Mass Effect 3

Right after I finished Mass Effect 2 I jumped right into its sequel, which likely did the game no favors. Mass Effect 3 is a good game, but it is also a disappointing one. It does a lot of things well, but I don’t think it does them better than its predecessor. The story goes for epic, but you can almost feel the game crumbling under the pressure of being the epic conclusion to this series. The fact that it can’t fulfill the expectations placed upon it mostly reflects the overwhelming nature of those expectations and not any great fault in the game. Mass Effect 3 tries to be the biggest and the best, but it really can’t reach the heights that it strives for. I can’t help but admire its ambition, even if the result is just not as much fun as the last game in the series.


I spent most of my time with Mass Effect 3 trying to figure out why I was enjoying it so much less than Mass Effect 2. I absolutely loved Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 plays largely the same, except for some reason it is much less fun. Maybe it is due to the slight changes to how the sniper rifle works. I relied heavily on that weapon in the previous game and in ME3 it was harder to use and somewhat less effective. While I didn’t actually time it, the missions seemed to go on longer as well. Missions seemed pretty brisk in ME2, playing out fairly quickly. In ME3 they just seem to drag on forever. I end up wanting to move on well before they end. It could also be that Shepard’s allies this time are kind of disappointing this time out. Sure, returning favorites Tali, Garrus, Liara and the survivor of Kaiden and Ashley join up, the new additions are just kind of there. There is nothing wrong with James, but neither is there anything particularly compelling about him. And EDI getting a body to run around is a great idea that isn’t quite as well realized as it could be. The cast here is perfectly fine, but coming off of Mass Effect 2’s truly compelling dirty dozen this group can’t help but be a little disappointing.

The biggest problem Mass Effect 3 has is that it is built as a product to the detriment of the game. Any commercially released video game is a product, I don’t mean to rail against the idea that the people who put this game out want to make money, but the experience of ME3 is hampered at every turn by stuff outside of the game. For example, a DLC pack includes a new squadmate. That is not a bad thing; ME2 included a pair of DLC characters. The difference is that Kasumi and Zayeed, the pair from ME2, were just a pair of normal characters that the player could have encountered in the Mass Effect universe. ME3’s new character, Javik, is a Prothean, the ancient race that existed in the game’s distant past. Finding him alive is a big deal; he is the sole survivor of a race that has been dead for fifty thousand years, it should cause a much greater reaction than it does. There can be no big reaction, though, because he is DLC. He can’t be central to the game because he is technically optional. Then there is the whole Galaxy at War system. It is a great idea, with each of Shepard’s victories increases the military power she and her allies can bring to bear against the Reapers. The problem with it is that it is hampered by being paired with the game’s multiplayer. There is nothing wrong with the multiplayer, but making it essential to the single player is a short sighted move, the multiplayer won’t be viable forever. Yes, nothing is truly locked behind the multiplayer, but it really restricts how the player can play the game and get their desired ending.


Lastly, the game simply sets the stakes too high too fast. It opens with the Reapers attacking Earth. After seeing that, it is hard to get into the mood for goofing around the galaxy looking for side-quests. It is tonally inconsistent. The previous games had big problems, but they were problems that could wait. Shepard was looking for Saren, a good excuse to tool around the galaxy. In the second, Shepard is assembling a team of highly trained teammates, a good excuse to tool around the galaxy. Now, Shepard is trying to rally all the races of the galaxy to fight the Reaper, jumping at shadows all over the place feels wrong. The other problem is that the Reapers are a hard threat to actually fight. They are fifty foot tall space ticks, not something that the player can confront with machine guns. So with the stakes set very high, the game then forces players to do anything but directly confront the threat. Mostly, you have to fight against Cerberus, a secret organization that is trying to make sure humanity comes out on top when all is said and done. It feels like a lot of time wasting when important things are going on. That is a problem that the game can never recover from.

Still, the game is mostly fun to play and certainly succeeds in one aspect. The Mass Effect games were sold on their connectedness. Each one leads to the next and the player builds their own version of Commander Shepard as they play them. This game truly realizes that. Nearly every mission features the seeds the player has sown sprouting. Important things like who lived and who died matter, of course, but so do things about how the Shepard resolved all sorts of matters. The core of the missions will always remain the same, they must for the game to work at all, but the details and outcomes can change drastically. It makes the player feel like they’ve affected the outcome.


The characters that were big parts of all three games are all well realized. They have had three games to develop, and Bioware did an excellent job of keeping them true across three games. The Garrus and Tali you meet in ME1 are the same characters in ME3, the changes they have faced are a result of their experiences with the player. Likewise, Shepard’s relationship with them is also informed by three games worth of development. How they interact with Shepard is directly the result of how the player has played. Mass Effect 3, like the rest of the series, does a great job of giving the player the illusion of control of the story.

Mass Effect 3 is a worthy conclusion to the saga, even if it isn’t as good a game as Mass Effect 2. The ending it … what it is, but the rest of the game is largely what I wanted. It ties all the treads of the series together, sometimes too neatly, and is a joy to play.

Next in my Bioware replay: Knights of the Old Republic.

What I Read in April 2015

I read a lot this month, but it was all candy, with little substance. I want to try to read something more substantial next month, though I know I am going to start with another handful of Star Wars books and the last of the Parasol Protectorate. Maybe after that I can get to some non-fiction or something with some heft. Still, getting eight books read in a month, regardless of those books substance, is no mean feat.



Gail Carriger

This book seems to actually agree with my complaints about the end of the last book. An impetuous was needed for Alexia to take off for Italy and this plot to happen, but the split between her and her husband is kind of nonsensical. Still, Alexia and Madame Lefoux going through France and to Italy is a fun road trip. For some reason, vampires are trying to kill Alexia. Without the protection of her werewolf husband, she is in real danger. Her best course of action is to take a vacation to the continent, which would get her out of the vampire’s reach and take her to Italy, where they have knowledge of preternaturals like her and could maybe tell her why the vampires want her dead.

This book really allows Carriger to fill in the world of this series, letting readers see how different countries deal with the existence of vampires and werewolves. Britain may have integrated them into to society, but they are merely tolerated in France and outright outlawed in Italy. Alexia’s unique powers make he sought after by everybody. The vampires want to kill her, the mad scientist of the Order of the Brass Octopus want to study her and the Templars want to turn her into a weapon. Without the protection of her position in the Queens Shadow Council (due to the black mark on her character) and her husband’s werewolf back she has to rely on her wits and Madame Lefoux’s inventions to save her. In the end she only really manages to solve the problems she created for herself during this book, though she does learn more about the nature of her abilities. This series continues to be delightful fun.



Gail Carriger

With Alexia returned to her status quo at the end of the last book, this book again has it male and female leads together. It starts with a ghost showing up to warn her about a coming attack on the Queen. Alexia and her allies immediately jump into action to try to protect the monarch, though they have no real suspects as to who is behind this supposed attempt. The biggest problem Alexis faces in her investigation is that she is now 8 months pregnant. In order to get the vampires off her back, she agrees to let her vampire friend Lord Akeldama adopt her daughter, so the baby will grow up with a friendly disposition towards vampires.

Alexia spends her time looking into the assassination attempt done by her husband’s former pack, without his knowledge, though that proves to be a disturbing dead end. Meanwhile, her friend Madame Lefoux is acting odd, seeming very stressed. Eventually it all builds to the most explosive conclusion of the series yet, an ending that changes just about everything and not necessarily to the good of the characters. These are wonderful little bon bon books, and while I only have one more I do have more from Carriger to look forward to.


New Spring

Robert Jordan

See Here

third girl

Third Girl

Agatha Christie

Another Poirot mystery. This time, an aging Poirot meets with a seemingly drugged young woman who thinks she may have killed someone. Since she doesn’t leave her name and he doesn’t know who she supposedly killed, he has little to go on. That dearth of information, and her assertion that he is too old to help, spur him on in the investigation. He, along with his mystery writer friend Ariadne Oliver, begins to unravel a despicable web of lies. The girl is the daughter of a businessman who left her and her mother to run away to South Africa when she was young. After her mother died, he returned with a new wife to take over the family business. She is also involved with a rather awful man who appears to be the on supplying the drugs. I believe this is one of the last Poirot stories and it feels like it. Not only is he frequently referred to as old, it also deals with problems that are much more modern than I usually associate with these books. This takes place in the sixties, and Poirot comes up against many problems usually associated with that decade, most notably drug use. It builds up to an ending that is both ingenious and ridiculous. This is a lot of fun.


The Demon Lord of Karanda

David Eddings

This series just feels so empty. The cast is the outline of possibly interesting characters, but there is no humanity to them; they are merely collections of quirks and skills. There is also a complete lack of tension. Things happen, but the heroes are rarely active players in the goings on. Any danger they might be in is blunted by the sheer power of magic most of the cast is capable of, though they generally choose not to employ it. They only occasionally seem to remember that they are trying to save a kidnapped child. Any time the group is stuck they call up a God and are simply told what to do.

Here they are captured by yet another theoretically evil king, and he and Garion forge a sort of friendship. He wants to keep them captured, but they must escape. They again follow the trail of Zadramas, which takes them to the north, where they find an evil priest who has summoned a Demon Lord and is starting a war. Right up until near the end, the heroes do little but talk. For once, Garion actually does something, though it is something blatantly and obviously foolish. The good guys move closer to their goal, but do so without seeming to make any real progress or learning anything.


The Sorceress of Darshiva

David Eddings

At this point I am really running out of things to say about this series. I don’t like; I’ve made it perfectly clear I don’t like. Any sensible person would just stop reading. I am apparently not very sensible. Maybe it is because I received the books as a gift and feel some sort of obligation to the giver to read them. Maybe it is just my refusal to leave a book or series unfinished. (I have only ever not finished one book, the stupendously dreadful Battlefield Earth, and only one series I read more than one book in and gave up, A Song of Ice and Fire) Whatever the reason, I keep reading these. The Mallorean is not for me and nothing I have to say can really inform how people feel four books into this thing.

The Sorceress of Darshiva finally has our heroes learn their destination. So far it had been a series of short stops and begging Gods to tell them the next step. Now, the end is in sight. Still, the problems of the first few books continue. The same character beats are hit over and over. The characters don’t grow or change; they just keep repeating the same bits of tired shtick at each other. Things happen, but the protagonists for the most part are observers; the plot would largely play out the same without their involvement. That changes at the very end, when Durnik does the first memorably thing in the series. This is just not good.


Rogue Squadron

Michael Stackpole

Seeing that excellent Star Wars trailer kind of reminded me that at one time I was a huge Star Wars fan. My first inclination was to watch the movies again, but they weren’t to hand. So instead I pulled out the handful of EU novels I still own. When Disney bought Star Wars and jettisoned the Expanded Universe, fans were upset. Disney was right to do it, though. The majority of the EU is crap. Among few bright spots is the X-Wing series.

This first one is fairly small and self-contained. It has Wedge, a minor character from the movies, putting together a new version of Rogue Squadron. It is filled with a bunch of new characters, led by Corran Horn and Tycho Celchu. It does a good job of building up the team, though only Wedge, Corran and Tycho get any real development. The rest just get sort of sketched out.

The team is essential to an operation to help the Rebellion take the first steps in liberating the Imperial Capitol. It does a great job of setting up storylines that run through the series. While the prose can be terribly grey at times, but it has some great dogfighting scenes. It also actually makes the missions Rogue Squadron goes on seem dangerous. They actually lose pilots. It isn’t great literature, but for Star Wars fans that want something that isn’t Jedi fanwank, this is about as good as it gets. By divorcing itself from the major characters of the movies, it manages to tell a fun story just set in that Universe.


Wedge’s Gamble

Michael Stackpole

This is the one Rogue Squadron book I hadn’t read before this; I actually had to go track down a copy at a used books store. I did know the story, not from the book but from an abridged audio book with authentic Star Wars sound effects. Usually I find abridged works almost offensive, but I got to know this story through it without knowing it was abridged. (I was 12, what do you want?) That abridged version only barely gets the story across.

This time, Rogue Squadron is taken out of their X-Wings and sent on a spy mission. It works really well. They are split up and sent in on an Imperial world to scout out their defenses. This is why some members were chosen for the team, so they could do more than just fly. It lets Stackpole spread the characters around a little more. Corran is still the protagonist and still seems a bit of an author insert. Wedge has a big role, as does Gavin Darklighter, the cousin of Luke’s friend Biggs who died in A New Hope. There is also a Dirty Dozen-ish wrinkle, as Rogue Squadron frees some criminals and sends them to the planet to cause some trouble to cover their activities. They are all sent to different parts of the planet, but are soon brought together for a mission that will give the planet to the Rebellion. Playing against them is Kirtan Loor, an old nemesis of Corran Horn’s. Through him, readers know that there is a traitor in Rogue Squadron, because of course there is.

It moves a little too fast at times, but again it is mostly really fun.

A Short Trip to Yoshi’s Island

I love Mario games. Not every game in the expansive series is great, especially if you include the wide variety of sport and party games that bear the portly plumbers name, but the main series is nearly uniformly excellent. Even Mario platformers come in an array of flavors, though. There are the 2D New Super Mario games, games that might not be doing a lot to push the genre forward but are all tightly designed. The 3D Mario games, like Galaxy or 3D World provide another experience, ones that are frequently groundbreaking. Getting a little further afield there are Donkey Kong games, like the recent excellent Donkey Kong Country games from Retro Studios which an experience quite different from that of Mario. Mario’s devious doppelganger Wario also has a series of platformers that tend to be experimental and inventive. Lastly are the Yoshi’s Island games.


There are four or five games in the Yoshi Island family, depending on how you count them, spread across five systems. I’ve played bits of most them I am finally ready to admit that I just don’t like these games. They are a slower brand of Mario game, slower paced with an emphasis on puzzles and exploration. Those are things I generally enjoy, but in Yoshi’s Island I find is tedious. I thought the problem might just be with the GBA port of the original Yoshi’s Island after I gave up two worlds in. Having cleared New Yoshi’s Island on the 3DS it is now clear that I just don’t like this series.

There is nothing really wrong with Yoshi’s New Island; it is a fine game. The graphics look bad in stills, but they look pretty good in motion. The level design is rarely spectacular but it is mostly very good. The mechanics, except for some ill-considered tilt based minigames, a solid as well. I just didn’t enjoy playing it at all. Feeling compelled to snatch every coin because it could be a Red Coin was annoying. Dealing with both aiming eggs and keeping the annoying baby Mario on Yoshi’s back was just not fun for me. Both of those seemed to take away from the hopping and bopping that is central to the genre. Still, Yoshi controls well and the bosses, while easy, are impressive and usually fun.


It is just kind of odd to get to the end of a game like that and know that you had almost no fun with it. It isn’t a good game in genre I don’t like, like an FPS. I know there are plenty of good games in that genre but I have no desire to play them. When I do, I don’t really expect to have much fun. (which is why I play them very rarely) The Yoshi’s Island games, though, are pretty much exactly the sort of games that I enjoy. Everything about them is right up my alley but still they are just not for me. They are also not bad games. I’ve disliked plenty of bad platformers (though trying to think of a recent one is proving more difficult than I expected) and this is not one of them. It is simply a matter of a game just not clicking with me.


Luckily, I didn’t spend any money on it. It was the reward I chose for my final Club Nintendo Platinum Reward. I’m not sad I took it, though I still wish someone would have bought a DKC Tropical Freeze code off of me and I could have gotten Hyrule Warriors, but it just didn’t work out. Now I’m left wondering if I want to risk buying Yoshi’s Woolly World. It seems to pull in most of these Yoshi’s Island mechanics, minus the crying baby, but it also pairs it with that outstanding knitted look. I want it, unless it turns out like Yoshi’s New Island, in which case I don’t want it.

Now Playing in April 2015

I beat a lot of games in April; most of them download titles on my 3DS. Many of those titles were free games I got from Club Nintendo. For some reason, I thought it necessary to try and beat all the unbeaten download games I had. I got pretty close. I have cut it down to just 6 titles, two of which are retail games that I got for free. I also played a lot of Mass Effect. Next month will probably see fewer games on the list, since I am about out of 3DS games.


Mass Effect 2 – wrote about it here.



Hal Laboratories took a very simple idea and explored it in delicious depth. It plays out a lot like an indie title, and does it with more skill than just about any of those indie creators. You play as a box that can make more boxes. The game forces the player to do all sorts of things with that simple idea. Just play it, it is great.

Affordable Space Adventures – wrote about it here.

Attack of the Friday Monsters – wrote about it here.

3D Classics Kirby’s Adventure – I’ve played this a ton, on the NES and on Virtual Console. Kirby’s Adventure is one of the greatest NES games. This 3D version is still really great. It’s Kirby’s Adventure; I don’t know what else to say about it.

3D Classics Kid Icarus – This is an NES game that I haven’t really spent much time with. I have played it enough to know that the small tweaks in this version turn something downright cruel into something actually fun and playable. Kid Icarus has a great look and world, but it frontloads the difficulty horribly. It is harder to get through the first two stages than to beat the rest of them combined. Once you get past that initial hump, though, it is a lot of fun. It does make me years for a Super Kid Icarus that never happened.

Mighty Gunvolt – this was a fun little freebie. It is a combination of Comcept upcoming Mighty #9 and IntiCreates Azure Striker Gunvolt. As a backer of MN9, I got it for free. It is neat, a handful of NES like stages and with a trio of playable characters. Unfortunately, MN9’s Beck is easily the least fun to play as. This isn’t anything substantive, but it was fun.

Wizards and Warriors – While trying to figure out how to get streaming going, I ended playing through all of this game. It is good. Not great, but good. The jumps are floaty, the enemies can be unfair and some of the power ups are worse than useless. Still, it is plenty fun and infinite continues makes it one of the easier NES games to beat.

Siesta Fiesta


This is a side-scrolling Breakout game. It is a very interesting idea, bouncing the ball as the level moves along. It ends up playing something like a puzzle platformer, balancing how to hit the ball with which power ups and special blocks to hit. It is addictive, though I am terrible at it.

HarmoKnight – The makers of Pokemon got to try something new here. Their opportunities outside of their landmark series have mostly been very good. Drill Dozer was one of the best original games on the GBA. HarmoKnight is not quite as good as that, but it is still a charming game. It is a rhythm platformer, a combination that works very well. At least, it does in except for the boss battles. Those are not fun, especially because the timing doesn’t feel quite right. It also doesn’t get quite as much use out of its side characters as it could, since they have somewhat interesting differences from protagonist Tempo’s playstyle. Still, it is a solid game.

Broken Age – More than a year after the first half, the concluding Act of Double Fine’s Kickstarted Adventure finally hit. I have some minor quibbles with it. The story doesn’t quite live up to the promise of the first half. It felt like maybe there was something profound coming, but there isn’t. Still, the story is quite enjoyable. Some of the puzzles are a little unfair, forcing the player to have knowledge from the other half that the character would not. Still, I greatly enjoyed it. It is filled to the brim with wit and charm. It is one of the few times I’ve played an adventure game that never made me feel like I was doing something wrong. The puzzles could still be difficult even though the reasoning behind them is perfectly clear. Really, it is everything I wanted out of it.


Zombie Panic in Wonderland – It was on sale. I didn’t realize that this was mostly the same game as I got for my Wii years ago. It is still a fun little time waster. Harder than is necessary, to sure, but it is some good old fashioned arcade shooting. There is plenty to unlock, but I think I’m about done with it.

Pokemon Shuffle – Nintendo trying out free to play junk. I got to about stage 80 and decided I’d had enough. I had some fun with it and didn’t spend any money, so I can’t complain, but I don’t feel the need to spend any more time with it.

Stealth Inc 2 – I had forgotten I’d purchased this. I was about halfway through when I put it down and after beating Affordable Space Adventures decided to give it another go. I’d call it good, not great, but I’ve enjoyed my time with it. Hopefully I finish it up before too long. The hubworld metroidvania stuff isn’t as tight as I’d hoped it would be, but the levels are pretty great pieces of puzzle platforming.

Super Mario 64


It only cost me $2 to upgrade this for my WiiU and I couldn’t help but try it out. Mario 64 is still a thoroughly excellent game. I’m not sure I’ll stick it out until the end, but it is a blast to play even after nearly 20 years.

Fluidity Spin Cycle – This started out so great, a puzzle platformer with the player controlling a puddle of water. Soon, though, each stage started to feel like a slog. Controlling a puddle of water by tilting your 3DS can get very frustrating. I will likely push myself through it, but I went from loving the game in the first world to being barley able to stand it by the end of the second. Maybe it will rebound before the end.

Mass Effect 3 – I’ve started, but I am not blazing through it like I did with ME2. My biggest early complaint is that missions are much longer. ME2’s missions were generally pretty brief. The game kept moving and kept things interesting. ME3’s missions have all felt really long so far. Also, the DLC for this game is ridiculous. If I just want storyline DLC, it would cost me about $50, half again as much as I paid for the while trilogy of games. It is ridiculous.

Etrian Mystery Dungeon – This is a surprisingly effective combination of two very different kinds of dungeon crawlers. It is set up like an Etrian Odyssey, with the player building a party of different classes, but the dungeons play out like the Mystery Dungeon series. One is based on permanence, the other on impermanence, but they manage to combine quite well. I hope to have a full write up ready soon, just after I finish the game.

Smash Bros – I got sidetracked from this faster than I expected, likely thanks to a spotty internet connection of wearing myself out with the 3DS version. Still, the addition of Mewtwo to the roster of fighters was all the incentive I needed to get back to it. I like Mewtwo as much as I did in Melee, which is very little, but still I am glad to have him back. More fighters are always welcome. This game is still great, as well. I am eager to see who else makes the DLC cut.

Mario Kart 8 – More DLC came out. I might complain about DLC is certain games, like ME3, but Nintendo has done it right, so far. The DLC for Mario Kart 8 has added half again as much game as it started with and it wasn’t exactly lacking in content to begin with. 8 new tracks, as well as a trio of new racers and a handful of karts and parts is pretty big haul for about 8 dollars. The Animal Crossing stuff fits right in with the Mario game, which was not as true for Link, as welcome as his addition was. I wouldn’t mind seeing Mario Kart becoming full Smash Kart, though I would hate to lose some of the lesser Mario gang.

Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball – This is another of Nintendo’s free to play experiments. I have to say I quite like it. It is certainly a very Nintendo game. It is a collection of baseball themed mini-games all tied around a down on his luck ex-player and his run down shop. You can get demos of most of his games, but in order to get the whole thing you have to buy them from him, using real money. The point of the game is haggling the price down as low as possible, by offering him items you find playing the games to help solve his personal problems, using coupons and simple wearing him down. I only bought two of the games and I liked them, but I don’t really want to spend much more money on this. Still, it is very interesting and a decent chunk of game that should only cost the player about $15. I can’t tell if the real life haggling is brilliant or diabolical.

Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate – still plugging away.


Paper Mario – New to WiiU virtual console, this time I play to actually finish this game. I’ve started it several times, but never made it more than halfway. I like it a lot, but somehow I get distracted.

Knights of the Old Republic – I think this will be June’s Bioware game, though it could still change. I will finish ME3 before too long and want to get right on to the next game.

Yoshi’s New Island – My Club Nintendo Platinum reward, since I couldn’t get anyone to buy a code for the truly excellent Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze. I don’t think I’m as big a fan of Yoshi’s Island as most people, but it still looks to be pretty good.

What I Watched in April 2015

Definitely a slower month than the previous few, but I feel this is more in line with how much I usually watch. I almost have to force myself to watch stuff in my Netflix queue or I will just keep watching the same few things over and over, like Hot Fuzz or Always Sunny.


Furious 7see here

Fast 5 – God, this movie is so great. It is exactly what I want from an action movie. It is crazy, though more restrained than its sequel, but still very clear and sensibly motivated. It is just about the perfect action movie. *****

Empire State – A crime movie starring Thor’s little brother and The Rock. It doesn’t really go anywhere. It’s not bad, but it is exactly what it seems like. There is nothing here except surface. There just isn’t a lot here. **1/2

Crank – I wanted to like this more than I did. It is manic and Statham is always entertaining, but the movie was just kind of off-putting. It revels in the dirty and gross, which unless you like the joke is dirty and gross. I didn’t like the joke. **

Hot Fuzz – Still amazing. I love every second of it. *****

Atari: Game Over – A neat look at fall of Atari as the leading video game company through the story of them burying thousands of unsold copies of ET in a New Mexico landfill. It tells a pretty interesting history of the Atari console and ET. ***1/2

I Hate Christian Laettner – A 30 for 30 film that looks at the career of one of the most hated, and best, college basketball players of all time. Christian Laettner is the prime example of why a lot of people hate Duke Basketball. It painstakingly goes through the reasons that people hate him and shows how wrong or right those reasons are. It is a really great look at a really great time in college basketball. ****

The Man With the Iron Fists 2 – this is a direct to video sequel to a movie that was a highly entertaining piece of trashy fun. For the first hour of its hour and a half runtime it has almost none of the fun. It ends on a high note, but not enough to make up for the dull first half. **1/2


Always Sunny in Philadelphia S8-9 – This is still my go to background noise TV show, if I need to turn something on but don’t really want to watch it. It actually kind of scares me how little the gang’s depraved antics shock me anymore.

Daredevil – It starts really great, but I got about halfway through and suddenly my interest dropped. I really don’t know why; the show is really good. I just feel like I had to force myself to watch most of the second half. Still, I’m eager to see more Netflix Marvel shows.

Mad Men S7 Part 1 – Mad Men is still amazing. I’m not at all sure how the show is going to end, but it is a joy to watch.

Avengers: Age of Ultron


The most anticipated movie of the year, Avengers: Age of Ultron hit theaters last weekend. Its success is to be expected, the Marvel movie juggernaut just keeps steaming on ahead, even in movies that don’t bring near the star power that Avengers does. The second movie continues the standard that the first one set, though it doesn’t do so without some problems. Age of Ultron, for better or worse, is solidly dependent on the existence of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with all of its call backs and cameos and set up for upcoming movies. Avengers: Age of Ultron does its best to be bigger and more than its predecessor, a futile task when that movie was already the biggest and the most.

Age of Ultron is positively stuffed. It runs two and half hours and rarely stops to let viewers catch their breath. The first movie was already so jammed full that most of the characters didn’t get anything even resembling an arc. This one adds more. Supporting characters from all the Marvel films make appearances, some little more than cameo’s but enough to keep them in mind. It is the worst a Marvel movie has felt like a commercial for others from the studio since Iron Man 2’s heavy handed set up for the Avengers. For the main cast, on top of the returning six heroes, this movie adds three more. And instead of Loki and an army of faceless monsters, this movie is decked out with more villains. That fact that it comes together into anything resembling a coherent story is remarkable.

Despite rushing through all of its story beats, the plot of Age of Ultron does remain coherent. It doesn’t need the team building from the first one, which lets them give most members of the team their own story to work through. The first movie felt rather like Iron Man and the Avengers; it was Starks story and the others were mostly there to help out. Stark again takes the lead, understandably. With the exception of Captain America, the others actually have some personal problems this time. Not all of them work, the romance between Black Widow and the Hulk kind of comes out of nowhere and her likening herself to a monster because she is sterile is an odd story beat, but they are mostly solid. Banner has trouble believing he can harness the Hulk for a good cause and Hawkeye has family concerns. None of them are much, but it is enough to make them feel like more than just action figures this time, though it also contributes to that over stuffed feeling that the movie has.I am sounding harder than I really feel about this movie. It is too much at times, but it is still a fun, well-made film. Whedon does his usual thing, with quippy dialogue and dynamic fight scenes.

Ultron is the signature Avengers villain, and he feels like a big enough threat to keep the whole team busy. Spader chews into his lines with his usual gusto, and it works a lot better than one would think for a killer robot. Whedon even nearly makes Vision an interesting character, a feat I thought to be impossible. That is a big part of what hold this movie back. The three Avengers it adds the team are some of the least interesting on the roster. Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver and Vision are C-list Avengers, the guys that fill up the team in the comics because Thor or Captain America aren’t available due to goings on in their own titles. I love seeing more obscure characters brought to live in movies, but here there are already more than enough characters and Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are hampered by being cut off from their origin. An origin (their father is Magneto) that could have played into how the movie dealt with children, like Tony’s “child” Ultron or his shared child Vision or Banner and Widow’s inability to have children. But that was not to be.

In many ways, all the ways that seemed to matter, Avengers: Age of Ultron is a triumph. It is perfectly light and fun; a cotton candy movie. Like cotton candy, it is delicious, but has no substance. There are nods to it having some deeper themes, like the nature of parenthood and legacy, but they are lost in the deluge of action scenes and new characters. That the action scenes are as well realized as they are keeps it from being the disappointment. Sometimes you want some cotton candy.