Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 - The Highlights (Tetris_King)

The end of the year offers a chance to think about the highlights of the year, both good and bad. Not many games were played this year, resulting in a much shorter list, though there was a spike in new movies watched compared to previous years. Due to the number of superhero movies this year that I actually liked, the Top Movies lists are split between superhero and non-superhero films. Each list is presented in no particular order, with links to respective reviews where applicable.

Top Non-Superhero Movies of 2018

While not exactly masterworks of cinema, the first five live-action Transformers films could (for the most part) be enjoyed as guilty pleasures, with Age of Extinction coming the closest to being a decent movie following the change in lead actor to Mark Wahlberg. Bumblebee is different in that a change of director seemed to be what was needed to make a legitimately good movie on both a storytelling and cinematic level, helped by a much smaller robot cast and fights that are admittedly easier to follow. For those keeping track of lore, although it is designed to be a prequel to the 2007 movie, there are enough retcons (more have been noted than I was able to catch on my first viewing) that make Bumblebee not entirely compatible with the other films. Despite these discrepancies, Bumblebee is also designed such that you do not need prior knowledge to enjoy it and makes for solid family entertainment.

I wasn’t sure what to make of this movie when it first came out, though when I finally watched it on home video it turned out to be one of the funniest movies to come out this year. There is a perfect blend of comedy and suspense as it follows the events of a friendly game night gone completely wrong, with enough twists to make even the audience question what’s real and what’s part of someone else’s game, aided by some great acting and cinematography.

Christopher Robin tells a genuinely emotional story about an adult Christopher Robin returning to the Hundred-Acre Wood and reconnecting with his inner child. Though labeled as one of Disney’s live-action remakes, it’s more of a continuation from the end of 1977’s The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh that still manages to preserve the general innocence of the source material. Winnie the Pooh fans and children at heart should definitely check this one out.

Top Superhero Movies of 2018

Where Age of Ultron and much of Phase 3 went wrong, Infinity War set right. Thanos is made to be one of the most well-rounded villains in the MCU, to the point where the movie is more about him than any of the Avengers. Knowledge of the preceding 18 films is still required to fully enjoy it (sort of like a pop quiz), though the film is still accessible to those with only a passing knowledge of the MCU.

With how much success the first Deadpool movie had, not to mention how many box office records were broken, a sequel was inevitable. Though not quite as good due to how much raunchier it felt the need to be, Deadpool 2 manages to still be a very entertaining and funny movie in its own right. Though a little excessive in how they were released in the same year, Deadpool 2 Super Duper Cut (an unrated, extended cut of the movie with more jokes) and Once Upon a Deadpool (a PG-13 cut where Deadpool reads a sanitized version of the story to Fred Savage a la The Princess Bride) are also worth watching at least once.

I wasn’t sure what to expect after Justice League proved to be kind of a mess. Aquaman turned out to be a close second in terms of quality to Wonder Woman, surpassing my previous expectations. There are some pacing issues that bog it down a little (did it really need to be around two and a half hours?), though despite that it was a pretty enjoyable movie, enough to give me higher hopes for the DCEU’s next follow-up, Shazam!

In what is perhaps the best Spider-Man movie since Spider-Man 2, Into the Spider-Verse takes full advantage of its comic book style to deliver a really fun experience. The animation is spectacular and the writing manages to juggle a large ensemble of characters very well such that it doesn’t feel bloated. This is a definite must-see for Spider-Man fans, though the movie makes sure that even the most casual fan can have a good time as well.

Top Games of 2018

While the God of War games are generally enjoyable, the Greek mythology setting and gameplay style was getting pretty stale (see: God of War: Ascension), so a change of setting to Norse mythology and an overhauled gameplay style make for a nice change of pace. Kratos goes through some nice character evolution as he goes on a journey with his son Atreus as they explore a beautifully-designed Norse setting while starting to encounter members of the Norse pantheon that are out to get them. The game also hints at a sequel as well as the potential to explore Egyptian mythology sometime in the future, both of which I can’t wait to see play out.

Though I haven’t played very many games on PlayStation VR as of yet, Moss proves what is possible even when the game is not in first-person. Aside from the player’s presence being justified in-universe, the fact that you can more-or-less get up and freely look around the scenery makes you feel like you are part of Quill’s adventure, sometimes even making you wish you could physically reach out to help her. Though not explicitly spelled out on the box, the game presents itself as being Part 1 of a larger story, something I would gladly invest in seeing continue.

In an attempt to breath new life into the toys-to-life genre, developer Ubisoft decided to take a different approach and focus on a play style inspired by model kits, which turned out really well in the long run. Aside from taking full advantage of this unique gameplay (compared to other games in the genre), one of the best features included is the ability to play with or without the toys, making it much more portable and opening up a lot more options to players. The Switch version (which I played) includes special content based on Nintendo’s Star Fox brand, giving newcomers a taste of Star Fox lore and providing existing fans incentive to pick up this game. Based on how well the concept played out, it would be interesting to see where Ubisoft takes it from here, if at all.

Top Disappointments of 2018

Not the worst Star Wars movie out there, though it certainly doesn’t match up to Rogue One in terms of how well it works as a prequel. Casting aside, it’s not exactly a good sign when the story relies on the audience having knowledge of Expanded Universe material in order to follow it. It also for some reason sets itself up for a sequel that will likely never come to pass due to its failure at the box office.

Though divisive, Jurassic World was at least decently enjoyable thanks to the performance of Chris Pratt, even if its story didn’t make the most sense. However, not even Chris Pratt could save the mess that is Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. To keep it short, I was agreeing with Jeff Goldblum’s character in that they should have just left the dinosaurs to die after what happened in the last movie (or even the original Jurassic Park). The post-credits scene is also one of the weakest I have ever seen, much like the rest of the movie, which doesn’t exactly bode well for the future of the franchise.

I had low expectations going in and I was still let down. The story doesn’t make much sense even by Sharknado standards, plus the increased abundance of forced jokes and unnecessary cameos don’t help matters. Thankfully the franchise is finally done and (hopefully) we can all move on from this.

Ralph Breaks the Internet has all of the heart and none of the soul that the original Wreck-It Ralph had. Despite having the same director, the movie commits the sin of going against the first movie’s message and internal logic in order to make it work, something which bugged me the entire time. The movie’s depiction of the internet, and especially online gaming, is very clever and well-designed, however there was a point where it felt more like an ad for (while being a self-parody of) Disney. While unnecessary sequels have proven to work at times, this is sadly not one of them.

Honorable Mentions

While it didn’t make it onto my Top Games list (as I had not played very many new games this year), it seemed disingenuous not to include the new Spider-Man game on this list. Though I haven’t much experience with this type of game, I found myself invested in the game’s continuity and characters as well as wanting to explore every nook and cranny of New York to see what I could find. This is a must-play for fans of Spider-Man and the gameplay style of the Batman: Arkham series and I’m interested in seeing where/if developer Insomniac can expand on this new universe.

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