Halo Falls Short Of Its Video Game Roots

Halo is the latest video game franchise to get a big-budget onscreen adaptation. This one is now appearing on TV on the Paramount + streaming service and from the conclusion of the first episode, it was clear that this live-action series was going to do things differently. The main character, the Master Chief (Pablo Schreiber), who is the vanguard of humanity’s war against an alien force known as the Covenant, takes his helmet off to gain the trust of a girl he just saved. This marks a radical departure from the games where to date, we have never seen him without his helmet.  While this is a small detail and doesn’t detract from the episode, in retrospect it was a sign that this show was going to tell a very different story than what is portrayed in the famous video game franchise.

The main idea of the Halo games is that Master Chief is, at most times, a lone warrior fighting against impossible odds on strange aliens worlds against overwhelming foes. These being a group of hostile extraterrestrial races called the Covenant that vow to wipe out humankind in a war that Earth is losing. He encounters the strange ring-shaped world dubbed “Halo” at the start of the very first game and has to figure out its mysteries and stop the Covenant from using it to destroy all life in the galaxy. The Halo TV show however is somewhat of a prequel and starts with Master Chief and other super soldiers named Spartans arriving on a human colony, Madrigal that is invaded by the Covenant.

On the planet he encounters a lone human survivor, a young girl named  Kwan Ha (Yerin Ha), who he brings back to humanity’s headquarters on the planet Reach. Eventually he takes her to a sanctuary world, then she escapes back to Madrigal to try to lead her people against an oppressive government. Meanwhile, Master Chief aka “John” finds a Covenant artifact that he seems to have some strange mystical connection to, and he uncovers details of his past where he was kidnapped as a child by a Dr. Halsey (Natascha McElhone) who created the super soldier program to make the other Spartans as well. These other Spartans also start to question their origins, while Halsey deals with her daughter (Olivia Gray), who is upset by her absentee mother.  Notice that the plot of a war against a group of aliens hellbent on humanity’s extinction is not mentioned other than at the start of the paragraph?

This is the biggest issue I have with this adaptation, that the main focus of the games is basically a subplot in this show that seems to fade to the background other than a few scenes here and there. There are only 9 episodes in this first season and the story needs to be tight and focused, but it seems instead to be set on world building and character exposition to the detriment of what should be the main plot of Earth and its struggle against a genocidal group of aliens who see humans as an affront to their religious beliefs regarding the Halo artifact. There is even one episode solely devoted to Kwan Ha and her journey on Madrigal finding out about her past. This can happen if this was a network TV show with 20-plus episodes, but not with a streaming TV show with limited episodes.

In the games, the Covenant believe that the Halo is a sacred structure that, when activated, will take them to paradise. The reality, *spoiler alert*,  is that it is a weapon created by an ancient race called the Forerunners who used it to destroy life in the galaxy to starve a parasitic race called the Flood of their food source. The Forerunners then re-seeded the galaxy with life, including humans and the Covenant races, on different planets. None of this is explained or shown to the audience, probably since they expect fans of the games to know this, but for non-gamers who will be clueless about this. I can understand that they might not want to overwhelm viewers with larger amounts of backstory and game mythology, and establishing the characters is important, but it seems like they wanted to tell a very different sci-fi story than what is told in the various games. It’s as if they are more interested in the machinations and political intrigue of Earths’ government, the United Nations Space Command (UNSC), as well as Dr. Halsey and the UNSC’s questionable tactics regarding the creation of the Spartans, as opposed to what should be the desperate attempt to survive against the onslaught of the Covenant. 

The positives of the show are the design and look of the Spartans and Covenant when they show up. They look very much like their video game counterparts. And the few scenes of action we do get are very good. The first, fifth and last episodes show the Master Chief and other Spartans in action fighting against their foes. It’s a real treat to see and does offer a glimpse of what the show can be. Obviously, it can’t be non-stop action as opposed to the games, but it’s really about what the focus of the show should be. The season ends with the Chief seemingly taken over by his AI assistant Cortana (Jen Taylor), as they escape with artifacts that can lead them to the location of the Halo ring world.

Hopefully the second season will have him finally arriving at the Halo itself to set off the chain of events that happen in the first game, and we can have the politics of the UNSC in the background, with the fight against the Covenant at the forefront of the show. As a generic sci-fi TV show, Halo is fine, but as an adaptation of the numerous games, it seems to fall short. Having said that, Paramount + has renewed the show for a second season and it has good streaming numbers, so there is an audience for it. Maybe with this new set of episodes, we will see a story that can bridge the gap between both fans of the game and newcomers to the franchise, and satisfy both groups, as the best adaptations of other media do.

C.S. Link

Doctor Strange’s Deep Dive Into The Multiverse

*Note: The following will contain MAJOR SPOILERS for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

For anyone who has seen Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the latest entry from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), the film raised many questions and fueled intense speculation for what lies ahead with the MCU and its version of the multiverse or alternate realities.

The MCU has toyed with the concept of the multiverse for some time and further explored it in recent Disney+ TV shows, and even Avengers: Endgame, but the sequel to Doctor Strange is the first MCU film to fully dive into the concept. During the film, the sorcerer Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) encounters a young woman called America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), who has the ability to travel between universes or the multiverse. She is being hunted by Wanda Maximoff aka the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), who wants to steal her power (and killing her to do so) in order to travel to another reality where her fictional children that she conjured in WandaVision are actually alive. During a confrontation between Strange and the Scarlet Witch, Strange and Chavez wind up traveling through several bizarre universes before arriving in a universe numbered 838. The MCU we know of is designated 616, even though that designation belongs to the regular Marvel Comics universe, which itself designated the MCU 199,999.

Despite the weird worlds Strange and Chavez traveled through, like an animated universe or one where they turned into paint colors, the 838 quickly stood out in the way that society embraced living more harmoniously with nature and with its heroes. Strange met the superhuman team called the Illuminati who deal with the deadliest threats to reality and included alternate MCU heroes and new ones, as well. The most interesting Illuminati members were Captain Carter (Hayley Atwell), a What If…? character perfectly realized in live action, Reed Richards, leader of the Fantastic Four (played by John Krasinski, a fan-casting dream come true), a comics-accurate version of Black Bolt (reprised by Anson Mount who originated the role in the Inhumans TV show), and Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who was a new version of the Professor X seen in the Fox X-Men films.

As great as it was to see these heroes, some fans were disappointed that the film did not feature more appearances by alternate characters such as a rumored Iron Man played by Tom Cruise, Tobey Maguire returning as Spider-Man or Chris Evans as the Human Torch (a role he played in the first official Fantastic Four films). Sure, it would have been terrific to see more cameos but to do so threatened to take away from the main story of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which had to focus on Strange and his foe. The appearances we got were to merely whet our appetite for things to come, which were clearly outlined in the film. So fear not, this is just the beginning. Before long we’ll have a deep dive into the multiverse.

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Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness Is A Wild & Scary Summer Ride

Kicking off the yearly cinematic entries of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) for 2022 is Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the long-awaited sequel to 2016’s Doctor Strange. While the first film introduced the supernatural and trippy side of the MCU, the sequel runs wild and amps up the horror elements of the MCU and introduces fantastic new characters and concepts. As with Spider-Man: No Way Home, this film deals with the mind-bending nature of the multiverse and fleshes it out more.

The sequel to Doctor Strange is directed by horror auteur, Sam Raimi, who returns to the world of film adaptations of Marvel Comics superheroes while embracing his horror film background. He replaced the original director and it turned out Marvel Studios made an inspired choice with Raimi, who has the skills and the superhero and horror background to create a splendid fusion of both genres for the MCU.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness brings back the sorcerer, Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), after the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home. He is attending the wedding of his former lover, Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) when a nearby attack in the streets of New York City attracts his attention. A giant, cyclopean cephalopod is after a teenage girl named America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) and after Strange and fellow sorcerer Wong (Benedict Wong) rescue her, she reveals she is from another universe. America Chavez has the uncontrollable ability to travel through different universes and is on the run from someone who wants to kill her and take her power. The film also features Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), who is in grieving after the events of WandaVision. Soon enough her and Strange’s paths cross as he embarks on a mission to protect Chavez. This leads him through the multiverse itself as he struggles to find a way to defeat Gomez’s pursuer and confront his own flaws.

This film works on so many levels that cannot be appreciated immediately by some. It relies heavily on the history of the MCU and has references to Marvel Comics that will delight fans and alienate some non-fans. It walks a fine line between servicing fans with many references and Easter eggs while not going overboard. Despite what the title implies or what over-speculation has led some to believe, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness manages to restrain itself while being an effective and fast-paced thriller with many blood-curdling moments. Sam Raimi revels in his horror roots and delivers his best film in years. Unlike some MCU films that lack identity, Raimi is able to inject his own distinctive and bombastic directorial vision in the film. What he presents may alarm some expecting a family-friendly ride, but it is so well done. A lot of the imagery is downright squeamish and disturbing, but Raimi does not go too over the top. Needless to say the special effects are excellent and many of the images look like dreams which came to cinematic life.

A criticism with The Batman was that it was a bit too indulgent and went on too long. With Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, it is the opposite. Its main problem is that it could have used a few extra minutes to allow it to breath and let many emotional moments sink in. It’s very fast paced, but tetters on the brink of losing control as the film jumps from one plot point to another. Raimi has said that his original cut of the film was about a half hour longer but Marvel Studios made him cut the film to fit a two-hour run time. Hopefully this footage will turn up later on to let us judge them. But the film still holds itself together thanks to the terrifc talent both behind and in front of the camera.

Benedict Cumberbatch once again turns in a fine performance as a self-deluding, arrogant hero who has to admit some hard truths about himself in order to succeed. The other actors have ample amount of screen time to leave an impression, including Xochitl Gomez. As the newest superhero of the MCU, Gomez’s America Chavez is full of heart and spunk, but is never obnoxious or overbearing. Plus, she has an engaging sub plot as she struggles to deal with her past and grow.

Elizabeth Olsen delivers an excellent performance as Wanda as we feel her pain and can certainly empathize with her situation over having lost her children during WandaVision. Then there many new characters who have small but significant appearances in the film. As mentioned earlier, beware of over speculating about who appears and dampen expectations. In the end, this works for the film and keeps it from having the same failed fate of Iron Man 2 or Avengers: Age of Ultron where those films tried to cram in too much to set up other films. Even though Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has many characters and moving parts, the core of the film is still on Strange. More importantly, the film does not hesitate to shine a light on his character flaws, which are not admirable.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is another strong win for the MCU and Marvel Studios, which leaves one begging for a followup. Thankfully, the end title card promises that Doctor Strange will return. Let’s hope it does not take six more years for a third Doctor Strange film.

José Soto

The Superhero Multiversal Crossover Events Are Among Us

The biggest and latest thing now with live-action superhero films and TV shows are the crossover events that feature previous versions of superheroes and supervillains showing up to lend a hand or imperil the current heroes. The most recent and one of the best examples was seen in Spider-Man: No Way Home where the Spider-Man (Tom Holland) of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) met two older versions of Spider-Man (both played by Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield) that appeared in their own films.

Of course, fans will be in for a treat this week as Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness debuts and promises to deliver a the mother of all crossover events as the worlds of the MCU, previous Marvel films and more will interact. But that’s not all, next year The Flash will be about its own crossover event as the title hero’s (Ezra Miller) time travel antics will create alternate timelines and have him meet previous film versions of DC’s superheroes; notably Batman, reprised by Michael Keaton.

There have been other examples of multiverses in superhero films and TV shows. The TV series Loki, heavily dealt with this theme as the title villain (Tom Hiddleston) was a Loki from an alternate timeline that ultimately did not die as he escaped the events that led to his death in Avengers: Infinity War. This Loki grappled with knowledge about his potential fate, time travel and bizarre variants of his being, which included an alligator version of Loki (!). The events of the TV show probably led to the multiversal crisis befalling the MCU.

The Disney+ animated series What If…? exclusively explores other versions of the MCU, such as one where T’Challa never became Black Panther but instead became Star-Lord, or a world where zombies have overrun the MCU. More importantly at least two characters introduced in the What If…? series will appear in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. They are a dark version of Doctor Strange and a Peggy Carter who recieved the super-soldier serum instead of Steve Rogers. In one segment when a superpowered Ultron and the Watcher fought, their battle raged across different universes, including what may be the Star Wars universe. This series is inspired by the Marvel Comics title What If…? which explored different outcomes and events of the Marvel Universe, only the animated series focused on the MCU and for the most part the series was fun to watch.

Another terrific animated presentation from Marvel was the masterpiece Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which took place in an alternate world where a blond Peter Parker died as Spider-Man and Miles Morales took his place as a new Spider-Man. In his adventures he met alternate versions of Spider-Man including an older, jaded version of Peter Parker, Peter’s old girlfriend, Gwen Stacy and a cartoon pig. The film won the Oscar for best animated film and two sequels will be coming out starting next year.

Marvel is not the only one dealing with animated alternate worlds. DC has released several animated films based on their Elseworlds imprint, which is their own take of alternate universes. We’ve witnessed adaptations of popular Elseworld tales such as Superman: Red Son, Gotham Under Gaslight, and The Dark Knight Returns. These films were excellent adaptations of the source material or were inspired by the original premise.

DC has already had its live-action forays into alternate worlds. Crisis on Infinite Earths was a television crossover event that took place across DC’s Arrowverse TV shows. The event was a very loose adaptation of the classic comic book mini-series about multiple timelines and universes in DC being combined into one. The highlight of that event was, of course, the cameos, Easter eggs and appearances of DC heroes and villains from various live DC films and TV shows that were not part of the Arrowverse. For instance, we got to see Burt Ward reprise his role as Dick Grayson from the 1960s Batman TV show, we revisited the world of Smallville, and Brandon Routh appeared as Superman in a combination sequel to Superman Returns and loose adaptation of the classic comic book mini-series Kingdom Come. But the biggest surprise was that the TV version of the Flash (Grant Gustin) briefly met the film version played by Ezra Miller.

As to the rest of the crossover event, it was acceptable. Being these were Arrowverse shows with limited budgets, the result was what one would expect. Still, it was often entertaining and seeing the concept of a multiverse realized was fun, especially the end of the event which gave us tanatlizing glimpses into other worlds and stories.

These stories about multiverses and alternate characters and situations seemed unheard of fairly recently. Aside from the logistical hurdles of clearing rights and enticing actors to return to roles, the film and TV executives also feared that such stories would be too confusing. Sure, comic book readers and fans would understand the concept of alternate timelines and situations but the average person might not. Fortunately, as we have seen lately, these live-action presentations have been very successful, especially Spider-Man: No Way Home, which became one of the highest grossing films of all time. Still, the writers and showrunners have to be able to thread the needle carefully and tell a compelling and clear story. Otherwise, the result will be a confusing and unsatisfying film or TV show. The important thing to remember is that these are fun and fascinating explorations of our favorite characters. So for now, let’s enjoy and celebrate. these crossovers and multiverses for what they are.

Soylent Green In 2022!

We’ve all seen the memes when 2022 began a few short months ago. The posters and images of the famous sci-fi film from 1973, Soylent Green, which made sure we were aware that the film took place in 2022 and we were now in that year. So, we were supposed to conclude we would become food source for the starving masses. Well, to be short, that has not happened.

The film’s prediction about humanity becoming food is wildly off the mark, but there are many worthwhile messages in the film, and the book it’s based on, Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison, that are very relevant today.

The most important and obvious one has to do with environmentalism and how we are failing as shephards of our planet. In Soylent Green, overpopulation has choked most of the world’s resources and the film’s location of an overcrowded New York City was a disturbing example. The city’s population was 40 million and society was crumbling as it struggled to feed humanity. Basic necessities that we take for granted like running water and fresh food were reserved for the mega rich. Actually, small and simple images of the film’s main character, Detective Robert Thorn (Charlton Heston), coming upon fresh beef, vegetables, air conditioning and even a bar of soap were the most disturbing as he celebrated his newfound treasures.

Another barely mentioned situation in the film that catches anyone’s ear today was that global warming had taken hold and was wrecking our world. Thorn and the other characters were sweltering in the constant heat. A couple of times, characters mentioned that it was not cold in New York anymore and that the oceans, the final food source for starving billions, were dying. Hence, the need to turn from plankton as a food source to humanity.

The film is disturbing in that many images feel so real and remind us of our social strife. From the unfed masses crying out for justice and basic needs to failing infrastructure to gigantic corporations choking our society with their monopolistic holds on us.

Thankfully, while our current environmental situation is dire with unpredictable weather, we have not reached the apocalyptic situation of Soylent Green. But as many scientists and activists are warning, time is short for us to prevent some of the situations in that film from becoming reality.

So, yes it’s 2022 and the memes are fun and the film is an excellent cautionary tale about how things could turn out for us. But our situation is a lot better than shown in Soylent Green. Let’s keep it that way.