Air Date: 29 April 1995 to 13 May 1995 Network:Fox Kids Network Stars:Christopher Daniel Barnes, Hank Azaria, Roscoe Lee Browne, Don Stark, Jim Cummings, and Edward Asner
The Background: Given that Marvel’s resident wall-crawling hero proved to be popular enough to receive his own self-titled comic book barely a year after his blockbusterdebut, it’s perhaps no real surprise that Peter Parker/Spider-Man has featured in a number of cartoons over the years. Nowadays, it seems like Spidey gets a new cartoon every other day of the week but, when I was a kid, his 1994 to 1998 cartoon was a must-watch piece of weekly entertainment. Produced by Saban following their success with the X-Men animated series (1992 to 1997), Spider-Man (or Spider-Man: The Animated Series) was a fresh and fun adaptation of many of the web-head’s greatest adventures, even if it was a little hampered by some unnecessary censorship. Given that I was super into Venom at the time, it’s no surprise to me that the cartoon’s introduction and depiction of the character rank as some of its best episodes; so popular were Venom at the time that they were introduced in the first three-part saga of the series (and well before the creators adapted the “Secret Wars” comic) and even returned for a two-part follow-up a year later.
The Plot: After rescuing astronaut Colonel John Jameson (Michael Horton) from a shuttle crash, Spider-Man (Barnes) finds his costume and abilities augmented by a mysterious black goo. When Wilson Fisk/The Kingpin (Browne) sends a number of super-powered goons to retrieve the “Promethium-X” Jameson brought back to Earth, Spidey finds his aggression and character altered by the suit, which is revealed to be a symbiotic organism! After ridding himself of it, Spidey is confronted with one of his worst foes imaginable with the symbiote bonds with disgruntled reporter Eddie Brock (Azaria) and transforms them into Venom!
The Review: The “Alien Costume” arc begins with astronaut John Jameson digging up a mysterious black rock from the surface of the Moon; after narrowly escaping a Moonquake, he makes it back to the shuttle and his return to Earth with the newly-discovered isotope, Promethium-X, attracts the attention of the Kingpin since it promises to be more powerful and valuable than Plutonium. However, John’s return is hampered when the rock secretes a seemingly-sentiment, tar-like substance that attempts to consume the astronauts and leaves the shuttle on a collision course with New York City!
Despite the imminent danger, Kingpin’s lead scientist, Alistair Smythe (Maxwell Caulfield), assures him that the shuttle will land without causing any damage to the city so he (as in the Kingpin) contacts Aleksei Sytsevich/The Rhino (Stark) to retrieve the Promethium-X once the shuttle makes its emergency landing on the George Washington Bridge. There, he comes into conflict with Spider-Man and, thanks to his superior size and strength and the shuttle’s precarious position, is able to best the wall-crawler and make off with the isotope. Although he saves John and his co-pilot, Peter is aghast when he is fingered as the one responsible for stealing the Promethium-X thanks to John’s incoherent rambling, his father J. Jonah Jameson’s (Asner) unrequited hatred for Spider-Man, and disgraced photographer Eddie Brock selling J. J. pictures that incriminate the web-head. Having been introduced in previous episodes as an embittered man desperate to regain his job at the Daily Bugle, Brock jumps at the chance to capitalise on Jameson’s hatred of Spider-Man with his photos.
This results in Jameson placing a $1 million bounty on Spider-Man’s head, forcing Peter to lay low. However, while he sleeps, the mysterious black substance from the shuttle is revealed to have attached itself to his costume and, following a harrowing nightmare, the goo overtakes Peter, who wakes to find himself garbed in a sleek black costume that dramatically augments his speed and strength. Overwhelmed at the suit’s capabilities, Spider-Man discovers he can now shoot organic webbing and change his appearance by simply thinking about it, but it quickly becomes apparent that the alien substance is also affecting his personality. Far more confident than ever before, even Spider-Man’s voice is slightly altered when he’s wearing the black suit, making him sound tougher and more aggressive than usual. Equally quick to anger, Peter threatens Eugene “Flash” Thompson (Patrick Labyorteaux), snaps at his doting Aunt May (Linda Gary), and comes close to killing destroying the Rhino after handily dominating their rematch. Although he manages to get a hold of himself, Peter’s demeanour continues to degrade into an enraged fury as he is hounded at every turn thanks to Jameson’s bounty; his overconfidence and anger causes him to become sloppy, however, and he learns the hard and painful way that the alien costume is vulnerable to high-intensity sonic waves. Spider-Man does himself few favours when he confronts Brock and Jameson, threatening them in the Daily Bugle and driving him to visit his friend, Doctor Curt Connors (Joseph Campanella), to find out more about the suit.
As you might expect, Connors reveals that the suit is actually a living, alien symbiote that is seeking to permanently bond with Peter. Although he stresses the very real danger of the alien costume, Connors is unable to convince Spider-Man to remove to suit since he needs it to recover the Promethium-X. When John corroborates Spider-Man’s story of a guy in a rhino suit, Jameson angrily lays into Brock for lying to him, fires him, and is begrudgingly forced to withdraw his bounty on Spider-Man. Embittered by this development, Brock’s mood is further soured when he is also evicted from his apartment and when he is targeted by the Kingpin, who sends Herman Schultz/The Shocker (Cummings) after him to tie up the loose ends from the shuttle robbery. After saving Brock from being blasted into dust, Spider-Man tracks the Shocker to Smythe’s laboratory and finally recovers not only proof of his innocence from Brock’s apartment but the Promethium-X from Smythe. While the Kingpin was more concerned with selling the rock to the highest bidder, Spider-Man takes the time to properly investigate the Promethium-X and discovers that, while it is incredibly powerful and dangerous, its radioactive half-life is ridiculously small, which results in the Kingpin being left humiliated and with an inert rock in his possession.
However, Spider-Man’s tumultuous emotions are driven to the edge when Smythe lures him to a bell tower by taking John hostage in order to recover the isotope; overcome with rage, Spider-Man destroys the Shocker’s gauntlets and is seconds away from doing the same to the mercenary before memories of his beloved Uncle Ben remind him that “with great power comes great responsibility”. Guilt-ridden and desperate to be rid of the alien suit, Spider-Man frantically tries to remove the symbiote but his efforts prove useless until he takes advantage of the church bell to cause the creature enough pain to separate itself from his body. However, Brock (who followed Spider-Man in a desperate attempt to extract a measure of revenge against the well-crawler), finds himself enveloped by the injured and enraged creature as he hangs helpless beneath the church bell. The result is a muscular, embittered, monstrous union of man and symbiote, Venom, who vows to destroy Spider-Man for ruining both of their lives. Venom makes their presence known as Spider-Man is settling the score with the Shocker and the Rhino on a rooftop; Venom actually saves Spider-Man just as he’s about to be destroyed simply to have the honour for themselves. In the process, Venom proves to be far stronger than Spider-Man, immune to his spider sense, privy to his secret identity, and possessing all of his physical and superhuman abilities but augmented thanks to Brock’s rage and workout routine.
Hopelessly outmatched, Spider-Man is left physically overpowered; his attempts to appeal to Brock’s better nature fall on deaf ears and Spidey finds himself at Venom’s mercy. Venom threatens to target, and reveal Spider-Man’s identity to, Peter’s loved ones and even leaves him dangling over a rooftop without his mask on at one point! Narrowly escaping with his identity intact, Peter is stalked by Brock at every turn and starts seeing Venom everywhere; with no choice but to take the fight to his foes, Spider-Man taunts Brock with newspaper clippings of his failures and baits Venom into following him across the city to the launch of another shuttle at a military base outside of New York. There, the two have a final confrontation up the support gantry that ultimately ends with the symbiote being driven from Brock’s body when the shuttle launches. Spider-Man then webs the writhing creature to the shuttle, sending it back into space, and leaves Brock in police custody, finally free of his alien nightmare… for the time being.
The Summary: As much as I enjoyed, and still enjoy, the 1994 Spider-Man cartoon, there are some elements of it that obviously haven’t aged too well. The video transfer to DVD isn’t the best and the animation can be a little jerky at times. The editing is quite rushed here and there, meaning that episodes can quickly gloss over and bounce around certain scenes despite being fully capable of telling a well-paced story at other times, and there is a bit of dodgy CGI and the music gets very repetitive. Still, these concerns are largely minor and can be said of almost any cartoon produced in the nineties (or ever, for that matter) and, for the most part, the episodes are bright, action-packed, and well animated. Fittingly, the animation and presentation benefits Spider-Man the most of all the characters in the cartoon; vibrant and athletic, Spider-Man is a very dynamic character in the cartoon and capable of many superhuman feats despite not being allowed to throw a punch. Peter, despite closely resembling Nicholas Hammond, oddly looks bigger than his web-slinging counterpart but Spider-Man is expressive and vibrant throughout. The depiction of his black suit is equally top-notch; one of the arc’s stand-out scenes is Peter’s disturbing nightmare where Kaiju-sized versions of the black and classic costumes battle over Peter’s soul and he’s left hanging upside down in the middle of the city garbed in the sleek, sexy black suit. “The Alien Costume” may also be the first instance of the symbiote augmenting Spidey’s superhuman abilities and characteristics as this didn’t really happen in the original comics (at least not to the extent as it does in other media) and the three episodes definitely set the standard for Peter’s struggles with the symbiote going forward.
Brock’s introduction is handled far better in the cartoon compared to the comic since he was actually introduced, and featured, in a handful of episodes prior to these three; angry and bitter, he’s been the victim of a string of bad luck and bad decisions that cause him to grow increasingly resentful of Spider-Man. Consequently, his transformation into Venom empowers him, driving him even more maniacal thanks to the symbiote’s power and abilities. Unlike in the comic books (at least at the time of these episodes), the symbiote is revealed to be incredibly old, well-travelled, and possessing knowledge of the wider universe and numerous worlds, indicating that it’s far more than just a near-insane parasitic lifeform. Venom looks fantastic in the cartoon, sporting their trademark fangs, talons, and long tongue as well as a hulking physique and a distorted, monstrous voice that, again, set the standard for how Venom are portrayed outside of comics. The episodes also do a pretty decent job of portraying C-grade villains like the Rhino and the Shocker as formidable threats; thanks to the influence of the black suit, Spider-Man’s anger and emotions are constantly in flux throughout the arc and are only exacerbated by the duo’s tenacity. Still, once Venom enters the picture, they make all other villains irrelevant; possessing knowledge and physical abilities that make them superior to Spider-Man in every way, Venom plays mind games with Peter, taunting and stalking him and overwhelming him both physically and emotionally. Just like in their first comic book encounter, Spider-Man is forced to use his initiative and wiles to outsmart his maniacal foes rather than trying to match them blow-for-blow. The end result is a far grander conclusion to their confrontation since Spidey utilises a shuttle launch rather than simply wielding a sonic blaster, which is a fittingly dramatic (if temporary) end to Venom’s threat as their story started in space and technically ends in space.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
What did you think to the “Alien Costume” arc? Did you watch Spider-Man when it first aired or did you discover it later, perhaps on Disney+? What did you think to the depiction of Spider-Man’s black costume and how it influenced his powers and personality? What did you think to Venom’s depiction in the cartoon? What is your favourite Venom story or adaptation? How are you celebrating Venom’s dramatic debut today? Whatever your thoughts on Venom, feel free to sign up to leave them below or drop a reply on my social media.
To celebrate the simultaneous worldwide release of Mortal Kombat(Midway, 1992) on home consoles, 13 September 1993 was dubbed “Mortal Monday”. Mortal Kombat’s move to home consoles impacted not only the ongoing “Console War” between SEGA and Nintendo but also videogames forever thanks to its controversial violence and I think that it’s only fitting that we continue celebrating this influential fighting series every September 13th.
Released: 18 August 1995 Director: Paul W. S. Anderson Distributor: New Line Cinema Budget: $18 million Stars: Robin Shou, Linden Ashby, Bridgette Wilson, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Trevor Goddard, Talisa Soto, and Christopher Lambert
The Plot: To decide the fate of Earthrealm, warriors are pitted against each other every generation in a life-or-death tournament called “Mortal Kombat”, which is hosted by Outworld sorcerer Shang Tsung (Tagawa). Lord Rayden (Lambert), God of Thunder and protector of Earthrealm, gathers his forces for the decisive tournament that will decide the fate of the Earthrealm but his chosen champions, disillusioned former monk Liu Kang (Shou), egotistical movie star Johnny Cage (Ashby), and stubborn soldier Lieutenant Sonya Blade (Wilson) must first overcome their own demons before they can hope to save their world.
The Background: I’ve already detailed how, during the nineties, competitive fighting games were all the rage thanks to the many iterations of Street Fighter II: The World Warrior(Capcom, 1991). To compete with this title, developers Ed Boon and John Tobias took inspiration from movies like Enter the Dragon (Clouse, 1973), Bloodsport (Arnold, 1988) and Big Trouble in Little China (Carpenter, 1986) to create an ultra-violent tournament fighter thatchanged the genre with its simple fighting mechanics and controversial violence. Development of a live-action adaptation began with producer Lawrence Kasanoff, who saw the potential of the videogame not just as a live-action movie but as an entire multimedia franchise. Spearheaded by Kasanoff, the project took shape with the hiring of director Paul W. S. Anderson, who substituted the videogame’s brutal violence for a focus on the game’s more fantastical elements and martial arts. Although the filmmakers failed to secure Jean-Claude Van Damme for the film, they incorporated both ambitious animatronics and early CGI effects alongside Shou’s martial arts background to make the fights as engaging as possible to help bolster the special effects. Mortal Kombat was a smash hit, making over $122 million at the box office. While videogame adaptations are often criticised for being universally bad, Mortal Kombat was notably praised at the time and has gone on to break free of its cult following to be largely regarded as one of the best videogame adaptations. The film and its depictions of these characters came to be incredibly influential on the videogames and, while the sequel was a monumental flop, the original film has always been one of my favourites, so much so that I dedicated an entire year of my life to researching and studying it as part of my PhD thesis.
The Review: I mentioned up top that Ed Boon and John Tobias were influenced by martial arts films like Enter the Dragon and action films like Big Trouble in Little China when developing Mortal Kombat, but this is honestly just scratching the surface of the influence of kung fu and martial arts movies on not just Mortal Kombat but the entire fighting game genre as we know it today. Martial arts (or wu xia pian) films been produced overseas since 1905, with kung fu movies being around since 1949, but became incredibly popular between the early-sixties through to the 1970s once Bruce Lee was introduced to the world in Five Fingers of Death/King Boxer (Chung, 1972). Bruce Lee’s skill, charisma, and heavily kinetic energy was the perfect platform for this new style of cinematic combat that emphasised realistic action and application of martial arts. Lee famously multiple martial arts styles into his trans-cultural Jeet Kune Do style that showcased the best of Chinese martial arts, and Enter the Dragon not only reinvented him as an introspective Shaolin monk who could instantly become a lethal whirlwind but it was also engineered as a showcase of Lee’s unparalleled charisma and unique choreography. Lee became a national (and international) sensation after the film’s success, but tragically died six days before Enter the Dragon’s U.S. premiere, and has “haunted” martial arts films for decades as producers and filmmakers both perverted his legacy by awkwardly using limited footage of him and presenting it as new and attempting to substitute him with lookalikes and replacements.
The most obvious link between the fighting videogames and martial arts films is their inclination towards tournament structures, which allows fights to be staged onscreen not merely for our viewing pleasure but as necessary narrative components. These battles become a literal “game of death” based around increasingly-difficult fights between diverse characters, and related the two mediums in their ability to instill an intense excitement in the viewer (and/or player) through the gratification (or humiliation) of the fight. The film’s influence on the fighting game genre couldn’t be more explicit in the first two Street Fighter games; the plots are essentially the same (evil mastermind hosts a fighting tournament) and characters (such as Ryu, Ken, Geki, and Balrog/Vega) owe their design and personalities to those seen in the film. However, it’s in the Mortal Kombat movie that we see the most direct influences of the film, and fittingly so; there’s something poetic about Enter the Dragon influencing the Mortal Kombat videogame and the Mortal Kombat adaptation turning to Lee’s popular martial arts classic for inspiration. Indeed, I’ve long argued that Mortal Kombat is essentially a remake of Enter the Dragon: a host of martial artists (including three distinct main characters) are drawn to a mysterious island to fight in a tournament and battle an aging madman; despite their different levels of knowledge and skill, and their conflicting personalities, they bond and are faced with tougher and tougher opponents until the righteous monk ends the antagonist’s threat in one-on-one combat skewed in the bad guy’s favour. The structure of the narrative and fight scenes are all very reminiscent of Enter the Dragon, but made all the more unique through the steady introduction of Mortal Kombat’s more fantastical elements; these are introduced to us slowly throughout the film, and explained in a way that both we and our sceptical main characters can understand them. While this means that we don’t get to see many of the superhuman and mystical special moves of the videogames, it does help to keep the focus on the characters and the film’s impressive fight scenes.
Although Mortal Kombat has three main protagonists, it’s fundamentally Liu Kang’s story; the pure-hearted hero of the franchise since game one, Liu Kang is presented as a disenchanted and doubt-ridden former Shaolin monk who rejected his upbringing at the Temple of Light in favour of the bright lights and excitement of the United States. Having been raised with full knowledge of the Mortal Kombat tournament, Liu Kang believes that the legends of Outworld are little more than nonsense fairytales designed to indoctrinate and brainwash the Order’s pupils. Indeed, while his grandfather (Lloyd Kino) fully believes in the tournament and pays reverence to Lord Rayden, Liu Kang angrily rejects the stories and questions Rayden’s legitimacy out of anger since he believes that the Order’s teachings were directly responsible for the death of his younger brother, Chan (Steven Ho). Crucially, Liu Kang enters the tournament not to defend Earthrealm but to avenge his brother’s death and is stunned to learn that not only is Rayden truly the God of Thunder but all of the legends he grew up with about Outworld are true; he quickly turns from a sceptic to a source of exposition for his new allies, but remains haunted by his doubts regarding his destiny. Rayden claims that Liu Kang fled the temple because he couldn’t handle the responsibility that comes from being the “Chosen One” and Liu Kang struggles with his heritage as he’s the descendant of the Great Kung Lao, a martial artist who secured Earthrealm’s fate generations ago. As a result, Liu Kang’s greatest enemy is not the array of fantastical and monstrous fighters placed in his path by Shang Tsung, it is himself and his character arc involves learning to overcome his doubts and embrace his destiny as the saviour of Earthrealm.
As charismatic and likeable as Liu Kang is, however, it’s the egotistical showboat Johnny Cage who steals the show at every opportunity. Played to perfection by Linden Ashby, Cage is an arrogant braggart and something of a diva when on set, but his failings as a character come from a deep-seated frustration at being labelled a fake by the press and media. In actual fact, Cage is one of the greatest martial artists in the world and the tournament gives him the opportunity to prove that on the grandest and greatest stage possible; desperate to be taken seriously as a fighter, he willingly makes the journey and remains oblivious to the tournament’s true purpose. Cage acts as the film’s comic relief and every line and character beat of his lands perfectly (his assumption that Liu Kang is a porter is hilarious, as is his struggles with his luggage upon arriving on the island, and he’s never a moment away from a witty retort); while Ashby is far from the accomplished martial artist like Shou, he holds his own in fight scenes and is presented in a way that plays into his strengths, which helps make Cage a very grounded and realistic character. Instantly taking a shine to Sonya, Cage tries and fails to win her over with his boastful character but soon forms a real bond with her, and Liu Kang, based on their shared sense of awe at the scale of the tournament. While Cage goes out of his way to protect Sonya out of a mixture of chivalry and confidence, his character arc is specifically geared towards accepting his limitations and his abilities; rather than rushing head-first into battle to prove himself a legitimate fighter, Cage must learn to use his head and plan ahead, something that he accomplishes when he’s able to outwit and outmatch the lumbering man-mountain that is Goro (Tom Woodruff Jr./Kevin Michael Richardson/Frank Welker).
Finally, there’s Sonya Blade; a strict and focused soldier, Sonya is a grim and stoic young woman whose military drive has been superseded by a bloodthirsty vendetta against Kano (Goddard), the unscrupulous criminal who murdered her partner. Sonya has become so razor-focused on pursing Kano, that she ignores the warnings of her partner, “Jaxx” (Gregory McKinney), and boards Shang Tsung’s boat to apprehend her target. Accordingly, Sonya has no clue about what’s really going on and is incredulous to the advances of Shang Tsung and the supernatural events happening around her; of the three, she’s the most cynical and dismissive of the tournament’s true purpose and she remains obsessed with bringing Kano to justice even after learning of Mortal Kombat’s true nature and the legitimacy of its mystical elements. Initially, Sonya pursues Shang Tsung to get closer to Kano and is reluctant to join forces with Liu Kang and Johnny Cage; her character arc revolves around her being afraid to trust others, which goes a long way to explain her prickly demeanour as she makes a conscious effort to push others way to avoid losing someone she cares about, like her partner. This pays off in the finale, where she’s reduced to a mere hostage and is forced to rely on her newfound friends to come for her since she’s no match for Shang Tsung.
Speaking of whom, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa makes for a truly fearsome and enigmatic villain; Shang Tsung commands the screen whenever he appears with his presentation, charisma, line delivery, and tangible magnetism. Shang Tsung is presented as a cold, sadistic threat; despite appearing to be a middle-aged man, he’s described as being “far more dangerous” than even the fearsome Goro since he can literally steal souls at will. An alluring and cruel villain, Shang Tsung delights in witnessing his forces triumph over Rayden’s chosen warriors and exudes authority and menace simply by being present in a scene or with a few ominous words. His unsettlingly sexual perversion towards Sonya and vehement hatred of Liu Kang only add to his disturbing aura and, while he bends and manipulates events to avoid fighting Liu Kang, he proves himself to be every bit the formidable opponent in the finale thanks to his centuries of experience and the power and knowledge of the souls he has absorbed. Similarly, Trevor Goddard clearly threw everything he had into making Kano an absolutely reprehensible villain who makes a distinctive impression thanks to his guttural grunts, faux Australian accent, and sadistic mean streak that forever changed Kano’s portrayal in the videogames. Both villains convey so much personality and menace whenever they’re onscreen and through their sheer demeanour and a few lines of dialogue; we get a glimpse into Kano’s background but his callous mean streak and attitude help make him a surprisingly well-rounded character and elevate Kano beyond a mere one-dimensional henchman. Both Shang Tsung and his chief champion, Goro, are seeped in mystery and menace; each one are pawns of the ominous Emperor (voiced by Frank Welker) but are significant physical threats in their own right and there’s a real sense of desperation behind them as they’ve never been so close to absolute victory before and are determined to please their Emperor by besting Rayden’s warriors.
Like Tagawa, Lambert perfectly embodies Rayden and his portrayal of Rayden forever changed the Thunder God from a destructive deity who is blasé about destroying life into a wise and benevolent mentor figure; Lambert’s distinctive, rasping voice makes for a strangely ominous character who exudes an absolute confidence thanks to his status as a God. Rayden offers both cryptic council to the protagonists and exposits information about the tournament and the plot that is necessary for them (and us, the audience) to hear but it’s never laborious to sit through thanks to Rayden having a cackling, mocking sense of humour that makes for some truly amusing moments. Johnny Cage meets a fan and makes a fast friend in bit-player Art Lean (Kenneth Edwards), an original character who mainly exists simply to fuel Cage’s animosity towards Goro, and Liu Kang becomes enamoured by the alluring and mysterious Princess Kitana (Soto). Though not really asked to do more than be beautiful and captivating, Kitana plays a pivotal role in delivering another layer of exposition to the protagonists about Outworld and helping facilitate Liu Kang’s larger character arc, and the character is an interesting shade of grey in a film of extreme black and white since she’s technically allied with Outworld but is secretly plotting to aid Earthrealm since the Emperor destroyed her realm.
The deck is definitely stacked against our heroes, though, as they are also faced with a couple of menacing ninjas, Sub-Zero (François Petit) and Scorpion (Chris Casamassa/Ed Boon), two largely mute henchmen whom Shang Tsung has made into mindless slaves with his power. As a big fan of both characters, I am understandably disappointed that their famous rivalry is entirely absent from the film and Mortal Kombat definitely set an annoying precedent for Scorpion being portrayed as a purely evil character (when, in actuality, he’s either neutral or the more virtuous of the two), but as a kid I had absolutely no complaints at all about how the two were portrayed because they stole every scene they were in. Both characters represent how dire the stakes are for our more recognisably human characters; Sub-Zero is able to summon ice and freeze opponents in an instant and Scorpion can send out a deadly, serpent-like tentacle at will and, while these effects haven’t aged too well (and it’s still really weird that Scorpion’s roped kunai was interpreted as a living extension of himself), they clearly define these characters as being otherworldly and a danger that is far beyond a simple martial arts contest. Compounding matters further is the presence of Reptile (Keith Cooke/Frank Welker), an absolutely ugly CGI monster that stalks Kitana (and our heroes) at every turn from the shadows; Reptile is constantly seen following the protagonists while cloaked but proves to be every bit as daunting an opponent as his videogame counterpart when he’s tossed into a corpse and takes physical form. Again, this is a very strange interpretation of the character, but my God does it make for an awesome fight scene between him and Liu Kang! Bolstered by Traci Lords’ incredible techno beat, “Control”, this fight represents Liu Kang’s final hurdle on the road to Shang Tsung and, when placed alongside the battles and scene-stealing, ominous presence of his similarly-attire cohorts, goes a long way to making the masked ninjas an undeniable highlight of the film even if it’s true that they were the most changed by the adaptation process.
The Nitty-Gritty: One of the many ways Mortal Kombat has earned its reputation as one of the best videogame adaptations is in the fantastic and pulse-pounding techno-inspired soundtrack; the Immortals’ iconic title theme remains one of the best and most memorable theme songs of all time and I’m honestly disappointed that it hasn’t been evoked in the videogames more often. Many of the film’s characterisations and environments would eventually make their way into the videogames and other Mortal Kombat adaptations, with Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, especially, reprising his unforgettable role more than once, though again I can’t help but be disappointed that the film’s cast weren’t brought back to voice their polygonal counterparts sooner in the modern videogames, so iconic are their performances. I think what makes Mortal Kombat such a good videogame adaptation, though, is how perfectly it encapsulates the spirit of the source material; one of the difficulties of videogame adaptations is the fact that you’re taking an interactive medium and making it a purely passive piece of media, so the audience’s engagement with the media is very different. Players relish the opportunity to pummel their opponents and the thrill of making a comeback from a beating or executing one of the franchise’s patented Fatalities, so if you’re going to remove that element you need to replace it with an enjoyable film full of engaging characters and exciting action, and Mortal Kombat definitely delivers in that regard. This is why I continually argue that you can’t go into a videogame adaptation expecting it to be the same as the source material because, by its very nature as a different medium, it can’t be the same; instead, you have to see if it works as an enjoyable film first and foremost and then hope that it’s as faithful to the source material as the new medium allows.
I can understand why fans of the videogame may have been disappointed that characters aren’t all tossing out fireballs and energy waves, however; such abilities are specifically limited to the forces of Outworld or magical beings like Rayden, which is a conscious decision that frames the foreign “other” and otherworldly aspects of the film as being strange, different, and (most importantly) a force to be feared. Sub-Zero and Scorpion are given basically no backstory in the film, and it’s heavily implied that they’re aligned with (or even part of) the mysterious Outworld, so when we see that they wield these incredible and deadly powers, we know that the odds are heavily stacked against our more traditionally-armed protagonists far beyond more explicit threats like the monstrous Goro. Of course, one of the disappointments about Mortal Kombat is the lack of gore and the tame nature of its Fatalities compared to the source material. This can be directly attributed to producer Lawrence Kasanoff, who specifically sold and marketing the Mortal Kombat property not on the violence, but on the story: Kasanoff saw the story as “the centre of the wheel and the videogame [as] the extension of one of the spokes” (Russell, quoting Kasanoff, 2012: 148), and as being “rich in mythology, character, adventure, excitement and positive messages” regarding the sanctity of life (Derek, 1996). Kasanoff believed in Mortal Kombat so much that he sold it as a multimedia franchise rather than simply one violent movie that would appeal to a small segment of the audience, and his focus on the story permeated every aspect of Mortal Kombat’s production: both writer Kevin Droney and director Paul W. S. Anderson emphasised the diversity and realism of the characters and worked to present intense and impactful martial arts fights that would live up to Lee’s high standards.
Accordingly, much of the film’s appeal and popularity can be traced to the personalities of the three main characters and their supporting cast; each actor underwent unique and intense fight training so that they’d be able to pull off a lot of the moves seen onscreen and the rapport between Johnny Cage, Liu Kang, and Sonya Blade is one of the film’s many highlights. Ashby shines as the arrogant and snarky Cage, offering glib quips and conceited remarks about seemingly everything around him but still being brave-hearted and loyal. Robin Shou is so much more than a Bruce Lee standee, exhibiting a likeability and vulnerability as Liu Kang that makes him a compelling and enjoyable character to watch; he’s filled with doubts about his “destiny” and has been trying to hide from his true calling. He is unique among the three because he has been raised on the Mortal Kombat legend but is just as awestruck to find that it’s real and not just a myth; additionally, he has a further emotional stake in the tournament thanks to his personal animosity towards Shang Tsung, all of which tells a fantastic tale of a man learning to fulfil his true potential and safeguard the world in the process. If there’s a weak link of the three, it’s definitely Bridgette Wilson but, even then, it actually works in the context of the film: Sonya is a stoic, no-nonsense military brat who is obsessed with the mission and her vendetta against Kano. She has no time for Cage’s posturing, is highly sceptical of the supernatural and mystical events happening around her, and is focused solely on getting her hands on Kano. However, like the others, she has a lesson to learn (to trust) that comes to fruition as she bonds with her newfound allies and is forced to rely on them when she’s taken hostage in the finale.
One element I’ve always enjoyed about Mortal Kombat is how well it juggles its pacing and cast; rather than cramming every single character from the first two games into the film, Mortal Kombat primarily focuses on the nine characters featured in the first game, with Kitana included as a further source of exposition and a potential love interest for Liu Kang. Sadly, for many fans (including myself), Sub-Zero, Scorpion, and Reptile suffer a bit from the film’s construction; while it makes sense for Reptile to be depicted as a minion of Shang Tsung, the brutal and complex rivalry between Sub-Zero and Scorpion is completely swept under the carpet to make them largely mute henchmen for the enigmatic sorcerer. Still, all three more than make up for this with their impressively faithful outfits and absolutely incredible fight scenes; the battles between Cage and Scorpion, Liu Kang and Sub-Zero, and Liu Kang and Reptile are three of the best (if not arguably the best) fights in the entire film, with each one doing a wonderful job of being both an intense and exciting martial arts showcase while capturing the spirit of the source material brilliantly. Cage/Scorpion is bolstered by being visually distinct from other fights in the film, beginning in a forest of dense, thin tree trucks and ending in what appears to be the Hell-like Netherrealm; not only that, but it features Scorpion’s iconic “Toasty!” Fatality and even a fun little nod to Cage’s Friendship. Liu Kang’s fights against the masked ninjas are far more intense, however, thanks largely to Shou’s involvement in the fight choreography and the undeniable skill of his onscreen opponents; Shou flips and kicks and strikes at his foes with an incredible intensity, and both Sub-Zero and Reptile prove themselves to be formidable and incredibly aggressive opponents. Reptile especially, pushes Liu Kang to the limit (it’s fitting that this is Liu Kang’s most difficult fight considering how cheap and challenging Reptile was in the original Mortal Kombat) and sparks a killer instinct in the former monk that serves him will in his climatic battle with Shang Tsung, while Sub-Zero’s ice powers force Liu Kang to act on Kitana’s cryptic advice to turn his opponent’s deadly magical abilities against him.
We see similar tactics in other fights in the film, too; while the battle between Kano and Sonya may be one of the weaker bouts (succeeded only by the half-hearted, semi-flirtatious “fight” between Liu Kang and Kitana), it’s quite brutal in its own way as Kano has no compunction about striking a woman or kicking her when she’s down. Kano’s arrogance in his greater strength and knowledge of Sonya’s abilities proves to be his downfall, however, as he’s easily caught off-guard by Sonya’s impressive (and incredibly sexy) head scissors and finally put out of his misery with a quick (if somewhat anti-climatic) neck snap. Fittingly, there’s a great deal of effort put into building up the reveal and threat of the monstrous Goro; this titanic creature may look a little too tall and janky nowadays but that doesn’t stop Goro from being a triumph of practical effects and complex animatronics that cost Amalgamated Dynamics $1 million to bring to life. The massive suit and puppet creature makes a lasting impression thanks to being an actual, tangible, in-camera effect and easily sits alongside Jim Henson’s best work; although his fight scenes are often, understandably, a little clunky (or avoided entirely in favour of a quick montage), Goro is presented as the ultimate, unconquerable force who can easily beat an opponent to death and shrug off attacks. Enraged at having witnessed the death of his friend, Art Lean, at the creature’s hands, Cage finally puts aside his ego (…mostly) to challenge Goro in order to take him off the board. What follows is an amusing and innovative glorified chase sequence rather than a traditional fight as Cage delivers his patented split/nut punch and then lures Goro to the top of a nearby mountain, where he’s able to catch the prideful champion by surprise and send him plummeting to his death.
Of course, it all culminates with a showdown between Liu Kang and Shang Tsung; Shang Tsung does everything he can to avoid battling the descendant of his hated enemy but, when backed into a corner, accepts the challenge and relishes the opportunity to taunt and overwhelm the Shaolin monk with his impressive fighting skill. However, Liu Kang doesn’t just face one foe when fighting Shang Tsung, he faces three, both literally and figuratively; by calling upon the thousands of souls he has absorbed over his centuries of life, Shang Tsung is able to conjure a number of minions that Liu Kang must fight through and Liu Kang also has to face “himself” (as in, accept the destiny he has long avoided) and his worst fear. For Liu Kang, this is personified by his younger brother, Chan, whose form Shang Tsung assumes to lure Liu Kang into lowering his guard. However, thanks to Rayden’s teachings and the lessons he has learned throughout the film, Liu Kang finally accepts that he was powerless to help Chan, and all Shang Tsung’s deception does is give Liu Kang the motivation to pummel his foe into submission and deliver a blast (that somewhat resembles his trademark fireball) that sends the sorcerer careening down onto a bed of spikes below. Defeated, Shang Tsung instantly decays into a corpse and all of the souls he has taken are finally freed, allowing Liu Kang to have one final, emotional farewell with his brother and return to Earthrealm victorious. However, while he and his friends celebrate their victory, the Temple of Light suddenly bursts apart as the hulking, monstrous Emperor bursts onto the scene and ends the film on a massive cliffhanger that had me so excited for a follow-up…only to end up being massively disappointed (though that’s a story for another time).
The Summary: It might be difficult for younger people to understand just how big of a deal Mortal Kombat was back in the day; videogame adaptations were still quite rare at the time and all me and my friends cared about was seeing our favourite videogame characters in a movie. It was exciting and mind-blowing, especially as we were big videogame fans and Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat were so big and popular at the time; I remember going out of my way to rent Mortal Kombat on video to watch with my friends on my birthday, convincing my mum to let me buy a copy from a market stall, and waiting for what felt like an eternity for the sequel to come out, all while absorbing every piece of related media available that I could. It’s crazy how good this film is; yes, the plot is pretty basic, the concept is outlandish, and some of the performances and effects don’t land quite well, but the film is full of humour, character, and spectacular fight scenes that more than make up for these failings.
By focusing on Mortal Kombat’s rich lore and marrying the series’ more fantastical elements with some grounded, relatable, and humorous characters, the film excels at being an entertaining fantasy/action piece. Bolstered by an iconic soundtrack and some fantastic performances from the main cast, Mortal Kombat more than makes an impression with its intense martial arts scenes and wonderfully transplants the themes and spirit of the source material into the familiar trappings of classic kung fu movies like Enter the Dragon. It’s astounding that more videogame adaptations (including those by this film’s director) weren’t able to learn from the standards set by Mortal Kombat; it’s difficult to adapt videogames into movies but I maintain that it’s not impossible, and one must strive to make an entertaining film first and foremost and then find ways for the source material to work in its new medium. Mortal Kombat does this expertly at a time when no one was expecting it and remains so much more than a cult classic; it’s honestly one of the most entertaining films I’ve ever seen and a must watch for fans of the series even with its tame depiction of the franchise’s more violent aspects.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
What are your thoughts on Mortal Kombat? How do you feel it holds up today and when compared to the sequels, remake, and other adaptations of the source material (and other videogames) that have come since? Which of the three protagonists your favourite? Were you a fan of the villains in the film and what did you think to the depiction of Goro and Reptile? Were you disappointed to see Scorpion and Sub-Zero neutured into mere henchmen? Do you have any fond memories of this film or the franchise from your childhood? Whatever you think about Mortal Kombat, either leave a comment on my social media or sign up and write your thoughts below.
If you’re interested in learning more about the history of Hong Kong cinema, the impact and legacy of Bruce Lee, and how Mortal Kombat was adapted into a feature film, check out my PhD thesis or some of these resouces:
Hunt, L. (2002) ‘‘I Know Kung Fu!’: The Martial Arts in the Age of Digital Reproduction’ in King, G. and Krzywinska, T. (eds.) ScreenPlay: videogames/interfaces. London: Wallflower Press: pages 196 to 201. ________ (2003) Kung Fu Cult Masters: From Bruce Lee to Crouching Tiger. London: Wallflower Press.
Logan, B. (1995) Hong Kong Action Cinema. London: Titan Books.
Russell, J. (2012) Generation Xbox: How Video Games Invaded Hollywood. East Sussex: Yellow Ant.
West, D. (2006) Chasing Dragons: An Introduction to the Martial Arts Film. London: I.B. Tauris & Co Limited.
Easily Marvel Comic’s most recognisable and popular superhero, unsuspecting teenage nerd Peter Parker was first bitten by a radioactive spider and learned the true meaning of power and responsibility in Amazing Fantasy #15, which was first published in August 1962. Since then, the Amazing Spider-Man has featured in numerous cartoons, live-action movies, videogames, action figures, and countless comic book titles and, in celebration of his debut and his very own day of celebration, I’ve been dedicating every Friday of August to talk about everyone’s favourite web-head!
Released: 16 April 2002 Developer: Treyarch Also Available For: Game Boy Advance, GameCube, PC, and Xbox
The Background: There was a time when it seemed like every single cinema releasehad to be accompanied by a videogame adaptation; big-budget movies, especially, were often released alongside a hastily created videogame tie-in that often failed to properly capture the spirit of the film they were based on. As the flagship character of Marvel Comics, Spider-Man has a long and varied history with videogame adaptations across a variety of platforms so it was perhaps no surprise that Sam Raimi’s 2002 live-action$825 million blockbuster would be accompanied by a videogame tie-in. To be fair, Spider-Man benefitted from that fact that it was developed by Treyarch, who had previously had success with the character; indeed, much of Spider-Man’s combat and level progression was based on Treyarch’s previous Spider-Man game. This was reflected in the game’s reception as Spider-Man became the fifteen highest-sellingvideogame of 2002 and enjoyed high scores across all platforms. While some reviews criticised the game’s claustrophobic indoor sections and short length, it was generally regarded as the best Spider-Man videogame at the time of release. I remember buying the game for the GameCube after seeing the movie, having been won over by the game’s trailer and the film itself, but being underwhelmed by it after playing it to completion so I’m curious to see how it holds up today after the success of Spider-Man’s subsequent videogames.
The Plot: After being bitten by a genetically-enhanced arachnid, high school senior Peter Parker finds himself endowed with the proportional strength and agility of a spider, and, when his beloved Uncle Ben is killed due to his irresponsibility, Peter puts his spider powers to good use as a masked crimefighter. After failing to capture and study this “Spider-Man”, who overcomes a variety of costumed menaces and robots, Doctor Norman Osborn transforms himself into the web-slinger’s most dangerous threat yet: the maniacal Green Goblin!
Gameplay: Spider-Man is a third-person action game with a primary focus on beat-‘em-up action but which also includes a fair amount of web-slinging and a little bit of awkward stealth and extremely simplistic puzzle solving. As you might expect, players assume command of Peter Parker; the game begins right after Uncle Ben has been shot and at the very beginning of his crimefighting career as Spider-Man, and players are given a number of standard options when it comes to combat: X lets you jump and you can press it again in mid-air for a double jump, while Square throws a punch and Circle unleashes a kick. You can mix and match these button inputs to execute quick combo attacks (which you can review from the pause menu), and pressing either button near certain objects will allow you to pick up and throw them at your enemies. Of course, it’s not all about beating up random thugs across the city; at any time, you can press R2 and Spider-Man will start slinging webs (yes, they just attach to nothing, get over it) and won’t stop until you press X or slam into a wall. You can hold down R2 to speed up your web-slinging, though this does limit your turning ability, and you can press R1 to quickly zip upwards or straight ahead on a web zip-line; you can also press L1 to lock onto enemies, which is super useful when you’re swinging around and asked to attack enemies in mid-air.
Spider-Man will automatically save himself with his webs if you fall while traversing the city rooftops and will automatically climb walls when close to them, though you can press the left analogue stick to enter a crawling state and the camera does tend to get very jerky and annoying when you’re clambering around on walls and ceilings as your perspective can get turned around pretty easily. If you’ve played the fantastic Spider-Man (Neversoft, 2000), you’ll be immediately familiar not only with Spider-Man’s combat and web-slinging but also with his web-based attacks. Pressing Triangle sees Spidey shoot out a quick web, but holding it allows him to web enemies up; if you press up, down, left, or right on the left analogue stick (or directional pad, if that’s your preference), Spider-Man will send out a high-impact ball of webbing, yank his foe towards him, wrap his hands in webbing to increase his punching power, or create a web dome to shield himself and send enemies flying with a press of X. You can also switch to different control styles that see you utilise the other face buttons for these commands, but you’ll find that these web attacks consume your web fluid (represented as a blue bar under your life meter), which is very strange considering Spidey had organic webbing in the film. Spider-Man can also dodge incoming attacks by using the left stick in conjunction with X to hop out of danger, though I found this to be awkward at best and unreliable at worst, and you can even press in the right analogue stick to look around and set your target for a zip-line.
All of these controls and gameplay mechanics can be reviewed in an optional tutorial mode, where the legendary Bruce Campbell snarkily talks you through all of Spider-Man’s abilities, and you’ll find question mark hints occasionally dotted around levels to help you out as and when. Like the 2000 game, Spider-Man is basically divided into two distinct gameplay styles: one sees you out in the city, swinging about the place, and the other sees you confined inside buildings. When out in the city, you’ll need to make use of a compass to navigate towards your next objective or keep track of your current target; you need to use this in conjunction with a Height Meter that shows your position compared to that of your objective, which can be a very clunky system as it’s not always clear where you need to go. Basically, just follow the compass direction until it flashes white, and then try to orientate yourself up or down to get to where you need to go, but invariably your compass will be absent when inside buildings. When web-slinging around the city, you’ll be tasked with hunting down thugs and putting a beating on them until you find information on where you need to go, racing after a target as they fly away from you, hunting down bombs or taking out robotic drones (often against a tight time limit), rescuing civilians from harm, and using your webs to secure water towers, bridges, and other objects to stop them from hurting civilians. When trying to keep track of a specific target, you really need to make use of the lock-on feature or else it’s very easy to lose sight of them and thus fail the mission; I also found that spamming Triangle was the fastest way to actually attack enemies in mid-air, but of course this will drain your web fluid. Luckily, the pick-ups that refill your health and web fluid will respawn so you can swing back over and grab them if you need to, but this will cost you time and probably see you fail your objective. Checkpoints in Spider-Man are few and far between; you can only save your progress after completing a level and, if you die or fail your mission, you’ll have to restart from the beginning of the level, which can lead to you repeating frustrating sections again and again.
When confined to the interior of buildings, the game introduces a clunky stealth element; when Spider-Man is in certain shadows, the face on his heads-up display will turn dark blue and he’ll be hidden from enemies. This is essential to safely sneaking past cameras and enemies in many levels; though you won’t fail the mission if you’re spotted, an alarm will be raised and mechanical Super Soldiers will relentlessly chase after you, forcing you to quickly zip away and find a shadowy area to wait out the alarm. One of the most common tasks when in these claustrophobic areas will be heading through or acquiring keys to unlock doors; these doors can be difficult to identify as the areas are so bland and boring, and the enemies holding the key tend to be a little tougher than the usual mooks. Other times, you’ll need to use X to activate consoles, sometimes in a certain order, acquire codes from active PCs, web-zip past steam vents or through laser trip wires, and zipping up into vents to awkwardly crawl around and progress further. These levels also have much more focus on grounded beat-‘em-up combat, but the game quickly emphasises that discretion is the better part of valour and you’ll be tasked with deactivating security walls and laser traps in order to progress a little safer. The game comes with a number of different difficulty modes that obviously make enemies tougher and increase the game’s challenge; completing the game on higher difficulties also allows you to unlock additional content, which can be further unlocked by acquiring points for your combat, stealth, and level-completion strategies.
Graphics and Sound: Obviously, Spider-Man is a videogame tie-in that came out on the PlayStation 2, so you can’t expect super high-quality in-game or cutscene graphics. However, Spider-Man is reasonably impressive and I can see why people would have considered it the best Spider-Man videogame at the time; New York City is rendered as a large map and even subject to rain and lightning storms and rendered in both day and night-time depending on the level you’re playing. However, it’s not a sprawling open world with numerous side quests or non-playable characters to interact with; although you can see traffic moving down below, you can’t go down to street level and the city is basically completely lifeless save for thugs, bosses, and a few civilians in need of rescue.
The interiors are where the game really fails to impress, however; you’ll explore such dynamic and exciting areas as…a bland warehouse, the sewers and subway tunnels, and the high-tech Oscorp building. This latter is easily the most visually impressive and interesting of all of the game’s environments, inside or out; while it is a bit confusing as every area looks grey and bland, it’s given some variety with some blinking lights, laser traps, and different rooms containing consoles and power generators. Another interesting area is a bank, though you’re only really in here for one boss battle, and you’ll even be treated to a very mediocre interpretation of the balloon parade from the film, which includes a single inflatable panda bear and a sequence where you crash down through skylights while battling the Green Goblin, and of course conclude the game in a showdown on the Queensboro Bridge.
While the game’s thugs and enemies aren’t much to shout about, being largely generic and unimpressive, Spider-Man is rendered quite well despite every character model appearing as a stiff mannequin. Spidey does little hops and flips when climbing over ledges, assumes comic-accurate poses when left idle, and even busts out fancy animations when web-slinging that closely emulate the film. The game uses both pre-rendered and in-game graphics for its cutscenes, with the pre-rendered ones obviously being the more impressive of the two; the in-game models don’t even move their mouths and the voice acting is more miss rather than hit. Tobey Maguire, especially, sounds more wooden and awkward than ever, especially when trying to deliver quips as Spider-Man, and the game is sadly completely lacking Danny Elfman’s awesome and iconic score. The music that does play during levels is generally suitable enough, if a bit generic, but it does clumsily and noticeably loop, which just screams of low production values, and of course you’ll be faced with the long load times symptomatic of that era of videogaming.
Enemies and Bosses: Spider-Man is faced with a number of nameless, faceless, disposable goons as he swings around the city and tries to use his powers responsibly; at first, he’s tasked with tracking down Uncle Ben’s killer, who here is interpreted as part of the Skulls gang, so you’ll be beating up unscrupulous street thugs in the early going. Some of these have pistols to defend themselves with, and they’ll also put up a block to defend themselves against your attacks. These thugs get a reskin as guards working for Oscorp who must largely be avoided and webbed up to stop them from raising the alarm and bringing in the Super Soldier robots. Wile Osborn’s miniature Spider Slayers are annoying robotic enemies who zip around on claw-like lines and try to roast you alive, these Super Soldiers are a massive pain in the ass. They relentlessly hunt you down, blasting at you with explosive bolts that are near-impossible to avoid, and the levels can be so restrictive that you’re better off just restarting the level rather than trying to desperately find shadows to hide from them.
Spider-Man’s first mission is to hunt down Uncle Ben’s killer; after beating up a bunch of his fellow gang members, Spidey finally tracks him down and faces off with him, only to be blasted full-force in the face over and over by the murderer’s shotgun! The killer sets a precedent for the game’s boss battles in that he, like all of the other bosses, is spry and tough enough to shrug off, dodge, and no-sell all of your web attacks except for the web-hands, so you’re best bet is to zip up to the ceiling and stay out of his sight, blasting at him with your impact webbing or dropping down to deliver a beatdown when he’s suitably confused. After a quick side quest where you swing around towards red balloons to take snapshots of Spidey for the Daily Bugle, you’ll need to rescue security guards being threatened by Herman Schultz/The Shocker. Once they’re safe, you’ll pursue him into the sewers and subway tunnels, where he’ll send blasts of concussive sound at you that you’ll need to dodge using your web-zip; this isn’t too much of a challenge to overcome and, afterwards, you’ll get to face him in combat. The Shocker launches projectiles of sound at you and can protect himself with a devastating whirlwind of damaging soundwaves, but was actually easier for me to pummel into submission than Uncle Ben’s killer.
Spider-Man’s next test comes when Adrian Toomes/The Vulture robs a bank; Spider-Man first chases after the Vulture by progressing vertically up a tower that catches fire and sees you slipping through holes and under stairs to zip your way upwards, then you need to chase after him as he flies away through the city and puts citizens at risk. Finally, the two face off in the skies around the Chrysler Building as rain and lighting fill the arena; Spidey must fire webbing at the Vulture while avoiding his charges and attacks in order to force him to land so he can put a beating on him, making him the easiest boss of the game by far. Afterwards, Spidey crosses paths with MacDonald “Mac” Gargan/The Scorpion, who just randomly appears out of nowhere; at first, you’ll need to protect him from Oscorp’s miniature spider-bots but then he turns against you and forces you to fight him. This is quite a tough fight even on Easy mode as the Scorpion leaps and scrambles all over the place, blasting at you with his tail, and grappling with you whenever you get close to him. It’s best to keep your distance and fire off impact webbing from afar, and then dodge his attacks so you can hit a few combos on him and put him down. Fittingly, the Green Goblin is the game’s most recurring villain and, though you won’t encounter him face-to-face until you’re halfway through the game, he more than makes up for it in his appearances; the first time you face him, you need to avoid his glider attacks and missiles and rescue Mary Jane Watson from the aforementioned panda balloon before battling him head-on.
Whilst on his glider, the Green Goblin is basically a tougher version of the Vulture as he flies around tossing pumpkin bombs and firing bullets and missiles at you, forcing you to fire off your webbing or striking at him when he comes close. Afterwards, you’ll have to chase after him and web up parts of the environment that he damages, before forcing him through a skylight for some ground combat. These fights are easily the toughest of the game as the Green Goblin bombards you with pumpkin bombs, blinds you with flashbangs, and can easily choke the life out of you and snatch you out of the air. Your best bet is to stick near the respawning health power-up, dodge his combos and hit some of your own, and blast him with impact webbing whenever you can. Afterwards, you’ll be forced to swing across the city against a time limit disarming his bombs, which is an annoying mission thanks to the janky compass and drones flying around the city, then destroy fifty of his Razor Bats before taking a detour through Oscorp and battling a giant mech. Before you can attack this directly, you’ll need to desperately swing around the enclosed arena destroying shield generators and being pummelled by missile turrets, constantly spawning drones, and avoiding the mech’s gigantic laser. Thankfully, there’s plenty of pick-ups in the area and the mech goes down pretty easily with a few web shots once the shield is lowered. Afterwards, you’ll have to chase after the Green Goblin as he flies off with Mary Jane and tosses explosive traps in your way, before finally facing off with him on the Queensboro Bridge. After getting Mary Jane to safety, you then need to repeat the same tactics as in the first couple of fights against him but now in the same battle; swing around firing webs at him to ground him and then dodge his melee attacks to land a few combos, but watch out for his big bomb blast attack. By this point, you should know how to dodge and go grab a pick-up when needed, and I know I found finishing the Green Goblin off actually easier than the first fist fight with him. After you end him, Mary Jane awkwardly gives Spider-Man a big ol’ snog on top of his mask while they stand over the lifeless body of Peter’s best friend.
Power-Ups and Bonuses: Unlike in pretty much every modern videogame, Spider-Man is not blessed with regenerating health; as a result, you’ll need to pick up red and red-and-blue Spider Icons to restore half or all of your health. Also, like in the 2000 game, Spider-Man can run out of web fluid so you’ll need to grab blue and blue-and-silver Spider Icons to refill this bar. As mentioned, I find this an odd inclusion as Spider-Man had unlimited organic webbing in the movie but I guess it makes sense to keep him from being too overpowered. Luckily, these restorative pick-ups respawn after a while so if you find yourself struggling against a particular boss, you can usually backtrack or swing back around to collect a pick-up and keep yourself from losing a life. If you search around your environments, you’ll also find gold Spider Icons that will unlock additional combos to add to your repertoire, but that’s about it in terms of power-ups; you don’t earn experience points and can’t upgrade any of Spider-Man’s abilities or pick up temporary power-ups, meaning you basically end the game exactly as you started it but with maybe a few additional combos.
Additional Features: If you visit the game’s ‘Gallery’, you’ll be able to view movies and artwork for the game, and you’ll be able to revisit any level you’ve cleared from the main menu as you progress. As mentioned, you’ll receive points every time you clear a level; these are awarded for your combat variety, stealth, and the amount of damage you take. Once you hit a certain number of points, you’ll automatically unlock some additional content from daft stuff like big hands and feet and exaggerated ragdoll physics to skins for Spider-Man, such as his wrestler outfit and acclaimed artist Alex Ross’s rejected design for the movie suit. You can also unlock a Peter Parker skin and enter cheat codes to play as guys like the Shocker and other enemies, though they all play the same as Spider-Man and don’t change the story in any way.
However, if you beat the game on the “Hero” difficulty, you’ll unlock the ability to play as Harry Osborn under the guise of the Green Goblin! This eliminates the pre-rendered cutscenes and alters the plot somewhat as this story picks up after the conclusion of the game and sees Harry take up his father’s mantle to research his death, and gives you access to an entirely new set of abilities. The Green Goblin can’t web-sling or climb walls but, with a press of R2, you’ll hop onto his glider and can rocket around the place at will; you can fire bullets, missiles, and bombs while on the glider, but your weapons will overheat in time so you’ll need to wait for them to cool down. On the ground, the Green Goblin’s melee attacks are the same as Spider-Man’s but, in place of webs, you have access to pumpkin bombs and Razor Bats and can race around on rocket boots like a madman to send enemies flying! Honestly, this was an incredible addition to the game and is a great way to encourage a second playthrough that adds an extra layer of challenge to the game as the Green Goblin can’t hide in the shadows, but can jump on his glider to blast enemies with missiles even when inside the most claustrophobic environments!
The Summary: I remember being so hyped for Spider-Man’s first big-screen adventure, and so won over by the trailer for the videogame that ran before the film, that I went out and bought this for the GameCube that same week (if not that same day). I also remember finishing it pretty quickly, and this second playthrough was no different; as is the case with almost every videogame tie-in to a movie, Spider-Man isn’t an especially long game; levels aren’t built to allow exploration and are incredibly linear, so all you’ll have to worry about is trying to cope with how bland and similar the areas can look in each level. There’s also not a huge amount really asked of you; maybe you need to activate a console here and there, or input a code to open a door, or rescue a civilian, but these instances are few and far between and the game soon falls back into a routine of either web-slinging or clunky stealth sections. “Clunky” is the best way to describe this game; Spider-Man controls like he thinks he should be using tank controls, the camera and mechanics make web-slinging and wall-crawling very cumbersome at times, and your combos and dodging abilities are severely limited, making everything quite basic and monotonous. This may explain the game’s short length, as it’s over before it can become truly mind-numbing, but some levels are more frustrating than others; the stealth system is poorly implemented and it’s disappointing to see Spider-Man restricted to claustrophobic interiors rather than free to swing around the city. Basically, the game is a reskin of the 2000 Spider-Man title but stripped back in terms of bonuses, unlockables, and variety; there’s some fun to be had here, mostly in how cheesy the dialogue and cutscenes are, but you’re not really missing much if you skip this one for one of the many other Spider-Man games available even on the PlayStation 2.
Rating: 2 out of 5.
Could Be Better
Have you ever played the videogame tie-in to Spider-Man? Which console did you buy it for and were you impressed with it back in the day? What did you think to the web-slinging and combat mechanics? Which of the enemies added to the game was your favourite and would you have liked to see the likes of the Vulture and the Scorpion in Raimi’s films? What did you think to the game’s stealth gameplay and the unlockables on offer? Which Spider-Man videogame or movie adaptation is your favourite? Sign up to leave a reply below or drop a comment on my social media to share your thoughts on Spider-Man.
Sonic the Hedgehog CD(Sonic Team, 1993) released on this day back in 1993. produced alongside the blockbusterSonic the Hedgehog 2 (SEGA Technical Institute, 1992), Sonic CD expanded upon the Blue Blur’s original debut title with lush graphics, a time travel mechanic, gorgeous anime cutscnes, and by introducing players to Metal Sonic (one of Sonic’s most popular and enduring rivals) and Amy Rose. Considered by many to be one of the best of the classic Sonic titles, Sonic CD might not be one of my favourites but it’s still a classic in it’s own right and worth a bit of celebration.
Story Title: “The Sonic Terminator (Part 1 to 5)” Published: 29 April 1994 to 24 June 1994 Writer: Nigel Kitching Artist: Richard Elson
The Background: After Sonic the Hedgehog catapulted to mainstream success and helped SEGA to usurp Nintendo’s position at the top of the videogame industry, SEGA were quick to capitalise on Sonic’s popularity not just with videogames but also a slew of merchandise, including cartoons and comic books. About six months after Archie Comics began publishing a weird amalgamation of the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog (1993 to 1996) and Sonic the Hedgehog/SatAM (1993 to 1994) cartoons, United Kingdom publisher Fleetway Editions Limited began publishing “Britain’s Official SEGA Comic”, Sonic the Comic (StC), a fortnightly publication that I collected diligently until its unfortunate end.
Though pulling much of its lore from the now defunct Mobius and Doctor Ovi Kintobor storyline that was prevalent outside of Japan, StC was its own beast entirely and quickly veered away from the source material to recast Sonic the a mean-spirited leader of a gang of Freedom Fighters made up of both videogame characters and anthropomorphic characters adapted from the videogames. Like the Archie comics, StC often included a few very loose adaptations of the videogames, though these were often truncated or took the very basic idea of the source material and adapted it to fit with its noticeably different lore. Their adaptation of Sonic CD was no different, renaming Metal Sonic to Metallix and introducing one of the comic’s more dangerous and persistent secondary antagonists.
The Review: “The Sonic Terminator” begins with the dramatic and violent death of Sonic the Hedgehog! Not to worry, though, this is simply a “practice robot” that was trashed by a blindly fast, electrically-charged figure that is kept in the shadows and only vaguely hinted at. Both Doctor Ivo Robotnik (who, at this point, was directly modelled on the character’s look from Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog) and his assistant, Grimer, are pleased as punch with the results of this final test and prepare to send their new creation out to kill the real Sonic. Speaking of whom, Sonic is currently in the Emerald Hill Zone, where Robotnik’s Troopers (basically StC’s version of Swat-Bots in that they are humanoid robots that Sonic is able to smash without holding back as, unlike Badniks, they’re not powered by woodland critters) are arresting an entire village. Despite the concerns of his fellow Freedom Fighters (Porker Lewis, Johnny Lightfoot, Amy Rose, and Miles “Tails” Prower), Sonic rushes in to save the villagers and the entire gang winds up captured as a result, much to Johnny’s chagrin. Sonic, however, retains his steadfast cocky attitude; even when they come face-to-face with Trusk, the captain of the prison ship, and are told that they are being taken directly to Robotnik’s Badnik processing plant at the Veg-O-Fortress, Sonic simply yawns with boredom.
This turns out to be because Sonic has some formidable backup on hand in the form of Captain Plunder and his Sky Pirates, a group of mercenaries and…well, pirates…who Sonic encountered in the Mystic Cave Zone in a previous issue. Thanks to Captain Plunder, Trusk is captured and the prisoners are freed but Porker accidentally lets slip to Filch the Poltergeist where Sonic’s cache of Chaos Emeralds is hidden and the pirates speed off the steal the booty. However, Sonic and the gang are easily able to follow them to North Cave and a fight breaks out; although Sonic is able to incapacitate most of Captain Plunder’s crew using his Super Spin Attack and both Amy and Tails are able to fight them off with their crossbow and a rock, respectively, Captain Plunder gets the upper hand when he takes Tails hostage. This, of course, earns Tails Sonic’s exasperated disdain (not only is StC-Sonic incredibly arrogant, pig-headed, and rude, he also has a tendency to insult his closest friends and constantly degrades Tails with the nickname “Pixel Brain”. It’s actually pretty fantastic to see him be such a snarky asshole all the time) and he is forced to allow Captain Plunder to take the six Chaos Emeralds.
Amusingly, however, rather than the evil energy of the Chaos Emeralds augmenting the Sky Pirates’ disreputable demeanours, they actually have the opposite effect since they absorb evil rather than radiate it and, as a result, Sonic is easily able to retrieve the gems from the now docile (and hippy-like) thieves. This happy ending, however, is mired in the dramatic reveal of StC’s version of Metal Sonic, Metallix, which attacks the Emerald Hill Zone with destructive energy blasts from its stomach laser and demands Sonic’s presence for “extermination”. “Part 3” of the story continues this threat and finally gets around to actually adapting the story of Sonic CD by having Metallix kidnap Amy to lure Sonic the Never Lake; although Sonic is busy playing Marxio Brothers, and despite his grouchy nature, he immediately rushes over to Never Lake and is shocked to find the forest that is usually growing there is gone and that the Miracle Planet has been transformed into a mechanical hellscape. After rescuing Amy from atop a steep column of rock, he snaps at her to cut out the hero worship and tell him what’s been going on. She manages to tell him that Dr. Robotnik has chained the Miracle Planet to Never Lake and transformed it into his newest base before any further exposition is rudely interrupted by Metallix.
Over the course of a few action-packed panels, a fight breaks out between Sonic and his unusually loquacious doppelgänger; Metallix tosses boulders at Sonic, all of which he is able to expertly hop over and burrow through, but he is surprised by the robot’s chest laser. The two them battle so fast and so aggressively that neither Amy, nor the reader, are able to make out the action. In the aftermath, Metallix emerges from the dust and smoke as the apparent victor before collapsing into shutdown. Sonic, battered and weary, still finds the energy to insult Amy but, while he appears to have defeated his robotic counterpart, Metallix hits him with a cheap shot and takes Amy to the Miracle Planet as “live bait” and the unimpressed Sonic races off in pursuit. By the time the Freedom Fighters arrive to help, they’re already too late as the Miracle Planet disappears before their eyes, trapping all on its surface in another dimension for an entire month. On the miniature world, Sonic quickly reunites with Amy (much to his dismay) in what appears to be the Bad Future of Metallic Madness. Both characters question how Dr. Robotnik was able to convert the Miracle Planet so quickly, given that the previous month showed no signs of his influence, but their conversation (and the prospect of them being marooned there for a month) is soon interrupted by Metallix. Uncharacteristically, Sonic chooses to flee rather than fight but, as Metallix charges its laser to kill Amy, he comes flying back in with a big Spin Attack after running around the entire planet in a few seconds. Metallix, however, is able to draw additional power from the mechanical surface of the planet; this allows him to erect an electrical shield and charge up a kill shot for his prey after Sonic trips on a loose cable.
Sonic and Amy are saved, however, by the sudden appearance by another Sonic, this one diminutive in stature and holding a grey stone. Sonic #1 is immediately suspicious of the newcomer but Sonic #2 forces him into an energy beam that turns him into a midget as well. Sonic #2 is able to tell Sonic #1 about the grey object he’s holding; it’s the Time Stone, a relic able to transport the holder back into the past and, while Sonic #2 distracts the recovered (and now, from their perspective, gigantic) Metallix, Sonic #1 races off to the past. Arriving in what appears to be Palmtree Panic before Dr. Robotnik polluted the Miracle Planet with his machinery, Sonic’s shock over the sudden disappearance of the Time Stone gives way to his awe at the presence of a massive piece of mechanical hardware. This is StC’s version of the Robot Transporter from the game, which is in the process of transforming and polluting the environment; thanks to having been shrunk, Sonic is easily able to hop inside of the machine and remove its power source, the Time Stone. Having destroyed the machine, Sonic uses the Time Stone to travel back to the present and, in the process, becomes Sonic #2 as he saves his past-self from Metallix, gifts him the Time Stone, and orders him to race off just as he was directed in order to continue the time loop. Although Metallix attacks Sonic with all its power, the environment begins to change around them as his actions in the past catch up to the present; as a result, not only is Dr. Robotnik’s influence erased from the Miracle Planet and Sonic returned to his normal height but Metallix is wiped from existence and the story ends with Sonic facing an entire month alone with Amy.
The Summary: Now remember, I read Sonic the Comic religiously as a kid; for me, it was one of three influential factors into my fandom for Sonic (the others being the cartoons and, of course, the games themselves) so there is not only a lot of nostalgia there whenever I revisit the comic but quite a bit of bias as I was a big fan of the original stories StC told, its characterisations, and the way they included some elements from the videogames. As a result, I remember enjoying “The Sonic Terminator” as a kid but, as an adaptation of Sonic CD, it’s definitely lacking in many areas. Perhaps the biggest drawback to the story is that it spends two issues messing about with a side plot involving Captain Plunder; at the time, each story in StC was about five pages long so right away the writers have wasted ten pages of story on something that has nothing to do with Sonic CD, though it also appears as though the writers and artists had very little to work with when putting this story together.
Indeed, they must have seen the opening video and maybe a few screenshots and had a rudimentary understanding of the game but there is next to nothing from Sonic CD included beyond the absolute bare minimum. There is only one Time Stone, for example; hardly any locations from the game are used, no enemies or Badniks beyond Metal Sonic appear, and Dr. Robotnik is practically non-existent for the entire story. One benefit of this, however, is that it means Metallix takes centre stage as the primary antagonist. Unlike other interpretations of Metal Sonic, Metallix is very chatty; it taunts Sonic, constantly calculates the odds of success and failure, and comes across as a very threatening and formidable foe not only in its array of attacks and blinding speed but also in its durability. It’s not often in StC that Sonic is unable to trash his robotic foes in one hit and Metallix was certainly the most persistent enemy he has encountered at this point. Even though this story seems to spell the end of the character, Metallix would return with a vengeance later down the line as part of the Brotherhood of Metallix and would be a formidable recurring adversary for Sonic, his friends, and even Dr. Robotnik.
What really makes “The Sonic Terminator” shine is the excellent artwork from the always incredible Richard Elson. Elson was to StC what Patrick “Spaz” Spaziante was to the Archie comics and he always delivered on portraying Sonic and the other characters in such a dynamic way. His rendition of Metal Sonic is fantastic and the way he conveys Sonic’s speed is brilliant, allowing for some action-packed panels that really sell the gruelling nature of Sonic’s clash against his doppelgänger. While there isn’t much for the other Freedom Fighters to do, this is at least in keeping with the solo nature of Sonic CD and, while the story isn’t a direct one-to-one adaptation of the source material, StC pretty much never did this when producing the few adaptations they did do over the years. As a result, “The Sonic Terminator” is a great story in the StC canon and perfectly sets Metallix up as a frightening adversary (and therefore a significant story in the large StC lore) but is maybe not so great for those expecting a more literal adaptation of Sonic CD.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
Have you ever read “The Sonic Terminator”, or any issues of Sonic the Comic for that matter? If so, what did you think of the story and the way it introduced its version of Metal Sonic? Were you disappointed by how few elements from Sonic CD were present in the story or were you just happy to see Sonic and Metallix go at it? Which of StC’s original characters was your favourite and what did you think to Sonic’s characterisation? How are you celebrating Sonic CD’s anniversary this year? Whatever your thoughts on Sonic CD, or Sonic in general, feel free to leave a comment below.
Released: 31 October 1991 Developer: Midway Also Available For: Commodore Amiga, Game Boy, Game Gear, Master System, Mega Drive, PC, Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)
The Background: Terminator 2: Judgment Day(Cameron, 1991) was a blockbuster critical and commercial success; the film made over $520 million at the box office against a $94 to 102 million budget and is widely regarded as one of the greatest science-fiction movies ever made, and one of the greatest movie sequels of all time. As is the case with most of the Terminator movies (Various, 1984 to 2019), the film was accompanied by a number of videogame adaptations. The most prominent of these, for me, was T2: The Arcade Game (Probe Software, 1991), which was one of the first games I ever owned for the SEGA Mega Drive back in the day. The game was the home console port of a light gun arcade cabinet developed by Midway, which I did play as a kid but more recently got the chance to play all the way through at an arcade near where I live. While I have fond memories of the Mega Drive game, the home console ports received mostlyaveragereviews and it’s gratifying to see how successful the arcade cabinet was at the time.
The Plot: In the nuclear wasteland of 2029, the human race has been driven to near extinction by Skynet, a malevolent artificial intelligence that relentlessly hunts humankind using cybernetic killers, the most prominent of which is their T-880 Terminator infiltrator. In an effort to preserve their victory, Skynet sends an advanced prototype T-1000 composed of liquid metal (or “mimetic polyalloy”) to kill young John Connor before he can grow up to lead the human resistance to victory and only a reprogrammed T-800 (or two, if you have a friend to play with) can protect him…and the future.
Gameplay: Terminator 2: Judgment Day is a first-person light gun game in which you take on the role of a reprogrammed T-800, just like in the film it is based on, and work to safeguard the future of humanity by blasting everything you see onscreen before it can hit you. In the arcades, you do this by manipulating a big light gun that has two very simple functions: a trigger to shoot and a red button to launch either missiles or blast enemies with shotgun shells depending on the stage (or “Mission”) you’re playing. With your onscreen presence limited to a blue or red crosshair, you’ll have to keep a keen eye on the game’s heads-up display (HUD). Your character’s health is measured in the form of an energy bar running down the left (or right) side of the screen, your supply of missiles or shells is at the top alongside your current score and remaining credits, but the main bar to watch out for is the “Gunpower” meter.
Unlike other light gun games, which have you shooting outside of the screen or pressing a pedal to reload your gun, there is no reload function in Terminator 2 and, instead, you can blast enemies for as long as your Gunpower meter stays full. Thus, if you’re too trigger happy and drain the meter, you’ll fire less and less shots at a far slower and less powerful rate until you give the meter a chance to refill or grab a power-up. Enemies are in high abundance in Terminator 2, way more than I remember from the Mega Drive version; the screen automatically scrolls to the right to pan across the stage but will lock into place quite often and force you to fend off waves of Terminators, Hunter-Killers (HKs), and other enemies, all of whom constantly fire missiles, plasma shots, and bullets at you. Sometimes, they’ll pop up in the foreground and try to fill you full of holes; others, they’ll toss pipe bombs or other such items at you which must be shot out of the air. In a lot of areas, you’ll find members of the human Resistance exchanging fire with Skynet’s forces, usually behind a destructible barricade. Take care when spraying the area with you fire, though, as this can cost you points and destroying barricades will only mean more shots come your way.
Gameplay is extremely simple and full of intense, arcade shooting action but quickly becomes very monotonous as wave upon wave of enemies fills the screen. Things are shaken up a bit in certain missions, though; two missions see you having to protect John Connor while he’s in a vehicle. These vehicles take up a large portion of the screen and can be damaged by your fire, meaning it’s extremely easy to destroy the vehicle completely by accident and, if this happens, you’ll lose a massive chunk of health and have to restart from the very beginning, which is extremely annoying. When in the Cyberdyne Systems office building, you’ll be tasked with destroying everything you see to erase all evidence of their research into Skynet; thankfully, you can complete the mission without literally destroying very single piece of the environment but it pays to shoot at anything and everything you see to snag a hefty bonus score and beat out your partner.
Graphics and Sound: Terminator 2: Judgment Day recreates the look and feel of the movie’s biggest action scenes through the use of digitised environments, graphics, and sprites. While they do appear quite pixelated and blurry at times, when playing the actual arcade cabinet you never need to worry about the graphical fidelity as there’s way too much happening onscreen at any one time to really nitpick. While the game’s use of still images and text for cutscenes isn’t really all that much to write home about, the game makes great use of the iconic Terminator theme and sound effects and is full of voice clips from the film (mainly from Arnold Schwarzenegger) and features digitised versions of the film’s key characters, all of whom lend their likenesses to the game with the exception of Linda Hamilton (though you’d never be able to tell).
Despite being quite a short and repetitive title, Terminator 2 artificially extends its length by having you battle seemingly endless waves of enemies at any one time. Nowhere is this more apparent and monotonous than in the very first stage, which is set during the Future War seen in the opening of the film. The game faithfully recreates the desolate, bleak, post-apocalyptic future and even pulls from the flashbacks seen in the first film for its rendition of the Resistance base and the third mission, which sees your protecting John Connor from an aerial HK. The dark, desolate future soon gives way to the sleek, mechanical construct of Skynet’s main base and the glass-and-steel office building of Cyberdyne Systems as the game veers towards recreating notable action sequences from the film. This all culminates in a lovingly recreated version of the steel mill for the finale and every stage in the game is punctuated by destructible objects (which generally yield various power-ups) and big digitised renditions of enemies as they pop up in the foreground to attack you.
Enemies and Bosses: Each mission of the game features a variety of enemies; in the first few missions, you’ll exclusively battle against Skynet’s forces, most commonly represented by the T-800 endoskeletons that wander around the war-torn future and blast at you with plasma rifles. T-800 infiltrator units (who are, oddly, dressed exactly like Arnold’s character in the film) can be found in the Resistance base and will take a few more hits to put down as you blast away their living tissue exteriors, and tougher gold variants of the endoskeletons will also appear near the end of this mission.
You’ll also have to blow aerial HKs out of the sky and contend with snake-like Terminators and little floating orbs that crack open from egg-like shells and buzz around the screen. When you time travel to the past, though, you’ll mainly be met with armed SWAT teams and human scientists in haz-mat suits. These guys are all weaker than the Terminators you’ve fought but no less dangerous; they’ll hang on the outside of buildings firing at you, toss caustic acid in your face, and pop up in the foreground to try and end your mission as good as any machine and there’s a constant, inexhaustible supply of them at all times.
Each Mission of Terminator 2 culminates in some kind of big finale, generally against a boss but often having you protect John while he’s in a vehicle. At the end of the first Mission, you’ll have to battle a HK Tank which rolls along firing heavy weapons at you from its turret-like arms, “eyes”, and a little opening in its treadmill. Take note of these areas as this is where you should concentrate your fire to keep incoming attacks to a minimum and then put it down quickly; even after you blast off each appendage, though, the battle rages on as a slew of gold endoskeletons pours out so don’t let your guard down for a second. If you manage to defend John Connor from aerial HKs, you’ll battle another HK Tank before storming Skynet’s defence grid, which is a massive wall-like super computer that spits missiles and snake-Terminators from numerous different openings that you’ll need to destroy one by one to access the time displacement chamber.
Surprisingly, there is no boss battle at the end of the Cyberdyne mission; instead, you simply dispatch wave upon wave of scientists and SWAT police while John steals the CPU and severed arm of the first Terminator. However, the game makes up for it with its most gruelling stages yet; first, you have to fend off the T-1000’s helicopter as it tries to ram into the van John and Sarah are escaping in. This is very tricky without another player as it’s far easier to have one person cover the left-side of the screen and another to cover the top but you only have a few seconds to blast the helicopter and the van is extremely fragile. Once you’re in the steel mill, the difficulty and frustration really ramp up as simply shooting the T-1000 isn’t enough; instead, you have to blast the liquid nitrogen tuck behind it in order to lower its temperature. This is much harder than I remember it being on the Mega Drive as the T-100 is super quick, rolling and “teleporting” around the screen with its liquid metal ability, and its temperate bar refills so fast that I can see kids wasting loads of their pocket money on this boss alone. When you finally get through this bit, you must fend the T-1000 off before it gets close enough to kill John; land enough shots and it’ll back up towards the molten steel, where you must grab a grenade launcher and bombard it with shots to eventually finish it off for good. Fail, and you have to restart all the way from the liquid nitrogen truck, which is more frustrating than you can possibly imagine.
Power-Ups and Bonuses: As you strafe fire across the game’s various locations, you’ll notice a few little boxes appearing at the bottom of the screen. Be sure to shoot these as they contain all sorts of power-ups that will grant you a temporary shield, full power-up your Gunpower meter or your health (or both), a screen-clearing smart bomb, or even you additional missiles and shots to deal greater damage. When enemies pop up in front of you, try to aim for their heads as Terminators will sometimes spit out their CPU upon defeat, which will grant one of these random power-ups, and try to avoid hitting John and Sarah as they’ll often drop mini guns that will let you blast away at your enemies without fear of losing power.
Additional Features: As an arcade title, there really isn’t much more on offer here than beating your high score and playing alongside a friend. I highly recommend having another player with you as this game is a long old slog and, if you’re playing with money or on home consoles, you can except to burn through a lot of credits very quickly as just beating the first Mission takes quite a bit of time and energy.
The Summary: I remember having a blast with Terminator 2’s Mega Drive port. It was clunky to play with the Mega Drive’s controller (I had a Menacer, once, but it was pretty uncomfortable and unwieldy) but I remember being able to play through it without any real issues. When I saw it in my local arcade, it was a must-play title as I had fond memories of playing it as a kid but, while the original arcade cabinet does deliver (especially since the one I played was set to free play), it is a very monotonous and draining game to play. Even with a friend, this is no walk in the park as stages drag on and on and enemies are absolutely relentless; bosses are fine, they’re nice and big and should be a bullet-hell experience, but even regular stages can drag on for a long time thanks to the waves of enemies. The sections where you have to protect John’s vehicles are easily the worst and forcing you to repeat the entire final boss if you die is needlessly frustrating but, at the same time, Terminator 2 is an incredibly enjoyable experience and a faithful recreation of the film’s more action-packed moments. Just be sure to bring some water and settle in for a long-old haul with this one!
Rating: 3 out of 5.
Have you every played the arcade version of Terminator 2: Judgment Day? How did you find it and where would you rate it against other, similar light gun games? How does it compare to other Terminator videogames? Did you ever own one of the many home consoles ports? If so, which was your favourite? How are you panning on celebrating Judgment Day this year? Whatever your thoughts, drop a comment below and check back in next Monday for more Terminator content!
Easily Marvel Comics’ most recognisable and popular superhero, unsuspecting teenage nerd Peter Parker was first b bitten by a radioactive spider and learned the true meaning of power and responsibility in Amazing Fantasy #15, which was first published in August 1962. Since then, the Amazing Spider-Man has featured in numerous cartoons, live-action movies, videogames, action figures, and countless comic book titles and, in celebration of his debut and his very own day of celebration, I’m dedicating every Friday of August to talk about everyone’s favourite web-head!
Released: 3 May 2002 Director: Sam Raimi Distributor: Sony Pictures Releasing Budget: $139 million Stars: Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Rosemary Harris, and Cliff Robertson
The Plot: Academically-gifted but socially inept high school senior Peter Parker (Maguire) suddenly finds himself endowed with the proportional strength and agility of a spider after being bitten by a genetically-enhanced arachnid. After his beloved Uncle Ben (Robertson) is killed due to his irresponsibility, Peter puts his spider powers to good use as a masked crimefighter but soon finds himself tested when scientist and industrialist Doctor Norman Osborn (Dafoe) is driven to insanity after subjecting himself to a strength-enhancing formula and becoming the maniacal Green Goblin.
The Background: After achieving incredible success with the Fantastic Four, Marvel editor and head writer Stan Lee collaborated with artist Steve Ditko to create Spider-Man, whose debut issue became one of Marvel’s best selling titles at the time and whose subsequent popularity has seen him become the flagship character of Marvel Comics. Although Spider-Man enjoyed some success in animated adaptations and even had a live-action series back in the seventies, the story of his big-screen debut is a long and complicated one fraught with legal issues. Development of a Spider-Man movie can be traced back to the early 1980s, when producer Roger Corman tried to get a film off the ground with Orion Pictures. After that fell through, Tobe Hooper came close to directing a more horror-themed take on the character before the Cannon Group began financing a new script and initially brought in Joseph Zito to direct. Cannon’s financial difficulties saw the project fall apart and producer Menahem Golan took the film rights with him to 20th Century Film Corporation, where he divided the distribution, home video, and theatrical rights up and hired James Cameron to write and direct a new Spider-Man adaptation. Cameron was the one who introduced the idea of Spider-Man having organic webbing, which was just about the only element retained from his script as the film rights became mired in lawsuits and Marvel’s legal troubles.
The Review: The hype for Spider-Man was absolutely palpable back in the day; the film came out around about the same sort of time that my friends and I were old enough to travel to the next town over easily enough ad see films and the trailers and marketing were absolutely everywhere. I remember being so excited for the film just based on the brief snippets in the music video for the film’s excellent hit single, “Hero”, and I bought the videogame adaptation for the GameCube the same day that I saw the film based entirely on its trailer and how good the film was. I grew up reading Spider-Man comics from the seventies and eighties and watching the nineties cartoon, and up until this point the only live-action Spider-Man I’d been exposed to was the Nicholas Hammond version from the seventies which, while ambitious, was obviously limited by the budget and restrictions of the time. This was a big deal; a big-budget, special effects laden superhero film during the days when the industry wasn’t awash with blockbuster comic book releases and I remember being absolutely ready for it at the time.
Spider-Man is the story of Peter Parker, a nerdy high school senior who is unpopular with pretty much everyone in his school. A regular target of bully and brutish jock Eugene “Flash” Thompson (Joe Manganiello), Peter is subjected to cruel pranks and harassment on a daily basis despite being something of a scientific prodigy. Since his parents died when he was young, Peter has been raised by his doting, loving, and supportive Aunt May (Harris) and Uncle Ben, who provide for him as best they can on their shoe-string budget. He also enjoys the friendship of Harry Osborn (Franco), a spoiled rich kid who is struggling to succeed academically and to live up to the expectations and standards set by his influential father, Norman Osborn. Crucially, though, Peter pines for his neighbour, the gorgeous and popular Mary Jane Watson/M. J. (Dunst), one of the few people to actually show some kind of decency towards him despite hanging off Flash’s arm. Peter’s life changes forever during a routine science trip to a genetics laboratory; fascinated by the institute’s work in gene-splicing the various abilities of different spiders into a “super-spider”, Peter is concerned only with snapping a few photos for the school paper and awkwardly trying to find the courage to speak to M. J. Consequently, he doesn’t notice an errant super-spider biting him until it’s too late and, upon returning home, he crashes out and is subjected to vivid dreams as his body undergoes a startling physical transformation.
When he awakens, Peter is better than ever: his eyesight has improved, his body is muscular and defined and his reflexes are so attuned that time seems to slow when he perceives danger. Most obviously, he can now eject sticky webbing from his wrists and adhere to surfaces just like a spider and Peter is overjoyed at the revelation that he has gained the proportionate arachnid’s abilities. So caught up in his newfound superhuman powers is Peter that he forgets all about his chores at home and easily bests Flash in a fight; concerned about Peter’s welfare, Uncle Ben tries to reach out to his young nephew, understanding that he is going through “changes” that will come to define his adult life, but Peter spitefully rejects Ben’s advice and heads off to try and earn some money at a wrestling event. Wishing to buy a car to impress Mary Jane, Peter crafts a bright, colourful outfit for himself and takes on Bonesaw McGraw (“Macho Man” Randy Savage) inside a steal cage, easily toppling the muscle-bound braggart. However, when the wrestling promoter (Larry Joshua) stiffs him on the pay cheque, Peter willingly allows a thief (Michael Papajohn) to escape with the promoter’s money. This decision comes back to haunt him, though, when he leaves the arena and finds his beloved uncle dying in the street from a gunshot wound. Driven to a mindless rage at seeing his father-figure die, Peter puts aside his apprehension and uses his webs to swing across the city in pursuit of the culprit, only to find it’s the same thief he let escape earlier!
Heartbroken at having indirectly caused his uncle’s death by not using his great powers responsibly, Peter crafts a new costume for himself and vows to honour his uncle’s memory by fighting crime as Spider-Man. Although he quickly gains a reputation as a mysterious masked saviour, Spider-Man’s presence and motives are questioned by the pugnacious J. Jonah Jameson (J. K. Simmons), the editor of the Daily Bugle, who does everything in his power to tarnish Spider-Man’s name by branding him as a vigilante menace. This works in Peter’s favour, however, as he is able to sell Jameson exclusive and improbable pictures of Spider-Man in order to pay his way through college. However, his obsessive dedication to helping others as Spider-Man begins to put a strain on his personal life; Peter is fired from his job for being late and completely misses that Harry is now dating Mary Jane. On the plus side, this means Peter gets to interact with M. J. a bit more; since Harry is constantly trying to impress his father, he isn’t as attuned to her feelings and his solution to any problem is to spend money. As M. J. comes from an abusive home life, she wants more than frivolities; she needs to be seen as more than just a piece of eye candy for a change to have her voice and dreams heard. Although she is amazing by Spider-Man and fascinated by his mystery and abilities, Peter makes an equal impression by actually being there for her, listening to her, and offering advice, which soon comes to cause a bit of friction between him and Harry.
Amidst all of this personal drama there’s Harry’s father, Norman. An affluent and well-respected scientist and businessman, Norman is absolutely dedicated to both his research and his company, to the point where he often neglects his son and appears to be somewhat ashamed of him for not aspiring to be more. Norman takes an immediate liking to Peter and the two bond over their shared love of science; Norman even offers Peter the respect he’s never shown to Harry when Peter graciously turns down a potential job offer and soon comes to be a surrogate father-figure in the troubled teen’s life. However, Norman is under an immense amount of pressure from his Board of Trustees; his experiments and research into producing a performance-enhancing drug and a weapons-capable glider have failed to impress and, desperate to ensure OsCorp continues to receive military funding, Norman test his drug on himself. The result is a violent and painful physical transformation that also causes his mind to snap, birthing the maniacal and uninhibited personality of the Green Goblin. Succumbing to his darker impulses, Norman avenges himself against the Board as the Green Goblin and comes into conflict with Spider-Man; unlike the petty thugs and criminals he’s fought before, Spider-Man finds the Green Goblin to be just as tough and durable as he but with the added benefit of all kinds of dangerous toys and weapons in his suit and glider. The Green Goblin admires the strength of Spider-Man’s heart and conviction and initially tries to tempt him into an alliance rather than causing death and destruction in needless conflict. Since this goes against his strict moral code, Spider-Man of course rejects this offer but their antagonism only escalates when Norman (who becomes increasingly unstable the more he gives in to the Goblin’s influence) pieces together that Peter and Spider-Man are one and the same. Armed with this knowledge, the Green Goblin targets Peter’s nearest in dearest, putting Aunt May in the hospital and luring him to the Queensboro Bridge (and a final confrontation) by taking Mary Jane as a hostage.
The Nitty-Gritty: Right away, I need to take some time to talk about Danny Elfman’s score. Initially, I wasn’t that big a fan of it; in typical Elfman fashion, it’s very dark and moody, which didn’t seem to immediately fit for a Spider-Man theme but it quickly grew on me and has since become synonymous with the character. It’s a little scary, a little ominous, but then it builds to this rousing crescendo that perfectly encapsulates the freedom, power, and fortitude of Spider-Man. It builds a sense of mystery and intrigue over the opening title sequence and is peppered throughout the film at key emotional moments but really comes to the forefront for the iconic final swing of the film, which was what sold the composition as a legitimate Spider-Man theme for me even if I hear a little too much Batman (Burton, 1989) and Darkman(Raimi, 1990) in it at times. Before I get into some of the film’s standout moments, I want to take some time to address some negatives. First of all, Maguire’s Spider-Man isn’t too great with the quips. One of the best things about Spider-Man is that he’s constantly babbling witticisms, insults, and nonsense while web-slinging and beating up bad guys. Even when being assaulted by the Sinister Six, he still has a daft comment to make and it’s one of his most enduring characteristics. Here, Peter does quip when under the mask but Maguire’s deliver is very stilted and uncomfortable (“It’s you who’s out, Gobby! Out of your mind!” stands out as a particularly low point) and, as much as I enjoy Tobey’s performance, he seems a little bit lost at times. Though he’s a great Peter and perfectly captures that nerdy, seventies characterisation of the character, it definitely took him a while to grow into the Spider-Man role and I think he just needed a little bit more direction and tutoring on how to work under the mask.
Similarly, I’m not a massive fan of Kirsten Dunst; she’s not so bad here but there just doesn’t seem to be that much chemistry between her and Maguire. She’s pretty enough and conveys a lot of layers to M. J.’s personality but she definitely improved in the sequels, though I can’t help but notice that she’s a bit of a slut (like, she’s dating Harry but flirts with Peter and then snogs Spider-Man?) Finally, some of the special effects obviously haven’t aged too well but I don’t begrudge the film for that as it basically set the standard and laid the foundation for all Spider-Man films to follow. There are also a lot of interesting and relatable themes at work in Spider-Man; crucially, the film is obviously about power and responsibility. Peter was so powerless for much of his life that he easily gets carried away by his superhuman abilities; at first, when he hits Flash, this isn’t a conscious decision on his part but he chooses to spend his day exploring his newfound abilities and to selfishly use them to try and earn money and impress a girl. While many bemoaned the addition of organic webbing to Peter’s repertoire, I always thought it was an inspired change; it made (and still makes) total sense to me that Peter would inherit that ability from the spider bite and it’s not like we don’t get that he’s a science nerd so I always thought (and still do) that this alteration was for the better and should’ve become the status quo. Plus, it plays into another theme of the movie: puberty. Spider-Man is a coming-of-age story for all three of its young characters but especially for Peter; they’re each at a crossroads, on the cusp of becoming adults, and trying to find their place in the world outside of high school but only Peter has the added pressure of actually, explicitly, becoming something else. Considering all of the pressure and confusion raging within him, it’s no wonder that he blows up in front of his uncle or that he selflessly and completely devotes himself to saving lives as Spider-Man after his tragic death.
Conversely, there are a number of amazing performances in the film; Cliff Robertson is superb as the kindly and benevolent Uncle Ben, conveying a stern, but fair, fatherly warmth and it’s utterly heart-breaking to see Peter go off at him in an adolescent rage and to then have to watch him die. Rosemary Harris is similarly loveable as Aunt May; far from the fragile, ignorant, annoying burden she is in the comics, Aunt May is a supportive, wise, and loving while still being a concern for Peter since she’s the only family he has left. Additionally, James Franco more than makes up for Maguire’s stumbles; there’s not a huge amount for him to do in this film and yet he manages to convey all of these complex and conflicting emotions and facets of Harry’s character. Harry craves Norman’s attention and affection but feels inadequate against his father, and Peter; even “stealing” M. J. from him doesn’t bring him the satisfaction he desires since, by then, Norman’s sanity is fraying and his obsession has shifted towards Spider-Man. The absolute highlight of the film’s supporting characters is, of course, J. K. Simmons as Jameson; I remember having such a smile on my face when I first saw him and, even now, he so perfectly embodies the loud, obnoxious, demanding editor. Though essentially a tyrant who uses his paper to spread his own agenda, even Jameson is shown to have a moral code when he lies to the Green Goblin to protect Peter in a surprisingly impactful moment. If Simmons was having fun in his small role then Dafoe appears to be having the time of his life! Easily the most charismatic and memorable part of the film, Dafoe expertly walks the fine line between over the top and dead serious, switching on a dime between his two personalities and absolutely chewing up the scenery every time he’s on screen. The Green Goblin is fearsome, vindictive, and deadly, incinerating the Board members (some of whom were his close friends) and endangering lives without a second’s hesitation all to satisfy himself and, later, to lure out Spider-Man.
Unlike Maguire, Dafoe also knows exactly how to use the Goblin’s restrictive suit to his strengths, altering his voice and exaggerating his movements at every opportunity, and the scene where he talks to himself in the mirror (and to his mask) are all the proof you need that Dafoe made for one of the best supervillains in the genre. I mentioned before that some of the special effects haven’t held up too well and, while that is true (Spider-Man can look a little plastic-y at times, for example), the majority of them hold up extremely well thanks, largely, to Raimi incorporating a lot of traditional, practical effects; the Goblin’s suit and glider, for example, are usually always practical, as is the Spider-Man suit. While I’m not a massive fan of the raised webbing and the mask is a little too stiff, the Spidey suit looks absolutely incredible and is a fantastic recreation of the comic book artwork. I was never really too bothered by the Green Goblin’s restrictive, military suit; he wasn’t really a villain I had encountered all that much so I didn’t really care that he’d been visually altered. Now…yeah, I can see why people would be disappointed (especially considering Raimi dabbled in more faithful designs) but I find the helmet and its permanent, vicious smile to be quite unsettling and there’s something very off-putting about barely being able to see a masked killer’s eyes through a gruesome visage. Plus, the fights between Spider-Man and Green Goblin more than make up for this and I enjoy how they escalate throughout the film from a mid-air scuffle to the Goblin threatening Aunt May and their climatic (and vicious) battle.
Having pieced together Spider-Man’s true identity, the Green Goblin terrorises Aunt May and kidnaps M. J. (since “everyone” knows that Peter has been in love with her since he was a kid) to goad Spider-Man into a confrontation. Earlier, the Green Goblin offered Spider-Man the choice to join him, something Peter adamantly refused; angered by the insult, the Green Goblin forces him to make another choice: between M. J.’s life and the lives of a trolley car full of little kids. Like any good superhero, Spider-Man finds a way to save both, though at great physical strain on his part. Thanks to a gaggle of prideful New Yorkers, he’s able to lower M. J. and the kids to safety but is violently dragged into a brutal fist fight with the Green Goblin. Assaulted by the Goblin’s superior technology, Spider-Man is bloodied, beaten, and battered, his reflexes and strength effectively neutered by the Goblin’s unrelenting assault. Spider-Man’s vicious counterattack is halted by the revelation that it’s Norman under the helmet; pleading with Peter to spare him, Norman tries to manipulate and prey upon Peter’s good heart in one last cruel effort to kill his foe. Of course, Spidey’s reflexes kick in and Norman ends up skewered on his own glider; with his last breath, he begs Peter to keep the truth from Harry, a decision that weighs even heavier upon Peter when Harry swears on his father’s grave to make Spider-Man pay for killing him. Additionally, the entire escapade has taught Peter that his powers and responsibilities as Spider-Man mean that those closest to him will always be at risk, so he selflessly chooses to walk away from Mary Jane after she suddenly professes her love for him in order to continue putting others first as everyone’s friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man.
The Summary: There’s something very pure, innocent, and wholesome about Spider-Man; since superhero films didn’t dominate the box office at the time, it was incredibly refreshing to see big-budget, serious adaptations being made of beloved comic book characters. Alongside Blade (Norrington, 1998) and X-Men(Singer, 2000), Spider-Man laid the foundations of the unstoppable juggernaut that we now know as the Marvel Cinematic Universe and changed the way audiences (and Hollywood) thought about superhero films. Fundamentally, though, Spider-Man works as a love letter to the classic sixties and seventies Spider-Man stories; like Superman(Donner, 1978), the film can be cheesy and a little campy at times but that’s all part of the charm and direction Raimi is clearly shooting for. It’s not some gritty reimagining or part of a wider, colourful world of superheroes; it’s a very focused, carefree and yet poignant action/adventure film that exists within its own bubble, one that’s very close to our world but also a little brighter and maybe a little more fanciful and exaggerated but in all the right ways and it totally works for this version of the character. Spider-Man set the standard for how superhero films were made going forward; every subsequent adaptation had an origin story, a bit of a romantic sub-plot, and a villain who was in some way connected to the hero and it took a while for the genre to shake off those trappings but, here, they’re all fresh, new, and entirely fitting thanks to its timeless themes of power, responsibility, and maturity. Furthermore, it set the standard for all future Spider-Man movies; without Spider-Man, we wouldn’t have Andrew Garfield or Tom Holland, and without Raimi filmmakers wouldn’t have the visual language for how to convey Spider-Man’s costume, powers, and moral integrity. The technology, performances, villains, and scope of the character has changed, improved, and been expanded upon over time, even in Raimi’s sequels, but it all started here with this entertaining and whimsical roll of the dice that hits far more than it misses and still holds up incredibly well to this day.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Are you a fan of Spider-Man? How excited were you for the film back in the day and where does it rank for you against the many other Spider-Man movies? What did you think to Raimi’s approach to the character? Were you a fan of Tobey Maguire’s portrayal of Peter and the Spider-Suit, and were you excited to see him return to the role? What did you think to the Green Goblin’s suit and Willem Dafoe’s performance? Do you think the film still holds up or do you prefer other filmic interpretations of the character? Whatever your opinion on Spider-Man, sign up to leave a comment or drop me a line on my social media and be sure to check back in next Friday as Spider-Man Month continues!
Released: 8 November 2018 Director: Alan Taylor Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Budget: $150 to 170 million Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Christopher Eccleston, Stellan Skarsgård, Rene Russo, and Anthony Hopkins
The Plot: After defeating his step-brother, Loki Laufeyson (Hiddleston) alongside his fellow Avengers, Thor Odinson (Hemsworth) has been busying fighting to maintain order across the Nine Realms. However, after his love interest, Doctor Jane Foster (Portman), becomes infected with the mysterious “Aether” and becomes a target of the malevolent Dark Elf, Malekith (Eccleston), Thor is forced to set aside his grievances and team up with his brother to confront this dangerous new threat.
The Review: Like the first film, Thor: The Dark World opens with some narration and scene-setting from the wise and powerful Odin Allfather (Hopkins), who tells the story of the Dark Elves (an ancient, malevolent race from the time before there was light in the universe) and their leader, Malekith, who sought to return the Realms back to darkness using the destructive power of the Aether before he was stopped by Odin’s father, Bor (Tony Curran). Unable to destroy the Aether, Bor buried it deep in a far away Realm and Malekith disappeared for aeons to Svartalfheim at the darkest corner of the cosmos. Sadly, this time around the narration falls into the same trap that so many narrations do in that we end up hearing the story all over again when Jane arrives on Asgard; it would have been just as effective to show the opening scene without Odin’s narration and then have him fill the gaps in later, or flash back to the opening battle later in the film to combine them into one scene.
Thanks to Loki’s attack on New York City, the balance between the Nine Realms has been upset and Thor has been too busy setting things right alongside his allies to make good on his promise to return to Jane. Thor still retains much of his arrogance in battle (but then again, when he can explode a Kronan with one swing of Mjölnir, I feel a little pride is understandable) but he’s noticeably changed since learning humility in the first film; he’s far more respectful to Odin, who treats him as more of an equal for his good deeds, but the two disagree on Thor’s feelings for Jane. Odin believes that, since human lives are so fleeting, Thor would be better served turning his attentions towards his ally and comrade, Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander), but the Thunder God is driven to distraction by his yearning for Jane. This actually sows the seeds for an eventual character arc for Thor in the MCU; since the first film, Thor has been groomed for and expected to take the throne but, here, we see that his adoration for Jane and Earth means that he cannot focus on the remaining Realms in the way a true king of Asgard should. We’d see the culmination of this in Avengers: Endgame(Russo and Russo, 2019), of course, where he abdicates his royal responsibilities and finally embraces his true self but, here, he’s at a crossroads between doing what’s right for him and doing what’s right for the cosmos.
Despite her half-hearted attempts to move on from the hunky Thunder God, Jane remains equally distracted by thoughts of Thor; however, when Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) alerts her to odd readings nearby, she can’t help but investigate in hopes of seeing Thor return to Earth. Instead, they find odd gravitational and special anomalies at an abandoned industrial district in London that render some objects weightless and transport others to another dimension. Following the source of the signal, Jane is unwittingly sucked into the Aether’s hidden dimension and absorbs the protoplasmic Infinity Stone. Their paths finally cross again when Heimdall (Idris Elba) loses sight of her in this moment and Thor returns to check on her, finding her not only as feisty as ever but also incredibly dangerous thanks to the Aether’s influence. This results in one of the best things a sequel can do and that’s taking a character tied to one world in the first film (Jane) and bringing her to another (Asgard) in the sequel; just as Thor was a stranger in a world beneath him in Thor, so too is Jane a stranger in a world beyond her here. Odin is unimpressed, nay angered, that Thor would bring a mortal to all-mighty Asgard and Jane is both overwhelmed and captivated by the technology and culture of the Golden Realm.
Malekith’s plot can only occur at a specific time when the Nine Realms are in perfect alignment known as the “Convergence”, which temporally sees brief portals to the Nine Realms open up and cause all kinds of disruption and conveniently comes around at the same time as the Aether is discovered. Having fled to the further reaches of the universe with what little remained of his army following his defeat, Malekith is also awoken when the Aether is disrupted by Jane and immediately restarts his campaign to claim its awesome power. Considering how strong and complex a villain Loki was in the first film, it is admittedly disappointing to see him followed by Malekith, a character whose motivations basically boil down to wanting to spread darkness and discord throughout the known universe simply because he wants to. Indeed, Malekith is so obsessed with his plot for power and destruction that he willingly sacrificed a great number of his own people during the great war with Bor. However, I don’t really know much about the character as he’s only popped up in a couple of the Thor comics I’ve read, so all I’m really looking for in a superhero villain is someone who looks cool, is vaguely threatening, and for the hero to butt heads with (anything else is just a bonus for me), so my main gripe with Malekith is that the filmmakers completely wasted an actor of Eccleston’s talents since the Dark Elf disappears for massive chunks of the film and is mainly just seen posturing and monologuing until the finale.
It doesn’t help that Loki returns to this film and not only overshadows Malekith at every turn thanks to Hiddleston’s effortless charisma but also steals every scene he’s in. Following his defeat in Avengers Assemble, Loki is brought before his father to explain his actions; Loki is unapologetic and even arrogantly justifies his actions as simply being his divine right to conquer and rule lesser beings such as humankind. Odin, however, is unimpressed, countering that it was Loki’s destiny to die and that only Odin’s mercy spared him from that fate so that he could grow to hate him. Indeed, Odin specifically states that it’s only because of the mercy of his wife, Frigga (Russo), that Loki has been condemned to an eternity in the dungeons of Asgard rather than execution for his heinous acts. Ever the petulant child, Loki remains an emotionally complex and damaged character; he is deeply resentful of his father and brother, and yet still has much love for his mother and truly believes that he was simply doing what was destined of him to do and that his actions pale in comparison to the blood Odin has spilt in his aeons of conquest.
Although they lack the numbers they once had (largely because of Malekith nonsensically killing most of them), the Dark Elves are quite a formidable army; wielding energy weapons and grenade-like devices that cause miniature black holes that destroy everything in range, their numbers are further bolstered by Algrim (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a Dark Elf that Malekith transforms into Kurse, a monstrous being of pure rage and animalistic strength. Having infiltrated the prisoners being taken to Asgard, Kurse causes a jailbreak; though he amusingly decides against freeing Loki, the God of Mischief directs him in Odin’s direction and unintentionally causes his beloved mother’s death when Kurse delivers a fatal stab wound to Frigga after she chooses to protect Jane. Just as Frigga’s death sends Thor into a blind rage, scarring half of Malekith’s face in the process, so too is Loki distraught by her loss; united in their grief, Loki agrees to assist Thor in once more defying Odin’s decree to remain on Asgard and use a secret exit to track the Dark Elves to Svartalfheim. Seeing Thor, Jane, and their allies interacting with Loki is a source of great amusement since none of them like or trust him but are forced to rely on him, and Loki of course uses the situation to his advantage to fake his death as part of his ultimate scheme to seize Asgard’s throne.
In a surprising twist, the consequences for Loki’s brain tampering are seen in Doctor Erik Selvig (Skarsgård), who has been driven to near madness by what he saw and learned while under the spell of Loki and the Tesseract. Despite his unpredictable and wild demeanour, this proves to be valuable information in helping Thor and his allies oppose Malekith’s plot. Unfortunately, the Warriors Three – Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Fandral (Zachary Levi), and Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) – are still largely used for little more than comic relief and to add recognisable Asgardian bodies to the fight scenes but Thor: The Dark World does manage to squeeze in a far larger role for Heimdall; he not only takes down a Dark Elf ship with nothing but knives(!) also suffers a crisis of conscience when his duties as Gatekeeper are rendered superfluous by Malekith’s looming threat. Similarly, Odin is greatly expanded upon; grief-stricken by his beloved’s death, he prepares to fortify Asgard’s defences and sacrifice as many Asgardian lives as it takes to ensure ultimate victory, once more pushing Thor into taking matters into her own hands.
The Nitty-Gritty: In a nice change of pace, much of the Earth-bound side of the story is set in good old Blighty so we get to see London under threat from cataclysmic destruction rather than the United States, which is nice, and much more of the film takes place on Asgard. Jane’s arrival causes much consternation among the Asgardians, who believe her to be largely inconsequential and meaningless even though she possesses the Aether, with only Thor and Frigga treating her with any kind of respect and kindness. While awestruck by the beauty and magnificence of Asgard (she has, after all, effectively paid a visit to Heaven), Jane still manages to hold her nerve; she openly challenges Odin’s boorish attitude towards her and even slaps Loki right in the face for the destruction he caused in Avengers Assemble. As for Loki, he adds a great deal of comedy to the film through his witty criticisms of Thor’s plan, demeanour, and actions; he even assumes Steve Rogers/ Captain America’s (Chris Evans) form in an amusing scene and seems to live to mock and critique his brutish brother.
While Thor masterfully introduced the idea of the MCU’s vast cosmic universe, Thor: The Dark World expands upon it wonderfully; as mentioned, a great deal takes place on Asgard and just the film’s very existence was further proof that there are many competing legends, stories, and warmongering races out in the galaxy just waiting for their time to strike. Accordingly, the film is much bigger and action-packed in its scope; unlike the first film, Thor is at full power for the entire movie and we get to see him and his people in far more battles than before. The opening depiction of Asgard’s war with the Dark Elves effectively set up how desperate and obsessed Malekith is with obtaining the power to achieve his goals, the prison breakout was a great way to showcase Loki’s indifference (however true or false) to the fate of his adopted people, and Malekith’s merciless campaign against Asgard made sure that both Thor and Loki would have personal stakes in the battle against Malekith. Of course, it’s not all perfect: the destruction of the Bifröst Bridge was this big, emotional event in Thor but it’s since been rebuilt and the status quo has returned as a result, which kind of undermines the first film’s ending (though, to be fair, that already happened in Avengers Assemble so I’m really not sure why a line or something wasn’t added in to Thor to downplay this event or at least plant the seeds of hope for Thor).
Still, the costume design remains incredible; of all the MCU characters, Thor may very well be my favourite both in terms of his character and his visual representation. His always looks fantastic, as do all of the Asgardians, and I really like the threatening and somewhat alien design of the Dark Elves; Malekith may be a bit of a weak villain in terms of characterisation but he definitely cuts an intimidating figure. The film also beautifully and naturally continues the ongoing sibling rivalry between Thor and Loki; Loki’s deceptive nature is key to tricking Malekith into freeing Jane from the Aether and, while he initially appears to have double-crossed his brother and reverted to his vindictive ways, it turns out that Loki was simply playing a role to give Thor the opportunity to try and destroy the Aether. So committed to this role is Loki that he even shields, an actively saves, Jane from attack and ultimately dies in Thor’s arms in an emotionally weighty scene after suffering mortal wounds to destroy Kurse. Of course, this is later revealed to all be part of a grander deception by Loki as the film ends with the twist that he has somehow disposed of Odin and taken his form as king, a surprise that the third film would unfortunately simply explain away in anticlimactic fashion rather than capitalise on the potential of Loki ruling Asgard under the guise of his father.
Of course, there has to be a big, climatic battle between Thor and Malekith at the end of the film. Having absorbed the Aether, Malekith wields incredible cosmic power that more than makes him a match for Thor’s brute strength. Easily able to take Thor’s blows, and even his lightning, the battle between Thor and Malekith rages through the Nine Realms thanks to the Convergence, which makes for a striking visual as they topple and tumble between the Realms (and, amusingly, all over London) and Malekith teleports around, renders himself incorporeal, and attacks with tendrils of red energy. Unlike in the last film, where Thor took out the Destroyer in a triumphant return to full power and bested Loki in a dramatic battle between siblings, Thor actually has help this time around as Jane, Selvig, Darcy, and Darcy’s intern Ian Boothby (Jonathan Howard) construct and place the specialist scientific equipment needed to send Malekith packing back to Svartalfheim, where he is subsequently crushed by his own ship. It’s definitely a bigger and more bombastic finale than the first film, which was obviously much more focused on Thor proving his worth as a hero and a warrior, but Phase Two of the MCU was all about kicking things up a notch and Thor: The Dark World definitely does that while still addressing and hitting the same emotional beats and themes of the first film.
The Summary: Honestly, to this day I still don’t understand why people don’t like Thor: The Dark World; it’s very similar to how I don’t get why people rag on Iron Man 2 (Favreau, 2010) but I think some of the problem might be that the first films were so well done and Phase One of the MCU was such a massive surprise in terms of success and consistent quality that expectations were maybe a bit too high going into the sequels. Now, obviously Thor: The Dark World isn’t quite as good or memorable as the first film (primarily because of how weak Malekith is) but it’s a really good follow-up to the themes and characters set up in Thor and Thor’s character progression in Avengers Assemble. I like how the scope is so much bigger, how the society and inhabitants of Asgard are expanded upon, and how well it sets up the Infinity Stones and contributes towards the larger overall narrative of the MCU’s second phase. The film is far more action-packed while still being humorous and heartfelt, developing the complex relationship between Thor and Loki while also showing how much Thor has grown as a character since the first film. Maintaining the franchise’s incredible costume design, special effects, and visual style, there’s a lot to enjoy in Thor: The Dark World and I definitely feel like it’s worth another look with fresh eyes.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Are you a fan of Thor: The Dark World? If not, what is it about the film that you dislike, specifically? What did you think to Malekith as a character and a villain? Did you enjoy Thor’s character progression and the expansion of his relationship with Odin and Loki? What did you think to setting more of the film off-world and in a location other than the United States for a change? How are you celebrating Thor’s debut this month, if at all? Whatever you think about Thor: The Dark World, sign up and leave a comment below or drop a line on my social media.
Easily Marvel Comic’s most recognisable and popular superhero, unsuspecting teenage nerd Peter Parker was first bitten by a radioactive spider and learned the true meaning of power and responsibility in Amazing Fantasy #15, which was first published in August 1962. Since then, the Amazing Spider-Man has featured in numerous cartoons, live-action movies, videogames, action figures, and countless comic book titles and, in celebration of his debut and his very own day of celebration, I’ll be dedicating every Friday of August to talk about everyone’s favourite web-head!
Released: 7 September 2010 Developer: Beenox Also Available For: Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii, PC, and PlayStation 3
The Plot: During a fight between Spider-Man and Quentin Beck/Mysterio, the mythical Tablet of Order and Chaos is shattered into fragments, causing chaos throughout the multiverse and falling into the hands of some of Spidey’s most notorious foes. To retrieve the pieces of the Tablet, Cassandra Webb/Madame Web unites four versions of Spider-Man from across the multiverse: the classic “Amazing” Spider-Man, the grim and stoic Spider-Man Noir, Miguel O’Hara of the futuristic 2099, and the black-suited teenaged “Ultimate” Spider-Man.
Gameplay: Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is a linear, mission-based third-person action title that has players battle a number of Spider-Man’s most iconic foes as four distinctively different versions of Spider-Man, each with their own unique appearance, levels, and personality. While some Spider-Men have slightly different abilities, combat styles, and gameplay, there are many fundamental gameplay mechanics which the four Spider-Men share: they all jump with A (and tapping A again in mid-air will perform a double jump), can land a fast strike with X and a strong attack with Y (and holding down either button performs a charge attack and an air launcher, respectively), and web or grab objects and enemies with B and you can mix and match these attack commands to string together a few basic combos. Naturally, you can web-sling by holding the Right Trigger; release the trigger and hold it again to perform successive web-slings or tap RT to perform a super handy web-zip to quickly dash to perches and platforms. Tapping the Right Bumper sees you fire off a quick web shot (which I found to be largely useless), you can press up on the directional pad to enable the spider-sense (which acts almost exactly like the “Detective Mode” from the Batman: Arkham videogames (Rocksteady Studios/Various, 2009 to 2015) and allows you to see through walls and obstacles to highlight enemies and collectibles), and you can also hold the Left Trigger to enter an “Evasive Stance” that lets you dodge and roll away from enemy attacks.
Each Spider-Man has a few different options available to them that make their gameplay a little different; the Amazing variant is a pretty standard Spider-Man with no additional abilities whose gameplay consists of a mixture of combat, web-slinging, and wall-crawling with some very light puzzle-solving thrown in for good measure. His Noir counterpart may not have any additional abilities but he plays considerably different from his mulitversal allies; for one thing, Spider-Man Noir’s world is rendered entirely in the moody black-and-white of the 1930s and, for another, he’s far more reliant on stealth. Again, like the Batman: Arkham games, Spider-Man Noir has to stick to the shadows and avoid spotlights and being spotted by gangsters, who will fill him full of lead if they spot him and briefly hunt him down unless you flee to the shadows. This means you have to stay up high, out of the way, and in the darkness, sneaking up on enemies or taking them down from a variety of positions with the B button. Spider-Man Noir does also get to engage enemies in direct combat but only in specifically designed sections; most of your time will be spent webbing up gangsters from the shadows, which is pretty fun but nowhere near as challenging or varied as in the Batman: Arkham games as Spider-Man Noir doesn’t have any gadgets or options to distract or toy with his prey.
Both Spider-Man 2099 and Ultimate Spider-Man make use of the Left Bumper; since he’s wearing the bestial black suit, Ultimate Spider-Man can build up a “Rage” meter by attacking enemies and, when it’s full, pressing LB sees him fly into a rage and attack enemies faster and with more powerful tendril attacks. In this regard, Ultimate Spider-Man seems to be more geared towards combat but, in practise, I found his gameplay mostly the same to his Amazing counterpart but with the added bonus of a useful attack buff. Spider-Man 2099 can utilise LB to activate his “Accelerated Vision”, which briefly slows down time and allows him to better dodge and react to incoming attacks and obstacles, and this meter will automatically refills over time. Spider-Man 2099 also has to endure a number of freefall sections that see you holding A to dive faster towards a target and use B to grab them and X to punch them all while avoiding debris and other obstacles.
Other than that, the four Spider-Men share the remaining gameplay mechanics: this means you’ll be mashing B on certain walls and objects to rip them down or toss them at enemies and bosses, rescuing and protecting civilians and scientists by fending off enemies, swinging over to them, picking them up with B, and carrying them to a safety point; and taking part in some awkward first-person punching sequences. These appear during the majority of the game’s boss battles and see you using the two analogue sticks to punch or dodge, which is an interesting mechanic to add in but ultimately seems like something that could have been restricted to just the Amazing Spider-Man to help him stand out from the others. Other challenges include web-slinging away from danger (sometimes towards the camera, which can be very disorientating), web-zipping to enemies perched above, destroying certain objects, or activating or deactivating generators. Each level generally repeats these sections at least three times; if you have to rescue three civilians in the early part of a level, you can bet that you’ll be rescuing five a little later on, for example.
When not in combat or an action situation, each Spider-Man’s health will slowly regenerate, though you can also replenish it with Gold Spider Emblems scattered throughout each level. Occasionally, you’ll find water, acid, or electrified pits that will cause an instant respawn; other times, if you fall or fail a web-sling, you can recover with RT to save yourself. Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions has three difficulty settings (Easy, Normal, and Hard), though the game isn’t massively difficult on Normal. Hard mode obviously results in more durable and aggressive enemies, and mixes up their placement and how many hits will defeat a boss, but there are many checkpoints and respawn points sprinkled through the game’s levels, which can get quite long and tedious as you progress. Additionally, like many Spider-Man videogames, mechanics such as wall-crawling and web-slinging can get a bit janky in Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions thanks to the controls bugging out when on walls and ceilings and the camera proving unreliable and jerky at times.
Graphics and Sound: Spider-Man: Shattered Dimension’s levels are entirely linear; there’s no free roaming or overworld to be found here, which is fine as that can be a little daunting, and instead you’ll explore a variety of levels that can be both large and intimidating and narrow and claustrophobic. When in wider, more open areas, your options for exploration are largely limited by walls (both visible and invisible) and gameplay objectives that constantly push you forwards. Still, there are at least a wide variety of locations on offer; you’ll scale Osborn Tower in the city, a disused desert mine, a ruin-filled jungle, and a hydroelectric dam amongst others. Primarily, the game leans towards a vibrant, quasi-cel-shaded style, especially for the Amazing and Ultimate Spider-Men, though not to the extent where it looks like ugly 2D characters monstrously rendered in 3D as in other games.
Where the game really shines, though, are in the Noir and 2099 levels; the Noir levels are rendered entirely in monochrome, with sporadic use of colour only appearing when using the spider-sense. The heavy shadows and stark contrast of white on black immediately makes these sections stand out not just from the rest of the game but also its closest competitors, the Batman: Arkham titles, and reminds more of MadWorld (PlatinumGames, 2009) and Frank Miller’s Sin City comics and films (ibid, 1991 to 2002; ibid and Rodriguez, 2005; 2014). Similarly, the 2099 levels are an explosion of futuristic neon and technology; indeed, I found the 2009 levels to be a bit of a sensory overload and a bit difficult to digest, making it tricky to know where I was supposed to go since every level was so bustling with lights, metal, and colours. Still, it’s a great way to make each Spider-Man’s locations even more visually distinct from each other, though there was maybe a missed opportunity to mix things up a bit later in the game to have, say, Spider-Man Noir in the 2099 world.
While the game’s music isn’t much more than the standard superhero fare of rousing horns and tunes, the voice acting is absolutely top notch! Each Spider-Man is voiced by a notable and popular Spidey voice actor from his many cartoons, which saw not only Dan Gilvezan’s return to the character after a twenty-five year absence but also the return of Christopher Daniel Bares, who voiced the Spider-Man I grew up with in the nineties cartoon. Neil Patrick Harris is easily the best of the four, though; he always makes for a fun and fitting Spider-Man and his delivery really sells the character’s many quips and witticisms. Stan Lee narrates the start and end of each chapter and Nolan North even reprises his role as Wade W. Wilson/Deadpool, who steals the show in his oil rig-turned-reality show by constantly berating and taunting Ultimate Spider-Man and breaking the fourth wall at every opportunity. The in-game graphics are brilliant; levels and enemies are as visually distinct as the four Spider-Man and the game runs very fast and smooth (when the camera isn’t freaking out on you). The cutscenes are equally impressive, if a bit inconsistent as they’re comprised of the in-game graphics, higher quality cinematics, and partially animated sequences, but they tell the story well enough and are always fun to watch.
Enemies and Bosses: There are a number of goons to pit your spider-powers against in Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions but, for the most part, once you’ve faced the first wave of enemies in the first level, you’ll encounter the same troupes again and again but in new skins. You’ll find regular enemies who come at you with their fists and melee weapons (baseball bats and swords and such), gun-toting enemies who either chip away at your health or blast you full of holes when playing as Spider-Man Noir, shield-carrying enemies who you must zip towards and hop over with A to attack from behind, and larger enemies who will put up a block that you need to break with your air launcher attack. Other enemies include smaller versions or duplicates of the level’s main foe that can generally be taken out in one or two hits but swarm all over you, larger enemies that toss out grenades or seeking rockets, and all manner of zombies and genetically-engineered monstrosities. One aspect I really enjoyed was that enemies can actually attack and harm each other, which is incredibly helpful when swarmed by foes, and you can also throw objects such as barrels and flaming debris at enemies to help whittle them (or, at least, their health) down.
Each level is structured around locating, pursuing, and/or confronting one of Spider-Man’s villains and retrieving a piece of the Tablet from them; thus, each level concludes in a boss battle but you’ll actually battle each boss a number of times throughout each level. The first boss the Amazing Spider-Man comes up against is Sergei Kravinoff/Kraven the Hunter, who leads you on a merry jaunt through the jungle, shoots at you through his sniper rifle, and initially battles you inside of a caged arena. Here, you’ll need to dodge and evade his jumping strikes and counterattack in response, web-zip to the convenient columns to avoid the floor spikes, and finish him off with some first-person punching. In the second battle, he’s much stronger and faster thanks to the Tablet fragment but the strategy remains the same; take advantage of the spawning columns to avoid his attacks and strike as and when you can but don’t linger in one area for too long or he’ll knock your ass down. Later, you’ll have to pursue Flint Marko/The Sandman through an abandoned mine, using your web pull to drench his raging sand tornado and battle his gigantic form within the mine itself. Here, you must trick him into slamming his fists into water carts to muddy them up and make them vulnerable, then toss barrels at his face to defeat him. Afterwards, he draws you within his chaotic sandstorm and his personality begins to unravel; you must web-zip around the floating debris avoiding his giant fists and tossing water barrels at his face so you can deal some real damage and put him down once and for all. Finally, you’ll battle and purse Cain Marko/The Juggernaut in a construction site, through the city, and in the wreckage of Osborn Tower; initially, you simply have to avoid his charge attack to cause him to ram into specific towers and beat on him when he’s lodged in the ground, but his later empowered form sees him add a whole bunch of annoying ground pounds and smashes to his repertoire. Still, as long as you dodge away and stay away from his powerful grapple moves, it’s not too difficult to avoid his attacks and projectiles and put a big beating on him when prompted.
In the train yard, Spider-Man Noir follows Joseph Lorenzini/Hammerhead and it’s in the first fight against him that you might hit a considerable difficulty wall; Hammerhead uses a huge Gatling gun to keep you at bay whenever his lights (or the spotlights in the arena) spot even the slightest part of you. After taking cover behind walls, you must wait for Hammerhead to rotate away and run around behind him, staying wide and in the shadows, and press B when prompted to put a beating on him but the game doesn’t make this very clear and Hammerhead spots you way too easily. In the second fight, you have to avoid his machine gun fire and toss barrels at him to force him to blow up a piece of machinery with his rocket launcher, then zip up to the higher platform as he fires wildly into the fog to do big damage with a takedown, and then avoid his head-on charge to finish him off. Later, Spider-Man Noir pursues Adrian Toomes/The Vulture through the grimy streets and confronts him in a large warehouse; the Vulture is another annoying and confusing boss as he darts around slicing at you and tossing knives and you’re encouraged to use the spotlights to blind him and deal big damage but it’s unnecessarily random and difficult to get him into position to actually utilise this mechanic. When powered by the Tablet fragment, the Vulture’s claws and bite need to be avoided in first-person and then you go through the previous battle again but this time he also tosses Molotov cocktails at you (which you can cause him to drop to damage him instead). Finally, Spider-Man Noir tracks Norman Osborn/The Goblin to a warped fairground and has a number of first-person encounters with him before finally facing him inside the circus tent. The Goblin isn’t really all that, though; simply web towards him and jump over him to attack the glowing weak spot on his back, then zip up to higher ground when the lights go out to hit a takedown, before fending off his goons (or causing the Goblin to attack them himself) and avoiding the swipes from his column and pummel him when he’s stuck in the ground.
Ultimate Spider-Man’s first foe is Max Dillon/Electro, who he battles and pursues through a hydroelectric power plant to a huge dam; the first fight is quite annoying as Electro blasts at you with a huge laser and protects himself with an electrical field but the second bout is initially quite confusing as Electro teleports across generators and shields himself from your attacks. Soon, he drops to the floor and sends electrical blasts your way, but these leave him exhausted and vulnerable to your attacks. After fending off his electrical minions and draining his health, he’ll use the Tablet fragment to grow to gigantic properties and become invulnerable, similar to the Sandman fight. To defeat this giant Electro, you need to use your webbing on his hands to cause him to damage the dam behind him while avoiding his laser beams. When the fight switches to the other side of the dam, you’ll need to survive against the enemies he spawns and avoid his fists on an increasingly-small platform until prompted to web his head so the breached dam can finish him. While on the oil rig, Spider-Man is forced to take part in Deadpool’s warped reality show; this inevitably leads to a showdown between them that sees Deadpool teleporting around, slicing at you with his swords, and shooting at you all while his devoted fanboys rush in to join the fight. When he’s standing with a B prompt above his head, don’t web-zip over to him or else he’ll just teleport away; instead, rush over and approach from the ground to best him. After outrunning a tidal wave, you’ll battle him inside a caged arena, where he uses the Tablet to duplicate himself and rains explosive punching bags between rounds. However, simply evade these, and his attacks, and target each of his duplicates in turn and he’ll soon go down, but the final battle against Carnage is particularly striking since the creature has ransacked the Triskelion and corrupted its inhabitants into bloodthirsty monsters! In the first fight against Carnage, it leaps about the remains and wreckage of Quinjets and Helicarriers swiping and skewering you with spikes, but is perfectly susceptible to your attacks and can be dealt big damage by web-zipping it into the conveniently-placed furnaces nearby. In the second phase, Carnage encases itself in a bulbous, tentacled shield that some mechs will destroy with flamethrowers; this leads to a first-person sequence and Carnage blasting spikes, maniacally hopping around the place, and it draining your health to replenish its own if it gets hold of you!
Spider-Man 2099 first butts heads with the Hobgoblin during a freefall sequence that sees you pummelling him and smashing him through obstacles. When you hit the ground, Hobgoblin hovers out of reach and tosses pumpkin bombs at you that you must grab with your webs and throw back at him to down him for a beating. After being empowered by the Tablet, the Hobgoblin conjures gargoyles to distract you and adds a bombardment of bombs to his arsenal, but the strategy remains the same; he’s just faster and more aggressive and you have to finish him off with a mid-air, first-person pummelling. O’Hara’s second boss is Kron Stone/The Scorpion, who leaves explosive, acidic eggs and spawns smaller versions of himself; the Scorpion initially charges at you and tries to smash you with his tail, but if you evade these attacks he’s left vulnerable to a beating and you can easily toss his eggs at him when he takes the high ground to spit acid at you and use B to beat him down. When powered by the Tablet, things are mostly the same but there’s also a large pit in middle of the room that Scorpion pounces at you in and fills with acid; however, throwing eggs at him will cause him to take a dip and be left wide open for a beating. Finally, O’Hara has to fight through Doctor Serena Patel/Doctor Octopus’ elaborate facility, avoiding her mechanical arms in freefall and trashing her gigantic Mecharms before confronting her at the heart of the complex. Here, you need to web pull three generators to lower her shield while avoiding her lasers, then jump over her energy shockwaves to do damage on her. When she powers up, she scuttles around fully shielded and firing lasers across the ground, but you can easily trick her into offing her own minions and defeat her by tossing their explosive cores at her.
Once all of the bosses are beaten, the levels cleared, and the Tablets recovered, all four Spider-Man are thrown into a dimension of pure chaos as Mysterio uses the completed Tablet to become a gigantic, all-powerful God. First, you have to web-zip across floating, fragment platforms as Spider-Man Noir; there are no enemies to fight but you must make sure to avoid the light or else Mysterio will fire projectiles your way, and then simply press B when prompted to web pull his head into a rock. Ultimate Spider-Man then has to fend off a whole bunch of illusionary goons and then destroy the floating orbs after they’ve conjured an illusionary version of a boss, which hurts Mysterio, before quickly web-zipping across the wreckage when Mysterio destroys your platform and then hitting another web pull. Spider-Man 2099 has the easiest time in this fight as you simply have to freefall past Mysterio’s projectiles and magic obstacles to grab and pummel him, but the Amazing Spider-Man has to endure a gruelling gauntlet against a whole bunch of monsters while avoiding Mysterio’s projectiles. Once the enemies are cleared away, you can use the web pull to send a rock flying at Mysterio and must then web-zip to another, smaller platform and repeat the process until he’s downed for one last smash of his helmet to defeat his aspirations for good.
Power-Ups and Bonuses: As you explore the various levels in Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, you may be disappointed to find that there aren’t any power-ups to find beyond the odd health-restoring Gold Spider Emblem. However, every level contains a number of challenges that make up the “Web of Destiny”; while most of these are unavoidable and story-based, many others are optional an easily missed unless you check the Web in each level. You may have to complete certain sections under a time limit, defeat certain enemies in certain ways, or perform certain moves a number of times in order to clear the challenges but the reward is some extra “Spider Essence”.
As you clear defeat enemies and bosses, clear levels, and complete these challenges, you’ll be awarded with Spider Essence, which essentially acts as a combination of currency and experience points and can be spent upgrading your health and regenerative capabilities, and unlocking new costumes and attacks, all of which make the game even easier and more chaotic as you plough through enemies with a longer health bar and additional strikes. You can also acquire additional Spider Essence by finding Silver Spider Tokens and Hidden Spiders in every level, which also count towards completing the Web of Destiny, so it pays to give each area a quick scan with your spider-sense for any collectibles.
Additional Features: Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions has forty-two Achievements on offer, with the vast majority of them popping as you play through the story and take down the game’s villains. There are also Achievements for completing the Web of Destiny, unlocking all the upgrades, and finding every Spider Token and Hidden Spider, which adds some replayability to the game. Other Achievements pop when you defeat up to five-hundred enemies, complete the game on each difficulty (which are stackable), maintain Ultimate Spider-Man’s Rage mode for a full minute, and perform a combo of up to two-hundred hits but there aren’t too many fun or quirky ones that ask you to go off the beaten track. Otherwise, that’s about it; you receive either a Bronze, Silver, or Gold Medal and unlock character models and concept art after clearing levels and there were some additional costumes for those who pre-ordered the game back in the day but there’s not really anything else to come back to besides any Achievements you missed. It might have been nice to include a boss rush or a survival mode, or as mentioned earlier mix and match the Spider-Man in a free play mode, but the Web of Destiny will keep you pretty busy for a few hours, I’m sure.
The Summary: I’ve wanted to play Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions for years; sadly, I missed out on it when it first released, and the game has become very expensive and hard to come by since then. Thankfully, I was able to snap it up and finally get to grips with it and it was actually a pretty good way to spend a few hours. It’s not especially long or difficult, at least not on Normal mode, and can probably be finished in a day if you play non-stop from morning the late evening but there’s a fair amount to come back to once you’re done. Fittingly, the four Spider-Men are the main highlight of the game; each one looks, sounds, and plays a little differently from the other and it’s fun to go nuts with Ultimate Spider-Man’s rage and then stealthily stalk gangster as Spider-Man Noir. Splitting the game into individual levels helps to keep things interesting and fun, but levels do tend to drag on and enemy and boss variety doesn’t really hold up under close scrutiny. Most of the bosses boil down to winning one of those annoying first-person sequences, pursuing them through the level, battling their first form (usually with hit-and-run tactics, using their own attacks against them, or taking advantage of them getting stuck) and then fighting their Tablet form, which is either a giant version of the boss or a faster, more powerful version. A janky camera and awkward wall-crawling and web-slinging can make the game frustrating but these are recurring concerns in Spider-Man videogames and, overall, I found the game to be pretty fun and entertaining for the voice acting and visual variety alone.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
Have you played Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions? If so, what did you think to it? Which of the four Spider-Men was your favourite? What did you think to the way the game handled the four Spider-Men and the different playstyles? Which level and boss battle was your favourite (or most frustrating)? Are you a fan of Spider-Man teamingup with his multiversal incarnations?? Which Spider-Man videogame is your favourite? Whatever you think, sign up and leave a comment or let me know on my social media and check in next Friday for more from Spider-Man Month.
In August 1962, Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby introduced readers of Marvel Comics (specifically Journey into Mystery) to Thor Odinson, God of Thunder and mightiest of the Asgardian deities. Through associations with Marvel’s premier super team, the Avengers, and a number of cosmic, mythological adventures, Thor has gone on to become another of Marvel’s most successful and versatile characters, with appearances in cartoons, videogames, and a number of incredibly profitable live-action movies. Being as it’s the first Thursday (or “Thor’s Day”) of the month, what better way to celebrate the God of Thunder than to take a look back at his impressive MCU debut!
Released: 6 May 2011 Director: Kenneth Branagh Distributor: Paramount Pictures Budget: $150 million Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgård, Kat Dennings, and Anthony Hopkins
The Plot: The heir to the legendary throne of Asgard, Thor Odinson (Hemsworth) is a brash warrior who longs for glory and is almost unstoppable thanks to his enchanted hammer, Mjölnir. After inciting war between Asgard and the Frost Giants of Jotunheim, he is stripped of his powers and banished to Earth by his father, Odin Allfather (Hopkins), and forced to learn humility to reclaim his lost powers.
The Background: Thor may have been the fourth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) but a big-screen adaptation of the character was originally pitched by director Sam Raimi to 20th Century Fox back in the nineties; though the project lay dormant for nearly a decade, it gained momentum after the success of X-Men(Singer, 2000). After the character and movie rights changed hands numerous times, writer Mark Protosevich came onboard to draft a script that was part-superhero, part-Biblical allegory for the fledging Marvel Studios as part of producer Kevin Feige’s outrageous plan to introduce a number of Marvel’s greatest heroes in solo movies before uniting them against a common foe. After Matthew Vaugh dropped out of the project, Guillermo Del Toro briefly flirted with the concept before Marvel scored a massive coup by securing Kenneth Branagh as the film’s director. Relative-unknown Chris Hemsworth beat out his own brother and co-star Tom Hiddleston for the title role and Branagh landed a coup of his own by casting renowned actor Anthony Hopkins as Odin, who lent a credibility and gravitas to the production. As the first film in the MCU to introduce cosmic, magical elements, Thor was to be a bridge betweenscience and magic and to help expand the scope of Marvel’s shared universe, while still laying the foundation for their first big team up. Thor released to widespreadacclaim; the film made just under $450 million at the box office and catapulted Hemsworth and Hiddleston to superstardom in the process.
The Review: After Iron Man(Favreau, 2008) proved to be such a phenomenal success, I was cautiously optimistic about the fledgling MCU; when Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) appeared in the film’s post-credits scene and hinted at other “[superheroes] flying around” and name-dropped the “Avenger Initiative”, the excitement for what was to come was palpable. And yet even I was curious as to how the films, which had been so heavily based in technological and science-fiction, would introduce more bizarre, cosmic events and characters such as Thor. When Mjölnir appeared in the post-credits scene of Iron Man 2(ibid, 2010), the possibilities for Thor’s inclusion in this world suddenly seemed endless; was he known to the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.)? Had he appeared in Marvel’s shared world before? For me, Thor was the true test of whether the MCU would be an actual success because its one thing to present characters augmented by science but it’s quite another to have them rub shoulders with a literal Norse God!
Thor was also a first in the MCU for opening with a narration, fittingly enough by Odin himself, that briefly introduces the idea of the Nine Realms and Asgard’s place in the tapestry of the universe; thankfully, this information isn’t made completely redundant when it’s shared with other characters later in the story as Thor notably relates the true nature of the universe in a different way from his more grandiose father. A wise, enigmatic, and stern figure, Odin has high hopes for both of his children regarding their destiny as future kings of Asgard. It’s important to not that, while Asgard is certainly populated by beings we would consider to be superhuman, they are not strictly Gods in the MCU. Instead, they are others of their kind have been worshipped as Gods, had stories told about them as though they were Gods, but are just as mortal and fallible as we are for all their superior strength, technology, and durability. For me, this doesn’t diminish Thor’s appeal or that of the Asgardians; they’re still incredibly long-lived, with Thor himself being thousands of years old and yet still very much a child, and capable of wondrous acts, such as instantaneous travel across the Nine Realms thanks to the Bifröst and summoning thunder and lightning with their incredible weapons.
Asgard is a realm of great prosperity and peace; for centuries, Odin has led the Asgardians in defending the Nine Realms from chaos and incursions and the film begins with him ready to step down and pass those responsibilities onto Thor, his eldest son. Heralded as a hero, Thor is a battle-hungry warrior who has proved himself in conflict time and again to be brave and strong enough to lead his people into battle, but Odin cautions that a true king must also be wise, fair, and just. Nevertheless, he’s fully prepared to pass the crown to Thor when the ceremony is interrupted by Frost Giants from the desolate ice realm of Jotunheim who attempt to reclaim the mystical Casket of Ancient Winters from Odin’s treasure vault. Angered at the Frost Giants’ blatant disrespect and consumed by his pride, Thor disregards his father’s decree that he is to launch no counterattack and heads into Jotunheim alongside his allies to confront their king, Laufey (Colm Feore), an action that angers his father as it breaks the shaky, but long-standing, truce between the two realms. With Asgard now on the brink of an unnecessary all-out war, father and son rage at each other in a fantastically well-acted scene in which Odin’s heartbreak at Thor’s sheer blind arrogance is all too clear; enraged at Thor’s reckless actions, Odin strips Thor of his powers and armour and banishes him to “Midgard” (what we call Earth) without his hammer in a burst of fury.
Rendered a mortal, Thor is both angered and dismayed at what he sees as his father’s cruel and unjust punishment. Almost immediately, he (quite literally) bumps into a group of scientists in New Mexico: Doctor Jane Foster (Portman), Doctor Erik Selvig (Skarsgård), and spunky intern Darcy Lewis (Dennings). The three are conducting research in the area when Thor is deposited in their laps through what they perceive as a wormhole and become immediately captivated by him for his physicality, lineage, and knowledge of worlds beyond our own. Her curiosity piqued, Jane becomes enamoured by Thor; the mysteries of his being are as attractive to her as a scientist as his allure is to her as a woman and he is equally taken by her inquisitive nature and scientific tenacity. Thor’s arrival also attracts the attention of S.H.I.E.L.D., who dispatch Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) to secure the area, resulting in Jane’s notes and equipment being seized. Eager to retrieve Mjölnir, atone for disrupting Jane’s work, and to prove to the group that he is the God of Thunder, Thor is aided in infiltrating the S.H.I.E.L.D. base but is left devastated when he finds his hammer has been enchanted so that only one who is “worthy” can lift it. Finally realising the folly of his impetuous ways, Thor becomes repentant and is heartbroken to learn from Loki (Hiddleston) that his father has died of a broken heart and that he can never return home, but finds solace in regaling Jane and his newfound friends with stories of Asgard and the Nine Realms.
Of course, Thor has been deceived, as has all of Asgard, but the God of Mischief himself, Loki. Raised alongside Thor and having fought by his side in countless battles, Loki nonetheless finds himself constantly in his brother’s shadow; smaller and slighter than his muscle-bound brother, Loki’s strengths lie in illusions and manipulation rather than brute force and strength. With his silver tongue, he easily encourages Thor’s campaign into Jotunheim with but a few words all while conspiring with Laufey to murder Odin and take what will not be willingly given to him. Craving the throne of Asgard for himself, Loki showed the Frost Giants a way into Asgard that even the all-seeing Heimdall (Idris Elbra) was blind to and, after learning his true heritage as Laufey’s son, he flies into a distraught rage at his adopted father that exacerbates his falling into the “Odinsleep”. Seizing his opportunity, Loki claims the throne and prepares to allow his true father to enact revenge on his fated enemy; after toying with his brother and leaving him distraught with his lies, Loki resolves to tie up loose ends with the Destroyer, a massive mechanical construct that he sends to Earth to kill Thor so that his rule can never be challenged. There’s a reason why Loki is one of the MCU’s most enduring characters, both as a villain and an anti-hero, and that’s largely due to Hiddleston’s masterful performance at capturing the God’s anguish and fury at being denied his rightful time in the sun; there’s a tragedy to Loki that motivates his actions and an intriguing dichotomy as he both loves and hates his brother and father, respects and is envious of them, and his every motivation is geared towards winning the affection and approval of both by any means necessary.
Luckily for Thor, his Asgardian allies learn of this plot and arrive on Earth to aid him. The large and ravenous Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), the grim and stoic Hogun (Tadanobu Asano), Fandral the swashbuckling romantic (Josh Dallas) – collectively known as the “Warriors Three” – and Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander), the strong-willed warrior maiden, all willingly follow Thor into even the depths of Jotunheim and have fought many battles alongside him and Loki. At first, they are devastated to learn of Thor’s banishment but pledge their allegiance to their new king out of loyalty to the throne of Asgard. When they learn the truth of Loki’s deception, however, neither they nor Heimdall hesitate to provide Thor with back-up but, fundamentally, these characters are primarily there for comic relief, to flesh out Thor’s world and relationships, and to add a few more superhuman bodies to the battle against the Destroyer. Indeed, the film wisely places much of its focus and runtime on Thor’s burgeoning relationship with Jane and grounding him in the “real world” of the MCU in the process. Not only does this provide some amusing moments (Darcy tasing Thor, his attempt to escape the hospital, and Erik trying to match beers with him are notable highlights), but it also gives Thor the chance to learn that there’s more to life than glory and battle and he grows from a selfish, arrogant warrior into a selfless hero who puts others before himself and is willing to sacrifice his own life to save even those he has only just met.
The Nitty-Gritty: At its core, Thor is a tale of fathers and sons; fittingly Shakespearean in its grandeur and scope, Thor weaves a story of betrayal and secrets as Odin’s attempts to maintain and foster peace between Asgard and Jotunheim ultimately lead to the destruction of his family. Though a benevolent figure, Odin is harsh and uncompromising; he doesn’t hesitate to subject Thor to a punishment worse than death as recompense for his foolhardy and rash actions. At the same time, though, it’s pretty clear that Odin does this fully expecting Thor to learn humility and to prove himself worthy of Mjölnir once more. Doing away with the dual persona of Doctor Donald Blake was a great move, I feel (and I enjoyed the quick shout-out to Thor’s traditional alter ego), as it really isn’t necessary to tell this story and it’s so much more impactful seeing the muscled, fittingly God-like Thor struggle to adapt to being a mortal.
Of course, the downside to this is that Thor isn’t really Thor for the vast majority of Thor’s runtime; we get to see him in full regalia at the beginning of the film, where Asgard is rendered in stunning beauty, and for the climatic finale but, in the middle, he’s stripped down to the basics. However, this is obviously the entire point of the film and it works fantastically as a way to slowly introduce these cosmic and outlandish concepts to the otherwise grounded MCU. Dumped on Earth as a mortal, Thor’s history is related to us and the other human characters by Selvig so we can see how Asgardians were worshipped as Gods here on Earth, and Thor reveals to Jane that magic and science are one and the same in the realm of Asgard and directly relates outlandish concepts like Yggdrasil to Jane’s more scientific understanding of the universe. This grounded approach to the subject also results in two extremely emotional and impactful scenes: the first is Thor’s cry of utter anguish when he finds that he cannot lift Mjölnir and the second is his triumphant return to full power after giving his life. Thanks to us following Thor’s journey from braggart to humility, it’s not hard to share Thor’s adulation at having proved himself worth once more.
One of the things I absolutely love about Thor is the costume design and aesthetic of the film; Asgard is a gorgeous golden city full of wondrous and grandiose architecture and technology and its inhabitants, particularly our main characters, look absolutely fantastic all decked out in their armour and attire. Even now, the sheer spectacle of seeing the likes of Thor, Odin, and Loki in glistening armour remains impressive and I absolutely love how weighty Mjölnir seems and how intricate all of the costumes are. Clearly inspired by Olivier Coipel’s 2007 redesign of the character, Thor looks both familiar and suitably updated for his big-screen debut and I love how the film showcases even ridiculous aspects of his powers, such as spinning Mjölnir around rapidly in order to fly. That’s not to discount Loki, Heimdall, and Odin, who all look stunning as well; garbed in regal armour, Odin appears both wise and glorious and Loki looks both regal and menacing fully garbed in his green and gold attire and sporting a fearsome horned helmet. Add to that the visual of the Destroyer wrecking its way through New Mexico, the dark and dreary ice wasteland of Jotunheim, and the imposing, demonic appearance of the Frost Giants and you have a film that, while not necessarily action-packed like other MCU movies, is visually breath-taking to behold.
Thor also turns things on their head a bit by kind of casting S.H.I.E.L.D. as antagonists; concerned only with isolating Mjölnir and learning everything they can about the hammer’s arrival, both S.H.I.E.L.D. and Coulson appear much shadier and untrustworthy than in their previous appearances. However, this is obviously just a misunderstanding and, by the end of the film, Thor pledges to Coulson that he is a trusted ally and the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent is more than willing to return Jane’s work to her after getting to the bottom of the incident. Restored to full power, and now fully aware of his brother’s deception, Thor returns to Asgard to confront Loki, who has killed Laufey as part of his desperate attempt to win Odin’s approval. Although Loki is far from a physical match for his brother, he’s more than capable of holding his own thanks to his illusions and his prowess with daggers and a staff, and refuses to listen to Thor’s pleas to end his mad aspirations for power. Although bested by his inability to lift Mjölnir, Loki sets the Bifröst to remain open, thus threatening the very existence of Jotunheim and forcing Thor to make another sacrifice, this time of the heart as he willingly destroys the Rainbow Bridge and strands himself on Asgard (…for a short time) to end Loki’s theat. In the end, Thor tries to save his brother from falling into the chaotic abyss beyond Asgard but the mischief-maker ends up willingly falling into it after his pleas for Odin’s approval are rejected. With Loki presumed dead and the doorway to Earth closed, Thor reconciles with his father, having grown into a wiser man over the course of the film, and is moved to learn from Heimdall that Jane is tirelessly searching for signs of his return.
The Summary: Honestly, Thor may very well be my favourite solo film of the MCU’s first phase; if this film were to be made now, I have no doubt that Marvel Studios wouldn’t have played the concept anywhere near as safe as they did here but it’s thanks to Thor easing the general audience into the fantastical, cosmic aspects of the MCU that we now just take for granted that we now have so many mystical and alien heroes and stories in this interconnected universe. A fantastic marriage of action, humour, and resonating themes of betrayal and humility, Thor is both grandiose and grounded in its scope; add to that some absolutely stunning visuals, costume design, and performances from Hemsworth, Hiddleston, and Hopkins and you have a truly unique superhero film that set the standard for the genre to be so much more than just mindless action. The sheer gravitas that Kenneth Branagh brings to the narrative and these often ludicrous characters is astounding and his vision of the story as this Shakespearean epic was absolutely spot-on, resulting in one of the most beloved and memorable anti-villains in the MCU and the beginning of a far largerstoryarc for Thor (and his brother) within these films and it all began here, with a harsh lesson in humility for the battle-hungry Thunder God.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
Are you a fan of Thor? Where does it sit for you in MCU hierarchy, especially in Marvel’s first phase? What did you think to the performances by the actors and the Shakespearean slant on the narrative? Were you impressed with the film’s visuals and costume design? What did you think to Thor’s lesson in humility and his romance with Jane and what are your opinions on Loki as a villain? How are you celebrating Thor’s debut this month, if at all? I’d love to hear your thoughts on Thor in the comments or on my social media so feel free to drop me a line and be sure to check back in next Thursday for my review of the sequel!
Released: 6 May 2016 Director: Anthony and Joe Russo Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Budget: $250 million Stars: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Elizabeth Olsen, Daniel Brühl, and Chadwick Boseman
The Plot: After saving the world from a near-extinction event, Steve Rogers/Captain America (Evans) and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Johansson) work alongside a new team of Avengers. However, Wanda Maximoff’s (Olsen) unpredictable powers damage their credibility and spell the end of the team unless they agree to fall under the jurisdiction of the world’s governments. This causes tensions between Steve and the other Avengers, particularly Tony Stark/Iron Man (Downey Jr.), that are only further exacerbated when Helmut Zemo (Brühl) activates James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes/The Winter Soldier’s (Stan) brainwashing and inspires a conflict within Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
The Review: I honestly can’t say that I really had much of a reaction when I found out that the third Captain America movie wouldn’t be tackling the Serpent Society; I only really know the group from the Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (2010 to 2012) cartoon, where I found them to be annoying and over-used. However, I was a bit concerned when it was revealed that Marvel Studios would be adapting the “Civil War” (Millar, et al, 2006 to 2007) storyline as not only was I not a fan of how out of character everyone (especially Iron Man) acted in that story but the MCU Avengers had just ended Avengers: Age of Ultron(Whedon, 2015) on a high note and, like the downfall of the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.), it seemed a bit too soon to be tearing these characters apart when they were still so new as a group.
One thing I’ve always found odd about the “Civil War” storyline is the fact that Captain America, the living embodiment of America’s ideals, is the one fighting against the government and Stark, the arrogant industrialist who actively spits in the face of governmental boards, is the one pushing for registration and culpability. Yet, it sends a clear message when the bastion of truth and freedom finds something oppressive about the ruling body and Steve is a proud man who sees the world in old-fashioned shades of black and white and has learned enough about the modern world to become suspicious of those who wield too much political power and who just wants to do the right thing without compromise. The trailers and hype for the film excited me and I was keen to see a Marvel solo movie featuring so many additional costumed characters in supporting roles as I am a big fan of that in my superhero movies after years of them all living in isolated bubbles. Plus, even with the expanded cast, the film remains, at its core, a Captain America story and is completely focused on Cap’s divided loyalties between his Avengers team-mates and his old friend-turned-brainwashed assassin, Bucky. Cap begins the film as the field commander of the newly-formed team of Avengers we first saw at the end of Age of Ultron; as always, he is all business when on the job and determined to teach the younger members of the team, like Wanda Maximoff, how to best scope out potential targets and situations and build a rapport as a team.
The catalyst for the eventual conflict within the Avengers is Wanda; unlike the other members of the Avengers, she’s still very young, inexperienced, and an outsider. Add to that the fact that her “Hex Powers” are both unpredictable and volatile and she is a bit of a powder keg, despite her generally calm and composed demeanour. Deep down, she just wants to help people and do the best she can so, when she instinctively uses her powers to hurl Brock Rumlow/Crossbones (Frank Grillo) into the air to keep his suicide bomb from killing innocents, she is devastated when her throw goes awry and kills several Wakandan humanitarians. Although Steve tries to console her, rightfully pointing out that no-one, however (super)powerful can save everyone, she only really feels a connection with the Vision (Paul Bettany), another being born of an Infinity Stone to whom she has grown very close and who desires to not only explore his abilities and humanity but who also seeks to understand the nature of the Infinity Stone embedded in his forehead.
Cap’s team is also comprised of his friends, Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Mackie) and Black Widow. Now much more comfortable in his role as a superhero, the Falcon has built a camaraderie with the other Avengers and is a vital member of the team thanks to his drone, Redwing, and his specialised flight suit, both of which allow him to provide unprecedented air support. Natasha, meanwhile, continues to be an absolute bad-ass in the field, striking with speed, precision, and power, while also sharing the responsibility of teaching Wanda how to conduct herself out in the field. They, and many of their team mates, live and train at a specialist compound, paid for by Stark’s not-inconsiderable funds. Stark, meanwhile, has semi-retired from the superhero life and is only brought back into the fold after the incident in Lagos which, especially after the devastating events in Sokovia in Age of Ultron, call into question the unchallenged actions of the Avengers. Thus, in a continuation of his growing sense of impending cosmic danger and his desire to protect the planet by any means necessary (and due to his guilt at being responsible for collateral damage caused by the Avengers’ actions), Stark is immediately onboard with the “Sokovia Accords”. Although Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross’s (William Hurt), now promoted to Secretary of State, acknowledges that the world owes the Avengers an unpayable debt, he stresses that they must register to answer to a democratic committee before acting so that they can be properly held accountable for their actions. The Sokovia Accords rattle each member of the team in different ways based on their previous experiences and relationships; James “Rhodey” Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle) and the Vision, for example, look at the numbers and the orders and, influenced by their relationship with Stark, believe that signing the Accords is the only logical action whereas Sam is adamant that it will only be a matter of time before the government screw them over.
Steve, ever the soldier and pragmatist, argues against “[surrendering] their right to choose” and his conviction to take a stand against being controlled, even by the United States government, is galvanised after the death of his former flame, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), who firmly believed in standing up for her beliefs. However, when it appears as though Bucky has attacked the ratification of the Accords and killed the peace-affirming Wakandan king, T’Chaka (John Kani), Steve makes it his mission to personally track down his former friend and bring him in before he can be arrested by the authorities. T’Chaka’s son, T’Challa, overwhelmed by grief and bloodlust, dons the ceremonial Vibranium suit of the Black Panther to hunt down and kill Bucky, causing tensions to bubble to boiling point. It is into this tumultuous storm of ideals, emotions, and conflicting beliefs that Zemo enters the fray. A survivor from Sokovia who relentlessly goes on a hunt torturing and murdering Hydra operatives to acquire “Mission report. December 16. 1991”, a document that proves the final spark to ignite the titular civil war within the Avengers. Zemo has acquired the Soviet’s book of codewords and is able, through his charm and false documents, to gain access to Bucky after he is arrested and activate him in order to acquire the information he seeks. Bucky, who has been living off the grid and on the run since the end of The Winter Soldier, continues to suffer from decades of cryogenic stasis, manipulation, brainwashing, and memory wiping, which have made him a confused and purely instinctual creature. Although Steve still remembers their time together as friends and the entirety of Bucky’s past, Bucky is haunted by fragmented memories of his time as an assassin and naturally paranoid, lashing out at friend and foe alike when they try to reach him.
While Wanda shoulders a lot of the guilt for what happened in Lagos, Steve feels he is also to blame as he was distracted by Rumlow’s mention of Bucky. Still, he is steadfast that what he, and the other Avengers, do cannot be regulated by a governing body, especially after how deeply entrenched Hydra was into S.H.I.E.L.D. This causes a clash of ideals and beliefs between and Stark; showing his partial growth as a character, Stark is now more than willing to compromise and work within the system to keep them in check and also to ensure that the team stays together but Steve is adamant that they shouldn’t have to answer to anyone lest they be stopped from intervening where they are most needed. While the Sokovia Accords themselves probably would have divided the Avengers enough to cause some kind of conflict, they potentially wouldn’t have come to blows if it wasn’t for Zemo’s manipulations and Bucky’s apparent culpability in T’Chaka’s death. When he comes to his senses, Bucky reveals that he was just one of many Winter Soldiers created by the soviets and that Zemo was responsible for the bombing at the ratification. Stark, however, remains oblivious to the deception that has taken place and takes it upon himself to lead his allies in apprehending Bucky, even if it means recruiting the young and relatively untested Spider-Man to help throw Cap off his game and fighting against his allies for the greater good. Steve, realising that he is now, once again, a fugitive, puts together a team of his own to defend Bucky and fight their way to uncovering and exposing Zemo’s plot. To this end, he recruits Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and, on Sam’s suggestion, Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) to help him out, and such is the strength of Captain America’s conviction and fortitude that he is able to convince ex-cons like Scott, retired heroes like Clint (both of whom have familial responsibilities), and Agent Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) to put themselves and their careers at risk to help his cause.
The Nitty-Gritty: Being as it’s basically an Avengers movie in disguise, Captain America: Civil War is a natural escalation of The Winter Soldier in every way. As a result, it’s bigger and far more intricate and bombastic than the previous Captain America movies but, arguably, maybe not the definitive ending to a trilogy of standalone movies in the same way as, say, Iron Man 3(Black, 2013) tried to be. However, there is a very good reason for this and that is that, at this point, MCU movies were much more about focusing on a singular hero but also expanding their shared world exponentially in the lead-up to their biggest movies ever. Despite its heavy subject matter and action-packed events, the film also has time for absolute tone-perfect comedy; Bucky and Sam’s reaction to Steve’s admittedly awkward kiss with Sharon, Scott’s gushing over meeting Captain America and the other Avengers, and Spider-Man’s incessant quips and references during the big airport fight all brilliantly break the tension and add some pitch-perfect levity to the film.
Of course, one of the main selling points of the film is the climatic fight between Team Cap and Team Iron Man and the introduction of Spider-Man to the MCU. As much as I loved Andrew Garfield in the role and still think it would’ve been a lot simpler and easier to simply fold him and the Amazing Spider-Man films (Webb, 2012 to 2014) into the MCU, casting a younger actor as an inexperienced version of the character was a great way to introduce Spider-Man with a clean slate and Tom Holland played the role to perfection. Although enthusiastic about getting a shot to team up with heavy-weights like Iron Man and the Vision and eager to impress both Stark and the Avengers, Spider-Man is in way over his head; still he holds his own and delivers both quips for days and some of the best web-slinging in just one big fight scene even after (at the time) nearly fifteen years of Spider-Man movies. Though young and operating in a homemade suit that allows him to use his powers responsibly, Peter is still portrayed as something of a child prodigy as he manufactures his own webbing and web shooters and, despite not mentioning his beloved Uncle Ben by name, has the same strict moral code as any other iteration of the character, making for perhaps the most well-rounded portrayal even after many decades of Spider-Man adaptations.
The clash between Team Cap and Team Iron Man isn’t just about Spider-Man, though, or even Steve and Stark; instead, it’s a reluctant fight between close friends and allies, many of whom use known weaknesses against their team mates in order to gain a bit more ground. While you might think that a guy like Hawkeye is no match for the Vision, his various trick arrows do a decent job of disrupting the synthezoid and burying Iron Man beneath a pile of cars. Similarly, Cap is technically physically outmatched and reluctant to fight against a teenager like Spider-Man but is able to best him using his shield and distracting him with falling debris. Another star of the conflict is Ant-Man who, in addition to enlarging vehicles with Pym Particles, makes an entertaining and amusing debut as Giant-Man, and we even get to see Hawkeye and Black Widow go at it, albeit with an acknowledged reluctance. Even Stark doesn’t actually want to fight; he brings his team to the airport to convince Cap to stand down out of respect for their friendship and for the sake of the team, and specifically orders them to subdue their former allies rather than grievously harm them. However, despite this, and as entertaining as this clash between the two groups of Avengers is, things end up becoming much too real when an errant shot from the Vision ends up crippling Rhodey from the waist down, which only adds further fuel to Stark’s fire.
Both Steve and Stark make compelling arguments for and against signing the Sokovia Accords but, as is to be expected of the storyline and these larger than life characters, take their argument to the extreme. In the source material, this led to Stark hunting down and imprisoning his fellow heroes in the ultimate act of uncompromising betrayal, becoming something of a tyrant in the process. Here, he doesn’t go quite that far until he has absolutely no other choice; despite his grating personality, it’s clear that Stark sees Steve and the others as trusted friends and allies and like Natasha, is more than willing to compromise to keep the team together, in check, and to advocate for amendments to the Accords later down the line. However, both Steve and Stark are pushed too far when the others continuously refuses to see things from their perspective and to compromise their integrity or conscience. After the climatic airport fight, however, and the truth of Zemo’s manipulations is revealed, Stark swallows his pride and heads to Siberia to investigate the other Winter Soldiers. Unfortunately, his conflict with Steve and Bucky is reignited when it is revealed that Bucky was brainwashed into killing Howard and Maria Stark (John Slattery and Hope Davis, respectively) to acquire super soldier serum for the Soviets. Stark’s introduction to the film, and a major sub-plot of his previous appearances, dealt with his unresolved issues with his father and, upon learning that both of his parents were taken from him, he flies into a mindless rage and attacks the two in a fantastically realised and emotional fight scene. Though torn between his friendship with Stark and his loyalty to Bucky, Steve ultimately has no choice but to choose to defend his old friend in order to get him the help he needs and, in the process, Zemo’s master plan succeeds as the Avengers are torn apart and Cap gives up his shield to go on the run with Bucky.
This finale is the perfect culmination of a film that is packed full of fantastic action sequences and fight scenes; expanding upon the brutal, gritty action of The Winter Soldier, Civil War continues to deliver some hard-hitting action from the likes of Cap and Black Widow, especially. Their fight against Rumlow is a great way to open the film and, following an equally engaging conflict of ideologies and beliefs, the action only escalates as Steve desperately tries to reach Bucky and bring him in independently only to end up fighting against the German police in a cramped stairwell and racing across the rooftops and streets of Berlin. Black Panther joins the battle for this latter sequence in a brilliant introduction to the character that only scratches the surface of his physical capabilities. Unlike other MCU villains who, by this point, showed glimmers of complex personalities and had somewhat multi-faceted personalities but were often just dark mirrors of the titular heroes, Zemo is quite the layered villain. Unlike his comic book counterpart (who, visually, he wouldn’t come to resemble for some time), Zemo isn’t some crazed fascist dictator or maniacal supervillain. Instead, he’s a former Sokovian soldier haunted by the loss of his family in Sokovia due to the Avengers’ actions and who wants to bring them down from the inside out in order to ensure that they never again threaten the safety of innocents. Simultaneously, Zemo has no love for Hydra either and wishes to see both costumed heroes and villains made a thing of the past; he also views his crusade to be a suicide mission as, once he sees Iron Man driven to the point of murderous rage, he considers his mission complete and prepares to kill himself. He is stopped, however, by Black Panther who, having witnessed the Avengers tear themselves apart over grief and rage, chooses to spare his father’s killer and see him brought to true justice. The damage, however, is done; even though the film ends with Cap going to rescue his friends from imprisonment on the Raft and offering an olive branch to Stark, the Avengers are effectively disbanded and wouldn’t come together again until the greatest threat imaginable came knocking.
The Summary: As brilliant as the last two Captain America films were, Captain America: Civil War was a massive escalation for the character. In many ways, you could make the argument that Marvel Studios could have had the third Cap film focus solely on his hunt for Bucky and made a third Avengers movie for the “Civil War” storyline, but it does a surprisingly good job of balancing its different characters and themes. None of the extra Avengers or the wider conflict between them overshadow Cap’s story or the continuation of his character arc and story with Bucky and, if anything, all of the different conflicts and personalities help to bolster this narrative. At its core, Civil War is a film about secrets, truths, and complex ideologies; both Steve and Stark have valid points for and against superhero registration and Bucky is a tortured soul responsible for an untold number of tragedies and atrocities and yet he wasn’t in full control of himself and was forced into perpetrating those acts and that, as much as their friendship, motivates Steve to protect him to see that he gets help rather than be unjustly imprisoned or killed. Black Panther vows to kill Bucky to avenge his father but chooses to spare Zemo when he learns the truth, showing a fundamental moral compass that helps to define him in his brief screen time. Stark is also driven to avenge his parents when he learns that the Winter Soldier killed them and the result is the complete fracturing of any trust between him and Steve, disassembling the Avengers and, similar to the destruction of S.H.I.E.L.D. in The Winter Soldier, fundamentally changing the nature of the MCU to ensure the stakes are as dire as possible for when Thanos (Josh Brolin) comes calling. As under-rated a gem asCaptain America: The First Avenger(Johnston, 2011) is and as impressively thrilling as The Winter Soldier is, Civil War edges both out in terms of sheer spectacle and showed that even a solo MCU film could have Avengers-level implications for Marvel’s shared universe.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
Were you a fan of Captain America: Civil War? What did you think to the conflict between Steve and Stark and were you on Team Cap or Team Iron Man? Did you enjoy seeing the other Avengers in the film or do you feel like it got a bit too crowded for a Captain America movie? What did you think about Zemo, his character and motivations, and Bucky’s overarching story? Are you a fan of the “Civil War” comic book? Did you enjoy the debut of Black Panther and Spider-Man? What did you think to the decision to tear the Avengers apart at that stage in the larger MCU story? Are there any Captain America stories and villains you would have liked to seen make it to the big screen? How have you been celebrating the Star-Spangled Avenger this month? Whatever you think about Civil War, or Captain America in general, drop a comment down below.