Saturday, April 05, 2014

Halo: Mortal Dictata Review


In my personal opinion, Karen Traviss' best work is in her Star Wars: Republic Commando novel series.  For those who haven't read it, the series follows the exploits of Omega Squad and their training Sergeant, Kal Skirata, who ultimately becomes their adoptive father.  Kal is opposed to the concept of the clone army the Republic has created for itself and the accelerated aging the clones go through and is bent on freeing his "kids" so they can have normal lives.

There's no question at all that the core themes of this series have found their way into Traviss' latest work, Halo: Mortal Dictata.

Halo: Mortal Dictata is the third and final novel in her Kilo-Five trilogy, and Osman's crew is engaged in tracking down the stolen Covenant CCS-Class Battlecruiser, Pious Inquisitor.  This pursuit has lead them to the insurrectionist world of Venezia where they discovered Naomi-010's father, Staffan Sentzke, in residence and potentially interested in buying the missing ship to pursue a plot of revenge against the UNSC.

When Naomi was abducted years ago to take place in the Spartan-II program and replaced with a clone to fool her parents, Staffan deduced quickly that this wasn't his daughter, yet no one believed him.  After the clone's death, he spent years searching for his real daughter and learned from a rougher crowd how to survive and deal with a corrupt government.  Having no love for the UNSC or Earth, Staffan has spent years working for the insurrection while piecing together what happened to his real daughter.

The character, in truth, bears many similarities to Kal Skirata that while reading the novel I kept picturing him as Kal.  The manerisms, emotions, and strong connection to family all resonate between both identities, and I personally felt this really helped the narrative.

While Traviss explores a tapestry of politics and black ops, both from the perspective of the UNSC and their ONI branch, the insurrection, and even the Jackals, I still personally feel she doesn't have a firm understanding of the species dynamics in the Halo universe, particularly the Brutes.

For example, on Venezia, humans, Brutes, Jackals, and Grunts are living together in the same communities.  While I can see this with the humans, Jackals, and Grunts, as this has occurred before in another novel under plausible circumstances, the Brutes' presence is in complete contrast to how they've always been represented.  The Brutes would not, under any circumstances, live peacefully next to humans.

Same with the Elites.  In the novel, some Brutes are still working for the Elites, which contrasts the return of the Elites and Brutes trying to wipe each other out in the past novel, which in turn corrected the horrible representation of Brutes gardening for Elites in the first novel of the series.  The Kilo-Five trilogy has flip-flopped on its representation of inter-species politics a few times, lacking consistency, and demonstrating a lack of the core specie traits on Traviss' part.

Excluding this discrepancy, however, the novel is a good read unto itself.  The moral line of the Spartan-II program, and the fallout that has on the lives of others, is really explored here in detail.  We also get to see the Jackals and their society and culture brought to the forefront for the second time in franchise history, and that widens up what we can expect from future Halo media.

The core story also really focuses on spy work and infiltration as befitting this branch of ONI.  Large scale battles are out, but back stabbing, plotting, and moral ambiguity are represented in spades, which is another fresh look for the franchise.

The fact that the story also seemed to be a mini, condensed version of Traviss' earlier Star War: Republic Commando work also played a nostalgic cord for me, allowing me to appreciate it as the strongest book in her trilogy.

At the end of the day, the Kilo-Five trilogy is an overall fun read, expanding the core universe and fleshing out some of the back-story for Halo 4.  Any fan of the franchise looking to broaden their scope of the Halo universe will enjoy what Traviss offers here.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Halo: Mortal Dictata Announced

The final novel in Karen Traviss' "Kilo Five" trilogy has been announced, and you can check out the full press release below:


Tor Books announces release of Halo®: Mortal Dictata by #1 New York Times bestselling author Karen Traviss 
The riveting final installment of the Kilo-Five trilogy in the New York Times bestselling series based on the enormously popular game 

New York, NY – June 20, 2013 Tor Books, an imprint of Tom Doherty Associates, LLCthe largest publisher of science fiction in the worldand 343 Industries™ are excited to announce the forthcoming January 2014 publication of Halo: MORTAL DICTATA by #1 New York Times bestselling author Karen Traviss. Traviss has penned #1 bestselling novels in the Star Wars universe, as well as bestselling novels for the Gears of War franchise, and this winter she completes her trilogy set in the Halo® universe. 
Based on the universe and characters from the multimillion copy selling Xbox video games, MORTAL DICTATA completes a trilogy set in the Halo universe, and ties into the highly anticipated Halo 4, which launched in November 2012.   
Halo novels published by Tor have sold over a million combined copies to date. 
No. 1 New York Times bestselling novelist, screenwriter, and comics author Karen Traviss has received critical acclaim for her award-nominated Wess’har series, as well as regularly hitting the bestseller lists with her Star Wars, Gears of War, and Halo work. She was also lead writer on the Gears of War 3 game. A former defense correspondent and TV and newspaper journalist, Traviss lives in Wiltshire, England.  


About Tor Books 
Tor Books, an imprint of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, is a New York-based publisher of hardcover and softcover books.  Founded in 1980, Tor annually publishes what is arguably the largest and most diverse line of science fiction and fantasy ever produced by a single English-language publisher.  In 2002, Tor launched Starscape, an imprint dedicated to publishing quality science fiction and fantasy for young readers, including books by critically acclaimed and award winning authors such as Cory Doctorow, Orson Scott Card, and David Lubar.  Between an extensive hardcover and trade-softcover line, an Orb backlist program, and a stronghold in mass-market paperbacks, books from Tor have won every major award in the SF and fantasy fields, and Tor has been named Best Publisher 24 years in a row in the Locus Poll, the largest consumer poll in SF.  

About the “Halo” Franchise 
The “Halo” franchise is an award-winning collection of properties that has grown into a global entertainment phenomenon. Beginning with the original “Halo: Combat Evolved” (2001), the critically acclaimed and record-shattering series of games has since inspired multiple New York Times bestselling novels, comic books, action figures, apparel and more. 

Published by Microsoft Studios, the “Halo” franchise of games is exclusive to the Xbox 360 video game and entertainment system and the Xbox Live online entertainment network. To date, more than 50 million copies of “Halo” games have been sold worldwide, driving more than 5 billion hours of gameplay by people connected to Xbox Live. 

I love that cover art, though it looks like Noble 6's helmet on the ground.

Injustice: Gods Among Us "Martian Manhunter"

Martian Manhunter joins the cast of Injustice: Gods Among Us.  I'm not sure if he'll be a stand-alone character to download or if another Season Pass is coming, but you can see him in action in his announce trailer here or below:


Monday, July 08, 2013

8th Year Anniversary and Announcement



Exactly eight years ago, I started Arbiter's Judgement with this post.  Shortly thereafter I recruited my buddy Telly as "The Staff" and we set off to have some fun and create our own version of ActionTrip, a site we both still read and follow to this day.

During these last eight years, I've brought you my own thoughts on games, movies, books, and other random crap.  I've been privileged to attend many gaming events, including private/invite only ones which have let me do a lot of cool things.  I played and received a copy of Gears of War 2 before it went on sale, I viewed Halo: Legends in a swank hotel theatre and got a copy before it released, I was one of the first eight people in the country not employed by Microsoft to play the Halo: Reach beta, and more recently, I was able to play BioShock Infinite months before release.

These are just some of the highlights from a gaming standpoint.  Outside of but also related to gaming, I've had the pleasure of helping others raise money for charity via Child's Play, I've received many complimentary novels from Tor Books to read and review, and I've been able to influence and inspire many in various gaming communities.

Some years back Telly got swamped with personal and professional life and had to take his leave, leaving the running of this place to me and I've certainly given it my all as a one-man operation.  However, I too must admit that time is at a premium for me these days.

I have a full fledged career, a home, and I'm juggling many personal relationships and friendships to boot.  I've also had some health issues that have come up which demand proper attention and care, and the truth is I don't have the time I once did to dedicate to the blog.

And yet again, social media has changed how we read and deal with news.  Thanks to sites like Twitter and Facebook, anything I'm posting up has long since been read days before elsewhere, and even for unique and personal articles, like reviews, I find it challenging to now fit them into my daily schedule.  My recent Batman: Arkham City - Game of the Year Edition review, for example, took me almost a month to complete.  I wasn't actively working on it for that month, mind you, I started it in early June and simply didn't have the time to continue it until early July.

Another truth is the game's industry isn't what it was eight years ago.  When I started Arbiter's Judgement, we were at the peak of what I now call the Golden Age of Gaming.  A time when games were truly innovative and inspiring and when I gladly spent several hour binge sessions each weekend playing my favourite titles.

Now, with the pending release of Xbox One and PlayStation 4 later this year, we're on the verge of a new generation of consoles, and I'm not sure if they'll be for me.  Over the last few years in particular I've watched many trends in the industry flourish that I do not find encouraging, and today, while there are still some excellent games being released, I find them much fewer and farther between.  Sure, they look prettier, have higher production values, and are far more cinematic, but the industry itself and how developers and publishers work has changed.

Gone are the days of true and constant innovation, now we're in the age of nickle and dimming the consumer and maximizing profit.  Gaming is truly a business now, and while I'm not giving up on gaming or abandoning the hobby I do spend far less time on it and I personally no longer want to do any major marathon sessions; it's just not the same any longer and overall I feel the industry has not evolved for the better.

And so, after long and careful consideration, I've decided the time has come for me to take my own leave.  I don't make this decision lightly as I have greatly enjoyed writing and creating here, but the truth is my focus needs to be elsewhere.  As Tor Books sends me novels to review I'll still do so, and if a game of great worth comes out that I want to review I'll likely do so as well, and you may see me post a bit of really great news now and again, but for all intents and purposes I'm retiring the blog.

Perhaps I'll take it up again in full force one day when circumstances are different, but for now, it's time to move on.  I want to thank you, my readers, for sticking by the site for so long.  I've really enjoyed bringing you my thoughts and opinions and I hope you've enjoyed reading them, even if you haven't always agreed with them.

I also want to thank Xbox Canada and Jaken Bear, Jade, and Mister Switch.  Thanks also go to Tor Books and Sally, Justin, Alexis, and Patty.  You've all given me great stuff to cover over the years, and thank you for your faith and support. 

I'll still be active at Delay of Game, so anyone seeking to reach me can easily do so there.  So again, thank you everyone for helping to make Arbiter's Judgement what it is, and best wishes.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Injustice: Gods Among Us "History of General Zod" ViDoc and "Man of Steel" Skin

As General Zod is the fourth DLC character for Injustice: Gods Among Us, a ViDoc providing the history of the character has been released.

You can view it here or below:



Also, a new skin for Superman based on his costume in Man of Steel is now available for purchase, and you can watch that skin in action in this video here or below:

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Batman: Arkham City - Game of the Year Edition (Xbox 360) Review

 
Batman: Arkham Asylum remains one of the greatest super hero games that I have ever played.  Rocksteady Studios did such a fantastic job truly letting you feel like the capped crusader.  The fighting mechanics, the gadgets, and story telling and setting were all top notch and certainly one of the best gaming experiences to come out of 2009.

The sequel, Batman: Arkham City, released in the fall of 2011, and I regret that I made a huge mistake:  I picked up Gears of War 3 instead.  I wanted to finish that trilogy and its storyline, and I was sorely disappointed with the lackluster experience Epic Games had bungled up.  Thankfully between now and then, a "Game of the Year Edition" for Batman: Arkham City was released, and I just so happened to have snagged a copy.

Set a year after the events of Batman: Arkham Asylum, Quincy Sharp took the credit for stopping the Joker's rampage in the Asylum and used that fame to be elected mayor of Gotham City.  In order to keep the city safe, Sharp turns a section of the city into a fully contained prison, where he has the super villains from Arkham Asylym and general thugs from Blackgate Prison transferred.

Calling this city prison "Arkham City," Sharpe appoints Hugo Strange as its warden and declares it Gotham's ultimate solution to crime.  Within Arkham City, the criminals are free to roam and do as they please, however any attempt to escape will be met by lethal force courtesy of Strange's private security force called Tyger Security.

Batman is highly suspicious of this new prison, and as Bruce Wayne, begins a political campaign against it in an attempt to shut it down.  Strange, having deduced that Batman is Bruce Wayne, sends his Tyger Security forces to arrest Wayne and incarcerate him in Arkham City.

Unlike Arkham Asylum from the first game, Arkham City is a fully fleshed out section of Gotham that players can free-roam and navigate.  While you have specific missions and side missions to accomplish, tracked by your handy Bat Computer, players can simply patrol the city looking for random thugs and encounters to play against, and there's also other challenges to tackle.

The main story and core focus of the game, however, is extremely well fleshed out.  Almost every major villain Batman has ever fought is present in Batman: Arkham City, which is both surprising and a little concerning as one would expect things to get overly convoluted and bogged down with so many personalities, but this didn't turn out to be the case at all.

Rocksteady Studios did a superb job of balancing each villain's time in the game, setting them up nicely as major players or supporting villains, and the overall story flows exceptionally well and never feels too confusing.  This alone I see as a huge accomplishment for the developer, and the game's story is most definitely one of its highest points.

You see not only does Batman have to contend against Hugo Strange and his Tyger Security forces while trying to unravel the true purpose of Arkham City, but the Joker is also ill as a result of the Titan formula he injected himself with at the end of Batman: Arkham Asylum.  Not only is the Joker intent on getting cured, but he's also looking to get a little payback against the Dark Knight and becomes a major player in the game.

Now the Freeflow combat from Batman: Arkham Asylum was excellent and very innovative for it's time, and Rocksteady Studios have taken things up another notch in the sequel.  Freeflow mainly works just like you remember only now it's even easier to move from opponent to opponent and to use Quickfire Gadgets during combos;  the whole process just feels smoother.  I think the best I was ever able to do in Batman: Arkham Asylum was a 30 hit combo, but in Batman: Arkham City, after only a little warm-up, I was doing 40 hit combos pretty consistently.

The majority of Batman's gadgets from the last game make an appearance again, and several new ones have been added.  Tapping Left Trigger still Quickfires a Batarang, and other key gadgets now have a dedicated Quickfire button used by holding Left Trigger.  Hold LT and press "Y" to Quickfire the Batclaw, pressing "X" quick drops Explosive Gel (great for crowd control), "B" uses his new Electrical Charge, and so on.  All extremely quick and intuitive, and the use of each gadget has been expanded as well.

As you beat the snot out of enemies and complete missions you earn Experience which let's you level up and apply an upgrade to your different fighting tactics.  You can increase your durability to regular attacks or bullets, improve your Freeflow combat, unlock new moves or expanded ways to use your gadgets, etc.  By game's end you'll likely have enough Experience to unlock everything, however this allows you to really customize Batman to your own personal style early on, making things a little simpler and more fun.

The challenges Batman faces in Arkham City aren't just combat related, though that is a huge part of the game.  There's now environmental challenges to tackle in the form of Gliding. Gliding is a larger part of the gameplay now, and Batman can Glide, Dive Boom, and Zip Line his way quickly across all of Arkham City.  There are various points where specific navigational challenges, called Augmented Reality Training, are set up, and properly Gliding and navigating through these challenges is part of one of your side missions.  I personally found the complex gliding mechanics clunky, however, and the Controller layout for it wasn't the best.  The challenges are doable, I completed all of them, but it took many attempts and lots of cursing to do so.

The Riddler Trophies are also back, and there's a whopping 440 of them to collect this time around.  Their inclusion and the Riddler's subplot in Batman: Arkham Asylum was a very cool part of that game, but here in the sequel the Riddler is more present and has a larger story role.  As one of your side missions, he's taken a bunch of police officers and doctors hostage and will kill them unless you solve his challenges, but in order to attempt a rescue, you'll need to collect X number of trophies for the Riddler to give you a clue as to a hostage's location.

This had the potential to be extremely cool and involving, however regrettably Rocksteady Studios took a devilish approach to this task.  Unlike the first game, finding the Riddler Trophies often isn't enough to collect them, as you'll usually need to complete an environmental challenge, use a specific gadget, or solve a puzzle to claim your prize.  The puzzle ones, such as hitting switches in a certain order or speed with Batrangs, or pressing a proper number of pressure pads in a certain order, etc., often felt very frustrating and given the shear volume of Trophies to collect, well, let's just say this part of the game, which took some time, was more tedious than fun.

Once you finally get enough Trophies to get a clue from the Riddler, you can try and rescue the hostage, which usually involves Batman needing to navigate through a deathtrap maze to free them.  In contrast to Trophy collection, these hostage rescues are extremely fun and I thought they were very clever and well done; it's just a shame you have to spend so much time hunting for annoying trophies to get to try them.

While you won't come across any maps in Batman: Arkham City pointing out the location for all the Riddler collectibles in an area, Batman can interrogate Riddler henchmen to learn additional Trophy locations.  Basically in any group of thugs, whether they're working for Joker, Two-Face, or whoever, if one of them is a hidden Riddler agent they'll appear with a green glow.  You'll then need to defeat the other thugs while leaving the Riddler agent for last to interrogate them; simply press "Y" when they're the last thug standing to lay the beat-down on them and they'll reveal a few more Riddler Trophy locations.

I generally found it best to simply interrogate as many Riddler agents as you can and then wait until you get all of Batman's gadgets before trying to get most of the Trophies, as many of the Gadgets prove essential to their collection, and I found it best to just sweep an area clear at a time once they were all revealed.  If you have the patience to collect all of them as I did and to find most of them without using a walkthrough, this will keep you busy for some hours, though as I mentioned I found it far more tedious than fun.

While I consider the story to be one of the main highlights for the game, it's interesting to note that you don't actually begin Batman: Arkham City as Batman, or even Bruce Wayne, but rather as Catwoman.  Originally included with new copies of the game (or purchasable as an add-on for used game buyers) and of course included in the "Game of the Year Edition," Catwoman is featured as a playable character and has her own story missions, challenges, and collectibles.

The game opens with players taking on the role of Catwoman as she takes down some of Two-Face's thugs in Dent's former campaign office to gain access to his safe.  She's then captured and Batman has to save her, however Catwoman becomes playable several more times in the story.  I believe the exact statistic is that Catwoman's missions make up 10% of the total game, and I personally wish it was a lot more as she's fantastic.

Her storyline is good, features Poison Ivy who's absent from the core game, and her story intersects with Batman's a few times, but it's her gameplay that I really love.  Simply put, I find Catwoman a more intuitive character than Batman.  While the general mechanics behind her Freeflow combat is the same as the Dark Knight's (and several of Batman's upgrades carry over to her, though she does have her own upgrade section) I find her faster and actually possessing a slightly more aggressive playstyle.

She also has her own unique gadgets, such as a bola, caltrops, and her signature whip, all of which are very handy for crowd control.  I found her so affective in combat that I was actually able to pull of a 40 hit combo before I was able to do so with Batman, and I can pull off a 50 hit combo with her without abusing any fight mechanics, something I can not do with Batman.  The only aspect of combat that I find her lacking is her general takedowns, which are slower than Batman's and generally safer to avoid performing.

Since she has a limited number of gadgets and can't glide, Catwoman navigates through Arkham City a little differently.  She can use her whip to swing, but that only takes her so far, and when she hits a wall she attaches to it with her claws.  You can then quickly leap up the wall to finish your ascent, gaining a bonus if you time the jumps just right, and then continue running or stop.  She can also use her claws to crawl along certain ceilings or railings upside down, providing her different stealth options that aren't available to Batman.

All in all she's a great character and addition to the game, and I've greatly enjoyed playing as her.  She even has her own Riddler Trophies to collect, 40 of the 440 I mentioned above are hers, and only she can collect these items, Batman is unable to get them.  Ironically however, Catwoman can collect Batman's Trophies, though they'll be properly added to Batman once you snag them.

The Challenge Maps featured in Batman: Arkham Asylum are back (though different maps of course), and have taken a Riddler spin this time out.  Called Riddler's Revenge, you unlock additional Challenge Maps or Challenge Campaign Maps by collecting specific Riddler Trophies.  You can play these Challenges as either Batman or Catwoman, whichever your preference, and the regular Maps function along the same lines as they did in the previous game.  The Challenge Campaigns are different and from what I understand are a collection of areas requiring both combat and specific tasks to complete, however I haven't tried them yet.  To be honest my core interest is with the Campaign and Story and I've only done a few Challenge Maps to refine my combat skills a bit.

Batman: Arkham City - Game of the Year Edition also comes with the Robin Bundle and Nightwing Bundle.  These previous DLC add-ons allow players to play the Riddler's Revenge challenges as either Robin or Nightwing, who both have their own unique set of moves and gadgets, and each bundle includes a few extra maps as well.  I briefly tinkered with Robin and he's alright, and I haven't touched Nightwing yet, but in truth I'd rather play as Catwoman anyway.

Considering the game was first released in the Fall of 2011, the graphics are gorgeous for a console title of that time.  The characters, particularly the heroes and super villains, are well detailed and fluid in their animations.  The environments, both interior locations and Arkham City itself, are gorgeous, teaming with detail, moody colour, and atmosphere.

The game's voice acting is top notch, once again featuring the talents of Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as the Joker.  This is actually Mark Hamill's final performance as the Joker ever, and he did not disappoint.  Chilling and full of character, Hamill is and always will be the Joker for me.  The game's sound effects are as tight as ever, and the musical score is fantastic, both gothic, epic, and inspiring.  In terms of the visual and audio, the game's production values are top notch.

Also bundled with Batman: Arkham City - Game of the Year Edition is the final DLC released for the game, "Harley Quinn's Revenge."  Without ruining any major plot points from the core game, "Harley Quinn's Revenge" is set about two weeks after the main game, and Harley Quinn has once again taken up residence in the locked down city prison.  Batman has gone missing, and Robin embarks on a rescue quest.

"Harley Quinn's Revenge" isn't that long and its story isn't as strong as the core game, but it's still Batman: Arkham City and features the same core gameplay mechanics, save that this time you get to play as Robin for a lot of the story.  You get to use the Boy Wonder's own sets of gadgets and the like, and eventually you do get to play as Batman again who's fully upgraded.

Comprising the collectibles department of the DLC is fifty balloons from Harley Quinn scattered about, however thankfully that's it and there's no Riddler Trophies.  Sadly, Catwoman is not present in this add-on, and neither is Nightwing.

Finally, every single skin released for Batman, Catwoman, Robin, and Nightwing are available in the "Game of the Year Edition."  The overall package is on two discs, the first being the core retail disc and the second containing all the DLC and extras, and this disc functions as an install disc only.  A download token for an animated film is also bundled in, however it's expired now and thus I didn't get to redeem it.

Batman: Arkham City - Game of the Year Edition is an exceptional experience.  It takes pretty much everything that was amazing about Batman: Arkham Asylum and refines it further, adding in more of everything.  The combat, the gadgets, the additional playable characters, the open world and excellent narrative are all part of this amazing package.  The gliding mechanics and Riddler collectibles were a bit much, but once you're done with the whole 50 to 60 hour experience, really, they're a minor complaint as to what's otherwise a stunning game.

At the going rate of $19.99 brand new, you simply can't go wrong here.  Batman: Arkham City - Game of the Year Edition is a must play game and one of the best titles from 2011.  I am sorry that I missed out on it then and regret getting Gears of War 3 that much more, but at least I've been able to experience this amazing game now, and I'm greatly looking forward to my subsequent playthroughs.

Mortal Kombat "The Road to EVO"

I completely missed this a few months ago, but NetherRealm Studios has started a video series for Mortal Kombat called "The Road to EVO."

EVO is the premiere fighting game championship tournament, and Mortal Kombat is indeed present again at this year's event.

"The Road to EVO" video series features some of the worlds best Mortal Kombat players, and is certainly worth the watch.  The first two episodes are available here, here, or below:





I know the American players featured, but I'm actually not familiar with the UK players, so it'll be interesting to see them play.  EVO runs this year from July 12 to 14.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Man of Steel Review


Growing up, I was never the biggest fan of Superman as I always felt the character was far too powerful, but I admit I was intrigued by the early trailers I had seen for Man of Steel.  Rebooting the franchise, the film promised to show us a bold new Superman for the current age of comic book films on the silver screen.

In truth I wasn't expecting much of a plot at all, and I simply wanted to see Superman punch someone into the sun, and while I regret that I didn't actually see that, the trade off was far more beneficial.

Man of Steel opens with Krypton dying and in the midst of civil war.  The planet itself is corroding from within due too to much resource exploitation, and General Zod (Michael Shannon), the leader of the Kryptonian military, is staging a coup in an attempt to salvage the world before it's too late.  While Zod's attempt fails and he and his supporters are exiled to the Phantom Zone, Jor-El (Russel Crowe) and his wife (Ayelet Zurer) send their newborn son, the first natural Kryptonian birth in hundreds of years, to Earth to escape the planet's imminent destruction.

As Krypton dies, baby Kal-El arrives on Earth and is adopted by the Kents, local Kansas farmers, and the all familiar tale unfolds anew.

Without knowing the orphan's true name, his foster parents name him Clark, and our young hero grows up a troubled youth.  Man of Steel, however, doesn't tell the narrative from a completely linear perspective, and instead shows an adult Clark (Henry Cavill) running from himself and the power he posses as he searches for answers and purpose.  At different points in the film it flashes back to events that occurred when he was a child adding greater emphasis to the present moments on screen.  I found this worked extremely well and helped to mix up the more serious story with the action inherent to any comic film.

While Clark tries to hide and blend in with your everyday Joe, he still helps people in his own way becoming an anonymous hero and legend until one day, he discovers a Kryptonian scout ship and learns his true heritage, while at the same time saving the life of and impressing reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams).

Shortly thereafter Zod arrives, he and his supporters the only other Kryptonian survivors thanks to their exile, and they're after some important data that will permit them to rebuild Krypton at the expense of Earth itself, data they believe Clark Kent to posses.  Epic conflict ensues.

Overall, while Man of Steel's plot isn't the most complex, it is well told, easily identifiable, and touching.  Superman's new, he's untested, and he's learning about himself.  This places him at a very vulnerable point when pitted against the ruthless military veteran that Zod is, and the Man of Steel makes some serious mistakes.

The battles in Man of Steel are simply spectacular and highly entertaining.  Effect heavy, and while sadly lacking any sun punching, they are literally Earth shattering and city wrecking, which makes complete believable sense seeing as how Superman is taking on other, well, supermen (and women).  The amount of devastation these battles wreck is awe inspiring and something that the latest Marvel films should be envious of.

Highly entertaining, and with the exception of the romance between Clark and Lois, which I felt rather cliche and cheesy, the rest of the film's character development is solid for a comic-based feature.  Zod in particular I found delightful.  Cold, calculating, and ruthless but with intentions and motives that are completely honest and noble for the character, he makes a superb villain as, from his perspective, he's right and just, and all the more deadly for it.

The original battle between Zod and Superman actually felt anticlimactic, but it was simply building to their titanic struggle later in the film which I thought was sheer genius.  I've heard many criticize this battle, stating that Superman should have done things differently and attempted to lure Zod away from Metropolis, but I think said critics are forgetting the simple truth that here, in this film, Superman is still new and inexperienced and this clearly shows in his actions.  He may be super but he's far from perfect and that added to the film's appeal.  It all flowed well for me and depending on how they do the sequel, this could pave the way for a very interesting and more troubled look at the character.

Man of Steel is a great film and the poster child for what a summer blockbuster should be.  It's clever, action-packed, and has a fun and identifiable narrative driven by simple, core values that are in all of us.  While certainly possessing some lighter moments the film was overall darker than I would have expected from DC's flagship character, and I also found that very positive indeed.

While there are other summer blockbusters coming out later this season, I do believe they'll be hard pressed to top Man of Steel, which delivered far better than most are giving it credit for.

The Internship Review


A few weeks back a friend asked me to go see The Internship with her, and while I love a good comedy, reviewers haven't been overly kind with Vince Vaughn's and Owen Wilson's latest effort.  In truth I really wanted to go see Man of Steel, so taking all that into account I went without really expecting much.

The movie begins with Billy McMahon (Vince Vaughn) and Nick Campbell (Owen Wilson) struggling in their careers as watch salesmen, ultimately getting laid off.  Technology has overtaken them and watches have become more or less obsolete thanks to smartphones.

Billy's girlfriend decides to leave him and Nick ends up working for her sister's boyfriend, Kevin (Will Ferrel), as a mattress salesman.  Both are miserable and downtrodden and one night Billy is searching via Google for random job opportunities that he could apply for.  Seeing nothing available, he gets the idea to search for Google-related jobs specifically and, knowing nothing about technology, has an epiphany:  an internship that can train them and lead to a real career.

Convincing Nick to leave his horrible mattress sales job, the two apply for a Google internship and after a goofy video conference interview, are actually selected, and they head off to Google's corporate head office to chase their dream of a real job.

This is the point where the movie should really shine, as the two go off to explore Google and get to know the other interns as they all compete with one another, but the film really does fall flat.  I personally found it bland, boring, and simply ridiculous in the way everyone was acting.  Every situation and encounter is very contrived and cliche and I found it more frustrating than entertaining.  The team of interns that Billy and Nick are chosen to work with are naturally frustrated at the duos' complete lack of any technical knowledge, and I share in that empathy.

The Google facility itself was very cool and the perks you saw the employees use were great, but the way Billy and Nick approached everything was simply foolish, and this persisted throughout the first half of the film.  I was already regularly checking my own watch to see how much running time was left, and then something odd happened that turned things around a bit.

Billy, Nick, and team needed to come up with a great app that they could create to pass the next test, and when they hit a complete road block they end up going to a strip club to unwind.  While Billy and Nick are at home in this environment the interns are not as they're more comfortable being closed off with tech and anti-social social networking, but ultimately everyone opens up and lets loose a little more and the team really begins to bond.

The film completely switches gears at this point from poorly attempted comedy to actually looking at the values of choices and life lessons and the harsh realities of the business world we live in today, and the sacrifices people need to make to get ahead.  As someone who's gone through these sorts of things, I found it easy to identify with the struggling interns' fears that no matter how good they are success is not guaranteed, and how all the work you put in could be for nothing and even if you do succeed, it'll likely be at the expense of other things in your personal life.

I wouldn't say the film became exceptional by any means, but at least for the last half it carried this higher standard and tone and was much more enjoyable and watchable; I stopped checking my own watch and even my smartphone.

Which rounds out what The Internship truly is, a light hearted and half-baked comedy that wasn't overly funny but brought about some interesting real-world life perspectives.  By the time the credits rolled I can say that I don't regret having seen The Internship, but I honestly can't recommend paying to see it as there are better films in theatres at the moment.  There were some groans, some laughs, and some insights, but the final product is something that will be easily forgotten through the summer as an overall mediocre attempt.

Happy Canada Day!



We here at Arbiter's Judgement want to wish you all a very Happy Canada Day!  Hope you're all having a great long weekend filled with BBQ's, booze, games, flicks, or whatever else suits your fancy.

For me, I've enjoyed some time with friends and got to know my neighbours a little better with a block party in my new community.  I got a stomach bug early Sunday morning but thankfully kicked that, played some great Mortal Kombat matches yesterday evening, and I'm off to a family BBQ today.

All in all, a great long weekend!

Enjoy and all the best!