Avengers Infinity War Review

Though I like them, I’m not the biggest fan of the first two Avengers movies. The first was an event, but it hasn’t aged particularly gracefully. The second was kind of mess from the get go. They aren’t bad; they are the kind of movies that provide a decent amount of entertainment when you stumble onto them on FX on a Saturday afternoon but not ones that invite much thought. Really, though, the previous Avengers movies aren’t really the predecessors to Infinity War; it follows up on the previous two Captain America movies and Thor Ragnarok.

This movie should have been a huge mess. It has so many characters, so many locations, so many storylines, and the Russos didn’t show themselves to all that adept at juggling this stuff in Civil War. But here they pulled it off. Infinity War manages to tell a story, or at least half of one, that despite its massive scope never really loses it focus on the story its telling.

There is a story here. Sure is has a ton of plot, but it also has themes and characters with goals. Those are low hurdles to clear, but too many movies fail to clear them. The structure of the movie makes it hard for any of these arcs to be resolved, but at least they are there. The big one is sacrifice. All throughout the movie, our heroes are confronted with the choice of sacrificing one or a few people to save the many more. And nearly every time they refuse to do so. Captain America flat out states that they don’t trade lives. This is contrasted with Thanos, who is willing to sacrifice anything to achieve his goals. It is as blatant as possible, but that works in superhero stories, which are rarely helped by being subtle. I’ll take the themes being too obvious over them being non-existent.

Avengers Infinity War puts the format of a big comic crossover to surprisingly great use in setting up the pacing of the movie. It plays out in roughly twenty minute chunks that are their own little stories, much like the individual issues that make up a comic crossover. After a quick opening with Thor that was set up at the end of Ragnarok, it opens with a section that is focused on Hulk, Dr. Strange and Iron Man. After that little story resolves itself, the movie introduces Captain America and his crew and then the Guardians of the Galaxy. Every group gets a enough time to play out a small story, usually meeting a new character before breaking off into a slightly different group for the next section of the movie. Each storyline has its own tone and for the most part every character gets their chance to shine. The only group that really doesn’t are those with Captain America on Earth, who really don’t have anything to do.

There are some weak links. We haven’t seen enough of Vision or Scarlet Witch to make us care about their romance. Thanos’s lieutenants are barely faces for our heroes to punch. The big one, and one that most Marvel movies share, is that the fight scenes are mostly really bland. There are a few moments where characters use their powers in interesting ways or in interesting combinations, but mostly it feels kind of inconsequential. Lastly, the movie doesn’t really end, it just kind of stops. But that problem with be solved, or exacerbated, in the follow up next year. There are also some clear winners. I wasn’t crazy about Spider-Man Homecoming, but Tom Holland was excellent in this. Chris Hemsworth continues to get better as Thor.

Avengers Infinity War is an Avengers movie that finally feels like a big event in movie instead of just outside of it. It isn’t quite as coherent as the best of Marvel’s output, there is a lot more meat on these bones than previous movies in the series had.

****1/2

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What I Watched March 2018

Movies

Batman – I’ve never been a big fan of this Batman movie. I know people love it and the design is excellent, but it just doesn’t work for me. ***

UHF – This was my first time seeing this. Weird Al is great and the movie has some wonderful energy that it almost keeps up all the way through. I really feel like I need to see it again. It is just so silly and genial. ****1/2

Roadhouse – There is a lot of ironic enjoyment to be had with this movie, but I don’t really care for it that much. Sam Elliot is great, but I can’t really bring myself to care about most of it. **1/2

Tango & Cash – This movie is fun, but it doesn’t quite work. Mostly because Stallone can’t play the uptight cop. Kurt Russell is, of course, awesome. Still, there is a lot of fun to be had, especially when Stallone is doing Stallone things. Well worth a watch. ***

The ‘Burbs – I love Joe Dante movies and this one in particular. It has a great cast and does a great job of slowly building the madness of the main characters, though it ultimately pulls it punches at the end. I love it. *****

The Outsider – A Yakuza movie starring Jared Leto that is just so lifeless and inert that I can’t bring myself to care. On paper it sounds like it could have been a lot of fun, but it tries to tend toward seriousness and it is just so dull. *1/2

Battles Without Honor or Humanity – I was recommended this when I didn’t enjoy The Outsider. It was a lot of fun. After WWII, a group of young men form a Yakuza clan and as the years go by any sense of camaraderie among them dissipates into back-stabbing. *****
Game Nightread review here ***1/2

Black Panther read review here. *****

Tomb RaiderRead review here. ***

The Godfather – I don’t know that I really have anything to say about this. The Godfather is great. *****

Game Over, Man – The Workaholics guys made a DIe Hard-esque comedy that mostly works. Other than the gross out stuff, which never really works for me. I didn’t really need to see someone get his dick cut off. Still, there is some fun to be had here. **1/2

Pacific Rim Uprisingread review here. ***

Porco Rosso – Got a review here. I saw watched this in a theater for the first time. What stood out to me the most on this viewing was the music. Like the rest of the movie, it is nearly perfect. *****

TV

The Office – I’ve burnt through almost the entire series again as background noise while I was studying. It is still real good.

Collateral – There is a lot going on here. It is a detective show with a Carey Mulligan as the main detective that touches on a lot of political issues. It is pretty great, thoughtful and complex.

Voltron – This show continues to be good fun, though this was a real small batch of episodes.

Wild Wild Country – A great documentary look at a cult that set itself up on a ranch in Oregon. This story takes you places. At first the bigoted locals kind of put you on the side of the cultists, but things start to spiral out of control and everyone ends up looking pretty bad as the story goes on. It is a very interesting tale and well worth seeing.

Jessica Jones S2 – The second season of Jessica Jones doesn’t fix the problems that were a part of the first season and really all of Marvel’s Netflix shows: it is roughly 8 episodes worth of show spread across 13. It also has a much less compelling villain than the first season. That was always going to be a hard act to follow, but with Jessica’s job the show seemed to be in a position to avoid a serious letdown. It really didn’t, though. I mean, the show is still mostly good, but I’m running out of patience with this whole section of shows.

The Punisher – Basically see above. Jon Bernthal is great as Frank Castle, but I’ve never really been a fan of the character. This is a solid live action version that really did nothing for me personally. It is better than Iron Fist or the Defenders or Daredevil S2, but it isn’t as good as JJ or Daredevil S1.

Santa Clarita Diet S2 – The first season of this show was pretty great. It leaned a little too heavily on the gore, but once the family stuff started hitting it was really entertaining. The second season hits the ground running and just gets better and better. The characters are more well developed and there are at least two fall down laughing moments in each episode. I love this show.

What I Read March 2018

I only got one book read in March, but it was a long one. I don’t have much to add. Law school involves a lot of reading for class, which leaves little time for reading for pleasure.

The Jackal of Nar

John Marco

Another epic fantasy, this one I believe was the first published work of the author, and that shows. It isn’t bad, but it feels a little small despite the scope of its plot. The Jackal of Nar is inconsistent. Sometimes the protagonist Richius is a seasoned veteran, sometimes he is a lovesick teenager. Maybe there is room for both in character, but for him it seems like a switch that goes on and off. Maybe that is because I don’t really buy the romance between him and Dyana. There is a nice set up of the very religious and mystical Trin versus the scientific Empire, but I don’t feel like that idea was fully explored. There are two more books in the series; I assume that thread continues to run. Despite the impression I think I am giving, I liked the book, it just always left me wishing it was doing something different. It seems to rush past the parts that work and linger on the parts that don’t. It feels like a first book.

Summer Movie Preview

I guess this isn’t completely a preview now, since law school stuff kept me from getting it posted when I wanted to, but here are the movies I am looking forward to seeing this Summer, or at least from the months of May through August.

April

Avengers Infinity War – This is what I am counting as the starting point for summer, at least as far as movies go. Marvel Studios has wobbled a little since Age of Ultron but the last couple releases have been as good as any they’ve put out. Infinity War has the chance to collapse under its own weight, or it could be the amazing spectacle.

May

Overboard – The original got by with its dodgy premise mostly on the charm of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn. I have some doubts a remake can be anywhere near as good, but I’ll give it a look.

Breaking In – I don’t really think this is going to be any good, but at least it looks like it might be interesting. At least it looks different from most of the summer’s offerings.

Deadpool 2 – I might end up seeing this just because I now have moviepass. I didn’t like the first Deadpool, but most other people did. They made a sequel for those people, which I likely will also not enjoy.

Solo: A Star Wars Story – It is really soon after the magnificent Last Jedi and this movie only seems slightly less unnecessary than Rogue One. Plus, the it had a troubled production. But God help me if I am not really excited to see this.

June

Hotel Artemis – I just recently saw the trailer for this and immediately added it to my list. It has a great cast and a great John Wick-like hook, with a secret hotel for criminals. I hope it is as good as the trailer suggests.

Ocean’s 8 – I am a sucker for heist movies. The cast is full of great actresses. I am really looking forward to this.

The Incredibles 2 – I think the first Incredibles is still my favorite Pixar movie. As perfect and inevitable as an Incredibles sequel felt at the time, I’m not sure I really want it anymore. That being said, the trailer looks good and I have faith in Pixar.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom – I kind of don’t remember anything about Jurassic World other than just kind of enjoying it. The trailer makes this out, among other things, to be something of a buddy cop movie between Chris Pratt and a velociraptor. I am there.

The Hustle – A gender swapped remake of the best comedy (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels). Anne Hathaway is great. I’ll be seeing this.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado – The first Sicario was a thoughtful look at American drug policy, by way of a thriller. At first blush, this appears to be glorifying what that movie was criticising. Still, that movie was really good. Maybe this one won’t be bad.

July

Ant-Man and the Wasp – I liked, but didn’t love the first Ant-Man. Paul Rudd is super charming and Evangeline Lilly is also pretty great. The trailer makes this look like a lot of fun.

Skyscraper – It looks completely ridiculous, but it has The Rock in it. I like movies that have The Rock in them. Otherwise it just looks like a generic action movie, which is at least enough to get me interested.

Mission Impossible: Fallout – The last two Mission Impossible movies have been excellent. This one adds Henry Cavill, whom I am a fan of, especially when he is allowed to be charming (The Man from UNCLE is sooo underrated). This might be the movie I am most looking forward to this summer.

Teen Titans Go to the Movies – I’ve only seen a little of the cartoon and I am not sure it is is for me. It might also be a lot of fun. I’ll give it a shot.

August

The Spy Who Dumped Me – I’ve seen the trailer for this a couple of times and it looks like it might be funny. Kate McKinnon is usually enough to at least merit consideration and the trailer has a couple of funny jokes.

The Meg – Jason Statham versus a giant shark. It looks so dumb. It might just be the perfect thing to finish off the summer. Especially since I don’t know anything about the rest of the movies coming out in August. Jason Statham can elevate lesser material sometimes, maybe this will be worthwhile.

Now Playing March

Beaten/Abandoned

Monster Hunter Stories – I didn’t make it far in this. The ponderousness that works in regular Monster Hunter games really doesn’t serve an RPG well. Every fight takes too long and so far they haven’t been exactly challenging. The paper/rock/scissors set up works, but it is also really simple. The rest of the game is also low impact. It just felt slow and pointless. Maybe it is just I want to be playing Monster Hunter World, but I loaned it to my brother. I’ll give it another try sometime.

Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight –

First of all, this game is gorgeous. It has big, lush sprites and an engaging art style. I also love the general play style of the game; it is a compact Metroidvania. It is short, but that is more of a good thing, I think. It is short because the game cuts out all the fat, leaving only the meat. At about 4-5 hours, I think Momodora is closer to the perfect length than being too short. My big problem with the game is that the difficulty is uneven. The bosses in this game are mostly pretty impressive, but they work as substantial roadblocks in the experience. Maybe that flaw is on me for not being especially good at the game, if that is so I’m fine with it, but it significantly hampered my enjoyment of the game. That is the only real flaw, though. Everything else is great. This is a really good game.

Ongoing

Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology – When this first came out for DS years ago, I called it one of the best original games on the system. Then I promptly forgot about it. Now, playing this enhanced version, I reminded how great this game is. The story is mature and thoughtful, though it doesn’t completely avoid cliche. It sets up a time travel mechanic and really lets the player use it. It is more in-depth than Chrono Trigger’s millenia spanning adventure, keeping the time travel mostly confined to a small length of time. The battle system, which I have complaints about, encourages thoughtful uses of its mechanics. This is just a really great game.

New Super Mario Bros U – I’ve cleared the first two worlds of this game. It is still great.

Terranigma – It is slow going, but I’m still working on it. I am really liking this game.

Upcoming

The Alliance Alive – Despite not really having any patience for this game’s predecessor, Legend of Legacy, I let people talk me into going in on this one too. When I finish with Radiant Historia, I’ll get on this. I have some hopes, it sounds like they changed a lot of the things I hated about Legend of Legacy.

Super Mario Galaxy – I have misplaced my Wii nunchuk, so I went with NSMBU while I searched it out. Once I locate it or a replacement, I’ll likely get started with this game.

Suikoden V – I’ve had a hankering to play this PS2 hidden gem for the last few weeks, so I might put it in and give it a spin. Don’t expect much, though, since I’m still in law school.

Pacific Rim Uprising

I loved the original Pacific Rim. It was kind of thin in places, but it was so earnest that it sold it. After seeing dreck like the Transformers movies, just having a movie about giant robots that wasn’t a big pile of shit was welcome. The sequel, which doesn’t have the advantages of timing or of being directed by Guillermo Del Toro, couldn’t have hoped to live up to it. Pacific Rim Uprising, though, manages to forge its own path, while keeping that earnestness that helped make the first one so enjoyable. It expands the mythology and creates some interesting, or at least potentially interesting, new characters and lays out a path forward for this potential franchise.

Pacific Rim Uprising is the Saturday morning cartoon version of the original. That is mostly a bad thing, but not completely. Uprising lacks the first movie’s weight and its stakes. The fight scenes are fine. They are not especially inventive, but they are coherent and enjoyable. There isn’t quite the heft that the first movie had, this is a little more cartoony. It works, though. Giant robots are an inherently goofy concept, the first movie played them as straight as possible, this movie frees things a few steps more from the bounds of reality. These robots do a lot more running and jumping that the old ones did. There is also less weight to the story. The first movie had this palpable weight to it, that the end of humanity was near. This takes place in the aftermath; humanity has won. So that oppressive weight is gone. There was also the feeling that any character could die at any time. Mostly because lots of characters died, frequently abruptly. Here, with the bulk of the cast being literal children, that seems, and proves, much less likely. There are still loses, but things are a lot less final than in the previous film.

John Boyega stars a Jake Pentecost, the son of Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), who has left the Jaeger program and works as a smuggler and thief, salvaging old Jaeger parts and selling them on the black market, as well as things like cereal and hot sauce. Through circumstance he is teamed with Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny), a young girl who has built her own mini-Jaeger out of scraps, and forced to rejoin the program. There he is reteamed with his old partner, Nate (Scott Eastwood)to train newcomers and Amara is put in with the rest of trainees. Boyega does good work making Jake an interesting character; his feelings of inadequacy in trying to live up to his father work especially well in a movie that is going to have a hard time living up to its predecessor. The precocious Amara starts well, but her arc kind of gets lost in the middle before coming back near the end. Nate is a guy; he only really has one note of being by the books, with little or nothing about who he is coming through. None of the other trainees do much to distinguish themselves. The other notable new face is Liwen Shao (Jing Tian), the head of the corporation who is seeking to displace the Jaeger program with drones. She is interesting, if underutilized.

Returning characters are few and not treated especially well, though in one case it makes perfect sense. Outside of flashbacks and static images, returning characters are limited to scientists Newt Geiszler and Hermann Gottlieb and former Jaeger pilot Mako Mori. The scientists are roughly as important in this movie as they were in the first. Gottlieb still works with the Jaeger program, while Geiszler has gone to work with a private firm. Gottlieb has several chances to shine as the sole scientist for the good guys, it is fine continuation of his character. Meanwhile, Geiszler has gone a little off the deep end, as he was wont to do in the first movie without Gottlieb’s restraining influence, working with the Shao Corporation. His developments, while not really positive, make perfect sense for the character. Then there is Mako, who was the heart and soul of the original movie. Bringing her back seemed like a good sign, but the movie treats her abominably. She has no role, she is only motivation for her adoptive brother Jake.

The story wisely avoids just repeating the first movie. While eventually Kaiju do come back, it doesn’t just start with a new breach. It builds to their return. In many ways, it has the bad guys using the heroes tactics from the first movie against them.

Pacific Rim Uprising is not as good as the original, but neither is it a complete failure. It stumbles occasionally and really misses the hand of Del Toro, but for the most part provides a solid outing of giant robots punching monsters.

***

Mario & Luigi Partners in Time

I missed this game when it first came out. Actually, I missed the first two Mario & Luigi games when they first came about. I eventually picked up a used copy of Superstar Saga, but by the time I’d finished with that, Partners in Time was hard to come by and Bowser’s Inside Story was coming soon. Plus, the word of mouth of on Partners In Time was that is wasn’t very good. So I passed it by, letting it be a hole on the series while I busied myself with the wealth of other games available on the 3DS. As the years went by, the game’s reputation was cemented as the bad one. When the game came to the WiiU Virtual Console, I picked it up to be a completionist, but I didn’t have high hopes. I have never been happier to be wrong. I don’t know that I like this game more than Superstar Saga, but Partners in Time is an excellent evolution the series.

The big change to Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time was to add Baby Mario and Baby Luigi, making the pair a foursome. To be completely honest, it doesn’t quite work. It adds a layer of complexity, but the control in M&L was already complex enough. Now, special attacks require tracking four different characters, each represented by a button, rather than just two. It is hard to do. Adding two more buttons to combat made, for me at least, some of the attack items all but useless. That being said, the game doesn’t require the player to master all of its tools. All you have to do is find one or two that work for you and exploit them. It does work when the game forces the two pairs of brothers to split up. Those too infrequent bits are great, with the babies on the top screen and the regular bros on the bottom, moving them in tandem trying to solve puzzles. It is the absolute peak of the what this series offers. The only problems I had were likely caused by playing it on the WiiU rather than on a real DS.

The game also lacks a truly memorable villain, something that Bowser’s Inside Story and Superstar Saga have. In the first game there was Fawful, with his nonsense metaphors and showboating. In the third, we got the humorous take on Bowser. Partners in Time has … personality free evil mushrooms. There really isn’t anything to them, they are just a vague evil. That is one reason that Partners In Time is frequently considered lesser than other games in the series. But while that flaw is there, there are still a lot of great moments among the other characters. You get a lot of fun with a pair of Toadsworths as they attempt to keep the Baby Peach happy. There are a few, but impactful, scenes with Bowser and Baby Bowser. Then there is Kylie Koopa, who shows up throughout the game as some sort of Koopa Lois Lane. She is a delight. Not quite on the level of Fawful, but she is a character that should have had more staying power in the series.

The other “problem” the game supposedly has is that it doesn’t really take advantage of its time travel premise. That is true, I guess. It really doesn’t do a lot with the time travel. Essentially, the current day Mushroom Kingdom, really just Peach’s Castle, is the hub for a game that takes place almost entirely in the past. Nothing you do as a player in the past really affects anything in the future, it is just another place to go to have adventures. It is a missed opportunity, but I don’t see the point in faulting the game for not doing something it never tried to do. It wanted the big bros running around with the babies, it really wasn’t interested in the mechanics of time travel.

The story has a lot of great moments that I don’t want to spoil, but one worth noting is near the end, when the brothers reach a Star Gate. The gate won’t let them pass because, it says, that Luigi isn’t pure enough. So there is a quest to prove his purity, at the end of which the Gate admits that he was just messing with Luigi and the brothers in general. It is pretty great.

Nintendo recently announced that they are putting out a remake of Bowser’s Inside Story, following up on the remake of Superstar Saga and skipping over Partners In Time. I get it, because BiS is the better remembered game and that is one that will sell more copies, but it feels like a missed opportunity to me. Partners in Time is a great game and with the kind of small tweaks and improvements that would come with a remake would go a long way to helping other people realize how good the game is.

Bob’s Burgers

When I was working on my Top 10 TV Series of 2017 list, something occurred to me. Not only was Bob’s Burgers one of the best shows I watched last year, I think it might be one of my all-time favorites. If I were to make a list today, it would probably make my Top 5. That is a shocking revelation for me, since that top five had been set in stone for the better part of a decade (for the record, around 2008 it would have been something like Always Sunny, Futurama, Arrested Development, The Office and Home Movies, with Psych coming on strong). Usually when I see something that I like, it hits really hard. Always Sunny had me hooked when I found it late in the 2nd season. I loved Home Movies from the start, for all that I watched it by catching sporadic airings on Adult Swim. Bob’s Burgers, though, kind of snuck up on me. I always liked it, but I would only have said liked. Somewhere along the way, it moved up from being a good show to a favorite.

The two guys behind Bob’s Burgers are Loren Bouchard and Jim Dauterive. Bouchard co-created Home Movies, a show that I absolutely love. Dauterive worked on King of the Hill, a show I like. You can feel the influence of both of those shows in Bob’s Burgers. It has Home Movies’ irreverent, conversational tone and King of the Hill’s humanity. The way the characters talk to each other is just perfect. The Belcher family feels like a family, their conversations have sardonic little asides whenever a family member is about to stumble into a quixotic adventure. The’ve all seen it before and know how it ends. But it also never treats its characters as anything less than people. Even antagonists, like Jimmy Pesto or Mr. Frond, have their humanity.

The show shines in how it has built up the little seaside town the characters live in. There are one off characters, but the show has also built a stable of recurring characters that fill out the world. One episode will introduce a character, but they keep coming back and becoming more developed, until the show can create entire episodes around the brother of the Belcher’s kooky landlord or the sometimes criminal Mickey. Look at the kids classmates. Tina probably has the best developed set of classmates, with her on again, off again love interest Jimmy Pesto, Jr., the rambunctious Zeke, mean girl Tammy, and the ditzy Jocelyn. Gene, whose class is mostly neglected, has his ex-girlfriend Courtney Wheeler. At first Courtney was just the most annoying girl in the school, who happened to like Gene, but as she has returned, she’s developed into a girl that shares a lot of Gene’s qualities. She isn’t just this annoyance, she becomes a full character. Then there is Louise, who’s classmates started as seeming one offs Milly and Regular-sized Rudy. Milly is obsessed with Louise, who can’t stand her. But she is more than that. Like Louise, she is an extreme, letting the show do a somewhat crazier episodes with her while still letting her have a signature thing. Then there is Regular-sized Rudy, Louise’s asthmatic friend of normal proportions. Since his introduction, he has become one of my favorite characters, with his willingness to engage in Belcher craziness despite his frailties.

This is where the humanity of the show shines. Louise is set up to be something like Stewie from Family Guy, but unlike that show, Bob’s Burgers is a show with a heart. For all her seeming sociopathic tendencies, Louise is really just a little girl that loves her family. And her friends. When she learns that a girl is taking advantage of Rudy, she sticks up for him, because they are friends. Her devastated singing in “Glued, Where’s My Bob” after she accidently glues Bob to a toilet shows how much she cares. All the characters care. When Jimmy Pesto wins a minivan out from under Bob, by cheating, Bob still helps him change the tire. No matter their differences or idiosyncrasies, Bob’s Burgers treats all of its characters well.

That is what puts it over the top for me. The show has always been funny, but as it has gone along it has really found its heart. Even Home Movies only ever did that intermittently. That show, which did not have near the number of episodes to build up its world that Bob’s Burgers had, was mostly about the joke and the situation. There was humanity there, but it took a back seat to silliness most of the time. Here, the caring relationships among the Belcher family and between the Belcher’s and their town is the reason for the show. And it is wonderful.

Tomb Raider Movie Review

Tomb Raider clears the very low bar of being the best live action video game movie adaptation. It is very close to being really good and maybe not any good at all. I enjoyed watching it, but even as I did I could see the glaring flaws. Tomb Raider does a good job of translating the game to the screen, pulling in even more from things that influenced the game, such as Indiana Jones.

Tomb Raider starts with Lara Croft living low in London, refusing to have her father, missing for seven years, declared dead and accept her inheritance. Then she stumbles on a clue as to where he father disappeared to and she sets out to find him. She stops in Hong Kong, where she meets the son of man who disappeared with her father and together they set out for an uninhabited island near Japan. There, the adventure kicks into high gear as Lara must solve the mysteries of the island before a group of mercenaries to prevent ancient relics falling into the wrong hands.

The movie is very much Raiders of the Lost Ark, with Lara as Indy and her buddy Lu Ren as Salah/Marian and Walton Goggins playing something of a Belloq. Though it takes a little longer to get going than that movie, since this is determined to be an origin story for Lara Croft. Once Lara is adventuring, it follows a lot of similar beats to Raiders. Not exactly, and as an adventure movie it is going to be similar, but there are several bits that stand out as clearly inspired by that seminal film.

Where this Tomb Raider fails in in is characters. Not the actors; Vikander, Goggins and Daniel Wu are all solid and do good work with the material available. Vikander is especially charming as Lara. The problem is Lara aside, the movie spends a little time sketching out the characters as they are introduced, but does nothing with them from after that. Lara gets the whole first half hour to set up who she is and what her motivations are; it works. Everyone else gets maybe two minutes. The movie seems to set up characters beats to come later, but does nothing to pay them off. It is frustrating. Wu’s Lu Ren joins with some clear unsettled business with his missing father, but once they reach the island he mostly disappears as a character. Walton Goggins does the most he can with the villainous Mathias. Again, in his introduction he is set up to be a interesting inverse of Lara; she headed to the island to find her missing father, Mathias is stuck on the island, wanting nothing more than to get home to his kids. But after giving him that motivation, the movie really does nothing with him or the parallels. That is where the movie really falls apart. The plot exists to string action scenes together and the characters exist only to the extent necessary to keep things movings.

Those action scenes are largely pretty good. Sometimes they feel a little too mindful of being in a movie based on a game, but for the most part they are pretty entertaining. There is a really good, if somewhat pointless, bike chase early on that looks good and most of the the stuff on the island is pretty exhilarating. They do feel lacking somehow, like there is some cohesion that would really make them sing that isn’t there, but they are the movie’s main draw and they hold up their end of the bargain.

The biggest problem with Tomb Raider is how fixable its flaws seem. It isn’t like the movie fails in some obvious, unfixable way. It just feels like some of the stuff that ties everything together ended up on the cutting room floor. The biggest problem is that whole movie feels like it should be better than it is, even though the movie isn’t bad. If this is the start of a Tomb Raider movie franchise, it is a good start. They have laid a good foundation here. Tomb Raider is a good adaptation of a game that turns into a fun, but flawed movie.

***

Super Mario Replay: New Super Mario Bros 2

I thought I had written about this game back when it was released, but apparently I didn’t. That is a shame. New Super Mario Bros 2 was released amongst a uncharacteristic deluge of true Mario games. From 2009-2013, there were 6 full Mario games released, not including Super Luigi U, a full-sized DLC add-on. NSMB2 was released right in the middle of that, and it got overshadowed by the games around it. That really isn’t unfair; most of those games are straight up masterpieces. NSMB2 is not quite on that level, but it is also a decided step up from its immediate predecessor New Super Mario Bros. Unfortunately for this game, excellence is overshadowed by brilliance.

The first New Super Mario Bros game was a phenomenon, but it is actually pretty pedestrian compared to the rest of the series. As you play it, you can almost feel Nintendo working through the rust of not having made a 2D Mario game in more than a decade. That time gap also allowed people to give it a lot more leeway. It had been a long time since there had been a 2D Mario game, the sheer newness of it covered a lot of the games lesser moments. Plus, its not like NSMB was bad, it just wasn’t on the level of the first four games. After that, Nintendo followed up with the multiplayer focused New Super Mario Bros Wii, (my copy of which unfortunately won’t play, so I can’t revisit it at this time) which was its own thing. NSMB2 feels much more assured than the first game; by the time of its release the developers knew how to make Mario games. But it also adds little to the formula.

NSMB2 is not helped by its gimmick, which is based around collecting coins. It is a good thought; coins were a long time part of the series that had little to no mechanical import. Sure in Mario 64 they acted as health, but for the most part they seemed to be there because they always had been there. Without changing anything, NSMB2 emphasizes collecting coins. It almost feels like it should have been a Wario game, since he is the one that loves treasure. It adds almost nothing to the game.

That said, I still think NSMB2 has been unfairly dismissed. While it lacks that spark that makes a lot of the Mario series so great, the game is still excellent. Now that Mario games have again slowed to a trickle, the routine excellence of NSMB2 is more easily appreciated. Not all games can be Super Mario 3D World or Super Mario Galaxy 2. Sometimes just doing everything right can be enough. Sometimes you just want to play more Mario levels. That might be all that New Super Mario Bros 2 brings, but it brings it so well that it is hard to hold it against the game. At least, it is now that it is not coming less than a year after Super Mario 3D Land and a few months before New Super Mario Bros U. Those are the more essential games, but once one has finished with the essential, there is more than a little to recommend in the excellent.