Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Year In Retrospect

Now that it's the year 2015, it's time to look back on late 2014, picking up where I left off.

I saw Dawn of the Planet Of The Apes in theaters in Summer. It was a surprisingly even better sequel to 2011's Rise of the Planet Of The Apes, which was also a good movie but one that took real slow for the action to start happening and didn't really hook you into it's events until around the midway point. This one hooked me from the start and the action kept building throughout the plot. The ape and human characters were all engaging, Andy Serkis once again gave an extraordinary performance as Caesar, and we had a terrific villain in Koba - possibly one of the best villains of the year, period.

I later saw Marvel's Guardians Of The Galaxy, which as anyone could tell you, was a lot of fun. Way more fun, exciting, heartfelt, and legitimately awesome than a lot of people were expecting it to be. It's proof that Marvel has mastered the art of making popcorn superhero films - it knew when to take itself seriously, yet embraced the craziness and silliness of it's concept the whole way through and had fun with it without ever once apologizing for it. It's like the new Ghotstbusters in a sense, or heck, The Avengers. It knows what it is and how to make the most of that in a way that respects the plot, characters, world, and material while also ensuring the audience is engaged and entertained. I loved all the characters, particularly Rocket (who was a definite show stealer) and Draxx (who I at first thought would be a total killjoy but ended up a great source of humor). I also enjoyed the soundtrack, and really dug how they worked it into a touching plot element. It's just an awesome film all around.

I've taken more notice of Disney's Gravity Falls this year now that it's in it's second season. It's creator, Alex Hirsch, seems to have thought it out extraordinarily well, knowing the solutions to all the mysteries being set up and where the steadily building storyline of the show is headed. It's not at all something I expected to see from a show that seemed so bright and wacky at first, but I'm thoroughly enjoying watching it unfold. The stories, characters, and writing on this show have been surprisingly top-notch (with the possible exception of anything to do with Robbie.) Definitely sticking with this one!

I watched the entire first season of Elementary in the summer, and will be starting on the second season real soon. Overall, I think anyone and everyone ought to watch it - it's the best modern adaptation of Sherlock Holmes around. Yes, I think it's better than Sherlock, which sort of lost it's luster in Season 3. This show's takes on Holmes, Watson, and Moriarty were absolutely incredible, and the ongoing story arc of the season was just perfectly done. I hear the second season isn't as good, and I get why: this was a tough act to follow. But it's still a show worth watching all the same.

The Legend Of Korra had it's entire second season (Books 3 and 4) rushed out in the year so that Nickelodeon could kick it to the curb. I've covered Book 3 and how much it tremendously improved the show after all the disasters that occurred in Books 1 and 2. Book 4 wasn't quite as good, but it was genuinely in the running for status of favorite book, so you know it did a lot of stuff right. Korra's character arc in this story was wonderful, finally completing her maturing into a less hostile and self-centered and more spiritual, compassionate young adult who presses on despite her PTSD and thinks about the needs of the world above all else. Tenzin, my favorite, unfortunately got the shaft this time around since he's passed on his role and teaching to new airbenders. Mako appeared less too, but I didn't really mind that - the times he was around, he was a likable character whom I was worried might die in the finale, and given his past history, this is surprising for me. Asami also wasn't as prominent, but still made enough of an impact to feel like she belonged. The Bei Fong family - Lin, Su, Opal, Baatar Jr., and even Toph, all really shined here. They could've been better at points, but they were overall engaging. The main antagonist, Kuvira (voiced by Zelda Williams), despite being something of a retread of both Azula and Fire Lord Sozin, actually managed to be an awesome, compelling, and hardcore villain in her own right, with her rise to power and spiral into madness being accurate to many real life dictators of fascist empires, and her character progression being almost Shakespearean in nature. Baatar Jr. as her primary henchman/fiance also surprised me, and he was a great villain too, with Todd Haberkorn oozing smarmy wickedness in the role. We got an oddly endearing and well developed new character in Prince Wu.  The star characters, however, were Varrick, Zhu Li, and (get ready for it) Bolin. Varrick is a brilliant character who is both comedic yet fascinating in how much ingenuity and guile he has, and he was better than he's ever been in this Book, going from amoral villain to a major hero with a conscience and romantic feelings for his assistant Zhu Li, who also becomes more of a character here by asserting herself as an equal to Varrick rather than an abused assistant. And Bolin was astonishingly more serious, sensible, and competent than ever before, being one of the story's most heroic characters. And then there was the series finale - it was awesome, surpassing Book 2's finale in it's epic factor. We had EVERY major character contributing something to the battle against Kuvira and her Colossus super weapon that threatened to destroy Republic City and the world. Hiroshi Sato even came back to do his part and then sacrifice his life in a BRUTAL death. The climax was great, but what followed was just a great
in how unconventional it was. Korra's final enemy is a spirit-powered death ray, a greater sense of balance is brought to the world via a newly created spirit portal at the heart of Republic City, and Korra resolves her conflict with Kuvira by sitting down, talking to her, and showing her compassion. She's come a long way from thinking all major problems can be solved through bending and violence.

Anything more to say? Oh right, I'm sure everyone wants me to address the ending in which Korra and Asami take what's been confirmed by Bryke to be a first step in transitioning from being friends
to being lovers. When I saw that last scene and could tell clearly what it was going for from the way it was set up, scored, and animated, my jaw dropped. I mean, they were pushing it in Book 3 but never did I suspect they'd actually truly go there. But they did, and I'm beyond happy about it. Avatar Korra and Asami Sato are a same sex romantic couple. On an animated series watched by people of all ages. Now I'm aware that it's not the first time queer representation has occurred in animation, but I'm pretty sure it IS the first time that THE main character and another main character have not only been bisexual but ended the show by becoming an official couple on-screen. THAT is bold and audacious!

Speaking of, Once Upon A Time came back in the Fall, and if it underwent it's shark jumping process in the latter half of Season 3, than it officially completed that jump AND made the landing here in Season 4. 4A had one HUGE good thing going for it, and that was, surprisingly enough, the Frozen-based storyline. The stuff involving Arendelle, Anna and Elsa, Kristoff, Hans, Ingrid the Snow Queen, the Trolden Glass mirror and the spell of Shattered Sight, Rumpelstiltskin and the magic hat, and the untold tragic backstory behind Queen Gerda's family, was all excellently handled. The characters and plot points were woven together into a very tight narrative running through flashbacks and the present day, something that hadn't been done consistently since the Dark Curse saga of Season 1! It was great stuff that was unfortunately used to keep the show on life support due to all the crap that was being done aside from it. Emma's arc that fizzled out after the two-hour episode, Killian's plot that got a rushed resolution with no pay-off at all, plots for Snow, Charming, and Belle that did the same, Will Scarlet's ultimately throwaway role as a comic relief side antagonist, Henry working in Gold's shop as part of the dumbass "Operation Mongoose", and worst of all was everything having to do with Regina and Robin Hood and their romance drama. Victim blaming, uncharacteristic behavior, abuse, neglect, adultery, rape culture, and all around wangst were all things that came out of this and it was bloody awful! Regina has officially lost her compelling edge as a character now that she's the creator's pet favorite, and Robin Hood just became repugnant - one of the worst characters on the show to be sure. Marian was the only one with good sense, and she spent most of the arc literally fridged! But all of this isn't the kicker. The kicker is...that "Operation Mongoose" I spoke of? It's a terribly conceived, terribly written, terribly executed plot where Regina is somehow convinced that the author of Henry's storybook is a literal god who designates who's a hero and who's a villain, thus who gets a happy ending and who doesn't. That everything has happened because the author wrote it to be so, even though that contradicts established canon that we've SEEN for ourselves on-screen. And yet everyone she tells this to - EVERYONE - endorses and supports her whacked out conspiracy theories without question, and by the end of the half season, the entire main cast is in on this plot, even the bad guys! I just...I can't with this show anymore. It started out so strong only to become something so inconsistent and often disappointing. I'll still watch it, but not enjoy it as much.

Star Wars Rebels, the first work to emerge in the rebooted Star Wars franchise, has actually proven to be very solid and very enjoyable. The Clone Wars got steadily better, but I never really felt anything for it, mostly because it was based in the prequel trilogy's time frame and about a conflict I could not give a damn about. This show, however, gives me feels of the original trilogy and is doing a good job expanding upon that time frame, showing us the origins of the rebel alliance in the wake of the evil empire's rise. I like the characters so far, especially Zeb, voiced by Steve Blum using an Australian accent. And the primary antagonist, the Inquisitor, voiced by Jason Isaacs, is a bone-chillingly creepy and formidable villain. I fear for the future of the show since I've heard that Greg Weisman only wrote the first season before stepping down for some reason, but I still want to stick with it all the same.

Pokemon Gen 6 has still not been too good. The anime still sucks, and those Ruby and Sapphire remakes failed to impress me. One great thing to come out of it was in the Delta Episode of ORAS, where the Zinnia character reveals that Gen 6 with all it's Mega Evolution crap is actually an alternate reality from Gens 3 through 5, which in of itself was an alternate reality from Gens 1 and 2! This actually gives an in-universe explanation to the shark jumping process that the franchise had been enduring since Gen 3, and makes "New Pokemon" canonically it's own thing from the Pokemon of before! I am beyond thrilled to know that this is a thing that happened - it makes the new stuff easier to disregard. Well, at least this year's when those lost episodes are finally due to air/be released...

Sailor Moon Crystal turned out to be a HUGE letdown. Now, I'm not the nostalgic minded type of rabid fan who thinks it's godawful: I think it's just mediocre. But "just mediocre" is still way below what I wanted and expected. If your production is hectic and you don't have a good animation budget, then why bother making this at all? If you're not going to give the other Senshi's characters any focus and perspective on things, why even include them? If you're going to keep all the Shittenou around past the points where they died in the manga and yet not develop them enough, why keep them alive? And if you're going to give the Senshi and Shittenou a romantic subplot and yet then barely flesh it out as a subplot, then why set it up as a subplot? What a mess! It's continuing into the Black Moon arc this year before it supposedly ends, but it's not given me enough to look forward to, which sucks.

Disney's Big Hero 6 was another fun theatrical ride. I didn't enjoy it as much as Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, or Frozen, but it was as good as Boltthe Princess and the Frog or Winnie The Pooh. I may be in the minority here, but I wasn't that grabbed into it during the Hiro and Tadashi parts - it was
after the latter's death and the start of the Hiro and Baymax bond that I found myself really engaged.
I enjoyed the other characters and the superhero action that followed, and the villain turned out to be one of the more unique Disney villains - how many of them before now have been motivated by the tragic loss of a beloved family member? In fact, that the main story wrapped within the superhero stuff is one about grieving, coping, and coming to terms with tragic losses of loved ones is the film's heart and it's biggest strength. It was great overall, and that "Immortals" song can't get out of my head now!

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 was good too. I think this was the weakest of the films in this series, but it had it's merits to be sure. Jennifer Lawrence still shines as Katniss, Woody Harrelson as Haymitch is still a scene stealer, including Effie in the plot's events was a great and sensible idea, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman was still perfect in his role, President Coin came off as a far more believable character than the one note patronizing bitch from the books, and the great Donald Sutherland as the evil and increasingly more unhinged President Snow remains one of the best cinematic villains in recent years. The tension kept on building, making me look forward to Part 2!

The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies was also a good film. A great improvement over the horrendously disorganized and overall mediocre second film in this trilogy - it actually had a focus, well built plot and central characters, and I was invested in the politics and drama surrounding the Arkenstone probably more than I was in the titular battle, though that was great and exciting too. Sadly, it's still flawed and not as good as the first installment. The warts of extending this to a trilogy still show, particularly in scenes that were clearly shot to pad it out, such as that cringeworthy Tauriel/Legolas/Kili love triangle plot or the increasingly unfunny comic relief antics of Alfred. And if you ARE to make it a trilogy, at least do it right - the opening scene of this film prior to the title drop would have been the ideal ending to the previous one! That abrupt cliffhanger did the films no favors.

Channel Awesome has pretty much gone down the crapper as of late. So much drama with the critics, so much walk outs, so much management issues. If it doesn't collapse sometime within this year, I'll be surprised. I kind of hope it does, though. The Walker brothers could REALLY use a break.

I will not talk of Robin Williams' passing or Mike Brown and the events in Ferguson. It's all too sad...

3 comments:

  1. Korra reaching Kuvira with compassion was great. Really showed how far she's come.

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    1. I agree. Korra's character was just wonderfully realized and fantastically developed by the end of the show.

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  2. Yeah I'm really neutral towards Korrasami with my own reservations being:

    1. I still think there was room for improvement, but then I'm not really sure Bryke are the best writers for romance with even my favorite pairing Kataang which had better people up to bat.

    2. I'm going to cover more on this in a bit, but more and more I think Mike (and Bryan who is not involved with the new Korra comics) really just touches on issues just to win popularity points.

    I mean before Korrasami became official, TLoK's claim to fame was a female lead, but if you look at something like Peacekeepers from Book 2, you'd think they were demonstrating why we need to keep our women weak.

    I mean Korra's outburst (which I still feel is problematic) could be understood because of high stakes, but Eska was only getting aggressive because "her" man ditched her, plus Lin hilarious outburst about damaging a sacred structure because Tenzin broke up with her.

    And Lin's joke doesn't even serve one ounce of purpose. If Bryke admitted to actually thinking that strong women can't deal with their problems without violence, I'd actually believe that Peacekeepers was made to strawman feminists.

    Heck expecting us to believe that non-bender oppression was resolved by putting one of them in the chair of presidency? There's a reason why us white males are accused of being too spoiled and privileged to understand how discrimination works.


    Anyway I'm a strong supporter of LGBT couples becoming more mainstream and not just towards the action/adventures/drama crowd (even ordered that Love is Love comic) and I even like the attempts of several of my favorite web comics like Gunnerkrigg Court and Phoebe & Her Unicorn to make them more inclusive.


    I don't know I think that the idea that one has to be part of the demograph they're trying to represent, but considering that would TLoK especially Book 4 get praise if the lead was a male and the kiss was between him and her?

    At least to me, if Bryke or just Mike really cared about representation beyond the points he'd score, he/they would in my opinion try harder to avoid stereotypes or shortcuts in general.

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