X-Men: Apocalypse

X-Men: Apocalypse

In X-Men: Apocalypse, one of the characters cheekily remarks that the third movie in a trilogy is always the worst, which was probably them taking another potshot at The Last Stand, but it ironically reflects my feelings about this movie. To be clear, I didn’t hate it. I really like what these newer X-Men movies are doing with the characters. They look great, their powers are awesome to see in action, and the brief moments where they actually have personality are fun. But there’s the rub. Most of the time, characters are just… there. Were you worried Olivia Munn wouldn’t be a good Psylocke? Well, she does so little in Apocalypse that it’s hard to form an opinion either way.

I’m mostly baffled by Mystique’s inclusion, though. She serves no purpose to the plot and pretty much plays moral support for the other characters. I think they only included her, because they already had Jennifer Lawrence on board to play the character. They’re gonna drag her along as much as they did Hugh Jackman, though to be fair, Wolverine’s cameo here was kind of cool. I also enjoyed Nightcrawler’s and, once again, Quicksilver’s presence. Quicksilver’s going to have a show-stealing scene in every movie now, isn’t he? But it was starting to feel like he was too powerful, and I was gearing up to complain that he could have taken out the bad guy by himself.

Thankfully, they do finally address that, but the Apocalypse character as a whole is dumb. He’s honestly the weakest part of the movie. His origins are silly, he spends most of the movie standing around and monologuing, and the fact that he was able to sum up his thoughts on modern society by touching a TV set and then, in a very Ultron-like way, determine the Earth needed cleansing was a little contrived. But that wasn’t nearly as bad as watching the movie restart Magneto’s fall to the dark side in the most clichéd way possible. It’s like every X-Men movie feels the need to “reboot” something. Granted, X-Men are usually more fun to watch when they’re first coming to terms with their powers and identities, but this franchise is going to stagnate (again) if they can’t start building off of that.

Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War

I liked Civil War, but I think we’ve reached that moment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe where things start to get muddy. While I’ve been good about keeping up with most of these movies, I did miss out on Age of Ultron. And skipping just that one movie already caused a lot of confusion here. Like, who the heck is Vision? Where did he come from? This felt more like a sequel to Age of Ultron than a sequel to the last Captain America movie, which is a little annoying, because… well… this is being branded as a Captain America movie! And yet it is just as much a story about Iron Man as it is a story about the Captain.

This could easily be overwhelming for viewers who passed on more movies than I did. If you didn’t see Ant-Man, for instance, his introduction would have absolutely no effect on you, and his powers would seemingly come out of nowhere. However, I really enjoyed the brief humor Ant-Man brought to the movie. He and Spider-Man collectively stole the show and helped balance out Civil War’s otherwise gloomy mood. The inter-fighting made sense for the most part, though. The growing ensemble was handled pretty well, and the action sequences were fun. The MCU build-up did pay off in the end. I just hope the next big Marvel movie doesn’t require quite so much foreknowledge.

The Last Man on Earth – Season 2

Last Man on Earth

The Last Man on Earth is like the Walking Dead of comedies: a post-apocalyptic story with a lot of promise that it only occasionally reaches. I was hesitant to even give Season 2 a chance, considering how quickly Season 1 devolved into a generic sitcom. I’m glad Season 2 remolded Phil’s personality, though. He’s no longer the huge jerk bent on having sex with every woman in town. In fact, the best parts of Season 2 were the episodes that didn’t feature “the group.” When the season started out with just Phil and Carol together, I was really hoping it would stay like that. It would have been a great way to reboot the series and make up for last season’s shortcomings. But then they went crawling back to Tuscon/Miami, and the sitcom material started right up again.

Fortunately, Season 2 got a great sub-plot in the form of Phil’s brother, Mike, trapped in space. Every shot of him alone in the space station was so sad and so well executed. It was like watching an entirely different movie. The episode where he finally fell to Earth was just as fantastic and really took advantage of the whole “last man” theme. It was worth sticking through the season just for that. And I’d like to think that’s the show the creators want to make, but it’s the studio executives who keep dragging it down. Not surprisingly, then, once Mike shows up in Miami, we get a stupid prank war and a ridiculous Will Forte haircut that drags on for way too long. And, in the end, Jason Sudeikis’s guest star role went to waste, and The Last Man on Earth continues to squander its potential.

Minions

Minions

The Minions movie represents everything I’ve grown to hate about modern animated films. I fully realize a kids’ movie is for kids, but a good kids’ movie can also be fun for the adults. I recently enjoyed Zootopia, after all, so I’m not totally immune. But, man, the Minions movie was so annoying. The plot felt like it had no purpose, the characters were bland, and the humor could be broken up into two types: simple-minded slapstick or obvious British/pop culture references. I think I laughed once through the whole thing, and the one gag I did like I can’t even remember.

To be honest, I just don’t find the minions very amusing. While their design is cute, their personalities are obnoxious, especially in large doses. The gibberish talk in particular is really grating; I feel like they would be funnier if they were silent and relied purely on physical comedy. A movie about a thousand little Harpos running about would have been a delight to watch. Instead, we got a “prequel” that does more damage to the Despicable Me universe than good and kind of ruins who the minions are when you stop to think about it. Oh, but it’s a kids’ movie. No room for thinking, right?

The Jungle Book

The Jungle Book

The story of The Jungle Book has traditionally been pretty thin. The plot can basically be summed up as “tiger hates boy but takes his sweet, sweet time doing something about it,” so I was ultimately watching the movie for the spectacle itself. And on those grounds, it was good. The CG animals were very convincing (much more than, say, Noah), and the scenery was equally captivating. I also liked this rendition of Mowgli, because he didn’t come across as a little brat (like I remember him from previous versions) and was actually useful to the other animals. In fact, kudos to Disney for finding a child actor who acts like a child!

I was not so impressed with the rest of the “cast,” however. Most of the voice acting felt really off to me, which is usually the case when big budget cartoons hire famous people who aren’t necessarily great voice actors. Honestly, The Jungle Book is already a well-known tale, especially under Disney’s care, so why the need to bring in names like Scarlett Johansson? I can’t imagine anyone buying a ticket, because they heard she was in this (for all of five minutes, by the way). Bill Murray as Baloo was about the only one that I didn’t find incredibly distracting. You can always count on old Baloo…

But being a Disney movie, they also slipped in a few musical numbers. And this kind of ruined the tone, since everything else about the movie’s presentation was so down to earth and even dark in places. Granted, hearing Baloo sing his trademark song still worked, because it fit the character, but why did King Louie keep his musical number? He was revealed to be a mobster of sorts, and then he starts singing “I Wanna Be Like You,” and… just… ugh… Disney needs to be more willing to shut off its history and do something new, because the best parts of this movie were the things that weren’t trying to remind you of the 1967 cartoon version.

Cornerstone: The Song of Tyrim

Cornerstone

This is the kind of game that’s frustratingly shy of being great. With just a little more polish and a slightly bigger scope, it could have easily become my Game of the Year. As it stands, Cornerstone is merely “good.” It’s another island-based adventure game that will undoubtedly be compared to Wind Waker, which is also why I’m so enamored with it. I can’t stress enough that Steam needs more Zelda-like games, although Cornerstone does more to differentiate itself than the other indie homage I recently played, Oceanhorn. But it also amplifies some of the same shortcomings.

For starters, it’s easy to get lost. Not every task is put on your “to do” list, making it feel like the game has glitched out when said list turns up empty, and yet you have no idea where you’re supposed to go next. Blaming it on glitches is totally valid, by the way, because Cornerstone is full of them. Tyrim will randomly start grunting like he’s stuck on a wall, and one boss in particular had a habit of disappearing from the fight, never to return. The controls aren’t great, either, and the combat system is about as simple as it gets. Block, parry, repeat, only with the added confusion of weird button mapping choices.

But enough with the complaints. I do like the way they’ve set up the world/islands and how everything revolves around crafting from four set materials. Swords, shields, bombs, and parachutes are all conjured on the fly and can wear out and break over time. I only wish this aspect of the game were stronger, because the most enjoyable part of Cornerstone is finding a new crafting recipe and experimenting with what it gives you. I even liked the story, which is rare for me, though the way dialogue is presented is rather stale. Again, this is so close to being a truly awesome game, but even a less-than-stellar Wind Waker “clone” is still pretty cool.