Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Heroes Reborn - Episode 1: "Brave New World"

When Heroes originally began back in 2006 it was an instant pop culture phenomenon. “Save the cheerleader, save the world” became a common household phrase as did Hiro’s “Yatta!” Everyone was talking about it, myself included. It placed interesting characters with superpowers in the real world and placed them into interesting situations against one of the greatest villains ever created for television – Sylar. 

But then series creator Tim Kring (Crossing Jordan) left the show after the first season ended and everything quickly went downhill. I couldn’t make it halfway through season 2 due to the dumb way the characters and stories developed. I peeked in every once in a while to see where events were heading, but it wouldn’t take me long to remember that Heroes had become one of the most brain cell deadening shows on television. When it ended after its fourth season in 2010 the fans proclaimed that “it was put out of its misery” and not cancelled. And rightfully so as I had never seen any series go from outright amazing to absolute trash so quickly. But I always wondered how the series would have developed if Kring had stayed with the show…
Flash forward to September 24, 2015. Tim Kring and NBC apparently felt that the world needed more Heroes and premiered the first episode of his sequel mini-series Heroes Reborn. Does it return the series to its former glory? Yes and no.

The story picks up some time after the original series ended. A year ago, a terrorist attack in Odessa, Texas left the city decimated. Blamed for the tragic event, those with extraordinary abilities (known as EVOs) are in hiding or on the run from those that would see them eradicated from the face of the Earth.

For starters I like that this series has gone dark. It’s violent and depicts a world where people with superpowers isn’t all puppies and unicorn rainbow farts. It’s dangerous and you never know if the person who has powers is out to do you harm or just wants to be left alone. Sounds like life in the big city! But I digress. It starts off in an in interesting place with the terrorist bombing that changed the way the world views the EVOs and jumps forward a year to show how the world has evolved. Paranoia, fear and death seems to be a given for these people. Great set-up.
The new EVO characters introduced are all likable in their own way and some of their powers are more than a little rad. One of the issues I had with the original series was how generic everyone’s powers were with only Sylar being the unique one. Here we have someone that can teleport items to any location they are thinking about, someone who can transplant their body into a video game and someone who can control the Aurora Borealis (I’m assuming magnetic fields in general). Pretty cool. I really like Robbie Kay’s Tommy (the teleporter) for not only the effects used to sell his powers, but how his well character is written. I love how he has to restrain from using his abilities every moment of his life, from getting rid of a bully to throwing some trash away. Kiki Sukezane’s Miko (video gamer girl) is rad too in how the video game she can transport herself into is based on real life, so wherever she travels in the game mirrors a place in reality, and when she logs out (through the use of a sword) she is in that place in reality. It’s a neat variation of teleportation and it works. Her character not knowing about her ability until a fellow gamer point it out was fun too.

The new villainous human characters, played by Zachary Levi (Chuck) and Judith Shekoni (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2) don’t fare as well. We haven’t been given much to go on about their characters, who hunt down and kill EVOs, outside of basic revenge that has yet to be expanded upon. They’re just depicted as evil murderers. I hope this changes soon.
But the main issue I have with this reboot/sequel is all the returning characters from the original series. For starters their storylines have carried over to this new show. For someone like me who gave up on Heroes early on I am completely lost and I have no intention on revisiting it any time soon. Or at all. Secondly, this is to be a new story involving EVOs. Why involve any of the legacy characters? Sure I felt Noah Bennett, played by the great Jack Coleman, was one of the best characters from the original show. Did I need to see him again? Not really. But he seems to be the focal point of the story and through him I’m sure that we’ll end up catching up with the other legacy characters such as The Haitian (Jimmy Jean-Louis) as in episode 1. If I were trying to create another chapter in the saga of Heroes I would try to distance myself from everything that reminded the audience of how epically awful the original series ended up being. Legacy characters included. Sorry Noah, but whenever you were on screen I felt like I needed more information to make sense of what was going on.

But Heroes Reborn holds promise. Enough new characters and plot threads are introduced to capture my interest and I do want to see more. Sure some bad choices were made in my opinion, but if I can look past that, which I have, and look forward to all the cool places the story can go from this jumping off point I think that’s saying something. As long as they don’t bring back the evil carnies. Who the fuck thought that was a good idea?!

3.5 out of 5

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials

As far as I’m concerned the sheer amount of young adult novel film adaptations are getting as annoying as the current flood of superhero movies. Not every tween book needs to be made into a movie (ahem, Twilight), but Hollywood disagrees with me. They just want the next Harry Potter or Hunger Games franchise, but relatively few have ever gone on to becoming as successful at those two box office juggernauts. 

When I saw the trailers for last year’s The Maze Runner I basically shrugged it off as yet another failed attempt to capture some of those YA dollars. However I did think it looked mildly promising so I waited to watch until it came out on home video. I was surprised by what a well made, suspenseful and entertaining flick it ended up being. It didn’t follow that tween love triangle bullshit that most of these novels hinge upon, which is a plus, but it did feature the maddening cliché of being serialized to set up a franchise. Can’t these fucking movies be self contained just in case they aren’t successful enough to warrant a sequel (Terminator: Genisys I’m looking at you)?! It’s infuriating going to see movies these days because I feel like I just paid to see a big budget episode of television and not a movie. Regardless, I enjoyed the film and looked forward to the sequel. 
The Scorch Trials picks up right after the previous film ended, where the survivors of the maze (Dylan O’Brien, Ki Hong Lee, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Dexter Darden, Alexander Flores) discover that their misery has been caused by the WCKD organization in order to find people immune to a deadly disease called “the Flare” that has wiped out most of the human population. On the run through the burned out Earth, known as “the Scorch”, they must find a band of resistance fighters that hopefully have developed a cure.

Honestly, I didn’t find this sequel to be nearly as entertaining as its predecessor. Not even close. I figured we’d get some answers as to what the point of the maze was, but none are given. More questions are posed, but yet again are left unanswered until the next film (maybe) due to a fucking cliffhanger ending. It’s infuriating to say the least. Nothing makes a lick of sense, random new characters come in and out of the story leaving some of the returning ones tossed aside, a lot of characters have ridiculous arcs that made me roll my eyes and it all feels like it’s a film made by a committee and not a filmmaker with a vision. It’s bland and boring.
I have no issues with the actors. Actually, the cast is pretty amazing. Well, not Kaya Scodelario. She has about as much charisma as Kristen Stewart. Lots of familiar faces show up from Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad), Patricia Clarkson (The Station Agent), Lili Taylor (The Conjuring), Barry Pepper (Battlefield: Earth), Aiden Gillen (Game of Thrones) and Alan Tudyk (Serenity). None are given much to do. They younger cast for the most part are enthusiastically invested in their characters. Especially Dylan O’Brien (Teen Wolf) who really puts his all into the lead role of Thomas.

That’s all I can really say that was positive about The Scorch Trials. The rest is ho-hum post-apocalyptic sci-fi bullshit. The story feels like amalgamation of every zombie and end of the world movie ever made that even goes as far as stealing the look of the infected right out of The Last of Us. It’s kind of pathetic. It turns out the maze from the first film was way more intriguing than the world it exists in. Mad Max: Fury Road barely scratched the surface of the wasteland in which it’s set, but everything about it was infinitely more thought out and executed than it was here.
The action scenes are repetitive and usually begin in the same fashion – people explore dark corridor/room, the infected see them and give chase for ten minutes. Rinse and repeat. Nothing is as fun or fresh as in the previous film. There’s barely any character development, no real evolution of the story and the answers given in regards to Thomas and Teresa’s relationship are hokey and kind of underwhelming. Although the reasons as to why Thomas was put into the maze is kind of awesome.

What pisses me off so much here is the serialization of the films and the complete disinterest in giving much needed info for the audience to stay invested in the story. There is so much crap strewn about that isn’t explained that it made my head hurt. What are the alien larvae things that were floating in those tanks and popped up in Thomas’ drug induced hallucination? What exactly is up with the infected and why do they turn into fungusy plantlike creatures? What caused the disease? Why is the Earth so fucked up? Why is WCKD putting teenagers in a maze when they are looking for those that are immune to the Flare? Wouldn’t a blood test be easier? Why did someone think that naming a company “WCKD” was a good idea? All of these questions are relevant and not a drop of exposition is given to get us up to speed. It’s all just left for the next film. Fuck you writers. In the ass. With a dildo made of sandpaper. Twice. 
The Scorch Trials is a tired retread of forty years of sci-fi/post apocalyptic cinema. It feels like the middle movie in a trilogy that goes absolutely nowhere and exists only to set up the big finale that will be the third film in the series. Nothing more and nothing less. Funny thing is that I looked up the plot from the book this particular film is based on and it is nothing like what goes on here. In fact, it sounds even more convoluted and ridiculous. Yet another franchise falls apart after a promising start. I fear it won’t be the last.

1 out of 5

p.s. I will still probably see the next film, The Death Cure. Why? Because I’m dumb like that.