the receiving end of more offense before Orndorff rammed him head-first into Hogan’s boot and tagged in the champion. Hogan planted Rude with a clothesline and then dropped three elbows in quick succession before tagging in Bam Bam Bigelow, slamming Rude and setting him up for a big body splash from Bigelow, which he followed with a military press before tagging in Ken Patera. Although Patera attacked right away, Rude was able to collapse in his corner, finally allowing another heel, Butch Reed, to get in the ring. Reed didn’t fare too well, however, easily being taken down and rolled up into the first pin attempt of the match and falling afoul of a dropkick courtesy of Don Muraco. Orndorff then showed up his teammate by tagging in and delivering two dropkicks of his own and even getting a cheap shot in on King Kong Bundy before dodging a Reed elbow shot in the corner and bringing the Hulkster back into the match for a double clothesline. Hogan then hit the Atomic Leg Drop and Reed was eliminated without even throwing a single punch; Hogan was spared from tangling with André after tagging in Patera during his celebration. Since André only wanted Hogan, though, he immediately tagged in Bundy to face the Olympian.

Thanks to eye rakes and cheap tactics, the heels scored two eliminations in quick succession.

Patera went on the attack right away, even downing Bundy with a clothesline, but he was too slow to keep the One Man Gang from tagging in to lock up with Orndorff. One Man Gang initially, very briefly, actually got to show some offense but Orndorff fired back with a slew of punches that rocked the big man; a counter in the corner shut Orndorff down, however, and allowed Rude to come back in and start working him over…until Orndorff scored with a clothesline, a body slam, and an elbow drop for a two count. Muraco came back in to hit a stiff clothesline but a thumb to the eye allowed Rude to create some separation and tag in the One Many Gang but Muraco was able to avoid a corner charge, roll over to his corner, and tag in Patera, who survived another eye rake to hit an awkward running crossbody for another near fall. Although Patera hit a running knee to the corner, another thumb to the eye allowed the One Man Gang to put a beating on the Olympian in the heel corner with the assistance of his teammates. A standing front facelock slowed the match to a crawl and then the One Man Gang managed to pin Patera for the three count following an awkward “double clothesline” for an anti-climactic elimination. Hogan immediately went after the One Man Gang, throwing hands, rushing him into a corner, and then bringing in Bam Bam Bigelow for a double Big Boot. Whatever momentum Bam Bam had built up went right out the window, however, when the two big men clumsily bumped heads off a double shoulder block, which saw Rude and Orndorff go at it again. Orndorff panted Rude with a suplex, another elbow drop, and a flapjack before Bundy ran in to interrupt a piledriver attempt; this was enough for Rude to score a roll up with a handful of tights to eliminate Mr. Wonderful from the match.

After twenty-five minutes of plodding action, Hogan and André finally squared off once more.

Rude made the mistake of flexing to rile up the crowd, meaning Muraco planted him with an atomic drop and a clothesline before bringing in Bam Bam to deliver a big side kick. A big suplex set Rude up for a rare running knee strike from Hogan, who then brought Muraco in for a powerslam and that was enough to take Rude out of the match and even the odds at three-on-three. Bundy came in and started beating on Muraco, downing him with a back elbow smash, but he missed a running knee strike; Muraco targeted Bundy’s leg with a series of attacks but Bundy was able to fight him off and bring the One Man Gang back in. The Rock’s attempts to fight off the One Man Gang saw him crushed under the big man’s weight; he was able to kick out at two, however, so the One Man Gang threw him into an inelegant headbutt from André which, when coupled with a body splash, was enough to eliminate the Rock. The One Man Gang switched his focus to Bam Bam Bigelow, crushing his chest when he went for a sunset flip pin and bringing in Bundy to hit a powerful clothesline that turned Bam Bam inside out. Hogan broke up the pin attempt but Bundy stayed in control and brought the One Man Gang back in, who shut down Bam Bam’s counterattack with, what else, but a thumb to the eye before choking him on the ring ropes. Bundy came back in for a knee to the gut and a double axehandle smash before quickly tagging the One Man Gang back in. A back elbow caught Bam Bam right in the eye and Hogan, and the crowd, were absolutely desperate for the big man to make the tag as Bundy came back for some more punishment. Bam Bam managed to avoid the elbow drop, and kick out of a pin attempt, and finally made the tag after rolling to the corner and avoiding a big chop from André. Hogan attacked his rival with a flurry of punches; they exchanged strikes and chops in the corner before Hogan slamming André’s face into the top turnbuckle, but his offense was interrupted when Bundy pulled him from the ring.

Bam Bam fought valiantly but ultimately fell, leading to Hogan to attack André after the match.

The two brawled at ringside, with Hogan slamming both Bundy and the One Man Gang on the outside, but he took so long messing about with the two that he got counted out! The crowd was incensed as Hogan was forced from the ring, leaving Bam Bam all alone in a three-on-one situation, much to Hogan’s disgust. Showing no fear, Bam Bam went right for Bundy, planting him with a clothesline and scoring a two count off an elbow drop and a falling headbutt. After dodging a Bundy charge in the corner, Bam Bam finally eliminated the big man with an impressive slingshot splash from the ring apron but he was too fatigued to fend off the One Man Gang, who immediately choked and beat him on the ropes. Still, Bam Bam easily kicked out of a clothesline (that looked to give the One Man Gang a heart attack) and had the wherewithal to dodge a splash off the top rope. This one mistake cost the One Man Gang and meant the match boiled down to Bam Bam and the lumbering André, who wasted no time smacking Bam Bam around with big chops and headbutts. Bam Bam used the ropes and his comparative quickness to avoid André’s plodding attacks but a missed splash in the corner saw him taking some shoulder blocks to the spine and being easily pinned following a half-underhook, facelock slam…suplex…thing. As André was announced the winner, Hogan stormed the ring and attacked the Giant with the WWF Championship, stealing the spotlight and entertaining the raucous crowd with his trademark flexing while André seethed on the outside. I don’t really like to rag on this era of wrestling too much; things were obviously very different back then, but this was a bit of a let-down considering some of the star power and storylines featured in it. Obviously, André couldn’t really do a lot and needed to be protected but we barely got to see him and Hogan go at it again, much less really see the Giant in any kind of action. It works on the one hand to show him as this unbeatable “final boss” but…we know he can be beaten as we saw Hogan pin him at WrestleMania III so I think I would’ve preferred to see him and Hogan as the final two and them brawl to a double count out. Interestingly, this ended up primarily being a showcase for Bam Bam; he was the last man on Team Hogan and impressed the most with his athleticism for such a big man but, on the flip side, there was way too much boring, plodding offense from the One Man Gang and King Kong Bundy was barely a factor in it as well. As a first go-around for the concept, the WWF definitely put some of their biggest names into it but it’s clear a lot of them were limited in their mobility and having Hogan get counted out only to run in for the cheap heat at the end made this a pretty mediocre affair.

The Aftermath:
Naturally, the issues between Hulk Hogan and André the Giant continued to be a focal point of the WWF’s programming; André joined forces with “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase and the two continued to harass Hogan until he agreed to another championship match at The Main Event. This time, André came out on top, though he immediately sold the belt to DiBiase at it was subsequently held up for grabs in a tournament at WrestleMania IV. Don Muraco, Butch Reed, the One Man Gang, Bam Bam Bigelow, and Rick Rude all made it onto the WrestleMania IV card as well, participating in the same tournament, but they would all fall short. Even Hogan and André lost the chance to regain the belt thanks to a double disqualification, so the vacant belt went to “Macho Man” Randy Savage for the first time after he defeated DiBiase in the main event. As for the Survivor Series, the event continued to be an annual part of the WWF/WWE calendar, with multi-man and woman matches taking place regularly every year. The event would be shaken up somewhat by being used as the staging ground for the final clash between the WWF and the alliance of World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) and also saw the first appearance of the Elimination Chamber match and clashes between the WWE’s flagship shows, Raw and SmackDown!

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think to the inaugural Survivor Series match? Were you excited to see Hulk Hogan and André the Giant across the ring from each other and thus disappointed that they barely interacted in the match? Who was the stand-out performer for you in this clash? Do you think André winning was the right decision? Were you also annoyed that Hogan got counted out? Which Survivor Series match or event is your favourite? How was your Thanksgiving this year? Whatever your thoughts on Survivor Series, feel free to leave them below or drop a comment on my social media.

Screen Time [Gazpacho Soup Day]: Red Dwarf (Series One)


In the episode “Me2” (Bye, 1988) of the classic British science-fiction comedy show Red Dwarf (1988 to 2020), it is revealed the Arnold Rimmer’s (Chris Barrie) last words were “Gazpacho soup!” and that he made a point to celebrate November 25th as “Gazpacho Soup Day” after a particularly traumatising visit to the Captain’s Table. While this is the perfect date to celebrate the long-running cult series, it clashed with another celebration this year so I’m a day late, but better late than never…


Series One

Air Date: 15 February 1988 to 21 March 1988
Director: Ed Bye
Original Network: BBC2
Stars: Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Norman Lovett, C. P. Grogan, and Mac McDonald

The Background:
In the mid-1980s, creative duo Rob Grant and Doug Naylor created a sci-fi comedy show for BBC Radio 4, Dave Hollins: Space Cadet; this, along with influences from sci-fi classics like Dark Star (John Carpenter, 1974) and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Adams, 1978; Bell, 1981), served as the basis for what would become Red Dwarf. Putting character and comedy before genre, their concept of a comedy set in space featuring dysfunctional characters in an extraordinary setting was initially a hard sell due to its sci-fi trappings. Originally, Alfred Molina was cast in the role of Second Technician Arnold J. Rimmer but, when he dropped out due to difficulties with the character and concept, impressionist Chris Barrie (who’d previously worked with Grant and Naylor) stepped into the role. Liverpudlian “punk poet” Craig Charles was cast as Third Technician Dave Lister and, despite being an hour late to his appointment, singer and dancer Danny John-Jules was cast as “The Cat”, with the actors tackling their roles as being larger-than-life caricatures of themselves. Sardonic stand-up comedian Norman Lovett was cast the the ship’s neutronic computer, Holly, and gained a bit of a reputation, insisting on appearing on camera rather than merely a voice over and refusing to work unless his confiscated football was returned to him. Against all the odds and despite a tight budget, Red Dwarf finally made it to TV screens; however, while five million viewers tuned in to watch “The End” (Bye, 1988), those numbers dropped over the course of the series. Nevertheless, audience feedback was so strong that the BBC commissioned a second series, where the show really hit its stride and became a cult hit. About ten years later, Grant and Naylor revisited the first three seasons and enhanced them with additional digital effects, replacing many model shots and even excising some lines and jokes, which resulted in these Remastered episodes being largely criticised. Still, following this first series, Red Dwarf proved consistently popular even as the duo experimented with more outlandish concepts; after they parted ways and Red Dwarf disappearing altogether, the show returned with a three-episode special, which led to a questionable revival that focused on the far more jaded principal cast members.

The Plot:
When the crew of deep space mining ship Red Dwarf are all killed following a radiation leak, the ship drifts aimless in space for three million years. When the background radiation dies down the ship’s computer, Holly, releases slovenly technician Dave Lister from his incarceration in suspended animation and he’s left alone in the endless void with only the hologramatic recreation of his overbearing superior and bunk mate, Arnold Rimmer, and a creature who evolved from the ship’s cat for company.

The Review:
I grew up watching Red Dwarf, but perhaps not in the way you’d expect. My dad was a big fan of the series and had taped each episode as they aired so we could easily just go to the shelf and shove in a VHS tape to watch it whenever we wanted, but our collection originally started from series two (Bye, 1988). In fact, I’m pretty sure that we were up to series four (ibid/Paul Jackson, 1991) or five (Various, 1992) before I had even seen the first series. This was because, back in the early nineties, re-runs didn’t really work the way they do now; we didn’t have catch-up TV or streaming services, VHS tapes were extortionately expensive and often only contained two or three episodes, and there weren’t any channels like Gold or Dave that constantly showed repeats. I remember being stupidly excited when the first series was announced to be returning to BBC2 in anticipation of the latest series, only to find that the first series was very different to what I have experienced so far, even from the technically similar second series. Of all the classic series’ of Red Dwarf, series one is easily my least favourite and, even now, I rarely choose to watch it over the second or third (Bye, 1989); while I can understand that the show was establishing itself and finding its footing, many of the episodes drag and aren’t very visually interesting to look at. You can tell from the live audience’s reactions that this sentiment was shared as many of the jokes fall a bit flat and the audience seems confused about the premise. This wouldn’t be an issue in the next series and wouldn’t reoccur until Grant and Naylor stopped working together and the show took a noticeable nosedive, but it’s unmistakable here and does somewhat stunt my enjoyment of the first series despite there being a few standout moments and episodes.

The show’s premise is surprisingly dark, with the human race extinct except for one slob.

The show begins with the titular mining vessel fully crewed and out in the depths of space. According to Officer Frank Todhunter (Robert Bathurst), the ship houses 169 crew members, from dosgbody technicians like Rimmer and Lister to officers and the ship’s captain, Frank Hollister (McDonald). The dynamic between Lister and Rimmer is established in the very first sequence of the first episode; Lister, a lowly Third Technician, is a lifelong slacker and career slob who is endlessly bored by their mundane duties, which include unclogging food dispensing machines. To amuse himself, Lister likes to wind Rimmer up with singing, humming, and other annoying habits, which has earned him no less than 247 complaints from his superior and bunk-mate. Truth be told, Rimmer is equally as unsatisfied with his job, which isn’t assigned to the ship’s service robots (known as “Skutters”) simply because the machines have a better union. However, Rimmer, believes wholeheartedly in the importance of their essential routine maintenance in keeping the ship and her crew safe on their long journey and is a stickler for the rules and professionalism even though it’s earned him a reputation as a “Smeghead”. This is the primary reason why Lister is so insubordinate towards Rimmer; he can’t stand Rimmer’s stuck up, kiss-ass attitude and would much prefer he got the rod out of his ass, but Rimmer is determined to impress and advance his career to get the respect he feels he deserves. Although Rimmer believes Lister is content to simply slob around with no ambition, Lister actually has a few dreams; his first love is music and he’s an enthusiastic (if terrible) guitar player; he also plans to buy a farm on Fiji where he can breed horses and own a sheep and a cow. He believes he’ll achieve this goal since he saves money by not buying deodorant, socks, and soap and because the prices on Fiji are ridiculously low thanks to a volcanic eruption leaving most of the land three feet below sea level. While Rimmer mocks this plan, Lister is determined to make it work, ideally, with Navigation Officer Kristine Kochanski (Grogan) by his side. Unlike in later series’, Kochanski is Lister’s dream girl who he has been working on plucking up the courage to ask out rather than a former flame who he longed to get back with, and he always makes sure to flirt with her during his many trips to the captain’s office.

Lister’s slovenly ways grate on Rimmer and conflicts with his status as the Cat’s “God”.

While Lister’s insubordinate attitude sees him getting numerous write-ups and reprimands, it’s his housing of an illegal animal that ends up with him being sentenced to the stasis booth for breaking the ship’s quarantine procedures. Refusing to give up his pregnant cat, Frankenstein, Lister is released to find that the entire crew has been wiped out by a radiation leak thanks to Rimmer’s sloppy work. Unlike in the novelisations, where Lister falls into a deep and self-destructive depression following the revelation that everyone he knows (literally everyone) is dead, Lister takes this news surprisingly well; he’s gutted that Kochanski’s dead and that his plan will never come to fruition but still coherent enough to crack jokes about overdue library books. “Balance of Power” (Bye, 1988) offers a glimpse into Lister’s despair as he sits alone in the bar, remembering the fun times with his friends; before the accident, Lister was surrounded by the equally slovenly Petersen (Mark Williams), Chen (Paul Bradley), and Selby (David Gillespie) and the three of them delighted in mocking Rimmer whenever possible, drinking, smoking, and slacking off together at every opportunity. He feels their loss deeply, but is largely ruled by his regret at never making a move on Kochanski, and his pining for her is a recurring theme throughout the series as he tries, and fails, to convince Rimmer to allow him to spend some time with her hologram. Unlike Rimmer, who believes wholeheartedly in the existence of aliens, Lister is of the belief that humanity is alone in the vast universe, but jumps at the chance to pull a prank on Rimmer when he mistakenly believes a garbage pod contains the remains of the fictional “Quagaar” race. Lister does suffer a crisis of conscience, however, when he learns that, during this three million year sleep, the cats evolved into a humanoid species, Felix sapiens, that worshipped him as a God, “Cloister the Stupid”, who would lead them to the promised land of “Fuchal”. The extent of this thread is explored in “Waiting for God” (Bye, 1988), where Lister learns from smell reading the Cat’s books and bible that the cats engaged in violent wars over differing interpretations of Lister’s dreams of opening a hot dog and doughnut diner on Fiji. Lister is distraught at having been “misquoted” but gains a modicum of catharsis when he’s able to pose as his holy self and help bring some peace to a blind, disillusioned, and dying elderly an elderly cat priest (Noel Coleman).

The neurotic Rimmer’s insistence on barking orders often leads to his humiliation.

A huge part of the series is the love/hate relationship between Lister and Rimmer, with both despising the other’s annoying habits and accusing them of holding them back. While Lister doesn’t really care all that much what people think of him, Rimmer is obsessed by it, constantly trying to impress his superiors and pass his engineer’s exam, only to be met with a series of embarrassing failures, including writing “I am a fish” four-hundred times. So desperate is Rimmer to pass his exams and become an officer that he often resorts to cheating (either using illegal “learning drugs” or writing the answers on his arms and legs as an “aid to memory”), but it’s also stated that his tendency to self-sabotage is just as to blame for his failures as his lack of capability as he wastes weeks creating revision schedules rather than actually revising. Lister is constantly frustrated by Rimmer’s neurotic ways and insistence on following rules and procedures, but Holly explains that he brought Rimmer back as a hologram rather than one of Lister’s friends since he was statistically the best person to keep him sane. Rimmer’s newfound intangibility and sudden death only adds to his neuroses; the first thing he does upon seeing Lister is blame him for choosing the save Frankenstein and thus not being able to help replace the drive plate, before whining that any dreams he had of advancing his career or having a sex life have been forever lost thanks to him now being dead. Rimmer finds solace in maintaining his officious and aggravating personality; he goes out of his way to insult and bring down Lister for being a lazy slob, and throws his weight around as the ship’s highest ranking officer to order Holly to perform menial tasks for him and give him access to the crew’s confidential files, which always results in Rimmer being embarrassed in some way. Interestingly, while Rimmer is later personified by his abject cowardice, he actually tries to attack the Cat when they’re properly introduced and shows so co-dependency on his slovenly bunk mate; he’s distraught at the idea of being turned off when Lister plans to go back into stasis and constantly denies Lister access to Kochanski’s hologram disc simply out of fear of whatever little life he has left being snuffed out completely.

The vain and self-obsessed Cat is more concerned with his appearance than helping others.

Rimmer also has little time or patience for the Cat, a suave, sharply-dressed, hyperactive humanoid with a propensity for dancing, traversing the ship via the air ducts, stopping to admire himself, and claiming everything he sees as his. Though he exhibits knowledge of his species’ reverence for Cloister/Lister, he’s not really a true believer and is more interested in sex, food, and looking good and disparagingly refers to Lister as a “monkey”. His curiosity often causes problems for Rimmer, who has restricted Lister’s access to his vices (mostly cigarettes and booze) to try and coerce him into co-operating with menial tasks; Rimmer’s horrified when the Cat finds Lister’s cigarettes and claims them for himself since they’re so shiny and manages to convince him to return the fags in exchange for being taught how to use the vending machines. This backfires on Rimmer and the Cat, however; not only does the Cat betray him, costing him some leverage in trying to talk Lister out of taking the chef’s exam and thus becoming his superior officer, the Cat gorges himself on fish and ends up suffers from stomach pains. The Cat is largely used as a comedic break; he wanders the corridors “investigating” and looking for food and showing off his “shiny thing”, a yo-yo that fascinates and excites him in its simplicity, much to Rimmer’s disgust and irritation. In “Confidence and Paranoia” (Bye, 1988), the Cat momentarily expresses concern when he spies Lister’s unconscious body but quickly moves on, more concerned with finding something to have sex with and then showing no interest in helping when Rimmer tries begging him for assistance since he’s more focused on playing with his Chicken Marengo. Later, when Lister recovers, the Cat does try to cheer him up with “presents” but ends up stealing his pillow and blanket and trying to take a nap, and even seems genuinely hurt when Rimmer snaps at him. The Cat plays a large role in the series, however, despite his comparative lack on screen time; not only is Lister deeply shaken by his influence over the Cat’s society, he’s determined to keep the Cat from losing a tooth in “Future Echoes” (Bye, 1988) in order to prevent his own inevitable and violent death. Though he’s unsuccessful, and the Cat is largely incredulous to the drama between Lister and Rimmer throughout the series, the Cat does end up socialising with Lister on a few occasions and has some fun moments, such as becoming paranoid about the presence of a dog, taking a crap in Rimmer’s boots, and roller-skating around with a megaphone and large bouquet of flowers trying to court any lady cats.

Driven senile from isolation, Holly is more capable of pulling pranks than running the ship.

Finally, there’s the ship’s computer, Holly, who boasts that he has an IQ of six-thousand (“the same IQ as six-thousand PE teachers”). Before the accident, Holly was merely a glorified announcement system, but three million years of isolation have driven him “a bit peculiar” and resulted in him dropping any formalities and indulging in decidedly un-computer-like conduct. Despite his high IQ, Holly has quite a few limitations; he can only sustain one hologram at a time, he can’t observe or communicate with anyone or anything in the cargo hold, and he’s frequently forgetful, meaning that he’s initially overwhelmed when he has to figure out the precise calculations needed to navigate the ship when it exceeds the speed of light following three million years of constant acceleration. To properly marshal his efforts, he even sets up an answering machine to keep people from bothering him, and he’s ill equipped to handle the lightspeed trip, which overwhelms him once it occurs (as he puts it, “me bottle’s gone!”) Rimmer also makes constant menial demands of him, demanding haircuts and answers to problems happening on the ship without consideration for Holly’s feelings or duties. As a result, Holly enjoys pulling pranks on Rimmer almost as much as Lister does, messing about with his hair and image file to give him Peterson’s arm and keeping the truth of the garbage pod from him for “a laugh”. Holly’s propensity for jokes and pulling pranks also extends to Lister, however; he later tries to stave off his boredom in “Me2” with an early April Fool’s joke where he claims that Norweb have dispatched fighters to claim debts owed by Lister. He also constantly interrupts Lister’s attempts to enjoy a heart-breaking film in “Confidence and Paranoia” when he finds himself at a loose end after reading every book ever written. Frustrated at the constant interruptions, Lister agrees to erase Holly’s knowledge of Agatha Christie in lieu of the computer’s inability to create a lifelike replica of a woman, only to be exasperated when Holly has no idea of what’s happened!

The Summary:  
One of the first things to note about series one of Red Dwarf is how long and boring the opening title sequence is; sadly, it wouldn’t be until the third series that things would get a bit more interesting and exciting in this regard, and every episode opens with a slow, dramatic, even ominous series of shots showcasing the vastness of the titular mining vessel against the endless black of outer space. It’s not particularly thrilling or engaging, and the presentation (like much of the series’ music) veers oddly towards the ominous rather than the comical. Thankfully, every episode after the first also begins with Holly providing either a bit of context to life onboard the ship, catching people up with the show’s general premise, and dropping a few jokes here and there, almost as a warm-up act to the remainder of the episode. The series also lacks a real appealing visual identity; every corridor looks the same, drab grey (there’s even a joke about this in “Me2” when Rimmer insists on repainting the walls from ocean grey to military grey) and boring grey labels cover all the food and drink throughout the series as well. Even the cigarette packets are unappealing to look at, as are the crew’s uniforms, though this does help Lister, the Cat, and the show’s other colourful guest stars to pop out a bit more with their wild attire. The show’s technology and sci-fi elements are primarily introduced in the first episode and recur in easy to digest ways throughout the series; robotic Skutters glide about the place performing menial tasks (they later showcase some amusing personality quirks, like begging Lister not to leave them with Rimmer, enjoying a movie, and flipping Rimmer off behind his back) and the ship is outfitted with dispensing machines that frequently malfunction. The stasis booth is the focus of the first couple of episodes and essentially functions as a brig for insubordinate crew members, but also allows Lister to survive the radiation leak, but the most prominent technology is Holly’s ability to “resurrect” dead crew members as holograms. We’re introduced to the concept through Flight Coordinator George McIntyre (Robert McCulley) but much of Rimmer’s neurotic behaviour boils down to him being recreated almost perfectly except for the large H on his forehead and the fact that he cannot lift or touch anything and is, essentially, a digital ghost.

The conflict between Lister and Rimmer is at the forefront of the series.

Perhaps more so than any other series of Red Dwarf, series one hinges on the chaotic relationship between Lister and Rimmer. The two cannot stand each other and are constantly finding ways to either put the other down or wind each other up and, while every episode explores their relationship in some way, “Balance of Power” (Bye, 1988) goes all-in with showing just how frustrated Lister is by Rimmer’s oppressive and borderline insane hang-ups. Rimmer despairs of Lister’s hygiene, his taste in music, his lack of ambition, and his slobby nature but is also paranoid about losing his fragile existence in favour of Kochanski. To that end, Rimmer arranges to hide the hologram discs from Lister and refuses to entertain even a short switch off, so Lister resolves to force him to listen to him by passing his chef’s exam. This shakes Rimmer, not just because he believes a chef is a “white-hatted ponce” rather than a real officer, but also because of the very real fear that Lister could actually succeed, especially given that Lister showcases flashes of intelligence and capability throughout the show and he actually tries to revise rather than making excuses like Rimmer. When his attempts at reasoning with Lister fail, he assumes Kochanski’s form and tries to talk Lister out of his efforts; however, while initially crushed by her rejection, Lister quickly sees through Rimmer’s charade, exposing him with ease. Their issues finally come to a head in the final two episodes; interestingly, Rimmer shows genuine concern when Lister’s pneumonia causes physical manifestations of Lister’s Confidence (Craig Ferguson) and Paranoia (Lee Cornes) to appear. In a flash of uncharacteristic concern, and despite how similar Paranoia is to him, Rimmer sees them as dangerous and symptomatic of Lister’s illness since, as long as they exist, Lister can’t recover. Rimmer even tries to distract Paranoia so a Skutter can sneak up on him to sedate him but is unsuccessful, but his concerns are largely out of his selfish desire not to be left alone with just Holly and the Cat for company. In the end, he’s proven to be right, and then gets the last laugh by swapping Kochanski’s disc with his own, creating two Rimmers. At first, both Rimmers and Lister are happy to be rid of each other; Lister delights in being free from Rimmer’s rules and irritations and the Rimmers deck their quarters out with everything they need to motivate (procrastinate) and succeed (self-aggrandise), much to Lister’s amusement.

The series eventually delves deeply into Rimmer’s issues and introduces some fun technology.

However, conflict soon grows between the Rimmers; one is noticeably more driven, more focused, and more demanding than the other and they eventually verbally attack each other and descend into childish squabbling. Lister is able to use this to his advantage, however, to learn the secret of Rimmer’s last words (“Gazpacho soup”). When Rimmer 1 shows up for his erasure in his finest attire and showing off his long service medals, he relates how he embarrassed himself at the Captain’s Table by sending back a bowl of gazpacho soup since he didn’t know it was meant to be served cold. Haunted by the experience, he blamed his ignorance for his subsequent lack of confidence and stunted career, raging at the injustice of such a simple mistake costing him his aspirations. When Lister wipes the other Rimmer, the series seems to end with them finally reaching a level of mutual respect…only for Lister to make a “soup-er” pun to keep their relationship decidedly antagonistic. Gags such as this are commonplace throughout the series, which primarily focuses its dialogue and jokes on grounded, relatable subjects rather than resorting to incomprehensible space jargon. This does happen a few times, however, and mostly lands quite well, but it’s just as amusing seeing Lister accidentally put shaving cream under his armpits, the crew’s interactions with the chirpy Talky the Toaster (John Lenahan), and making topical references about the French and Germans. Probably the best episode of this series is “Future Echoes” for its hilarious use of double takes and time dilations that see Lister have one-sided, out of synch conversations with Rimmer, frantically trying to prevent his death, and him and Rimmer puzzled at how they manage to get two babies on the ship without a woman.

The potential is definitely there but the show would quickly exceed the efforts of its first series.

Primarily, the show is focused on the four main characters; some fun personalities appear in the first episode before being reduced to ashy powder and the memories of them haunt both Lister and Rimmer alike throughout the series. The crew are joined by a couple of additional cast members in the form of Lister’s Confidence (a loud, outspoken, encouraging, and enthusiastic individual who compliments everything about Lister, however slovenly and unappealing) and Paranoia (a twisted little man who criticises everything about Lister and seeks to question him, bring him down, and attack every decision he makes). Frustrated by Rimmer’s overbearing nature, Lister jumps at the chance to spend time with Confidence, who’s won over by his musical “talent” and is so admiring of his “King” that he even keeps Lister’s discarded cigarette butts. Although Lister is a little uncomfortable by Confidence’s blinkered belief in him, he’s inspired by him to search for the hidden personality discs so he can finally be reunited with Kochanski. Lister’s resolve falters when Confidence reveals that he not only destroyed the medical unit but also killed Paranoia to keep them together and he’s distraught when Confidence takes his helmet off in the vacuum of space to bolster his confidence and instantly explodes as a result. Even despite some of its genuinely amusing moments and the pull of nostalgia, I still have to admit that series one is one of my least favourite of the show’s many seasons; everything’s a bit dull and lacking in visual variety and the characters and concepts would be fleshed out far better in even the following series. Even watching the Remastered version of the series doesn’t help as some of the CGI shots, additions, and changes made actually throw off the original jokes. In the end, there’s a lot of potential here; the dynamic between Lister and Rimmer is at the forefront and helps to carry series one to some funny moments, usually at Rimmer’s expense or at Lister’s slovenly ways, but the show definitely found its footing in later series and improved upon the foundations laid down by this first enjoyable, if somewhat awkward, season.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think to series one of Red Dwarf? Were you a fan of the show and the concept when it first aired? Did the jokes and gags work for you? What did you think to the chaotic relationship between Lister and Rimmer? Were you a fan of the Cat and his surprisingly dark history? Which episode of series one was your favourite? When did you first discover Red Dwarf and which character, season, and ship is your favourite and why? Would you like to see more seasons and specials, maybe one that finally closes the book on the Red Dwarf story, or do you think it’s best to leave it be for now? How are you celebrating Gazpacho Soup Day today? No matter what you think, feel free to leave a comment about Red Dwarf down in the comments and on my social media.

Talking Movies [F4 Friday]: Fant4stic


In November of 1961, readers of Marvel Comics readers witnessed four intrepid explorers be bathed in mysterious cosmic rays and forever changed. On that day, they became known as the Fantastic Four, Marvel’s “First Family” of superheroes, and went on to be the first of many colourful superheroes for Marvel Comics as well as feature in numerous cartoons, videogames, and live-action movies. This year, I’ve been dedicating every Friday in November to commemorating the debut of Marvel’s most famous dysfunctional family.


Released: 7 August 2015
Director: Josh Trank
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Budget: $120 to 155 million
Stars:
Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathey, and Tim Blake Nelson

The Plot:
Genius scientist Reed Richards’ (Teller) research into teleportation attracts the attention of Professor Franklin Storm (Cathey), who invites him to help complete Victor Von Doom’s (Kebbell) “Quantum Gate”, which he recklessly travels through to a parallel dimension alongside his co-workers. Though they are transformed by their exposure, Doom is stranded and Reed becomes a fugitive, but he is forced to repair his fractured relationships when Doom plots to harness the dimension’s  power for his own nefarious ends.

The Background:
Considering that there is some controversy surrounding the creation of Marvel’s First Family of superheroes, perhaps it’s fitting that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s dysfunctional family of intrepid adventurers has had a rocky road towards a big-budget, live-action adaptation. Although German producer Bernd Eichinger’s attempts to get a film off the ground resulted in the production being shut down and the negatives being confiscated to keep it from seeing the light of day, director Tim Story’s efforts at least resulted in actual movies being released. While the films were both modest successes at the box office, they were met with mixed reviews, despite praise for some of their performances, and plans for further movies and spin-offs were cancelled because of this mediocre reception. 20th Century Fox first announced their intentions to reboot the franchise in 2009; the initial script included another interpretation of Galactus but, when director Josh Trank signed on to the film, he immediately set about reworking the script into something more grounded and realistic.

Attempts to kick off a live-action Fantastic Four franchise continuously stalled and failed to impress.

While Trank sought to evoke a specific tone and atmosphere with his new take on the Fantastic Four’s origin, other creators and producers offered contradictory statements regarding the reboot’s connection to Fox’s X-Men franchise (Various, 2000 to 2020), and the film attracted controversy by casting up-and-coming actor Michael B. Jordan in the role of Johnny Storm/The Human Torch, a character traditionally depicted as white (though Trank later revealed that he planned to make the entire Storm family black to create more diversity within the team). Additional problems occurred when 20th Century Fox ordered a number of reshoots after being dissatisfied with Trank’s efforts, and the film was further cut up and changed from Trank’s original vision in the editing room. The result was one of the most ridiculed superhero films ever made; Fant4stic’s underwhelming $167.9 million gross made it a box office flop and critics universally panned it, with even Trank actively distancing himself from the finished product. Although 20th Century Fox initially planned to produce a sequel, the film was quietly removed from their production slate; the characters subsequently became the property of Marvel Studios when Disney purchased 20th Century Fox in 2017 and another reboot was soon announced as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The Review:
While Tim Story’s Fantastic 4 movies may not have bee the greatest superhero or science-fiction tales ever produced, they were decent enough in their own right and seemed to be heading in the right direction with the second film; a third movie, and a spin-off, seemed likely and I have to say that I was a little let down that we never got to see another entry in that series of films. When I first heard that 20th Century Fox were producing a reboot, I was sceptical until I saw the first few trailers; the movie seemed to be advertised as a cross between Interstellar (Nolan, 2014) and easily Trank’s most notable film, the excellent Chronicle (Trank, 2012), with its darker, gritter approach and focusing more on the scientific aspects of the team. I was actually okay with this, and some of the casting changes, and barring one exception everything seemed to be shaping up okay…until I started hearing that it really wasn’t very good and saw how poorly it performed. When I first saw it, I remember actually thinking it wasn’t that bad, but it’s true that it’s probably my least-watched of the three commercially released movies.

Reed and Ben’s prototype for a teleporter eventually catches the attention of Franklin Storm.

Fant4stic separates itself from its predecessors by beginning in 2007 to show us Reed’s childhood as a child genius (Owen Judge) who has aspirations of building a teleportation device; although he is mocked by students and even his teacher, Mr. Kenny (Dan Castellaneta), for his claims to already be building the device, he catches the eye of young Ben Grimm (Evan Hannemann). While Reed is unfazed by the mockery he receives, Ben comes from a rough neighbourhood and an even rougher home where he is continuously abused by his brutish older brother, Jimmy (Chat Hanks), and forms a fast friendship with Reed when he sees first-hand that the boy’s prototype (powered by a number of Nintendo 64’s and materials scrounged from Ben’s family junkyard) is able to transport matter to an unknown dimension (though it also causes a massive blackout in the process). Seven years later, the now grown-up friends confidently display their newest prototype at their high school’s science fair (despite clearly being in their mid-thirties rather than around seventeen/eighteen); although Reed’s device is still a little wonky and destructive, it nevertheless works but, oddly, Mr. Kenny continues to be unimpressed (labelling it as a magic trick), and Reed is left dejected at the response to his lifelong project.

Doom agrees to work with the team despite his distrust of the suits overseeing the project.

His sprits soon turn, however, when Dr. Storm and his daughter, Sue (Mara), approach him, seeing the potential in Reed’s research and impressed by his progress; Storm has been working on a similar project but has been unable to retrieve matter from the source dimension, and immediately offers Reed a full scholarship to the Baxter Foundation so that he can help them finalise an interdimensional transporter. Reed jumps at the chance to move to the city and be appreciated for his intellect for a change and, though it means being separated from his childhood friend, Ben fully supports his academic endeavours. Reed awkwardly tries to strike up a conversation with Sue, an intelligent young woman in her own right who uses music to help her concentrate on her work and specialises in “pattern recognition”. Still, Storm’s project attracts scrutiny from Doctor Harvey Allen (Nelson), who doesn’t subscribe to Storm’s claims of alternative dimensions, or his tendency to recruit children from science fairs or unpredictable wild cards like Victor Von Doom. Reimagined as a reclusive, unappreciated genius, Victor distrusts the military and governmental officials behind the Baxter Foundation but agrees to return to the project out of his affection and trust for Sue. Initially, Victor is so paranoid that he believes that Reed stole his research, but despite being critical of Reed’s childish drawings, is nevertheless impressed with his efforts; although he has little faith in the future of humanity or Storm’s dreams of using the Quantum Gate to repair the environmental damage done to the world, he’s willing to work alongside Sue and Reed on the proviso that they get to be the first ones through the gate to explore this mysterious other dimension.

The team is joined by Johnny and forever transformed by Planet Zero’s wild energies.

To complete the project, Storm drafts in his outspoken, hotshot son Johnny (Jordan), a rebellious youngster who’s more interested in street racing than putting his incredible engineering talents to good use alongside his father. Resentful of his father’s work, which has left him feeling undervalued, Johnny is forced to join the project after smashing up his car, but forms a fast friendship with Reed after he actually speaks to and treats him with some respect on a peer-to-peer level. In time, the four complete the Quantum Gate and successfully transport a chimp to this other dimension, dubbed “Planet Zero”, a primordial world of chaos that Storm believes holds the key to understanding human evolution and providing clean, renewable energy sources for the entire planet. However, the team is distraught and angered when Allen refuses to allow the four to be the first to travel to Planet Zero, resulting in them deciding the make the trip against orders after getting half-cut on alcohol. Intoxicated, Reed calls Ben and insists that he join them in making the trip, and in a bizarre turn of events Ben is transported alongside Reed, Johnny, and Victor while Sue…stays behind in the control room and wasn’t even asked to be a part of the experiment. In fact, she only finds out that they’re using the machine when her computer alerts her, meaning that she misses out on visiting the new world, which turns out to be an extremely hostile environment and home to a protoplasmic substance. However, when a series of eruptions force them back into the Quantum Gate, Victor is left stranded and the three are bombarded with the strange energy of the planet, which fundamentally alters their genetic structure to bond them with the four elements of the planet (with Sue being caught by a burst of energy from the returning gate).

The four’s powers are presented as monstrous, painful, and unstable genetic abnormalities to be feared.

Unlike in the 1994 movie and Tim Story’s first film, the four are immediately and horrifically changed by this process; Johnny is left a burning body, Ben is buried under a pile of alien rocks, Sue flickers in and out of sight, and Reed’s limbs are left strewn around the ruined laboratory. Following this, the four are subjected to a series of studies and tests by governmental officials as their powers rage out of control. Interestingly, in this version of the story, neither Ben or Johnny can control their powers; Johnny requires a specially-modified suit to regulate his flames, and even Reed struggles to concentrate on keeping himself in proportion, making the four’s abilities far more monstrous and dangerous as a result. Since she wasn’t at ground zero like the others, Sue’s powers are far more stable and, in time and with training, she’s able to control them, but Ben is left in constant pain and horrified by his rock-like appearance. Terrified and guilt-ridden, Reed flees the facility and goes on the run in a desperate attempt to stabilise his condition and find a cure for Ben’s hideous affliction, however this results in Allen manipulating Ben into becoming a weapon for the government and preparing Johnny for the same fate. After a year in hiding, Reed is finally tracked down by Sue, brought in by the enraged Ben, and agrees to complete a new Quantum Gate in return for the resources to cure his friends, and himself, of their dangerous powers, only to find that Victor also survived and has been irrevocably and dangerously altered by Planet Zero.

The Nitty-Gritty:
I mentioned above that Fant4stic is far more focused on the scientific content of the film, and that’s true; once Reed arrives at the Baxter Foundation, he is awestruck by the scope, resources, and technology offered by the facility and much of the film’s first act is devoted entirely to the fledgling team and Victor’s efforts to finalise the Quantum Gate. This involves a hefty montage of such science stuff involving Reed and Victor scribbling on a whiteboard, Sue creating the team’s protective suits, and the construction of the Quantum Gate itself. This is juxtaposed with the four slowly bonding over time, sharing meals and a real enthusiasm for the work they’re doing, though Ben is noticeably absent from the entire team-building process as Reed never once thinks to bring him in on the project.

The government takes an immediate interest in the military applications of the four’s powers.

Once the team returns from Planet Zero, the film takes a dark and dramatic turn; as a stereotypical governmental sleazeball, Allen is determined to not only take advantage of Ben, Johnny, and Sue to sell them as assets to the military, but to also mine the transformative properties of Planet Zero for similar uses. While Johnny is all for using his powers for something worthwhile, and pushing them (and himself) to the limit, Sue is determined to not be used as some tool for the government like Ben, who has become a despondent and stoic killing machine in Reed’s absence. While I question the casting of Jamie Bell in the role of Ben since he lacks the physicality and stature typically associated with the character, he does a pretty good job at portraying a loyal friend to Reed and the Thing’s torment at the emotional and physical pained caused by his grotesque transformation. Kate Mara is a much better fit for Susan Storm compared to Jessica Alba since she’s not some glamorous supermodel cosplaying as the Invisible Girl; instead, she’s a smart and slightly quirky scientist in her own right and has far better chemistry with Reed and Johnny than Alba’s version of the character. All I ever hear is people banging on about the reshoots and Mara’s wig but I can’t say it really bothered me that much or was even something I noticed; similarly, I really enjoyed Teller’s version of Reed as an awkward but likeable young man who is incredibly smart but still very relatable, and Michael B. Jordan delivered a great performance as the Human Torch thanks to his boundless charisma. The only real criticism I had about the casting was to do with some of the script and narrative choices; leaving Ben out of the team means that we don’t really get to see the same rapport between him and Johnny as in the previous movies and comics (Johnny generally directs his snark towards Victor instead), but otherwise this was a really strong cast.

CGI is used to bring the four to life, and for the most part it holds up pretty well and does a decent job.

One area where Fant4stic excels above its predecessors is in the CGI and special effects used to bring the titular heroes to life; while I have to say that I do prefer a practical suit to be used for the Thing, the CGI employed here goes a long way to emphasising just how monstrous and fearsome this version of the character is. A hulking, destructive being of superhuman strength and durability, the tragedy of the Thing is only heightened by his grotesque appearance and his being turned into a weapon by Allen. Similarly, the fire effects used to render the Human Torch are worlds better than in the previous film and probably some of the best fire effects I’ve ever seen, resulting in him being a fittingly blazing inferno. Sue’s invisibility is about the same, though there’s more of a blue tint to her forcefields and such; generally, her powers are used more to protect the others from harm and to allow the Thing to get the drop on Doom in the finale, meaning the vast potential of her abilities is again set aside in favour of trying to highlight each member of the time. Finally, there’s Reed; while he looks a little plasticy when he’s all stretched out following his return to Earth, his elasticity mostly looks much better (while his cobbled together suit isn’t massively comic accurate, it seems more suited to the CGI than the blue used in the last films) and we even get a scene that better showcases his ability to disguise his features.

Doom ends up being a raggedy, obsessive ass who wants to reshape the world in his image.

Rather than being a despicable monarch or a sleazy corporate scumbag, this version of Victor Von Doom is an arrogant, cynical slimeball who believes himself to be the most intelligent person in any room and who is obsessed with Sue (why that has to keep happening in these films is beyond me). Determined that the world will remember his name for his contributions to science, he refuses to be forgotten in favour of some hot-shot astronaut and his obsessions lead to him blundering into Planet Zero’s protoplasmic substance without thought for the consequences, causing the planet to erupt around them, granting the four their powers, and leaving him stranded on Planet Zero, where he is consumed by its strange energies. Infused with his suit and with a mysterious, otherworldly power coursing through his veins, Victor is transformed into a monstrous and vicious being who exhibits deadly telekinetic powers that he uses to explode people’s heads, repel bullets, and lay waste to the facility in order to return to Planet Zero. Driven mad by his powers and time in isolation, Victor takes the name “Doom” and plans to turn the destructive energies of Planet Zero against the Earth in order to forever transform it, reshaping it in his own image in order to avenge himself on those who have wronged him, killing both Allen and Storm in the process and refusing to listen to reason. To put an end to Doom’s plot to destroy the world using a black hole, the four travel to Planet Zero, where they find themselves overwhelmed by Doom’s command of the landscape; when their individual efforts to stop Doom are met with failure, the four set aside their differences in order to work together to defeat him. Following a co-ordinated assault using all of their powers in unison, the four are able to set Doom up so that the Thing can smash him into his own energy beam, disintegrating him and sparing the Earth (though the immediate area is left devastated). In the aftermath, the four are commended by the United States government and enter into an agreement where they are afforded the freedom to operate independently in return for lending their services for the good of the world as a superpowered team.

The Summary:
I’m a bit torn, to be honest; I feel there’s a lot of potential in Fant4stic, especially in the cast and the general direction that the film took. Focusing on the science and being this more gritty, grim retelling of the team’s origin was a good way to separate it from what had come before (which, to be fair, is essential for a good reboot), but I can see why this would have put off long-term or even casual Fantastic Four fans. There are some stumbles in the story that I seriously doubt even a director’s cut could fix; not having Ben be part of the Quantum Gate team until the machine is complete being chief among them, as is Sue not accompanying the team to Planet Zero, both of which were very strange choices to make. I liked that the film tied the team’s origin in with an adaptation of the Negative Zone to help mix things up, and having the Thing be tormented by physical pain and turned into a tool for the military was an interesting wrinkle to add to the story, as was the focus on the government desiring to harness and manipulate the team’s powers and those of Planet Zero. As ever, it’s the depiction of Doom where the film falters; had the script stuck to the original idea of him being a herald for Galactus, this may have helped with this new depiction of the character, but this is still a far cry from the maniacal despot of the comics and I almost feel like it would’ve been better to leave Doom’s fate unresolved and have the team battle a Planet Zero native, someone like Annihilus maybe, and tie up Doom’s loose end in the sequel. But, then again, I doubt even that change would have helped a sequel being produced, and that’s a real shame as I feel like a follow-up could have really improved upon the missed potential of this film and given everyone a bit more time to shine. Overall, I find myself actually enjoying this more than I expected, but it’s maybe a little too far away from the source material and the core of what makes these characters work, though I don’t actually think it deserves as much hate as it often gets.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think to Fant4stic? Were you a fan of the new cast and their depictions of the characters and what did you think to Johnny Storm being race swapped? Were you disappointed that Ben wasn’t a part of the machine’s construction and that Sue didn’t travel to Planet Zero? What did you think to the depiction of Victor Von Doom this time around? Do you think CGI is a better way to bring the Thing to life or did you prefer the practical suits of the previous films? Would you have liked to see a sequel to this film, or an extended director’s cut release someday? How have you been celebrating the debut of Marvel’s First Family this month? Whatever your thoughts on Fant4stic, you can sign up to leave a comment below or let me know on my social media.

Game Corner [Sonic 2sday]: Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2013; Nintendo 3DS)


After the release of Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic Team, 1991), Sonic had firmly established himself as the hot new icon on the block and catapulted SEGA to the forefront of the Console Wars. Anticipation was high for a sequel and, in keeping with their aggressive marketing strategies, SEGA dubbed November 24, 1992 as “Sonic 2sday”, a marketing stunt that not only heralded the worldwide release of the bigger, better sequel but changed the way the videogame industry went about releasing games for years to come.


GameCorner

Released: June 2013
Originally Released: 29 October 1992
Developer: SEGA
Original Developer: Aspect
Also Available For: GameCube, Game Gear, Master System, Nintendo Wii, PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox

The Background:
I went into great detail about just how important a release Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (SEGA Technical Institute, 1992) was for SEGA; hot off an aggressive marketing campaign and the incredible sales of the first game, Sonic 2 saw SEGA’s supersonic mascot catapulted into mainstream popularity and success. Like with the first game, SEGA also commissioned an 8-bit version of the game; unlike its predecessor, Sonic 2’s 8-bit version was developed by Aspect and, unlike its 16-bit counterpart (and despite the game’s title cards), it did not feature Sonic’s new sidekick, Miles “Tails” Prower, as a playable character. Similar to the 8-bit version of Sonic the Hedgehog, I first played the 8-bit Sonic 2 on the Master System, before its 16-bit counterpart, and the game was noticeably different from its equivalent. Despite being more difficult on the Game Gear, the 8-bit Sonic 2 scored high upon release and, even years later when it was re-released on Nintendo’s Virtual Console, it was praised for not being a mere clone of its Mega Drive cousin.

The Plot:
Doctor Eggman is back! This time, he’s kidnapped Sonic’s new friend, Tails, and invaded South Island in search of the six Chaos Emeralds once more. Only Sonic has the speed, the skills, and the attitude to bust up Dr. Eggman’s Badniks, find the Chaos Emeralds, and rescue Tails from the egg-shaped madman’s grasp.

Gameplay:
Like its predecessor, and pretty much every Sonic the Hedgehog videogame, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is a 2D, sidescrolling action/platformer in which you must guide Sonic through seven stages (referred to as “Zones”) with three levels (referred to as “Acts”) each. Unlike in the 16-bit game of the same name, Sonic’s arsenal remains unchanged from the previous title; pressing any button will see him become a whirling ball of spikes and allow him to break open power-up monitors and smash Dr. Eggman’s Badniks with his patented “Super Sonic Spin Attack” and you can also put him into a similar spin by pressing down on the directional pad (D-Pad) when running along or down slopes. Pressing up or down also lets you scroll the screen vertically but, otherwise, that’s it for Sonic. While he doesn’t have the Spin Dash here, Sonic is noticeably much faster than in the last game; the game, overall, runs much smoother than its predecessor and there are numerous quality of life improvements as well. While the heads-up display (HUD) is still limited, with your Golden Rings counter still rolling over to zero after you collect more the ninety-nine Rings and your life counter capped at nine despite you accumulating more lives in the end of Act score screen, you can now recollect a few Rings when you’re hit, which is a hell of a boon over the last game, and there’s far less periods of slowdown unless you’re underwater.

The game’s much bigger and smoother than its predecessor, if still restricted by its hardware.

There are, however, some noticeable omissions that make the game much harder. Gone are the Arrow Monitors and neither Signposts or Starposts are present, meaning that you’ll need to restart the entire Act if you lose a life. There’s also far less benefit to finishing Acts with fifty Rings or more; sometimes you’ll get a Ring or life bonus but there are no Special Stages to play this time around and, while extra life monitors can be found in Zones (usually off the beaten track or hidden behind hidden walls), these bonuses are much less prevalent than in the last game. Finally, while it’s great that the sprites are bigger and much more detailed, screen size is a real issue in the 8-bit Sonic 2; I don’t recall it being as big an issue in the Master System version but the Game Gear version definitely suffers from bottomless pits, spike pits, and other hazards being hidden off screen and, in a first for me, respawning Badniks whenever you leave the screen. Where the 8-bit Sonic 2 excels, though, is in its clear desire to mix things up a bit more. It bares absolutely no resemblance to its 16-bit counterpart and instead features entirely different Zones; while some are familiar, and their gimmicks are similar, the two are like night and day. This is seen right away in the first Zone, Underground Zone, which is a far cry from the bright, colourful levels that generally open Sonic games. This Zone features destructible blocks (which make their 8-bit debut here), ceiling spikes, lava pits, and, of course, the mine cart gimmick that appears again later in the game. Sonic’s options while riding a mine cart are limited to simply jumping from it before he meets a sudden end but your options are even more limited in Scrambled Egg Zone’s fast-paced tubes.

Spike pits are plentiful but the game’s finicky bubble and hang glider are a massive aggravation.

Similar tubes last you around in other Zones but these will require split-second decision making on your part and will often return you to the beginning of the maze, at best, or spit you out onto a spike pit or into the path of a Badnik at worst. You can also skim over the surface of the water in Aqua Lake Zone and explore its underwater ruins, collecting air bubbles to breathe and desperately fighting with the game’s clunky controls as you navigate Sonic through narrow, spike-filled tunnels while trapped in a big bubble. The 8-bit Sonic 2 also features the game’s trademark loop-de-loops, which appear most prominently in Green Hills Zone, a stage that features many uphill slopes and blind jumps over long spike pits. You’ll also roll around on spinning cogs in Gimmick Mountain Zone, bash through Dr. Eggman-branded blocks in Crystal Egg Zone, and generally find that most of the game’s Zones are much bigger and more difficult to navigate as a result. By far the absolute worst Zone in the game is Sky High Zone; at first, it’s a pretty typical sky-based level but, once you get past the collapsing platforms, sneaky spike pits, and figure out which clouds can be run along or bounced off, you’re met with the worst gimmick in this (or any) videogame: the goddamn hang glider! Controlling this damn thing is the hardest thing ever as you must have a lot of speed built up to stay airborne, tap left on the D-Pad in just the right way to gain height, and will fall to the ground (and usually your death) if you press the jump button, hit the ceiling, or hit a wall. All they had to do was have it so that you tapped up to stay afloat but, as it is, the controls are extremely counterintuitive and I have no doubt that many players’ experiences of the 8-bit Sonic 2 ended the moment they were forced to use this damn thing.

Graphics and Sound:
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is a marked improvement over its predecessor in terms of presentation; apart from the aforementioned differences in screen size, there’s next to no discernible difference between the sprites and Zones of the Master System and Game Gear versions. Sonic’s sprite is thus bigger, more colourful, and much more cartoony; he has a whole new idle pose where he shrugs his shoulders with indifference when left idle and a whole bunch of new animations thanks to the game’s new gimmicks. Sadly, the Badniks don’t really get the same upgrade; you’ll encounter the same handful of enemies in every Zone and most of them are just recycled versions of Motobugs, Crabcrawlers, and Newtrons, with none of them really standing out.

Zones are bigger and more varied but have very sparse backgrounds.

The game’s Zones are quite the mixed bag; on the one hand, I absolutely love how they’re completely different from the 16-bit version and they’re definitely very unique, with some big and detailed foreground elements. On the other hand, the backgrounds are actually less detailed than before, with only Gimmick Mountain Zone really impressing me with its background elements. While Green Hills Zone is somewhat derivative, it distinguishes itself from its predecessor by having more slopes and (unfair) spike pits; Aqua Lake Zone might be similar to Aquatic Ruins Zone and Labyrinth Zone but stands out by allowing you to take the upper path across the water or using the new bubble mechanic; and it was quite the bold strategy to start the game with the dank and dreary Underground Zone but the use of mine carts and lava helps to make it a fun and simple enough opening stage.

Jaunty music, odd-ball Zones, and some fun little cutscenes add to the game’s flavour.

Perhaps the most bonkers Zone is Crystal Egg, which is populated by flying fish Badniks, cacti plants, falling crystal blocks, and a maze of translucent scenery that is a far cry from the mechanical hellscapes of most final Zones. Indeed, Scrambled Egg Zone (which bares more than a few similarities to Hidden Palace Zone from later Sonic titles) arguably would have been a better choice for the final stage, especially as the final boss is fought in an arena that’s more like Scrambled Egg Zone than Crystal Egg Zone. In addition to featuring a short opening cutscene, more detailed title cards (which replace the map of the last game and, oddly, feature Tails accompanying Sonic), and the traditional ending cutscene (including a cute little sprite of Tails), the game’s music is also quite a step up. Still featuring jaunty, catchy chip tunes, Sonic 2’s music is much longer and more layered than in its predecessor and more than makes up for the game’s less impressive sound effects (though the “SE-GA!!” chant at the beginning was a welcome and unexpected addition).

Enemies and Bosses:
As I alluded to above, the 8-bit Sonic 2 kind of drops the ball when it comes to its Badniks; once again, the only time you’ll see Sonic’s woodland friends dancing about is when you free them from the Dr. Eggman-branded flying saucer at the end of Act 3 and you’ll encounter the same handful of baddies in every Zone. There’s only really one new one (the hovering turtles, or “Game-game”, which are a constant pain in the ass) but some returning Badniks have been given an upgrade; Bomb, for example, spews pellets when it explodes and Buton appears as a more fearsome version of Ball Hog but lacks the former’s bomb-throwing ability.

Dodge Dr. Eggman’s bombs to destroy the Antlion and watch for the Goose’s little minions!

Rather than taking on Dr. Eggman in Act 3 of every Zone, you’ll instead have to battle the mad scientist’s six “Master Robots”, which each one appearing as a large, mechanical creature. As before, you’ll have to navigate through a few obstacles to even reach the boss without the aid of any Rings, which can be a pretty tall order when spikes and hazards are much more prominent this time around. Indeed, Dr. Eggman even inexplicably saves you from an unavoidable dip in lava to force you into battling the Antlion Mecha, a mechanical beetle that waits for you at the bottom of a steep slope. To defeat the Antlion Mecha, you have to jump over or avoid the bombs that bounce in from the left side of the screen so that they damage the boss instead of you. This is much easier said than done thanks to the slippery slope and the Game Gear’s reduced screen size; also, Dr. Eggman will rush in to try and ram you near the end so be sure to hop over him. The Goose Mecha requires a lot less strategy; it drops little Mecha Hiyoko around the clouds that you must take out and then bobs around the arena shooting projectiles at you. Simply ram it in the head and avoid getting hit and it’ll go down pretty easily.

Unlike the last game, many Master Robots require a bit more strategy than just head-on attacks.

Strategy rears its head again when you face the Mecha Sea Lion; if you try and attack as you would a normal Badnik, the Mecha Sea Lion simply balances Sonic on its nose and tosses him around. You can only damage it when its blowing up a red balloon; attack this before it can launch it at you and you’ll land a hit but, otherwise, this is a pretty simply battle. Similarly, the hardest thing about tackling the Pig-Boar Mecha is the spikes on its back and the rocks it causes to fall from the sky. Jump over it when it charges and it’ll stun itself, leaving it vulnerable for a quick hit before charging at you again, kind of like a mixture of the Emerald Hill Zone and Mystic Cave Zone bosses. The Pig Mecha can also be quite a pain; not only is it arguably the hardest boss to even reach thanks to you needing to spring your way over vast spike pits but it also can only be damaged when not curled up into a ball and the window of opportunity to strike is quite small. The Pig Mecha will roll, jump, or fly across the arena and screen trying to hit you and then uncurl to taunt you, making it functionally very similar to the fight against Mecha Sonic in the 16-bit game.

Defeat Silver Sonic without the Chaos Emeralds and you’ll never see the good ending.

Speaking of Sonic’s robotic doppelgänger, you’ll encounter Silver Sonic at the end of Scrambled Egg Zone. Despite its sleeker, more futuristic appearance, though, Silver Sonic is far easier to take on; it tries to slap you with an extending arm and will repel your Spin Attack with one of its own but is otherwise very easy to attack when it’s standing out in the open or trying to charge at you with its rocket boots. If you didn’t find the five Chaos Emeralds before this boss, your game will end here but, if you did, Silver Sonic relinquishes the sixth and final Emerald and you get to play Crystal Egg Zone. This culminates in a final battle against Dr. Eggman; this time, he summons spinning energy balls, arena-filling electrical storms, and little thunderbolts to try and kill you but, while this fight is certainly more harrowing than in the last game, it’s actually more about patience and timing. Sonic must hop into the tubes and circle the arena over and over, popping out to land a hit only when the timing is right and the hazards are gone, which can take some time and be a bit frustrating. Once you defeat Dr. Eggman, he’ll flee once more but, rather than delivering a final blow, Sonic is content to be reunited with Tails.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Oddly, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 actually includes less power-ups than its predecessor. You can still find monitors in Zones that will grant you an extra ten Rings or an extra life, but there are no longer shield monitors and I don’t recall seeing any speed-up shoes, either. The invincibility is still present, though, and not only appears far more often but is actually required to reach the Goal Post in some Zones as it’s the only way of safely crossing the spike pits.

Additional Features:
Like the previous game, playing the 8-bit Sonic 2 on the 3DS is highly recommended; the game is much tougher than its predecessor so the save states are massively helpful when trying to hunt down the six Chaos Emeralds. With no Special Stages to play, you once again have to hunt for the gems in Zones, with all of them being found in Act 2 this time around. However, these are much harder to get to than before, requiring you to stay on higher paths when it’s almost impossible to do so, jump through hidden walls that don’t look any different to other parts of the environment, and making pixel-perfect bounces on springs. They’re also far more important than in many Sonic titles as, if you don’t have all five by the time you fight Silver Sonic, you can’t play the final Zone or rescue Tails; indeed, the game’s bad ending heavily implies that Tails dies as a result of your inadequacies! Sadly, you’ll probably see this ending a lot without a guide; the Master System version has a convoluted level select code that used to help me out a lot as a kid but legitimately beating this game with the good ending takes a great deal of skill…and it’s not like you get to play as Tails for your efforts, or at all for that matter.

The Summary:
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 contains many quality of life improvements over the original; the game is bigger, with more colourful and detailed sprites, has a more developed soundtrack, more Zones, and runs a lot fast and smoother (especially when underwater). There’s loads of fun new gimmicks introduced here that help the game stand out from its 16-bit counterpart; the two are like night and day, with each Act being a little different from the last and new mechanics at your disposal so that it isn’t just more of the same Sonic action. However, at the same time, there’s noticeably less; no Special Stages, no real incentive to finish Zones with Rings, less power-ups, and the noticeable absence of Sonic’s two-tailed companion. Not only that but the game is far more difficult, almost unreasonably so, and made even trickier by the Game Gear’s lower screen resolution. Tracking down the Chaos Emeralds this time around was an absolute chore rather than being fun and making it so that you have to have them to even play the full game was a bit of a stretch. However, by far the worst thing is that damn hang glider; it basically derails the entire game as it’s almost impossible to control and, while you can finish Sky High Zone (and even acquire its Chaos Emerald) without using them, I can’t help but feel like this mechanic could have been better implemented. Overall, I’d say it’s definitely a worthwhile inclusion to your library but do yourself a favour and get it on a console like this that allows for save states as it makes the game far more enjoyable.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think to the 8-bit version of Sonic the Hedgehog 2? How do you think it compares to its predecessor and its Mega Drive counterpart? Which of its unique Zones is your favourite? Were you annoyed that Tails was reduced to a hostage rather than being a playable character? Did you ever manage to get the hang of the hang glider and find all the Chaos Emeralds? How are you celebrating “Sonic 2sday” this year? Whatever your thoughts on Sonic 2, and Sonic in general, drop a comment below.

Screen Time [Doctor Who Day]: The Three Doctors


On this day, the 23rd of November, in 1963, the longest-running and most successful science-fiction television series ever, Doctor Who, first aired on BBC One in the United Kingdom. Since then, the rogue Time Lord has gone through numerous incarnations, travelled throughout the entirety of the past, present, and the future, and is widely celebrated as one of the most iconic and recognisable mainstream cultural icons in the world.


Air Date: 30 December 1972 to 20 January 1973
UK Network: BBC One
Stars: Jon Pertwee, Patrick Troughton, Stephen Thorne, Katy Manning, Nicholas Courtney, and William Hartnell

The Background:
In 1963, the Head of Drama at the BBC, Sydney Newman, commissioned a show to fill a gap in the BBC’s schedule that would appeal to both children and adults alike. After writer Cecil Webber created a brief outline for Dr. Who, a collaborative effort saw the concept refined into the debut episode, An Unearthly Child (Hussein, 1963), and Doctor Who captivated audiences with the following episode, which introduced the long-running and iconic antagonists, the Daleks. Doctor Who attracted strong ratings during its first season but, by 1996, star William Hartnell’s health was becoming an increasing concern, so story editor Gerry Davis came up with a genius idea to allow the actor to step away from the role while continuing the show. Davis conjured the idea of “regeneration”, a process all Time Lords would undergo when mortally injured or at the end of their lives and which would allow them to take on a new face and altered persona up to thirteen times. Patrick Troughton took over the role, eventually becoming one of the most beloved incarnations of the Doctor despite a great number of his episodes being lost. Fearing being typecast, and fatigued by the gruelling shooting schedule, Troughton left the role three years later and my first, favourite Doctor, John Pertwee, was brought on for the show’s big debut in full-colour and became one of the character’s most popular incarnations. In 1972, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the series, Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks decided to bring together the three actors responsible for the show’s success in the first of many multi-Doctor crossovers. Sadly, Hartnell’s poor health kept him from participating as heavily as was originally intended, but the four-episode serial drew strong ratings and decent reviews, despite some criticisms of the script and characterisation of the main villain.

The Plot:
Omega (Thorne), the solar engineer responsible for the Time Lords’ ability to travel in time, seeks revenge on the Time Lords after they left for dead in a universe made of antimatter. Desperate for aid, the Time Lords bend their laws to recruit three incarnations of the Doctor (Pertwee, Troughton, and Hartnell) for aid when Omega drains their civilisation’s power and threatens their destruction.

The Review:
I’ve always enjoyed the spectacle of multi-Doctor stories; Doctor Who is one of the few television shows or science-fiction properties where you can easily have an in-built excuse to have previous actors meeting up and going on a little adventure together, and something about seeing the past incarnations of the Doctor interact has always been appealing to me. I think a lot of it stems from the fact that Doctor Who wasn’t on television when I was a kid; they didn’t even air reruns of the show, so watching it was extremely difficult, but I grew up reading the novelisations by Terrance Dicks and had always tried to consume as much of the early days of the show as I could (within reason; a lot of it is unavailable of hasn’t aged too well). The top of my list, alongside the various Dalek adventures, were the multi-Doctor stories, and I’d always had a particular fascination for The Three Doctors (Mayne, 1972 to 1973). This is probably because it was the first of such crossovers but, either way, these types of stories have always been a favourite of mine, even if they’re not always actually that good.

With the Doctor, and Gallifrey, under siege, the Time Lords bring the Second Doctor in to help.

The Three Doctors is a four-part adventure set during John Pertwee’s tenure as the Third Doctor; after being captured and tried by the Time Lords at the conclusion of his second incarnation (and, apparently, as a cost saving measure) the Doctor was forced to regenerate into his third incarnation and left stranded on Earth, where he worked as a scientific advisor alongside the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce (UNIT) and continually tried, in vain, to repair his disabled time machine, the Time And Relative Dimension In Space (TARDIS). Accordingly, The Three Doctors begins in much the same way as many of the Doctor’s adventures during this time (and beyond): on Earth. While investigating cosmic rays, Doctor Tyler (Rex Robinson) comes across a series of unexplained, faster-than-light signals that leave him, and especially UNIT’s commanding officer, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Courtney), stumped. Intrigued by the signal, which appears to defy all known laws of physics, the Doctor takes Jo Grant (Manning) with him to investigate, unaware that the mysterious signal is causing those that tune into it to be abducted by a flash of light and bringing with it a strange, amorphous blob. This bizarre piece of camera trickery is intent on abducting the Doctor (with the others being taken purely by chance) but, rather than go out searching for the creature, the Doctor insists that they simply stay put and wait for it to find them, which results in a number of UNIT solders being killed when a number of aggressive, seemingly indestructible gelatinous aliens storm the UNIT base. Taking refuge in the TARDIS, but unable to flee, the Doctor begrudgingly sends a call for help to the Time Lords, who find themselves equally under siege from an energy-draining beam emitted from the void of a black hole. Although they cannot spare the energy and manpower (such as it is) to directly assist the Doctor, the Time Lord President (Roy Purcell) violates the First Law of Time by having the Second Doctor materialise in the Third Doctor’s TARDIS to help.

The First Doctor gets his successors on track, and they’re shocked to find Omega behind it all!

Unimpressed with his successor’s redesign of the TARDIS, the two Doctors immediately struggle to get along; both claim to be the real deal, both want to take charge of the situation, and both believe that they are more than up to the task without the other. Even after bringing the Second Doctor up to date with the situation via an awkward telepathic conference, the two Doctors continue to bicker, primarily because the Second Doctor continually gets distracted by his recorder and interfering with the TARDIS. In order to ensure that the two are more effectively able to pool their resources, the President bends time and space ever further by drafting the First Doctor to keep them in order. Though unable to physically materialise due to the Time Lord’s failing power, the First Doctor advises from the TARDIS viewscreen and is unimpressed with both of his replacements, whom he views as “a dandy and a clown”, and their inability to co-operate, but still able to identify the blob as a “time breach” that is intended for crossing through time and space. Much to the shock of Sergeant Benton (John Levene), who stays behind as the Second Doctor’s makeshift assistant, the Third Doctor allows himself to be taken by the time breach, but accidentally takes Jo with him. The two materialise in an antimatter universe full of the objects and people taken by the blob, and the same alien creatures attacking UNIT, where they reunite with Dr. Tyler, who agrees on the impossibility of their situation, all while being completely unaware that they’re being monitored by a mysterious, armoured individual who commands the blob-like creatures. Despite Dr. Tyler’s insistence they should try to escape and his scepticism regarding the antimatter universe, the Third Doctor’s wish to meet their host is granted and he is awestruck to come face-to-face with the legendary Time Lord, Omega. An enigmatic former scientist trapped in a regal armour, Omega is determined to avenge himself on his fellow Time Lords, whom he feels abandoned him to the antimatter universe after discovering the secret of time travel.

Omega overwhelms the Third Doctor but is enraged to find he can never leave his prison.

On the advice of the First Doctor, the Second Doctor disables the TARDIS’s forcefield and allows the entirety of UNIT headquarters to be transported to the antimatter universe, much to the Brigadier’s chagrin, and the Second Doctor and Sgt. Benton are captured and brought to Omega almost immediately. Omega is as angered at the Second Doctor’s attempts to deceive him as he is by the Third Doctor’s insistence that Omega is revered and honoured as a hero, by both himself and the other Time Lords. Omega cannot let go of his hatred and affront at his brethren and, apparently having been driven half-mad by his exile, desires to become a God. With completely mastery over his antimatter universe, Omega is freely able to conjure objects out of thin air and reveals that he survived his dangerous and deadly excursion into the black hole through sheer force of will. However, when the two Doctors stand opposed to Omega’s destructive intentions, the exiled Time Lord engages the Third Doctor in a telepathic battle against the “dark side of [his] mind” in an awkward slow-motion fight sequence that sees even the Doctor’s Venusian aikido overwhelmed. The timely intervention of the Second Doctor spares the Third Doctor’s life and convinces both of Omega’s unconquerable power; as powerful as Omega is, however, he requires the Doctor’s assistance to be free of his antimatter prison since he is forever bound to that world (the moment he tries to will himself to escape, he will ensure his destruction, and he only continues to exist because of his world). Wishing for the Doctor to take his place and allow him to escape, Omega has the two remove his mask, which they will require to keep the antimatter universe intact. However, Omega is enraged to discover that he has become a being of pure will, with no physical form, and is therefore unable to ever be free from his prison.

The two Doctors defeat Omega and the Third Doctor’s exile to Earth is finally lifted as thanks.

Pushed to the edge of his sanity, Omega resolves to destroy everything in a fit of rage, driving the Doctors and their companions back into the TARDIS, where the First Doctor leads another telepathic conference that directs them towards the TARDIS’s forcefield generator, which they hope to use to bargain for their freedom, and with it the very key to defeating Omega. All throughout the serial, the Second Doctor has been banging on about his recorder, having lost it early into the story; it turns out that it fell into the forcefield generator, and as a result was not converted from matter to antimatter. Initially, the Doctors planned to offer to use the forcefield generator to free Omega, but by this point the insane Time Lord has become content to live out his exile alongside his fellow Time Lords and thus spare their universe and friends from his reprisals. Infuriated at the Doctors’ attempts to placate him with “trinkets”, Omega casts the forcefield generator aside, thereby destroying himself and his antimatter universe when the unconverted recorder falls to the floor. The two Doctors are returned to Earth triumphant, though the Third Doctor laments that he/they couldn’t offer Omega any freedom other than death and the Second Doctor bemoans the loss of his recorder. After bidding farewell to the First Doctor, and an amicable parting between the Third and Second Doctors, Third Doctor is elated to find that the Time Lords have restored his knowledge of how to travel through time and space, and provided the TARDIS with a new dematerialisation circuit, thus ending his exile on Earth and restoring his freedom at long last.

The Summary:
When watching early Doctor Who episodes, it’s best to do so without a massively critical mindset. If you go into it expecting groundbreaking special effects and production design then you’re obviously going to be a little disappointed, and The Three Doctors is no different. The weird, blob-like entity that captures the Doctor is pretty laughable now, being a mere trick of light spliced into every scene its in, and is surpassed only by Omega’s odd gel creatures that shamble all over the place looking ridiculous. Omega’s antimatter throne room is pretty impressive though, and certainly far more visually interesting than the Time Lords’ control centre, and I won’t begrudge the serial for being hampered by the budget and technology of the time. Furthermore, I’ve always been impressed and amused by the ingenuity and adaptability of early Doctor Who; back then, with little money and some spray-painted Styrofoam, the showrunners would have the Doctor visit all kinds of strange, alien worlds or creature ridiculous alien lifeforms but, these days, it seems like the Doctor is constantly anchored to Earth. To be fair, the Third Doctor was similarly handicapped, but just one episode of modern Doctor Who probably has more money behind it than the entire first series of the Third Doctor’s adventures so you’d think that the showrunners could have him/her stray away from London every once in a while.

In addition to featuring some classic characters, the serial introduces a bombastic villain.

What makes the serial work, and what has always made Doctor Who work, is the fantastic use of characters, such as the Brigadier, whose stiff-upperlipedness always lends itself to some amusing moments as he would be frequently bamboozled by the Doctor’s technobabble and the increasingly bizarre events happening around him, and finding the return of (from his point of view) the first Doctor only perplexes him further. This serial also marks the first time that the Brigadier enters the TARDIS, which is an interesting statistic, and much of the comedy comes from his frustration with the Second Doctor’s easily distracted nature and inability to understand all of the complex time travel mumbo-jumbo happening around him. In comparison, Sgt. Benton is far more adaptable and willing to take the Second Doctor’s lead, though his trigger-happy nature clashes with the Doctor’s more pacifistic approach to matters. Although she’s not a scientist, Jo is probably one of the Doctor’s more capable assistants from around this time; she makes up for her lack of scientific knowledge with a boundless enthusiasm, does a good job of translating the Doctor’s technobabble, and catches on to the serial’s bizarre events far quicker than the Brigadier. In an interesting twist, the Time Lords find themselves in an unusual position where they have no choice but to break their own laws; though their energy is being drained and their civilisation and very way of life is threatened, the Chancellor (Clyde Pollitt) vehemently objects to the President’s actions, despite there apparently being no other option available to them. Although the Doctor has no love for the Time Lords or their stringent rules, he’s directly opposed to Omega’s plot to eradicate Gallifrey since the Doctor is all about the preservation of life. Those who are only familiar with modern-day Doctor Who may be surprised to see other Time Lords in this serial, particularly a Time Lord antagonist who isn’t the Master (Various), and I would love for the show to bring back some of the other antagonistic Time Lords as it really does help flesh out the universe beyond it always being the Doctor and the Master over and over again. Omega makes for a bombastic and intriguing villain composed entirely of antimatter and fuelled only by rage; he resents being left in exile and is so consumed by his lust for power and vengeance that he refuses to listen to the Third Doctor’s pleads that he (as in Omega) hasn’t been forgotten and brings about his own end simply because his rage and solitude have left him unable to control his emotions.

The squabbling Doctors must learn from their predecessor and work together to defeat Omega.

Of course, like all multi-Doctor stories, the main appeal of The Three Doctors is seeing the Doctor interact with his other incarnations. While it’s disappointing that the First Doctor was unable to take a more active role in the serial, making this more like The Two-and-a-Half Doctors, it’s interesting seeing his characterisation here; although the oldest actor of the three, the First Doctor is technically the youngest and least experienced of the Doctor’s incarnations, something which comes up in subsequent stories, so it’s somewhat amusing that he’s the more mature and rational of the three. While the Second and Third Doctors constantly bicker and get on each other’s nerves, the First Doctor remains impassive and logical, deducing solutions and offering insight that his successors have missed due to their more flamboyant natures. The Second Doctor is annoyed when the Brigadier describes him as the Third Doctor’s “assistant” and the Third Doctor finds the presence of his predecessor an unnecessary and dangerous event, at best, and an insult at worst. It is only when they and their companions are captured by Omega that the two Doctors finally set aside their grievances and agree to work together and, encouraged by Jo, are able to manipulate Omega’s antimatter universe in their favour. It’s great seeing the how different, and yet similar, all three incarnations of the Doctor are; each are extremely intelligent, proud, and stubborn Time Lords with their own aristocratic flair, and the more mischievous nature of the Second Doctor riles up not only his successor but both the Brigadier and Omega as well. While the Third Doctor is much more in control of his emotions, he frequently lets his predecessor’s playful ways get under his skin, and only the wise council of the First Doctor can help keep the three focused on the greater task at hand.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What did you think to The Three Doctors? Are you a fan of multi-Doctor adventures or do you find that they’re confusing and lacklustre affairs? Which of the first three Doctors was your favourite and what did you think to their interactions with each other? Were you disappointed that William Hartnell was unable to properly participate in the adventure, and what did you think to Omega? Would you like to see Omega and other antagonistic Time Lords return to the series or do you prefer the Doctor to be from a near-extinct race? How are you celebrating Doctor Who Day today? Let me know your thoughts on Doctor Who and its first multi-Doctor adventure down in the comments by signing up, or leave a reply on my social media.

Wrestling Recap: Undertaker vs. CM Punk (WrestleMania NY/NJ)

The Date: 7 April 2013
The Venue: MetLife Stadium; East Rutherford, New Jersey
The Commentary: Michael Cole, John Bradshaw Layfield/JBL, and Jerry “The King” Lawler
The Referee: Mike Chioda
The Stakes: Singles match with the Undertaker’s WrestleMania winning streak on the line

The Build-Up:
The Undertaker had been a force to be reckoned within the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) ever since his dramatic debut as part of the “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase’s Million Dollar Team on this day at the 1990 Survivor Series. After a year without any televised losses, the Undertaker was named the number one contender to Hulk Hogan’s WWF Championship belt and his victory over the Immortal One cemented the Deadman as a main event star for decades. While the WWF changed and rebranded, eventually becoming World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), the Undertaker grew as a character and a spectacle; transforming from a largely mute, undead monster into a Satanic overlord, a bad-ass biker, and the conscious of the WWE, the Undertaker’s legendary career came to be synonymous with his uncanny ability to secure wins on the grandest stage of them all, WrestleMania.

The Undertaker’s celebrated WrestleMania streak came under attack by a vindictive CM Punk.

By this, the twenty-ninth WrestleMania, the Undertaker had twenty victories at the Showcase of the Immortals, having put away hated rivals such as Kane, Triple H, and the “Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels among others. In recent years, his opponents specifically sought a match against him at WrestleMania seeking to snap this winning streak but few were able to make this into such a personal vendetta than CM Punk. After winning the right to face the Undertaker, CM Punk immediately set about disrespecting the memory of William Moody, who had portrayed the Undertaker’s long-time manager Paul Bearer and who had recently passed away. Alongside his own manager, Paul Heyman (who also had a storied history with the Deadman), CM Punk regularly called out the Undertaker, stole the Deadman’s mystical urn, and even dumped its contents over Big Evil in the lead up this match, which was the closest that CM Punk ever got to main eventing a WrestleMania.

The Match:
Before the match can even begin, there are two things that need to be gotten out of the way first: the first is another of the WWE’s excellently-produced video packages that not only works as a touching tribute to the late, great Paul Bearer but also does a fantastic job of telling the story of this heated feud up until that point and really painting CM Punk as an absolutely reprehensible dick. Since the Undertaker wasn’t around each week to help build towards the match, CM Punk fell back on his unparalleled mic skills to taunt and mock both the Deadman and Bearer specifically to wind the Undertaker up since a count out or disqualification would still count as a loss and all he was concerned about was getting that win and tarnishing the Undertaker’s winning streak. The second, and biggest thing to get out of the way, are the competitor’s entrances; by this point, the Undertaker’s appearances at WrestleMania had become a spectacle all unto themselves and his entrances often went on as long as some wrestling matches! This year was no different as the Deadman’s entrance ran around five minutes long and saw him slowly, ominously stalk his way to the ring in a shroud of smoke while shadowy figures clutched at his feet in a truly spinetingling visual! However, the Undertaker wasn’t the only one to get a big entrance this year as Living Colour played CM Punk down to the ring with a live performance of “Cult of Personality”, though of course Michael Cole and his cohorts couldn’t be stopped from offering pointless and distracting commentary once the two were in the ring.

Cm Punk’s early strategy involved goading and disrespecting the Undertaker to wind him up.

As soon as the bell rang, the two went for each other, both with their hands up and looking for an opportunity to land a strike or a grapple. CM Punk, the quicker and smaller of the two, goaded the Undertaker by dodging a strike, slapping him in the face, and slipping out of the ring in order to put a quick beating on the Deadman after a short chase. Although the Undertaker tried to manhandle Punk into the corner, he easily slipped away and continued to taunt the Undertaker, kicking himself free of a Chokeslam attempt and ended up eating a big boot to the face and being unceremoniously dumped to the outside for his troubles. On the outside, the Undertaker beat CM Punk around the barricade before whipping him into it and smashing his face off the announcer’s table. The Undertaker stripped the table down and then rammed CM Punk spine-first into the ring post before rolling him back into the ring to deliver his patented leg drop across the ring apron. Once they were both back between the ropes, the Undertaker pressed his advantage, pounding on CM Punk in the corner and intimidating the referee for chastising him; working over CM Punk’s left arm, the Undertaker went for his “old school” rope walk but CM Punk jerked him off the top rope with an arm drag and, despite the pain in his arm, stomped on the Undertaker while the Deadman was down and hit a walk rope of his own in a blatant show of disrespect before landing a side Russian leg sweep and going for the first pin of the match.

CM Punk pressed his advantage at every opportunity using his quickness and agility.

Obviously, the Undertaker kicked out; the match then slowed a bit as CM Punk locked in a ground-based submission so the two could catch their breath (while also giving Paul Heyman a chance to shout encouragement and taunts to both men, respectively) before the Undertaker went back to his game plan of beating CM Punk in the corner. This backfired on the Deadman, though, when he missed a running boot and injured his knee in the process, which allowed CM Punk to kick him out of the ring and land a big diving axehandle from the top rope to the outside. Back in the ring, CM Punk scored a two-count off a neckbreaker but his attempts to work over the Undertaker’s arm got cut off by the Deadman’s trademark strikes. Again, CM Punk scored a two-count off another quick neckbreaker and slapped on a choke hold, all while Paul Heyman shouted encouragement about him being “one second away” from victory. The Undertaker battled his way up to a vertical base and hit a suplex to throw CM Punk off, then crotched his arrogant opponent on the top rope when CM Punk tried to hit another rope walk. A single punch to the jaw sent CM Punk careening to the outside again but Paul Heyman threw himself in the Undertaker’s path to stop the Deadman doing his signature dive to the outside, almost getting Chokeslammed off the apron in the process, which allowed CM Punk to recover and hit a clothesline off the top rope for another two-count. Weary (and possibly a little out of it), the Undertaker left himself wide open in the corner for a running knee and got taken down with a clothesline, which set CM Punk up for his patented Diving Elbow Drop.

Both men survived some big moves and signature offense from their opponent.

Again, the Undertaker kicked out at two, so CM Punk prepared to hit his finishing move, the Go-To-Sleep/GTS; however, the Undertaker slipped off CM Punk’s shoulders, grabbed him by the throat, and hit a massive Chokeslam for his first near-fall of the match! The two then got into a slug fest that quickly went in favour of the Undertaker, who again pummelled Punk in the ring corner with strikes, a running attack, and his signature Snake Eyes manoeuvre but CM Punk weathered the storm and surprised the Deadman with a kick for another two-count. CM Punk then sent the Undertaker to the outside again with a clothesline and went back to the announcer’s table, which he just narrowly avoided being powerbombed through when he slipped out of the Last Ride. With the Undertaker lying prone across the table, CM Punk hopped to the top rope and hit another Diving Elbow Drop…though the table didn’t break on impact. CM Punk was aghast when the Undertaker beat the referee’s count, however, and made it back into the ring before a count of ten; distraught (and hurt following his awkward landing on the table), CM Punk was easily wrapped up in the Undertaker’s Hell’s Gate submission move. Punk, however, used his technical expertise to turn it into a pinning attempt, and then wrapped the Undertaker up in the Anaconda Vice that, for all its drama, mainly served to give the Undertaker a chance to catch his breath again. Soon enough, the Undertaker was on his feet and going for another Chokeslam but CM Punk wriggled free and hit a glancing GTS that the Undertaker completely no-sold and powered through to hit a Tombstone Piledriver out of nowhere! Incredibly, CM Punk kicked out at two, much to the delight of Paul Heyman and the crowd, who began to chant “This is awesome!”

Even an urn shot couldn’t stop CM Punk being planted with the Tombstone and becoming a statistic.

Another slugfest followed; however, when the Undertaker went for the Chokeslam, Mike Chioda was sent sprawling by an errant shot, which allowed CM Punk to smash the Deadman in the back of the head with the urn and avoid the Last Ride once again. CM Punk’s decision to mock the Undertaker with his signature pin cost him almost as much as the referee’s long count, however, as the Undertaker kicked out at two, driving Punk into a frustrated frenzy at his opponent’s refusal to stay down. The two then countered each other’s attempts at hitting their finishing manoeuvres before the Undertaker scooped CM Punk into a second Tombstone Piledriver and secured his incredible WrestleMania winning streak for another year. Showered by the adulation and respect of the crowd, the Undertaker than retrieved his urn and delivered one last tribute to his friend and manager while the announcer’s refused to keep their mouths shut and let the moment speak for itself. Ultimately, while the match was very good, I couldn’t help but feel like it didn’t quite kick into gear; the story was very traditional, with the in-ring action building and escalating to both men’s strengths and their tropes (the conniving little guy against the veteran big man) but it just felt like something was missing. Maybe if CM Punk had used some more underhanded tactics, given the Undertaker a bit of a run-around, or if the Undertaker could have had a couple of big bursts of energy it would have helped but it’s still a perfectly entertaining and acceptable match and I think the crowd probably would have bought Punk winning, though it never really seemed like he was going to as he didn’t get much of a chance to hit any big moves beyond those diving elbows.

The Aftermath:
This match put an end to the feud between CM Punk and the Undertaker; the next night on Raw, a distraught CM Punk came out to address how his historic run with the WWE Championship got cut short and he was denied the WrestleMania main event in favour of the Rock and John Cena. He and Paul Heyman eventually had a falling out when Heyman returned to the side of his old client, Brock Lesnar, turning Punk face in the process. On that same episode of Raw, Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, and Seth Rollins (collectively known as “The Shield”) attacked the Undertaker as he tried to pay tribute to Paul Bearer once more. He was saved by his brother, Kane, and Daniel Bryan (known as “Team Hell No”) and the three of them went on lose to the newcomers and the Undertaker’s vaulted WrestleMania winning streak was finally broken at the next year’s WrestleMania in a pretty disappointing match against Brock Lesnar.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think to the contest between CM Punk and the Undertaker at WrestleMania? How would you rate it against the Undertaker’s other WrestleMania matches? Were you a fan of CM Punk disrespecting Paul Bearer’s memory to get heat for the match? Do you think the match should have been the main event bout of the night? How are you celebrating the Undertaker’s debut this year? What are some of your favourite matches and moments from his long and distinguished career? What dream match would you have liked to see him involved in? Whatever your thoughts, sign up to drop a comment below and or let me know what you think about the Undertaker on my social media.

Author’s Spotlight: Erin Banks Interview

Erin Banks, author of About Rage and
Ted Bundy: Examining The Unconfirmed Survivor Stories

1. First, introduce yourself a bit. What is your name (or pen name) and where are you from?

I’m Erin Banks, and for the main music project I do with musician friends, I go by About Rage. This only happened because we discovered there was already an Erin Banks on Spotify when we released the soundtrack to the novel About Rage.

I was born in Northern Germany and intermittently lived in the US, Sweden, Denmark and the UK over the past twenty years, as I’ve always loved to travel, learn foreign languages and about other cultures.

2. Next, tell us a bit about your most recent work. Is this your first published book? What is it about and what genre would you classify it as?

I just published my debut novel, About Rage, in late October, though it isn’t my first book. I wrote a non-fiction one on Ted Bundy, as I have blogged on CrimePiper about the case, as well as other True Crime cases, going on five years now.

About Rage is a psychological Horror Thriller centered around a ruthless female serial killer, Emily Sand, with a uniquely complex psychopathology. She shows symptoms of complex post-traumatic stress disorder, paired with other specified dissociative disorder, so similarly to Ted Bundy, she has sort of an “entity” that she calls the Rider, who is basically her externalized kill urge or alter ego. Emily soon realizes that someone has been watching her…or watching over her? That’s something she must find out, and for this she employs the help of a therapist. How she goes about this would be a little bit of a spoiler.

Going forth, Emily learns more about herself, including betrayals of her past and present, and she attempts to find out whether the people in her life she thinks of as friends are trustworthy or not, in order to face a seemingly omnipotent enemy.

The novel has twists and turns aplenty, and I’m overjoyed that readers reported to me they could not put the book down, finishing it within a day or two. This is exactly what I wanted to achieve, to “edutain” – to leave readers breathless and wanting for more, while still taking them on a journey into the mind of the killer to facilitate a better understanding of how trauma, loneliness and fantasy life spinning out of control very often plays a part in creating these violent offenders.

3. Tell us a bit about your main character; what are they like, how did they come about, and what are some of their strengths and weaknesses?

How Emily Sand came about is a bit of a convoluted story, but I’ll try to keep it short: In late 2017, I had tried to look for Horror and Thriller novels centered around a female serial killer who would be more than just a two-dimensional, Disneyesque villain to hate. I found one series that I enjoyed, but it didn’t go far enough for my taste. So I started penning disjointed chapters about a female serial killer, and in 2018, I learned about a (by now long disbanded) group on social media that was doing a “serial killer role playing game,” for which the admin would give us a setting and scene prompt and the members would finish that story. There had also been plans of co-writing a female serial killer story with someone else but ultimately, they didn’t come through. So I had gathered a lot of material I had to try and combine but didn’t have time to do so until last year.

As for Emily Sand’s strengths and weaknesses, that is a really great question, because at times, they appear interchangeable. She is a cautious and paranoid killer, thinking of anything and everything she would require in any scenario, and she is just as meticulous and obsessive-compulsive when disposing of bodies. She’s unfortunately not as cautious once she meets the man who’s been watching her for a while, and the prospects of what he offers her cast her whole world into disarray. My favorite strength of hers is her willingness to self-reflect, even though she’s not always a reliable narrator.

4. What was your hardest scene to write in this (or any) book?

There were three that were all equally emotionally taxing. The one during which Emily reveals to the therapist what she suffered through as a child and how it impacted her. As someone who grew up with extreme abuse, it left me reeling a bit. Connected to it is a scene during which Emily learns how everything in her life is interwoven. The disillusionment, the sinisterness of it all was something I experienced on a very real level.

Lastly, there’s one scene in one of the last chapters that involves a betrayal not even I had seen coming. One of the characters just forced me into that direction, despite my outlining, and I knew I had to run with it, but it broke my heart for Emily.

5. Did you go the traditional route when publishing your book or did you choose to self-publish?

I had originally intended to go the traditional route. Ultimately, I couldn’t relent control, or rather, the rights, of this story to anyone else. It’s too close to my heart, and I needed to be in the driver’s seat, even if it meant far less exposure.

6. What would you say is the most difficult part of your writing journey and what advice would you give to other writers?

This is probably something I shouldn’t admit, but one thing I learned is that no matter how much and often I edit, I’ll still find things after publishing that make me cringe. Part of it is that, as a non-native speaker, I’m extremely apprehensive about possible mistakes I could make, particularly in terms of punctuation. Being an indie writer without an editor, I am still happy that the second book proved to be a less straining experience than my first one, so I believe I have the capacity to further develop my craft.

7. Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

About Rage will have a follow-up, possibly more. It’s a vast universe inside me that just expanded over the years.

My first book, Ted Bundy: Examining The Unconfirmed Survivor Stories, will remain a standalone, though I may write another Bundy book on an unrelated topic in the future. I do already have the material and a general outline for it.

8. Who are some of your favourite authors, what are some of your favourite books, and what inspired you to become a writer in the first place?

My favorite non-fiction author is Kevin M. Sullivan. I read his first two Ted Bundy books years before we became friends, and was immediately enmeshed with what a gifted storyteller he was. He is a true edutainer. Eventually, he asked me to write a chapter for his sixth book, The Enigma of Ted Bundy. I was shocked that my favorite author would ask me if I wanted to collaborate. Me! I look up to Sondra London as well. She’s completely in control of every word, every sentence she produces, and has a very elegant writing style I truly enjoy.

My favorite fiction author is Josephine Angelini. I love her world building and character development, particularly for the Worldwalker trilogy, and her standalone What She Found in the Woods. My favorite book will always be Jane Eyre, though; the ultimate coming-of-age story about independence, self-respect, self-mastery, and how all of this could be balanced and expressed in a romantic relationship setting.

9. What would you say has been the best way to market your books?

I so suck at this stuff. Probably social media. It’s very difficult for me to network because human interaction leaves me extremely drained due to always having to mask. I’m autistic. Plus, it’s always been a bit awkward for me to clap for myself in public, but I want to be read, so that’s what it takes.

10. Are there any tropes, clichés, or writing styles that you dislike and, if so, what are they and why?

I don’t think any trope or cliché has to be bad, necessarily. I’ve read books that played with tropes, and just when you thought you knew where the story was headed, you were thrown for a loop, because the author had just used cleverly it as a set-up.

As for writing styles, be it narrative, descriptive, expository or persuasive, I enjoy them all, though expository is a bit tricky because it can get dull quick, so it takes a very skilled writer to do this in a way that’s still engaging and keeps my attention.

One thing that drives me nuts is clipped sentences and a lack of paraphrasing.

11. Do you read reviews of your book and, if so, how do you handle negative feedback?

I’ve received some great bad reviews because the person shared in-depth what their expectations had been and why my book did not deliver, in their view. Some of these readers’ suggestions stayed with me. For instance, in my first book, the last chapter was supposed to be the big bombshell, but it was advised this would have made for a better first chapter. I found the reasoning for that very interesting and could see their point, so I am always grateful for honest feedback, if presented in a reasonable manner.

I think the most important thing to remember is always that even Stephen King has one star reviews. It’s inevitable and nothing personal, though especially as it pertains to fiction, it can feel almost like a personal rejection, since you pour your heart and soul into these stories, the world-building and characters that you love like family (or at least I do.) But negative reviews definitely help curb the ego a bit.

On the other hand, I’ve had very persistent stalkers in the last three years, centered around a disgruntled ex and his associate. These people have chased me across every platform to leave character assassination reviews, partly even in the name of my dead father. Fortunately those were removed when I contacted the website owners.

12. What are some of your quirks as a writer? Do you like to plot everything out or do you prefer to just “wing it” and see where the story takes you? Do you listen to music when writing and, if so, what do you listen to?

Well, the way this happens with me is usually that either a fully formed story or scene will pop into my head. I really just watch it play out as though it were a movie, jot down what I see, then try to fill in the blanks. This is when I will start outlining things, though never in too much detail, as I learned that the story and characters really do have their own lives.

I can’t write without music, and that is probably also one of my biggest writing quirks. Music puts me in an altered state, almost a meditative one, and I need that to summon the feelings I want to ban onto paper. When I wrote About Rage, I mostly listened to a combination of atmospheric, dark and desperate songs for the interpersonal scenes as well as brutal bass Dubstep and Metal for the action-laden passages. And then, as Peter Douglas, Mirko Swo and I put together the songs for the soundtrack, I would listen to those tracks, too.

13. What is the best advice you’ve ever had when it comes to writing and what advice would you give to new writers?

I see a lot of advice by other writers being presented as ironclad rules, and it can sometimes come across as a bit restrictive, if not even arrogant. I don’t subscribe to the notion that one ought to push themselves to write every day to be a “real writer.” There’s so much implied stress and worry in that notion. The majority of my writer friends struggle with mental health in some form, and with my condition, I sometimes require periods of rest, during which I’ll focus and work on other things related to the book instead. If I push myself, I’ll have a major meltdown or shutdown, and I have observed similar things happening with author friends. I’m not a fan of working yourself sick.

General advice I would offer is to perhaps try and make time to read, because you may enjoy broadening your horizon, add to your vocabulary, play around with different ideas that others’ stories may prompt.

14. What’s next for you? Are you currently working on any new books or stories?

My main project is writing About Revenge, along with the second soundtrack. On the side, I am working on the Murderous (True Crime-related) album franchise with the band Dead Possum, for which I write half of the lyrics and read the intros and outros in different languages, such as Urdu, Japanese, Ukrainian, Spanish, Swedish, German and various others. I am also in the process of putting together a hybrid-genre short story collection, and I’ll be featured in two other True Crime authors’ books that are to be published next year.

15. Finally, feel free to plug your social media, website, and links to Amazon, GoodReads, and other relevant sites below, and detail any current offers available for your book/s:

If you’d like to be featured in an interview, please check out the interview submissions page to submit your answers.

Talking Movies [F4 Friday]: Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer


In November of 1961, readers of Marvel Comics readers witnessed four intrepid explorers be forever changed by mysterious cosmic rays. On that day, they became known as the Fantastic Four, Marvel’s “First Family” of superheroes, and went on to be the first of many colourful superheroes for Marvel Comics as well as feature in numerous cartoons, videogames, and live-action movies. This year, I’ve been dedicating every Friday in November to commemorating the debut of Marvel’s most famous dysfunctional family.


Released: 15 June 2007
Director: Tim Story
Distributor:
20th Century Fox
Budget: $120 to 130 million
Stars:
Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, Julian McMahon, and Doug Jones/Laurence Fishburne

The Plot:
Now regarded as popular celebrities, Doctor Reed Richards/Mister Fantastic (Gruffudd) and Susan Storm/The Invisible Girl (Alba) find their attempts to get married constantly interrupted by a media circus. Just as they are about to tie the knot, an extraterrestrial dubbed the “Silver Surfer” (Jones/Fishburne) arrives, causing havoc with the team’s powers and catching Victor Von Doom/Doctor Doom’s (McMahon) attention as it prepares the world for consumption by a cosmic being known only as “Galactus”.

The Background:
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s family of dysfunctional superheroes have had quite the chaotic journey to the big screen; their 1994 movie was never released and the eventual big-budget adaptation was met with mixed reviews after being in Development Hell for around ten years. Still, Fantastic 4s (Story, 2005) modest box office success of $333.5 million saw not only the release of an Extended Edition but also the return of director Tim Story and the entire cast for a sequel. Screenwriters Mark Frost and Don Payne came onboard to pen the screenplay and the duo drew significant inspiration from both the original “Galactus Trilogy” (Lee, et al, 1966) and an altered version of that same story seen in Ultimate Marvel (Ellis, et al, 2004 to 2006). The duo aimed to focus more on the enigmatic Silver Surfer than the Devourer of Worlds and there was a lot of speculation and anticipation surrounding the design of Galactus. Much of the film’s promotion was also focused around fan-favourite elements from the original Marvel Comics, such as the Fantasti-Car and the wedding between Reed and Sue, and practical elements such as Ben Grimm/The Thing’s suit were redesigned to allow actor Michael Chiklis to slip it off between takes. The titular Silver Surfer’s digital effects were the work of Weta Digital, who not only completely replaced stuntman Doug Jones with a sleek CGI model but also contributed to the design of Galactus. Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer made about $32 million less than its predecessor, coming in with a box office of $301.9 million; though the film’s average review score is higher than the first film, it was also met with mostly mixed reviews, although the general consensus was that it was at least more entertaining than the first film. Plans for a sequel and a spin-off for the Silver Surfer were eventually quashed due to the overall lacklustre response to Story’s films and 20th Century Fox made the disastrous decision to reboot the franchise some eight years later.

The Review:
Fantastic 4 wasn’t really a bad film, really, just quite underwhelming considering some of the outlandish cosmic adventures Marvel’s First Family often get up to. Do I expect them to battle the likes of Galactus and Kang the Conqueror in their first movie? No, of course not, but maybe exploring the Negative Zone and encountering someone like Annihilus could have been possible with a script re-write (Reed discovers the Negative Zone and that’s where they get their powers from, rather than them going to space) while building towards a showdown with Dr. Doom for the sequel (since he was so underutilised and bland in the first film) and maybe, maybe Galactus for the third and final movie. I can’t, however, say that I’m too surprised that Fantastic 4 got a sequel; back then, mediocre movies were getting sequels all the time and it just seemed natural to do, though I definitely am not a fan of the overly long and wordy “Rise of…” title (Fantastic Four: Doomsday would’ve been better in my opinion, but what the hell do I know, right?)

Reed and Sue’s wedding is disrupted by the arrival of the Silver Surfer, who causes global havoc.

Since the end of the last film, the Fantastic Four have become wildly beloved, popular, and successful superheroes; while Johnny Storm/The Human Torch (Evans) continues to revel in their celebrity status and indulge himself with merchandising and sponsorship deals, Sue is troubled by the constant media storm that surrounds their lives. It’s bad enough that the interference of the press has caused Reed and Sue to continuously postpone their wedding, but Sue worries about what sort of impact the attention they bring and the circus of their day-to-day lives will have on any children she and Reed may have in the future. Sue’s characterisation seems to have taken a bit of a step back in this regard; she actually seems to think it’s acceptable to prioritise her wedding day over the fate of the world, arguably costing Reed valuable time in finding a way to track the entity causing worldwide havoc, and while Alba seems more comfortable in the role of the team’s matriarch, something seems a bit…off about her this time around (I think it’s her dazzling contact lenses). The world is thrown into chaos when the mysterious entity known as the Silver Surfer arrives; wielding the same cosmic powers that gifted the Fantastic Four and Doom with their abilities (a neat little wrinkle that I actually really enjoyed), the Silver Surfer is able to dramatically affect weather patterns across the globe, drying up lakes, bring snowstorms to deserts, and disrupting electrical devices the world over.

General Hager isn’t impressed with Reed, or the four, whom he views as freaks.

Reed is troubled by the disruptions; despite promising Sue that he is going to focus on the wedding, he can’t help but investigate the disturbances and is intrigued to find a link between the cosmic radiation and their powers. Johnny is able to turn Reed’s fascination with the ongoing global disturbances to his advantage and blackmail Reed into having a bachelor party, and though Reed adamantly turns down General Hager’s (Andre Braugher) request that he and the four lend their expertise in solving the global crisis, he ultimately goes back on his word and develops a way of tracking the anomalies out of his desire to help and sheer scientific curiosity. Obviously, Sue is angered by this as she’s obsessed with having that one perfect day even if the entire world is being thrown into chaos around them; Reed is trying to please everyone, as always, but ultimately chooses to stand up to Hager’s abrasive nature and demand a little respect for him and his team if the military actually want them to help. When he sees how upset Sue gets by the whole media circus, however, Reed proposes that they leave it all behind after the wedding, but ultimately they’re both able to come to terms with their crazy lives by the conclusion of the film. The Thing, easily the heart of the team, is in a far better place this time around; having taken to wearing an array of clothes and noticeably much more comfortable with himself and being out in public, he’s developed a brotherly relationship with Johnny and has absolute faith in Reed, even when he predicts the end of the world and suggests the team go their separate ways.

Doom is still somewhat underutilised but comes across a bit better in this film.

Although Reed discovers that the Silver Surfer has been preparing worlds for their eventual destruction all across the universe, the entity’s arrival has a more direct impact on the team when it passes over Latveria and awakens Victor Von Doom. A scarred and ruined mess of a man, Doom begins the film in a much more fitting place than he left it (holed up in a grand castle, glaring at an array of monitors, filled with egotistical mania, and fully embracing his role as a scheming and bitter supervillain). After encountering the Silver Surfer, though, Doom’s appearance is sadly restored by the Surfer’s cosmic powers, ruining any menace he may have had in his armoured guise, and he goes right back to being a sleazy, suit-wearing scumbag. Doom even weasels his way into studying the Silver Surfer further by sharing his data with Hager, who orders him to work alongside the Fantastic Four, much to their chagrin. Of course, Doom’s intentions are far from virtuous; realising that the Silver Surfer draws his powers from his “board”, Doom seeks to separate the silver-hued entity from it, depowering the once-might Sentinel of the Spaceways, so that he can claim it for himself. This allows Doom to briefly come close to matching the formidable threat he poses in the comics, and even don a far more impressive and visually interesting set of armour and spit his famous “Richards!” line, but once again it’s too little too late and Doom gets far too little time in the spotlight.

Contact with the Silver Surfer causes Johnny to swap powers with his teammates.

Instead, much of the film is focused on exploring the impact that the Silver Surfer has on the Human Torch; although he seems perfectly happy living a shallow life of materialism and still likes to crack jokes at both Reed and the Thing’s expense as often as possible, Johnny doesn’t hesitate to take off after the Silver Surfer when he disrupts Reed and Sue’s wedding and finds himself changed as a result of physical contact with the entity. Consequently, Johnny switches powers whenever he touches his teammates, which allows the Thing a brief return to his human form (something that never comes up again, despite Ben’s promise) also causes chaos when the Fantastic Four try to intercept the Silver Surfer in London. Feeling isolated because of the danger he now poses to the team, Johnny is distraught to learn that Reed and Sue are willing to break up the band so that they can lead “normal” lives and is forced to learn to set aside his ego and put the team before himself. This all culminates in him absorbing the powers of the entire team in order to match Doom’s stolen cosmic powers in the finale, basically transforming him into a version of Kl’rt/Super-Skrull and kind of negating his character arc since it takes one individual with all of the team’s powers to defeat Doom rather than the combined efforts of the team proper.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Strangely, considering that Rise of the Silver Surfer essentially deals with the impending destruction of the entire world, the film’s tone is as light and whimsical as the last film, for the most part, but the comedy definitely lands a lot better this time around. Johnny’s wisecrack about the Thing’s blind girlfriend, Alicia Masters (Kerry Washington), potentially dying in a rockslide is hilarious, as is Sue using her powers to force Reed to listen to her, her “I’m on fire!” exchange with Reed, and Johnny’s all-too-brief transformation into a Thing-like creature. Having lived and operated together for some time now, the team has settled into their dysfunctional family dynamic quite nicely; out in the field, they tend to quarrel and discuss their personal dramas, which angers Hager, who sees them as freaks who can’t take threats seriously as they’re too busy bickering with each other. This leads to an impressive moment for Reed as he finally stands up for himself, and his team; in fact, Reed has adjusted to his role as the team’s leader extremely well compared to his characterisation in the first film. He’s still an easily distracted and awkward nerd, but he’s much more confidant in directing the team and keeping them focused in the field, at least until Johnny’s new powers cause disruption amongst the team.

The Silver Surfer prepares the world for this master’s arrival, who he dare not defy.

Sue ends up playing a pivotal role in humanising and characterising the mysterious Silver Surfer; a stoic and wholly alien lifeform, the entity is like living liquid metal, reflecting everything around him in his silvery skin and slicing through the air and even the vastness of space with a fluid-like ease. Impossibly fast and incredibly powerful, the Silver Surfer can not only cause chaotic events to happen all over the world and create ominous craters in the planet’s very crust, he’s also easily able to shrug off Doom’s electrical bolt, out-pace and exhaust Johnny in the upper atmosphere, and pass through Sue’s invisible barrier. Fascinated and intrigued by the Silver Surfer’s beauty, Sue questions the entity as to his motivations, which causes enough of a distraction to separate the Silver Surfer from his board and allow him to be captured by Doom and Hager. While the Silver Surfer has never exhibited such an obvious weakness in the comics, as far as I am aware, it’s necessary to render him vulnerable and exposit key information about the Silver Surfer’s master, the malevolent Galactus. Helpless and powerless without his board, the Silver Surfer reveals to Sue that he was once known as Norrin Radd and is bound to lead the entity to worlds for it to devour in order to spare his own, but takes no pleasure in this fact and finds himself besotted by Sue as she reminds him of his lost love. The Silver Surfer also reveals that his board draws Galactus closer, but initially refuses to use its power to repel his master since he dare not defy the World Devourer.

Some big set pieces and special effects keep things interesting, with the Silver Surfer being the highlight.

Surprisingly, the Fantastic Four’s costumes haven’t really been changed all that much from the last film; they seem a little darker, and maybe a little more refined here and there, but mostly appear to be identical, which is very unusual as superhero sequels usually always introduce new costumes for the characters. Thankfully, Doom definitely looks much better this time around; I could have done without seeing him return to normal in the middle there, but he definitely makes up for it in the finale with his more regal and detailed armour. The four have firmly established themselves in the Baxter Building and no longer have any money troubles; instead, they have all the resources they could ask for thanks to Reed’s patents and Johnny’s endorsement deals to franchise the team out to anyone and everyone. Reed’s focus is still on the science, and using his genius and the team’s abilities to help others, but he’s not above creating new toys for the team to use, such as the futuristic and criminally underused Fantasti-Car. While the Thing looks just as good as ever thanks to the impressive practical suit, some of the CGI and special effects have taken a bit of a hit, most notably Reed’s stretching powers (though this could just be because they’re showcased more often here). Still, the film has some impressive action set pieces on offer, such as the team’s efforts to repair the damaged London Eye, and the effects used to bring the Silver Surfer to life are absolutely top-notch. The Silver Surfer appears unsettlingly alien and unnaturally fluid; the chase between him and Johnny is quite exhilarating and the way he just kind of hovers and slips into frame is incredibly unnerving, and I think it was a wise move to spend more of the film focusing on the Silver Surfer as an antagonistic and mysterious force rather than the Devourer of Worlds.

Galactus may have just been a disappointing cosmic cloud but at least they tried to bring him to life.

Speaking of which, you can’t talk about this film without mentioning Galactus; one of Marvel’s most iconic and destructive cosmic entities, Galactus gained notoriety for being represented as a gigantic, abstract space cloud. I can understand the backlash about this as Galactus represents one of the most morally grey entities in the Marvel universe (he has to “eat” worlds in order to satisfy his great hunger, and does so not out of malice or evil but simply because he has to in order to survive and his existence is part of the cosmic balance of death and rebirth) and reducing him to a swirling, indistinct mass of cosmic energy is quite an insult to die-hard comic book fans. I can also understand the apprehension; these Fantastic Four movies are clearly drawing inspiration from Fox’s original X-Men trilogy (Various, 2000 to 2006) and going for a more grounded take on the comic’s more fantastical elements and the filmmakers definitely seem to have thought that a gigantic humanoid clad in purple armour stomping around New York City was probably a step too far. I, however, disagree and think these films (and any future Fantastic Four films) should totally embrace the more bonkers aspects of the source material, but I do have to applaud the filmmakers for even using Galactus in the first place. They didn’t have to do that and it’s pretty ballsy to jump into the character for the team’s second movie as how the hell do you top a world-devouring entity? Also, they seem to have pulled inspiration from “Gah Lak Tus”, the Ultimate version of the character that was a swarm of robotic drones rather than one massive being; the shadow and fiery silhouette of Galactus and his ship can also be briefly seen, hinting that the cloud is masking the being’s true form, and the proposed Silver Surfer spin-off was also supposed to reveal the character in full. Additionally, seeing  Galactus’ smoky tendrils devour that world at the start, watching it ominously advance through the galaxy and learning about its destructive history, and the shot of it preparing to swallow the Earth whole are all really effective at building a sense of awe and dread around the entity. I can definitely see that the filmmakers had some good intentions with the character but the execution does fall a bit flat; I think maybe it would have sufficed to see a gigantic hand reaching out from the cloud, or see hints of Galactus’ helmet poking through the storm and maybe his eyes glistening, but, again, I admire that they even tried to use the character, if nothing else.

After repelling Galactus, Reed and Sue finally marry and the Silver Surfer is freed from his master.

Despite the threat of Armageddon looming ever closer, Doom manipulates events to get his hands on the Silver Surfer’s board; conveniently cobbling together a wrist-mounted device that somehow allows him to assume control of the board, and thus the Surfer’s Power Cosmic, Doom kills Hager in spectacular fashion and refuses to give up his newfound power even in the face of worldwide destruction. In the process, Doom kills Sue when she takes a shot to protect the Silver Surfer, which finally convinces him to rebel against Galactus. After Johnny absorbs the abilities of his teammates in order to separate Doom from the board in an all-too-brief fist fight, thus restoring the Silver Surfer to full strength, the Silver Surfer uses the Power Cosmic to resurrect Sue and heads up into the atmosphere to confront Galactus as the titanic cloud prepares to drain all life and energy from the planet. There, in the centre of the swirling, chaotic mess of cosmic energy, he renounces his service and uses all of the board’s power to dissipate Galactus in a very obvious Christ metaphor, presumably transporting it away or destroying it outright, and is assumed dead from the exertion. In the aftermath, Johnny is returned to normal (though I think it would have been a nice touch to allow Ben to change to and from the Thing at will as a result of contact with the Silver Surfer), Reed and Sue finally marry in a small ceremony away from prying eyes, and the team resolves to stick together, even with the chaos of the superhero fame, while the Silver Surfer is revealed to have survived in the depths of space.

The Summary:
Well, this was certainly a step up from the last film; the cast, dialogue, and world definitely all seems to feel a lot more comfortable and work a lot better, and overall Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer feels like a much more enjoyable movie since it doesn’t have to be bogged down with an origin story or explaining and exploring the team’s powers. The characters all seem very familiar with each other and gel as a dysfunctional family, operating as a cohesive team in the field while still bickering and having interpersonal dramas regarding their superhero celebrity status. The banter between Ben and Johnny remains the clear highlight of the four, though I much preferred Reed this time around (leadership definitely suits him), with Sue remaining the weak link for me just because of the way Jessica Alba is presented and the fact that she’s so woefully miscast as the Invisible Girl. Doom looked and acted a bit more like his boastful comic book counterpart, but was again way too underutilised for a villain of his stature, but thankfully the film does a brilliant job of bringing the Silver Surfer to life. Mysterious, powerful, and inhuman, the Silver Surfer is also vulnerable and tragic and a true visual marvel. Yes, it’s massively disappointing that one of Marvel’s most enigmatic and iconic entities is reduced to a mere cloud, but I do admire the filmmakers for daring to even utilise Galactus and it’s clear that they had plans to do him justice in a later film, but again I feel like if you’re going to go big like that just go all-in and leave it all on the table.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What did you think to Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer? Did you feel it was an improvement over the last film or were you just as disappointed with this effort? What did you think to the sub-plot of Johnny being able to absorb the team’s powers? Did you like the depiction and characterisation of the Silver Surfer or do you feel he was a little underpowered compared to the source material? What was your reaction when Galactus appeared as a giant cloud and would you like to see the character done justice in the Marvel Cinematic Universe some day? How have you been celebrating the debut of Marvel’s First Family this month? Sign up to share your thoughts on Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer in the comments below, or drop your thoughts on my social media, and check back in next Friday for one last Fantastic Four review.

Game Corner [JLA Day]: Justice League Heroes (PlayStation 2)


To celebrate the release of Justice League (Snyder/Whedon, 2017), DC Comics named November 18 “Justice League Day”. Sadly, this clashes with something else I have planned for that date this year but, setting aside all the drama surrounding that movie, this still provides a perfect excuse to dedicating some time to talking about DC’s premier superhero team, which set the standard for super teams in comics by bringing together DC’s most powerful heroes.


Released: 22 November 2006
Developer: Snowblind Studios
Also Available For: Nintendo DS, PlayStation Portable, and Xbox

The Background:
After coming together in November 1959, the Justice League of America (JLA) quickly became one of DC Comic’s best-selling titles. This shouldn’t be entirely surprising considering the team came to be comprised of DC’s most popular characters: Clark Kent/Superman, Bruce Wayne/Batman, Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, Hal Jordan/Green Lantern, Arthur Curry/Aquaman, Barry Allan/The Flash, and J’onn J’onzz (also known as “John Jones”)/Martian Manhunter. The team saw many members come and go over the years but was a constant staple of DC’s library of comic books and soon expanded into other media. Interestingly, the Justice League’s success hasn’t always resulted in the best videogames, though, meaning developers Snowblind Studios faced a bit of an uphill battle right from the start when creating Justice League Heroes. Built out of a modified engine of their critically acclaimed title Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance (ibid, 2001), the developers ending up removing features from that game and engine to focus on extending the length of Justice League Heroes, which has more than a few similarities to Marvel: Ultimate Alliance (Raven Software/Barking Lizards Technologies, 2006), which released about a month earlier. Reviews of the game were mixed across platforms, though, and the game was generally regarded as a bit of a mediocre and mindless beat-‘em-up.

The Plot:
The Earth is under attack from the robot forces of Brainiac, who has coerced many of the world’s most notorious supervillains into helping him consolidate the power afforded to him by a mysterious box from the stars. In response, the world’s greatest heroes, the Justice League, leap into action and team up to oppose Brainiac’s plot in a globe-trotting adventure that requires all of their individual abilities and skills.

Gameplay:
Justice League Heroes is a top-down action brawler in which you (and either another player or a computer-controlled partner) battle through a number of recognisable locations from the DC universe as various members of the Justice League. The game’s story is split into a number of missions that see two members of the Justice League teaming up at any one time; a second, human player can join the game at any point from the pause menu, a solo player can freely switch between the two heroes at will by pressing up on the directional pad (D-pad), and you’ll also be tasked with assembling one or more custom teams of two characters later in the story but you’ll never get the opportunity to switch out characters completely or replay missions with different characters. Gameplay in Justice League Heroes revolves almost entirely around beating up endless hoards of robots and aliens and solving some very light puzzles; characters can jump with a press of the Triangle button (and double jump or fly/glide with subsequent presses depending on who you’re playing as), attack with strong and fast attacks with Circle and X, respectively, and can grab enemies or objects with Square and block incoming attacks by holding R1. By entering different button presses (X, X, O, for example), players can pull off simple combo attacks to take out enemies but there are, sadly, no team up attacks to be found here.

The Justice League’s various superpowers are at your disposal and can be upgraded to be more effective.

While every character controls the same except for their ability to fly or glide, each one is made slightly different from the other through their individual superpowers. By pressing L1 and either Triangle, Square, Circle, or X, players can pull off their character’s signature super moves as long as they have enough energy stored up. This allows you to blast enemies with Superman’s heat vision, for example, or turn them into rabbits with Zatanna Zatara’s magic, or smash them with John Stewart/Green Lantern’s massive sledgehammer. Pressing L1 and R1 will see each character (with some exceptions) pull off a more powerful  super special attack which, again, varies per character; Superman, for example, will become stronger while Batman unleashes a swarm of bats to damage foes and Martian Manhunter briefly becomes intangible and invisible. They’re all pretty useful and different enough in their own way, with most characters having a projectile of some sort, a move to boost their attack or speed, or being able to stun or otherwise incapacitate enemies and you’ll sometimes (very rarely) need to use a specific character’s superpowers to bypass obstacles in order to progress. When playing alone, you can also issue simple commands to your partner using the D-pad; this allows you to increase the aggressiveness of their attack or have them focus on defence, which can be useful when teamed with Zatanna as she’s able to heal all team members.

Rescue civilians, activate consoles, and destroy certain targets to progress amidst the mindless brawling.

Overall, I found the computer to be surprisingly useful and competent; if your partner gets downed, however, you’ll have to rush in to revive them but the game automatically revives any downed characters when you reach one of its numerous checkpoints and enemies will often drop health-restoring orbs to keep you ticking over. Furthermore, if you’re able to attack enemies without taking damage, you’ll build up your “Heroic Meter”, which will increase your damage output until you get hit, and you can alter the difficulty of the game and its enemies by selecting different difficulty settings from the main menu. Despite the game being extremely linear, the developers included a helpful mini map, which you can expand by pressing in the right analogue stick. This isn’t always necessary but, as many of the environments are rather drab, grey, similar, and somewhat labyrinthine at times, it’s a welcome addition to keep you on track even during the game’s shorter and more straightforward missions. Unfortunately, the top-down view can be rather restrictive at times; many areas are filled with debris or obstructions and it always seems like you can only see just enough of the area, which can lead to enemies catching you off guard or hiding behind parts of the environment with no way to see them as they don’t show up on the map. It’s not all mindless brawling, either; occasionally, you’ll be tasked with rescuing a number of civilians or hostages, faced with a time limit, or directed to activate consoles to lower barriers in order to progress. As alluded to earlier, these very rarely require you to use the Flash’s superspeed or the Martian Manhunter’s intangibility to get past obstacles and stop fans, lower energy barriers, or deactivate Kryptonite hazards so that you can progress further. Sometimes you’ll also need to destroy a wall or use a character’s flight to progress across rooftops and, in the final portion of the game, you’ll not only have to protect Superman as he smashes through Darkseid’s fortress but you’ll also be faced with an extremely frustrating and confusing teleport puzzle that was the only time I had to actively look up a solution online.

Graphics and Sound:
Thanks to its zoomed out, top-down perspective, Justice League Heroes is, largely, able to get away with hiding any inconsistencies and defects in its in-game character models. Since you never really see your characters up close, the developers can have them talk and drop hints and quips without really needing to animate their mouths and the simple beat-‘em-up action of the game means that characters just need to look somewhat decent when they throw punches, grab cars, or blast out energy beams. And, for the most part, they do; there’s some neat little touches here and there (like Martian Manhunter being able to transform into his true, more monstrous form and the Flash being accompanied by a speed force double and lightning) and characters are always talking so you know when you need to drop or combine Boosts or have a vague idea of how the story is progressing.

Sadly, the game’s environments and enemies tend to be quite dark, bland, and boring.

Sadly, enemies and environments don’t always live up to the colourful and eye-catching depiction of the titular Justice League. It takes a long time for you to battle anything other than Brainiac’s generic robots or explore areas beyond the wrecked streets of Metropolis or the cold, grey corridors of Scientific and Technological Advanced Research Laboratories (S.T.A.R. Labs) and the like. Eventually, though, you do venture into more visually unique environments like the subways, a honeycomb and sap-encrusted hive, the ruins of J’onn’s civilisation on Mars, Gorilla City, a Lovecraftian dimension populated by strange rock creatures and living tentacles, and a version of Apokolips created on Earth but there’s very little variety offered in terms of the enemies or puzzles and hazards you face as you progress. No matter where you are, it’s the same thing every time: defeat all enemies, maybe activate a console, and reach the end of the stage.

Even Ron Perlman can’t salvage the blurry, rubbery graphics of the game’s cinematics.

The bulk of the game’s story (which is about as generic as you can get for a Justice League videogame) is conveyed through CG cutscenes featuring the traditional rubbery-looking graphics you’d expect from a PlayStation 2 game. I did notice some slowdown when there was a lot happening onscreen and, in terms of music and sound, the game is very unimpressive; the voice cast isn’t even the same one as in the popular Justice League animated series (2001 to 2006) and, while I love me some Ron Perlman, he just sounds bored whenever his Batman speaks (I’m also not really a fan of how often Batman is shown in broad daylight).

Enemies and Bosses:
As I’ve mentioned a bit already, you’ll wade through numerous disposable enemies in your mission to stop Brainiac and his lieutenants but none of them are particularly interesting. You’ll battle robots of varying sizes, humanoid wasps, White Martians on the surface of Mars, Gorilla Grodd’s gorilla forces, and Parademons but, once you’ve fought one lot of enemies, you’ve fought them all as they all feature regular foot soldiers who shoot at you and both flying and bigger variants that can take a bit more punishment. Honestly, the only enemies I even remotely found interesting were the weird crab and toad-like enemies you face later in the game and the instances where you battle Brainiac’s skull robots and failed clones of Doomsday because they at least looked a little different.

Many of the game’s bosses require you to fend off minions or destroy or activate consoles to attack them.

Before you can defeat Brainiac, you’ll have to battle a number of bosses; some of these are simply bigger, more dangerous versions of enemies you’ve already fought or Brainiac’s more deadly robots and duplicates. You’ll battle a Brainiac duplicate in S.T.A.R. Labs, for example, but this fight isn’t just about throwing punches. Instead, you have to activate consoles to lower barriers and rescue the scientists against a time limit all while “Brainiac” fires lasers and energy blasts at you. You’ll also encounter some of the more obscure villains from DC Comics’ gallery; Queen Bee has established a hive in the Metropolis subway and is transforming civilians into monstrous insect hybrids and, when you confront her in her throne room, she shields herself from your attacks and rains missiles into the arena that make the floor sticky. She’s only vulnerable when she leaves her throne but your window of opportunity to attack her is hampered somewhat by her minions, her energy blasts, and her tendency to dart across the screen like a madwoman. You’ll also butt heads with the Key, of all people. Like with Brainiac’s duplicate, you have to rescue some scientists against a time limit during this battle but the Key proves to be a particularly elusive and versatile enemy as he teleports around the place and causes hazards to blast out from his dimensional portals.

Grodd and Brainiac use their powers, technology, and minions to keep you at bay.

Similarly, when fighting Doctor Louise Lincoln/Killer Frost, you’re given one minute and forty seconds to destroy three missiles (and five seconds to get away from each before they explode) in addition to battling her and her icy minions. Killer Frost can conjure grunts, form ice shields, and blast at you with ice and icicles, all of which can make battling her quite tricky and annoying as your attentions are constantly divided. After reaching the core of a pyramid-like structure on Mars, Superman and the Martian Manhunter have to battle the White Martian leader; this guy is also accompanied by disposable White Martian grunts and you’re tasked with activating four nearby power nodes to defeat him. Things get noticeably more interesting when the Justice League splits into teams; while one team flies through the upper atmosphere destroying generators on invading spacecraft, another destroys power turbines in Gorilla City and gets into a confrontation with Gorilla Grodd. Grodd primarily uses his staff to attack and is joined not only by an inexhaustible supply of gorilla minions but also a series of energy-firing turrets so it’s probably best to try and keep your distance and stay on the move to emerge victorious in this fight. After battling their own security system in their Watchtower space station, the Justice League then faces off with a larger, more powerful Doomsday clone that, unlike pretty much every other boss in the game, boils down to a question of who can attack hardest and fastest rather than distracting you with tricks and puzzles.

Of course Darkseid turns out to be the true final boss of the game!

Eventually, you’ll breach Brainiac’s main base and be forced to battle his three robot guardians before you confront him; Brainiac is completely protected by an energy shield and is only vulnerable when he rises from his throne and only for a brief window of time. He also likes to teleport you to the far end of the arena, where you’re forced to destroy the generators that power his barriers and take out some minions just to get back up to him, so it’s more a question of patience than anything. As you might have guessed, the moment you defeat Brainiac he is immediately usurped by Darkseid, who teleports you away to a hellish dimension and then converts Earth into a new Apokolips. You’ll need to assemble two teams of four to confront Darkseid, who stomps around his throne room creating shockwaves and plumes of fire along the ground and blasting at you with his powerful Omega Beams. Being an all-powerful New God, his health also regenerates over time, meaning you’ll have to keep pummelling him again and again in order to keep him down. This was, honestly, a bit of a confusing fight; you can grab the “Apokolips Hypercube” nearby, which seems to weaken him and make him vulnerable to your attacks but I also found myself running around with it in my hands and not doing any damage to Darkseid at all and then he just suddenly succumbed to my attacks and was defeated.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
In almost every area in the game, you’ll find objects that you can grab and use as weapons; some of these are limited to the specifics of your character, though, meaning that you won’t be lifting cars over your head as, say, Oliver Queen/Green Arrow, for example. Still, you can grab post boxes and parking meters and cars and such to bash over enemy’s heads, which adds a bit of variety to the otherwise relentless combat. You can also pick up temporary power-ups throughout each environment to give yourself and your team mate a bit of a power boost so it can be worth exploring a little bit and smashing destructible objects wherever you see them.

Level-up to increase your stats power-up your attacks with Skill Points and Boosts.

The game also features some light role-playing elements; as you defeat enemies, you’ll gain experience points (EXP) and level-up once you’ve earned enough EXP. This will increase your stats and abilities but you also earn Skill Points that you can spend upgrading your character’s superpowers up to five different ranks to increase their effectiveness and duration. Additionally, enemies will also drop various “Boosts” that you can equip at any time; you can also combine Boosts together to create new, more powerful Boosts and equipping these will also boost your superpowers, increase your damage output or defence, or increase the range and duration of your attacks.

Additional Features:
Although the game is extremely linear, there are often some rewards to be found through exploration; generally, these will just be stockpiles of health, energy, or Boosts but you’ll also find be civilians in danger who need rescuing who will drop “Justice League Shields”. Shields can also be found by destroying parts of the environment and you can spend these on skins and additional characters. While you can select any of the unlockable costumes at any time, they won’t actually load until you reach the next checkpoint/area and you can only select to play as the unlocked characters when the game allows you to pick a team of your own. The skins available are quite impressive, though; while not every character gets a skin, some offer bonus boosts to your stats and there’s some fan favourites available here, like Superman’s black suit, Batman’s traditional blue and grey suit, and the Jay Garrick version of the Flash. You can also unlock the likes of Green Arrow, Aquaman (sporting his water hand), Helena Bertinelli/The Huntress, and what I assume is the Kendra Saunders version of Hawkgirl.

Unlock additional characters, costumes, and modes by finding Shields and completing the game.

You’ll notice, however, that neither Huntress, Aquaman, or Hawkgirl have an L1+R1 special move, though I’m not entirely sure why. You can also unlock Hal Jordan and Kyle Rayner but, despite these two being separate characters, they control exactly the same as John Stewart, which is a little disappointing; none of the unlockable characters have alternate costumes either, which is a bit of a missed opportunity in my book. Initially, you can select from Easy, Normal, or Hard difficulties but you’ll unlock two more difficulty levels (Elite and Superhero, on which most enemies will kill you in one hit) and be given the option of starting the game over from the beginning with all of the upgrades and EXP you amassed during your run upon completing the game. Sadly, there’s no option to free play any mission with any character, no versus mode, and no option to play online or with more than one other player but there are a number of cheats that you can activate from the pause menu to give yourself invincibility, infinite energy, all upgrades, and a bunch of Shields to quickly unlock all of the game’s skins and characters.

The Summary:
Justice League Heroes isn’t going to really offer you anything you can’t get from any other mindless beat-‘em-up; the stages and enemy designs can be very bland and boring and there really isn’t much asked of you other than to mash the same buttons over and over and activate a few consoles. Still, as a fan of beat-‘em-ups and brawlers, I found Justice League Heroes to be a pretty decent way of spending an afternoon; there’s a lot of characters available to you and I like that the story mixes the teams up quite often and allows you to put together your own teams, and the game is probably even more enjoyable with a friend to play with. There could have been more options and unlockables available (such as free play mode, maybe some challenges, and a boss rush), the music and graphics can stutter a bit, and the game is awash with dark, boring, grey locations, but, as a repetitive brawler featuring the Justice League, it’s decent enough, though probably not very appealing to those that aren’t fans of the source material and characters.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Have you ever played Justice League Heroes? If so, what did you think to it? Were you disappointed by the game’s presentation, selection of villains, and the inability to freely pick characters on the go? Which of the available characters was your favourite and preferred duo? What genre do you think would work for a future Justice League videogame? What version of the Justice League is your favourite and are there any DC superheroes you’d like to see added to the team someday? How are you celebrating Justice League Day this year? Whatever your thoughts on Justice League Heroes, and the Justice League in general, feel free to drop a comment below.