Saturday, December 19, 2015

Unanswered Questions - A Review of "The Force Awakens"

J.J. Abrams has finally figured out the solution to his Mystery Box problem.

If you're unaware, J.J. Abrams is somewhat infamous for a TED talk he gave a long time ago where he explains his philosophy when it comes to creating an air of mystery around his work.

Anyway, so one of the things that I bought at the magic store was this: Tannen's Mystery Magic Box. The premise behind the mystery magic box was the following: 15 dollars buys you 50 dollars worth of magic. Which is a savings. Now, I bought this decades ago and I'm not kidding. If you look at this, you'll see it's never been opened. But I've had this forever. Now, I was looking at this, it was in my office, as it always is, on the shelf, and I was thinking, why have I not opened this? ... But the thing is, that it represents infinite possibility. It represents hope. It represents potential. And what I love about this box, and what I realize I sort of do in whatever it is that I do, is I find myself drawn to infinite possibility, that sense of potential. And I realize that mystery is the catalyst for imagination.

The Mystery Box has been present in everything J.J. has created. It's why his trailers tell you next to nothing about the movie, why so many questions are always tantalizingly left unanswered, and why "LOST" was so popular.

However, the Mystery Box has always had a major flaw that J.J. Abrams never found a way out of. While he could set up questions and mysteries better than many, unlike in real life, he could never quite leave the box unopened. Infinite possibility space is exciting, but it's exciting because eventually the box is going to be opened and since it's a big secret, we imagine that it will be something incredible.

J.J. Abrams has never ever paid off a mystery in a way that was worthy of the setup, and that's largely because he doesn't have a very good imagination. This was the biggest reason I was worried about him taking on "Star Wars". While I knew he was a fan, I could see that he was setting up a number of mysteries that he was ill-equipped to pay off.

But, thankfully, he finally cracked the formula. He figured out how to pull off his Mystery Box, and the solution is actually fairly simple.

He just decided not to answer the questions he raised.

This obviously wouldn't have worked in many other contexts. A self-contained movie can't set up things and then refuse to pay them off. But this is "Star Wars".

J.J. Abrams and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan set up great questions and mysteries and then decided to pass them off to the next team that's handling Episode VIII.

"The Force Awakens" is the beginning of a relay race. Like "The Empire Strikes Back", it's an exciting and wonderful entry in the series, but it only succeeds because it doesn't have to carry the burden of story alone.

It reminds me a lot of J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek", which similarly was a good setup for a new franchise, but this time around, Abrams won't have to follow it up. This will be left to a filmmaker with a greater wealth of imagination and narrative talent.

And that is what makes "The Force Awakens" work as well as it does. J.J. Abrams gave us his gift of setting things up while sparing us his inability to do anything interesting with it.

I know I sound backhanded in my praise, but let me make it clear: I love "The Force Awakens". As of this writing, I have seen the movie twice, so it passes my "Attack of the Clones" test (the first time I saw "Attack of the Clones", I had such a good time that I was convinced that the movie was amazing, upon a second viewing I realized how much a midnight showing can influence your feelings of a "Star Wars" movie). It easily has the best acting and dialogue of any "Star Wars" movie, the new characters are, with rare exception, incredible and fascinating.

But for all this movie does well, its successes are afforded entirely by deciding to leave Chekhov's Guns laying about all over the place. Who is that? How did they get that? Why did that happen? Even the titular "awakening" is left completely unexplained or even remarked upon beyond that one line that you probably already heard in the trailer.

It's all done so that the movie's pace sprints along for the entire duration. There's no time to explain! Just take this! Go here! Do the thing! FIGHT! FIGHT SOME MORE! RUN!!!

Let me make something perfectly clear... this should not have worked. The plot of "The Force Awakens" is basically just "A New Hope" with names changed around, which was one of the things I was dreading. And the movie moves along so quickly that most casual audiences won't notices or care. But I did. And in spite of myself, I loved it anyway because these characters are just that good.

I love them all and I want to know more about them.

I wish this movie gave me more than it did, but I'm also glad it didn't, because Abrams and Kasdan were probably unqualified to do more than they did.

So what we end up with is a movie that leaves me wanting more, and since I know that we'll be getting more, that can really only be a good thing, so long as the movie itself isn't skippable.

I think "The Force Awakens" could have done a number of things better, that they could have put more effort into thinking things through as far as the world-building was concerned, but I love it for what it does right and what it wisely chose NOT to do.

That's about all I want to say without going into specific details. I loved it. It's not perfect, or even close, but it does enough to justify its existence and it serves as a spectacular new foundation for the Disney era of "Star Wars". Go see it if you haven't yet, because everything else from hereon out is SPOILER territory.



Now that we're all in the know here, let me get the big obvious stuff out of the way first.

Yes, I'm a little disappointed that Finn isn't a clone, but it's just as well because he's not Force-sensitive either. And Finn is still a spectacular character. After having so many great trooper characters in the "Clone Wars" cartoons, it's great to finally have a prominent central character that embodies that kind of role, right down to the "nickname". Also, having an ex-trooper around creates a great way to bring up things about the troopers that we never knew before. We learn all kinds of things about troopers that we never had a chance to learn before because there was no way to organically bring it up in the story. Finn does that job, and on top of that, manages to be a wonderful character in his own right. He's clearly in over his head, but when he's in the thick of it and things go his way, his excitement is downright infectious.

I'm glad that Rey isn't just another Skywalker, but this is one of those mysteries that will probably never have a satisfying conclusion, which is why I hope Rian Johnson doesn't lean too heavily on this. Still, Rey is easily the most intriguing mystery the movie leaves for us. She's clearly very gifted with the Force. And not just because she's able to resist Kylo Ren's mind-probing or because she masters the art of Force Persuasion without even understanding how she did it. When she touches Luke's lightsaber, she demonstrates a very rare ability in the universe known as psychometry, a gift that canonically has only been demonstrated by the character Quinlan Vos. It is what (probably) allowed her to see glimpses of the lightsaber's history. As I've only seen the movie twice, I haven't been able to recognize everything, but we definitely saw a hallway in Bespin where Luke Skywalker fought Darth Vader and we definitely heard the line, "You've taken your first step..." which is probably from Obi-Wan telling Luke that he'd taken his first step into a larger world on the Millennium Falcon (where the lightsaber had also been present).

Put simply, Rey is a prodigy, perhaps eclipsing even Anakin Skywalker's gift, and he was the bloody Chosen One.

But Rey has no prophecy. No known family name to live up to. No training or understanding of what she's capable of. She is likely tied to the "awakening" Snoke referred to, but we don't really know what that means. All we know is that she's absurdly powerful and a very very fast learner.

Rey is the infinite possibility space that J.J. Abrams always aspired to create, and she is his greatest triumph. She's without question my favorite character in the movie and the one I want to know the most about.

Poe Dameron is a great character, but he doesn't get a ton to do. For some reason, Abrams decided that the movie would be more interesting if we thought that Poe was dead for about half of it, and I don't really know why. I mean, yeah, it gives us a great scene where BB-8 is sad and it pays off when BB-8 finds out he's alive again, but there was no reason we couldn't have had a side-plot showing Poe waking up and getting back to the Resistance, giving him a chance to have more screen time and to show a little bit more of the New Republic.

And that's one of my biggest beefs with this movie. We don't even get to see the New Republic in any meaningful way before the First Order destroys it with Starkiller Base.

Now, I know they basically did the same thing in "A New Hope" where the senate was dissolved only a short while after we found out it existed, but the destruction of the Old Republic took three whole movies to accomplish, and the Empire that took its place also took three movies to destroy. I know the New Republic isn't exactly completely destroyed, but without the senate or their fleet, they might as well be.

I can't help but wonder how the First Order was able to build a planet-sized super-weapon that literally eats stars without the New Republic or the Resistance knowing. The far less powerful Rebellion was able to find out all about the Death Star, which was much smaller and stealthier. And we know that the Resistance didn't know about Starkiller Base, because otherwise, they probably wouldn't have been wasting their time trying to find Luke.

I did like the symbolism of the destruction of Starkiller Base. Rather than just exploding and leaving a blast of particles, it crumbles away and gives birth to a new star. It's not just destruction, it's creation. It's pretty cool.

Sorry, got sidetracked. Poe is a great character and I hope we get more time with him in the next movie.

Kylo Ren is a captivating villain, but he's really hard to pin down. Sometimes he's flippant, other times he's disarmingly straightforward. He's unpredictable, but I think it's largely because of how inconsistent he is. One thing that really confuses me is when the unfortunate officer tells him about "a girl" and he completely loses his shit, Force-grabbing him instantly. It suggested that he knew something about this girl, but it turns out he knew absolutely nothing about her. I thought maybe he knew that she had something to do with the "awakening" that he and Snoke felt, but he seemed shocked when he discovered she was Force-sensitive, so that couldn't be it. The only conclusion I can draw, therefore, is that he just irrationally overreacted to finding out that there was a girl involved in the droid's escape.

Don't get me wrong, I love Kylo Ren. I agree with a lot of people who say that he's kind of what George Lucas was trying to accomplish with Anakin, but well-acted and compelling. I think he benefits from the fact that he's not a Sith. There aren't a lot of good reasons for someone conflicted with the light side to be loyal to the Sith without being put under severe mind control, but Kylo Ren seems to be trying to blaze his own path in the dark side. Obviously, he's being manipulated to some extent by Snoke, but Snoke also gave him a certain degree of trust. There's still a lot more we have to learn about him and what drives him, but his relationship with Snoke feels less like Anakin's relationship with Sidious, and more like Luke's relationship with Yoda. Snoke reluctantly sent him off to confront his father, and now that he has proven himself, he must return to him and complete his training.

Actually, I've noticed that the biggest difference this movie has with the Original Trilogy is that the bad guys are sort of the rebellion this time around. Starkiller Base wiping out the New Republic's military and senate was akin to the Rebel's destruction of the Death Star in "A New Hope", and the destruction of Starkiller Base is kind of like the destruction of the Rebel base on Hoth in "Empire" (it's even on an ice planet). The First Order is back on the ropes, and while they'll likely have time to lick their wounds and rebuild their strength while the New Republic fills the power vacuum and starts building a new fleet, they didn't quite overthrow the government in control of the galaxy, just like how the Rebellion didn't quite finish off the Empire just by destroying the first Death Star.

I like this not just because it forces the good guys into a slightly different position, but because it means that the nest movie can't just be another "Empire Strikes Back". If anything, it'll be more like "The Republic Strikes Back".

What I find most interesting is that while General Hux is fixated on destroying the New Republic, Snoke and Kylo Ren seem vastly more interested in finishing off the Jedi. They prepare to attack the Resistance not because they want to finish it off, but because they want to do it now before they have a chance to find Luke. The rest is just politics.

Speaking of Luke... While I'm glad they explained that Luke tried to recreate the Jedi Order but Kylo Ren killed them all, they didn't really explain why Luke reacted by going into hiding. The best guess I can come up with is that Luke went to the first Jedi temple in order to try and rethink his approach to rebuilding the Order, so that his next attempt wouldn't result in failure, but it seems kind of weird to decide to do that before dealing with Kylo Ren and Snoke. That seems like it should be Priority One. Then again, Luke has always been pretty bad at prioritizing.

Maz is a really interesting character, and what I find even more interesting is that she's the only character we've met who was alive when Yoda was born (I suspect this is intentional). Not unlike Yoda, she acts as a very wise character, but I like that she's not a hermit. In fact, she's the exact opposite, running a cantina. While the cantina scene is probably the most shameless homage in the film, it serves as a great way to introduce Maz and to give Finn and Rey their "refusal of the call to action" they're supposed to have in order to satisfy the Campbell formula that was a great inspiration for the original film.

Still, there are a lot of weird choices where the movie is blatantly repeating stuff from the old movies, but decides to arbitrarily change the names and practically nothing else. Jakku is a desert planet that looks almost exactly like Tatooine, but with only one sun. Aside from that difference, it's practically identical, from the architecture design to the moisture condensers. Yes, I know that a desert planet would always need moisture condensers, but do they have to be the same ones? This is a completely new planet and since they made the conscious decision to make it not be Tatooine, they should have gone the extra mile and made it different in ways that weren't so pointlessly superficial. If they wanted it to be Tatooine, it should have just been Tatooine.

I think that's probably part of why I have a hard time saying that I like this movie better than the prequels. Yes, the dialogue and acting is far superior, and the mixture of practical and CG effects is blended in a way that is far more believable, but the prequels were inventive and bursting with actual creativity, not just the infinite possibility space given to us by Abrams, which is basically just a creativity IOU. Naboo, Coruscant, Kamino, Mustafar... these locations were memorable, iconic, and felt far bigger than what we got in "The Force Awakens". The closest we get is Maz's planet, Takodana, which I couldn't even remember the name of without looking it up, and even that basically just looked like Yavin IV with a cool cantina in it.

I really wish that George Lucas had acted as a Producer for this film, because his obsession with world-building was sorely needed for this film. Without the characters, the worlds Abrams presented to us would have felt far more lifeless than anything in the prequels. Thankfully, the characters make the world feel genuine, making up for this rather significant shortcoming.

If I was being honest, I'd say that I like this movie about as much as "Phantom Menace". I like it way more than "Attack of the Clones" and a bit more than "Return of the Jedi", but I think I like "Revenge of the Sith" just a little bit more.

Maybe that sounds crazy, but having seen "The Force Awakens" twice, I don't really feel like there's a lot of meat on the bones here. "The Force Awakens" is perhaps a less frustrating film than any of the prequels, but it's also significantly less ambitious. I'd probably be less reluctant to show this film to a random person, but I'd be less likely to watch it on my own. It feels like exactly the sort of movie George Lucas was deliberately trying not to make when he made the prequels. He clearly didn't want to just retread his earlier work.

I feel like the perfect "Star Wars" movie is something in between "The Force Awakens" and "The Phantom Menace". Relying heavily on great characters and great acting, but taking place in a world that is fully fleshed out and visually breathtaking and trying to do new things. Perhaps that is why "A New Hope" is so remarkable, even when compared to the other entries in the series.

I'm hoping that Rian Johnson will restore balance to the franchise. I think that Abrams has given him an incredible new place to work from, and I'm excited to see just where this whole thing is going, but I have a feeling that in a few years, "The Force Awakens" will be seen as the weakest movie of the sequel trilogy.

I've pretty much said everything I wanted to say, but I'm going to finish with a few stray thoughts and observations:

- So is Finn going to have a cyborg spine now? That could be pretty awesome.
- Is Chewbacca just going to chill out and wait for Rey to train with Luke? We didn't see him leave with the Falcon after dropping Rey off.
- I think that when Kylo Ren is saying that he'll finish what Vader started, he's not talking about ruling the galaxy or whatever, but bringing balance to the Force. I think that Kylo Ren believe that in order for the Force to be truly balanced, the Jedi must also be destroyed, just like the Sith. Hence why he created his own schism with the whole Knights of Ren thing, obsessed with Darth Vader, who betrayed both the Jedi and the Sith, ultimately serving neither. Perhaps his devotion to the dark side is out of necessity in order to destroy the Jedi.
- Is the New Republic going to rebuild the senate? Who's in charge now while they go about rebuilding everything? Leia?
- Did Leia ever train with Luke? Why didn't she become a Jedi? Was she afraid that she'd turn to the dark side? She does internalize a lot of tragedy, what with her home planet getting blown up in front of her and all.
- Seems like Chewbacca's family is officially non-canon now. The way Maz referred to him as her boyfriend (even if it was just a joke) suggests that he's single. Plus it looked like he was flirting with that doctor. Lumpy will not be missed.
- The fact that Kylo Ren recognized Anakin's lightsaber suggests that he's seen it before.
- I wonder if Kylo Ren was actually named Ben or if he was named Obi-Wan and Ben was just his nickname, much like how it was for the original Obi-Wan. Either way, when Han cried out, "Ben!" that was probably the closest I came to tearing up.
- Kylo Ren holding that blaster shot in mid-air was probably the single coolest thing in the entire movie.
- The music was lovely, but John Williams didn't really seem to stretch himself creatively this time around.
- The instant bread thing was pretty damn cool.
- The wreckage from the Battle of Jakku was probably the only thing about Jakku that was unique and interesting, and it had absolutely nothing to do with Jakku's culture or history. Still, the wreckage was very visually interesting.
- I think C-3PO's red arm is cool. I hope he keeps it.
- BB-8 is a marvel of practical effects. I love him.
- I like that when Finn reveals that he lied about being with the Resistance, Rey didn't really get upset with him. I hate that whole "liar revealed" trope and it was nice to see them side-step the whole thing.
- Maz is lovely and i hope she shows up in the eventual Yoda anthology film.
- General Hux is interesting, but he's no Tarkin.
- Did Kylo Ren lose his helmet? He left it on the catwalk, so I doubt he had time to get it before the planet became a sun.
- If Starkiller Base absorbed its sun, where did the light come from in the later scenes? I think it was a possible missed opportunity for some cool light design during the final battle.
- Why were there only X-Wings during the Battle of Starkiller Base? Where were the Y-Wings or B-Wings? I mean, especially considering how the main objective was to blow up a very specific part of the base, you'd think Y-Wings would be ideal, what with their bombing capabilities. Heck, why didn't the Resistance attempt to fight a land battle on the base? The First Order didn't seem to have AT-AT walkers and the like. This wasn't like the Death Star where landing on the surface wasn't possible because it didn't have an atmosphere. Starkiller Base was a planet. It was weird that they didn't fight on it like a planet.
- I really liked the riot trooper with the stun baton, but why was he there? It didn't look like they had qualms about killing innocent civilians or whatever. Why bring the nonlethal guy? And more than that, why didn't he try shooting at Finn? He recognized that he was a trooper, apparently, so he probably could have assumed that Finn wouldn't have been able to reliably deflect blaster shots like a Jedi would. Maybe he wanted to take Finn alive so he could be court-marshaled or something?
- I realized the second time around that the trooper that died in Finn's arms at the beginning was shot by Poe. I wonder if Finn was aware of this. Did he know the guy?
- I always find it funny when spies and scoundrels just randomly talk into their comms saying things like "Tell the First Order something something." Shouldn't they start by saying something like, "This is such-and-such. Do you copy?" Otherwise, their important message might be missed while the other guy is on the crapper.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

"Star Wars" and Cynicism

I've been trying to write a post about "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" for a few months now, but I've never really been able to write something that I was OK with posting, and ultimately, I think it's because I always end up sounding cynical.

I truthfully have mixed feelings about the new movie. On the one hand, I can't wait to see it. I haven't been this hyped up for "Star Wars" since "Revenge of the Sith". On the other hand, I have a lot of reservations about J.J. Abrams' capabilities as a writer and director, and it's not hard to cut together a good "Star Wars" trailer, so I tend to take them with a grain of salt. However, as soon as I start going down the path of talking about all of the things that bug me about what I've seen so far, I start to hate the way it all sounds.

It isn't fair for me to be cynical about this next movie, because honestly, the cynical part of me wants it to be terrible. J.J. Abrams is exactly the sort of "Star Wars" fan that has done nothing but whine about the franchise since "Return of the Jedi". Since I was a kid, all I ever heard from those fans was how much everything sucked. Ewoks sucked, the Special Editions sucked, Jar Jar sucked, the new puppets sucked, the lack of puppets sucked, Anakin sucked, etc. and why oh why can't they just make a movie like they used to!

And now Disney is doing exactly that. Old cast, old methods, a plot that seems to be a carbon copy of "A New Hope" but with different names and places, and disregarding almost anything that has transpired since J.J. Abrams was a kid (unless it happened to make millions of dollars).

A lot of people see this as a love-letter, but at my worst, I see it as the product of a jaded "Star Wars" fan. The sometimes-implied notion that "back to basics" is what "Star Wars" needed all along completely misses the point of "Star Wars" for me.

This movie being terrible would be very vindicating. A testament to how the cranky old fans were always wrong and that their desire to "save 'Star Wars'" was always just about them not wanting to admit that maybe "Star Wars" never needed saving in the first place. That they were just mad that it wasn't pandering to them anymore.

And even if the new movie is bad, it won't really hurt the "Star Wars" canon for me. The next director, Rian Johnson, inspires a great deal more faith in me than Abrams does. He's an old fan, but he's brimming with imagination. "Looper" impressed me by being a time travel movie that had a pretty simple plot, but managed to feel incredibly unique. Who randomly puts telekinetic powers into a movie about time travelling hitmen? Rian Johnson, that's who. And it doesn't stop there. Every movie he has made is unlike anything I've ever seen, and all without straying outside of convention. "Brick" was a film noir set in a high school. "Brothers Bloom" was a quirky caper comedy with a genuine heart and a gut-punch of an ending that still finds a way to be enigmatically optimistic so that it doesn't sour the overall tone of the film. It's the same kind of magic that made "Star Wars" work from the beginning. It's that kind of "chocolate and peanut butter" logic that makes perfect sense when you see it, but it takes a genius to come up with it in the first place. And hearing him talk about the job, it just sounds like he's exactly the sort of person I want handling "Star Wars". If J.J. Abrams botched this, it wouldn't really hurt "Star Wars", it would just hurt Abrams and all of the fans who thought that this was what "Star Wars" needed.

I can't really lose. Even if this movie sucks, I'll still get to be smug about it from now until the next movie comes out and saves the day.

And yet... I don't want to hate this movie. I want to love it. I want all of the things I'm hoping to see to be brought to life. And despite my issues with Abrams, he's consistently very good at directing actors in a way that George Lucas never was. He's not so good at writing and his movies almost always have incredibly disappointing third acts, but maybe collaborating with Kasdan will make the difference.

I have dozens of reasons why I might hate this movie. I'm worried that the third act will just be blowing up yet another spherical super weapon. I'm worried that the movie will tie itself into a convoluted knot to explain why the good guys are still underdogs even though they won in the last movie. I'm worried that too much of the movie will be about making winking references to the original movies, or worse, thinly-veiled put-downs directed towards the newer canon. I'm worried that Abrams is hiding the fact that certain characters might have the last name Skywalker or Solo just so he can give us a convoluted "surprise" reveal like he did with Khan in "Star Trek Into Darkness" that isn't actually surprising and often requires a lot of pointless plot gymnastics to justify. I'm worried that the incredible and imaginative production design I'm used to will be reduced to just replicating things that were in previous movies, are remarkably similar to things that were in previous movies, or are just realizations of old, unused concept art. If there's more stuff like BB-8, I'll be fine.

But there are some things that would make me giddy as a schoolgirl. Finn turning out to be a clone would be an amazing revelation, especially if he's actually Force-sensitive (the implications!). Luke's "exile" turning out to be less about doing the hermit thing like Obi-Wan and Yoda and more about training the new generation of Jedi in secret would be nice. I'm hoping Captain Phasma turns out to be a sort of Stormtrooper Javert; Lawful Neutral to a fault. The Knights of Rey turning out to not be inherently evil, but a group misled by Supreme Leader Snoke (the new Emperor, basically) would be an interesting angle. The possibility that Finn isn't Force-sensitive, but Rey is would be cool because then you'd have a Force-sensitive character who doesn't use a lightsaber and a non-Force-sensitive character who does use a lightsaber.

In general, I'm just hoping that there's more to this movie than it seems. That there are real surprises hidden inside Abrams' "mystery box" this time around.

However, one thing I've decided is that even if the movie is terrible, even if all the "surprises" fall flat and it's just a cookie-cutter rehash, I don't intend to be cynical about it. I'll probably rant about it for a blog post or two, certainly, but I don't intend to fall to the dark side like many of the fans before me. I won't spend the next decade complaining about everything it did wrong. Hell, I'll probably still watch it whenever I decide to marathon the series, because even bad "Star Wars" movies tend to have something worth watching. And I won't have to put together a "fan-edit" to make it "the way it should have been". I won't act like the series has been ruined. I won't look forward to "Episode VIII" any less. And I won't be a jerk to the people who inevitably decide that this is their favorite movie in the series.

In a little over a week, I'll be going into a little theater near my hometown with my girlfriend, my brother, and some friends to see it on opening night. We will have a great time no matter how bad it might be because it's "Star Wars". And I'll probably go see it again the next day, even if I hated it, because it's "Star Wars".

Young children (but not super young children... the movie is rated PG-13, parents) will be seeing "Star Wars" for the first time next week. Good or bad, they'll hopefully walk out of that theater wanting to swing lightsabers, fly the Falcon, and feel the Force. They'll go home and dive into all the old movies and cartoons and they'll become a part of a fandom that, in spite of its darker side, still loves this franchise because of the way it connects all of us through our collectively captivated imagination.

How could I possibly be cynical about that?

May the Force be with you.

Monday, November 9, 2015

How to Get 100% Completion on "Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain"

Since it's been a while since I've posted anything, I thought something simple would be a good idea.

I just (finally) got through playing "Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain", by which I mean I got 100% completion.

Getting 100% completion on this game is hard, but I would say it's not quite as hard as it was in "Metal Gear Solid IV: Guns of the Patriots". And frankly, there are a few things I found out along the way that, if I had known from the beginning, would have made it significantly easier.

First of all, what do you need to do to get 100% completion?

1) Complete every Side Ops Mission.
2) Complete all 50 Main Missions with an S-Rank
3) Complete every objective of every Main Mission.
4) Complete every "important" Dispatch Mission (the ones marked with yellow dots)
4) Get every Key Item
5) Get every Memento Photo
6) Capture every animal (it's not enough to just identify them for your encyclopedia)

With that said, there are a few things you DON'T need to do in order to get 100% completion. You DON'T need to develop every single item, you DON'T need to find all the cassette tapes, and you DON'T need to unlock every emblem.

Let's start with the big tips:

Get the Following Items

Here are some items you ought to develop, not necessarily because you NEED to, but because they REALLY help:
Stealth Camo
- This item restricts Main Missions to A-rank only, but it still has TONS of uses. More on this later.
Wormhole Fulton
- The final upgrade to the Fulton recovery system allows you to Fulton almost anyone from anywhere.
D-Dog's Fulton Outfit
- Sometimes you just don't have time to extract someone, and with D-Dog's Fulton outfit, he can do it for you. It's a little temperamental, but so long as the prisoner or unconscious soldier is nearby and not in a locked room, D-Dog will be able to run over to them and extract them, usually without anybody even noticing.
Stun Arm
- The Stun Arm might SEEM useless, but it's quite possibly the single most useful weapon in the game. If you have it equipped, press and hold R2 to start charging it. Keep charging it until the little bar above the weapon icon charges all the way. You'll hear a little beep when it finishes. Then and only then do you release R2. This hidden move releases a massive area attack that hits EVERYONE in a 40-meter radius from you, no matter where they are or what they're wearing, and they stay knocked out for around 6 minutes, giving you more than enough time to do what you need to do.
Parasite Armor + Mist/Armor Parasites
- I know what you're thinking, but the game is lying to you. Using the Parasite Armor does NOT restrict you to an A-rank like it says it does. Only when you use the Camo Parasites are you restricted to an A-rank. The Mist and Armor Parasites can be used as much as you like and you'll still be able to get an S-rank.
EMN Mines
- You'll need these for a few missions that involve taking down vehicles (specifically "Backup, Back Down"). Max out the development on these so that you can carry as many as possible without needing to redeploy, since that's one of the objectives of the aforementioned mission.
Sleep Grenades
- Max these babies out because they are REALLY useful for taking out the Skulls in a couple missions.
Sleep Grenade Launcher
- This was really only useful in "Pitch Dark" and "Cloaked in Silence", but it was still useful.
Cluster Guided Missiles
- The best launcher in the game. It does a ton of damage and it locks on to targets within about 200 meters, so it's perfect for taking down helicopters and Sahelanthropus.
D-Walker's Fulton Ballista
- Not essential, particularly since it locks you to an A-rank, but there are a few Side Ops where you have to Fulton enemies with TONS of armor. Being able to just shoot them with a gun that automatically Fultons them makes those missions way easier.
Infinity Bandanna
- Unlimited ammo AND suppressors. Restricts you to A-rank, but again, it has its uses.

Some of these things require certain specialists or high-ranked Mother Base platforms, but every single one of them is worth it, trust me.

Side Ops Have No Ranking System, So Use Stealth Camo

Unlike the main missions (and unlike the Side Ops in "Peace Walker") the Side Ops don't judge you on your performance. They only care about results.

So break out that Stealth Camo, Infinity Bandanna, and Fulton Ballista and get cracking. Also, one you complete a Side Op, you can just return to the ACC through the Start Menu. Don't worry, the game remembers that you completed it. It just saves you from having to call Pequod and waste money on the extraction.

There are a few different types of Side Ops, but once you get a rhythm for it, they're pretty easy (just time-consuming).

Prisoner Extractions

These missions are the easiest. Bring along D-Dog with his Fulton outfit, sneak into the area with your Stealth Camo, when you see the prisoner, tell D-Dog to go Fulton him. If he fails, find the locked door and unlock it and do it yourself. Boom, you're done.

Secure the Blueprint

Either look up online where the Blueprint is or interrogate soldiers until they tell you.

Extract the Highly Skilled Soldier

These are harder than Prisoner Extractions because the target is unwilling. You'll need to find them and knock them out. Not too hard with D-Dog, Stealth Camo, and your INT-Scope. Don't bother capturing every soldier in the area or you'll be there all day. Just find the one you need, sneak in, take them out, and return to ACC.

Capture the Animal

There are a small number of missions that involve capturing animals. The hard part is usually just finding the animal. Once you do, just camo up and shoot it with your tranq gun until it drops.

Extract the Wandering Mother Base Solider

This is necessary for unlocking all of the Memento Photos. This is a little trickier than the other Extraction missions since they often resist you, but with a decent long-range tranq gun, you can land a head-shot, and that's all you need.

Eliminate the Heavy Infantry/Armored Vehicle Unit/Tank Unit

D-Walker's Fulton Ballista is very handy for these missions, but if you're not interested in keeping anyone alive, Air Support Bombardments can work fine too (though they're far less elegant).

Mine Clearing

Air Support Bombardments are big time savers for these missions.

Eliminate the Wandering Puppets

These missions are fairly easy at first, but they get tricky once the Puppets start wearing head armor. For this, I recommend packing a lethal weapon to shoot them in the head until the helmet falls off, then either tranq them with a head-shot or just finish the job if you don't plan to extract them. Just remember that you NEED a head-shot on these guys.

Target Practice

Most of these missions are easy, but one or two are practically timed easter egg hunts. Use a video walkthrough if you don't want to snap your controller out of frustration.

And that's pretty much it for Side Ops. Like I said, they're easy enough, just time-consuming.

You Don't Need to Get S-Rank and All Tasks at the Same Time

This is a very important thing to keep in mind. While you need an S-rank on every Main Mission and you need to complete every task for every Main Mission, you don't need to do both at the same time. In fact, you don't even need to get all the tasks in one go. Some missions are way easier if you just focus on completing a few tasks per run.

That's not to say that doing perfect runs can't sometimes be expedient, but there are some missions that are so hard that trying to get an S-rank while completing all of the objectives is just more trouble than it's worth.

Particularly because some tasks are far easier to complete with Stealth Camo and the Infinity Bandanna.

A simple way to go about completing all the Main Missions would be to start by doing the mission with your Stealth Camo and Infinity Bandanna, just to easily complete all of the tasks. Then do the mission again without the items that lock you to an A-rank and focus on getting an S-rank.

But how do you get an S-rank? Follow these basic strategies:

Use Mist Parasites
- It's not quite as good as the Stealth Camo, but it reduces visibility so much that you basically have to be within spitting distance of an enemy for them to notice you, and at that point, you can just run up and knock them out. But honestly, with Mist Parasites, you barely even need to do anything else. Just crouch-walk to wherever you need to go, ignore the soldiers, keep your distance, and do what you need to do. You can complete entire missions without knocking out a single soldier if you've got the Mist Parasites. Mist Parasites are OP. Use them liberally, and if you run out, go get some more from the Skulls in Kaz's mission. You can probably take them out quickly with either a decent sniper rifle or Sleep Grenades.
Use the Stun Arm for densely guarded areas
- If a building or area is crawling with soldiers, the Stun Arm can be really useful. Just make sure everyone is within 40 meters (D-Dog is very helpful for figuring that out) before you do the blast. You need a full charge and that takes a few minutes to build back up, so use carefully.
Turn off Reflex Mode
- I know it's helpful, but it's a crutch, and a costly one. If you have it on and it triggers, even if you take down the guy that spots you and avoid an alarm, you STILL won't get the bonus for Perfect Stealth, and that's in addition to losing the bonus for avoiding Reflex Mode. Just turn it off and if someone spots you, try to take them down without it. If you set off an alarm, just reload from the last checkpoint. The points you lose for reloading are significantly less than what you lose for using Reflex Mode and not getting Perfect Stealth.
Don't go out of your way to accomplish other objectives
- Yes, you sometimes get bonus points for them, but you also get bonus points for completing the mission quickly. The trade-off isn't usually worth it. Just focus on the main objectives and doing them as quickly as possible.
99% of the time, don't kill anyone
- This is a "Metal Gear" game. If you're killing someone, you're doing it wrong. There are a couple missions where the fastest way to complete them is to kill the target, so sometimes that's OK, but the rest of the time, do it non-lethally. You get a point bonus, you get new soldiers, and you get more Hero Points.
Use material containers for quick extraction
- Calling down a helicopter takes time and money. But if you climb on top of a material container, use the Fulton extraction, and then press and hold the action button immediately afterward, you can ride the material container out of the mission area. This is particularly useful for missions like "Pitch Dark".
Use Armor Parasites for combat missions
- A few missions are less about sneaking and more about fighting things. "Metallic Archaea", "A Quiet Exit", and "Sahelanthropus" involve Snake getting shot at no matter what you do. This is when you use the Armor Parasites. Seriously, with these babies, you'll be damn near invincible, giving you plenty of time to do whatever you need to do without needing to run to cover constantly.
If a soldier is too armored for a tranq gun, shoot them in the arms or legs
- The soldiers in the game gradually evolve to adapt to your dominant strategies. Eventually, certain soldiers start wearing armor to avoid getting knocked out by your tranq guns. If you aim for a head-shot but you hear a CLUNK instead of the satisfying PEW, then aim for their arms and legs instead. If you hear a RIP instead of a CLICK, then their arms and legs are armored as well. At this point, your tranq gun is useless, so don't waste your ammo. You can either try to knock these guys out with CQC or you can just use your Stun Arm. Or you could just avoid them, if possible.
Look up walkthroughs for "Subsistence" missions
- Subsistence missions are the worst. You have to complete the mission (and all the objectives) without any equipment, weapons, or buddies. You don't even get to pick the time of day. There are only a few of them, but they're still infuriating. Just look up walkthroughs on YouTube. Otherwise, you'll be there all day trying to figure it out.
Plant Capture Cages at the start of every mission
- They get extracted automatically and it will save you time during your eventual animal hunt.

So to sum up, each mission should play out something like this:
- Make sure Reflex Mode is turned off in the Game Options.
- Land.
- Plant Capture Cages.
- Run to your objective.
- If you see soldiers, activate your Mist Parasites. Turn on your NVG so you can still see. If you hear the iDroid voice tell you that "weather will clear shortly", it means your Mist Parasites are about to wear off, so redeploy them if you're still near enemies.
- If a soldier spots you, try to take them out quickly, even without Reflex Mode (usually running and using CQC is pretty reliable, but if you already have them in your sights, go ahead and try and knock them out with a silenced tranq).
- If you trigger an alarm, reload from the last checkpoint.
- Don't kill anyone. If you do, reload from the last checkpoint.
- If there's a bunch of people all in the same 40-meter area, charge up your Stun Arm and let 'em have it.
- Complete the main objectives (and any side objectives if you don't have to go out of your way).
- If there's a materials container, ride it out of the hot zone. Otherwise, call a chopper and get out, or just run out of the hot zone if that's easier.

As for completing the other tasks, I can't really give too much detail or else we'll be here all day. But for me, this was the most fun part of the game, so I would recommend you try to do this without a walkthrough as often as possible. Since you don't have to worry about getting an S-rank at the same time, you can just accomplish the tasks using whatever weapons and items you want, like the aforementioned Stealth Camo and Infinity Bandanna. You can also have fun with the Air Support strikes and special character outfits like the Cyborg (run faster, jump higher!). This is the part of the game where you get to cut loose, and at the end of the day, this IS a video game, so why play if you can't have a little fun?

The only part of this that is no fun at all is when you have mission objectives that require you to listen to every conversation. Those objectives are obnoxious and there's really no way to make that fun. Sorry. The best tip I have for this is to just have a run where you focus on listening to conversations and then do the other objectives in a different run. That way if something goes wrong, you don't have to listen to the same conversations over and over and over.

If you REALLY want to try and get S-rank and all the objectives at the same time, it is possible (for the most part) if you can avoid detection and having to restart. But I'd probably suggest bringing along the Stealth Camo just in case you get spotted. You only get locked out of the S-rank if you use it, so just having it can't hurt, and it'll be nice if something goes wrong after you've completed most of the objectives. At that point, you might as well just focus on accomplishing the tasks and try to get the S-rank afterwards, so go ahead and use your emergency Stealth Camo.

But again, you REALLY DON'T NEED TO GET ALL THE OBJECTIVES AT THE SAME TIME YOU GET AN S-RANK. There's no big reward for doing both at the same time. The game doesn't care.

That said, if you STILL want to try, these video walkthroughs are the best I could find by far. This person completes almost every Main Mission with every objective, perfect stealth, no kills, and S-rank, and he does most of them VERY quickly. If you're a perfectionist, look no further.

Dispatch Missions

Honestly, there's nothing all that special about completing the required Dispatch Missions. Just have a bunch of high-ranking Combat Unit soldiers and keep trying the important missions until you complete them all. Odds are you'll fail some of these a lot, even with all S-ranked soldiers, but just keep trying. Soldiers are easy to replace and eventually you'll get it.

Get all the Key Items

You'll get most of the Key Items just from completing and S-ranking all of the Main Missions and finishing the Side Ops. Beyond that, there are two Key Items that you only get if you collect all of the Delivery Invoices. If you don't know what these are, you'll find them on those weird orange metal things in certain areas. Those are delivery locations. If you have the appropriate invoices, you can hide in a box at those locations and fast-travel to anywhere else that you have an invoice. They don't have many practical uses, but they do come in handy for a few missions, so they're worth getting early on. Plus, you need them for two Key Items, and you need THOSE for 100% completion, so... yeah. Go get 'em.

The only other Key Item you might not have is the one you get for Marking 500 soldiers, and if you don't have that one by now, you probably should use the INT-Scope more. Just run around areas and look at people with the INT-Scope until you get that Key Item.

Memento Photos

You get these from the Wandering Soldiers Side Ops and talking to a certain character that's on your Medical Platform. I can't say too much more without spoilers, but basically, after you finish the first Wandering Soldier Side Op, explore the Medical Platform until you find an area that triggers a cutscene. After that, just head back to that location every time you finish a Wandering Soldier Side Op. When you finish, the last Memento Photo is hidden in that area.

Capture All the Animals

This is another thing that requires a walkthrough, to be honest. If you've been planting Capture Cages at the start of every mission, you'll probably have already found most of them, but there are a few that are damn near impossible to find.

Also, I mentioned this earlier, but it's not enough to just see the animals. You have to capture them. Sometimes an animal will appear in your Encyclopedia even if you haven't captured it yet. To know which ones you captured, look at your Animals Emblems in your Emblem Customization page. You unlock an emblem for that animal when you capture it, so if you don't have the Emblem, you still need to capture it.

This guide is pretty good for finding most of them.


And... that's it! Once you've done all these things, you should have 100% completion. If you don't, then there's probably something that counts towards completion that I'm not aware of. In that case, I'd say just focus on completing all of the Achievements/Trophies for the game. You'll probably already have most of them by now, so it probably won't take long.

Oh, and what did I think of the game?

Well, I spent countless hours getting 100% completion and unlocking all the trophies.

Clearly, I hated it.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Deadpool Trailer Thoughts

Since I've established on this blog that I'm a big fan of "Deadpool" (though I've fallen way behind on his comics, something I eventually intend to remedy) I thought I'd throw out my thoughts on the new leaked trailer for "Deadpool" from SDCC.

First off, I won't link to the trailer because Fox is taking it down every few hours and they haven't put it up officially yet, probably because if they did, it would have to be a red band trailer (too much cursing). Shouldn't be too hard to find. Your Google Fu is strong.

The first big takeaway I get from this is that it's very heavily influenced by the Joe Kelly run of "Deadpool", which is my personal favorite take on the character. The inclusion of Blind Al (who I don't THINK was in the original leaked screenplay from a few years back, but it's hard for me to remember) makes me giddy. Blind Al is one of my favorite Deadpool supporting characters. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

As I mention above, a rough screenplay for this movie leaked about 5 or 6 years ago. I found a copy and read it (I've tried to find it again since, but to my surprise, it appears to have been effectively expunged from the Internet, a very rare feat indeed) and I loved it. It was written by the "Zombieland" guys and it wasn't perfect, but it had the potential to be a way better Deadpool movie than I thought Fox was capable of producing. And so I was pretty convinced that it was never going to happen. I knew it would have to be R-rated, which is the kiss of death for a lot of comic book movies, and while I thought that Deadpool would be appealing enough to pull it off, I knew it would be next to impossible to convince Fox executives of that. I knew that a movie with this screenplay was too good to be true.

And yet, here we are. An actual trailer, and judging from it, it bears a very striking resemblance to what I remember from the screenplay I read. Specifically that Colossus is in it as a supporting character and a few jokes and action scenes I remember were shown in this trailer. I mean, I knew when they announced it that the "Zombieland" guys were still the ones credited for the screenplay, but so much time had passed that I was worried they were forced to rewrite it into submission. Luckily that doesn't seem to be the case. And we got a joke teaser a few months back stating emphatically that this movie was going to be R-rated.

This is really happening guys.

Ryan Reynolds is (as everyone suspected all along) a great fit for the role. At least judging from this alone. After over a decade of hoping and praying that he'd get to do this role (the right way), he finally got his wish. Whether or not this movie turns out to be good, you can't deny that this is exactly the Deadpool Reynolds has always wanted to play.

OK, so Negasonic Teenage Warhead. She was not in the screenplay I read (I don't think) and her presence here is... odd. Is she there as an X-Man backing up Colossus? If so... I don't know, I feel like this was a missed opportunity to bring in Siryn, especially since they already established her dad existing in "X-Men: First Class" (though I guess he was apparently killed according to "X-Men: Days of Future Past", so I suppose that puts a damper on things). Ah well, if they're going from the screenplay I read, they would probably focus on Copycat being the sole love interest for Deadpool, which is fine. I hope they change the ending I read, though. Copycat doesn't have nearly enough agency in that draft. I guess we'll see.

Also, Morena Baccarin as Copycat is totally OK in my book. We barely see her in the trailer, but I'm always happy to see her get work.

Oh, and Weasel is fantastic. The "topographical map of Utah" joke was one of the funniest things I've heard in a while.

Alright, now for the stuff that I don't like so much.

The "red shirt/brown pants" joke is old as hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore. Even the people of Westeros have heard that joke a million times and they haven't invented indoor plumbing yet.

It's hard to tell from the bootleg, but I don't think Wade's face is ugly enough. Like I said, this a tough call from the view we get, but I don't think they went far enough.

I'm sad that this is made by Fox because that means we'll never get Bob of HYDRA in a hypothetical sequel (unless they come up with a HYDRA knockoff).

I don't know how I feel about the music used. I feel like a soundtrack more similar in tone to "Guardians of the Galaxy" would suit it better, but this is a nit-pick at best.

Aside from that... I really can't wait to see this. I never thought this would actually happen, but here we are.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Bad Arguments Against "Jurassic World"

A lot of people enjoyed "Jurassic World" and I'm one of them. "Jurassic Park" was one of the first PG-13 movies I was allowed to watch as a kid and I still remember sitting with my family in the car watching the movie at a drive-in theater. I owned a bunch of the toys (the ones with the weird detachable chunks of flesh that they called "battle damage"), I read the original novel (though I was waaaay too young for it, so most of it went over my head), and I think it sparked some of my early interest in science. It's an important movie for me.

"Jurassic World" felt like it was made by and for people like me. It was more or less the kind of movie I would have made if someone asked me to make a sequel. I left the movie feeling completely satisfied and I'd say it's the first film of the Summer to exceed my expectations ("Age of Ultron" fell somewhat short of my high expectations, and "Mad Max" met my high expectations, but did not exceed them).

I can see what some people don't like the movie. The pacing is pretty break-neck, most of the story beats are cliche and predictable, the characters are stock and simple to understand so we don't have to spend too much time on them, and the bad guys are straight out of cheesy 80's action films.

Still, as I've been reading and watching mixed or negative reviews of the movie, I keep hearing arguments that I just... don't think people are thinking through? It feels like they're just pulling arguments that SOUND like they make sense, but don't hold up to any actual scrutiny. So rather than write a loooong review like I usually do, I'd rather just rant about bad arguments people have been making against this movie. Let's do this!

The CGI is Terrible!

This is one of the weirdest arguments I've heard, mostly because I keep hearing some people talk about how "fake" everything looks, while other people (even people who feel generally negative about the movie) say the CGI looks amazing.

I actually wonder if this is because of the format that people choose to watch the movie. I personally saw it in 2D and the CGI never bothered me. I don't know if I'd say it was "amazing", but it never stuck out to me. My guess is that maybe the CGI holds up to less scrutiny in 3D and/or IMAX.

Even so, one argument I've heard a few times to explain WHY the CGI is terrible is because "If you notice it's CGI, it's bad CGI" and that practical effects should have been used more.

I'm going to say, if that's the benchmark for a good special effect, the only time I personally remembered that the dinosaurs weren't real was when they used a practical effect. There was a scene with an apatosaurus and I thought "Wow! That's a really impressive animatronic muppet dinosaur!" and it was, but I still NOTICED that it was a practical effect, and it was the only time I did. So if the benchmark of a good effect is invisibility, I'd say the CGI worked better for me in that regard than the practical effects.

The Romance Subplot Is Pointless

The most common complaint I've heard is that the romance between the characters Owen and Claire is forced and pointless and there because romances are expected in Summer blockbusters.

Well, yeah. Sure. But practically EVERYTHING in these movies are forced. That doesn't make them BAD. It's all about whether or not you can enjoy the movie because of or in spite of those elements.

As for the romance... well, my stance on forced romantic subplots is that I'm OK with it if it follows these criteria:

1) The relationship doesn't define a character. So often romantic subplots are used as the only character trait for a supporting female character in the film. Her only motivation or growth is defined within the constraints of that relationship.
2) The characters in the relationship have good chemistry. If I enjoy watching the actors flirt with one another, then I'll probably enjoy the romantic scenes they share. Bad chemistry is the death-knell for a romantic subplot in a movie like this.
3) The plot isn't slowed down by the romance. If the characters are getting shit done while they flirt and the plot doesn't grind to a halt because they want to talk about their feelings, then the romance doesn't really hurt anyone.

First off, ALL of these rules are broken by the forced romance in the original "Jurassic Park" between Alan and Ellie (which wasn't in the books). Ellie Sattler is unfortunately given very little to do or be as a character in that movie and pretty much the only thing people wondered about her was whether or not she and Alan were an item since the movie left it somewhat ambiguous. Which brings me to my second point. Alan and Ellie had such little chemistry that people couldn't even tell that they were SUPPOSED to be romantically involved. Last, the few scenes that were devoted to Ellie's relationship with Alan could have been cut entirely and it would have sacrificed nothing. This is a case of a romantic subplot existing to the detriment of the movie.

"Jurassic World", on the other hand, does not suffer this problem. Owen and Claire are both interesting and distinct characters. They both develop (well, Claire does at least) and have traits outside of their relationship. The flirty scenes they share usually involve also moving the plot forward, either to reveal more about the characters or to get them to involve each other in different aspects of the plot (when the kids meet Owen for the first time, they see him kissing Claire, so rather than having to explain to the kids who Owen is and that he's trustworthy, the movie just tells them "He's your aunt Claire's boyfriend" and they move right along). And most importantly, I think Owen and Claire have enjoyable chemistry. On a scale of Neo/Trinity to Tony Stark/Pepper Potts, the chemistry between them lands somewhere in the above-average section with Indiana Jones/Marion Ravenwood.  I enjoyed watching them flirt.

The romantic subplot doesn't NEED to be there, fine, but it doesn't hurt anything. At least not as far as I'm concerned.

Oh, and there's a great scene where another romantic subplot is teased but then rug-pulled away at the last minute.

The Divorce Subplot Is Pointless

The other thing people complain about in terms of pointless character subplots is regarding the fact that the two brothers in the film are there specifically because their parents are trying to get them away so they can sort out some divorce proceedings stuff without their kids finding out. The mother's sister (Claire) works there and Zach (the younger sibling) loves dinosaurs (of course he does) so a weekend at Jurassic World makes perfect sense.

The divorce subplot doesn't really go anywhere explicit. There's a scene where their mother cries on the phone when talking to Claire, upset that the kids aren't spending time with her, and there's a scene where Zach cries because he knows why they're really there.

A lot of people think this subplot serves no purpose and just gets in the way.

First of all, again, this subplot was already used in "Jurassic Park" with the Murphy siblings, and that subplot was also forced and pointless. It existed for pretty much no reason other than to give Alan a reason to bond with them.

In fact, Zach is pretty much a carbon copy of Tim in pretty much every way (though I found Tim to be much more annoying).

However, in "Jurassic World", the divorce subplot does have ONE purpose. Why ELSE would two parents send their kids ALONE to an amusement park?

OK, so then why not bring the parents along?

BECAUSE WHAT KID DOESN'T WANT TO GO TO AN AMUSEMENT PARK WITHOUT PARENTAL SUPERVISION!?!?

This is basic wish-fulfillment fantasy 101 for kids! You get to go to Sea World but with DINOSAURS and NO PARENTS! WHEE!!!

The divorce subplot exists solely to facilitate that. And to the movie's credit, it spends VERY little time dealing with it, and the only time they address it, it's done to give Zach's brother a reason to bond a little with him. It's not like they force in a moment at the very end where the parents decide to stick together or whatever, as if trauma inspires that kind of thing. It's just a shitty thing that's happening to these kids and the plot device to get them there without their parents.

Now, here's the thing. A lot of people who argue against this subplot (and the romance subplot) seem to be coming from a place that suggests that these subplots could have been scrubbed entirely and the movie would have been better for it.

I don't agree.

Without the romance subplot, the kids have no reason to trust Owen in a scene where they need to trust him very quickly in order to not slow down the third act, which then means that the characters would need to meet Owen in the first act, which would have meant contriving a reason for them to go see the top-secret velociraptor training facility, which would have required MORE pointless scenes than the romance subplot required.

Without the divorce subplot, we have no reason for the parents to not be there, so they seem grossly negligent, making it hard to sympathize with the mother when she gives Claire shit for abandoning them. It also means having to contrive a reason for the brothers to relate to each other out of nowhere. The divorce allows these things to happen expediently.

You need to be able to care about these characters or the action scenes involving them carry no weight.

OK, so then maybe we should just get rid of the brothers completely! Oops, then you don't have a POV character for the younger audience or a reason to be introduced to the park from the perspective of an outsider.

These subplots are not original, I get that. But they take up very little time, they allow the plot to chug along through the first act without wasting too much time on humans, and if you ignore the fact that they're unoriginal, they work. The actors sell them believably, and they're written passably well.

I think that these are load-bearing subplots. They may not look nice, but they're essential. I'd like to see how the critics would suggest removing them without damaging the parts of the film that work exceptionally well.

Why Would They Rebuild the Park!?

People seem to think that it's ridiculous that anyone would try to re-create this park after what happened the first time. That the premise for this movie is, on its face, ludicrous.

If you're saying this, I highly recommend you watch the movie "Blackfish". I have a lot of problems with the overall conclusions of that movie, but it does a great job at showing you just how BAD we were at building amusement parks around aquariums. It was inhumane. People died. Animals died. But we just kept doing it.

Was "Jurassic Park" THAT big a catastrophe? How many people ACTUALLY die in that movie? Maybe a dozen? Probably about the same number of people have died from captive whale attacks. Has that stopped Sea World? Has that stopped people from GOING to Sea World? And that's just ONE kind of park designed around wild animals. Even parks with NO animals have human casualties.

Or hey, did the Titanic stop people from going on cruise ships? Did Apollo I stop Apollo XI?

The fact is, "Jurassic Park" didn't fail because dinosaurs were beyond the human ability to control them. It failed because the original creators underestimated them. They tried to turn them into an attraction before they even fully understood them (not unlike the original Sea World-type attractions). It bit them in the ass.

The thing is, the genie was out of the bottle. The dinosaurs were set loose and they started breeding. Can't turn back now.

So OF COURSE someone decided to go back and get them under control. They probably studied them, carefully planned ways to corral them and restrain them, and took every necessary precaution.

And it worked! The park we see in this movie is fully-functional and has been for years. It's clearly safe.

I will say that they probably could have done MORE. Since Joe Badguy implies at one point that these animals have no environmental protection because they're technically classified as extinct, they don't have to be humane with these animals. Any they're already giving them tracking implants. Why not also implant tiny detonation devices that would destroy their brains at the push of a button?

Obviously something would have to go haywire with that for the movie to work, but it would have been nice to see that kind of forethought. I wanted to believe that this crew was competent.

And they were! Not only is the park being handled well by intelligent people, they've even got a guy who's learned how to train the raptors (sort of). The movie reminds us that dinosaurs aren't mystical beings beyond our understanding. They're animals. We've been training animals and putting them in attractions for years. Even predators. It's not that crazy.

The problems don't start until they idiotically create a new dinosaur that's bigger and badder and OF COURSE they aren't told everything they need to know about her by the people who created her before they decide to turn her into a star attraction. And of course it's what screws everything up.

The park itself wasn't a bad idea. They clearly made it work. The bad idea was deciding that that wasn't good enough.

Why Are People Bored With Dinosaurs? That's Preposterous!

The main reason they create the new super-dinosaur is because the tourists have gotten bored with dinosaurs and they think they can reinvigorate their audience by manufacturing a bad-ass new dinosaur that will wet pants and loosen bowels aplenty.

A lot of people seem to find that premise ridiculous. Why would people find DINOSAURS to be BORING!?

These people seem to completely miss the fact that this is a freaking meta-narrative.

The audience in the movie is getting bored with dinosaurs because THE AUDIENCE WATCHING THE MOVIE IS BORED WITH DINOSAURS!

If the movie didn't have this new dinosaur teased in the trailer, audiences would have said "Whatever, been there, done that, who needs to see the same old dinosaurs again?" So of course the studio executives told them to put in a new dinosaur to get butts in seats.

The genius was that it was written into the script to have the same reason for being created WITHIN the universe. It's believable that they would create a big scary new dinosaur because THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED IN REAL LIFE.

I know not EVERYONE is bored with dinosaurs, so if you're a dino-lover, that plot-point must seem ridiculous, but I guarantee you, if that new dinosaur wasn't in the trailer, the box office numbers probably would have been WAY lower because mass audiences are stupid.

I actually loved the speech from the scientist who created the new dinosaur as he is clearly frustrated with the CEO's flippant attitude towards the fact that they created a killing machine. OF COURSE she's a killing machine! He asked for something big and scary! He treated cloning like a toy factory!

I also love that speech for throwing in a line to explain why the dinosaurs don't have feathers, particularly since it was ALREADY explained in the first movie when they said they filled in gaps of the DNA with reptile DNA. And I love that the REASON why they STILL look like that is implied to be because it sells better. WHICH IS THE SAME REASON WHY THEY LOOK THAT WAY IN A META-NARRATIVE SENSE.

It's all a meditation on the commercialization of living creatures. That's what sets this movie apart from "Jurassic Park". JP1 was about the ethical dilemma of bringing back an extinct species without fully understanding the potential consequences. Typical "ME GO TOO FAR" storyline.

This movie was less about that and more about the ethical dilemma of commodifying a species. Even when they try to pull that "YOU GO TOO FAR" crap on the scientist, he turns it back around and says that HE wasn't the one responsible, it was the people who treated the dinosaurs like a product that they could rebrand.

JP1 was about the dangers of science without ethics. JW is about the dangers of capitalism without ethics.

The character who develops the most (Claire) has an arc where she goes from treating the dinosaurs like things to understanding that they are living creatures. The aforementioned scene with her and the apatosaurus is great.

And I think this all makes sense. If someone did successfully create a theme park with dinosaurs, after a few years, people WOULD start to get bored. Just like how you can't recreate the awe of the first "Jurassic Park" movie, once a person has seen a real-life dinosaur for the first time, they'll probably just get bored with it, just like they would with ANY cool animal. And obviously corporate interests would use whatever mechanisms they have at their disposal to reinvigorate their audiences.

This Movie Is Basically Just a Rehash of the First Movie

The last argument I want to refute is that "Jurassic World" is just reusing the same story elements from "Jurassic Park", but with different set-pieces.

I won't deny that there are a lot of throw-backs to the original movie here. The music, the stock character archetypes, some of the props and sets... there's obviously a lot of reverence for the first film here.

And some characters are very familiar. As mentioned, Zack and Gray are basically just the Murphy siblings again. Simon Masrani is a lot like John Hammond, at least in spirit and motivation. Owen shares Alan Grant's love of the dinosaurs while also exhibiting Ian Malcolm's smart-ass nature and constant disapproval of man's disrespect for nature. Like Alan, Claire has a subplot where she has to bond with children. 

But the characters also have a lot of differences. Claire as a character is very different from any other character in "Jurassic Park" because she pretty much starts out as the kind of character that would have been a bad guy in the first film. Owen, despite his misgivings, doesn't constantly spout out moralistic stump speeches or collapse in awe of dinosaurs. He has a different kind of understanding of dinosaurs that is less scientific or deifying and much closer to the way that actual zoologists interact with animals. He respects them and has a relationship with them. He understands them in a much deeper way than other characters have. He understands them in a way that is only possible in a world where dinosaurs have been around for a while. He's had the time that they lacked in the first movie.

And sure, Zack and Gray are shameless rehashes, but I'd also say they're subtle improvements on the Murphy siblings. The Murphy kids were supposed to be my POV characters when I saw JP1 as a kid, but I really couldn't have cared less about them. They were annoying, clingy, over-emotional, and I definitely wouldn't have wanted to hang out with them. Gray is still annoying, but he's the older brother, so of course he's insufferable (hi Tom!). Zack, on the other hand, is basically Tim Murphy, but he doesn't spend the entire movie sucking up to one of the adult main characters, He's there to see the dinosaurs, not someone who studies them. He acts the way I would have acted if I could have gone to that park. Hell, he acts the way I probably DID act when I went to Disney World for the first time. He's a much better POV character and I think kids will probably have an easier time relating to him than I did with Tim Murphy.

As for the story beats, while they're certainly predictable, I don't think they're just carbon copies of JP1. JP1 had a much longer first act, and when things went bad, they went bad ALL AT ONCE. ALL of the dinosaurs broke out simultaneously and everything went crazy from there. "Jurassic World" makes it more of a situation that starts out with just ONE thing going wrong pretty early on, and over time, it causes more and more things to go wrong. Godzilla breaks out, kills their first-responding dino-hunting team, the park security has its hands full corralling the park attendants, and so the CEO has to fly a helicopter, bad things happen, he dies, and accidentally lets out a bunch of pteranodons in the process, which then attack the park attendants, making things worse. From there, more dinosaurs are only released in order to try and take down Godzilla. It's a chain-reaction.

The reason I'm making this distinction is because it reflects what's different about this movie. Everything bad that happens, happens because of human decisions. Humans decided to create Godzilla. A human decided to fly a helicopter and it freed pteranodons. Humans decided to release the velociraptors.

In JP1, the disaster happens because of forces beyond human control, and that was the point. The point of that movie was about meddling in forces beyond our control.

"Jurassic World" isn't about that because we HAVE control. This was about assuming that control means understanding. That because we've figured out how to make this work, OBVIOUSLY we know what we're doing. Everything could have been avoided if humans just accepted that they no longer had control and stopped trying to regain control. If they evacuated the island from the beginning, it would have been a PR nightmare, but they probably wouldn't have lost their CEO or needed to release any other dinosaurs. But because they thought they could contain the situation without anyone finding out (which, sadly, actually happens during disasters at amusement parks), they just kept making things worse.

This story shares a lot of elements from the first movie, don't get me wrong, but it's not just the same movie over again. It has different characters with different problems and motivations. It has different themes and messages. It stands on its own.

The Decent Arguments Against This Movie

I did want to spend a little time acknowledging some acceptable criticisms. First of all, as much fun as Vincent D'Onofrio's character is, he's the most trope-ridden bad guy I've seen in years. And even that would be acceptable (he IS fun to watch) if his character had any reason to exist. He doesn't. The movie didn't need him. The well-intentioned idiots running the park were doing fine mucking everything up without him. All he does is let the raptors loose, and honestly, that's a decision Owen could have made. It would have meant shifting his character slightly, but it also would have given Owen a flaw, which the movie kind of forgot to do. If he maybe had a little more pride in his raptor crew and maybe even a tiny bit of arrogance, it might have made him a little more believable as a character and it would have made the bad guy completely unnecessary.

And the whole "dinosaurs as weapons" subplot is dumb. They spend a LOT of time trying to make it seem plausible, but honestly, I don't buy it. The fact is, InGen is clearly already flush with cash. They don't need government military funding for Jurassic World. The idea that they would want to try and court the Department of Defense with barely-trained velociraptors and freakin' GODZILLA is so stupid that I actually wish they got someone from the DoD to show up just so he could tell Vincent D'Onofrio how crazy he was. "Drones are hackable? Yeah, well dinosaurs are breedable and I don't want terrorists sending their own mini-Godzillas after our troops." If you want to talk about something to cut from the film, THIS is what should have been chopped out.

Next, as I said, this movie is generally very predictable. You can imagine pretty much every single story beat from the end of the first act. That said, the movie does throw a few satisfying curve-balls, but one of them depends on something that's really hard to excuse.

The scientists keep Godzilla's genetic parts a mystery for most of the movie. This is pointless and stupid, especially when not having that information leads to the dinosaur's escape AND it causes one of their plans to fail completely and utterly in a way that I won't spoil.

I get that corporations like to keep secrets when it comes to their intellectual property, and that's fine, but when you aren't telling the people who are supposed to be designing mechanisms to keep them secure, or when you aren't giving full-disclosure TO THE CEO AFTER THE DINOSAUR IS ALREADY RUNNING AMOK? You are officially a moron. It's a cheap and contrived plot device to increase tension and make the dinosaur less predictable. It works in that regard, but it's a lazy way to make it work, and it FEELS lazy. Surprises should never feel cheap.

That said, there is ONE surprise that is set up and earned and ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL, so this isn't a problem that the movie suffers chronically, but that one aspect really bothered me.

Lastly, this movie feels like sequel-baiting. The scientist gets away with a bunch of eggs and DNA samples and stuff and we don't hear from him again, so he probably got away just to set things up for a sequel. I don't think that's a good idea. I really don't think you could do much more after this, unless they plan to go all-out with the dinosaurs-as-weapons idea, unless they plan to turn it into basically live-action Dino-Riders. Anything short of that will probably be a waste of time.

Conclusion

Overall, while I understand that not everyone will like this movie, I would appreciate it if the people who didn't put a little more thought into articulating why they didn't like it. Otherwise, it just feels like they went into the movie EXPECTING to dislike it.

I would say that if you thought the trailer looked cool, you'll probably like the movie. If you thought the trailer looked stupid, you MIGHT still like the movie, but this really is the sort of movie you have to open yourself up to in order to fully enjoy. Some movies are good at getting you to open up even if you aren't initially interested. This movie isn't one of them. It moves forward assuming the audience is already interested. If you aren't it will just leave you behind.

So if you're not all that interested, maybe just skip it. But I don't think this movie will DISAPPOINT anyone. It's very fun and very satisfying and I was very glad they finally gave "Jurassic Park" a worthy sequel.