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 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

Sonic The Hedgehog 2 Dashes Past The First Film!

[WARNING: SPOILERS WILL FOLLOW]

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is delighting fans of the classic video game franchise during its cinematic premiere this weekend. It is probably the best video game adaptation to the big screen yet. It is full of material straight from the Sega video games Sonic The Hedgehog 2 and Sonic The Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles (S2&K), which makes the film a bit predictable for diehard Sonic fans, but is still a fun time throughout for all.

The story starts about 8 months after the events of the first film, Sonic the Hedgehog, with Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey, who is as zany as ever playing Sonic’s foe) still stuck on the mushroom planet (a reference to Mushroom Hill Zone from S2&K) escaping with Knuckles (voiced by Idris Elba), a big red echidna. Robotnik promises Knuckles that he would take him to Sonic’s (voiced by Ben Schwartz) location on Earth, which ties into Knuckles’ trait of being gulible. Tails (Colleen O’Shaunessey), a two-tailed yellow fox, then arrives on Earth to warn Sonic about Knuckles and the two soon become friends. I won’t be covering the rest of the movie’s plot so that people can have a chance to experience it for themselves, but I will now get into the most interesting easter eggs, which covers MAJOR spoilers for the film, so beware.

The first reference that I loved was when Sonic and Tails was in a bar in Siberia, and Sonic does the iconic “Sonic Adventure” pose while in midair. That moment made my heart jump in excitement, and is one of the many reasons as to why the director Jeff Fowler and the filmmakers clearly care about the source material. The scenes at the bar was also very funny, by the way. The next BIG reference is, of course, Super Sonic and the chaos emeralds. Going into this movie, I would have never expected the inclusion of Super Sonic, but I was so happy they added the golden god into the film. Super Sonic first appeared in Sonic The Hedgehog 2 and quickly becomes a staple for Sonic games, so how could they not include him in this film? The next reference is literally big, The Death Egg Robot! This giant robot first appears in Sonic 2 like Super Sonic, but it is WAY bigger than any form the games include. It was really cool to see this giant robot in the film since, again, its a staple of the Sonic franchise.

Finally, the thing that got me most excited, but kind of worried, about a potential Sonic the Hedgehog 3 is with Shadow in the post credits of this movie. Shadow is a robot made by Dr. Eggman’s uncle Gerald in the Space Colony Ark. His backstory is very complicated, so I won’t get into it here, but that’s what worries me about the third film. They are basicially jumping 5ish games, as well as their characters, which are very important. He was first introduced in Sonic Adventure 2 and rose to be a fan favorite charcter of the franchise. However, I don’t think the story of Sonic Adventure 2 would translate well into a movie, it’s complicated and feels like it would be a weird plot to include in the Sonic films. The plot follows this girl named Maria, who was Robotnik’s granddaughter, and Shadow’s friendship with her. But she is killed by a guard on the Space Colony ARK and now Shadow hates humanity and wants to explode the Earth. The other problem is that the game included a lot of charcters we haven’t seen yet in the films. Amy, the Chao, Omega, Rouge, and Gearld, to name a few. I’m worried that they may jump the gun and go too crazy, but I still have faith in them, so I’m excited.

Overall, as a long-term Sonic fan, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is everything I would have asked for in a Sonic movie. The first just felt like a generic movie with Sonic in it, but the second one feels likes it’s Sonic’s movie, and I love that. It’s way better than Sonic the Hedgehog because that movie walked, but this movie can dash! The first film had to set up our characters so they could go crazy once introductions were out of the way. This movie is full of easter eggs and references to past Sonic games so fans will love it. It is also a fun and action-packed movie so anyone can sit down and enjoy this film. I cannot wait for Sonic The Hedgehog 3 and what it will bring to the table of an already full family of fans.

Angelo Soto

The Batman Is A Powerful, Gritty Look At The Dark Knight

The latest live-action incarnation of DC Comics’ most popular superhero, The Batman, was eagerly awaited by fans and for good reason. Director Matt Reeves promised his version of Batman would actually used his detective skills like in the comics and his film would be more of a gritty crime noir piece. For the most part, Reeves succeeded and delivered one of the most powerful Batman films of all time.

Taking elements from the film Se7en and the comic book mini-series Batman: The Long Halloween, The Batman takes place during the second year of Batman/Bruce Wayne’s (Robert Pattinson) war on crime. As the film starts, a terrifying serial killer called the Riddler (Paul Dano) is killing the rich elite of Gotham City and exposing their dark secrets. This includes crooked politicians and police officers alike. Batman and his only ally in the police department, Detective James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), work together to capture the Riddler by solving his enigmatic clues before he claims his next victim.

Batman’s detective work leads him to the seedy, underworld empire of crime boss Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) and the criminal elements working for him, such as Oswald Cobblepot (Colin Farrel echoing Robert DeNiro in a fat suit) and Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz who redefines sultriness with her version of Catwoman). Their interactions expose many secrets about Gotham, including uncomfortable revelations about Bruce Wayne’s parents. At the same time, Batman starts questioning his vengeance-fueled crusade to rid crime from Gotham as he realizes the Riddler’s macabre vendetta is a dark mirror to his cause.

Unlike previous Batman films, The Batman is more grounded and gritty. Believe it or not, it feels even more realistic than the Christopher Nolan films. Gotham itself is shown to be a bleak and dreary locale without redemption and Matt Reeves revels in exposing it to the audience. Almost all the characters have dark elements in their souls and are tremendously conflicted. Batman most of all, who is at his core, a tragic figure. He is clearly emotionally damaged by the murder of his parents…thankfully this film did not bother to show us yet another version of his origin. Instead, it focuses on the aftermath of their deaths as Bruce has to learn to move past the idea of vengeance and find a more noble vision within himself.

Seeing Batman portrayed as a quiet and intimidating vigilante at odds with the police and displaying his cunning intelligence as he solves riddles was a novel approach and harken back to Batman’s Golden Age crime story roots. Pattinson does a fine job as the determined Caped Crusader and the gaunt Bruce Wayne. Unlike other versions, this Bruce Wayne is a true social recluse who has not yet adopted the outward identity of a charming billionaire playboy and it was an interesting take on the character.

The other actors were also striking in their roles, with Kravitz, Dano and Wright standing out. Dano’s horrifying take of the Riddler is truly chilling and rivals the best portrayals of the Joker. Speaking of the Joker, there is an unnecessary cameo of the Joker in the film which was distracting. We did not need to see the character and his appearance demonstrated one of the film’s weakness.

As powerful as it was, The Batman was bit too long in length, being nearly three hours long. Matt Reeves could have easily trimmed off fifteen or twenty minutes because the film dwelled too long on the intricate subplots of various villains and the corrupt elements of Gotham’s elites. Honestly, the material with the Riddler more than held up the film and those side stories were not needed. It was obvious these elements were put in to set up future films.

Regardless, from the excellent acting to the beautifully haunting cinematography to the thrilling fight scenes, The Batman is quite a neo noir achievement. It is not for everyone, especially younger children and those seeking a light-hearted superhero romp. But The Batman is one of those few films that makes you want to see again and again to discover something new with each viewing.

José Soto

Peacemaker Joyfully Revels In Violence And Silliness

Peacemaker is the first TV show set in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) and streams on HBO Max. It’s also a spinoff of The Suicide Squad and follows the further adventures of the idealogically fanatic superhero Peacemaker/Chris Smith (John Cena), who was rightly left for dead at the end of the film.

After been rescued and hospitalized by the U.S. government group A.R.G.U.S., as seen in the post-credis scene of The Suicide Squad, Peacemaker is recruited by that group’s black ops team to fight alien creatures who inhabit host human bodies and are called Butterflies because of the way the aliens appear.

The black ops team is made up of an eclectic group of goofy or over-the-top violent characters including the deadly and tough A.R.G.U.S. agent Emilia Harcourt (Jennifer Holland), John Economos (Steve Agee), an insecure tactical support agent, Leota Adebayo (Danielle Brooks), a new A.R.G.U.S. recruit who becomes good friends with Chris, and their exasperated mercenary leader Clemson Murn (Chukwudi Iwuji). An unofficial recruit is Adrian Chase aka the costumed Vigilante (Freddie Stroma), an overeager sociopath who looks up to Peacemaker and fashions himself as Peacemaker’s best friend. But that is actually Peacemaker’s pet bald eagle, Eagly.

As the group carry on their mission to eliminate the Butterflies, they learn a lot about each other and gradually earn each other’s trust, respect and even friendship. The one person who is most affected by the experience is Chris himself who begins to question his extreme jingoistic view of life and even becomes likeable.

In The Suicide Squad, the Peacemaker was a real jerk, a total D-Bag, and when he was supposedly killed off, hardly anyone mourned him unlike the other characters. But the TV show went to great lengths to humanize him and it paid off. Yes, he is still a jerk who is too cocky, but we learn that beneathe that false bravado hides a wound psyche and the emotional center of Peacemaker.

The TV show is written by James Gunn, who also directed most of the episodes. Much of the success of the show is due to the film director who reinvented the Suicide Squad and presented a possible new direction for the DCEU. As always, Gunn demonstrates his twisted filmmaking skills thanks to his well-written characters and fast-moving scripts, which keeps surprising viewers. All the actors are especially good in this show and bring an extra dimension to their characters. Cena was the best surprise with his role because of the way he is able to show different levels to his character.

As is James Gunn’s forte, Peacemaker excels at its level of cheekiness, graphic violence, and its overall raunchy nature. This is certainly not a show for the kids to watch, but DCEU fans will love the jokes, Easter eggs, and stylized action. There are a few cameos by DCEU characters that actually work and add to the show’s enjoyment. Fans of hair and glam metal bands will love the soundtrack which is peppered generously with many songs. The standout song used in Peacemaker is, naturally, Wig Wam’s “Do You Wanna Taste It” and it fits so well with the show’s hysterical dance number in the opening credits.

Be patient with the first episode or two as Peacemaker settles in and establishes the characters and situations. While it and the main character may be off-putting, by the second or third episode, viewers will get wrapped up and engaged with the bizarre and irreverant nature of the show as the characters are actually changed by their adventures.

After dealing with the inane Arrowverse, Peacemaker comes at the right time as the DCEU now thankfully is represented in the TV medium and it can herald a new era for DC-based TV shows.