In this edition, we’ll be taking a look at Guacamelee 2, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Ant-Man and the Wasp, and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Let me know what you think in the comments below, and check out my other quickie reviews!
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
It’s hard for me to work up any strong feeling about The Crimes of Grindelwald, which is perhaps the largest insult I can rail against it. Much like Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, The Crimes of Grindelwald is an exceptionally forgettable movie set in an unforgettable universe.
The issue is that this second time around, I’m less forgiving of the meandering, often confusing plot and the overwhelming layers of lore that add nothing to the experience. This clearly would have been a better book, and screenwriter JK Rowling would have obviously felt more comfortable in that realm. She just doesn’t know how to write a screenplay.
Jude Law is largely serviceable as the younger Dumbledore. It’s not that he couldn’t have done a good job, it’s just that the character is more a device for inspiring Newt than he is important to the larger events. He isn’t given enough to do, and the boring dialogue does him few favors. The same can be said for Zoe Kravitz’s Leta Lestrange and Callum Turner’s Theseus Scamander. They’re meant to bring complexity to Newt and Tina’s relationship, but they’re both so underdeveloped that the whole subplot is uninteresting. And, making things worse, Leta ends up being pivotal to the story in a way that — while initially surprising — doesn’t make up for the long and winding road taken to get there.
Johnny Depp’s turn as Grindelwald is about what I expected. Weird, a bit too wacky for my tastes, and somewhat inconsistent. However, he’s one of the few characters in the movie that seems to actually care about what’s going on, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt there. However, the eventual climax feels extremely forced for many of the lead characters in a way that doesn’t feel justified from Grindelwald’s actions or his “rousing” speech in the third act.
I have to give props to Eddie Redmayne for sticking to his guns with the awkward, not-very-leading man style portrayal of Newt Scamander. While it didn’t work for me in the first film that was more about a high-octane adventure tale, this film is more subdued and patient, which gives breathing room to learn more about why he is the way he is. There are several scenes where you really feel for the poor guy and want him to be more confident.
The last thing I’ll mention is the tie-in to the “fantastic beasts” part, and it’s tenuous at best. I’m still not sure why they went with that to bring the trilogy under one title, but it doesn’t really work. The beasts make appearances here and there throughout the film — especially the adorable niffler and bowtruckle — but never in a way that feels vital to the plot. This story isn’t about the beasts, and so I’m slightly confused why Fantastic Beasts is in the title.
All in all, The Crimes of Grindelwald mostly falls short of even my tempered expectations, and I can’t say with any confidence that I’m excited about the next film (especially with the talks of this now being a five-movie series instead of just three).
I was pleasantly surprised when Guacamelee 2 was announced, given that the first game came out in 2013. It was well received — particularly by me — but so much time had passed that I just assumed it was a one and done. Well, thankfully DrinkBox Studios came back for a second go-round, because Guacamelee 2 may even be better than the first game.
The game is very similar to its predecessor in terms of gameplay, with a metroidvania feel and classic beat-em-up combat. You learn moves as the game progresses which allow you to unlock areas previously unexplored and defeat enemies in more and more aggressive ways. There are also the chicken sections, which are actually given more attention this time around. You’re prompted to play as the chicken far more in combat and platforming sections, and there were several times where you need to change back and forth with the luchador, which only adds to the insanity of button combo presses.
Seriously, I can’t remember the last time I had to sit down and memorize the order of what buttons I wanted to press before starting a platforming section. This is mostly down to the new mechanic of changing back and forth between two dimensions. There’s the normal dimension and then a World of the Dead version that look similar (except for more skeletons and magicky stuff). Each dimension has different platforms or enemies in each, so you have to switch back and forth as you platform or fight enemies. It was actually a mind-melter for me at first, but eventually you get to the point where you’re flipping back and forth with ease. I even did it more often than was required because I enjoyed the change in how the backgrounds are presented and the slight variations in music.
The biggest knock against Guacamelee 2 is that the challenge isn’t quite up to par with the first game. The platforming sections can definitely be mind- and thumb-bendingly difficult — especially if you’re trying to get hidden power-ups or extra coin — but the combat and bosses never felt particularly challenging. In fact, I don’t think I ever died fighting a boss, which certainly can’t be said of the original Guacamelee.
Still, if you enjoyed the first game, there is no reason not to body slam into this one. It’s hilarious, has a kickin’ soundtrack, and a rad aesthetic that still doesn’t feel overdone. Here’s hoping for a third game sometime in the next five years.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider
It’s a common theme with this Quickie Reviews edition, but I don’t have much passion for Shadow of the Tomb Raider from a positive or negative perspective. It’s just worse than Rise of the Tomb Raider, which was already worse than 2013’s Tomb Raider in a lot of ways.
The game feels a bit stuck in design between both games, with some more open areas a la Rise of the Tomb Raider but also heavy sections of linearity that you saw more in the first game. I like the agency of exploration allowed by the larger town areas and “hidden” tombs and crypts, but getting to them can be a chore if you ever want to save something for later.
Beyond the traditional paramilitary dudes you spend hours hiding from and murdering to death, there’s a new spooky enemy that’s some kind of indigenous cave people that take the place of the Japanese soldiers from the first game and the cult dudes from the second. This is where Shadow’s combat deficiencies rear their ugly head. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is serviceable as a third-person shooter, but those systems work best when you can first whittle down an enemy group by stealth and then use traps, explosives, and cover to take down the rest. Well, these new enemies are like the gremlins from the first Uncharted game in that they mostly just bum rush you really quickly with jagged boards and sharp claws. This makes the combat overwhelmingly close-quarters, and the aiming and shoot do not feel good at that range.
The positive to these enemies is that they add an element of horror to the game that hasn’t been as present before. It was legitimately spooky exploring the caves and tombs because I never knew when one of them might pop out.
From a story perspective, Eidos Montreal and Crystal Dynamics really lean into the “weight of everything she’s done” angle for Lara, and it feels super forced. Lara as a character had been underdeveloped in previous games, so focusing on such a dark aspect to her feels unjustified. Similarly, they rely on Jonah to be the heart of the story, and I just didn’t really buy that. There’s nothing wrong with Jonah, but he’s always been a side character — when he’s been present at all — so having story bits and character growth centered around him doesn’t work for me.
Because the game opens up midway through and allows you to do side content at your own pace, I occasionally lost the thread of the plot. The plot’s nothing to write home about anyway, but there were several sequences and cutscenes where I was going, “what, why is this happening again?” The ending in particular is quite lame — from both a story and boss battle perspective.
In what is the most confusing design decision of the game, there are significant sections that take place underwater. And if you’ve ever played an underwater section in almost any game ever, you probably know to assume those sections are bad. And they are bad. Really bad.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider leans more heavily into stealth this time around, and adds some mechanics like mud, water, and trees to try and give some variety. None of it feels satisfying. Early in the game, I was able to stealth kill dudes just fine without using mud, and later in the game, there are enemies that can see you even if you’re mudded up and in a bush, which kind of takes away the entire point. There was even one section where an enemy can’t see you, but somehow follows you from bush to bush so that stealth killing him or anyone else is impossible. I thought it was a bug until I intentionally killed myself and had it happen again.
I don’t want to go so far as to say Shadow of the Tomb Raider doesn’t have a reason to exist, because it does offer some “finality” to Lara’s story, however unsatisfying and cheesy it is. But the game just isn’t very good. My expectations were low going in, knowing that Crystal Dynamics was taking a backseat from a design perspective and that I hadn’t loved some of the new elements in Rise of the Tomb Raider. And I was still disappointed in how this one came out. I have to imaging Tomb Raider is going back on the shelf until Square Enix can find another studio to reboot the franchise in five years.
Ant-Man and the Wasp
Ant-Man and the Wasp suffers by being worse than its predecessor in just about every way. That might sound overly harsh, but it’s true. The movie isn’t terrible, or even bad. It’s just forgettable and loses most of what made the original stand out among its dozens of superhero movie brethren.
Where Ant-Man was a heist film first and a superhero film second, Ant-Man and the Wasp is just a superhero-ass superhero movie. But the genre being a little played out isn’t the biggest reason Ant-Man and the Wasp fails. It’s that if you’re going to do an action-centric superhero movie, you need to have some action.
There’s a fight scene early on in the movie with Ant-Man, the Wasp, and some goons that is fun. There’s some big-to-small scale stuff that happens, most of which was shown in the trailers, but it mostly works. But after that, there’s very little fighting. There are a few chase sequences, but after seeing Baby Driver, chase sequences really need to do something special to stand out.
The worst part about Ant-Man and the Wasp is that the charm is gone. Paul Rudd seems like he doesn’t care, and there’s even less chemistry between him and Evangeline Lilly than last time. Michael Douglas also puts in a static performance, which does get better toward the end when Michelle Pfeiffer enters the picture. Even Michael Pena, who was the surprise standout in the first movie, doesn’t execute on his bits in satisfying way.
The villain, Ghost, reminds me of Vulture from Spider-Man: Homecoming. She had potential as a sympathetic villain, but by the time you learn enough about her to care, the movie is almost over. There is an element of pathos to her story, though, which is nice. Too bad she’s unceremoniously dropped at the close of the film.
While there’s still some comedy to be had with the growing and shrinking bits, Ant-Man and the Wasp doesn’t bring enough new to the Marvel movie table the way that Ant-Man did. That makes it a forgettable action movie that wouldn’t even be worth discussing if it wasn’t for the source material. I’ll be shocked if we see more Ant-Man following the events of Infinity War.
Be sure to check out my other Quickie Reviews!