Thor: Ragnarok Gives Infinity War a Handy Tip – Sod Tradition

According to the trailers, synopsis, production team, and basically everyone who’s ever been involved with Avengers: Infinity War, this is the bone-crunching end to the MCU.

Well, sort of. What they really mean is that this part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has come to a close; there are at least half a dozen films still on the docket. However, the old team? Well, they’re probably hanging up their capes for good. In my opinion, that can only be a good thing.

Thor: Ragnarok is a neon-hued case in point. This wickedly humorous end to the trilogy said goodbye to the god of thunder’s seven-year status-quo before offering something entirely different.

Quick, duck! Spoilers for Thor: Ragnarok are ahead.

Thor: Ragnarok
Sun’s getting real low, big guy – concept art by Ryan Meinerding

Some may disagree, but I’d argue that the film was better for it: it wasn’t precious about the ‘classic’ elements of his mythos, and there’s a ton more the studio can do with the character now as a result. Asgard’s been razed to the ground. Odin’s dead. The Warriors Three were mercilessly impaled (*sob*). Jane Foster is a distant memory. And Thor himself? He’s king of an entire civilisation with no home to call their own. He’s also responsible for safeguarding their culture and very way of life. This naturally lends itself to a different kind of story, one that wouldn’t have been possible before.

Even those iconic props are gone; Ragnarok washed its hands of them too. His flying hammer’s a pile of rubble, and he lost an eye for his trouble as well. Yes, it’s sad to see all of the above ride into the sunset. Nevertheless, the franchise is free to pursue different avenues in the future rather than being chained to tradition.

This is a character who’s been on a journey of profound change, and I hope the same will be true of the Avengers when Thanos, MCU supervillain extraordinaire, blows their status-quo to kingdom come. Whatever’s left will be altered in a big way, and I hope there’s no going back. You can’t move forward if you’re clinging onto what’s already been done.

That’s not to say it hasn’t been a wonderful journey so far. But we’ll eventually reach a point where there’s nothing left to say, and perhaps the best way to keep things relevant is to throw a spanner in the works and see what happens. Iron Man benefitted from this when he turned over a new leaf at the end of Iron Man 3 and became a mentor to Spider-Man in Civil War/Homecoming. 

I hope Infinity War has the same effect on the likes of Captain America or Hulk. That’s if they survive, anyway…

Check back each Friday for more as I go into the weeds on pop-culture story, lore, and settings.

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From Colonial India to the Dark Ages: Where Assassin’s Creed Should Go Next

It’s good to see Assassin’s Creed: Origins killing it out there; Bayek’s romp through Ancient Egypt is both a critical and commercial darling. This is quite the comeback for a series that’s stumbled slightly in recent years (I’ll leave a link to some rude Frenchmen here).

Assassin's Creed Origins
Hey, I can see my house from here – concept art for Assassin’s Creed: Origins by Martin Deschambault

What next, though? Origins gave us the Egyptian backdrop we’ve wanted for ages, while Syndicate offered a Victorian Britain that was equally sought after. Are we running out of crowd-pleasing settings? Of course not. There are a wealth of options to choose from. Here are a few ideas for you to chew over while we finish up those side-quests and/or accidentally setting Nile hippos on fire.

Colonial India

It’d be easy to roll out a list of eras we’ve asked for from the beginning, but – as demonstrated by the excellent Black Flag – an unexpected choice is often the best. With that in mind, colonial India during the 1800s is probably a good place to start.

As a member of the British Empire, the country became a powder-keg of resentment and unrest. Tensions were therefore rife; unpopular social reform, annexation of territory by the East India Company, various injustices, rumours about disrespectful British practices, discrimination, and more exploded into the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Thousands were killed in the process, and the clearly defined battle-lines that started it all would be an easy place to insert the franchise’s classic Assassin/Templar conflict. It almost writes itself, in fact – the plucky, wronged local battling against a corrupt establishment manipulated by Templars… it’d be the ideal starting point for a Creed story.

Secondly, jumping forward in time allows us to revisit the complication of gunpowder and a truly urban sprawl. Oh, and exotic wildlife like elephants or tigers. Ubisoft could even take a leaf from Far Cry’s book and allow players to set them on their enemies.

In other words, ‘yes please’.

The Aztecs

The so-called ‘Age of Discovery’ during the 15th-18th centuries is a bit ironic; it mostly involves European nations nicking land that had already been ‘discovered’ by the inhabitants long ago. This is where the ancient Aztec nation came-a-cropper, and it’s also the perfect place to set the next game.

To begin with, Assassin’s Creed has flirted with the area for quite some time. Black Flag featured a South American branch of the order, and it’s home to many ‘First Civilisation’ structures. In fact, any subplot featuring those humanoid aliens harks back to the Aztec school of visual design. Why not dive in and further explore the First Civilisation’s relationship with humanity?

From a gameplay perspective, dense jungle and mysterious woodland cities offer something we’ve not really seen much of. Your character need never touch the ground as they clamber through the boughs of a tangled forest, stalking prey both human and not; it’s a good excuse to put emphasis on elevation and ambush, not to mention the effect this has on stealth.

Much like Colonial India, it also plays host to a conflict that lends itself to the Assassin’s narrative. Spanish Conquistadors bull their way into the Aztec’s way of life, threatening to usurp their culture forever in a quest for land and loot.

Speaking of which, there are tombs aplenty. Just sayin’.

Samurai Japan

Oh, go on then; this is a setting fans have been desperate to see for years, so who am I to argue?

You can see why it’s such a popular choice. The life of a ninja or samurai blends perfectly with Creed’s emphasis on stealth, parkour, and combat. In addition, its mountainous landscape provides an opportunity for ‘natural’ platforming Origins has only just touched on. Considering how well rock-climbing was handled in that game and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, giving us mountains to clamber over is no bad thing.

There’s equal scope in terms of its plot. Ubisoft could explore a feudal free-for-all that’s been covered in the likes of Shogun: Total War 2, or it could settle for the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877 when Japan is suffering a crisis of conscience between modern and traditional approaches.

Suffice to say, there’s a lot of room for manoeuvre here.

Dark Ages

Here’s my wildcard answer. While it may not feel like an obvious choice, there’s a lot to commend this murky period of history as seen through the Assassin’s Creed lens. Let’s say we start in Britain sometime around 400 AD. Its Roman legions are on their way home due to barbarians marauding across Italy, and this leaves the UK open to invaders of its own. Picts from Scotland tear through their lands as a result, forcing what was left of the Romano-British to hire Saxon mercenaries. Unfortunately, these sell-swords decide that they rather fancy England for themselves. Go figure.

After turning on their employers, these Saxons begin colonising Blighty and clear the way for even more Germanic tribes (namely the Jutes and Angles) to hop over from Europe as well. Because of this, there’s already a cool narrative to be had with invading armies and beleaguered defenders. You could even wind that into gameplay with an advanced version of Brotherhood’s base mechanics.

But then you get to Arthur.

Yes, old King Artie of knights-and-round-table fame was supposed to exist round about then. This is perfect fodder for Creed’s conspiratorial leanings, not to mention a tale of Assassins who live within a more historically plausible Camelot; quests and derring-do, anyone? Better yet, it allows for the introduction of characters like a pagan Merlin who utilises Apple of Eden tech. It’s the perfect fit for the franchise’s mythos.

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What do you think? Any ideas of your own? Shout out in the comments or follow me on Twitter @thewordyben.

Check back each Friday for more as I go into the weeds on pop-culture story, lore, and settings.

I Bet Amazon Do THIS for Their Lord of the Rings TV Show

I suppose you’re asking for trouble if you expand on a well-loved franchise like The Lord of the Rings. Fans of such pop-culture icons can be precious (ha) about them, and there’s often a knee-jerk mistrust for any ‘new’ stories set in that world. The instinct is to leave well alone, and it’s an understandable hesitance; what more could possibly be said? There’s always a risk that they’ll somehow cheap the originals, too (here’s to you, Star Wars prequels).

However, I don’t think Amazon’s proposed LotR show is one of those moments. If anything, it’s about bloomin’ time; Tolkien’s fantasy opus is staggering in both size and ambition, and no film trilogy could ever hope to capture everything that makes it so beloved. There’s plenty of room for exploration here; indeed, it’s rare for a fictional world to be this fully and comprehensively realised. Letting it gather dust is a waste of that potential.

A Brooding Stare into the Middle Distance... Perfect
If this image doesn’t sell you on the idea of an Aragorn TV show I haven’t got the foggiest idea what will – art for the Fantasy Flight ‘Lost Realm’ card game

From a pair of wizards who vanished in the south to a robbery of the devil by a werewolf, there are some cracking stories in these books that haven’t come anywhere near an adaptation yet. One particular tale trumps the rest in terms of small screen potential, though – Aragorn’s early years. While some may gag at what sounds dangerously like ‘Middle-Earth: High School’, bear with me. Back in his early twenties, Aragorn served under his father in a band of rangers called the Dunedain. These rugged, brooding, and presumably angsty do-gooders guarded the northern realm from lots of nasties; orcs, wargs, ghosts, and more. They’re also the reason why the Shire remains untouched by war and conflict – not that those furry-footed hobbits are any the wiser, of course.

This tenuous balance doesn’t last, naturally; daddy ranger had the misfortune of being murdered by a dirty great troll. It was a bit of a bummer.

Thrust into command way before his time, Aragorn thus embarked on a mission to hunt down said monster and bring back its head on a platter. Cue an awesome journey of self-discovery and general bad-assery. If Amazon want a contender for Game of Thrones’ viewership, a gritty tale of revenge such as this may be the way to go. It ticks every box, including a character audiences are familiar with.

It makes practical sense as well. Aragorn’s tender age would allow showrunners to recast the role with a new (and presumably less expensive) actor than the albeit-wonderful Viggo Mortensen. Similarly, being set in the wilderness should cut also costs. There are no grand cities to build in the north a la Minas Tirith or King’s Landing, nor are there foes that would require lots of expensive CG. It’s a win-win situation.

This may not be what Amazon have in mind at all, but I’d put my money on it becoming their first story. So, internet – challenge accepted?

Check back each Friday for more as I go into the weeds on pop-culture story, lore, and settings.

The Gifted is a Prequel to X-Men: Days of Future Past, & Here’s Why

Unlike everyone else in movies right now, those at Fox seem a little leery about the idea of a connected universe. There was a lot of speculation that Logan might exist in its own continuity, whilst Legion and The Gifted are keen to go it alone judging by production comments. In fact, it’s been suggested via offhand remarks that the latter is part of its own X-Men universe. Think mutant continuity is complicated enough? Apparently not.

There are advantages to separate continuities (the ability to do whatever you fancy being one of them), but it’s also a missed opportunity. Firstly, it seems like a waste to ignore the world-building Fox’s movies have achieved through much blood, sweat, continuity errors, and tears. Second, there are sneaky ways of slotting it into established canon should they choose to do so. It would appear that Fox have left themselves an escape-hatch into the Singer movie-verse.

This probably isn’t going to end well – concept art for X-Men: Days of Future Past by Goran Bukvic

How? With the right spin, The Gifted could take place a few years before everything hits the fan in Days of Future Past. Quick, to the speculation-mobile!

WARNING – there are spoilers for The Gifted ahead.

In the Days of Future Past timeline, the X-Men are gone and killer robots have wiped out swathes of humanity by the year 2023. A handful of mutants still battle for survival, but defeat is now a foregone conclusion; it’s the end. How does this relate to The Gifted, though? Four years prior to that series, mutant riots caused a disaster known as ‘7/15’. Following this tragedy, the government enacted a crack-down on mutant rights. The X-Men and Magneto’s Brotherhood have long-since vanished as well, and now those with powers are being rounded up and/or turned into mindless flunkies known as ‘Hounds’ (using similar techniques to the ones in X2, no less).

This tracks with where we left Wolverine and co. in The Last Stand. The X-Men are basically over; Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Professor X are dead, leaving Storm to head up Xavier’s school before it’s shut down by the military a few years later (this is revealed via promotional material for Days of Future Past). Meanwhile, Logan’s bolted for the wilderness in The Wolverine. Even Magneto’s out of the picture; he’s lost his powers, any followers he gained were rounded up, and his right-hand woman Mystique has been stripped of her abilities too.

As such, what’s left of these teams (Iceman, Kitty Pryde, Colossus, etc.) are attempting to help mutants on the down-low despite being picked off one by one. The likes of Angel and Beast are killed by ‘human first’ activists, for instance. It’d therefore make sense for The Gifted’s 7/15 disaster to force the team into hiding at last. It’s the straw that breaks the superpowered camel’s back.

There’s plenty more to connect these stories, too. Blink – the teleporting mutant who appears in both – helped a group of mutants escape prison shortly before the present in Days of Future Past. This tallies with The Gifted’s premiere where she’s hiding after breaking out of jail. Similarly, The Gifted includes Thunderbird, the brother of Warpath in Days of Future Past, and Eclipse, a mutant with comparable powers to the movie’s Sunspot. Their presence – not to mention that of Sentinels, inhibitor collars, and Doctor Campbell (a character who goes on to become a renowned mutant-hunter in the comic book version of Days of Future Past) – only strengthens the relationship between the two.

Then we come to Trask Industries, the smoking gun of this whole theory. They’re the company responsible for Sentinels in Days of Future Past, so their role in The Gifted suggests a connection. It may be a coincidence due to the brand’s iconic role in X-Men lore, of course, but their presence sets up a possible crossover should Fox want it. Equally, Reed (one of The Gifted’s protagonists) mentions that Trask was meant to have been shut down in 2006. Funnily enough, this is when The Last Stand’s set and a short-lived renaissance for mutant rights takes place. It feels as if Fox has left themselves room for to two to be married up somewhere down the line.

I’m more than game for this. How cool would it be to end The Gifted on the opening of Days of Future Past, or run concurrently with it? And anyway, isn’t the X-Men timeline confusing enough without another separate continuity/universe to get our heads around?

Check back each Friday for more as I go into the weeds on pop-culture story, lore, and settings.

Now Shadow of War is Out, Where Should the Middle-Earth Series Go Next?

Pop-culture’s short attention-span can be exasperating; it’s always on a hunt for the ‘Next Big Thing’. The Middle-Earth series finds itself in this situation now that Shadow of War is on shelves. Where will the franchise go after its undead hero stays six feet under?

Luckily for us, there’s an embarrassment of rich settings to choose from in Tolkien’s fantasy epic. And because I’m unabashedly part of the problem – hooray for speculation! – here are some ideas of where we could end up next.

The Misty Mountains

Despite a quaint, charming title, this is not the sort of place you want to wind up. Crawling with a rash of goblins who’ve long-since colonised its abandoned dwarven mines, this mountain-range is a honeycomb of eerie ruins and pitch-black tunnels. Unsurprisingly, it’s where Fellowship of the Ring’s Moria can be found.

Moria Gates Battle
The Misty Mountains are heaving with orcs for us to fight – concept art by Weta Workshop

Greater danger lies below, though; both The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings reference unspeakable nasties oozing somewhere beneath the earth. As such, this provides us with a fantastic setting in which we can go on an ill-advised adventure/spelunking session. It could also inform gameplay with a mess of hidey-holes and shortcuts that allow us to bypass enemies or spring an ambush.

The Misty Mountains are home to most of Tolkien’s races, too. The elves chill out at Rivendell or Cate Blanchett’s Lothlorien, little human hamlets dot the southern edge, and dwarves wander its roads in an effort to reclaim their homeland. Better still, eagles live in the eyries far above. Flying across Middle-Earth, anyone?

The North

This is your sensible-yet-fairly-pedestrian answer. The area has already seen some action via older games like War in the North or Battle for Middle-Earth II, but that doesn’t mean the setting has been played out yet. Littered with iconic settlements such as Bilbo’s Hobbiton, Bree, and the elven port of the Grey Havens, there’s a lot of fan-service to be had here alongside gameplay opportunity. Why not step into the shoes of a Dunedain ranger, Aragorn’s noble allies who protect the Shire unbeknownst to hobbits? It’s a set-up that lends itself to the style of both Shadow games whilst adding an opportunity for alchemical crafting, tracking a la The Witcher, and the hunting of wild beasts. It’s basically The Witcher 3 with a Lord of the Rings coat of paint. I’m down with that.

Elven Home
There are many mysteries to explore in the north of Middle-Earth – concept art by George Rushing

However, it’s the unexplored regions of this kingdom that seal the deal. Just north of the Shire are ghost-infested wastelands known as Angmar, a place ruled by Sauron’s top enforcer. He doesn’t just have orcs by the hundred; he has a barrel-full of barrow-wights, too. These monsters will try to bury you alive unless you happen to have a weirdo such as Tom Bombadil on call to help you out. A character from the books that was dropped in Jackson’s movie-adaptation, this could be the chance to finally get him on our screens.

The South

Alright, so this is the wild-card of my deck. While there might not seem to be a lot south of Gondor beyond inhospitable desert and giant killer elephants, that’s what makes it ideal for a series like Middle-Earth. As a largely unexplored landscape, it offers creative freedom few other settings can. Surely the angry, Sauron-worshipping tribesmen we saw in Return of the King aren’t all that’s down there? Are civilisations living amongst the dunes that don’t bow to the Dark Lord? Presumably. Could there even be a splinter-group of elves we’ve not encountered who call these sands home? The sky’s the limit. If we can get a human form for Shelob the spider in Shadow of War (*shudders*), this isn’t much of a stretch.

Battle for Middle-Earth II
‘Tis but a scratch – concept art for Battle for Middle-Earth II by Michael Zimmerman

Meanwhile, Shadow of Mordor refers to two ‘blue’ wizards who famously went missing after travelling south. Where did they go and what did they find? Are they still alive? There’s a story in there somewhere, and it’s one that can potentially lean into full-scale magic for the player, e.g. Gandalf wish-fulfilment (for fellow Tolkien-nerds, I’m aware that this isn’t how LotR magic worksbut hey, we already have a zombie ranger so why not?).

Oh, and one last thing. The Return of the King’s extended cut gave us southern pirate-raiders. Fancy a Lord of the Rings-themed Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag? I’d be more than up for that.

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Do you have a better idea? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @thewordyben.

Check back each Friday for more as I go into the weeds on pop-culture story, lore, and settings.

Blade Runner 2049 & Alien Share a Universe – But I’m Totally Cool With That

Here’s a little something that blew my mind recently; Prometheus wasn’t Ridley Scott’s first Alien prequel. In fact, he’s been at it since 1984.

As it turns out, Scott’s Blade Runner has a number of sneaky connections to the world of acid-spitting xenomorphs. Although these clues are subtle (and many are buried in DVD extras or offhand comments from the director), they suggest that the two franchises share their universe.

Blade Runner 2049
Who wouldn’t want to escape a hell-hole like this? If only they knew what was waiting for them out there – concept art by George Hull

That involuntary shudder you felt going down your spine? I get it. It’s understandable. Here’s a Public-Service announcement everyone already knows; shared universes are now ‘cool’, and that means each studio with half a pulse is jumping on the bandwagon. Yet I’m very much aboard the hype train this time.

Please don’t hate me.

To begin with, the connection makes a whole ton of sense. Both are grimy and washed out worlds with an air of hopelessness. Big industry is Bad, they tell us, and it’s only the human connection we share – be it compassion or common decency – that makes life worth living. Scott himself said that he always imagined the two being linked; he saw Blade Runner’s Los Angeles as the kind of place the crew of Nostromo, the ill-fated ship in Alien, were trying to escape. As mentioned in a director’s commentary for Blade Runner, ‘this world could easily be the city that supports the crew that go out in Alien. So, in other words, when the crew of Alien come back in, they might go into this place and go into a bar off the street near where Deckard lives. That’s how I thought about it’.

Secondly, there’s a lot of shared technology between the two; the replicants we see throughout Blade Runner 2049 are just a step behind the likes of David in Prometheus, and that follows because the latter is set around fifty years later.

However, the most convincing evidence comes in the form of bonus material for the theatrical release of both Alien and Prometheus. The former includes data on the Nostromo’s captain, and it turns out that he served under Blade Runner’s Tyrell Corporation before working for Weyland-Yutani, the mega-corp. from Alien. As for Prometheus, extras contained in the steel-book contain a message from Weyland-Yutani founder (Guy Pierce’s character) wherein he implies that Tyrell was his mentor. Inspired/chilled by Tyrell’s failure – he’s murdered by his own creations, the poor sap – Weyland sets out to create something better.

Due to all this, I feel that the connection fleshes out both universes in a logical way. It fires up the imagination as well, because now we know why everyone’s so desperate to go colonise other worlds. Earth’s a real dump.

I don’t think the connection matters a huge deal, either. They’re unlikely to cross over due to the time-difference (Blade Runner takes place decades before Alien), and it’s more of a cool Easter-egg than anything else. Considering the unsubtle way many shared universes are created these days, there’s something elegant about that.

Something Alien: Covenant & Prometheus Got Very, Very Right

Prometheus attracts criticism like a magnet. A great deal of that is justified. Exposition-dumps and maddening characters make for a divisive film. Still, most can agree that Michael Fassbender’s David was a redeeming feature. Morally dubious but polite in the most frightfully British way, he puts us on edge because we’re never sure which side he’s on. As a result, it’s good to see the android creeping everyone out again in Alien: Covenant – especially considering the downward spiral he followed between those two movies.

Warning – SPOILERS for ALIEN: COVENANT follow.

Covenant
‘I, uh, love what you’ve done with the place’ – concept art by Ev Shipard

David’s house of horror on the Engineer home-world is a great example. Littered with token mad-sketches, dissected corpses, and a spot of monster taxidermy, this nightmare puts his terrifying but fiercely intelligent personality on full display. It also plays up to the idea that one rotten apple spoils the batch to brilliant effect. A villain of the Frankenstein variety, David’s goals have been warped into lunacy by flawed logic. Yet he’s unable to recognise that. Therein lies the key to his appeal, at least in my opinion; his plan makes sense in a twisted sort of way, but – as his doppelgänger points out – a duff note has ruined the entire piece. That’s exemplified by his inappropriately chipper nature, not to mention the laissez-faire way he’s left the opened carcass of Dr. Shaw on his operating table. He’s terrifying because he’s so incredibly human… except something’s just a little ‘off’. His lie about Shaw’s death and her meaning to him sums this up nicely.

It’s yet to be seen how his story will end in the next couple of films, and there’s always the possibility of outstaying his welcome. However, the ride should be intriguing if nothing else. David’s too much of a vile son-of-a-b**** for it not to be.

So the Klingons Look Different in Star Trek: Discovery? Good

We prefer to forget that people aren’t 2D; it’s easier to generalise. A complex individual with redeeming qualities despite their flaws? Forget it. That’s too much like hard work. According to Michigan State University, the brain prefers to stereotype because it ‘satisfies the need to understand and predict the social world… it’s a way to feel better about yourself’.

It’s the same with culture – even fictional ones. Oversimplifying is less of a headache. Star Trek: Discovery ran head-first into that particularly controversy; many fans are disgruntled that the show’s Klingons are a far cry from those we’ve seen before. Gone are the mustachios and ridged foreheads of The Next Generation’s Worf. They’ve been replaced by dual-nostrils, a hairless head, clawed hands, and a ribbed scalp that extends down the back of their skull. It’s a distinctly more alien design.

e20144f92ccc9c32fd2eb56fedc9888a04ef6c47bd196094395207c08b5e32f7
Look at the bling on that Klingon ship. It’s like a pimped-out sea-shell (concept art for Star Trek: Discovery)

The reason for that change is understandable. The Discovery team wanted their version to stand out, and they certainly achieve their aim. Equally, it makes the Klingons feel otherworldly in a way they rarely have before (a goal that serves this war-story well). However, some think it’s too big a departure. Although I don’t agree, I understand the criticism. The old Klingons may as well be a different species in terms of their appearance. Comparing them to the ones we see in Star Trek Into Darkness isn’t a huge leap, but previous shows? It’s night and day.

That said, it’s still a sweeping statement to say that this isn’t how Klingons ‘should’ look. For starters, they’re fictional extra-terrestrials with pointy teeth and a love of wanton violence. Unusual markings are hardly the most outlandish thing about them. Secondly, all species play host to countless permutations of appearance based on environmental factors and genetics. Why should Klingons be any different? Maybe this is an older breed of Klingon or an offshoot that later dies out, much like Neanderthals. There’s even an in-universe explanation; Klingons attempt to replicate the super-soldier experiments that resulted in Khan (the Enterprise’s biggest adversary) following Discovery. This goes a bit pear-shaped and alters their DNA until they’re more human in appearance, handily justifying their rather… unambitious look in the original series. What’s the bet that this catastrophe wins the war for the Federation at the end of Discovery?

Either way, the change is a nice metaphor for this show as a whole. It shakes us free of any preconceptions we hold about Star Trek, allowing Discovery to truly take us where we’ve never been before.

And come on – it’s not like we won’t get tie-in media explaining the difference anyway…

Kingsman: The Golden Circle Reminds Us to Embrace ‘Weird’

There’s something refreshing about a film that embraces its own ridiculousness; it’s a shot of Apple Sourz straight to your grey-matter. Certain genres are unavoidably daft, so wrapping them in grounded seriousness sucks a lot of the joy away. Superheroes are a prime example. Movies such as Logan and The Dark Knight are fab, yes, but there’s a lot to be said for comic book weirdness as well. Villains like ‘Crazy Quilt’ or Batman’s ‘Bat Train’ are delightfully crap, for instance.

Poppyland
The villain’s daft secret lair is one the The Golden Circle’s greatest strengths – concept art for Kingsman: The Golden Circle

It’s the same for spy-flicks. Indeed, Kingsman: The Golden Circle threw its baseball cap into the ring this week. Matthew Vaughn’s ode to classic Bond reminds us what was so special about it in the first place; although the modern, Craig-led iteration is good for several reasons, you can’t beat 70s-era 007 for tongue-in-cheek absurdity. Accordingly, The Golden Circle is one Close Encounters of the Third Kind jingle away from Moonraker. It’s cheeky, self-aware, and completely off its rocker. I loved it precisely for that reason.

It also made me remember how much fun a daftly themed supervillain can be. Forget plots to uproot decedent Western society. This film’s baddie runs a 50s-themed diner in the South American jungle. She also has robot guard-dogs at her beck-and-call, not to mention a bowling alley. Oh, and a penchant for turning foes into hamburgers. It’s barking mad and completely delightful.

The only problem I had turned up mid-way through the film, actually; it’s an exaggerated mockery of elder Bond that I was uncomfortable revisiting. If you’ve seen the latest Kingsman, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

As Vaughn mentions in an interview with The Independent, scenes like this and its companion in the original were ‘supposed to be funny and a wink to “can you believe this is how they used to end movies?”’. And I get that; there’s a lot of humour to be mined in doing so. It also puts its hero in a bind that plays on guilt to great effect. However, when does humour end and good taste begin? Was there another, less fabricated way to achieve the same result? It felt unnecessary and left something of a bitter taste in my mouth.

I bring this up because it’d be a shame for people to shake their heads and remember that one moment when The Golden Circle is mentioned. It’s much more than that. In fact, the film is an object lesson in having fun. Grounded genre movies are excellent, but there’s no reason to brush over their daft history either.

Story & Voice Acting for Metroid: Samus Returns? No Thanks

Should Nintendo games have full voice acting? What about a greater focus on story? These questions are roughly the same age as Neolithic cave-paintings. It feels like that, anyway; we’ve been discussing the issue for decades and no-one’s able to agree. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild nudged us in one direction, but it’s yet to be seen if Metroid: Samus Returns will follow suit. I’m not sure how I feel about this.

What? Why, yes, I believe that’s the sound of hell freezing over.

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SHOOT THE THINGS, SAMUS.

For clarification, I’ve got no problem with a deeper narrative in Zelda or Metroid. Their settings are certainly rich enough. However, I’m not sure a traditional story is necessary. It’s a generalisation to say that gameplay is the main attraction for both, yet I think that’s a fair argument nonetheless. Do we get involved for character-arcs, cutscenes, and dialogue? That feels ill-fitting for either franchise. Their MO is one of lonely exploration and discovery through play, not a plot-driven experience. Similarly, there’s something wonderfully quirky about scrolling text and grunts from an NPC. Rather than being a sign of antiquated thinking, it’s become a Nintendo calling-card.

I’d prefer to see them take inspiration from Dark Souls instead. Considering their emphasis on player-led exploration, scattering narrative and lore throughout the environment is a much better match. Build up the world of Zelda and Metroid, by all means; just let us puzzle out the details ourselves.