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The Last of Us, Apple’s Newest Device, and Tom Welling.

It’s been a slow news week and this morning I couldn’t find much worth note at all. Yesterday I read about Tom Welling coming back as Superman after his starring role on Smallville and was reminded that DC are doing something mental on TV. It’s possibly really entertaining, but I have no idea as I have never watched it. 

I am not sure why I have never taken any of the shows seriously or given them a chance at all. The closest I have come to it is watching a couple episodes of Titans which I found to be a bit overly dark and brooding. Green Arrow was the series that started it, a character I actually like based on my limited exposure to him from other media, but I didn’t watch it at the start and I’ll be damned if I will jump into any series 2 or 3 seasons in.

The Flash TV show was lauded again, and it’s the one I have come closest to watching. I caught the end of an episode once and its first impression on me was some of the roughest special effects I have watched in a long time. It was enough to put me off at the time and I haven’t gone back, but from the outside it seems like they are doing some mad story lines. They have been currently doing their own take on Crisis on Infinite Earths which is a story line I figured I would never see on a screen outside of animation. To know that is happening on TV with a group of interconnected shows sounds like it should be praised up there with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

There are currently five shows connected and characters all come together in these cross over events. It sounds like a lot of fun, but I just about kept up with the 23 movies over eleven years that Marvel produced. I don’t know how anyone has had the time to keep up with five shows with hundreds of episodes between them, all an hour long. Perhaps one day I will commit to catching up and binge watching it all, I highly doubt it, but I once watched seasons one to seven of Game of Thrones inside 25 days so I believe in my ability to binge watch anything at this point.

Such is the lack of news, I even found myself yesterday wondering if the new Apple Arcade thing made a new iPhone worth investing in again. After a few seconds I decided no, because they aren’t 5G ready or USB-C and I have gotten used to the Android layout on my OnePlus, but it did then lead me to thinking about the next iterations in the mobile industry and how it all seems to be camera and screen focused.

Apples new device has one selling point as far as I can tell, a triple camera system. It may make the phone uglier than its predecessors, but it will be capable of some stunning shots. That’s it though, that is was Apple are selling you for a thousand pound. As far as I can tell the rest of the features on the phone are small improvements over the previous generation which is par for the course with apple. Nothing ground-breaking but its new, so people will be all over it I am sure.

I popped into a Samsung shop yesterday and saw the new Samsung Fold 5G, a phone which was received terribly by testers when they got the phone and folding it broke the screen. It seems like any problems have been addressed and they are going ahead to launch the unique phone. I think unfortunately for Samsung, this will stay unique, as I just don’t see the need for it. Folding screens will become a common thing, wallpaper like material that can be used as a display will become a reality one day, but on a phone? It’s just an unnecessary gimmick.

Whilst in that Samsung store I received a notification about a Sony “State of Play” event planned for 24th September. These events have been updates through the year about game releases and announcements, and this one could pack a bigger punch than previous announcements. It’s largely expected we will see The Last of Us sequel given a release date which is great news. The games developers, Naughty Dog, have earned the right to take their time and make whatever they see fit and I will buy it day one. The Last of Us was an incredible experience, a game that tells a story better than almost any other. A sequel in that world from this studio has the potential to be one of the most special games of the generation.

The Last of Us arrived at the end of the PS3’s time as the flagship console and was ported over to PS4 with a few tweaks. If you play it on PS4, it is still one of the best-looking games on the system even now. The Last of Us Part II will likely be one of the final games in the PS4’s cycle, so there is some amount of pressure on them to hit it out of the park now they have some competition on the PS4 with Horizon Zero Dawn, God of War and Spiderman.

Hopefully we get a few surprises and we will get The Last of Us much sooner than I expect (next July/August is when I expect it).

‘Til then have a great weekend!

ChAzJS

 

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Marvel-lous Endgame, but is the buzz gone?

I watched a YouTube video yesterday on John Campea’s channel where he discussed the potential that the excitement for the Marvel Cinematic Universe was drying up in a way. If you don’t know who he is, he is a movie & TV critic who used to run movie news shows and now does his own thing. His video is worth a watch if you’re interested in his take on it, but I won’t go into his video too much here. 

This will contain spoilers for all the MCU including Avengers Endgame & Spiderman Far from Home.

What I realised listening to the topic was that I agreed with the points being brought up about the future of the MCU. The recent announcements at D23 were interesting, but none of them really got me excited for the projects. Here is where the sporting analogies begin, it felt a lot like a fixture list being released for a football team. Each season fans eagerly wait for the fixtures to be announced before reading them and there is a universal acceptance that yep, we will all be watching them. That is what I felt watching the D23 Marvel panel. Yep, these are all films I will watch.

Contrast that with the Phase 3 announcements that unveiled all the films that led into Infinity War & Endgame. At the time it looked a little different to what we got, with Spiderman popping up and The Inhumans being bumped down to an Agents of Shield storyline, but the hype around it was incredible. I remember my jaw dropping when they revealed Civil War. I couldn’t believe that was happening so soon. In my mind back then, Civil War was the next big event to follow Infinity War. But there it was on screen, Captain America: Civil War.

That slate brought us to where we are right now, a Post-Endgame world. Endgame was an incredible experience, something never seen before and when we look back on the first 10 years of the MCU we will realise it is without doubt the greatest movie franchise ever. Sorry Star Wars, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. If you combine all those movies, you have ten Star Wars films, three Lord of the Rings films, and eight Harry Potter films. That makes a total of twenty-one films which is still two less than the MCU has covered. Twenty-three connected films all combining in one epic finale which delivered on the years of set up.

Endgame was brilliant, but did it actually harm the future of the MCU? With the separation we now have from the film, I think it may well have. Endgame finished a few of our main characters stories, with Cap retiring as an old man and Tony Stark sacrificing himself. Those two were the pillars which the MCU stood upon. Civil War was a film about them two main pillars being divided, Endgame was them coming back together before leaving the MCU they had built to fend for itself.

In sports terms, Endgame for Marvel was like winning the Premier League, the Champions League and the FA Cup in one season, or like winning the Superbowl. But in doing so they lost their best two players. What I think has been an unexpected and tough loss to take, is that their new star player they had to take over from the old guard has just left as well in contentious circumstances.

Regardless of what studio executives might say about “This was always a possibility” etcetera, I think it’s clear Spiderman was being positioned to be the new face of the MCU. They know exactly what they had with Tom Holland in the role, and they wanted to bring that front and centre with great supporting players like Captain Marvel, Black Panther, Thor, Guardians and Doctor Strange. That stable of characters could carry the load while Spiderman becomes the leader of a new collection of characters. Now they are back where they were in 2008.

The current slate is full of characters I know very little about, but the MCU has proved prior knowledge means nothing and they can still make incredible films, for example let me present exhibit A, Guardians of the Galaxy. Guardians came out at a time when we had the MCU stalwarts well in their stride, Cap and Iron Man were known around the world and any films connected to their MCU was a must see.  Shang-chi and Ms. Marvel aren’t doing that, they are coming out in the wake of what felt for a lot of people like the perfect end for the MCU. Spiderman Far from Home even felt like a perfect epilogue, showing the world in recovery and answering some of the questions.

Winning a Superbowl is hard. Losing your Key players before trying to do it again is even harder. Often, we see a team win a Superbowl and then struggle to reach the same level for a few years. In the Premier league, teams go in cycles, winning for a few years then rebuilding. But there are exceptions. The challenge for Marvel chief Kevin Feige is now to turn the MCU from a title winning team, into a dynasty. Think Tom Brady. Think Bill Belichick. Think Sir Alex Ferguson. They have built teams that win, and then keep winning.

I am not sure it’s even possible to do that in the entertainment industry, perhaps I didn’t sleep enough, and this makes no sense. But if it is possible to apply that analogy, I think the MCU may be the best position to do it. I wrote yesterday about DC, and how they are possibly able to take a shot at being the next big thing. I didn’t say that the reigning champion would give it up without a fight.

ChAzJS

 

The State of DC

Yesterday I saw a poster released for the upcoming “Birds of Prey” movie and was reminded that the film is a thing, and that DC’s Joker film isn’t the only project they have in the pipeline. On top of Birds of Prey, they have Wonder Woman 1984 and a reboot of sorts to the Suicide Squad franchise, with a Batman reboot somewhere as well. 

They have previously dropped Man of Steel, where they gave us an awesome Superman in Henry Cavill. The fact there was no real structure around his film to build a wider universe on didn’t put off the executives from wanting to have their own Cinematic Universe based on it, and the leaderless DCEU was born. Batman V Superman, Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman and Justice League followed to varying degrees of success, before Shazam and Aquaman sort of steadied the ship by being very okay.

Crucially, they botched Batman V Superman, and Suicide Squad was a colourful mess. Fun to look at but no real substance to it, DC had fumbled the ball. This was all happening in a time when Marvel was building towards Infinity war and in the same year as Justice League, released Guardians 2, Spiderman Homecoming and Thor Ragnarok.

If done right in with the state of pop culture today, Justice League should be the biggest film in the world. It should be earning billions. It earned $657 million. That’s on a hefty budget for both production and marketing, meaning they earned very little on their biggest film. for context, all three of the marvel films earned around $200 million more than that, on smaller budgets.

This sent Warner Bros and DC into a panic of green lighting and then cancelling and delaying and re organising and just generally in a tizzy trying to figure out what went wrong. Well I could write forever on what went wrong, and I probably will one day, but I am wondering if they’re finally organised, or if they are still spinning out of control.

They have Joker releasing in a few weeks’ time, and it appears it is going to be a critical darling and a huge success in terms of quality, Box office will probably be decent if not spectacular. I have written about that film enough; I am excited and hopefully is a sign of DC allowing the film makers they hire to take their properties and make something they want with them rather than the designed by committee feel Justice League had.

Following that we have Birds of Prey coming out next February, starring Margot Robbie reprising her role as Harley Quinn. She was one of the better parts of Suicide Squad, and I am glad they kept a talent like her, but I have no idea what this film is. Harley Quinn without the joker took years in the comics, and here we have her already out on her own, with Jared Leto’s Joker nowhere to be seen from what I can tell. I am guessing a trailer isn’t far off, so perhaps by the next time I write I will have some idea what this film’s going to be. The lead is talented, and Ewan McGregor is in it as the antagonist, so the tools are there for a solid movie, I just have no idea what to expect.

Next June is the most hopeful I am for DC, as Wonder Woman 1984 hits theatres. The first film was good. Gal Gadot has been the shining light for DC and it seems like they’re positioning her at the centre of their universe, if there is still a universe. The poster for this film is a piece of art, and if the film can build on the success of the first, we could be on for a great film.

Beyond that, we have a Batman reboot. The reign of Batfleck is over, and to be honest I was disappointed Ben Affleck never got to show what he could do with the character in a solo film. He has immense talent for directing and acting, and I can’t help but feel it was a wasted opportunity not utilising those while they had him there. Robert Pattinson has taken on the mantle, and Matt Reeves is directing. Reeves directed the two most recent Planet of the Apes films, which were both fun and serious action films. That style and tone could translate well to a Batman flick, so here’s hoping for a return to form for the character.

After that there is a myriad of films slated, James Gunn is making a Suicide Squad movie, which sounds incredible quite frankly. What he did with Guardians of the Galaxy means I will watch anything he touches now. Shazam and Aquaman are both set for sequels, The Flash movie has been in development for years, The Rock was announced as playing Black Adam years ago but so far there’s been no sign of that, and then we have a potential Batgirl film. Oh, and a horror film called The Trench, based on the trench Aquaman dives down in his solo film.

All these individual films sound fun, what’s missing is any obvious connecting tissue. I am assuming that the plan is still to build a Universe that can eventually lead to another Justice League film. Right now, there is no team up movie to connect everything together in the pipeline, and maybe that is intentional. Perhaps they want to focus on the current slate and get each individual character’s film right before trying to bring them together. It was rushed before, that much is obvious, and in their haste to catch up to Marvel they tripped and fell on their faces.

I genuinely hope that all these upcoming films shock me and are brilliant, my fear is that so far, they haven’t made a single film that’s been there for me. They do have a chance now though, especially with Marvel having essentially capped off their MCU for the time being and will be focusing on new characters and ones we haven’t quite got the same connection to like Dr Strange. They’ve lost Iron Man and Cap, the heads of the MCU, and Spiderman is unlikely to be returning.

DC have all their toys, they have time, and they could step up and be the next big franchise. Here’s hoping they can get it right this time.

ChAzJS

 

The Autumn Video Game Budget

Borderlands 3 signalled the beginning of the period that hurts all gamers wallets. For some reason this 3-month run up to Christmas is when the decision makers at the big companies decide to release every game that people have been looking forward to. I get it, Christmas is coming, but surely some of them should have brought their releases forward or delayed them into 2020 to avoid the overload. 

Without using google, I can list off PES 2020, Borderlands 2, FIFA 20, Ghost Recon Breakpoint, Destiny 2’s newest expansion Shadowkeep which is like a new game, Call of Duty Modern Warfare, The Outer Worlds, Death Stranding and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. If we optimistically say £50 per game, that’s £450 to keep up with the conversation and that’s assuming I haven’t missed any games.

Okay now I have googled it and I missed the new Pokémon and Doom Eternal. They round it off to a cool £550. So, there is ELEVEN games potentially fighting it out for your Christmas list just of the ones I would have any interest playing. If you want to keep up when you’ll need to have a fair amount of disposable income to do so, and that is without looking at all the types of games I wouldn’t play like 2D platformers and puzzle games.

I understand the need for Sports games to be released at the start of new seasons in their respective sports, so PES and FIFA, NHL and Madden all kind of have their set release windows and that’s just how it has always been. Those games sell millions and always will because they have people invested so deeply in them. Games such as Call of Duty or Ghost Recon though, make less sense to me.

Ghost Recon seems set to be one of the losers in this fight. The last game was a game I thoroughly enjoyed, and I am excited for the next one, but there is so much competition around at the time. For me, it means Destiny 2’s expansion will be put off until the Christmas break and I will probably not go for one or the other between Outer Worlds and Call of Duty. In general, though, Ghost Recon isn’t nearly as popular as a title like Call of Duty or Borderlands and doesn’t have the curiosity around it that a game like The Outer Worlds has going for it.

Surely releasing it back in august, when there was a huge gap for a meaty game like Ghost Recon to fill would have been a better move from a business sense and got more people interested in playing it. As it is the over saturation of the industry in the autumn months will probably mean the game gets cannibalised by its competition.

A similar thing happened a few years ago to a Tomb Raider game, which was a single player story driven action adventure game that released one week after Spiderman on the PS4. The result was that I didn’t pick it up until it was on the game pass on Xbox, meaning they missed out on the money I would have happily paid if they had released at a less busy time.

I know this post won’t change anything, but I would love to see these big games show a bit more common sense and move out of the way of each other rather than fight it out.

It’s a slow news day and last night I just carried on with Borderlands 3. I posted my review yesterday, but I am trying to convince myself to finish the entire game. That’s never a good sign, but I am now at that point where I am having to convince myself to boot it up. It’s not because it’s a bad game, it just hasn’t grabbed my attention the way some games do.

It’s only 10 days now until FIFA 19 releases, and the inevitable time vortex that game is for me will mean a load of FIFA related posts. As it is, I am avoiding that type of football because Arsenal persist with playing out from the back despite it clearly not working, and now I am a full time NFL fan.

So, if anyone ask’s how my team did at the weekend, they won 43-0 against the Miami Dolphins.

ChAzJS

 

Borderlands 3 Review

The wait for Borderlands 3 has been a long one. It’s been seven years since Borderlands 2 really popularised the looter shooter genre, and in that time, we have seen several games take a similar model and be successful. The main one that comes to mind is Destiny 2, a game I really enjoy and think has perfected that addictive cycle of wanting to keep playing to get that next weapon. 

One key difference between Borderlands 3 and Destiny 2, is that the multiplayer isn’t as prominent. The multiplayer side of Borderlands now is a bit laggy and I prefer playing solo which is unusual. I have played a couple of hours in some mate’s games, but my own campaign has been entirely solo. I have just beaten the first Vault, so I am not 100% through yet, but I’ve certainly played enough to know what this game is all about.

The story is driven by antagonist The Calypso Twins, a pair of powerful siblings who are using a twitch like streaming platform to gain followers to join their cause and fight for them. That gives them an army of varied types to blast away with the plethora of guns in the game as you, the Vault Hunter, are tasked with beating them to the vaults. The game brings back several old characters from previous games, all the main characters from Borderlands 1 and 2 are on the cover and there’s characters from side games like the Pre-sequel and even TellTale’s “Tales from the Borderlands” game which is a nice touch and brings everything together.

I won’t go into the story any more than that, but so far, it’s a fine story, and that is all it is. The twins are fun villains but they’re missing the magic that Handsome Jack brought with him. It’s a tough bar to reach, but that is the precedent set when you deliver one of the best video game villains ever. Of course, I am not all the way through the game yet, and they have done some nasty stuff so far, so maybe they will get up near that level by the end of the story.

The reason to play Borderlands isn’t really for the story though, that’s just the vehicle that delivers the enemies for you to shoot, punch, explode and splatter at your leisure. I played as Zane and found his duel abilities all combine quite well. The shield he drops is a mainstay for me, and I swap out his doppelganger and drone abilities as and when I get bored of playing one or the other. They all feel very useful though, and although he doesn’t have an ultimate akin to the others like a giant mech suit that drops down for another playable character, but he does have a more consistent effect on the battlefield. Playing solo his shield provides a very useful defensive option that has save my bacon countless times throughout my time with the game and the drone can pester enemies for you and keep things from getting out of hand.

Each of the abilities are linked to their own skill trees, and as you level up you invest points into the trees to unlock augments and effects that change the way you use your arsenal. Late game, these options become very customisable and will make for some great gameplay fun trying out the different load outs. These abilities all contribute to the core gameplay, but none of them are vital to the game as the incredible selection of guns.

Guns are what Borderlands 3 does best, and it does it by giving you absolutely hundreds of them within hours of the game. It’s rare to get two of the same gun, and if you do it will have two different sets of effects and stats, so there is an even smaller chance of ever getting the exact same gun two times besides from the legendary weapons that your friends might stumble upon too. Every gun has a twist, every gun is powerful in its own way, and they are all brilliantly brought to life with attention to detail you wouldn’t expect in a game with so many options on the guns. Firing pins pop in and out of guns as they fire, a lot of guns have clip counters on them that count down, there’s pipes and nozzles flashing all over the place, it’s the best part of the game and I am glad they got it right.

I don’t believe I have kept the same set of weapons for any two consecutive missions yet, which is testament to the games loot system which is balanced heavily towards giving you way too much. early game you will find yourself having to throw out guns and items in favour of storing more valuable loot in your backpack, but as you invest more into the storage upgrades you can really start making plenty of in game money to keep yourself stocked up on ammo. You can buy weapons but so far, I have not bought one, there just isn’t any need.

Borderlands 3 delivers almost exactly what I expected from it, which is Borderlands 2 with just more stuff. There are more guns with some new tricks and features, more enemies with some slightly different attributes, and some new planets to explore. The planets all kind of have the same desperate tone so far, even if the environment looks different. They all are being attacked by the same enemies and that means you’re having similar fights everywhere, just the scenery is different. The boss fights are varied and fun, offering twists on the normal game play beyond just being bullet sponges, which there are of course.

It’s More-derlands, with nothing ground-breaking being introduced to the formula. They know what works, and they’ve worked on perfecting it. If you enjoyed the previous games you will enjoy this one for sure, just don’t expect anything new. It feels a little like a game made with blinkers on, ignoring the outside gaming world and sticking to its Guns.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing though.

7/10 – More, More, More.  

 

 

 

PES v FIFA: The Great Debate

There are some debates that have been going on since pop culture began. Pineapple on pizza McDonalds V BK V KFC. Xbox V PlayStation. Star Wars v Star Trek. Is it Gif or Jif? These debates are rarely settled (Except the pineapple one, get that off my pizza) but there is one that I feel has been settled for a while now. That is the yearly battle between PES and FIFA.

In my formative years, PES what where it was at. Presentation wasn’t as big of an issue when nobody looked right anyway, so in the days of PES5 and PES6 it was the only football game I played. FIFA struggled in the 2000s to get back on top after the heights of FIFA football 2003, and it waned and lost its way. Enter the PS3 generation, and FIFA picked itself up off the mat to fight back and beat down PES, almost to the point of it no longer being a debate.

In recent years, FIFA’s dominance has led to them perhaps focusing on the wrong things. Ultimate Team has been the main mode that development time has gone to, and aside from the story based “Journey” the rest of the game has remained similar for a long time. My personal favourite game mode, Pro Clubs, has been largely unchanged for years. There has been tweaks here and there but nothing to blow anyone’s mind.

I tried PES again in 2018, it was available for free on Xbox or PS4, and I downloaded to give it a try. It was a strange experience. I had pretty much ignored all the innovations over the years and just stuck to FIFA because that’s where my team was. Playing a football game that approached things from a different point of view was a refreshing break, but it did have its problems.

I don’t know lots about game development or programming, but I know enough to kind of understand how things can go wrong and the problems different obstacles can provide. Refereeing in football games is one problem I cannot even begin to understand how it is done. Unfortunately, the people at Konami who are responsible for the referee’s also seem to have very little idea either. 2018 and 2019 both had problems with the ref’s which at times break the games immersive and realistic simulation style. FIFA’S referees are by no means perfect, but they are consistent, and that makes it much less of an issue.

In recent years FIFA has completely redone its defending, and I think it’s the best innovation in football games since they introduced 360 dribbling. Gone are the days of sending your defenders after the ball like target seeking missiles by holding down one button. Defending on FIFA is an art now, and it’s made the game a much more rounded experience. PES feels a few years behind FIFA in this sense. The players still can be launched after the ball, but now they rarely win it. The idea is that you defend more with positioning than by charging at the ball and that is realistic, but only if your entire defence is paying attention.

PES 2019 lost me at around the 100th time my AI centre back just ignored a run and lost his man in the box, making my attempts to keep in shape and press at the right times irrelevant because the oppositions striker has the space to make a cup of tea before he dispatches the ball into the goal beyond my hapless keeper. PES 2019’s keepers are mostly there for show.

I do not have FIFA 20 yet, but I do have PES 2020, or eFootball PES 2020 to give the game its full title. I paid the money downloaded all the option files and updated all the kits, waited 2 days after release for the live update to refresh the players to their correct teams and then I dived in. It is weird. the previous year’s crisp passing feels a bit floaty; the natural movement of the players feels more robotic than I expected. The dribbling feels unnatural and it’s hard to predict what your player is going to do when a player is on their back.

Sometimes your player will shift his body weight to shield the ball, fighting off the player behind whilst maintaining possession and allowing you to control the ball until a pass is available. Other times, the AI player will just strut past you and take the ball with your player bumping off them and then having to go through the animation of him wobbling a couple of steps before you can control him again to win the ball back, by which point they’ve left you for dead.

Then you try to switch players to defend with you next in line, and instead of the defender you expect, you get given the right winger. This means more frustrating half seconds of them bearing down on your hopeless AI defence as you switch frantically between players. When you do get a hold of the right player, you then have to jockey and time the tackle perfectly, taking the ball and leaving the man stumbling over it as you emerge with the ball from what feels like a perfectly executed tackle. Then the ref blows his whistle and awards the opposition a free kick for your perfect, satisfying feeling tackle. There is a great feel to it when you master a tackle, but the fact that several of my best tackles end up in free kicks is so frustrating I nearly launched my controller into space.

What the game does well, is the finishing and the possession play. Passing around the defence and midfield in FIFA feels pointless. The opposition don’t hurry across from side to side to allow you to pull them out of position, and FIFA doesn’t appear to be heading that way. PES rewards you for patient, possession football, knocking it about and moving across the pitch leads to their defence starting to bend and flex until an opening appears and you can attempt the final pass to get a player into a goal scoring opportunity. It’s very satisfying and the best part of PES by far.

In terms of attacking game play, I would give the edge to PES between the two games. The new dribbling mechanic is difficult to use, but when you pull it off its immensely rewarding, as you send a defender for an ice cream and break into the space beyond him. The issue it has is that its main rival doesn’t have the same issues. FIFA is a remarkably consistent game. Each year it makes some tweaks, some gameplay changes, and it takes a period of adjustment. The basics of the game are very solid though, and for me I think PES has some brilliant ideas that feel like they’re standing on flimsy foundations. The defending needs a huge overhaul, while the refereeing will hopefully be fixed by a patch in the coming days or weeks. For now, though, PES is still climbing up the mountain that FIFA is sitting on top of.

ChAzJS

 

 

Carnival Row Review

Amazon wow’d me a little while ago with their series “The Boys”. It is seriously one of my favourites shows of the year, and if they continue on the trajectory, they started with that season it will go on to become one of my favourite shows ever. The latest Amazon original series is Carnival Row. Based in a fantastical Victorian style world with magic and creatures mixing with humans. Starring Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevingne alongside a stellar supporting cast, it has all the ingredients of a good show. 

Carnival Row is attempting to bring us a world that has been tried several times in many different mediums. For me the Victorian style mixed with fantasy never quite hits the spot. It makes me think of games like Bloodborne or The Order 1886, both of which did the Victorian fantasy mash up, but I couldn’t get into. I went into Carnival Row expecting it to have the same struggle, but I was surprised that a couple of episodes in I just wanted to watch more.

A big part of that, and my personal favourite element of the show, is the intriguing relationship between Orlando Bloom as Philo and Cara Delevingne as Vignette. As it develops through the show you find out more and more about their past together, and Episode 3 was one of the high points in the show where their relationship is brought into focus.

For a while it seemed to me like Orlando Bloom would always be known for Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean. He has been in other films and shows, but I always see him as Legolas or Will Turner. Here is the first role since those ones that I can say I really bought into his character and enjoyed his performance. Philo is an interesting character and one with layers of history that we uncover through the main plot, and the reveal about him is nicely done and plays into the overall narrative of Carnival Row.

As for Cara Delevingne, I consider this her best role to date. My exposure to her as an actress is limited to Suicide Squad, where I thought she was okay, but her character was just a bit odd. In Carnival Row’s Vignette, she’s given a character with a lot of meat and motivations that are justified. She’s a strong woman and is uncomfortable with the role the society expects her kind to fulfil, which plays out in a variety of ways that Cara pulls off well.

One of the biggest issues Carnival Row has for me is that is almost benches these two characters in exchange for a political story for what felt like a long while. Everything is interconnected in a way, but I felt the two halves of the whole were very disjointed until the reveal near the end of the season. It makes sense overall just I managed to guess the reveal before it happened because of the clear change in focus.

That main story is broken up with a very interesting sub plot between the upper classes of the city, where we get some good performances. I enjoyed how this plot is delivered alongside the other one and given its own importance and story. If done poorly, this would have been an annoying distraction from the main story, but I enjoyed the variation. Simon McBurney, Tamzin Merchant and David Gyasi play out this class-based Beauty and the Beast with a twist story brilliantly and in the final episodes I found myself enjoying their plot line as much as the main one.

That main plot line with Philo, Vignette and the politics starts strong, but ends flat. I understood the motivations of all involved, but due to the late introduction of some characters and the short screen time of others, I just didn’t really care about anyone outside of those two main characters.

Carnival Row is a solid start to a new show. It has potential to become a much bigger story, with the intrigue and politics beginning to suggest a power struggle on top of the class war that is dividing the city already. The shows message about everyone being equal is heavy handed at times, but I never found it too offensive. I think the show could go on to a much better second season, but the first season is worth a watch on its own. Carnival Row is streaming now on Amazon Prime, so most of you will have access to it.

Good: Interesting world built that I want to see more stories in, several great performances, Orlando Bloom pulls off a bowler cap well.

Bad: Peaks in the first half of the season and some characters are underdeveloped for the role they play in the overall narrative.

7/10 – Solid Start for a new show.

ChAzJS