Game Corner [Crossover Crisis]: Injustice: Gods Among Us (Xbox 360)


In April of 1985, the first issue of the ground-breaking, twelve issue Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) was published. This event, which was easily the biggest in DC Comics at that point (and for many years), saw the destruction of the “Multiverse”, an infinite number of parallel worlds, and the awkward establishing of one unified DC canon. Over the years, DC have returned to this concept again and again, retconning it, expanding upon it, and milking it to the point of excess but that doesn’t change how influential this massive crossover was. To celebrate this momentous event, I’ll be taking a look at multiversal crossovers every Wednesday in April in an event I’m calling “Crossover Crisis”.


Released: 16 April 2013
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Also Available For: Arcade, Mobile, PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One and Xbox Series One X/S (Backwards Compatible), Wii U

The Background:
When it was first released, Mortal Kombat (Midway, 1992) was a phenomenal success for Midway because of its focus on gore and violence, and it offered some real competition for Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (Capcom, 1991) in arcades and on home consoles. For a time, the series seemed unstoppable during the 2D era of gaming but struggled to find a footing in the emerging 3D fighter arena and Mortal Kombat seemed to be in jeopardy after Midway went bankrupt in 2010. The main reason for this was the poor reception of Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe (Midway Games, 2008), the first collaboration between Midway’s Mortal Kombat and the DC Comics characters owned by Warner Bros. Interactive, which was hampered by age-related restrictions.

Mortal Kombat‘s 3D struggles culminated in a disastrous crossover with DC Comics.

Luckily, Warner Bros. Interactive stepped in and the team, now rebranded to NetherRealm Studios, immediately set about getting their violent franchise back on track; Mortal Kombat (NetherRealm Studios, 2011) was subsequently very well-received for its “back to basics” approach and, bolstered by the reboot’s success and eager to take advantage of the vast library of characters of their parent company, NetherRealm Studios sought to expand upon the game’s mechanics with a new, all-DC brawler. Although the game wasn’t as bloody and violent as its sister series, Injustice: Gods Among Us was a massive critical and commercial success that was followed up by not only a bunch of additional fighters and skins added as downloadable content (DLC) but also a sequel in 2017 and a critically-acclaimed comic book series.

The Plot:
In an alternate reality, Clark Kent/Superman has become a tyrant and established a new world order after the Joker tricked him into killing Lois Lane before destroying Metropolis with a nuclear bomb. In an effort to stop him, Bruce Wayne/Batman summons counterparts of the Justice League’s members from another universe to join his insurgency and end the totalitarian regime that threatens to subjugate the entire world.

Gameplay:
Just like Mortal Kombat, Injustice: Gods Among Us is a 2.5D fighting game; however, this time you’re able to select one of twenty-four characters from the DC Universe and battle it out in the game’s single-player story mode, one-on-one against another player or computer-controlled opponent (both on- and offline), tackle numerous arcade-style ladders, or take on character-specific missions in Scientific and Technological Advanced Research Laboratories (S.T.A.R. Labs) training scenarios. Just as you’d expect from a Mortal Kombat videogame, Injustice’s fights take place in a best-of-three format (although there are no longer announcements or screen text between each round) and against a time limit, though you can alter these settings (and many others, such as the game’s difficulty) to your heart’s desire in the game’s options to suit your playstyle.

Attack with strikes, grapples, and combos to pummel a number of DC’s most recognisable characters.

If you’ve played the Mortal Kombat reboot then you’ll be immediately familiar with this game’s fighting mechanics and controls, although there are subtle differences: X, Y, and A are assigned to light, medium, and heavy strikes, for example, and may be either punches, kicks, or weapon-based melee attacks depending on which character you’re playing as. You can still grapple and throw your opponent with the Left Bumper (or X and Y and a directional input), dash towards or away from the opponent with a double tap of the directional pad (D-Pad), but now you must hold back on the D-Pad while standing or crouching to block, which can make blocking a bit trickier as sometimes you’ll simply walk or dash backwards when trying to block. If your opponent is crouch-blocking, you can land an attack by pressing towards and A for an Overhead Attack, and string together light, medium, and heavy attacks with directional inputs and your various special moves to pull off quick and easy combos. As is the standard for NetherRealm Studios’ releases these days, you can practise the game’s controls and mechanics as often as you like and take part in a very user-friendly tutorial to learn the basics of the game’s simple, but increasingly complex, fighting mechanics. You can also view your character’s moves, combos, special attacks, and “Character Power” from the pause menu at any time, allowing you to also see a range of information (such as where and how to pull of certain moves, the damage they inflict, and frame data).

Utilise Character Powers and the always-annoying Clash Breakers to whittle down your foe.

Each character has a range of special attacks that are unique to them; these mostly consist of certain projectiles or grapples and strikes but can also include various buffs for your character or to slow down your opponent. Each character also has a specific Character Power that is performed by pressing B; this sees Batman summon and attack with a swarm of bats, Oliver Queen/Green Arrow fire different trick arrows at his opponent, Doctor Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn gain various random buffs, and allows characters like Diana Prince/Wonder Woman and Rachel Roth/Raven to switch between different fighting styles and thus access different special attacks. While some Character Powers have a cool-down period, others don’t, but they can also be detrimental to you; for example, Slade Wilson/Deathstroke can briefly give his shots perfect aim but, once the Character Power is expended, he’ll miss every shot until it refills. Another new addition to the game is the annoying “Wager” system; when the Super Meter is filled up by two bars, you can press towards and RT when blocking an attack to play a quick mini game where you and your opponent select how much of your Super Meter to gamble. If you win, you’ll regain some health; if you lose, the opponent regains health; and if you tie then you both lose. Personally, if find these “Clash Breakers” even more annoying than the usual “Breakers” seen in the modern Mortal Kombat games as I never win them and they generally just unnecessarily prolong a fight (and, even worse, there’s no option to turn them off).

Different characters attack and interact in different ways according to their strengths.

In a bridge between the differing character movesets of Mortal Kombat and the “Variation” mechanic seen in Mortal Kombat X (NetherRealm Studios, 2013), Injustice features a limited “Class” system whereby characters are split into two camps: Gadget- or Power-class characters. Gadget characters are generally smaller, faster, and rely on various tricks and weapons in fights while Power-class characters are typically bigger, often slower, and rely more on brute strength. One of the main ways you’ll notice the difference between playing as, say, Barry Allen/The Flash and Cyrus Gold/Solomon Grundy is that they interact with the game’s fighting stages in different ways. As in Mortal Kombat X, you can press the Right Bumper when indicated to use (or attack your opponent with) various environmental hazards, such as firing missiles at them or knocking them into the background. But, whereas Superman will wrench a car out of the air and slam it on his opponent, someone like Dick Grayson/Nightwing will rig the same car to explode or somersault off the environment to get behind their foe rather than try to crush them with a wall.

In addition to powerful Super moves, you can bash your foe into new areas using stage transitions.

As you might naturally expect, there are no Fatalities or gruesome finishing moves in Injustice (not even “Heroic Brutalities”). However, when your Super Meter is full, you can still press LT and RT together to pull off a devastating Super Move; while you won’t see bones breaking and organs shattering like in Mortal Kombat’s X-Ray Moves, it’s still pretty fun to see Hal Jordan/Green Lantern transport his opponent to Oa to pummel them with his constructs, Ares shower his foe with arrows and stamp on them while grown to gigantic proportions, Arthur Curry/Aquaman force his enemy into the jaws of a ferocious shark, and Bane demolish his opposition with a series of throws and grapples, culminating in his iconic backbreaker. Another way the game separates itself from Mortal Kombat is stage transitions; when near the far edge of certain stages, you can hold back and A to wallop your opponent through the wall or off into the background where they’ll be smashed up, down, or across to an entirely new area of the stage which often allows more stage interactions and new stage transitions available for your use.

The story involves multiverse shenanigans against corrupted heroes and features some QTEs.

You might wonder exactly how someone like Louise Lincoln/Killer Frost can survive being blasting through the brick walls of Wayne Manor or go toe-to-toe with the likes of Doomsday but the game’s entertaining story mode explains that, on this alternative world, the tyrant-like Superman has developed special pills that bestow superhuman strength and dexterity to his generals. As is also the standard in NetherRealm’s titles, the story mode is broken down into twelve character-specific chapters, which is again a great way to experience a wide variety of the game’s roster (though Batman does feature as a playable character in two chapters, which seems a bit lazy). You can replay any chapter and fight you’ve cleared at any time, which is great, and skip through the cutscenes after they’ve loaded a bit, and the story mode isn’t all constant fighting either as you’re asked to pull off a handful of quick-time events (QTEs) at various points, such as blasting cars with Superman’s heat vision. The story is a fairly standard multiverse tale of the main canon heroes fighting against their corrupted or misled counterparts but it’s pretty fun and easy to blast through in no time at all.

Fight to earn XP and level-up, unlock additional perks and modes, and take on a series of challenges.

Every time you win a fight, you’ll earn experience points (XP) that will eventually level-up your character profile. This, and performing a certain number of specific attacks, playing through the story mode, and tackling the game’s other modes and mechanics, unlocks icons and backgrounds for your profile card as well as additional skins in certain circumstances. You’ll also be awarded “Armour Keys” and “Access Cards” to spend in the “Archives”, which allows you to unlock concept art, music, more skins, and certain boosts that will increase how much XP you earn, to name just one example. Like in Mortal Kombat, you can also take on ten opponents in arcade ladders in the “Battle” mode; these range from the basic tournament-style ladder to specific challenges against heroes, villains, or battling while poisoned, injured, or with certain buffs (such as a constantly full Super Meter or health falling from the sky). We’d see a similar system be incorporated into the “Towers” modes in later Mortal Kombat games and similar scenarios exist here, such as a survival mode, battling two opponents, or being forced to fight against the computer set to the hardest difficulty.

Graphics and Sound:
Like its violent sister-series, Injustice looks fantastic; there’s almost no difference between the high-quality story mode cutscenes and the in-fight graphics (which, again, makes it all the more frustrating that NetherRealm Studios insist on having character’s endings represented by partially-animated artwork and voiceovers), though it has to be said that the graphics are much more palatable when in a violent fight. I say this purely because I am not a big fan of some of Injustice’s character designs: The Flash looks a bit too “busy”, for example, and Batman’s suit (and cowl, especially) look really janky to me, though I love the representation of Green Lantern and Thaal Sinestro.

In addition to various intros, outros, and Wager dialogue, characters also take on battle damage.

Each character gets a nice little fitting intro and outro for each fight and, between rounds, will perform and quip a variety of taunts to the opponent. In a nice little touch, different character skins get different intros and outros; when playing as the evil Superman, for example, he enters and exits the fight differently to his more heroic counterpart. When playing as different skins, like John Stewart or Hank Henshaw/Cyborg Superman, you’ll also be treated to slightly different dialogue and animations, which is a much-appreciated touch on the developer’s part. Although there aren’t any character-specific interactions in the intros, there are during the Wager cutscenes and, even better, both characters and the arenas will accrue battle damage as the fight progresses! This means that you’ll not only see Selina Kyle/Catwoman’s cat suit rip and her skin be blemished by bruises and blood but arenas will degenerate or change around you the more damage you dish out, which can also allow different intractable options to become available to you.

Stages include a range of recognisable DC locations and take damage as you fight.

Speaking of the stages, Injustice really goes above and beyond to make the best use of the DC license; while it’s a little disappointing to see Arkham Asylum and Wayne Manor feature twice in the game, they are made distinctive by having Joker-ised and night-time variants, respectively (and also being clearly modelled after, and featuring cameos by, the Batman: Arkham (Rocksteady Studios/Various, 2009 to 2015) videogames and villains). Additionally, the use of stage transitions really helps to add a whole new dimension to combat, with some stages featuring more than others (or even none at all), to help ensure that every fight can be a little different. Stages also feature a bevy of other little cameos and DC references, such as the Fortress of Solitude being clearly modelled after Superman (Donner, 1978) while also featuring a portal to the Phantom Zone and a cameo from Starro the Conqueror. Similarly, J’onn J’onnz/Martian Manhunter floats in the background of the Watchtower space station, Floyd Lawton/Deadshot is just hanging out at Stryker’s prison, and Amazons are preparing a boat to launch on Themyscira. Every single stage has a number of intractable elements and changes as you fight, cause damage, or smash foes around, with Gotham City being my favourite as you can battle on the roof with the Bat-Signal and then down to the grimy streets below and then blast your foe back up to the roof using a nearby truck!

Enemies and Bosses:
Injustice helpfully separates its character-selection screen into heroes (on the left) and villains (on the right) but, despite their different alignments (and that their loyalties change due to the multiverse shenanigans of the story), every single one of them will be an enemy of yours at some point as you play through the story, Battles, S.T.A.R. Labs missions, and on- or offline. Consequently, it’s worth keeping track of which character suits your playstyle as some have easier combos and special moves to pull off compared to others, or more useful Super Moves and Character Powers.

Play as, and against, the game’s characters to learn their strengths, weaknesses, and skills.

Additionally, the Class system should also be factored in; Lex Luthor, Doomsday, and Solomon Gundy may be powerful and capable of gaining armour to tank through attacks but they’re also a lot slower on their feet and with their jumps. Superman and Shiera Hall/Hawkgirl are much faster Power-class characters but can also have their own drawbacks at times depending on your playstyle (Superman’s Character Power, for example, simply powers up his attacks rather than being a more offensive move like, say, Areas being able to conjure massive magical weapons). Personally, I tend to lean more towards Gadget-based characters, like Nightwing (who can switch between using quick batons or a longer bo staff to attack) or Green Arrow (whose arrows and bow allow for both ranged attacks and blindingly fast melee attacks).

Take on the corrupted Superman and banish him to the Phantom Zone for his crimes!

Unlike Mortal Kombat, Injustice doesn’t really feature any secret or hidden fights or unplayable sub-bosses or boss characters; the story mode and basic arcade ladder culminates in a battle against the corrupted Superman that is a far fairer and more competitive fight compared to the finales of NetherRealm’s recent Mortal Kombat games. While Superman is definitely a bit more of an aggressive foe, even on the game’s easiest difficulty, he doesn’t gain inexplicable armour, can be stunned, and doesn’t deal ungodly amounts of damage or spam his attacks like a cheap bitch. Additionally, he doesn’t transform into some monstrous final form and, instead, the final battle is a far better use of the skills you’ve built up through regular gameplay rather than forcing you to resort to cheap tactics and tricks.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Because it lacks a “Test Your Luck” mode and “Kombat Kodes” for multiplayer fights, there aren’t really any in-game power-ups available to you outside of the various status effects seen in the Battle mode. As before, though, some characters can gain in-game buffs with their special attacks and Character Powers: Lex Luthor, for example, can erect a shield, Doomsday can cover himself in impenetrable armour for a brief period, and Solomon Grundy slows time down and drains his opponent’s health with his swamp gas. However, you’ll earn yourself additional XP if you mix up your fighting style and take advantage of stage interactions and transitions, which will allow you to unlock further customisation options for your profile card, and you can also earn additional skins and rewards by playing and linking up to the mobile version of the game.

Additional Features:
There are fifty Achievements up for grabs in Injustice, with three of which being directly tied to the story mode (50- and 100% completion and succeeding at all of the QTE mini games). Others are tied to the game’s online modes, levelling-up to specific levels, customising your profile card, and finishing Classic Battle with one (and every) character. There are also some character-specific Achievements on offer, including performing every character’s Super Move or a ten-hit combat and winning a fight using only arrows as Green Arrow, or landing at least twelve shots without missing as Deathstroke. Batman is the only character to have two specific Achievements tied to him, though, as you’ll get some G for winning a match using all of his special moves and his Super Moves and for defeating every villain as him.

Injustice included some surprising DLC fighters; even Scorpion showed up!

Another standard of NetherRealm Studios is their addition of further skins and characters through DLC; you can get skins to play as John Stewart, Cyborg Superman, and the Flashpoint (Johns, et al, 2011) Batman, among others, and they’re all easily applicable when selecting a character (no need for extraneous “Gear” here). While the game’s DLC characters have no additional Achievements tied to them, Injustice included some fun and interesting extra fighters; Lobo, General Dru-Zod (who also sports his Man of Steel (Snyder, 2013) look as a skin), Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, Zatanna Zatara, and the Martian Manhunter were all great choices to add to the roster and it was nice to see NetherRealm Studios exercise a little restraint and not overload the DLC with additional Batman characters. By far the most exciting DLC fighter was the inclusion of Scorpion, who sports a Jim Lee redesign and began a trend of DC and Mortal Kombat characters appearing in each other’s games.

Take your fight online or complete a series of increasingly tricky S.T.AR. Labs challenges.

When you’ve had enough of the story mode and regular battle options, you can take the fight online in a series of matches; here; you can participate in ranked and unranked fights and “King of the Hill” tournaments where you watch other players fight until it’s your turn and bet on who’s going to win. The S.T.A.R. Labs missions will also keep us offline, solo players occupied for some time; these are expanded upon when you download the DLC fighters, which is much appreciated and, similar to Mortal Kombat’s “Challenge Tower” mode, basically serve as extended tutorials for each of the game’s characters. You’ll take on ten character-specific missions, with each one getting a little bit of text and maybe a picture to set the context of the mission, and these range from performing certain combos or attacks, winning fights, or completing tricky challenges (such as guiding Catwoman’s cat through laser trip wires, avoiding damage or debris, or racing against Superman).

The Summary:
Injustice: Gods Among Us is a far better marriage of Mortal Kombat and DC Comics than Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe and a fantastic expansion of the gameplay mechanics and features NetherRealm Studios revitalised their violent fighting game series with in Mortal Kombat (2009). While Injustice is obviously not as gory or violent as its sister-series, that doesn’t make it any less fun and it’s still a very brutal fighter; the Super Moves, especially, and certain character’s outros (such as the Joker’s) are definitely in the Mortal Kombat mould. With gorgeous in-game graphics, a fantastic amount of variety thanks to all of the character’s different special attacks and gameplay mechanics and the stage transitions, and a simple to learn, easy to master fighting system, Injustice is an extremely enjoyable game for anyone who’s a fan of either franchise or fighting games in general. The story is a breeze to get through (thought it is essentially every basic multiverse story ever told in comics) and nicely varied with some QTE sequences; the S.T.A.R. Labs missions and different arcade ladders are much more enjoyable and challenging than in its sister-series and there are plenty of character options, variety, and unlockables to keep you busy. Best of all, the game isn’t bogged down by endless grinding to unlock Gear, skins, or other perks and is a much more user-friendly and accessible fighting game, and overall experience, than its sequel.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Were you a fan of Injustice: Gods Among Us? What did you think to it as a blend of Mortal Kombat and DC Comics? What were your thoughts on the game’s story and its depiction of a parallel world terrorised by a corrupted Superman? Which of the game’s fighters was your favourite and why? Did you buy the base game and all the DLC packs separately or did you pick up the Ultimate Edition when it released later? What did you think to the additional DLC characters and skins? Were there any characters or features missing from the game for you? Which DC Comics videogame, movie, comic, or other piece of media is your favourite? Are you a fan of multiverse stories and crossovers? Whatever you think about Injustice, leave a comment down below and be sure to check back in next Wednesday for more Crossover Crisis content!

Talking Movies [Mayan Doomsday]: Armageddon


Over the years, there have been many theories about when the world will end but one of the more prevalent was the mistaken belief that doomsday would befall us on December 21st 2012 based on the Mayan calendar ending on this day. Of course, not only did this not happen but it wasn’t even based on any actual fact to begin with but, nevertheless, doomsday scenarios and depictions of the end of the world have been an enduring genre in fiction so I figured today was a good day to dedicate some time to this popular concept.


Talking Movies

Released: 1 July 1998
Director: Michael Bay
Distributor:
Buena Vista Pictures
Budget:
$140 million
Stars:
Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Will Patton, Steve Buscemi, William Fichtner, Liv Tyler, and Billy Bob Thornton

The Plot:
When an asteroid the size of Texas hurtles towards Earth on a collision course set to wipe out all life on the planet in a mere eighteen days, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Project Director Dan Truman (Thornton) has no choice but to draft the world’s best deep-core drilling team, led by Harry Stamper (Willis), and send them into space to split the rock in half before it ends life as we know it.

The Background:
By 1998, director Michael Bay had started to make a bit of a name for himself in Hollywood following a successful collaborative relationship with producer Jerry Bruckheimer; Bad Boys (ibid, 1995) had been a massive box office success and he was just coming off The Rock (ibid, 1996), the success of which landed him a two-picture deal with Disney’s Buena Vista arm. The first of these films was Armageddon, which was coincidentally one of two asteroid-based disaster movies released in 1998; Armageddon proved to be the more successful of the two, however, earning over $550 million compared to Deep Impact’s (Leder, 1998) $349.5 million box office. However, Armageddon as met with largely negative reviews; it’s famously one of legendary movie critic Roger Ebert’s most hated films of all time and audiences and critics alike found the film’s frenetic editing and more ridiculous moments as egregious as Bay’s bombastic action scenes. Even stars Ben Affleck and Billy Bob Thornton thought very little of the film and numerous scientific minds have attacked the film’s lack of scientific accuracy.

The Review:
Armageddon’s concept is, admittedly, massively over the top; not only is the Earth threatened with total destruction and mankind with complete extinction by the biggest and most improbable piece of rock ever conceived but NASA deems it easier and faster to train a bunch of oil drillers to fly into space rather than training astronauts to drill. Interestingly, much of the movie could have been the same had the script been tweaked slightly to have, maybe, one or two of the oil drillers join the space expedition as consultants and experts but, regardless, complaints of this nature miss the entire point of the film: It’s supposed to be that a group of all-American, ordinary, everyday blue collar men are called upon to do the impossible and save the world and that’s precisely what makes it such an appealing concept.

Truman scrambles to come up with a solution, any solution, to ensure the survival of humanity.

The primary representative from NASA is Dan Truman, a man who always dreamed of going into space and being an astronaut but was grounded by what looks to be a debilitating knee injury. Still, he’s the unquestioning authority at NASA; when the space shuttle Atlantis explodes at the start of the film and meteorites start raining down across New York City, he immediately organises response teams to figure out the source of the problem. Horrified by the looming presence of “Dottie”, the incoming asteroid, like all NASA characters in movies he quickly focuses on solutions rather than problems; this means entertaining and demanding any and all possible solutions to the issue in a very short window of time. With no other contingencies in place, he calls upon the expertise of Harry Stamper, initially to train his astronauts but find sit perfectly acceptable to send Harry and his team up in their place in order to get the job done properly.

Harry might be an immature father but he’s a consummate professional at drilling holes.

The star of the film is, unquestionably, Bruce Willis; while long before he simply phoned in his performances and offered only the bare minimum of effort, Armageddon doesn’t really call for him to be much more than a semi-snarky, overprotective father who is the best at what he does and, despite being childish and immature at times, is a consummate professional when on the job. No one knows more about drilling (which he regards as a science and an art) than him, and no one is better at it than him; he tolerates no insubordination on his oil rigs. Harry takes Truman’s request and the impending danger very seriously and, unimpressed and insulted by NASA stealing his oil rig design and having “only” trained their team for eight months, he immediately demands that he has to take up his team, men he can trust to do the job properly, and maintains order even when the team overshoots their landing mark and is forced to drill through “iron ferrite”.

Somewhat reckless and impulsive, A.J. just wants Harry’s respect and trust.

Harry’s conviction and focus are total when on a job but are somewhat distracted; he is estranged form his daughter, Grace (Tyler), and disapproving of her relationship with A.J. Frost (Affleck), the youngest member of his team and to whom Harry is basically a surrogate father. Harry is so incensed to discover their relationship that he hilariously chases A.J. across his oil rig with a shotgun but, discounting his personal feelings, doesn’t hesitate to fire A.J. when his arrogance almost causes a drilling operation to be botched and endanger his crew. Still, when called upon to pick members for the drilling teams, he reluctantly  drafts in A.J. A.J. just wants Harry’s trust and approval in his ability and instincts, which Harry is reluctant to bestow out of his overprotectiveness and belief that A.J. isn’t quite as experienced as he believe she is.

Although basically the only female in the film, Grace mainly acts as an emotional anchor.

Despite being surrounded by “roughnecks”, many of whom are his close friends and trusted colleagues, Harry is insulted and enraged to find that Grace has “settled” for A.J., believing that she deserves more than to be tied to a roughneck her whole life. Grace, however, vehemently stands by her choice, accepting A.J.’s proposal and stating that she is a grown woman who can make her own choices. Her issues with her father and almost immediately resolved when she learns of Dottie, however, and she is forced to watch the two men she loves the most head off on the most vital and dangerous mission ever conceived. When General Kimsey (Keith David) stubbornly follows the President of the United States’ (Stanley Anderson) orders to remote detonate the nuclear weapon on the asteroid when it’s not ready, Grace aggressively protests and demands that Truman do something since he was the one responsible for involving them in the mission.

While Chick acts as Harry’s loyal voice of reason, Rockhound descends into near madness.

The rest of Harry’s team are a bunch of misfits, ex-cons, perverts, and muscleheads…and I absolutely love it! It’s an ensemble cast, with some given more screen time and development than others, who are just there to die. Charles “Chick” Chappel (Patton), a compulsive gambler and estranged form his wife and son, is Harry’s closest friend and conscience; he trusts Harry with his life and follows him to the ends of the Earth, and beyond. “Rockhound” (Buscemi) is a genius on the level of NASA’s very best but chooses to indulge in his love of explosives by lowering himself to oil drilling; he frequently points out that they are way out of their depth on the mission and ends up succumbing to “space dementia” and becoming something of a liability to the team.

It’s easy for Bear to stand out when many of the other characters exist only to tragically die.

Another member of the team who stands out is, of course, “Bear” (the late, great Michael Clarke Duncan); Armageddon was one of Duncan’s first, big time roles in Hollywood and he shine snot just through his imposing physical stature but the gamut of emotions he displays, from playfulness to fear and panic, to sombre reflection by the film’s end. Certainly, he’s much more well-rounded than guys like Max Lennert (Ken Campbell), who is mainly the comic relief of the film, and Oscar Choi (Owen Wilson) and Freddie Noonan (Clark Brolly), who basically get a handful of lines between them and are killed when their shuttle crashes on Dottie to emphasise how dangerous the mission is.

Sharp follows his order to the letter out of fear of the asteroid and a patriotic duty.

Harry and his team are joined by a handful of actual astronauts, the most prominent of which is Colonel Willie Sharp (Fichtner); Sharp is unimpressed with the drillers and personally makes it his mission to subject them to the harshest crash course in astronautics in order to properly prepare them for the rigours and dangers of space travel. Calm and composed, Sharp loses his cool somewhat when the shuttle overshoots its landing mark and grows increasingly concerned that the mission is headed to failure. When the order comes through to detonate the bomb before the hole is ready, he unlocks a gun and becomes almost a secondary antagonist; driven by the fear of the asteroid’s threat, he is prepared to kill to follow his orders to the letter but is convinced by Harry’s strength of conviction to allow the mission to proceed as planned.

Dottie takes on a life of its own and seems to have malevolent intentions for the Earth.

I say “secondary antagonist” because, if there’s one thing Michael bay was sure to do throughout Armageddon, it’s paint Dottie as almost a sentiment, malevolent force of nature; the asteroid is revealed in stages, bit by bit, almost like a slasher villain. At first, we see only wisps of dust and an ethereal cosmic aura, with the rock’s potential devastation shown to us through a comparatively harmless meteor shower. However, once the two shuttles slingshot around the Moon and approach the asteroid, it looms onscreen like an ominous, malicious entity purposely looking to destroy the Earth. When the teams land, they are beset by geysers of air, quakes, showers of rock, and constant explosions; Chick even suggests that the asteroid is purposely trying to shake them loose and keep them form “[killing] it”, as though it’s a living thing, and it even seems to roar and scream at times thanks to its tumultuous environment.

The Nitty-Gritty:
One of the most impactful aspects of Armageddon is the score; Trevor Rabin’s score is both bombastic and heroic but also haunting, ominous, and emotional. It’s perfectly used to highlight the amusing nature of the drillers’ training montage at NASA and adds just the extra exclamation point during the film’s more poignant and emotional moments. It’s a ridiculous film that plays its concept almost completely straight, which only emphasises the blue collar nature of the idea and adds to its appeal, in my opinion, and the score is a large part of that.

Split up from Harry and the others, A.J. must lead his friends across Dottie’s explosive surface.

It’s interesting to think about the fact that, technically, the plan to blow up the asteroid from the inside out was expected to go off without any real problems; after the shuttle Independence is taken out during the approach to Dottie, Freedom is thrown off by the unexpected gravitational forces from the asteroid and the Moon and lands way past the optimal landing spot. Had they landed in the intended area, it’s possible that much of the deaths and drama wouldn’t have unfolded as they did; similarly, a freak electrical accident causes the Mir space station to explode, almost as though the mission was doomed to failure from the start. The botched approach sees the teams split into two; while Harry continue son with the mission and believes A.J. and the others are dead, A.J. and Bear work alongside the Russian cosmonaut Lev Andropov (Peter Stormare) on a bit of a side quest to reunite with their friends, which leads to some intense sequences involving the armoured Armadillo vehicle and its efforts to plough through and float over the asteroid’s dangerous surface.

Meteors rain down across the world as Dottie draws inexorably closer by the hour.

With drilling slowed and the mission threatened by the rock-hard iron ferrite, which chews up the drill heads and causes the rig’s transmissions to overload, time becomes a significant factor; the asteroid was projected to hit in eighteen days but the team is given only eleven hours to complete the mission and remote detonate before Dottie passes “zero barrier” since an explosion after this threshold would still result in the Earth’s destruction. The action isn’t simply confined to the asteroid either as the film continues to show that the planet (especially poor old Paris and Shanghai) continues to be bombarded by meteor strikes. This makes the general public aware of the impending “global killer” but, despite Truman’s belief that this knowledge would causes “mass religious hysteria [and] the worst parts of the Bible”, people are generally seen to be united in hope and belief in America’s desperate mission to save the world (at least until the mission appears to have failed, anyway, though the film never really dwells on the worldwide impact of the asteroid’s impending approach).

I can’t image Armageddon being anywhere near as entertaining if it was 100% realistic.

Of course, people will harp on for days about how inaccurate and ridiculous the film is but, honestly, I really couldn’t care less. Armageddon goes to some lengths to cover its inaccuracies as well; the asteroid is described as having a minor atmosphere, somewhat explaining how the guys can just toss poles and equipment around, and the focus is clearly on spectacle and excess rather than scientific accuracy (it’s more exciting to see two space shuttles launch right next to each other, for example, no matter who dangerous and ludicrous that idea might be). Plus, the film’s attention to detail and attempts to recreate the inner workings of NASA are impressive; the shuttles aren’t some futuristic ships kitted out with touch screens or absurd technology, for example. They’re cramped and full of the same switches, lights, and efficient use of space that real-life shuttles are known for and, while the team wear quasi-futuristic space suits, they’re still grounded in realism and nowhere near as extravagant as in other films.

Harry bids a tearful farewell and sacrifices himself to save the entire planet.

For me, the real appeal of Armageddon is the central concept of a group of normal, everyday men answering the call to lend their unique expertise to a desperate mission to save all of humanity as well as the appeal of there actually being some kind of solution to a potential, fatal meteor strike on the Earth. The film’s message is one of hope and unity, that all nations and people can set aside their differences and work together for our mutual survival; this is emphasised more explicitly at the film’s emotional conclusion when, following a devastating rock storm on Dottie, the one remaining nuclear weapon is damaged and one of our blue collar heroes must stay behind to complete the mission. After reluctantly drawing straws, A.J. finds himself faced with this ultimate responsibility and, putting aside his reservations and deciding to ensure the future for his daughter, Harry dramatically takes A.J.’s place. Even now, it’s one of the most emotional and devastating scenes I’ve ever seen as A.J. collapses in hysteria and, after tearfully saying goodbye to Grace, Harry overcomes the last of Dottie’s resistance to press the button and save the Earth form destruction. You can harpoon all you want about how stupid and inaccurate the Armageddon is but very few films reduce me to tears more than this one, and this scene, thanks to the surprisingly moving performance from Willis (to say nothing of Affleck and the one-two gut punch of Sharp’s respectful “Thank you, Harry” and Bear’s gravelly, reverential farewell: “Yo Harry…you dah man”).

The Summary:
Now, I’m not really much of a fan of Michael Bay (or Ben Affleck, for that matter…) but I make an exception for Armageddon; this was another of those films that was a formative part of my teenage years and I distinctly remember renting the VHS tape and watching, transfixed, with my friends and being completely invested and using every ounce of my self-control to not burst into tears at the film’s dramatic conclusion. Yes, it’s ridiculous and over the top. Yes, it’s absolutely mental and takes numerous liberties. And, yes, it’s not the most scientifically accurate and realistic move ever made but let’s say, for sake of argument, that it had been. How fucking boring would that have been? I paid to see Bruce Willis drill a hole into an asteroid and save the world and that’s exactly what I got! Armageddon delivers top notch action, explosions, drama, and entertainment from start to finish thanks to its impressive practical effects, sets, and some great use of special effects to give life to an inanimate object. It’s an intense rollercoaster of a disaster film, one geared around hope and unity and normal people overcoming insurmountable odds to destroy the greatest threat the world has ever faced. Yet, it’s also an extremely emotional film and remains, to this day, one of my favourite disaster movies and is always guaranteed to get the man tears flowing.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

Are you a fan of Armageddon? How do you feel it compares to Deep Impact and other disaster films? Were you a fan of the concept or did you find the idea of oil drillers being shot into space too over the top? Which of the characters was your favourite and what did you think to Bruce Willis’ performance? Did you like that Michael Bay imbued Dottie with a form of malevolence or did you think that was one of the film’s more ridiculous concepts? How important is scientific accuracy and realism to you in disaster films like this? How are you celebrating the end of the world today? Whatever you think about Armageddon, disaster films, and overblown predictions of the end of the world, go ahead and drop a comment down below.

Talking Movies: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

Talking Movies
BatmanVSuperman.png

In 2013, director Zack Snyder released his gritty, modern interpretation of Clark Kent/Superman after a long hiatus and after Superman Returns (Bryan Singer, 2006) almost killed the franchise with ridiculous plotlines and nonsensical decisions. Man of Steel caused quite a deal of controversy for its darker, more grounded approach and the massive amounts of destruction caused by the battles between Clark Kent/Superman (Henry Cavill) and General Zod (Michael Shannon). Personally, I enjoyed the movie for making Superman awesome again and showcasing the impact of super-powered beings doing battle in highly-populated areas. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice follows-up on Man of Steel’s themes and narrative by introducing the first-ever live-action meeting between the two iconic superheroes. It should be noted that this post is going to be full of spoilers and talk about the film’s narrative, so if you haven’t seen the film then it’s probably best not to read on further. With the conclusion of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy (2004 to 2012), the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman was taken up by Ben Affleck in a casting decision that also caused a stir of controversy, mainly due to Affleck’s previous work on Daredevil (Johnson, 2003). Personally, this decision riled me the wrong way. While I actually enjoyed Daredevil (especially The Director’s Cut), I cannot say that I am much of a Ben Affleck fan; also, I felt that his casting took the role away from other actors who could have shined in that sort of role. Basically, this casting felt like the producers were trying to leech of Affleck’s star power.

1
The loss of Robin has affected Bruce’s attitude, just as it did in the comics.

However, Affleck’s portrayal of Wayne/Batman is a true gem of a surprise; Affleck plays an older, grizzled, veteran Batman who is constantly haunted by nightmares, fatigue, and inner turmoil. In the film, Wayne has been Batman for about twenty years; Gotham has gone to hell despite his presence (Wayne Manor is dilapidated, for reasons unknown, and the Gotham Police Department is similarly run-down and seemingly abandoned) and his approach towards his vigilantism has become cruel and violent. This is not just due to his age but also to the dramatic shift in Wayne’s entire persona and attitude after the loss of his partner, Robin, at some point in the past. As a result, Batman (refreshingly commonly referred to as “The Bat” on numerous occasions) tortures and brands criminals in his night-by-night activities and, at a number of points in the film, brandishes firearms and racks up quite the body count. If people were pissed that Michael Keaton’s Batman killed people back in the day, then I wouldn’t be surprised to see Affleck’s Batman attract some debate given that he clearly guns down, blows up, and drives through quite a few goons. Personally, again, I have no problem with that because of the movie’s context. Batman is older, admittedly slower; he’s worn down by age, weariness, and his new mission in life: mainly, the destruction of Superman. It transpires that Wayne was present during the events of Man of Steel and witnessed Superman and Zod’s fight devastating Metropolis, causing the deaths of numerous Wayne employees.

2
Affected by the events of Man of Steel, Batman makes it his mission to end Superman.

As a result, despite the protestations of his ever-loyal butler Alfred (Jeremy Irons), Batman has decided to view Superman as a potential threat that doesn’t need stopping…he needs killing. It doesn’t help Wayne’s mindset that he is constantly haunted by nightmares of not only the deaths of his parents (as standard) but also visions of a dystopian future where Superman rules as a tyrant. These visions are given further credence not only by a surprise visit by Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller) in a scene straight out of Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) where he warns Wayne of this apocalyptic future and urges him to “find us”, but also through the machinations of Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg).

3
During the Crisis, the Flash appeared to Batman and warned of the coming events.

Given the controversy caused by Man of Steel, the world is suitably divided by Superman’s presence. A big side plot in the film is the world’s views on Superman; while many view him as a hero, saviour, and messianic figure, others are also fearful of his presence and uncomfortable with his status as an all-powerful alien who answers to no one. While Batman comes to represent the extremes of the latter, Superman’s extended family – the ever-pretty Amy Adams and Lois Lane and his mother, Martha (Diane Lane) – represent the former, urging Clark to be a symbol of hope and/or remove himself from the equation entirely and leave the world to its own issues. Luthor capitalises on the divide that Superman causes and works it to his advantages; through his devious machinations, Luthor gains access to the remains of Zod’s Kryptonian ship, the body of Zod himself, and frames Superman as a destructive force through a series of terrorist actions. This is aided by the general consensus that, because Superman acts as an independent force, his actions have consequences for the rest of the world that led to a number of deaths, a fact that weighs heavily on Superman’s conscience and his belief in himself and what he’s doing.

4
Separated at birth?

For me, the casting of Eisenberg is the exact opposite of Affleck’s: while I generally believed that he could bring something unusual to the role, he is less of a gem and more of a scenery-chewing, ham-fisted version of the character. In his defence, I was glad to see that he wasn’t the corporate, suit-wearing version; Eisenberg brings a manic, hyperactive energy to the role that masks his true, devious intentions; however, while it kind of portrays the character as a quirky, eccentric tycoon, it lends itself more to Jim Carrey’s over-the-top acting from Batman Forever (Schumacher, 1995) people continue to lament to this day. Luthor, implied to be from observing how often Superman saves Lois Lane from danger, pieces together Superman’s secret identity and kidnaps his mother and places Lois in peril in order to bend Superman to his will. He has also been fuelling Wayne’s thirst for blood by manipulating him over time, effectively setting the two against each other in order to publically discredit and shame Superman. However, Luthor’s ultimate plot involves not only the discovery of Kryptonite (which Wayne manages to intercept and use to his own advantage) but also the genetic tampering of Zod’s remains. Accessing forbidden Kryptonian technology, Luthor creates a hulking genetic monstrosity whose sole purpose is to kill Superman: he creates Doomsday.

5
Doomsday serves as the penultimate threat of the film.

Doomsday, whom many online have criticised as being shoe-horned in to unite the central characters, also surprised me. When I first saw the footage of Doomsday from an earlier trailer, I lamenting his presence as it causes so many issues. People have been asking me over the last few years how Batman and Superman can fight and I have explained, over and over, that the two have not only fought numerous times in the comics but also that Batman has often come out on top more than once. Superman, for all his powers, is fallible and has numerous weaknesses; Doomsday, however, traditionally has no such weaknesses and, in a fight against him, the most useless ally you would want would be Batman. However, the film’s version of Doomsday is markedly different; it’s somewhat weaker, physically, and vulnerable to Kryptonite but remains as immensely powerful as ever, if not more so. Doomsday emits concussive blasts of heat energy, seems to float or straight-up fly a few times, and expels shockwaves of energy every time it evolves to repair from damage and attacks. In Superman’s favour, he learns from Man of Steel and attempts to take Doomsday into space and away from the planet; however, this plan is foiled by the governmental decision to nuke them once their out in orbit, which brings Doomsday back more powerful than ever. Joining Superman and Batman to oppose Doomsday is Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), who appears at numerous points in a sub-plot concerning her attempts to retrieve vital data of metahumans from Luthor.

6
Miller’s influence on Snyder is painfully obvious.

It turns out that Luthor has kept tabs on Barry Allen/the Flash, sightings of Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and the augmentation of Victor Stone into Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and is eager to keep Luthor from eliminating these metahumans. In service of this, she runs into Wayne at numerous points, who discovers that Diana has been around for about a hundred years and is more than she seems. Diana opts to interject herself into the conclusion and assist Batman and Superman, relishing the battle against Doomsday. For the first-ever live-action portrayal of Wonder Woman, Gadot bring both beauty and strength; while her casting also attracted controversy, she was actually portrayed very well and as integral to not only this film but also the formation of the upcoming Justice League. However, the primary title of this movie involves the fight between Batman and Superman. These two clash immediately due to their ideals and approaches and because of Wayne’s vendetta against Superman, but don’t actually come to blows until the third act. For this battle, Snyder draws implicitly from The Dark Knight Returns (Miller, 1986); Batman dons a cybernetic suit exactly as in the comic, blasts Superman with Kryptonite gas as in the comic, and beats him into submission just like in the comic. I guess, in execution, the fight between the two comes across as very similar to the showdown in Freddy vs. Jason (Yu, 2003) in that the entirely film builds the tension towards the confrontation, and builds it some more, and, when the tension finally snaps, it is a very satisfying event.

7
Superman famously died in battle against Doomsday in 1992.

Batman, as mentioned before, is violent and aggressive in his fighting style; his combat prowess is ripped straight from the Arkham series of videogames (Rocksteady Studios/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, 2009 to 2015) and there is no question that, once Superman is suitably weakened, Batman is the superior fighter. Superman, in a change of pace, shakes off the effects of Kryptonite over time and it merely weakens him, rather than kills him. However, that’s alright because Batman is more than willing to stab a Kryptonite spear through Superman’s head! Batman bests Superman, beating him into submission, and is poised for the kill before Superman begs him to save his mother after the fact and Lois rushes in to help clear the air. It is at this moment that Batman comes to his senses and realises that Superman is a selfless man trying to do good; however, this revelation comes off quite rushed. Indeed, once the revelation that Wayne and Clark’s mothers share the same first name (a point I had never actually considered or thought of before) is brought up, Wayne does a complete turn around. Not only is he now willing to assist Superman’s causes, he also pledges to unite the other metahumans in honour of Superman’s penultimate sacrifice.

Oh, didn’t I mention that Superman dies?

Well, honestly, I was pleasantly surprised that Snyder saw this through as totally as he did. As I said on numerous occasions before the movie came out, you cannot involve Doomsday and not do The Death of Superman (Jurgens, et al, 1992) from the comics. Doomsday’s entire purpose is to kill Superman; leaving that out would be like using bane and not having him break Batman’s back. In fact, one of the major issues I had with Smallville (2001 to 2011) using a version of Doomsday was that it obviously wouldn’t be killing Clark (Tom Welling) and would be portrayed as another “villain-of-the-season”. Here, Doomsday and Superman kill each other through mutual impalement; this heroic act brings Batman entirely over to Superman’s cause. It also (through the effective use of a military/state funeral, the more emotional funeral in Smallville, and the montage of reaction shots to the news of Superman’s death) turns Superman into a matriarchal symbol of hope and heroism, effectively ending the divisive conflict he caused in life.

8
Smallville‘s Doomsday was an abomination.

Of course, a two-part Justice League movie is scheduled to begin filming soon and Superman is already confirmed as being part of the line-up. As a result, the film’s final shot is of Superman’s grave trembling slightly, signalling his inevitable return (and without the four bogus clones as in the original story, one would assume). However, the fact that Snyder actually had the balls to do The Death of Superman, in my mind, completely justifies and exonerates the inclusion of Doomsday. It wasn’t just some half-assed inclusion there to be brought down by the trinity of superheroes; it was there to unite them, the Justice League, and the world by killing Superman, so kudos for that. Visually, the film is actually quite magnificent; say what you will about Snyder as a storyteller, the man knows how to be cinematic. Batman shines the most throughout because of this, being shot in pitch black and having his action scenes be energetic and clear to see. Snyder’s visual symbolism extends to Superman as well; while the God and Christ metaphors have been done to death with Superman, here they actually have relevance in the plot so they don’t come off as cheap or superficial. The visual dichotomy of the film is wonderfully done; the contrast between Metropolis and Gotham City is apparent, the costumes all pop out and appear functional, and Batman’s weapons and gadgets are showcased to the fullest.

It really feels as though the film-makers held nothing back (except for the half-hour of cut footage rumoured to be on the home release) and that has, in the eyes of many, caused more controversy. I have heard of critics attacking the film for being “choppy” at the start, shoe-horning in the Justice League elements and Doomsday, and having nonsensical decisions woven into the dialogue, script, and plot. To them, I say, these are valid points in some cases. However, I never experienced any issues with the pacing or the editing; sure, it’s a long film, but films are these days and, when you’re enjoying a movie, that’s not a bad film. I found myself engaged with the plot; I wanted to know more about Wayne Manor, Gotham, and Batman (which is a perfect way to re-introduce this version of the character and will be expanded upon in future DC films), I followed along easily enough with Luthor’s plot and the side-plots involving the Justice League, and never felt that anything else done an injustice or there for the sake of it. The fact is that DC and Warner Bros. are very late to the shared universe party; Marvel Studios have gained the upper hand after building their individual heroes separately and now having them cross over regularly. While DC’s television efforts are popular and are beginning to cross over, their television shows will not be a part of this forthcoming DC film universe and the studio, which has largely been happy to produce mainly Batman and Superman movies after the lacklustre reception of Green Lantern (Campbell, 2011), doesn’t have the time or the release schedule to introduce the Flash, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg or the other Justice Leaguers. Instead, what will set DC movies apart from Marvel’s from now on is their cross-connectivity and their immediate focus of having their films and character converge right off the bat, which could make for some exciting future releases.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Overall, yes, this film has some flaws but nowhere near as many as I was expecting and it certainly doesn’t deserve the critical backlash it is currently facing. It re-introduces Batman, presenting a grizzled, more violent version of the character who seems just as mental as the villains he faces, and brings more humanity and empathy to Superman. The visual presentation is top-notch, more than making up for any narrative deficiencies, and the thematic portrayal of both characters is largely in keeping with their portrayals in several prominent comic books, even the vaunted Dark Knight Returns. Snyder had the balls to do new thins with this movie: he incorporates Robin (no one knows which one but, most likely it was Jason Todd, meaning Nightwing could be active in this universe), a character no one has used in film for nearly ten years (and that’s just criminal); he utilised Doomsday to its fullest extent; he addressed and upped the scale of destruction from Man of Steel; and the apocalyptic future witnessed by Wayne, which is implied to be the result of Superman’s actions (somehow), and Luthor’s manic rant at the end (I half-expected him to announce that “a Crisis is coming”) lend credence to the rumours that the Justice League will come together to battle Darkseid. Make no mistake, the DC movies are a violent one where actions have consequences and the heroes amongst us may cause more trouble than the villains but it is one soon to be united by heroes and villains alike and, for the first true attempt and making headway towards a Justice League movie, I would say that Snyder has delivered on all fronts.

Recommended: Sure, why not? The film is beautifully shot, exciting, and engaging. It’s maybe not the best-paced film and has it’s issues, but it’s Batman…versus Superman!
Best moment: Easily the entire final act of the film from the titular clash between the two heroes, into Batman’s vicious rescue mission, through to the Trinity joining forces against Doomsday.
Worst moment: Jesse Eisenberg’s performance as Lex Luthor totally ruins what should have been a far more cerebral, menacing characterisation.