Quickie Reviews #36

 

Game of Thrones – Season Seven

If you read my individual episode reviews, you should have a general taste for how I felt about Game of Thrones season seven. There were plenty of crazy fanservice moments and exceptional battles, but on the whole, the quality of the dialogue took a hard downward turn and the storytelling in general felt rushed and not well thought out. One of my biggest frustrations was how the writers seemed to ignore previous characterizations, just so that characters would do what they needed to do in order to push the plot forward. That’s the kind of thing normally reserved for terrible, hack dramas on the Big Four networks, not something I’d expect from HBO and — until this year — one of the best shows on television.

Of course, it wasn’t all bad. With that rapid pace came set piece moments in almost every episode. Arya’s season seven introduction at The Twins, Euron attacking Theon and Yara’s ships, the handful of Stark reunions at Winterfell, Jon meeting Dany, Jon and his frenemies taking the trip north of The Wall, the Night King taking down a dragon, boat sex… there were way more standout moments than I could name. It’s telling, then, that I still consider this to be one of my least favorite seasons of the show. It doesn’t matter how much cool shit you put in front of me — if nothing has proper context or build up, it isn’t as impactful. The show moving past the books has highlighted just how important George R.R. Martin’s vision was to this show, and the breakneck pace and literal rush to the finale certainly didn’t help, either.

Here’s to hoping season eight gives us a moment to breathe before diving back in. At this point, I’m not nearly as excited as I would have hoped or anticipated.

8.4/10

 

The Defenders – Season One

My feelings on the Marvel/Netflix shows have been well documented, but here’s a quick recap. Daredevil season one was good, Daredevil season two was fantastic, Jessica Jones season one was atrocious, Luke Cage season one was average at best, and Iron Fist season one was mediocre. Not a terrific track record, which bums me out more than I can say. Believe me, I want to like these shows more than I usually do.

So, I went into The Defenders a little bit nervous, but also hopeful that including all four major character would limit my frustrations with the characters I don’t like as much. This turned out to be true, but Defenders also struggles from additional issues that keep it from being great.

The action is predictably good — for all my complaints about these shows, they’ve always had some excellent hand to hand combat. It was tricky with Jessica Jones, since she doesn’t have the training of Iron Fist or Daredevil, and doesn’t have the near-invulnerability of Luke Cage, but she holds her own. She even mentions more than once about not being able to keep up with some of the other guys. Defenders is actually quite smart about how it uses its characters. Though Daredevil and Iron Fist probably get more screen time than the other two due to the story that this season tells, each character still gets their own moments. I also liked how the writers went out of their way to pair the characters up with one another throughout. Some of the characters have a history with one another, some are meeting for the first time. But when all four are together is when Defenders is at its best.

The show makes its best attempts at some comedy to lighten things up, but it doesn’t always work. Most of the blame can be put at the feet of Iron Fist and Luke Cage. Their actor protrayals are just too one-note and flat. But the comedy is where Jessica Jones shines. I’m also glad Colleen Wing plays a significant role. She was easily the best part of Iron Fist season one, and she’s almost like the fifth Defender here. The other side characters from individual shows come in and out, to mixed success. Nothing feels forced, necessarily, just unessential.

The biggest thing holding Defenders back is its villains. Marvel movies and shows have always been hit or miss with how they handle and develop their villains, and Defenders definitely falls into the “miss” category. Much ado was made about Sigourney Weaver joining the cast as the big bad, but other than random hints to her illness, there isn’t much of a character there. The same can be said for the other Hand leaders, even the ones we’ve seen in other shows. Defenders just holds its cards too close to the vest from a story perspective. I get that the heroes are trying to put the pieces together and we’re along for the ride, but the villains’ plan basically boils down to “destroy NYC so we can rebuild and rule it.” Not exactly riveting stuff.

8.3/10

 

Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition

When Tomb Raider came out in 2013, it was one of my favorite games that year. The character of Lara Croft was interesting again, the platforming and combat were fun, and the story was fairly engaging — even if it jumped the shark a bit at the end. I also loved the actual tomb raiding and puzzle solving, though those pieces made up a disappointingly small part of the game. Still, it was a worthwhile reboot and hopefully the beginning of a much-improved franchise.

I’m not the kind of person that goes back and plays games often, but I’ve been wanting to play Rise of the Tomb Raider and I had Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition free from Playstation Plus, so I figured, “Why the hell not?” I’m glad I went back and experienced the game again, because there are definitely a lot of things to love. But the definitive edition also highlighted several issues with Tomb Raider that were more easily overlooked the first time around.

First is the camera. This is a third person game, so it smartly gives you control of the camera with the right analog stick. However, it still has a mind of its own at times, and bobs along with Lara movements in a very awkward way. The camera makes it so that the game is always just a little bit blurry from the movement, and that doesn’t pair well with exploration. It’s a small complaint that I eventually got used to, but it was still an annoyance. I don’t remember the original having this issue. The larger problem — which was definitely part of the original — is how the game treats Lara at times. It borders on torture porn. Seriously, the ways in which she dies are so over the top grisly that it’s very off-putting. It certainly didn’t help when one of the game developers came out and said you weren’t supposed to connect with Lara, you were supposed to feel the need to protect her. Not exactly female empowerment…

Still, Tomb Raider was worth playing through again, if only to refamiliarize myself with the characters and mechanics before diving into Rise of the Tomb Raider. As a “definitive edition,” I’m not sure how “definitive” it is. The most noticeable graphical improvement to me was Lara’s physics-defying hair, and it actually looked kind of terrible. This is worth a play if you’re exceedingly bored or never got around to it the first time, but that’s about it.

8.3/10

 

Silicon Valley – Season Two

I don’t have a ton to add about Silicon Valley that wasn’t said in my review of season one, but the show continues successfully into season two — building on the original foundation and finding new ways for Richard and the crew to completely and creatively screw up their company and futures.

While the show does introduce new villains and arcs for each season, this show — more than most — feels like one long story. That’s a positive, because it makes the show exceptionally binge-worthy (as seen by me marathoning all four seasons over the course of three weeks). But it’s also somewhat of a negative, because each season tends to run together with the rest. This is only exacerbated by the guys constantly being in a state of near-collapse. Seriously, none of them knows what the hell they’re doing. That definitely adds to the comedy, but can also make it hard to truly root for them at times — I’m not sure any of them actually deserves the success and riches they’re so vehemently seeking.

Still, season two was as funny as the first season, and adds psychopathic investor Russ Hanneman into the mix. His actions as the primary backer are no less absurd than season one’s Peter Gregory, but in a completely different way. The ability of Silicon Valley to highlight and parody real-life business personalities is part of what makes the show modern and topical. Also, I have to say that the finale to season two — with the legal ownership of Pied Piper up in the air, centered around a court trial — was surprisingly affecting from an emotional perspective. These guys are true underdogs, and while they may never reach that “unicorn” status, it’s hard not to want them to at least find some kind of happiness and self-sufficiency along the way.

9.3/10

 

So, what did you think about Game of Thrones season seven or the first season of The Defenders? Did you play Tomb Raider? Have I sold you on Silicon Valley yet?

Let me know in the comments below, and check out my other Quickie Reviews!

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