Avengers: Age Of Ultron review (some spoilers)

Let me start with a disclaimer. I was raised on Marvel comics to an extent. They were a little hard to come by when I was a child (in England) so I didn’t always have a steady supply, but I loved them when I got them. I will also state that I really enjoyed the humor, action and fun of the first two “Iron Man” movies with Robert Downey Jr. So I’m a “fan” – not a “fan-boy” – but definitely someone that these types of movies should appeal to.

However, I wasn’t too impressed by the previous “Avengers”movie and found both the Captain America and Thor standalones abysmally dull and ridiculous. Unfortunately, the latest addition “Ultron” very quickly reaches new lows in preposterously boring superhero movies (PBSM™).

The movie starts with the Avengers attacking a Hydra base and the problems start right at the same point. The audience is treated to a twenty odd minute sequence where one set of computer graphics “fights” with another bunch of computer graphics. It’s like watching a computer game – instead of playing it. At least if you were playing you might feel some sense of involvement and investment in the action, but here the experience is entirely passive, with no time wasted on what’s happening, why it’s happening or why we should care.

The Avengers win – of course – and we then have a brief piece of twaddle where Stark and Banner “discuss” things. “mumble mumble artificial intelligence”. “Mumble mumble artificial intelligence mumble mumble…” etc.

Somehow Hydra got their hands on Loki’s staff, which rather than being a weapon apparently contains an AI (yes, I know that doesn’t make ANY sense whatsoever… don’t blame me…). Questions like how or why etc. don’t even come up. No! That might actually make some sense.

This “intelligence” then manages to make itself a body, using Stark’s suit technology and comes “alive”. All this takes place while the Avengers are kicking back sipping Ice Teas and Strawberry milkshakes at a party (it’s Disney after all…). Yep, the greatest force for protecting the world from bad guys just suddenly decides to put its feet up for a while…

Cue more computer graphics fighting with some other computer graphics at the end of which the evil A.I. escapes into the world to become a cyber being. (“Cyber” is so much more threatening than “internet.”) The goal of the A.I. is nothing short of destruction of the entire world. Gasp! Shock!

How entirely original… I think there must be some kind of school for Artificial Intelligences out there with a program that goes something like:

  1. Find evil looking robot/suit/clone body.
  2. Destroy a few things for the hell of it
  3. Review humanity’s history.
  4. Decide humanity must be destroyed.
  5. Destroy some more things for the hell of it.

I mean, Thor is a god, right? He could just wave his big hammer (steady on now!) and magic the A.I. back into DOS 4.0, couldn’t he? Or Tony Stark, tech genius, surely he could figure out a way of just rebooting the homicidal A.I? After all it’s using his technology.

Cue more battles. More computer graphics. Each one bigger and “better,” Throw in an odd snarky comment now and then (mostly obsessed with Captain America’s dislike of “bad” words) In fact that’s the pattern here-

  • Computer graphics “fight” each other.
  • Superhero says something snarky.
  • Rinse and repeat.

In the end everyone is saved by “JARVIS.” Stark’s pet A.I. who they inserted into another superbody. (Hmmm we stuck an AI in a super body and now it’s trying to destroy the world… I know! Let’s do it again!). JARVIS A.I. is amazing, very calm and collected. You know, speaks with that reassuring British accent and everything but now he’s like a super hero, complete with cape to prove he’s a superhero. I mean seriously, why the hell does this A.I. need a cape? Oh of course, because otherwise you wouldn’t be able to tell the computer graphics apart in the fight scenes…

Something else to think about. Why are they constantly loading up the casts with more and more actors? I’ve read several times that this is because the producers don’t think there are actors that can “carry” a film on their own. This is nonsense. The real reason for this is simple, it means more people will go to see the movie. So you don’t like Robert Downey? No worries because Chris Hemsworth is there. Don’t like Pepper? Hey Black Widow is there…

The problem with this approach is that what little efforts there are to produce emotionally fulfilling characters are diluted among all the cast. You never get to connect with them because they’re thrown in scatter-gun. It’s like throwing shit against the wall and just hoping some of it sticks.

In “Ultron”, the Black Widow decides that she’s in love with Bruce Banner. The trouble is you;re never shown why. The romance is just thrown in at a few points when they need a break from the computer graphics fighting each other (wow, those pixels must get tired out after all that…). When the Hulk flies off into the sunset at the end, leaving Widow… well, errr a widow… you simply “don’t give a damn” (I’m copyrighting that one by the way…). And yes, I DID say that the Hulk flies off in a plane.. as in he flies the plane…even though he’s four times the size of a regular human being (except apparently when he sits in Tony’s pilot seat…) and a brainless rage machine than can’t even speak. Speak, no. Fly supersonic jet, yes?

The movie producers have unfortunately lost the plot. I don;t mean that euphemistically, I mean literally. There is no plot. This isn’t something confined to “Ultron”, it seems to be a global problem. For a story to be interesting you need  character, emotion, connection, a somewhat plausibly connected series of events. The problem is NOT the actors, it’s not the computer graphics, it’s how you use these things. Creating a bigger explosion and a bigger battle scene doesn’t achieve anything if you simply don’t care because the characters are cardboard and the plot has more holes in it than a lump of stinky cheese (can’t think why that might come to mind…)

I’m sure that the movie will break all box office records, I’m sure everyone will be wowed by all the smoke and mirrors. For a while… but I think it’s about time Hollywood producers looked at what some of the indies are doing. They’re making good movies, with good stories often beating the crap out of the mainstream and doing it on a fraction of the budget of even a “small” mainstream movie.

Unfortunately this Avengers movie, all 141 minutes of it, should be subtitled “The Age Of Boredom”.


Elite Dangerous – the beginning

Elite-TitleThirty years after it first appeared the space trading/combat game, Elite, is back in the new release “Elite Dangerous” and what a return it is. Stunning graphics, mind blowing levels of detail and more options than you can shake a high quality joystick at (more on that later).

I have to confess that I wasted invested am awful lot of hours playing Elite when I was younger. The game was awesome even then. Sure the graphics were minimal (though advanced for the time) but it gave you an incredible  sense of freedom, flying around the infinite volume of space; trading, fighting and bounty hunting – all while pursuing the lofty heights of “Elite” status.

Okay, so it wasn’t actually limitless. There were eight “galaxies”, each with two-hundred and fifty-odd  star systems, so just over two thousand in total. But each one had individual data on planetary information, population and inhabitants and it certainly felt unlimited at the time when most games had a few dozen game levels or locations.

When I saw that the game was being remade by Frontier I was initially overjoyed, but then I remembered the failures of earlier sequels and thought they’d just screw it up yet again.

Nevertheless I did end up joining the beta program to get early access to the game. I was a bit put out that I had to pay $70 to become a “tester” but the whole development of the game was crowd-funded so this was obviously part of the financing model.

My first attempts at using the beta software were not encouraging. For several weeks I simply couldn’t run the software as it wouldn’t download and install. The Frontier servers seemed slow to the point of non-functioning at times and you couldn’t play the game without first signing in and receiving new updates (not even in single-player, which is what I was mostly interested in!).

Finally, after many frustrating attempts, I got on and started playing the game a little. I’m now playing the full non-beta version just released last week and my impressions were very mixed.

First of all the attention to detail is really incredible, the 3D graphics are incredibly well done and large structures like space stations and other ships are exquisite in their detailing. Space itself looks simply beautiful and you could be forgiven for just floating around for hours slack-jawed at the panoramas around you.

Mind your ass-teroids!
Mind your ass-teroids!

The features have been extended significantly from the original. For one thing when you dock at a space station you now actually enter it and can fly around inside. The effect is more like something you might expect to see in a movie or TV show not a game.

Too close!
Too close!

No matter how visually stunning though, it all comes down to how well it plays and here is where the first cracks started to appear for me. Not that the game plays “badly”, but the controls are incredibly complex. Sure, there’s a lot to control, as part of the “immersiveness” you kind of expect that, but it seems that they’ve retained the “realistic” flight-model from the sequels, rather than going back to the original simplified (but fun) version. This later flight-model received a lot of criticism years ago so it seems a strange choice.

It's safe in the hanger!
It’s safe in the hanger!

That said, perhaps that’s what everyone wants now and it’s just me being an old fart, out of touch with modern game playing. After all I haven’t played a game “seriously” since… well, never mind when. It was a while back for sure.

I dragged out my old dust covered joystick and that imptoved things but still I felt like I needed a degree in spaceflight to be able to play the game effectively. I gave up several times but kept going back, trying to get familiar with the numerous controls and even managed to launch and dock successfully. But it was all far too frustrating (not to mention time consuming) for my taste.

The sense of scale is amazing.
The sense of scale is amazing.
Going in!
Going in!
Phew! Made it!
Phew! Made it!






It was a real shame. I wanted to like the game so much and wanted to play it but the experience wasn’t what I would call enjoyable. Perhaps it’s just that my priorities have changed too much and I can no longer justify putting so much time into something that is just a “game.”

So I decided it was time for something new. My old joystick was clearly limited in this new environment. So I decided to get a new stick and see if that would help. After much comparing and checking out reviews I selected the Saitek X55 Rhino HOTAS, hoping that it would be enough to at least get me past basic combat training. Did this revolutionize my Elite experience? Find out next time.

Protect writers from online bullying!

I just signed the petition “Jeff Bezos: Protect Amazon.com Users and Indie Publishing Authors from Bullying and Harassment by Removing Anonymity and Requiring Identity Verification for Reviewing and Forum Participation.”

I’m trying to help Todd Barselow, who started the petition, by getting five more people to join me. Will you sign it too?

Here’s the link: http://www.change.org/en-CA/petitions/jeff-bezos-protect-amazon-com-users-and-indie-publishing-authors-from-bullying-and-harassment-by-removing-anonymity-and-requiring-identity-verification-for-reviewing-and-forum-participation

It’s an issue that I think really matters. You can also read more about it by clicking here.

Thank you!

Europa Report review (5/10)

(Caution: may contain spoilers)

I was looking forward to “Europa Report.” It had the makings of a good science-fiction movie, devoid of the usual “let’s throw in some spaceships and call it science fiction” ideas that we usually get. Consultants from NASA and the private space industry promised to keep the movie grounded in reality and avoid the more typical mistakes seen in other movies.

The plot is straightforward enough: A group of astronauts have been selected to travel to Jupiter’s moon, Europa, in order to search for evidence of life in the “ocean” under the Europa frozen surface. So far, so good. All well inside the realms of possibility. Naturally there are problems Continue reading “Europa Report review (5/10)”

Iron Man 3 Review – someone give Tony a poop-scoop

I love Iron Man. There, I said it. I read the comics when I was younger. I love Iron Man 1 and 2. Robert Downey Jr is without doubt the best person I could imagine playing Tony Stark. The first two movies were full of great acting, had good scripts, characterization and were free of the stupidity seen so often in recent blockbusters. Some reasonably decent plotting and good characters you can actual believe are real make the difference between a ho-hum movie and a good one.

Alas, three times is not the charm. Continue reading “Iron Man 3 Review – someone give Tony a poop-scoop”