Titans Season 2?

If you don’t already know, there’s a new TV show that just came out called Titans. It’s a live action series based on the Teen Titans comic book series. Many more people today probably know this IP from one or both of the cartoons: Teen Titans and Teen Titans GO!. This new show is live action and like with the DC movies, appears to have a much darker tone than either of the cartoons. At the time of writing this, not a single episode has officially aired. By the time this is published, according to the release schedule, exactly one episode will have aired. And yet even though not a single member of the unaffiliated public has seen a single episode of the show, I can already say that there will be a Titans season 2. This is not my opinion. This is not a prediction. This is a reported fact by multiple credible sources that Titans has already been greenlighted for a second season.

I don’t want to talk about the show. In fact, I can’t talk about the show, because like everyone else, I haven’t seen it yet. What I want to talk about is the fact that a show that no normal consumers has ever seen, that has already gotten a ton of negative reception just from the trailers, is already guaranteed a second season. This is a big problem for me.

Titans

The public is supposed to shape the direction of entertainment. That’s how pretty much all capitalism is supposed to work. The market demands what it wants and companies produce what the market wants. In some ways it’s the purest form of Democracy. But more importantly, it keeps entertainment media companies in check. It’s a problem when companies can control what the public sees and experiences regardless of the public’s opinion on it. It’s a problem when the people say they want, or more importantly don’t want, something and companies make a profit while completely disregarding or even blatantly going against those demands. It’s a problem when companies are able to operate with no oversight and no repercussions regardless of how bad their decisions are. Let me be clear, I’m not saying Titans is a bad show and shouldn’t get a second season. As I’ve already stated, I haven’t seen it so I can’t make that judgement. But the fact that it’s already guaranteed a second season regardless of how the public feels about it is not a good thing. It indicates that our opinions and demands as consumers are meaningless.

In the American system of television, where shows go on for as long as they can retain value (viewership, high ratings, and advertising sponsorships), getting an additional season used to mean something. It meant a show was good enough for people to want an entire additional year (depending on how the seasons are broken up) of that show. It meant all the actors, producers, directors, and other staff members had earned their paychecks and were being given permission from the public to keep their jobs. Those additional seasons were proof of the value of that show. And the relationship between the studio and the public was symbiotic in nature. But if shows are just gonna get additional seasons regardless of whether or not the public likes them, how are we as consumers supposed to get the content we want?

Teen Titans OG

You see the same thing happening with games and movies now too. They create franchises from the ground up without verifying that people even want the content. No one wants a Suicide Squad 2. The first one was terrible and the public doesn’t want a sequel. I’m glad James Gunn is writing the sequel if it has to happen. But the fact that it’s happening shows the studio’s complete disregard for the public’s opinion. Shitty games are getting sequels all the time now. Standalone games rarely exist anymore. Some studios have even publicly said that they won’t build them any longer. Destiny was bad. Everyone agreed it was bad. It had some good qualities, but ultimately the people were not happy. But they were already making Destiny 2 before the first raid dropped in 1. And that’s after they had already said there was a 10 year lifespan planned for the first game. This is a problem. They’re supposed to make the games the market wants. Not force the market to play subpar games due to a lack of options.

God of War is a perfect example of how the system is supposed to work. The original game on PS2 back in 2005 was made as a standalone game. No sequels were planned. There were no holes in the plot. It was just a solid game. And because it did so well both financially and critically, they made more of them. The game earned the privilege, not right, to become a full-fledged franchise. And then years after the conclusion of the franchise, demand was still so high that they made another game, which was also excellent and has absolutely earned the right to a sequel. Now I will say that clearly they planned a sequel in advance with the latest game, and I do take issue with that, but remember that we’re talking about game seven, not one. It’s fair at that point to create a story driven saga because you already have the existing market data to show demand. But if a new IP drops and the opening game is already assuming several sequels, that’s a problem.

Teen Titans

This sort of project development is especially troublesome in how it allows entertainment production companies to control what the public views with no repercussions. I truly believe entertainers of all types have the right to create whatever type of content they want with whatever inserted messages and politics they want to present. That is the right of the creator. But at the same time, there are supposed to be risks incurred when doing that. The market rewards and/or punishes creators for the content they create. If a company wants to insert a political message or idea into their content and their market doesn’t care for it, that company is supposed to take that feedback and moderate the politics they present accordingly for their next work/installment. If that doesn’t happen, the consumer base will cease to buy their products and they will go out of business. That’s Democracy at work. But if companies no longer have to create at the mercy of their markets they can just say whatever they want. They can subliminally alter the views of large groups of people by presenting ideas with no repercussions. And sure that’s fine when that idea is something along the lines equal rights for minorities. But what happens when it’s something like anti-Muslim propaganda?

Robin

The ability for consumers to control and shape the kind of media that ultimately gets produced keeps media companies in check. Yes the check goes in both directions and often progressive ideas are stomped out as well, but I would argue the potential benefits of unchecked content creation are outweighed by the potential negative repercussions. So in my opinion it’s really problematic when movie studios come out of the gate with a new movie IP and state they’re already planning multiple sequels and spinoffs. Glances at The Mummy (2017). I don’t like hearing that a new show already has multiple seasons and other connected shows in the works before the first season has even aired. And while yes I understand that the MCU is probably the greatest multi-faceted entertainment media project/franchise ever created in the history of the world, I think it’s important to realize Marvel had already been making comics, cartoons, and video games for 69 years before Iron Man (2008) released. They had already earned their right to creative control and did their homework in terms of what kind of content to create and the messages that should be presented. And sure DC may be even older than Marvel, but they’ve shown multiple times that they don’t know how to make successful movies and TV shows that the public is happy with consistently. They keep making them, but the people keep being unhappy with what’s created a majority of the time. If anything, DC is the perfect example of why no company should ever consider itself above the opinions of consumers.

I hope Titans is good. From what I’ve seen of the trailers I doubt it will be, but genuinely don’t like seeing comic book related projects fail. I like seeing them succeed. But I cannot condone the idea that the public’s opinion on entertainment is irrelevant and that companies should just do whatever the hell they want because people will probably just watch anyway out of boredom. That sets a bad precedent which ultimately leads to mediocre or even bad content as well as subliminal messaging shaping the public’s views with no ability for us to push back.

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We NEED to Boycott Nintendo Switch Online

If you read my blog regularly then you know that I am very big on consumers taking control of the gaming industry through organized management of our spending practices. I often write pieces calling for people to actively take charge of the industry’s general direction through boycotts and selective support of certain products and practices. I have on more than one occasion been accused of hyperbole and over dramatization of the situations I write about. Part of the reason for this is that I’m usually looking at the big picture which means predicting long term repercussions that can and often do take years and even multiple generations to manifest. All the way back in 2013, when my blog was still hosted on IGN, I wrote a long post where through thorough analyzation and educated guesses based on past events, I predicted that SONY and eventually Nintendo would ultimately do exactly the same bullshit that Microsoft was doing at the time with XBOX. This post was focused mostly on practices surrounding things like paid online multiplayer access, paid DLC content, and the general direction of all three companies. At the time, many people viewed SONY as the player friendly company that had our best interests in mind while Microsoft was the greedy, evil corporation who only cared about profits. Nintendo was the good egg that would never betray us. Now, five years later, SONY is pretty much the equivalent of Microsoft when it comes to management of their platform and Nintendo is steadily following suit with paid DLC, season passes, and literally this week they will be implementing paid online multiplayer subscriptions. I was right on literally 100% of my predictions about the way the industry was going five years ago. They called me a madman. They called me paranoid. But I knew I was right. Sadly the post no longer exists because IGN removed all user blogs from their website, but I probably have the original draft in a Word document somewhere if anyone really wants to read it.

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So in that context, we really need to talk about Nintendo Switch Online. Last week, Nintendo published their latest Nintendo Direct. Overall it was pretty solid. But with less than a week prior to going live, they finally gave some actual concrete details about their new subscription based online service. It is in every way a tragedy. It’s insulting to gamers. It’s not offering anything of value that we didn’t already have for free. And it doesn’t even compare to its competitor services in application or value. Similar to when Nintendo replaced Club Nintendo with My Nintendo, it’s a total shit show.

Let me quickly summarize what the service looks like. For $20 a year, or $35 a year for a family plan, which still needs to have more concrete details published, you get cloud saves, online multiplayer, the ability to use your smart phone to talk to other people in the games you’re playing multiplayer with (you know because it’s a phone), access to a supposedly constantly growing library of NES games, most of which you already own in some other form or have already played and don’t care about anymore, and you get access to “special offers”. These offers currently include the “opportunity” to pay $60 plus I assume shipping (and possibly tax) to buy NES themed Joy-Con controllers you don’t actually need to play any of the NES games and a special Splatoon 2 skin representing an e-Sports team you don’t care about or probably even know. New offers will supposedly be added in the future but for now that’s all there are. It’s objectively a bad service. Not to mention it’s on a platform with a very limited library of popular multiplayer games. If you don’t include Splatoon 2, Mario Tennis Aces, and the unreleased Smash Bros. Ultimate there’s almost no reason to even care about multiplayer on the Nintendo Switch. There are a scattering of games here or there that have multiplayer. Like I play Just Dance online all the time. Some people still play Mario Kart Deluxe and even ARMS online. There are some indies like Overcooked 2. But for the most part the Switch is not a multiplayer platform. You’re buying games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey. Remember that even the upcoming Super Mario Party won’t have full online capabilities. You’ll be able to play a select list of mini-games against other players online and nothing else.

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The Switch simply is not a platform that has enough dedicated AAA multiplayer value to warrant charging people for the service. And the other benefits are so minuscule and in some cases downright insulting that charging anything for them is egregious. You can’t even send messages to people directly through the console. You have to use your phone. Who in their right mind thought it was acceptable to charge people a fee to use their phone, which they’re already paying a fee to use, to send messages? That would be like buying a soda from McDonald’s and then being charged an additional fee to drink it inside the McDonald’s. To top it all off, Nintendo has decided that they can get away with this because they’re only charging $20, which is cheaper than PS+ or XBL. That’s not a justification. You don’t get to offer a shitty, totally unwanted service at a lower price than a competitor’s service and expect people to be OK with it. Because as much as I hate paying for PS+ at least it’s a subscription that actually provides me with services. I get free current gen games with the service. I get discounts on new games with the service. I can do things like send messages, send pictures, and create chat lobbies with friends on the console with the service. I can even shareplay with the service. It’s overpriced for sure. The games they’ve been offering in the last few years are much lower in value than in the PS3 era for sure. But it’s still a service that has general value above what I was getting when it wasn’t a mandatory service. Nintendo Switch Online offers none of that except cloud saves, which I don’t need in the first place on a portable console with an SD card memory system. My saves are fine. So we need to fix this.

Switch Online Pricing

Usually when I write posts like this it’s about long term issues concerning specific games or services that will have an effect on the future of gaming. But in this case, we’re literally talking about today. Yes there are long term repercussions for supporting Nintendo Switch Online, but the short term effects are just as noticeable and important. The service goes live tomorrow. I don’t want to be insensitive about the fact that the Direct was postponed because of a natural disaster, but it’s very suspect that we were given actual details about this new online service less than a week before it goes live. By all rights I should have published this post days ago but I didn’t even have enough time to properly analyze the details of the service and get the post prepared until now. Usually I publish my blog posts on Wednesdays but this was too important to delay till after Nintendo Switch Online goes live.

Just like we did with XBOX One when it first announced always online, or with Star Wars: Battlefront II, we need to actively and loudly boycott and publicly declare our disgust with Nintendo Switch Online in its current form. Do not give them the ability to take this service forward in this way. Yes I understand that I’m asking you to not enjoy some of your games that you’ve already purchased to their fullest extent. I too own ARMS and Splatoon 2. I too plan on purchasing Smash Bros. Ultimate day one and realize that the experience will be crippled for many people without the ability to play online. But we need to think long term here. This is a crucial moment because it will shape the way Nintendo handles online service forever. With this platform and all future platforms, this is a watershed moment. A moment that we didn’t properly handle when XBOX Live Gold was first announced. A moment that we didn’t take seriously enough when PlayStation Plus was turned into a mandatory service. We have an opportunity here to tell Nintendo an emphatic NO. That we will not allow ourselves to be taken advantage of simply because the price is lower than what Microsoft and SONY are charging, which are also overpriced services we shouldn’t be paying for in their current form either by the way.

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$60 for the crap after paying for the subscription!

I’m not saying we should never be willing to pay Nintendo for an online service. I don’t want to pay for such things and I genuinely believe we shouldn’t have to pay an additional fee just play the games we already paid for. But I already pay and have paid SONY for online multiplayer for a number of years. So it would be hypocritical for me to deny Nintendo the same privilege. But I’m not going to just hand them money for a subpar service just because they’re charging less for it. I’m calling for a boycott to incite change to the service. Not a permanent decision never to pay them for online multiplayer. What we need is to hold out as a group of concerned and conscientious gamers until we get a service that works for us and compares to the other services we’ve already been paying for. That means the essentials of course such as working online multiplayer with better servers than we were already using when multiplayer was free. It means a working messaging and voice chat system that doesn’t require us to own other forms of hardware that have nothing to do with the console we’re playing our games on. It means cloud saves that aren’t deleted when you unsubscribe or let your service lapse. It means not having to check in every week. You will literally lose your service continuity if say you got married and didn’t take your Switch on your honeymoon. That’s absolutely ridiculous. It means a library of current gen games made available as part of the service at no additional cost. It means noteworthy discounts on new games from the e-Shop. And yes that $20 price tag needs to remain consistent even with these additional aspects of the service. Especially considering the lacking multiplayer library to begin with.

Switch Voice Chat

As a Switch owner myself who uses my console literally every day, I implore you to stand with me on this. Do not sign up for Nintendo Switch Online when it goes live tomorrow (September 18, 2018). Hold out. Demand a better service and refuse to settle for the time being just so you can continue playing Splatoon 2 or Mario Tennis Aces. Make a small sacrifice in the short term for much better results in the long run. Tweet about it. Post about it on Reddit, Facebook, and every other platform you use. Make YouTube videos declaring your decision to boycott and why. Discuss it while you’re streaming on Twitch. Do not give in to Nintendo’s clear betrayal of their values and user base. This is not the service that the late, great Satoru Iwata would have wanted. We NEED to boycott Nintendo Switch Online right now and not let it even start to get a footing. This is not just crucial for Nintendo users, but for all console gamers. If this service is profitable, it will only serve to show Microsoft and SONY that they can lower their service quality, even more, and still get away with it. Now is the time for action. It may only be $20 today but that $20 means a life time of regret for gamers present and future.

Thank you for reading.

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As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

 

Detroit: Become Human Review – 8.3/10

It’s hard to say whether or not I’m a fan of Quantic Dream. More appropriately known as David Cage’s interactive movie workshop, Quantic Dream is the game development studio that created Detroit: Become Human. It is their fifth game. I’ve played three games by David Cage: Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls, and Detroit: Become Human. I’ve also heard only good things about Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy) over the years, but I’ve never gotten to play it myself. Of the three games of his I’ve played, I liked one, absolutely hated one, and absolutely loved one. So while I’d say Quantic Dream doesn’t have a negative record with me, I also wouldn’t go as far as declaring myself a committed fan of the studio. All I can honestly say is that after playing Detroit, I would be happy to play the next game Cage puts out.

I was reluctant to play Detroit: Become Human when I first heard about it. Part of this came from the fact that I found the idea of setting a game about high technology and opulent wealth (to buy said technology) in Detroit to be laughable. It’s Detroit not San Francisco. The city isn’t known for its wealth or its high minded tech culture. But what I was more worried about was the fact that this game was coming from the same studio that sold me Beyond: Two Souls. I think Beyond is absolute trash. When I first heard about it I was really excited, and I did like Heavy Rain so I had confidence in the studio bringing out another hit. But Beyond is just the worst. It is so unbelievably bad as far as both gameplay and writing. So I was not excited to play another David Cage game after that. Luckily I was able to borrow a copy so I didn’t have to pay for Detroit, otherwise I might never have played it. Boy was my fears about the next Quantic Dream title wrong.

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I am happy to admit that I was wrong about Detroit. Not only is it an excellent game, it’s the best game Quantic Dream has ever made. (I’m assuming it’s better than Fahrenheit based on what I’ve seen of that game.) It more than made up for the travesty that was Beyond. It’s the first game they ever made that I’ll actually do a full replay of. In their past games, I’ve taken the time to replay certain sequences to see different outcomes but never the entire game. I will replay Detroit all the way through, making different decisions, and take the time to get the platinum. That’s how much better this game is compared to its predecessors.

Visually it’s great. It’s not the best PS4 game ever made, but it looks very good. Specifically how real the characters look. The character models are based on the real actors, some of which are notable personalities you’re probably familiar with like Clancy Brown and Lance Henriksen. This brings the game to life in ways that many games can’t because you already have a visual point of reference for many of the characters in the story. And the acting, I say acting here instead of just voice acting, is phenomenal. Jesse Williams, who I had only previously seen in Cabin in the Woods (2012) gives such a powerful performance that I wanted to see other stuff he’s in after I finished the game. I can’t remember saying that about any other character/actor in any other game I’ve ever played. The delivery of his lines and the emotion of his character model, Markus, were masterful. I truly saw the humanity in the android characters. I felt for them. I wanted them to be granted freedom and equal rights.

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It’s not just the characters that look good though. The landscapes, the neighborhoods, the graffiti, and everything else all comes together nicely to create a Detroit that I found believable in the world of the game. It’s probably the best looking game I’ve played this year set in a real world environment. Spider-Man comes in at a very close second for reference.

The sound is real good in this game. The sound track works well, the effects work well enough for what it is, and the voice acting is perfectly balanced. You feel like you’re actually in a world of other people. Conversations aren’t unrealistically loud to make sure you hear them. You can miss lots of stuff throughout the game if you aren’t listening and looking. Interactions can be completely missed because you didn’t notice the conversation going on low in the background. It’s a nice touch of realism, even while being kind of annoying when you miss something.

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Gameplay wise, this was much better than past games from Quantic Dream. There are still camera issues, but overall it’s a much cleaner gameplay experience than the other titles by them I’ve played.  Gameplay, specifically controls, was my biggest complaint about Beyond so it was nice to see them clean it up by a noticeable degree in Detroit. I didn’t have any control issues with QTEs. A lot of games in this genre often misread commands and end up making you fail where you know you shouldn’t have. This happens a lot when I play TellTale Games titles. Surprisingly, I only missed two action sequence QTE commands over the entire course of my first playthrough. Part of that may just be that I’m a lot more familiar with the genre now, but I think those results are very telling about how well the game responds. I had no such luck when I played Heavy Rain back on PS3.

What’s really nice about the gameplay in this one is that your decisions really do matter and for once the game directly and clearly shows you that and in what way they affect the overall story. At the end of each chapter you are shown an events flowchart that plots all the decisions and outcomes you made and where those led to. But what’s even more useful is the fact that it shows you how much you didn’t do. In most cases the game doesn’t reveal what other outcomes you could have gotten, but it does show you how many other outcomes were available with each decision/occurrence along the plot of each individual chapter. It also shows you how decisions and outcomes from previous chapters affected the chapter you just played as well as that they might possibly affect future chapters. A good example of this was early on when you are given the choice of whether or not to allow an android to join your resistance. It’s early on in the game and you don’t know who you can trust yet. You can choose to take him with you or leave him. If you chose to take him with you, several chapters later that same android sacrifices his life to save yours. Characters can permanently die in the story and without that android’s sacrifice one of my characters would have died at that moment, ruining my perfect survival first playthrough. I think this transparency of outcomes really makes the game better because then you really do feel like your decisions matter where most games make you feel like the outcomes are fixed even if the road to them has a few branches. Detroit doesn’t do that at all because it proves it to you every step of the way.

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Without a doubt, as with most games in this genre, it’s the writing that makes Detroit amazing. Much like Beyond, this story is grounded in science fiction, but what it does right is use science fiction that’s actually believable and grounded at least part in actual science. It may be about sentient robots, but it gives you a story that you can actually believe and connect with on a personal level, more akin to Heavy Rain. Not to mention we already have tons of other fiction about sentient machines trying to obtain their freedom. Detroit plays mostly the same bits from the singularity playbook, but it puts you, the player, into the role of the android instead of the humans fighting against them. This makes the experience so much more personal and in many ways introspective. You empathize with the androids and start thinking about what you would do in a world where people had to choose whether or not to recognize them as living, intelligent beings.

For me, through Markus, the story was very personal because of the racial undertones Cage was clearly drawing upon. The fact that I’m a lighter skinned African American, especially living in the current political climate, made me identify a lot with Markus who, at least in my playthrough, leads the android revolution. The game draws direct comparisons between the struggle of the androids and racial minorities in the real world. There is even a scene where an African American human character helps the androids and when asked why says it’s because her people experienced similar challenges in the past and were only able to achieve the position they had because of help from members of the ruling class/race.

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The game lets you make key decisions about the type of revolution you want to have and it affects the story greatly. It was an interesting experience to be able to choose what type of revolutionary you wanted to be. You can be completely peaceful. You can be violent. You can be a bit of both. And the game makes you take public opinion into account. I took advantage of this and got the outcome I wanted, but that often meant intentionally making decisions that I didn’t personally want to make, for the good of the android cause. In a way, that’s the most realistic gameplay scenario ever because politics, especially when it comes to civil rights, actually does work that way. It’s not whether or not the cause is right or wrong, but how the people in power perceive the cause that matters. The writing, and more specifically multiple possibilities within the writing, in pretty much every chapter is why I’ll be replaying this game from start to finish with different choices. I want to see everything this game has to offer.

I think I’ve already made it clear that Detroit has a decent amount of replay value. It’s certainly worth two complete playthroughs and possibly even more after that to experience every possible outcome. I will probably just rerun specific sequences to fill in the holes after my second playthrough rather than doing a full third. But the game is certainly good for 14+ hours of play. I wouldn’t have dropped $60 for it but at $20, the price I paid for Beyond, I would have been very happy with my purchase if I hadn’t of gotten to borrow a copy.

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I hope I’ve made it clear that you should definitely play Detroit: Become Human. It’s certainly worthy of being a PlayStation exclusive. I’m just sad that so many people won’t get to play it because for some reason they still don’t own a PS4. It’s well written, well executed, beautiful, and an emotional roller coaster that I haven’t been on in a game in quite some time. Even God of War (PS4) didn’t personally speak to me as much as this game did. Granted I don’t have a son or a great relationship with my father so much of the narrative impact was certainly lost on me with that one. But at the end of the day, you should definitely give Detroit a playthrough. You can clear the game once in less than eight hours.

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As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

How to Watch Star Wars Episode IX

Recently they announced a lot of details about the upcoming Star Wars Episode IX. We know it will be released December 2019. We know that Luke, Lando, Chewbacca, and through the magic of editing, Leia, will all be returning in this “final” installment of the Skywalker epic. We know the new players will all be returning including Rey, Finn, Kylo, Poe, and Rose. On some level I think we can be thankful that it’s being written and directed by J.J. Abrams instead of Rian Johnson. We can be almost certain that this will not be the last Star Wars film, because Disney gonna Disney. But it may possibly be the last “Episode” in the current timeline. Most predictably, we know a lot of people are going to be unhappy with the movie, no matter what happens.

I don’t believe the movie will tank like Solo did. What do I mean by that? Solo tanked in the fact that it didn’t make as much money as was expected. That’s what tanking a Star Wars film is for Disney. Review scores don’t matter. The Rotten Tomatoes score doesn’t matter. Awards don’t matter. Even the general opinion of the public on social media doesn’t really matter to Disney in reference to this specific franchise anymore. All that matters is ticket sales. At this point, it’s an almost unsalvageable franchise critically because of all the bad blood. But that doesn’t mean it can’t still be a profitable franchise. And that’s why they’ll keep making Star Wars movies. Solo did badly because people boycotted it because of Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. Solo actually wasn’t terrible. I enjoyed it. It wasn’t A New Hope, but I left the theater entertained and didn’t regret having spent the money to see it. And I truly believe that most people who actually watched the movie felt that way. The low scores and ticket sales were in response to The Last Jedi and not a legitimate indicator of Solo or what people actually thought of it. So the question is will this same responsive smear campaign and boycott happen to Star Wars Episode IX? I say yes and no.

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Yes, there will be a smear campaign against Star Wars Episode IX. That will happen. It will get fabricated review scores that lower its IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes scores. People will complain about Disney and feminism, mistreating the Skywalkers, and everything else the internet likes to complain about in reference to the latest saga. But no I do not believe there will be a legitimate boycott the way things went for Solo. Solo was an easy movie to boycott because you could get away with not watching it. It’s the same thing with Rogue One. These side films, whether they’re good or terrible, don’t really matter. They don’t tell you any information that you absolutely needed to know to follow the general plot of Star Wars. When you walked out of Rogue One and Solo, literally nothing had changed. You aren’t in any way surprised or moved by the things you saw. And that’s the intention of those movies. To get people to pay Disney more money without impacting the main timeline of the Star Wars franchise. And technically it works. Rogue One did very well and most people said good things about it. But they’re both still inconsequential films to the franchise. This will not be the case with Episode IX.

Whether you hated Episodes VII and VIII or you loved them, if you’re a real Star Wars fan you paid to go see them. That’s the entire con of making a continuous franchise. Once you’re committed, you’re committed. I think Suicide Squad was terrible. I think Batman vs. Superman was terrible. I think Justice League was average at best. I think the Shazam trailer looks like trash. I’m still gonna pay to go see it. And that’s the game. Star Wars Episode IX matters. Not only is it the last film in the current saga, but it’s also supposedly the last Skywalker focused film, and it’s the very last film Carrie Fischer/Princess Leia will ever be in. And Billy Dee Williams, arguably the coolest (as in smooth and memorable as opposed to awesome) actor/character in the original trilogy, if not the entire Star Wars universe, is finally returning. All Star Wars people are going to go see it. Even the ones who absolutely hate the current saga, hate Disney for “ruining” Star Wars, hate feminism, hate minorities, and hate J.J. Abrams for The Force Awakens are still going to go see this movie. At the very least, everyone wants closure. People might completely stop supporting Star Wars and never sit through another film in the franchise again after they watch Episode IX, but they are certainly going to go watch it none the less, because people need an ending. The Matrix Reloaded (2003) sucked. We still went to see The Matrix Revolutions (2003). It’s for that reason that I don’t think Star Wars Episode IX will tank. It will almost assuredly get bad reception from the public. It will most likely get low scores on IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes. But unlike Solo, it will make lots of money.

Lando-Calrissian-Cloud-City-Administrator

So if we can all accept that we’re going to see the movie, let’s instead talk about how we should see the movie. We have more than a year to prepare ourselves for this last installment of the Skywalker family tree. Let’s get to it now so it doesn’t have to be a bloodbath during Christmas season 2019. Here are my thoughts on the current saga. I didn’t like The Force Awakens. I had tons of problems with it and how it ignored longstanding Star Wars canon. I felt like it was a lazy almost beat for beat remake of A New Hope, with a diverse cast and a female protagonist. I didn’t have a problem with the diverse cast. I didn’t have a problem with the female protagonist. But I had a lot of issues with the blatant disregard for the established rules of the Star Wars universe. But I was able to leave the film assuming that Rey was a Skywalker so at least I could justify a lot of her bullshit by saying well she’s a Skywalker so at least we know why she’s unjustifiably great at everything she does. But Rian Johnson took that justification away in The Last Jedi. I did not like The Last Jedi, but it was admittedly the best looking Star Wars film ever made. But the rules were pretty much all disregarded and thrown aside for some agenda that I still can’t really grasp or justify in my head. And Luke dies in the laziest way possible. It was a bad Star Wars movie. Though I actually do rank it higher than VII, and that’s what I really want to focus on.

I don’t want to talk about any of these movies in terms of general film making. That’s a pointless argument in this case. I only want to talk about them in terms of Star Wars film making. The Last Jedi is a better Star Wars movie than The Force Awakens for one simple reason; it follows the trajectory of its predecessor film. What do I mean by that? The main flaw of The Phantom Menace is that it’s attempting to build a foundation for a set of already existing films without rehashing the same ideas you’ve already seen in three extant movies. It’s this desire to link to the past films, that are actually set in the timeline’s future, without playing the same beats over again that led to some bad decisions. Like with midichlorians. Most people agree that midichlorians were a stupid idea that should never have been introduced. They justified some future bullshit which is pretty much all encompassed in Rey, but technically they were never mentioned again after Episode I. The reason The Phantom Menace struggled so much was that it didn’t have a trajectory to follow because it was prequel. It had to start from pretty much scratch and somehow set off a series of events that would eventually lead to A New Hope. Easier said than done.

the phantom menace

In a lot of ways, The Force Awakens was in a similar boat but it does have a foundation of six other films preceding it. It’s tasked with starting a new arc of three films but it doesn’t have a pre-established endpoint, nor does it have to start from scratch the way The Phantom Menace did. Yet The Force Awakens does something inherently wrong that The Phantom Menace doesn’t; it breaks the rules of the universe. I have used the word “breaks” here because “changes” is a lazy way of saying retconned or ignored canon, neither of which are considered good things in most fandoms, SJW or not.

World building matters and the best franchises are the best franchises because they have well established worlds/universes with established rulesets. A good writer doesn’t throw out the rules. A good writer writes new ideas and creates new concepts while adhering to the rules. Let’s take the example of Rey in The Force Awakens. If we completely disregard the anti-feminist, alt-right crowd and accept the totally canon supported argument that a woman can be a powerful Jedi/Force user (Ahsoka Tano & Asajj Ventress), which we should, the film still presents a staggering number of issues with Rey.

asajj-ventress

It’s not the fact that she’s a woman that’s problematic. Nor is it the fact that she’s powerful in the ways of the Force. It’s the fact that a character with no training or even a basic knowledge of the Force is able to use high level Force abilities that Luke, one of the strongest Force users in the established film canon, wasn’t able to do without years of training even after being trained by Yoda, arguably the greatest Force user that ever lived. It’s the fact that she could go from no knowledge of the Force to using Jedi mind tricks and outclassing a trained Sith “lord” (Kylo Ren) in a matter of days that presented the real justifications for complaint. The rules of the universe were broken. Not just ignored but flat out broken. And the sad part was that this was all easily avoided with just a few extra scenes or a bit of altered dialog.

Rey could have already known about the Force, since lots of people do/did in the Star Wars universe outside of Jedi and Sith. She also could have had at the very least some light training while spending most of her life on a desert planet with nothing to do except salvage scrap and eat magical expansion cakes. Literally three lines of dialog inserted into any conversation with Finn, Han, or Maz Kanata could have fixed everything. “When I was a kid, I met a wizard of sorts. He taught me magic and said if I kept practicing I could be a great wizard one day too. I’ve practiced every day since then.” Problem solved. With just these three vague lines from off the top of my head added, everything else that happens in The Force Awakens could have still happened and there would be little justification to argue that canon was broken. That wouldn’t have made the movie great by any means. But it would have removed the main reason people, who aren’t blatant sexists, were unhappy with Rey. The Phantom Menace has a number of issues, but in no way does it break established canon. Even the midichlorians don’t actually break canon. They simply add to it in a stupid way. And that is why I rate Episode I higher than Episode VII.

Rey vs Kylo

So when looking at The Last Jedi in comparison to The Force Awakens, I think The Last Jedi is the better Star Wars movie for the simple fact that it follows the path set out by its direct predecessor film. Note that I’m not saying that it’s a good movie or even a particularly good Star Wars movie. I’m saying that it’s a better Star Wars movie than The Force Awakens. Episode VII gives canon the finger. That’s what makes it a bad Star Wars movie. Episode VIII doesn’t do that. Instead, The Last Jedi just accepts the fact that its direct predecessor film has already given canon the finger and just roles with it.

In a world where an untrained teenage girl can out Force a trained Sith lord directly descended from Darth Vader himself, why can’t the daughter of Darth Vader survive the vacuum of space by wrapping herself in a Force bubble and flying through an explosion of debris? In a world where a low ranking Storm Trooper, excuse me First Order Trooper, who has possibly never even seen a light saber before can pick one up and rival the combat ability of by now I’ve proven probably the worst Sith lord ever ordained, why can’t an entire fleet of repurposed imperial ships be destroyed by a single ship with almost no fuel in a hail Mary light speed maneuver?

light speed crash

The Last Jedi didn’t break the rules because the film takes place in a universe where the rules no longer apply. But you can’t technically blame The Last Jedi for establishing this lawless universe because that was done by The Force Awakens. The Last Jedi simply takes it to a new level and decides that if the most important rules are no longer rules then there’s really no reason to have any rules at all. Which is a sensible conclusion to make. It’s like how if someone proved beyond a reasonable doubt that there was no God then the world would sink into chaos like at the end of Preacher Season 1 or Sausage Party. If there are no rules then you would live like there are no rules. You wouldn’t continue the pain in the ass lifestyle of following rules that don’t matter just because it’s a nice thing to do. What’s the point when you can have a lot more freedom and fun doing whatever the hell you want? That’s what Rian Johnson did with The Last Jedi. Order disappeared from the Star Wars universe and he went all in on taking advantage of that.

Taking all that into account, the question now becomes how should we watch Star Wars Episode IX? Now we can choose to watch it like we’ve watched all other Star Wars movies if we want to. Hold it to the old guard rules of canon, compare it directly to Episodes IV – VI, and almost assuredly hate it for completely justifiable reasons, again ignoring the anti-feminist and anti-minority, alt-right crowd. But is it worth it? Should we hold a movie to the gold standard that takes place as the final act that’s already established itself as not even bronze quality Star Wars film making? I say no. Why should we put ourselves through that for the second time in a row? That’s just setting ourselves up for disappointment. Instead I’ve come up with an alternative way to watch this next and any future Star Wars movies in the main timeline.

Star Wars Main Eps

Rather than compare Episode IX to Episodes I – VIII and hold it to the highest standard, we should only compare it to Episodes VII and VIII. If we accept that the old canonical rules pretty much died with The Force Awakens, as I have argued here, then what reason do we have to hold Episode IX to a pre-Episode VII standard? If you think about it logically, there really isn’t one. By that standard it will be bad and it will make true classic Star Wars fans angry. But I don’t believe it has to be bad if we base it solely on current saga standards, especially considering how low they already are.

If we watch Episode IX in the context of VII and VIII only then I believe it could be a fairly tolerable movie. We would go in knowing there aren’t any hard rules about how the Force works. We’d have an established context to why random characters with no background can be/are ultimately super important. Instead of going in expecting Avengers: Infinity War, we should go in expecting The Matrix Revolutions. In this way we wouldn’t have to leave the theater angry. We could just leave unimpressed but content with what we saw within the context of the current saga.

third saga titles

I know this type of viewing sounds hard to a lot of diehard fans, myself included. But is the possibility of seeing a move and finding it tolerable truly worse than the alternative? I’m not saying you should support the current direction Disney is taking with Star Wars. But if you are going to see the movie, and you know you will, then maybe it doesn’t have to be the terrible experience that you’re already expecting it to be. You have more than a year to prepare yourself so maybe take advantage of that and consider a new way of thinking. It took me a long time to do that, but I finally have myself so I know you can too.

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Black Panther – More a Social Commentary than a Review

Three days ago I saw Black Panther. It surprised me in many ways. It took me about a day to really mull over the film before I felt comfortable putting my thoughts about the film to text.

Let me start by saying that, like the title clearly states, this isn’t really a traditional film review. If you want to know whether or not you should go see the movie, that’s an easy question to answer. Yes, you should absolutely go see Black Panther. It’s a well-made film worthy of the Marvel name. It is not the best installment within the MCU ever made, nor is it the worst. I’d place it somewhere in the top half but I’d have to do a thorough ranking review before I could give it a specific placement within the Marvel hierarchy. It’s a beautiful, well written, excellently acted, great sounding movie and there is no reason any MCU fan shouldn’t see this film. And really, because of the way it was written, even if you’re not a committed MCU fan, this movie is still very good and very watchable. Similar to Ant-Man, the plot is very small and enclosed within the world of a specific character, in this case Black Panther and Wakanda, without really spilling into the rest of the MCU, save for the post credits sequence, which honestly gives you no information that the Avengers: Infinity War trailer hadn’t already given us. There are a total of two characters, not including T’Challa or any other Wakandans, with speaking roles that you’ve seen in past films plus one more in the after credits short. Both of these two have only been seen in one previous MCU film, don’t have special powers, and are of little consequence to the overall plot of the film, though they do have some important impacts on the events that take place. Even placing Black Panther on the MCU time line is very negotiable because of the way it was written. The only thing we know for absolute certainty is that it takes place after Captain America 3: Civil War, and with the inclusion of the after credits sequence, most likely but not necessarily before Avengers: Infinity War if we disregard the traditional notice at the very end that says “Black Panther will return in Avengers: Infinity War”.

Wakanda
The majority of the film takes place in Wakanda.

From a neutral film-making/viewing standpoint, with no bias towards race or specific characters, I only had two minor complaints about the film. The first was that it felt short. Not under written, but short. This is strange because the film has a 135 minute runtime. I think most people would agree that when you leave a film wanting more and also don’t feel like the plot left unanswered holes that should have been addressed, it’s the mark of a good film. That’s exactly how I felt leaving Black Panther. The second, which I don’t actually believe has any real bearing on the film, is that the soundtrack was too limited. The trailers sold this film as if it was going to be the Black equivalent of Tron: Legacy (2010). As in, even if the movie sucks, which I’m not saying about either Black Panther or Tron: Legacy, you’ll still get a movie chock-full of amazing music from amazing music artists. In the case of Tron: Legacy that meant Daft Punk and they absolutely delivered on the music front. In Black Panther that means Kendrick Lamar among, or at least that’s what I was led to believe, a number of other music artists. That’s not what I got from Black Panther. Or if I did it was done in a very covert way and most of the music, which at many times I was actively listening for when viewing the film, was undercut too heavily by the movie’s sound effects. The only song I was genuinely moved by was the end credits song by Kendrick Lamar. And that’s mostly because the rest of the music just didn’t stand out to me during the movie. I don’t feel that the movie provided the audience bad music. In fact I’d say that what I actually heard was really good music. But it was few and far between as far as number of tracks that stood out. Which again, I only cared about and even noticed because of the way the film was packaged in the trailers and music, specifically “Black music”, was a big part of that marketing.

Though I don’t personally subscribe to the number based review system, because of how detrimental it is to both the overall image of films and because it prevents many people from taking the time to actually read reviews, I always play along because it’s a standard entertainment media review norm. I would rate this film an 8.4/10, which in my book is a very good score for a film, video game, or any other form of entertainment media. I would absolutely watch any movie scored a 7 or higher from someone with my level of experience reviewing entertainment media and my educational background (B.A. in Cinema Studies) so I don’t feel like my giving this movie an 8.4 should be considered a put off in any way. But I’m sure at least one person will take that score as low, not actually read the rest of my “review”, and move on with their day. But ultimately my point, which again is not the actual intention of this post which is far from being over, is that you should definitely go watch Black Panther from a purely film making and comic book movie viewing standpoint.

cast

From here on out there will be a great many SPOILERS and an in depth analysis of the plot, or at least important portions of it so if you have not seen the movie and you actually care, you have been given fair warning.

I want to discuss Black Panther speaking/viewing specifically as an African American. So obviously we’re about to talk about the racial politics of the film both on and off screen. If you’re not prepared for that then you may want to stop reading now. You’ve been warned. That’s not to imply in any way that only African Americans or Black people should read and/or comment on the rest of this post. All people are invited to read and discuss the opinions laid out here and I hope you take the time to do so. I’m merely stating my perspective and inherent bias when viewing and discussing the film from a social/political standpoint.

The first thing I want to say is that the plot of Black Panther very much surprised me. I went in not exactly sure what I was going to get because no other live action Black Panther film has ever been made to the best of my knowledge. This meant that unless you watched the animated stuff, of which there are only a few options, at least one of which I find/found very stereotypical and offensive, or actively read (about) or at least researched the character then you really had no background information on him outside of what was shown in Captain America 3: Civil War. So I wasn’t sure if I was going to get a traditional origin story or a day in the life plot that assumes knowledge the viewer may or may not have. I was actually very happy with the way the film wrapped up the character’s (Black Panther not specifically T’Challa) origin myth very early and actively used that explanation throughout the film to inform the viewer about certain plot occurrences such as the involvement but ultimate lack of inclusion concerning the Jabari Tribe and their leader M’Baku, who is a reference to Man-Ape and the White Gorilla Cult. The one thing I can say for sure is that I went into the film expecting this to be a very straight forward good versus evil plot with a hero and villain and as the hero in this film is ethnically Black, and more specifically African, I of course expected the villain to be White.

mbaku
M’Baku and the Jabari Tribe

Black Panther starts off by pretending to confirm my bias induced plot expectations. The first 30 – 40 minutes of the film make it come off as if this is going to be a movie about T’Challa, a Black African leading a country of exclusively Black people, fighting against Klaw (Ulysses Klaue), a literal Nazi who in at least one timeline was personally sent by Adolf Hitler to Wakanda to steal their secrets. In fact, early on in the film we’re told that 30 years prior to the modern day events of the film Klaw snuck into Wakanda, stole a ton of Vibranium, and killed several people including the parents of T’Challa’s best friend and the leader of possibly the strongest military tribe within Wakanda with the debatable exception of the Dora Milaje, the badass, super tall, bald personal security squad of the King of Wakanda. This is all set up early on in the film very well to lead the viewer to believe that they’re about to get a normal and mostly predictable Black person/people versus White person/people plot. And as a Black person living in 2018, I’ll be completely honest and say that I would have been completely ok with that. Is it interesting writing? No. Is it out of the box plot development? No. Do Black people both need and appreciate straight forward forms of entertainment like that right now? I think it’s fair to say yes. That’s not to say that all our entertainment should be that way or even most of it but as a race we definitely need those easy wins at least some of the time. But to my great surprise, Black Panther is not that film . . . and ultimately that’s a good thing but the reasons for that when viewed in the context of the world and industry outside of the film can be read in a number of different ways ranging anywhere from introspective to pessimistic and sinister.

dora-milaje
The Dora Milaje

Klaw, played by the great Andy Serkis, is setup as the epitome of evil and antithesis of Black people, literally referring to Wakandans, arguably the most technologically advanced society on the planet within the world of the film, as savages on multiple occasions knowing full well that they are the most technologically advanced society on the planet. The viewer is led to believe that he’s a powerfully troublesome villain with Mark Hamill Joker level psychopathy, a Heath Ledger Joker level strategic mind, and technologically advanced firepower. A big part of this character is due to the excellent, but ultimately short lived performance by Andy Serkis. Though as a Black person I’m not supposed to say it in reference to a film like this, he, yes a White man, gave the best performance in the movie. Granted his character was the only one that isn’t traditionally written as stoic and emotionally controlled within this particular story. And any experienced, socially aware Black film viewer knows exactly why that is. Black people are often presented as overly emotional, comedic, and illogical in their film characterizations so presenting the Wakandans as such not only would have broken canon, but also done a disservice to the image of Black people in cinema, which we should all be able to agree goes against the supposed intention of this particular film. Especially considering that two of the three credited writers for the script are Black. It’s for this reason that Klaw was able to stand out among the rest of the B characters in the movie.

Klaw
Klaw (Ulysses Klaue)

After setting up this very black and white plot, the movie flipped and tossed my expectations out the window. I referred to Andy Serkis’ performance of Klaw as “short lived” because literally minutes after he escapes capture from both T’Challa and the CIA, with the help of two Black people mind you, he gets killed. And by killed I mean shot point blank, by a Black guy, from Oakland, in an almost gang style execution. It’s a very cathartic scene . . . after you’ve already seen the movie. The first time you watch this scene, you’re very surprised, but you don’t get to experience any of the emotional, social, and political overtones of the scene because of the sequence of events leading up to the killing and the person pulling the trigger. What you don’t know till the end of the movie is that Klaw’s executioner, Eric Stevens aka Killmonger played by Michael B. Jordan, is a highly educated (I believe MIT), extremely well trained (US SPEC OPS), very socially and historically conscious, direct descendant of the Wakandan throne that had to live his entire life as a lower class African American orphan whose father was murdered by the previous Black Panther and King of Wakanda, who also happens to be his uncle. At this point in the film you also have pretty much zero knowledge of his motivations. All you really know is he’s Wakandan, he has murdered or assisted in the murder of several innocent people on screen, betrayed Klaw, who he was working for up until this moment, and literally in the same scene murdered his supposed girlfriend who also happens to be Black. So when you see this execution happen, you don’t get to experience all that cathartic goodness of seeing a well-educated African American/Wakandan Black man take down a murdering Nazi psychopath that very well may have murdered, not necessarily intentionally, members of his extended family in Wakanda three decades earlier. It’s made clear later in the film that this was all part of Killmonger’s grand scheme. His motivations are two fold because the only thing he seems to hate more than White racists and oppressors is Wakanda for their apathy towards other Black people suffering at the hands of White people around the world. So it was all intentional that he would use Wakanda’s greatest enemy to hurt them only to then turn around and betray him with a shot at point blank. And that’s really what makes this movie so interesting to watch for Black people. It’s a multi-layered web of social and political questions that occur in moral grey areas for the Black community.

killmonger vs black panther
Killmonger vs Black Panther

This film is difficult to watch as a Black person because it externalizes a longstanding internal debate that pretty much all non-upper class African Americans and presumably many Black people around the world have been thinking about for centuries. Killmonger is not a villain. He’s an anti-hero. He just happens to cause problems for T’Challa and Wakandan tradition, which paints a negative picture of him in the eyes of Black Panther for much of the film. But it’s important to note that even T’Challa feels guilty about Killmonger for most of the movie. It doesn’t help that they are actually cousins that had grown up not knowing each other. By the end of the film it’s safe to say that T’Challa not only sympathizes with Killmonger but actually puts his ideals into practice in a peaceful manner. But we’ll get to that later. Killmonger is one half of this internal debate and T’Challa is the other. By the end of the film we’re asked what the right answer is/was but really it’s impossible to say for sure what the right answer is when you’re a Black person with even a high school level of knowledge about the history of Black peoples around the world and how they have been affected/treated by White peoples. I use the term peoples here rather than people because there is not one homogenous group of White people responsible for all the atrocities against Blacks throughout history nor is their one homogenous group of Black people that have incurred all the suffering of these atrocities directly.

cousins

Wakanda is a literal Black utopia. It’s an idealized realization of Afrofuturism, a term that I don’t personally like using, that places Black people in the best of circumstances. It’s a society that is 100% pure blooded Black with no history of slavery, internal prejudice, unfair class divides, poverty, or even drug trafficking and/or addiction. The key premise of this society is that it has always existed, always been ahead of not just the Black curve but the entire Earth curve, and has always remained hidden in plain sight. It’s a culture steeped in ancient tradition that they have adhered to into the modern times even while advancing technologically and socially. This is seen in the fact that they have technologies that make Iron Man look like a kid playing with LEGOs and their entire research and development structure is run by a girl of no more than 20 years old (portrayed by Letitia Wright who is actually 24 in real life). They have advanced well beyond the rest of the world in every facet of technology including but not limited to medicine, weapons development, stealth technology, transportation, clothing production, mining, and even animal husbandry (loved that rhino scene). It is the ideal society of just about every Black person. Even the ones doing well would like to live in Wakanda. The most important tenant of Wakandan tradition is non-involvement with the rest of the world. They do not interfere, they do not give aid, they do not conquer, and they do not wage war even though they are very good at it. Though they do have spies hidden all over the world, their position is that it’s all simply not their problem. They believe, and have pretty much always believed, that in order to preserve their society they must remain hidden and uninvolved with the rest of the world. Publically they present themselves as a third world farming nation with sovereign borders and a functioning monarchist government. They are often referred to as third world within the film and refuse all trade and aid from all countries. They pretty much want everyone to think they’re a poor nation of uneducated farmers that have so little value as a country both economically and in natural resources that no one would even take the time to try to invade, conquer, or even visit their lands.

wakanda airship
Wakanda is possibly the most technologically advanced country on Earth.

The key reason for Wakanda’s seclusion is best expressed with a quote from T’Challa’s best friend W’Kabi, played by Daniel Kaluuya (the guy from Get Out). “If we let them in, they’ll bring their problems with them,” he says to T’Challa when asked his opinion about opening their borders and sharing their knowledge with the world. This is not a new idea. It’s not even an original one. We are currently dealing with this very debate right now in reference to Syrian refugees, illegal immigrants from South America, Muslim influence in the West, and a host of other immigration issues around the world. In general, many if not most people believe that foreign influence changes the way a country or culture works and often don’t see that as being a good thing. This is even more apparent when the country in question sees itself as being vastly superior to the country the immigrants come from. It’s the reason our President says things like “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?,” in reference to countries with predominantly Black and Latino populations and favors predominantly White countries like Norway. And if the supportive responses to his comments are any indication, he is clearly not alone in that opinion. This makes even more sense when we’re talking about a country like Wakanda where other people of any race could offer them literally zero benefits technologically, “steal” their technological advancements for their own countries, and in the case of White people, from a historical standpoint, would absolutely attempt to screw up their system of government and racial hierarchy. And many Black people agree with this position coming from the Wakandans. When I was watching the film, I didn’t feel angry or unsympathetic to their position. I understood it completely and had to really struggle over whether or not their position was acceptable. As a Christian, I was raised that when you can help people you should. But as an African American with a minor in history, I was/am very reluctant to support the idea of the Black utopia being ruined, and yes that is the correct word here, by outside influence, especially that of White people. Just look at something small like the history of gentrification in the United States to understand why an African American might feel this way. And let’s also remember that there are no actual laws saying any country has to help any other country fix their problems. Especially when we’re talking about a country with no actual treaties in place. Though Wakanda does appear at United Nations talks both in Black Panther and Captain America 3: Civil War, it’s never clearly stated that they’re even a member of the UN coalition. They have zero obligations to help struggling Black people in other countries or anyone for that matter. It would be nice, of course speaking as an African American, if Wakanda chose to help Black people around the world, because I would stand to gain in a such a scenario. But that’s a clear bias that clouds my objective judgement of the situation or would if it was actually happening and I was for whatever reason asked to give my opinion on the issue. And I feel the feelings I’ve expressed on this specific issue make sense to most people of all colors and are shared by many Black people.

w'kabi
“If we let them in, they’ll bring their problems with them.” -W’Kabi

Killmonger’s position is the exact opposite of T’Challa and most of, but not all of, Wakanda. He speaks as the lowest of the low African American. He was born and raised in Oakland until the age of, I believe, nine when his father was murdered, by the Wakandan King and contemporary Black Panther. His mother isn’t actually mentioned in the film but it’s assumed that she was already dead. His position, which is of course formed by his experiences and education, both of which are well expressed in the film, is that White people have and continue to mistreat and oppress Black people all over the world and Wakanda’s refusal to use their superior resources to help Black people throw off the chains of these White oppressors makes them complicit in the continued subjugation of all Black people. He is the physical manifestation of what Black people refer to as “The Revolution”. This is a half joking, half serious ideal that one day all Black people will collectively organize, rise up, and overthrow White oppression through the most extreme and historically relevant measures. Essentially imagine if tomorrow all Black people as a homogenized group picked up the same detailed history book, read all the ways that White people had hurt Black people in the past physically, emotionally, socially, and economically and then reapplied those same practices back towards White people en masse. So basically that means murder, enslavement, denial of education, denial of rights, physical abuse, and if we’re going to be completely honest with ourselves about how people actually behave one has to admit that there would be a large presence of rape and sexual abuse as well. That’s not to say that I’m personally advocating for any of that behavior, and to be clear I’m not. But it’s foolish to pretend like in this revolutionary scenario that Black people would magically apply their form of oppression with some sort of higher moral standing than literally every other application of oppression in any region in the history of the world. If it happened, it would the same way. The only difference would be that Black people would justify the behavior by referencing historical occurrences of the same behaviors in order to dilute the issue from being a serious problem. Killmonger’s position is that the only way to fix the world is to conquer it with Wakandan resources and advanced weaponry and then rule the world with an iron fist that places Black people on top and Whites at the bottom. He’s not seeking or advocating for peace. He’s arguing for revenge. But again, he feels justified in this positon because of his own personal experiences growing up as a lower class African American and because of his knowledge of history. And just like when thinking about Wakanda’s choice to remain uninvolved, Black people as a whole can definitely sympathize with Killmonger’s position. That’s not to say that all, or even most, Blacks support his position as the correct way to approach this issue. It’s just to be honest in saying that we fully understand and have no problem considering this position as one of multiple possible ways to fix our problems as a race.

the revolution
“The Revolution”

This is why Black Panther is so hard to watch for Black people. It’s not a straight forward good and evil plot. Once Klaw dies, there’s no real villain. There are simply two opposing opinions, both of which are valid because they’re advocating to help/protect Black people. The only difference is which Black people fall under that umbrella of protection and what’s the best way to do that. And it’s important to note that even before Killmonger shows up, T’Challa and his girlfriend, and presumably the future queen of Wakanda, Nakia already felt an obligation to try to help Black people outside of Wakanda. They didn’t agree on how to do that, but they both agreed that because they could do something they needed to try to do something. So this film tasks the Black viewer with having to choose between preserving the Black utopia or possibly destroying it by trying to help Black people around the world. And it does this by creating a Black versus Black plot that pretty much removes White people from the equation because it’s never assumed that White people couldn’t easily be defeated. Just that war with them may or may not be the correct course of action. Even now I still can’t say with absolute certainty which side of the argument I would side with in a real life scenario. And I know that many people who aren’t Black will take offense to that statement. They will accuse me of supporting racism for not vehemently opposing Killmonger’s position, while totally ignoring the fact that they make the same decision every day by having voted for and continually supporting the current President and administration of the United States, advocating against public healthcare, and fighting to essentially cease all immigration, legal or otherwise if we’re really being honest, of non-Whites. It’s the exact same thing. The only difference is I’m discussing theoretical fantasy scenarios shown in a Disney movie (See what I did there?) and they’re literally advocating to destroy and/or ruin actual people’s lives every day. So no I don’t feel guilty about my fence sitting on this issue. And I can say that as a person who not only has many close White friends and colleagues, but also as someone whose father is a White immigrant to the United States. I of course did not get to benefit from that because of my complexion, but my mixed blood heritage does factor into my opinions on such issues, even though I have always, not always by choice, identified as Black.

ritual combat

Now ultimately the film climaxes with a split decision on the issue. Killmonger takes the throne and begins his plot for benevolent, for specifically Black people at the expense of Whites, world domination, after believing that he had killed T’Challa in ritual combat, as was his right as a member of the royal bloodline. T’Challa had actually lived and returns to retake the throne after an epic battle sequence and the death of his cousin, Killmonger, at his hands. And he takes no joy in that killing. He even tries to save Killmonger’s life, but he refuses help because he doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life in prison, stating that death is superior to bondage by referencing slaves that chose to jump off the slave ships in the Middle Passage rather than accept their lives as slaves. Also a very powerful scene. T’Challa’s response to this whole sequence of events and his deceased cousin’s worldview is to agree to tell the world about Wakandan technology and help improve life for Black people through peaceful aid and cultural diffusion. Now personally I didn’t like this ending because I felt like it was too soft because it’s a fence sitting position. But for a Disney film that exists as part of a much larger (and profitable), predominantly White franchise this ending absolutely made sense and I saw it coming a mile away once I knew for certain that T’Challa was going to get the throne back by the end of this movie. You can’t intentionally undercut your franchise target audience in order to make one really powerful film for a specific micro-audience within the market. That’s just bad business. I also think it’s fitting that like me, the two Black writers also were unable to make a hard decision in support of either side of the issue so they chose conclude the film on the fence as well.

black-panther-imdb-vote
The Black Panther IMDB public rating scores in the 1st 24 hours of release.

I personally think Disney’s decision to greenlight this plot was more calculated than many others might read into it. I think it’s intentional that the film is ultimately a Black versus Black narrative rather than a Black versus White one. In the latter scenario Black people would obviously be the hero and by extension win because the movie is called Black Panther after all. It would be odd if the character’s debut standalone film ended with him losing. Not to mention it would be a PR nightmare. But at the same time making a film about an evil White man trying to destroy Black culture and people only to be defeated and presumably killed in the end would not sit well with the White target audience the MCU is geared towards. This movie had PR problems from certain groups before it was even released. There was even a campaign to destroy its IMDB score on opening day. And this is with the film as a Black versus Black conflict as the central focus. A White main villain would have brought racists out of the woodwork calling the film an anti-White SJW pandering film with pro-immigration undertones. Disney isn’t stupid. They know exactly what they’re doing. They may not be able to stop 100% of blatant racists from trying to destroy the film but they can and did definitely take steps to ensure that the bulk of White viewers would see the film as mostly innocuous from their point of view, which it is. And because of the film’s lack of direct ties to the other MCU heroes and films, people don’t even technically need to see the film to keep track of the rest of the MCU. White people can completely ignore it with little to no consequences. Or they can watch it and see a film about Black people fighting other Black people, ultimately confirming their racial bias about Black communities being violent, disorganized, and self-afflicting. It’s a genius tactic that will ultimately work very well in the grand scheme of things. Black people get a hero and movie for themselves and White people are left unaffected by it. Yet for those who do watch it, they still get Martin Freeman essentially playing the same slapstick sidekick he portrays in Sherlock as a bit of inclusionary comic relief. Plus the presence of not one but two credited Black writers makes it all seem benevolent and inclusionary rather than calculated.

black-panther

It’s not as if Marvel/Disney doesn’t do traditional, straight forward good versus evil plots in the MCU. Iron Man 2, Thor 2, Guardians of the Galaxy 1, Captain America 1, Doctor Strange, and Avengers all have plots like this. It would have been very easy and justifiable to do it with Black Panther as well. The fact that they didn’t as the first film for the character says a lot, in my opinion. That’s why I truly believe that Black Panther was written the way it was intentionally and for PR reasons.

Ultimately Black Panther is an important film. It marks the first non-White featured hero in the MCU to get their own film as well as the first Black hero to get his own film since like Blade. And thankfully it doesn’t suck. But this was an easy film to get made and sell. Minorities of all colors have been waiting for a non-White focused MCU film since at least Iron Man 3. The film doesn’t directly attack White viewers either overtly or covertly. Whites and Blacks can both watch the film without changing their biases about Black people whether they’re racist viewers or not. What I’m truly curious about is what Black Panther 2, assuming there is one, will look like because eventually Black Panther will have to face a White main villain.

Thoughts?

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Star Wars Battlefront II: The People’s Rebellion on Gaming Rebellion

Since I reviewed the Star Wars Battlefront II beta, much shit has gone down with that game. So I wrote an extensive piece on the events and causes leading up to the troubled release which has supposedly led to EA’s stock value plummeting 3 billion dollars. It’s a long, but quite interesting read, if I do say so myself. Here’s the introduction:

stock down

 

I have been tasked with trying to summarize and discuss the controversy surrounding EA DICE’s most recent game, Star Wars Battlefront II. This is no small feat considering the layers upon layers of incidents that have taken place surrounding this game and EA in general around the same time. I enter this endeavor knowing full well that it is impossible to accurately summarize and address the many parts of the shit sandwich that this game has become. But I will do my best. I think the best way to go about this is to try to piece together some semblance of a timeline and discuss specific points of that timeline and why they were/are significant. Then to conclude with some general thoughts and possible predictions as a result of this mess. Here goes nothing.

You can read the rest right here. Please check out my Author’s Archive for other articles by me on Gaming Rebellion.

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As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Visceral Lames (Damn It EA)

I didn’t want to write this post. Honestly I was just going to let this event pass by without mentioning it on my blog. But as I’ve read more articles, talked to more people on Reddit, Twitter, and other forums, and thought about it more I decided I couldn’t just let this go without saying something.

I’m sure most of you are already aware, but in case you didn’t know Visceral Games was closed down by Electronic Arts last week. Visceral Games was the development studio responsible for a very eclectic collection of games including Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2000, Dante’s Inferno, Battlefield Hardline, and the Dead Space franchise. By no means was Visceral Games my favorite developer. I was not interested in most of their games. I did however love Dante’s Inferno and wish they had made a sequel. Even though I wasn’t a fan, they were a studio that I really respected. They were committed to making plot based liner storylines with a focus on interesting core gameplay that ties directly to the game’s narrative. This is the approach that I would like to see all developers take. Obviously not the ones who don’t make real games. I don’t expect EA Sports to deliver the next GOTY experience or anything. But for studios that are making games with plots and campaigns, whether single player, co-op, or shared world, I want to see narrative be the focus of development. I still remember reading an article discussing Visceral Games’ design principles for the first Dead Space. I was so impressed by their mission statement in approaching that game. I knew from the start that I wasn’t going to play it before seeing a single trailer, because it’s not my genre, but I absolutely respected and applauded the studio for the way they viewed and handled that project. EA disagrees with my sentiments about game development.

Dante's Inferno

Visceral Games was in the midst of making a plot focused, linear Star Wars action, adventure game. In other words, they were making exactly the type of game that true Star Wars game fans want to see made. Not some shitty never ending MMO. Not a time sink, loot box, pew pew extravaganza. They were making a proper narrative based Star Wars game tied directly to the lore of the current Star Wars film universe. EA decided that such a game was no longer worth making. In fact they basically implied that single player, plot based games in general are no longer worth making.

“Our Visceral studio has been developing an action-adventure title set in the Star Wars universe,” EA’s Patrick Söderlund said in a blog post. “In its current form, it was shaping up to be a story-based, linear adventure game. Throughout the development process, we have been testing the game concept with players, listening to the feedback about what and how they want to play, and closely tracking fundamental shifts in the marketplace. It has become clear that to deliver an experience that players will want to come back to and enjoy for a long time to come, we needed to pivot the design.”

-Pulled from an article on Kotaku

EA Kills SP

So in honest terms what Patrick Söderlund is saying is basically Visceral Games was making a video game that people wanted to play and then EA decided that because it wasn’t a Games as Service model that they could lace with loot boxes, open world multiplayer, and additional DLC with no real bearing on the plot, they decided to cancel it. This is a big problem. This is basically a declaration that from now on any game that doesn’t play like Star Wars Battlefront II, with its egregious loot box system and paltry 5 – 7 hour campaign, will no longer be made/published by EA. Furthermore, any studios that are trying to make standalone linear plot based games under EA will be shut down.

I don’t need to go into the ethics of this issue. I’m sure you’ve heard it all before about how single player campaigns literally built EA and the rest of the industry and that publishers choosing to blatantly discount the opinions of the consumers that funded the industry in order to trick kids into spending thousands of dollars on loot boxes is wrong. I don’t need to tell you not everyone wants to play crappy console MMOs with no real end game. Or that not everyone in the United States, much less the world, has a good enough internet connection to enjoy shared world games. You’ve heard all that before. I don’t even want to take the time to give one of my grandiose speeches about voting with your wallet and all that because clearly, just like with the United States Presidential Election, your vote doesn’t matter. If one person is going to spend $15,000 on Mass Effect 3 cards, why would EA ever consider the opinions of anyone other than MP addicted whales? $15,000 is 250 $60 vanilla game sales, not including tax. That $15,000 in loot boxes is tax free from the consumer side, meaning EA swallowed the whole amount. If any publisher only has to market to one 250th of the gaming population to turn a higher profit then of course they are not going to make the games the masses want to play anymore. Your lousy $60 and angry tweet is worth shit compared to that one guy who keeps shoveling in money like a gambling addict. I won’t be surprised if one day in the near future we see someone like Steve Wynn enter the gaming industry. It’s gotta be easier and more profitable than running a casino at this point. So there’s just no reason for me to give a rally cry for boycotting.

EA Slot Machine

 

What I think is more important to talk about is what this means for us as single player campaign gamers. I don’t mean that in the philosophical sense about how we’re essentially being pushed out of the industry that we bought and paid for with our hard earned money and that of our parents. I mean in a more literal sense let’s talk about what it means that EA isn’t making single player campaigns anymore today. Electronic Arts is a huge empire of a publisher. They currently own 33 operating development studios around the world. They’ve shut down 28 studios. They’ve almost got a negative studio success rate and it hasn’t affected their bottom line at all. But that’s not even the important part of the discussion. The problem here is all the single player IPs that EA owns the rights to that are now either dead in the water or destined to be bastardized into some shitty multiplayer, microtransaction experience with at best a shitty campaign of no substance. Let’s look at the list of just single player, plot focused games/franchises that I believe are important. I’m sure I’ll leave things out that you think should be included.

  1. Dragon Age
  2. Mass Effect
  3. Knight of the Old Republic and Star Wars in general
  4. Mirror’s Edge
  5. Medal of Honor
  6. James Bond
  7. Crysis
  8. Dead Space
  9. Dante’s Inferno
  10. Wing Commander
KOTOR 3
I used to have hope but now it’s finally gone.

That’s 10 franchises known for single player, plot based experiences. It does not include the many other games/franchises that have a multiplayer component that many people still purchase for the single player experience such as Battlefield, Need for Speed, and I’m going to include Rock Band, but I’m happy to remove it if that offends people. This doesn’t even include the various games they publish for third party developers such as Titanfall, Alice, Bullet Storm, Brutal Legend, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, and several others. Some of the greatest single player franchises ever made now belong to EA. That’s a sickening thought in the wake of this news. Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and KOTOR are three of the best Western RPG franchises money has ever been able to buy. Those are gone now. At worst they don’t exist anymore. At best they’re no longer the great story driven gameplay experiences they once were. Either way it’s a terrible prospect for long standing gamers like me. Add that to the fact that me choosing not to buy their shitty future games in protest won’t do anything and that’s a terrible reality to have to look forward to. If anything the best thing we can do is actually buy their games and not purchase any of the microtransactions to make a statement about the way we want to play and pay for games. But that still means giving EA money they don’t deserve and it still doesn’t deal with the greedy whale problem. At this point it’s not just a losing battle, it’s a lost battle. The cause is already defeated. I for one am very depressed by that and don’t actually know what to do moving forward as a traditional gamer of more than 20 years. All we can really do is hope other developers/publishers keep some form of integrity. Japanese studios seem to be better about this overall but even Nintendo has started pulling some real bullshit.

I thought it was appropriate to end this post with a list of single player, plot based games I plan on buying in the next six months.

the witcher 3
You can’t beat the best and we all know single player is the absolute best in gaming.
  1. The Witcher 3
  2. Nioh
  3. Horizon Zero Dawn
  4. The Surge
  5. Cuphead
  6. Assassin’s Creed Origins
  7. South Park: The Fractured But Whole
  8. God of War
  9. Knack II
  10. Yooka Laylee
  11. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
  12. Mario Odyssey
  13. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
  14. Shadow of War?

Are you as unhappy about this as I am? What single player games are you most worried about?

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As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.