Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Silent Hill 2 - Silent Heaven

It's always a little intimidating going back to revisit something you consider your favorite in a given medium. What if it doesn't hold up? What if it looks dated and silly and all that time you spent telling people why you love it is called into question? This is especially true in video games, where technology evolves at a rapid pace.

This was my worry about starting to play Silent Hill 2. In a world with HD graphics, where people have gotten a chance to really experiment with the storytelling strengths of the medium, how can a 13 year old game stack up? I was recently going through my stuff and finally found my power cord for my PS2, so I thought why not brave it and fire the game up.

Right off the bat I was struck by how good it still looked. While you can definitely tell the game is dated, they use what they have wisely. The fog in the game looks lightyears better than in Silent Hill 1, where it was really just a creepy gimmick to explain draw distance. Weaknesses in character models are hidden well by superb animation. Just the way the monsters move is unsettling, especially the mannequin leg monsters and the evil nurses. All of the environments have such strong design that went into them that I couldn't even pay attention to the technical aspects of it.  Everything visual comes together to create an atmosphere like no other game out there.

That atmosphere is something that is matched in very few games (Bioshock's Rapture and portions of Fallout 3 are the only things to come close). There is so much that is off putting about the world you experience. Finding a room that has a box chained to a bed with four heavy locks on it, only for it to contain a piece of hair is just one example of the type of strange environmental storytelling that goes on. There are so many notes and pictures that you find throughout the game that don't really end up having anything to do with puzzles or the main story, but just go to further the mood of the game. Not only is there such an eeriness created, there is an overwhelming sense of loneliness as well. You do run into a handful of character throughout the game, but between the fog and the dark hallways, you really feel alone for much of the game. That's not really a feeling that you are used to in video games, so it's refreshing to see something strive to capture that.

The characters that you do meet throughout the game are very interesting, as they all have their own reasons to be trapped in this hellish town. Since the game is over a decade old, I don't feel bad spoiling the ending of the game, but if you haven't played it, I'll give you a chance to stop here. The reason that James is in Silent Hill is because his dead wife sent him a letter telling him to meet her there, and it's revealed by the end of the game that you are the one that killed her. Silent Hill drew him there to force him to face what he had done. Other character in the game seem to have the same fate. Angela killed her father who sexually abused her, and now battles constant suicidal thoughts. Eddie killed someone for making fun of him, and he sinks further and further into fits of violence. They both represent different ways your path could lead if you give in.

The most interesting character in the game is Maria. James finds her in the park, and she is a spitting image of his wife, but more sexualized. Throughout the game, he is confusing her with Mary, and she either snaps at him for it, or tells him that she'll be his Mary if he likes. She represents what James wishes he could have had with his wife. The reason he killed her was because she was ill and bedridden. Depending on how you interpret the game, it could either be seen that he killed her as a mercy, or that he killed her because he was frustrated that she was holding him back. There are also undertones of sexual frustration in the latter choice, as they obviously could not be intimate during her illness. There are some very surreal scenes in the game with Maria that drive home this point. This idea is one of the most mature I've ever seen explored in a video game. Even without the sexual frustration portion of the theme, there's a very relateable notion of being upset at someone who can't hold up their end of a relationship, even though they have it much worse off than you.

These themes are also explored in the enemies. There are not a ton of different enemy types in the game, but the ones that exist all have a purpose. From the creepy nurses, who represent Mary's time in the hospital, to the double leg creatures, which are just two sexualized sets of lower halves, all of the monsters are meant to disturb the player. The infamous Pyramid Head is easily the best example of this, and possibly one of the finest creatures in video game history. He fully represents that sexual frustration I spoke about earlier. The first time you meet him, he is raping another monster, and both his giant weapon and his helmet suggest a phallic form. The encounters with him are all wonderful, including a battle where you can't kill him and just have to avoid him for a certain amount of time. 

Despite having the same setting, this game feels like a different beast than the rest of the Silent Hill series. While the other games have a very large focus on the mythology of the town, this one is a very personal journey that doesn't tie into anything else in the Silent Hill series. It feels more like a story of a man who descends deeper and deeper into his own personal madness on a mission of self destruction. One review I read of the series recently mentioned that you do a lot of things in this game that you absolutely would not do in real life, like jump down a series of holes in the ground, but pointed out that this made sense in the context of the game, since James seems intent on punishing himself for what he has done.  

To wrap up, I'll share one of the smallest details of the game that terrified me the most. It's doors.  I remember when I played it when I was younger, I found it maddening that there were so many doors that you couldn't open. Why even program them in if they were functionally the same as a wall? But I realize now that all the doors that are broken make it scary when they do open. I get so used to finding them unopenable that I shudder every time I hear the noise of a door opening. I'd rather be frustrated and stuck in the same room than have the door open and be forced to face some unknown horror.

And that is why Silent Hill 2 is brilliant. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Arc Reactor: Captain Marvel - Higher, Further, Faster, More

Marvel has had a very strong push recently to move things to the cosmic corners of the Marvel Universe. Since Marvel Now, Tony Stark has gone to space, the Guardians of the Galaxy had a huge push, Silver Surfer got his own book, just to name a few. One of the characters that got moved to this setting was the relaunched Captain Marvel book by Kelly Sue DeConnick. I had been hearing a lot of the hype around DeConnick's Captain Marvel book and the following it had been gathering, so this relaunch seemed like a great time to see what they hype was all about.

The story begins picking up on the fallout of Infinity, one of Marvel's recent events. A refugee from planet that was destroyed by the Builders ends up on Earth and in the hands of the Avengers. After a quick overview of her little family that she has set up, she decides to go into space to help out this little girl alien. Putting her into space is a really great idea, because Danvers is a pilot, so this is the ultimate place for her to fly, something that was denied to her in the previous volume. Eventually, Captain Marvel ends up finding the new homeworld of the alien refugee, and finds that they are in dire straights. After moving to the new planet, many of their people have fallen mysteriously ill. Not only that, but they are dealing with some rather sticky intergalactic politics with J'Son, king of the Spartax empire. Carol, realizing that she is the representative of the Avengers in space, takes it upon herself to solve all their problems and standing up for this displaced race. 

It's a nice set up for a compelling story. So much of the time, during these big Marvel events, we never really see the realistic fallout. We see entire planets destroyed on a regular basis, but we don't really think about what that means. To see an entire civilization have to get up and try to start over on a new planet, only to get bullied by J'Son and the Spartax, is a harrowing situation. While it's a great set up, it does take a bit too long for the story really to get rolling. There's a bit of a side track with the Guardians of the Galaxy that seems a bit out of place, but the story really sticks the landing. DeConnick does a great job of making the climax both interestingly political and action packed. When Carol makes her stand at the end of issue 5, it's really an awesome fist pumping moment.

While the story ends up being interesting, what this book really excels at is character. Even though this is a 'solo' book, what makes this unique is the family that DeConnick makes for Carol Danvers is really great. During her travels in space, she ends up collecting a ragtag group of aliens that all work together. She creates this little group of characters from the ground up and turns them into people that we genuinely care about. I just love the dynamic that she creates. On top of that, Carol Danvers is one of the most inspiring characters. Being a pilot and a soldier, she has a lot of similarities to Captain America, and inspires hope in the same way. She's kinda built a reputation as the hero that really looks out for the 'little guy.' While that may not be an completely unique trait for a superhero, Carol really makes it one of the defining characteristics in a wonderful way.

It's easy to see how this book has gathered such a rabid fanbase. DeConnick has such a great sense of creating down to Earth characters even in outlandish situations. Now that I have Marvel Unlimited, I may take some time to go back and read DeConnick's previous volume on the title. It's clear that she has a passion for the character, and that translates onto the page. Hopefully she's got all the pacing issues figured out, and the next storyline can hit the ground running. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy Review

When Guardians of the Galaxy was announced, people were skeptical. Was Marvel really going to put out a superhero movie about a group of characters no one had ever heard of, including a talking raccoon and a sentient tree? Directed by a small name director? Starting the bumbling character from Parks and Rec? I kept seeing articles pop up all over asking if this would be Marvel's first true bomb. But then footage was released, and people loved it. The trailer came out, and the average public took notice. People saw a film with wit and charm. When it finally opened, it smashed August records. It did business almost equal to Captain America: The Winter Solider. And critics LOVED it.

There's so much to love about this film. It both fits in perfectly with the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but still feels like something drastically different and fresh. Right off the bat we're given a quick emotional scene that plants the seeds for the strong emotional core of the film. We see young Peter Quill lose his mother to cancer, then get whisked off by aliens. Jump to an Indiana Jones-like scene where grown up Quill is looking through some ruins while dancing to music playing through his Walkman. These two scenes set up the tone and the feel of what's to come perfectly. Director James Gunn makes a fantastic decision to link this Walkman and cassette tape playing in it to his dead mother, really defining his character quickly, while giving some the film to have a reason to have such and awesome, old-school soundtrack.

From there, our motley crew of heroes crosses paths with each other, than eventually comes together for a common cause. Each person in the group gets their chance to shine. While Gamora and Drax seem to have similar motivations, they do a nice job of differentiating them. The real scene stealers of the film are the two that people were most skeptical about: Groot and Rocket. It is such an achievement that they created two completely CG characters that are voiced by well known actors and made unique characters. If I wouldn't have known, I would have never guessed they were voiced by Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper. They have such a unique bond, and both are given time to have some really emotional moments. The whole arc of these rouges finding the heroism inside of them is nothing that hasn't been seen before, but everyone involved pulls it off perfectly.

On the villains' side of the film, the characters aren't quite as strong, but the performances are all solid. Lee Pace in particular really brings it to the role. Ronan the Accuser's motivations don't differ too much from those of Malekith in Thor: The Dark World, they both essentially just want to destroy things on a massive scale with some crazy, mystical artifact, but Pace really digs into the role and gives it the appropriate level of menace, while still leaving room for some comedic beats. It's also nice to see a little glimpse of Thanos' role in the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe. We know he was pulling the strings in Loki's attacks during The Avengers, but it's great to start to fill him in a bit more. It's very satisfying to see that Marvel has the patience to play the long game with Thanos (I was as surprised as other when they announced UltronI as the villain of Avengers 2 rather than Thanos), and I'm confident they know how to make this all pay off in the end.

I really can't think of anything I didn't like about this film. It's familiar, yet fresh; brisk, yet emotional, everything you could want from a blockbuster film. This is going to be some little kid's "Star Wars." Rocket and Groot will be his or her Han and Chewie. That's how big this film is. It's hard for me to say if this is my favorite Marvel film, because they are all finding a way of telling awesome stories in completely different genres. I would definitely say this one is in my top three. I was a little skeptical that Marvel announced another Guardians movie so quickly, as I thought it would be better to have them show up in someone else's movie (or maybe just swoop in to save the day at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron), but the cosmic corner of universe they've created here is so rich, and does a great job of fleshing out a lot of the things in the background of the other Marvel films. I feel like I'm getting repetitive by saying "I can't wait to see where it goes from here," but I really can't. Marvel is on fire, and I'm excited to see what they do with other properties, such as Dr. Strange. MAKE MINE MARVEL!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Snowpiercer Review

Right when I heard about this film I was excited about it, and boy did the Weinsteins make it a challenge to see it. This film is the English language debut of Bong Joon-Ho, director of the excellent monster film The Host. It's already been released in Korea and did great business, but for whatever reason, the Weinsteins wanted to cut the film by about 20 minute for American release. Luckily the director stuck to his guns, but the trade off was that the movie got a very limited release.

Luckily for me, part of the small release also meant that it was released on VOD at the same time as it was in the theatres. This was my first time renting a film in this way, and I really enjoyed it. While I would have much rather seen this on the big screen, it was great to be able to experience this film while it was new despite not being in a big market.

After all that hype and hoopla, did the film live up to its promise? I believe it did 100%. The film follows the passengers aboard the last train on Earth, carrying the all that remains of humanity after mankind's attempts to curb global warming causes a new Ice Age. The train is organized by class, with the lower class being crowded into the back cars, while the upper class live in luxury in the front section. The allegory is pretty simple, but the film uses some really wonderful world building to really flesh out the concept. While it may not be a completely believable scenario, the whole thing obeys its own logic and the weirdness of the train gives the film a surreal feel that enhances the atmosphere. The tone the film strikes is one of the strongest elements of the film. It manages to be dark and disturbing while still being a bit wacky and funny at times, all without making the tonal shifts feel out of place. Bong Joon-Ho did the same type of thing in The Host, and I think it works even better in this film.

I think that the strongest element of this film is the plot pacing. Snowpiercer does a fantastic job of withholding details from the viewer then revealing them later, without feeling like a cop out. One particular scene really stands out about halfway through the film. The film also isn't afraid to kill off characters throughout, giving the movie an unpredictable nature. There are even a couple late stage twists that give some of the characters some much needed depth. A lot of the characters are kind of archetypes throughout, so I can't help but wonder if revealing some character twists a little earlier might have given the story a little more punch, but I'm perfectly fine with the way things played out.

Contrary to what the Weinsteins thought, I think that this movie may have actually benefited from expanding certain concepts a little bit more to really flesh things out. One of the antagonists in the film seems to have a strong connection to one of the characters, but it's never really explained exactly what's going on between them, or what his deal is. I also think that a little bit more focus on how the upper class actually lives (ie sleeps and works) would have really gone a long way in giving the world that last bit of detail that would really put it on another level.

Even though it wasn't pushed as such, this is exactly what I think a summer blockbuster should be. It's got a lot of creativity, creates an interesting world with something to say, and never forgets to be thrilling. Even though there is a bit of a message in the film, it always remembers that it's a movie that has to be engaging in order to deliver that message. The film is so exciting, but really sticks with you due the world it presents you with. I really hope other producers see the potential of Bong Joon-Ho, and he is given a lot more leeway with his next film, because he's earned it.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Top 10 iOS Games

This is one of the few strategy games that I've checked out for iOS. It's like a reverse version of the board game Pandemic. You control a virus, and get to help it evolve and spread throughout the world. You have to decide what you want the symptoms to be, how it spreads and so forth, all in reaction to the world around it. It's engaging, and a game doesn't take overly long to play.

If I remember correctly might have been the first game that I got for my iPod Touch. It's basically a sim game where you run a game development company. You hire programmers, artists, etc and make them work on whatever type of game you want. You have to decide what you consoles you want to work with, and how quickly you want to start working on them. It gets a bit repetitive later in the game, but the theme is so strong that I was drawn  to it despite its flaws.

One thing iOS really excels at is making games with really quick gameplay loops that are easy to learn, but tough to master. Super Hexagon is a zen level example of that genre. Basically all you do is try to rotate yourself through this shape maze, but it gets really tough, really quickly. It's one of those you really need to play to see what's special about it, because the gameplay is just about perfect.

This is interesting because it's essentially a board game created exclusively for a digital platform. It comes from Firaxis, who was responsible for the newest XCOM games, so it's got a really strong sense of strategy. You basically build a haunted house, then send monsters into the town to try to scare the villagers while your opponent does the same. There's a good amount of strategy to it in regards to the type of units you can build, and it's very fun throughout.

Endless runners are a huge deal on mobile devices, and this is one of the sharpest. You're an Indiana Jones type running through underground caves fighting off various monsters you encounter. The game has a ton of charm, and there's enough things for you to get to continuously upgrade your character as you play. It's quirky sense of humor really makes it easy to come back to over and over.

This is the type of game I was hoping existed when I started playing iOS games. It takes complete advantage of the system it plays on and wouldn't play the same in another form. The game is basically a text adventure, but that sells it short quite a bit. You scroll through the text of the story, and it acts like a maze you are navigating. Sometimes you pick with direction you go first, often causing you to flip the actual iPhone as you are doing so. There are also a good amount of visuals throughout. You progress through the game by solving puzzles, the kind of old school puzzles that you need a pen and paper to solve. I haven't finished the game, but it's an absolutely refreshing experience that reminds me of the first time I read House of Leaves.

Another perfect gameplay loop type game. The game basically has three portions to each round. First, you cast your line and send your fishing hook down. While you are doing this, you try to dodge all the fish around you. Once you hit one, you start to reel it in. During this portion, you try to touch as many fish as you can to pull them up. And when your hook reaches the surface, they all get tossed up in the air. At this point, you have to shoot them out of the sky. It's massively entertaining, and there are enough things to buy in the game that make you get progressively better as you continue to play. It's an absolute blast to play.

This is the endless runner to end all endless runners. You just keep going, trying to avoid all the traps in the facility by flying up and down the screen with your jetpack. There are also some really cool vehicles you can get that give you different advantages throughout. Again, with the money you earn while playing you can buy upgrades, both gameplay and cosmetic, to give the game more variety.

Another great sim game, this one coming from the good folks at Double Fine. Basically you are the guy who coordinates a Justice League type superhero team. You hire heroes, send them out to do heroic things, like saving a bus full of children or fighting off robbers. There are different sections of the city that you can progress through, each with a different villain storyline involved with them. It's a lot of fun, and the theme works perfectly in the game. I wish there was still some new content coming out for the game, as I tore through it all quickly.

This game is a fully developed RPG that plays out entirely on iOS. The theme is that you are a group of people playing D&D, and the battles you see play out are the story you guys are playing. It's one of the few iOS games that I've really paid attention to the story. The game progresses at a great pace, though it does ramp up quite a bit towards the end. The battle system is amazingly solid, and the amount of character combinations you can create is amazing. I can't stress enough how fun this game is, providing a wonderful old school RPG experience in such a small little package.

Honorable Mentions: Dead Space, Plants vs Zombies 2, Papa Sangre II, Organ Trail, Hearthstone, Republique

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Constants and Variables: A Look Back at the Bioshock Universe - Part 1

A little while ago, I finally caved and picked up the Season Pass for Bioshock Infinite in order to play Buried at Sea. With the completion of that DLC, I have now finished every (single player) piece of material that has been released in this franchise. Without a doubt Bioshock is one of my favorite all time franchises, and one that really shaped a lot of my ideas of what makes a good video game. With the recent break up of Irrational Studios (who made another one of my favorite games of all time - Freedom Force), I thought it would be a good chance to look back, game by game, on the series of Bioshock as a whole before Take Two decides what they want to do with the franchise.

I've written about this game before, but it's definitely worth talking about again. I feel like this game was really the first to give me that next gen experience I was looking for when I got a PS3. I had played Dead Space and Uncharted at that point, and while those were great games, I feel like Bioshock was really the first one where I thought it would something that was not only better in terms of graphical quality, but had also brought a next gen level of thinking that was rarely seen on the PS2. The art design of the worlds was spot on, creating one of the most visually compelling worlds ever, which also managed to be an intellectually compelling world as well. I had never seen a game that incorporated elements of philosophy and created such a well thought out and morally challenging world. This is also one of the first games I played where you made moral decision that effected how the game played out and how it ended. While it wasn't completely successful in making that choice really change the game (you really ended up with the same amount of ADAM no matter which you picked) nor was it successful in making it a particularly interesting moral one (should I brutally kill an innocent little girl to make myself more powerful or not?), it was nice to have something that started that conversation about including morality into gameplay in a way that was organic to the world of the game.

The narrative of this game also did an amazing job of really upping the ante for the new generation of consoles. While your main protagonist isn't well defined (purposely so in the beginning), the stories of the denizens of Rapture draw you in. I still remember running across the first 'boss,' a doctor who went crazy performing drastic surgeries on whoever he could get his hands on. It was chilling and completely believable within the context of Rapture. Then of course there's the incredibly memorable Sander Cohen, the mad artist who made works of art from people. But there is rarely a video game moment that is more impactful than the big twist of the game. The way the infamous "Would you kindly?" scene plays out is one of the most masterful in the medium, and says some amazing things about the nature of the medium itself. Granted, the game's finale doesn't ever live up to this moment, but I guess it was trapped by the constraints of the medium as well and felt the need to give us a big dumb boss battle. That in no way detracts, in my opinion, from the overall power of the narrative, but it would have been something to really see them bring that game to a stronger close. I actually do think that the 'good' ending of the game where you end up setting the Little Sisters free is incredibly compelling and does a good job of engaging the player emotionally.

There's also just something so iconic about the image of the Big Daddy and the Little Sister that speaks to Bioshock's power. Seeing those menacing creatures for the first time, sullenly following and protecting the tragic Little Sisters is such a powerful sight. It was also a very interesting choice for you to be able to decide whether or not you wanted to engage the Big Daddy or just let them walk away. That decision went a long way to making you really believe that the world of Bioshock was something that would go on without you around.

I think this is the game in the series that I'm going to find myself have the most trouble talking about. It's not that I think that it's a bad game, I in fact like it more than most critic did. It's just that I don't find it particularly memorable. Part of what made the original Bioshock such a unique experience was that wonder of stepping into Rapture for the first time. Everything about it is a surprise, and everything excites you. With Bioshock 2, which I should note was not done by Irrational Games, you are just plopped back into the same world. Sure, you get to see new parts of the world and meet new characters, but none of them are as sharp as in the first one, and they certainly don't stick with you as much. It seems that some of the ideas that went into the making of the game were based on misconceptions about what made the first game work. This game cast you in the role of an early Big Daddy prototype, maybe based on the idea that people liked it when they got to put on the Big Daddy armor at the end of Bioshock? Part of what makes the first game so cool is that you are very underpowered compared to the Big Daddy's, and you have to think about your strategy in order to really beat them. In order to compensate for you being a Big Daddy, this time around the created the Big Sister, who was a Little Sister upgraded with Big Daddy technology that stalked you throughout the game to try to protect the Little Sisters. It was a neat idea, but really didn't feel as creative as it could have despite its mostly solid design.

While the story and environment didn't have the same spark as the first game, the gameplay got a big fine tuning. In the first one, you had to switch between using traditional weapons and using the plasmid powers, but in Bioshock 2, you could dual wield them, one in each hand, creating a smoother combat experience. This is something that Irrational would use when they returned to the franchise in Bioshock Infinite. The dual wielding really gives you greater options in combat and makes you think about the combinations of weapons you are using and how you can combine them effectively. Overall, while the game isn't as memorable as the original, the tighter gameplay combined with just enough of the magic of the original make this game a worthwhile experience, even if not a particularly memorable one. If you're a fan of the series and the world in general, then it's probably worth playing at some point.

Most critics that dismissed Bioshock 2 as not bringing anything new to the table were immensely surprised by the story DLC Minerva's Den. This game was developed by people that went on to create the critically acclaimed Gone Home, so there is a bit more focus on environmental storytelling and interesting twists and turns. You are once again a Big Daddy, but this time you are tasked with helping recover "The Thinker," an A.I. supercomputer that runs Rapture. One of the people who is assisting you over radio is the inventor, Charles Porter, who created the computer to try to emulate the personality of his deceased wife. By the end of the story, you discover that the Big Daddy you are playing as is Porter, who's memory has been wiped, and the voice on the radio is The Thinker itself, emulating you in order to better guide you to its own rescue. The game really capitalizes on the potential that DLC has to provide interesting side stories in already established worlds. While the gameplay continues to tighten up with a couple new plasmids and a few new enemies, the real achievement here is the story and how it is told. I was able to guess the twist by the clues planted, but only moments before it happened, which means they did a good enough job of foreshadowing it and hiding it just well enough.

With the Bioshock franchise now officially out of the hands of Ken Levine and Irrational, I'm sure we're going to get returns to the worlds he created, as it would be harder for other directors to come up with worlds like Rapture and Columbia that would be on the same level. Inspired by Minerva's Den, I think it would be cool if they released an "Anthology" game where the game was a series of 4 or 5 shorter tales that would be side stories taking place in the worlds. I would love to even see different developers get to take shots at the shorts. I think that would be a novel concept that would be widely accepted by the community of Bioshock fans, especially if you worked with some high caliber indie developers who could all work on their portion simultaneously. Imagine a Rapture story done by Amnesia creators Frictional Games (though I guess they are working on their underwater horror right now with SOMA), or a Columbia story done by Outlast creator Red Barrel. It's an approach that we see done with films and books, but haven't really seen too much in video games.

Join me later for a discussion of Bioshock Infinite and its two part DLC Burial at Sea.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past

For a while I've been saying that Marvel really has it all figured out with their movies because they do a better job of making comic book movies feel like comic books. They have a shared universe, set up a big cross over event, and have elements that really tie the films together, just like how comics work. It seems like Fox has taken a step in that direction with X-Men: Days of Future Past. Bringing together two timelines worth of X-Men and using the film to rework problematic continuity problems is exactly something comic books would do, and it works amazingly in this film.

They've got a lot of guts to try to pull off a movie like this, but their dedication to doing the source material justice makes them pull it off. It's not an exact adaptation by any means, but they do everything in their power to stay true to the original story, and encapsulate the themes at the core of every good X-Men story. In this film the X-Men of the first trilogy of film live in a dystopian future where they are hunted by deadly Sentinels. In a last ditch effort to fix everything, they send Wolverine back to the past in order to stop an event that sets the Sentinels creation in motion. Even though the future X-Men only are in about twenty percent of the film, that's still a ton of character to juggle, but it never feels like the film is too bloated. Too many mutants was one of the biggest problems with X-Men: First Class (there were so many of them that you didn't get to know), but the film wisely focuses sharply on the key players (Wolverine, Xavier, Magneto and Mystique) while making enough time to give all the other characters a least a 'moment' in the film. It's a really tough act to pull off, especially while working with such an intricate plot, but the film pulls it off with spades.

The film also does a great job of taking the pieces that worked from X-Men: First Class, particularly the historical perspective. Setting this story right after the end of the Vietnam War gives a lot of power to the story. America has just lost their first major war, then the "mutant threat" emerges. They can't be seen as weak again, can they? While the government was able to keep the mutant activities of the previous film under wraps, there is a scene in this film where mutants are publicly displayed for the first time, leaving no way to cover up their existence. The scene in question is awesome, grounded in a real life event and film with old 4:3 cameras to make it look like home movies from that era. There are some really fantastic twists and turns along the way, and with time travel being an element creating a 'new timeline,' it gives the film a big 'anything can happen' feeling. The film climaxes with a sequence that is both exciting and emotionally satisfying as a finale, which is exactly what you can hope for in an action film like this.

This film also features some of the best actions sequences of any X-Men film to date. Many of the new mutants chosen (as well as those brought back) were able to bring a unique visual action to their scenes. In the future, all the original X-Men were given lots to do with there powers (it was great to see a fully iced up Iceman), and the new ones gave a great dynamic element. I loved seeing Blink use her powers, creating action sequences that were reminiscent of the game Portal. The real highlight of the film though is Evan Peters' Quicksilver. While many initially dismissed him for his dorky looking costume, he stole the show. The use of his powers mixed with the writing of his character were spot on, creating a neat little counterpoint to other mutants in the film. He wasn't someone who was interested in the treatment of his race, but rather just used his powers like any kid would, to dick around and get in trouble. This leads to him helping the crew break Magneto out of his holding cell. There's a magnificent scene in there where you really get to see exactly what someone with his powers would be capable of. It will be interesting to see how the Avengers version of Quicksilver will work, as he's got a lot of live up to here.

The film wasn't perfect. Even thought there were a lot of problems solved by using time travel to erase some of the poor decisions of previous films, things don't exactly line up. The point Wolverine is transported back to doesn't exactly line up with what we learned in Wolverine: Origins, and since he didn't travel back far enough to erase that film, there are some problems that exist. But you know what, comic books often pick and choose what parts of their continuity they want to sweep under the rug, so I'm willing to let it slide, but it is noticeable.

Overall, this film was awesome. I'm glad they got the band back together with the original X-Men cast and were able to give them a proper send off that they deserved while still finding away to push the new cast of the X-Men forward in interesting ways. There was a ton going on in this film, but it never got overwhelming, and no part of it really felt like it got short changed. After the end credits tease, I'm excited to see where this franchise goes, as it looks like it will focus on the threat of another mutant rather than focusing on the human/mutant conflict like every other film.