March 30, 2015

Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011)

Another five years forward, and we're up to Tom Cruise's fourth outing as IMF super-agent Ethan Hunt.

In Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol, a mission into the Kremlin goes disastrously awry and the entire IMF organisation is disavowed by the US government. Without any support, Hunt and his team must track down a Swedish nuclear strategist before he steals a set of Russian nuclear launch codes and sets off World War III.

While this film sees yet another change of director - this time to animation veteran Brad Bird - it retains much of the tone and feel of J.J. Abrams' M:I3. While the first three films all felt like very different takes on the format, Ghost Protocol is the first that actually feels like an honest-to-god sequel. At the same time it also feels remarkably refreshing: believe it or not, this is the first Mission: Impossible film that didn't feature a corrupt IMF agent at the centre of the narrative.

NES30 #30: DuckTales

In 2015, Nintendo's hugely successful Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) turns 30 years old. The NES, an adaptation of Nintendo's already successful Famicom console, re-invigorated console gaming internationally after the collapse of Atari and went on to sell 43 million units worldwide. NES30 celebrates this anniversary by counting down my favourite 30 games for the system.

For a while there, the platform game and Walt Disney animation seemed to go hand-in-hand. There were so many great platformers based on Disney productions, particularly during the SNES/Megadrive years where games like Aladdin and The Lion King really managed to rival the games being designed for those consoles with wholly original IP.

That stream of quality Disney games arguably began back in 1989 with games like DuckTales, developed by Capcom for the NES.

March 29, 2015

Mission: Impossible III (2006)

Six years after Mission: Impossible II and a whole decade after the original, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) returned to the screens in a somewhat unexpected sequel. It was widely known that Paramount had been trying to produce a third film, but it also seemed to be burning through directors at a pretty aggressive pace (both Joe Carnahan and David Fincher were hired, worked on the film, and then departed the project having failed to develop a viable project under Paramount's conditions).

In the end it was TV writer/producer J.J. Abrams, then best known for Felicity and Alias, who assumed control of this third film and successfully brought it to the screen. It was his spy series Alias that proved excellent training for directing his first feature film, and indeed M:I3 resembles that series rather closely. It begins in media res, pushes the action very rapidly to an emotional crisis, and then jumps back several days to reveal the events that led there. In between there's plenty of running around, shooting at people, racing in cars and all of the other action ones expects from a solid espionage thriller.

It also features Philip Seymour Hoffman as the villain, and therein lies its masterstroke.

March 28, 2015

Star Trek: Enterprise: "The Forge"

It's 19 November 2004, and time for more Star Trek: Enterprise.

An explosion rips through the Earth embassy on Vulcan, killing dozens of people including Archer's close friend Admiral Forrest. While Trip and Phlox lead the investigation on the Enterprise, Archer (Scott Bakula) and T'Pol (Jolene Blalock) head out into the Vulcan desert to apprehend the religious cult suspected of undertaking the attack.

This season seems to be all about answering questions the audience probably was never asking. The season premiere was an answer to 'can we see more of that interminable temporal cold war?'. The subsequent three-parter was an answer to 'what was Noonien Soong like, and can we see more of Khan's people?'. This episode, which kicks off a second three-part story, appears to be answering the question 'why are the Vulcans in Enterprise such assholes?'. I assumed the answer was 'bad writing', but apparently it's something more than that.

March 27, 2015

The Pull List: 25 March 2015, Part II

Batman and Robin has been one of the New 52's constants: high quality, well characterised, beautifully illustrated, and presented pretty much interrupted for almost four years by the same creative team: writer Peter J. Tomasi, penciller Patrick Gleason and inker Mick Gray. It's never quite hit the heights that some other DC titles have - Batman and Batwoman both spring to mind - but it's never been less than excellent. As a result it's been one of the books I've reached for first whenever it's popped up in my order at the comic shop.

Issue #40 concludes the "Super" storyline, in which a resurrected Damian Wayne has come back to life with the powers of flight and superhuman strength. It also concludes this volume: this is the final issue of Batman and Robin. In June, Damian Wayne returns in Robin: Son of Batman #1 with Patrick Gleason both writing and illustrating the book. I'll be picking that book up like a shot, but I'm actually rather sad. This book has sort of crept up on me. I talk a lot about how great Snyder and Capullo's Batman is, or how entertaining Batgirl has become, and in the background Batman and Robin has kept ticking away, providing month after month of near-flawless superhero adventure on an uninterrupted monthly schedule.

As a final issue this is great: it wraps up the "Super" arc neatly and effectively, and presents a really strong, warm bond between Bruce and Damian. I mentioned this while reviewing the last issue, but I really hope somebody at DC picks up on the amazing chemistry between Damian Wayne and Shazam: it has the makings of an all-new "world's finest" pairing and it'd be a shame not to exploit that with a miniseries or story arc somewhere.

So thanks to Tomasi, Gleason and Gray for an outstanding three-and-a-half years of superhero action, father-and-son bonding and wonderfully heartfelt emotion. It's been great reading it. (5/5)

DC Comics. Written by Peter J. Tomasi. Art by Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray. Colours by John Kalisz.

Under the cut: more comic reviews from this week including The Autumnlands, Batman Eternal, Daredevil, The Fuse, Gotham Academy, He-Man, The Multiversity and The Wicked + the Divine.

March 25, 2015

The Pull List: 25 March 2015, Part I

I am a child of the 1980s, which is to say I was born in the late 1970s and grew up watching 1980s cartoons. It explains my regular purchase of DC's He-Man, and it also explains my irrational and ever-so-slightly embarrassing excitement that IDW have launched a new Jem and the Holograms comic.

I have to be honest: I haven't watched a single episode of Jem since the 1980s. As a child I remember it being one of the better cartoons on the TV, and it strikes me as a particularly cool concept to revisit as a comic book. What could be cooler than action-adventure starring a pop group?

The key here is reinvention. Writer Kelly Thompson and artist Sophie Campbell haven't simply reproduced the design and style of the cartoon on the page. They've taken the basic concept and the characters and developed them for a contemporary audience. The story is reasonably good, although not a great deal happens in this first issue. The art and design work, however, is fantastic. There's diversity in race and body shape, cool costuming and outrageous hair. It's hard to say whether or not this book will have narrative legs, but visually it's a brilliant start. If, like me, you have fond memories of the original cartoon, or if you're looking for an entertaining comic starring a group of women, this could be the new comic for you. (4/5)

IDW. Written by Kelly Thompson. Story by Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell. Art by Sophie Campbell. Colours by M. Victoria Robado.

With many thanks to IDW Publishing, I'm now receiving review copies of their titles each week. As a result I'm breaking The Pull List into multiple posts for the future. This is for two reasons: firstly, I now have access to a lot more books that I can review each week and I don't want to stack them all into one massively long post. Secondly, it means I can get the IDW reviews out on their day of release, along with anything I manage to read on the day I buy it, and you can read some of these short reviews a bit more promptly.

Under the cut: reviews of (deep breath) Aquaman, Darth Vader, Doctor Who, Miami Vice Remix and Transformers.

Mission: Impossible II (2000)

Four years after his first cinematic outing, IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) returned in a long-awaited sequel. In this second film, directed by noted action director John Woo, Hunt enlists the help of an international jewel thief (Thandie Newton) to track down and stop a rogue IMF agent (Dougray Scott) who plans to sell a deadly engineered virus to the highest bidder.

It all sounds tremendously promising when written down like that. The truth is that Mission: Impossible II is a terrible film. No, more than terrible: it's an actively offensive film. Hollywood regularly makes films that are sexist, and that sideline or objectify its female characters - or in some cases exclude women from their narratives altogether. M:I2 goes one step further than that. Based purely on on-screen evidence, I'm pretty sure those in control of this film actively hate women.

March 24, 2015

Star Trek: Enterprise: "The Augments"

It's 12 November 2004, and time for more Star Trek: Enterprise.

After saving Cold Station 12 from a massive pathogen leak, Captain Archer (Scott Bakula) is back on the trail of the augments and their stolen Bird of Prey. Dr Soong (Brent Spiner) has finally realised how uncontrollable his 'children' are once Malik (Alec Newman) decides to seed the atmosphere of a Klingon colony with stolen pathogens in order to spark a Klingon-Earth war.

This is the episode where the stretched narrative of the first two parts strikes home, since there's precious little here for anybody to do. Sure the Enterprise pursues the Bird of Prey, and there's a bit of a fight, but there's nothing to the episode that couldn't have been compacted into the earlier episodes. This episode is, all things considered, remarkably dull.