Volatile Voyages: Sea of Thieves Review

During my neverending quest to play through all the titles on Xbox Game Pass that I can, I came across Sea of Thieves. My coworker buddy and I were both pumped for trying it out because who doesn’t want to be a pirate?

Side note: I really should ask him if I have permission to use his name here. But I keep forgetting/chickening out.

Now, I have never played Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, so Sea of Thieves was actually the first game I played that involved using a ship and sailing.

Nothing but excitement and anticipation filled my body as my coworker friend and I booted up and got ready to sail the seas.

And after several hours of adventure, mishaps, and extensive fishing, I know exactly what to say to people who ask me what Sea of Thieves is like.

It’s okay.

That’s it.

Sea of Thieves possesses a fairly shallow gameplay loop, so long-term replayability does not sit well with me. But those initial hours of exploring the world with a crew of your friends are undeniably fun and exciting.

The game starts off with a short tutorial that you must complete solo, but afterwards, you and three other friends can comprise a crew together. There are three different kinds of ships you and your friends can use: the Sloop, the Brigantine, and the Galleon.

Their layouts are similar, with most of the differences contingent on the increase or decrease in size between each. The Sloop is the smallest and can comfortably fit two players. The Galleon is the largest, and if two people tried to run that boat, they’re asking for trouble. Between running below decks to plug leaks and running back up to lower the anchor, every voyage would be a marathon.

Once you have a crew assembled, you can go on quests together, and one of Sea of Thieves’ problems is that these are all essentially fetch quests.

There are three types of quests available at the time of this writing. You can either receive a map of an island with some buried treasure to dig up and deliver to somebody, a bounty on some evil skeletons that you have to defeat in combat and deliver their skulls to somebody else, or a commission to transport goods from one person to another.

As you can see, a game comprised entirely of this can get fatiguing as you shuttle back and forth as a glorified deliveryman.

There are a few events scattered throughout the world, and I assume these are updated regularly, but they’re still pretty much the same. Fight off bad guys, take their loot, and deliver it.

On the bright side, your pirate is fully customizable. You can purchase different skins for your equipment, weapons, instruments, and more.

Sailing your ship is honestly the most exciting aspect of Sea of Thieves. It looks and feels like what I would imagine sailing an actual ship would look and feel like.

And the water.

My god.

I have never seen an ocean look so good in a video game. The waves pushing past your ship are so enticing, it makes you want to jump overboard just to be closer to them. Graphically, the sea is absolutely stunning.

One person can manage to sail around in Sea of Thieves, but it’s far easier and more enjoyable with at least two. You can take turns standing by the helm, adjusting the sails to catch the breeze, perching in the crow’s nest to keep an eye out for ships, examining the map below decks, or playing your hurdy-gurdy non-stop to maintain some mood music.

Side note: Oh, yeah. Sea of Thieves lets you play music on instruments you just have in your equipment wheel. When you and other players pull out the instrument of your choice and start playing, the music automatically harmonizes.

While sailing the expansive ocean, you’ll notice that the atmosphere changes depending on what portion of the sea you’re sailing on. For example, one area features sparkling sea-green water, with relatively clear skies, while another area to the south contains choppy, grey waters with stormy skies almost constantly. It’s a cool way to keep the generally static environment of an ocean feeling fresh.

While you’re sailing from point A to point B, several things can happen that shoot some excitement into an otherwise relaxing endeavor. Other player ships can appear on the horizon, causing the two crews to wonder if you’ll attack each other or just sail right by, ignoring each other. There are also monstrous sea beasts, like a giant shark and a kraken, that can attack your ship. These creatures are cued by threatening music, and the kraken is usually heralded by a sudden staining of the ocean from blue to utter black.

Peppered across the sea are small islands, and it’s here that you can pick up items, find those skeletons for your bounties, and dig up treasure. Though the occasional fortress or odd cave might differentiate these islands from each other, they feel largely similar. The activities you can do on each island are also the same. You can fish, fight, dig, or collect small animals that inhabit these lonely specks in an interminable ocean.

Sea of Thieves’ biggest flaw is its complete lack of an end goal. The only end goal I can see deriving from Sea of Thieves is earning enough money to pay for your favorite paint jobs. That’s it. And if customization is a game’s sole objective instead of just a side perk, you’re going to have a tough time drawing in and keeping players invested. There is no demonstrable story to find, and your character’s skills cannot be upgraded. Personally, aside from unlocking every parrot-themed skin I can find, there is nothing else for me to really work toward.

That’s not to say I haven’t had a great time playing Sea of Thieves. My coworker friend and I have had some outrageously hilarious adventures of our own making while playing the game.

Our most disastrous outing was also one of our first. We decided to take up a contract to deliver some chickens to an outpost. After receiving the chicken coops needed to carry these birds, we set out on a search of various islands for the specific type of chicken we needed.

It took us ages. We had terrible luck finding an island that sported chickens on its shores. Pigs and snakes must have bred like bunnies; they were everywhere.

Finally, we found an island with some chickens, and after a bit of finagling, we got two of them into our coops. We brought them on board and set sail for the outpost.

However, while we were sailing there, this mighty storm appeared over our heads. The waves became gargantuan slopes in front of us, rain poured down in sheets, and thunder sounded every few seconds.

The storm tossing us around actually caused damage to our ship, springing enough holes in our boat that our bottom deck got flooded. In an effort to save the chickens from drowning, I brought them above decks, near the mast. I went below decks to start bucketing water out of it and to try patching up some of the leaks. In the meantime, my coworker friend was struggling to control the helm and make sense of our spinning compass.

During one of my trips up to dump out water, lightning struck the ship and sent me flying out into the ocean. My friend immediately dropped anchor and was able to guide me back on board.

When I climbed back up, the two of us could only see smoking drumsticks in the chicken coops by the mast.

Apparently, the lightning struck and cooked our chickens.

At this point, we’d left the ship leaks so neglected as we stared forlornly at these edible remains that our Sloop slowly sank.

With our ship scuttled, we got a new one and tried to start another delivery quest. Almost as soon as we set out on that mission, a Kraken attacked our vessel, killing me and destroying this second ship as well.

We haven’t had a wild time like that in a bit; we have instead chosen to focus on fishing. I have my eye set on a parrot-themed fishing pole, and the only way to get it is to fish and deliver “pondies” to an NPC.

It’s quite relaxing, and we don’t get sent to Davy Jones’ locker as often as we used to.

I don’t want to turn anyone away from playing Sea of Thieves because it is a fun experience in those first few hours. However, don’t expect this to transform into a game you frequently return to unless they add more content.

I rate Sea of Thieves a pirate-adventure-that-loses-charm-over-time-but-can-set-your-heart-to-sailing-with-a-mesmerizing-sea-and-a-recipe-for-good-fun-with-friends.

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Life Update #9: The Arrival of Harvey

It’s been a long time (a really long time) since I wrote a Life Update post. If I’m being honest with you, I actually kind of forgot about them.

Why?

Well, a pandemic happened, and it’s like my life just stopped updating.

However, I’m here to let you know about the next chapter in a perhaps forgotten saga.

Long-time followers of the blog will recall that I made friends with a daddy long-legs that lived in my bookcase. I named him Hardcore Henry, and he ended up dying a sad death. However, he had successors, so my bookcase was never unoccupied.

This particular update is to let you know about a new acquaintance I made about a week ago.

Get yourselves ready, folks. You’re about to meet Harvey.

The boyfriend and I were sleeping in bed. It was around 6 or 7 in the morning. We were nestled in a bunch of blankets, the majority of which I was admittedly hogging. The weight of the blankets and the proximity of the boyfriend was making me almost uncomfortably warm. He did not seem to notice or care, but my raised body temperature woke me up.

I shifted around, in a state between wakefulness and sleep, possessing moderate awareness that maybe I should remove a blanket or two. As I thought this, the heater turned on, and I slid into a sharper state of being awake based purely on my growing irritation at what would be an inevitable increase in warmth thanks to the ill-timed heater.

That’s when I heard a metallic skittering far above my head, right where the air conditioning vent was on my bedroom wall. Before I could even consider that this noise might mean something was wrong with the heater, something smacked into the side of my head. I jolted awake, the innate panic of an unknown being near my face dispelling any sleepiness I had.

At first, I thought the heater had just blown out some strange gunk from the vent, and that was what had shot onto my hair. But as my fingers probed through the tangle of my bedhead, and I touched something hard and brittle, I realized that was not the case.

Especially after whatever it was moved.

In disgusted alarm, I started to swat at my hair in quick flicking motions. And that’s when the cockroach that had fallen on my head got swiped off, plopping right onto the blanket covering my boyfriend’s chest.

Side note: The boyfriend sometimes sleeps on his back. He’s really talented this way, and I’ve been a bit jealous of this ability he possesses. However, after these events, I’m not so envious. I mean, if I had been sleeping on my back during this moment, that cockroach could have landed right between my eyes. Or worse…in my mouth.

“Danny, cockroach.”

That’s all I uttered in a short, raised tone of voice. He was instantly awake, but by that time, I had already grabbed the blanket and swept it off our bodies. Our huge pile of blankets rested on the floor, and we spent a few shocked moments staring at them.

Inaction was never an option, so I retrieved a shoe for my boyfriend, he positioned himself by the blankets, and I readied my nerves for shaking out each one individually.

Of course, the cockroach was equally ready for us, and as soon as it fell from the sheets, it scuttled under my dresser more quickly than lightning strikes a rod.

During the days after this event, as I planned to write about it for my next blog post, I imagined describing to all of you what it was like living with a cockroach somewhere in your bedroom, a mysterious and rude guest you never wanted. I told myself I would name him Harvey, and I delighted myself with coming up with ambiguous endings for his story.

I even had a Hardcore Henry versus Harvey comparison post in the works.

But shortly before the boyfriend left to go back home, Harvey made one final appearance near Danny’s suitcase. Subsequently, Harvey was murdered, courtesy of my Converse and Danny’s quick reflexes.

So that’s the end of Harvey, but before I go, I just want to assure you Above Average readers that I live in a very clean house. I have no idea what Harvey thought he was doing coming into it the way he did. I also want you all to know that I will forever keep you updated on any more visitors that make their way into my life. I don’t know if that’s what my Life Updates will be from now on or not.

But given the way life is currently going, Harvey actually felt like a weird highlight.

Froley’s Shower Routine: An Epic

The showerhead spouts forth its stream,
A dusty young cockatiel’s dream,
And as mild heat fills the room
Filth knows it meets its doom.
Sprightly bird paces along curtain rod,
Asking for a bath with a bob and a nod.
He steps onto finger, outstretched wings,
But will only bathe when I start to sing
“Little April Shower,” a happy tune
That hums of raindrops coming soon
And encourages plump Froley
To begin to dip and roll; he
Tries to catch the water’s spray
And clean collected dust away.
A stanky smell wafts from his feathers
But I know he feels better
After boldly flapping through this shower
With all his might and strength and power.
Thus with the watering’s end,
Froley with his regards did send
A slick, wet poop to the floor
To conclude his cleaning forevermore.

The Trouble With Tenet: Tenet Review

The pandemic has thoroughly wrecked my usual form of movie entertainment. Before going into lockdown in March, one of my favorite things to do was call up a few friends and go see the latest movies at our local theater.

Yeah, that’s been out the window for a while now.

When Tenet was announced to be releasing in theaters, I possessed mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I was thrilled at the notion of a Christopher Nolan movie premiering at theaters. A Nolan film is typically a fantastic thing to see on the big screen, an absolute must-watch of the movie season.

On the other hand, none of my local theaters were reopening anytime soon and even if they did, my stress levels and concern for my health would prevent me from seeing Tenet in them. So the news of its release also brought about its fair share of disappointment.

However, my spirits were raised thanks to my boyfriend suggesting we rent it on Redbox when it came out there, and we’d watch it together, make it a movie-date-night kind of thing safe from home.

I love my boyfriend, I love Christopher Nolan movies, and I love watching Christopher Nolan movies with my boyfriend. Sounded like a recipe for a pleasant evening.

As I waited for the day when Tenet released, I refused to read any reviews about the movie. However, one day, I caved and read some of the comments below an ad for the movie while scrolling through Instagram. (I should know better than to read the comments section by now.) Most of these strangers who took the time to type up a response on this ad were complaining about Tenet, saying it was just too confusing.

Now, I’d seen both Inception and Interstellar, so I scoffed at these remarks, knowing I could handle any complex plot Christopher Nolan could throw at me.

Boy, was I wrong.

I can now personally attest to the messy tangle of Tenet’s plot. The movie is basically a clever concept poorly executed and explained in a terrible fashion.

Normally, whenever I review a movie, I’ll provide a brief synopsis of the film, giving you a chance to learn about the story if you haven’t seen it yet.

Tenet’s story is so complicated, I actually leaned back in my chair while writing the outline for this post, absolutely stumped on how to go about explaining it.

Essentially, a man gets hired by a group (I think) to stop a time war that is about to happen thanks to another unknown group from the future (I think) sending items that can go back in time (I think) to the present in order to start or end this war (I think).

This is kind of conjecture, and I’ve seen the movie.

Tenet goes beyond Inception when it comes to how complicated the plot and story mechanics are. In Inception, rules were laid out for moviegoers to follow, and you could visually understand certain aspects about moving through a person’s dreams thanks to the power of filmmaking.

The character of Arthur from Inception spends a lot of time explaining to Ariadne, a newcomer to the dream-thief business, how things work in the dream world. As he explains things to her, he is explaining them to us. Having a rookie character in a story can help you as a storyteller more easily explain complex notions to people. They learn as your character learn.

And the film itself visually showcases how things going on in the real world can affect things in the dream world. It does so in small bursts, such as when a character needs a kick to get out of a dream, and they get jolted awake in the real world. However, Inception also showcases these moments in stunning visual displays, such as when Arthur must fight in a hotel hallway while in the dream level above him there is zero gravity.

Tenet has a barebones moment where “time traveling” is explained, but the notion is so beyond comprehension, it’s not enough to swallow the later events of the movie.

The main character of Tenet, imaginatively named Protagonist (no, I’m not joking), is shown an “inverted” object. It’s a thing that moves backward through time. For example, an inverted bullet gets fired back into a gun and an inverted ball leaps back into your hand.

Right off the bat, I can’t wrap my head around how this works. Protagonist implies it’s half thought, half physical action that makes this happen. But showing me Protagonist as he fires a gun that sucks a bullet back up does not explain to me how it works.

And that is the simplest example of going-backwards-in-time that the film shows you. Once fistfights, car chases, and murders start happening in reverse time, it gets even harder to understand the mechanics of this time travel.

And it didn’t help that when things are explained, they’re using words like “inverted entropy.” The whole movie requires captions to be turned on (which my boyfriend considers a cardinal sin when watching a film that is meant to be viewed without words scrolling across the bottom).

Aside from the convoluted mechanics of inverted time, Tenet also suffers from one glaring issue: it has no heart.

Nolan has covered mind-bending concepts in his films before, from faulty memory in Memento to dream-incepting in Inception. But one thing you could always count on in these past films was a strong emotional connection to the main character. Leonard Shelby was driven by an urge to seek revenge for the murder of his wife. Dominick Cobb is desperate to clear his name so he can see his children again. Interstellar’s entire story is practically driven by Cooper’s love for his daughter.

Tenet is missing that emotional thread that kept us invested in the intellectual twists and turns of Nolan’s other films. Protagonist is a bad-ass, but he’s a blank slate. I relate more to John Wick for his love of his puppy than I do to Protagonist.

Sure, we know Protagonist is a good guy. He’s working to save the world and its future after all. But he is missing that emotional element that would keep me rooting for him aside from a general interest in the survival of humanity.

Side note: Jeez, I sound like an uncaring person, but I hope you guys know what I mean.

Tenet is an intriguing film to watch, definitely one that’ll keep you thinking the entire time, but it is difficult to comprehend and connect to the protagonist’s journey on several layers.

I rate Tenet an avoid-if-you-don’t-want-to-spend-hours-watching-explanation-videos-afterwards-and-if-you-don’t-like-subtitles-because-man-this-movie-requires-you-to-have-them-on.

Rock and Stone! Deep Rock Galactic Review

Owning Xbox Game Pass is a lot like owning Netflix. There are so many cool games I want to check out, I spend more time scrolling through the game library planning what I’ll play next than I do actually buckling down and settling in with a title.

However, that’s not to say I haven’t taken a bite out of the selection available to me. As you guys might remember, I work for a site called TheGamer. I wrote about this ages ago, and since that first post, I’ve climbed through the ranks and become an editor! It’s super cool.

Anyways, I’ve had the incredible pleasure of making friend with several of my fellow editors, and one of them in particular has embarked on this journey with me of combing through fun online co-op titles available on Xbox Game Pass.

One of the first games that called our attention was Deep Rock Galactic. The tagline for the game (“Danger. Darkness. Dwarves.”) is the kind of tagline that just makes you think, “Okay, now this, I’ve got to check out.”

After weeks of playing it, I can say that Deep Rock Galactic does in fact give you danger, darkness, and dwarves, and that it promises straightforward mining fun that leans on cooperative play and indulges in a great sense of humor.

Your Dwarf works for Deep Rock Galactic, a mining company that operates in the far reaches of space. Your new job entails dropping onto a planet called Hoxxes IV and retrieving precious ores in its most dangerous caverns. These caves are crawling with dangerous bug-creatures and riddled with devious environmental hazards.

When launching into a game of Deep Rock Galactic, you start off on a rig in orbit around Hoxxes IV. It is here that you can customize your Dwarf and upgrade their gear. It’s also a nice little hub where you and three other players can just chill out before dropping into a mission.

There are four types of Dwarves you can play as: the Gunner, the Driller, the Scout, and the Engineer. The Gunner is more heavily equipped with weaponry to keep off the hordes of bugs that can attack your group. The Driller has an item that allows them to quickly and easily drill through rock and stone. The Scout focuses on mobility, coming complete with a grappling gun that allows them to travel from one place to another with incredible speed. The Engineer possesses two sentry guns that they can set up wherever it’s most useful.

Every Dwarf uses flares to light up the darkness, a pickaxe to mine for those minerals, and a basic gun to protect themselves in addition to the specialty items they can carry.

Once you’ve tricked out your Dwarves on the rig, you can descend to Hoxxes IV for more adrenaline-inducing fare. There are several mission types, but most of them are basic mine-for-this-ore-until-you-have-this-much assignments. Don’t let this basic gameplay loop fool you though. There is a lot of fun to be had in working together to set up a pipeline, retrieve bug eggs, or mine for a hard-to-see metal.

And every mission is tied up neatly with a mad dash back to an escape pod after you complete your objective.

Now, one of the only cons I can say for Deep Rock Galactic is that the environments tend to blend in after a while. Hazards in a specific area might be unique, but there is a similar quality to every map that is inescapable. However, the joy of playing with your friends completely obscures the repetitive nature of each excursion. Every outing is an adventure, and though I’m going through the same motions every time I go on a mission, I have yet to get tired of it.

I enjoy playing as the Scout, and my coworker friend has rocked nothing but the Engineer since we started playing. It makes for a decent combination of skills as I can zoom in and out of a bad situation and he can provide a solid bastion of support with his sentries.

We’ve had hours of fun simply goofing off on the rig before going on a mission. There’s a jukebox and a bar area where you can drink and dance to your heart’s content, and I’m not too embarrassed to say we’ve spent decent chunks of time just grooving and kicking barrels before diving into a mission.

Side note: I’ve also taken to screaming “Rock and Stone” in an abysmal accent. I’ve also started singing “Diggy Diggy Hole” whenever I swing my pickaxe.

Deep Rock Galactic is a diamond of a game that I feel has gone mostly unnoticed. It is delightful, and it vacillates between hilarious downtime to pulse-pounding sprints for safety. These adrenaline moments are lightly peppered throughout the game, so if you mostly want a chill type of game, don’t turn away from Deep Rock Galactic.

I rate Deep Rock Galactic a game-worthy-of-your-time-that-will-make-you-shout-rock-and-stone-more-times-than-strictly-necessary.

D&Ding Online

The pandemic is still affecting our lives in dramatic ways, and it sucks to think that many of us are approaching the one-year mark of social distancing and quarantining and mask-wearing.

If you do anything long enough, you kind of get used to it, but not being able to see my friends in person is something I don’t want to get used to. Smart social distancing means that I haven’t hung out with any of my friends, including my Dungeons & Dragons group, since March of last year.

My D&D buddies and I used to meet up once a week, every Sunday, to play about six-hour long sessions of adventuring. We’d all gather around a table with carefully drawn diagrams on graph paper, miniature figurines denoting our characters placed on the paper, and role-play and roll dice to our hearts’ content.

2020 changed that set-up. We use online spaces to keep the game going, and it’s functioned fairly well for us.

We use Discord for all our audio needs. We have a private server run by our DM extraordinaire, and we still log on every Sunday to chat and play. We even use Discord to watch movies together-apart. We’ll pick something to watch on Netflix (a streaming service we all have), then press play at the same time.

Side note: And, of course, we’ve also played Among Us together using Discord. I’m a terrible liar, but it turns out I’m also a terrible truther. I have yet to play as Impostor, but no one ever believes me when I say I’m innocent. I have the voice of a guilty person. It majorly sucks, and I’m thinking the next time I play, I’ll speak in a monotone the entire time.

To make up for not having an actual tabletop, we use Roll20, a site that specifically caters to those playing D&D games online. We can recreate graph spaces for our characters to move around in, and Roll20 even comes complete with online dice to use. Most of us still prefer to use our real dice anyways, though.

Playing Dungeons & Dragons online serves its purpose, but it does not feel as great as playing in person. Internet connection issues can wreck a session. RPing through a computer is not nearly as entertaining as doing it face-to-face. (Plus, if you’re speaking as a brutish half-orc into your computer and people in your household happen to be around, crippling embarrassment can detract from your performance. Yes, I’m saying this from experience.)

Personally, I also dislike playing D&D online because it ties me to my laptop for another six hours. Since I work from home, I spend a lot of time on my computer. A lot. And even though D&D can be an enjoyable pastime, when it keeps me glued to this computer, it starts to share that work vibe.

Don’t get me wrong. I’d rather play D&D online than not play D&D at all. Playing online during the pandemic is like using a crutch to walk when you have a limp. The crutch helps you get from point A to point B; you need the crutch. But that wouldn’t stop you from wishing the limp would go away so you could just walk like you normally do.

It’s just not the same.

Who Watched the Watchmen?

I schedule my posts in advance, so I get a nice overview of what my published pieces will look like as they roll out. And I’ve got to say, I’ve been focusing a lot on the Movie/TV category lately. Sorry about that if you stick around for the book stuff or the video game stuff. People told me I should have the blog revolve around a specific thing instead of just going all over the place, but can I help it that I like movies, books, and video games almost equally?!

Anyways, today I thought I’d talk about Watchmen.

It is by far my all-time favorite graphic novel. I first read it when I was way too young for the content, and I remember purchasing the copy almost clandestinely. I don’t think my parents realized how mature comic books could be. I was around seven or eight years old when my dad handed The Sandman to me (which he had received from a friend who did not know my dad wasn’t into comics). And that graphic novel contains some of the most rated-R scenes I’ve ever seen. People stabbed their own eyes out, engaged in a sexual romp with more than four people participating, and admitted to necrophilia, all in one issue.

Anyways, Watchmen appealed to me for multiple reasons, not just because it felt like forbidden fruit. Even at a young age, I could tell that this story was game-changing. It deconstructed super hero tropes while simultaneously telling a gripping tale about the kinds of psyches that would have to participate in such caped crusades.

Side note: I wrote my college thesis on Watchmen’s deconstruction of these tropes and how it features multiple binary oppositions to do so.

When the Zack Snyder film came out in 2009, it was me and six other guys in the theater for the midnight premiere. It was the least-packed premiere I’ve ever particpated in, but you’ve got to appreciate the one man who came into the theater with a “The End Is Nigh” sign.

I enjoyed the movie, but my enjoyment largely came from the fact that the film was practically a frame-by-frame reconstruction of the graphic novel (with a few massive changes due to moviegoer considerations). This movie tiptoed around the original source material, a copy too afraid to alter what wasn’t broken.

In 2019, HBO released a TV series based on the graphic novel as well. It was not a recreation of the story like the 2009 film, but instead would be a continuation of the story, set in the same universe as the events of the comic. When I first heard about it, I was steeped in doubt, yet excitement still brewed within me.

And I’m happy to report that the HBO series exceeded my expectations, doing Watchmen, and what it set out to accomplish, proud.

Written by Damon Lindelof, this new series clearly grasps what Alan Moore did with the original work. Lindelof understands the spirit of Watchmen, perhaps more fully than Snyder. Lindelof took bold risks with the direction of the story, but these risks paid off because instead of telling yet another kick-ass superhero tale, he used the plot to deconstruct these tropes, along with several societal evils.

The original Watchmen spent just as much time pulling the curtain down on superheroes as it did exposing societal mores that are no longer relevant (or are too widely accepted despite being an ill that plagues human connection). Alan Moore focused on the terrors of Reaganism and the fallacies of that era. The HBO series centralizes on a more current cultural context, focusing on racial violence. It exposes this societal evil that still plagues the world today, and leaves viewers with a message that is not easily forgotten by the time the final episode concludes.

Now, this isn’t going to be a show I summarize or spoil. I’ve noticed a pattern in my posts; if I truly love a movie beyond just a normal appreciation, I’m more reluctant to detail the plot as I want you to watch it with fresh eyes.

So the most I want to tell you guys about the HBO Watchmen series is that there was nothing I didn’t like about it. I am almost inexpressibly pleased with it.

I think it’s a shame (an understandable one, but a shame nonetheless) that Alan Moore no longer expresses an interest in adaptations of his work. He has been burned many times by people butchering his graphic novels, turning complex and challenging stories into flashy pop fiction. But Lindelof has shown that he knows what made the original Watchmen tick.

I rate HBO’s Watchmen a jaw-dropping-series-that-captured-everything-I-loved-about-the-original-graphic-novel-and-turned-it-into-a-telling-deconstruction-of-our-times-that-will-stay-with-me-forever.

The Meaning of Life: Soul Review

I watched two movies this past Christmas, both of which released that very day directly to audiences at home. One of them was Wonder Woman 1984. After my last post, we both know how that turned out. The other was Soul.

And I just want to say how lucky I was that I chose to watch Soul after Wonder Woman 1984. There was no bitter taste left in my movie-watching mouth when I went to bed that night, all thanks to Pixar’s latest film.

Soul is a delightful movie that shares a great message, a message that I didn’t see coming until quite a ways through the story. (And I freakin’ loved that.)

Joe Gardner is a jazz pianist who finally catches a break when he signs up to do a gig with a famed saxophonist. Unfortunately for him, almost as soon as he finds out he got the job, he suffers a near-death experience. When he “wakes up,” he finds himself approaching the light.

Refusing to accept this fate, Joe leaps away from the Great Beyond and ends up in a place termed the Great Before. It’s a place where souls congregate before going down to Earth to inhabit newborn bodies. Desperate to make his way back to his comatose body on Earth, Joe learns he needs something called an Earth pass to make the dive.

He agrees to mentor Soul 22, a soul that has just refused to gain her Earth pass because she does not want to go through the trials and tribulations of being alive. They enter into an arrangement where Soul 22 will find her “Spark,” thus gaining her Earth pass, and then give it to Joe so he can return to his body.

That’s the basic premise, and it’s such a fascinating concept all on its own. But Soul does not rely solely on the premise to hook viewers. It follows through with a touching story about what it means to be alive.

I don’t want to spoil the movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, so I highly recommend that if you haven’t seen Soul, stop reading right now. I refuse to go further into plot, but I do want to talk about the major theme of the film.

See, Joe believes that he was born to play jazz piano. He loves it more than practically anything. When he learns about Sparks, he ties that to someone’s purpose in life. He knows without a shadow of a doubt that piano-playing is his spark, his reason for being alive.

However, as Soul goes on to show us, Joe really is missing the whole point of being alive.

Soul does for living what Inside Out did for emotions. Inside Out’s major revelation showcased that Sadness is a vital emotion when it comes to expressing empathy or seeking help from other human beings. It slowly built this point up over the course of the story, showing how Riley was not getting the help she needed because Sadness was not allowed to take the reins for a time.

Soul reveals to us that there is no materialistic or purpose-driven Spark that readies a soul for life on Earth. All it takes is a passion for the joys of living and an appreciation for the sensations you can only experience by being alive. You don’t need to be a skilled pianist or a talented sports player to justify your existence.

And I have to admit, I didn’t see this message coming, even though after a second viewing, I could see the moments where it was readily apparent. I kept waiting for the reveal of what Soul 22’s Spark was going to be. Would it be teaching? Would it be as simple as communicating with other people? I was ignorant of where the story was leading me until a character outright told me about the silliness of getting hung up on “purposes.”

It’s a hefty concept, and I’ve heard more than one person say that Soul is not a movie meant for kids. Personally, I think those people underestimate the kinds of themes a kid can handle. (Though I do think a kid might find Soul an ounce more boring than, let’s say, The Incredibles.)

I rate Soul a balm-for-the-soul-especially-when-you-have-the-tendency-to-question-why-you’re-alive-and-what’s-your-purpose-in-existing.

The Wonder Is Gone: Wonder Woman 1984 Review

For those who have been with me for a long time, you probably know I’m…lenient when it comes to reviewing movies. I have loved some notoriously bad movies. And I’m not even talking about bad-on-purpose movies like Mortal Kombat.

I liked The Rise of Skywalker, if that tells you anything.

But every so often, a movie just…irritates me. And for anybody who knows me, you know that a movie has to make some egregious mistakes for me to start getting annoyed.

The first Wonder Woman movie is by no means bad. It’s fantastic, actually. I really enjoyed it. Even praised a particular moment in a single post. To say my hopes were high for Wonder Woman 1984 would be an understatement.

Which is maybe where all my dissatisfaction with the film stems from.

Wonder Woman 1984 is a letdown, mired in terrible story elements and plot holes, while simultaneously tantalizing viewers with the wonder that might have been.

Spoiler Warning!

Brief Synopsis (In Which I Might Sound Irked)

After the events of the first film, it’s clear that Diana Prince still pines for Steve Trevor. Never mind the fact that she met him for about a week in 1918 and more than fifty years have passed since then. She has never let go of her feelings for him, as indicated by this ham-fisted scene where the gorgeous Diana dines alone at a restaurant.

Diana is introduced to Barbara Minerva, a coworker who works specifically with gems. Barbara is an awkward woman who speaks rapidly and is clearly in awe of Diana’s grace and beauty.

Barbara works with this specific gem/stone/artifact that turns out to be a wishing stone. That’s right, you heard me correctly. A wishing stone. Barbara inadvertently wishes to be like Diana, and when Diana briefly holds the stone, she wishes for Steve to come back.

We are then introduced to this guy named Max Lord, who is aware of the stone’s powers and wishes to possess it. He gets ahold of it by cozying up to Barbara, then wishes that he could be the stone. The stone disappears and Max Lord now has the power to grant people’s wishes.

However, the wishes come with a price, and everyone who has made a wish (by the stone or by Max Lord) needs to pay, be it unintended bodily consequences or ambiguous moral depravity.

Diana and the newly resurrected Steve Trevor (who is in another person’s body) have to find a way to resolve things, and they figure out the solution is to have everyone renounce their wishes.

The end.

I rushed through that synopsis. My bad. But I’m mainly here to cite my grievances.

Shall we get started?

That Beginning Flashback

At the beginning of the movie, there is this flashback to Diana’s childhood on Themyscira. Some Amazonian Olympic-games event is happening, and young Diana is eager to participate and win. She cheats a bit toward the end and is caught, and the moral of this flashback is to not lie.

Looking back, I can’t even see the purpose of this flashback. I suppose that since the climax of the movie is when Wonder Woman uses her Lasso of Truth to convince Max Lord to renounce his own wish, whoever wrote the movie thought a flashback about her cheating in her youth would tie in with her getting someone else to see the truth of a situation.

But even as I type this, it feels like such a tangential connection. If that flashback had been removed from the movie, the story would not have been affected at all.

Barbara And Diana’s “Friendship”

Of all the aspects that intrigued me the most from the trailer of Wonder Woman 1984, the relationship between Barbara Minerva and Wonder Woman was at the top of the list.

If you’ve read the comics, you know that Barbara becomes the villain Cheetah, and her history with Diana is actually tragic and interesting. I was looking forward to seeing how that would be iterated onscreen.

Terribly, was the answer I got.

Barbara and Diana do not seem to spend any meaningful time together. At times, it feels like Diana is only hanging out with Barbara to learn more about the wishing stone. It never feels like she cares about her. And who can blame her, I suppose. Their “friendship” encompassed one meal shared together.

And to make things suckier, we as viewers are introduced to this early dinner by a quick cut to Diana laughing and saying “I don’t think I’ve laughed this much in a while” or some such shit like that, which is the laziest way to indicate that two characters are getting along.

Like…just show me them getting along. Show me Barbara telling Diana the thing that made her laugh so much. Show, don’t tell. Writing 101.

Steve Body-Snatching Someone

So, remember how Diana wished on the stone that Steve would come back to her?

He did come back, in a way.

Except he comes back in the body of another man.

And I don’t know why this happens.

So, initially, I thought that was the price Diana had to pay for getting Steve back. The two of them would have to confront the fact that they have effectively erased the consciousness of the man who originally inhabited the body, and Diana would have to confront how selfish she wants to be, keeping her long-lost love in a body that wasn’t his.

But then, it’s revealed that the price for Diana getting Steve back was that she lost some of her powers.

Which means some guy losing his body for days is not part of the wishing stone’s consequences.

Fuck that.

Is this movie telling me that the stone can make nuclear warheads appear where there were none, make walls rise from the earth that span miles, subvert a person’s will to someone else’s, but it can’t recreate a dead Steve’s body?

Fuck. That.

Plus, it is heavily implied in the film that Diana and Steve-Who-Is-Not-In-Steve’s-Body have sex with each other. Which basically means that the guy whose body got stolen had no say in the matter. Which essentially means he was raped.

What Are the Rules for Wishing Anyways?

The exact rules for wishing are never explained, so things that are wished for can just happen, no matter how strange or nonsensical.

At first, you might think it’s simple enough. You hold the stone and say a wish out loud. But Diana never actually spoke what her wish was. She just wished it in her head and it came true.

And then toward the end of the movie, after Max Lord has become the stone, it’s revealed the the definition of “touching” the stone is wider than the Grand Canyon. (I don’t know about you, but I never thought that watching television counts as me touching whoever is on the screen.)

The movie plays it so loosey-goosey with these magic rules, and I loathe magic that isn’t explained properly.

Diana’s Invisibility Powers

Oh, yeah, Wonder Woman can turn things invisible now. When she and Steve are trying to locate Max Lord, they steal an airplane together. They get noticed by authorities, so Diana just busts out this newfound power that we never knew she had. Turns the whole plane invisible.

And then they see a pretty fireworks display, which I don’t think they should have flown right through.

Diana’s Decrease in Power

After wishing for Steve, Diana suffers a small decrease in her normal power levels. However, this feels wildly inconsistent with what we’re shown. She can flip a car over and lasso bullets out of the air without any trouble or scratch on her, but she starts getting cuts and abrasions from punches and stuff.

Plus, something about her movements in this movie seem…off. I can’t put my finger on it, but it feels like her body does not move the way it should given her motions and the motions of the world around her.

Max Lord Broadcasts Wishes

Back to the stupidity of the wishes.

Max Lord visits this top-secret government broadcasting station because he wants to gain as much access to the population of the globe as he can. He’s not satisfied with giving people wishes (and naming their consequences) one at a time as they grip his hands.

And the reason this method is viable as a source of wish-giving is because those broadcasting signals contain particles that touch the people watching.

Yeah, no.

Just no.

If you show me Max Lord grabbing the hands of people he wants to give wishes to for hours and then expect me to believe that him on a TV screen will accomplish the same thing, I’m going to have a little trouble believing it.

Worldly Repercussions

Max Lord messes shit up by giving everyone wishes. Some people wished for others dead, a lot of people wished to be rich, and government officials wished for nukes to appear out of thin air.

And even if I were to swallow that everyone on the planet renounced their wish, you can’t tell me that the world forgot this day of madness. Those people who got murdered, were they brought back to life? And if they were, do you think they’d forget the fact that someone wished them dead?

If this movie exists in the DC movie universe, it should be as well-known as the day Thanos snapped his fingers in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Barbara’s Ending

Everything having to do with Barbara I was disappointed with. I feel like it could have been so much more if they didn’t treat her as a sideshow character. She ends up becoming Cheetah by having Max Lord gain a wish and use its consequences to benefit her. (At least I think that’s how it works. The wishes are so screwy in this movie.) And when everyone renounces their wish, it’s never made clear if Barbara renounced hers.

And after she is defeated by Wonder Woman, that’s the last we see of her.

Physics

Normally, during a super hero movie, I never question the science of things. At no point during Iron Man do I start breaking down how the arc reactor shouldn’t work. At no point in Batman Begins do I question how the Batmobile leaps from rooftop to rooftop.

Wonder Woman 1984 had me questioning everything. Her lasso seems to have a mind of its own, and it does not obey the laws of physics even when it comes to something as simple as swinging a robber around. I could spend days dissecting how inane it is for a lasso to grab onto a bullet or how strange it appears when it reaches indefinable lengths to grab onto a plane.

But I don’t want to be mad for days.

A lot of the fight scenes did not make sense to me as they were happening because I could not figure out how objects and people would move.

You know how if someone throws a tennis ball toward you and it bounces on the floor, you can more or less anticipate where it will be so you can lean forward and catch it? Wonder Woman 1984 physics feel more like trying to anticipate where a deformed American football might bounce to.

Conclusion

I can usually recommend a bad movie to a person based solely on it being a fun bad movie.

I can’t do that with Wonder Woman 1984 because it is so frustrating how potential was just wasted.

Conceptually, Max Lord as a villain is fantastic. Imagine a villain who could grant people wishes. That would lead to some great conflict, perhaps on par with the Purple Man from Jessica Jones.

The backstory of Barbara and Diana could have been the stuff of tragic legends, especially with so much comic book source material to draw upon.

But these things fall flat in the execution.

I rate Wonder Woman 1984 a disappointing-sequel-that-I-would-never-recommend-even-if-I-was-holding-onto-the-Lasso-of-Truth.

It’s Officially 2021

Hey, my Above Average readers! We’ve done it! We’ve made it past 2020 and into 2021. I don’t expect this new year to be a sudden cure-all for the nightmare that was 2020, but there is a sense of relief to not see 2020 as the year on the calendar anymore.

To say that I have big things planned for the new year is an overstatement. I’m going to be maintaining business as usual in 2021. You’ll still be getting all that delicious, Below Average content from me.

But…

I do have a few new things in the works.

For one thing, as you can see, I have some new ME art courtesy of my sister. She drew a bunch of cartoons of me and gave me the best, so now you won’t be stuck with the same old black-and-white image you’ve been seeing for so long.

That is, this one.

I also watched both Wonder Woman 1984 and Soul this past week, so you can expect some movie reviews in the near future.

In addition to that, I’m planning a collaborative post with one of my friends, ranking our favorite songs from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. I actually would have posted this sooner, but she can’t make up her mind to pick just one, so it’s taking a while.

I have Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, so you can bet your buttons I’m going to play more games and talk about them here in the new year.

I have a stack of books waiting for me to read, with every one being reviewed as well.

All in all, knock on wood, I think 2021 is shaping up to be a good year.

I know 2020 hasn’t given us a lot of proof that a year can be good or lucky when it starts, but I’m feeling hopeful. The sky is a delightful grey color, the cold bites me when I go outside, and my coffee has never tasted sweeter.

Let’s see how it goes!