Rating my Opinion [#3]

How do you determine quantitative worth for a de facto subjective experience? Is there even any point? Can you make related “values” actually relatable if those “values” are arguably arbitrary?

I’ve toyed with somehow ‘rating’ the films, books etc. that I keep track of in my Month in Media posts since I started that series. It initially appears like a logical framework to include; after all, each piece of media is just a single node in a much larger and, crucially, definable category such as “Film” or “TV”. Each month I state my opinions on a selection of these data points, but why do I bother? Collectively, reviews alone don’t allow for any insight into viewing habits or present any meaningful conclusions. I can look over the lists that I’ve effectively generated and work out whether I watch more science fiction than animation, or vice versa, but it can only offer broad strokes without any real depth.

However, the moment you start attempting to quantise reviews, which are by their nature highly personal and often adapt over time, you hit on some pretty big issues – see opening enquiries. The first hurdle is that your own thoughts and opinions can vary depending on your emotions, your current location or the setting in which the media is consumed. A decent movie, when watched with a group of good friends, can become a brilliant movie simply due to the associations that are created. The second hurdle is that, even if you can overcome external influences, you still have to apply the ratings consistently. In the basest form, this implies a need for a checklist, a system of simple requirements for a piece of media to rank within a preset bounding range. But that checklist must, therefore, be utterly fair; it cannot weight one element above another, nor arbitrarily inhibit the progression of positive or negative elements. If you were to dissect a film rating, for example, would you expect the soundtrack to receive equal weighting to the direction? What then happens when a film is considered a ‘must-watch’ because of the direction but the score is utterly laughable? This highlights the third and final issue with rating content: once something is quantised, it is able to be ranked. Now every review no longer sits independently of the others, instead they become utterly connected. It may be simple to decide that a film is a good film, but is it better than that other good film you saw last week? Should it get the same score, a higher one or a lower one? Once ranked, the collective now have an intertwined meaning, a meaning that is (circularly) only as strong as the methodology behind it. That means, once you’ve put everything in place and gone through all that effort, if at any time you realise that some element is incorrectly weighted, missing or false, the entire dataset is corrupted.

Years ago I “wrote” video game reviews for a friends website, with the aim of getting them pushed out to several big gaming forums at the time. The ambitions never paid off (I was consistently too young) but the experience was my first time attempting to fit subjective experiences within rating systems. Different websites ranked video games differently. Places like IGN used an x/10 system, Nintendo Official Magazine rated out of 100%, Ctrl+Alt+Del based worth on five stars. My reviews tried to fit all these systems (and more) by heavily compartmentalising my scoring system. The soundtrack was x/5, the animation x/10, the story x/10 and so on until I had a final score, hopefully weighted in a balanced manner, resulting in a total that was divided into parts, each of which I could then convert into one part of a star, percentage point etc. The whole system took me days to come up with and refine so, when it was ‘done’, I wanted to test it. I wrote a couple of reviews of popular games at the time (Twilight Princess is the only one I can remember) and used my checklist to score them. I converted the scores into the various ratings systems and then compared my given rank with that of the actual website. Needless to say, most were quite different but I was expecting that. My opinion would not necessarily gel with the other reviewers. What I was surprised by was how differently my review scores ranked within each organisations charts. Sometimes, a game was right up near the top of the pile on one website but in the middle somewhere else. Between services, a single review score could dramatically alter the perceived worth of a game from being a GOTY contender to an average, barely notable experience. Internally, my reviews were consistent (I made sure of that) but when placed in the context of another persons ranking system… they fell apart.

In other words, I’ve overthought this to an extreme level and been burnt in the past, so when it came to writing my MiMs I just didn’t bother. But now it’s the end of the year and I would like a way to do a “Year in Review” type set of articles. I need to be able to rank the films, books etc. I’ve consumed in 2016 but I don’t want to do it from memory; that adds a secondary level of subjectivity to proceedings. No, I want to see what I thought of them when I wrote their reviews, not what I think of them now that months have been and gone. So I’m going to give some thought to a simple, yet fair, set of criteria that I can use to quantise my enjoyment of a product. I’ll begin with movies and TV only, as books are too different a beast to be mixed in. I’m already keeping track of my initial gut reaction over on Trakt for the films I’ve watched so far in January. Hopefully I can use that to backfill once I’ve sussed a system I’m content with. In the meantime, I guess its time to start trying out some systems!

Trakting My Media

I am an idiot.

Yesterday I wrote about my frustration that no Last.fm style service existed for TV and film. Last night I went home and found two such web apps in less than ten minutes. It turns out, I was Googling wrong.

There may actually be more than two out there, but it was Trakt and Simkl that caught be eye. Idiotic names aside, both appear to be healthy and robust options with exactly the functionality I was after. Simkl is clearly the baby of the two, with less interactivity with third party services and no current mobile applications on offer. Trakt, on the other hand, appears to have undertaken the Spotify model and launched with a robust API, resulting in adoption by dozens of third-party services. Only time will tell if they complete that model, eventually buying out the few they like and pulling the rug out from beneath the others…

Trakt also wins out in the aesthetics department, with a much more modern and refined style, layout and UI. Conversely, Simkl feels like a leftover remnant of the Web 2.0 era. Trakt does lose points for hiding some relatively key features behind a pay wall, such as in depth analytics and IFTTT integration, but all the features you absolutely need only cost your login credentials, so it isn’t a major roadblock.

I conducted some (very) informal testing last night to see which I might prefer long term. Both were pretty easy to setup, search and navigate though though I found Trakt simpler to retroactively scrobble a show to (a pattern begins to emerge). Trakt’s functionality enabling you to set when you watched a show, going back months, means that the hurdle of cinemas/analogue TV becomes fairly manageable. Simkl likely has these features hidden within its less intuitive UI, but I never found them.

Whilst watching a film in the evening, I tried to test out the mobile options. Simkl simply doesn’t have any at the moment, which is a fairly major black mark. Trakt, as mentioned, has a huge variety but none are actually that great. Most of the Android apps only cater for TV, whereas I need a service that does film as well. The remaining options were a mixture of poor design, buggy features and bad reviews. Even when I did work out the best way to search their archives I found all but one (Cathode) failed to actually return the film I was watching, despite it being present in the Trakt database. Even then, once found, I couldn’t retroactively scrobble the film, instead being forced to choose ‘just watched’ or ‘currently watching’.

To be clear, this is definitely not Trakt’s fault. It would be nice if they launched their own mobile app with a focus on their core features, such as scrobbling, but I can understand why they’ve gone this route. For me, it will mean I can use Cathode when I’m at a friend’s house or the cinema to scrobble as I watch; if I forget, I can add it in later from the Trakt interface itself. That’s a fair compromise and offers a level of flexibility I’m surprised isn’t also behind the pay wall.

For now, then, Trakt has won my support. I signed up to both with test accounts to try them out and both get top marks for making it easy and fairly clear how to permanently delete those accounts. I’ve since signed up to Trakt ‘properly’ and back-filled my viewing habits for 2017 so far. You can follow along here, if you’re at all interested.

It also turns out that my “New 52” challenge has already become more taxing than I had anticipated. Allowing myself a whole week should have removed any stress, but come Tuesday morning on week #2 and I was panicking. I didn’t have any ideas and realised that I’m away at the weekend. I felt like I was running out of free time and it’s amazing how that was sufficient to freeze out my rational mind entirely. The result was a rushed out, imperfect article on a non-existent issue. I felt a little stupid when I realised. I was tempted to remove the #2 from the title and stick it on this post instead, but I’m not going to. I’m going to leave that flag there as a reminder to chill out a bit more in the future. Hopefully it helps.

Scrobbling Movies [#2]

I find it slightly bizarre how popular Last.fm has become over time. I understand that the service now offers a plethora of features, including some powerful music discovery tools, yet at the core Last.fm is just an overly detailed extension of the play count found in every media player since Windows XP. It tracks what music you listen to; that’s it, the whole of their USP.

To be clear, I may find it bizarre but I am not surprised at the service’s popularity. Personally, I love Last.fm and thoroughly enjoy digging into my monthly/annual listening habits, seeking out new artists or rediscovering ones I had forgotten. It’s continued popularity proves that I am not alone and that, bells and whistles aside, being able to analyse your musical tastes and use them to inform future experiences is something that a decent number of people see value in.

So I find it all the more irritating that there doesn’t appear to be a similar service available for film/TV. There are services like Letterboxd that let me manually track what I watch, but I already do that. There’s nothing extra on offer and they are particularly lacking a visual media analogue to scrobbling. When they launched, scrobbling was a seriously weird idea, but it solved the single largest issue that Last.fm had: apathy. When I’m listening to music, I don’t want to have to pause every few minutes, break out of ‘the zone’ and write down what I’ve just heard. No, Last.fm had to find a way to make the data gathering automatic, ensuring their datasets are as complete as possible.

With movies and TV there are further obstacles, chiefly that the methods of consumption are not quite so intricately linked with the internet or computers in general. But with the rise and rise of streaming services such as Netflix combined with the increasing trend of buying media digitally should result in these roadblocks slowly eroding away. Hopefully, soon, someone will pop up to start taking advantage of that process.

In the meantime, I’m going to continue looking for options and pondering my own. I would love to be able to put something together here, just a quick notes section that I could easily type up and submit to directly from my phone. Perhaps I could get it running, but in reality it will likely remain as a Todoist task for months. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Month in Media: December 2016

Will I be able to keep on top of December like I managed to do with the (incredibly shallow) November? Probably not, but let’s try anyway! (spoiler: I didn’t, but it was close!)

Films

Wonder Woman

No, not the upcoming live action version that may be DC’s first acceptable superhero movie, but the animated feature of the same name. I’m not the biggest WW fan, not because I think the character is poor but rather I feel most interpretations of her miss the mark, even more so than with her male counterpart Superman. Partly, I feel her attire is to blame: it’s hard to tell a truly feminist, sensitively female yet utterly kickass story when your main role model is permanently bedecked as a 50’s pin-up. On top of that is a desire to keep WW as a major player in the DC universe, but never one truly greater than either Batman or Superman, whose shadows she’s rarely allowed to eclipse.

Despite these misgivings, I’d heard good things about this particular rendition and I’m always a sucker for anything featuring Nathan Fillion so I thought I’d give it a shot. The result is a film that I enjoyed, which treated the source material reasonably but that ultimately lacked any emotional punch. Voice acting, animation, sound and even storyboarding are all on point throughout but the plot felt like it asked for slightly too much suspension of disbelief.

I genuinely enjoyed that Ares was cast as the villain and that they didn’t sugar coat his or Diana’s origins: Ares is clearly a god and both the pantheon and magic definitively exist, albeit as forgotten relics of an ancient era by the majority of the world. I’ve always enjoyed DC’s take on magic and classical mythology more so than Marvel’s, but in more recent years the latter’s rendering of Thor and the Norse gods has utterly stolen the limelight. Here then, with a strong cast and plenty of excuse for magical or mythical moments, Wonder Woman should have shone. Unfortunately, the film spent too much of its time dealing with the ‘blossoming’ romance between our dashing fighter pilot and the titular hero to really explore these avenues. Even when the Greek myths were mentioned, the focus was predominantly on the Amazons themselves, who were rather flatly portrayed and frequently appeared more like stroppy teenagers, bitching about everyone and everything when they weren’t looking, than the finely trained, intellectually superior warriors that they ought to be.

As a result, key plot points were often ignored. Diana’s infamous invisible jet appears in distinctly modern form without any explanation or reasoning; indeed, we’re given to believe that the Amazons haven’t even cast their gaze at the outside world until a few days earlier. The lack of explanation is just about manageable whilst the craft serves as a method of getting the main characters back to “man’s world” but when the plane later comes equipped with “invisible missiles” not even Fillion’s dry, sarcastic voice work can keep you from sighing audibly. After all, if the citizens of Themyscira can make genuinely explosive missiles out of thin air than Ares’ battalions of demon-spawn don’t really pose that much threat…

Speaking of which, why does Ares decide to attack from a (strangely ocean adjacent) White House? And where do all of his minions come from? Have they just been chilling in some alternate dimension all these years? Plus, he’s clearly shown to still have a cult following somewhere in the Middle East who were armed with modern weaponry, yet come the final showdown Ares’ armies are as primitively outfitted as the Amazons themselves. Very little about the villains plans or even powers are explained. Sure, he thrives off warfare, but then he also seems to get psychic power from simply launching a nuclear missile, so actual conflict seems not to be required? Gah! Nothing is ever cleared up!

tl;dr: Diana is actually well written and Nathan Fillion is great as ever, but ultimately Wonder Woman fails to justify its plot in any meaningful way.

Godzilla (2014)

To be clear, this is the Godzilla reboot with Bryan Cranston in it. At least, that’s how I keep hearing it referred to and, indeed, how I think of it. In reality though, if Bryan Cranston is the main reason you’re thinking of watching this film I’d recommend to look elsewhere. That’s not a knock on Cranston’s acting or even his character, but he doesn’t exactly stick around for very long and ultimately is entirely inconsequential to the plot line.

Unfortunately, these same criticisms pretty much sum up all the main characters. Despite having some decent actors, Godzilla contains no worthwhile interactions whatsoever. Most of our time is spent chasing around Cranston’s son, who is seemingly the incarnate embodiment of American heroism, utter lack of empathy or common sense included. Whilst he goes out of his way to save countless ‘innocents’, including one mildly infuriating child, and is constantly risking his own life for the ‘greater good’, he barely ever gives pause to consider his actual loved ones. Hell, this is such an obvious character flaw that there is an actual scene where his wife complains about how he never thinks to call them to let them know he’s alive. Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh, however. I mean, the one time he actually tries she’s casually discarded her phone and is in the middle of happy-play times with their kid, so is clearly not that hung up on his personal welfare herself…

But fine, this is a kaiju movie, you’re not here for the plot or the human characters. Viewed through this lens, Godzilla is an enjoyable romp with some interesting creature design ideas, the occasional jaw-dropping action sequence and a generally coherent plot. Audio and cinematography are decent throughout and pacing never leaves you bored or confused.

Creature design is decent enough. Ultimately, with such a lengthy history Godzilla was always going to be a little ridiculous by modern standards, just to appease old school fans and remain recognisable. That said, there weren’t any jarring or weird movements or noises that pulled me out of the action and in general, stature and build seemed reasonable. Even Godzilla’s infamous nuclear breath was done ‘believably’ enough. Scaling did feel a little off to me. Godzilla now dwarfs all but the largest sky scrapers on the American west coast, which looks okay when he’s aquatic but on land does seem a bit too unbelievable. I see that the King of Monsters has always dwarfed the high rises he tears down, but historically those have been mid 1900 Japanese buildings which were never that tall due to material constraints and earthquake consideration. Personally, I would rather have had his scale kept the same, to show that humans have advanced in the interim. I’m not actually convinced, though, that scale was really considered at all. The various kaiju appear to grow and shrink at will, even within the same battle sequence.

Indeed, Godzilla isn’t the only kaiju in Godzilla, which was a nice surprise. In fact it could be argued that he isn’t even the main kaiju, with much more time spent looking at the back story of the male/female ‘parasites’. These are interesting enough, with some clever and (in my experience) unique body designs and biohistory. I generally like the idea that Godzilla predates humanity and was part of an entire chemotrophic (or… nucleatrophic?) food chain, where abundant radioactivity enabled gigantism on an unprecedented scale. Still, as much as this goes some way to explaining a (pretty unscientific) how for the various kaiju expected to pop up in this latest franchise attempt, it leaves some very large knowledge gaps in the lore. First and foremost, has Godzilla been hibernating underwater? If not, are there a breeding population of these creatures? Either way, how does a megaton nuclear weapon leave no damage, or is Godzilla lead lined? Basically, though a neat idea, it asks more questions than it answers.

Ultimately, I feel that this incompleteness can be found throughout the film. Whilst the visual effects tend to be adequate and are occasionally stunning, they’re also jarring from time to time. Characters are trope filled and not well fleshed out, despite some solid casting choices. Plotlines are left open ended or suddenly brought to a halt without much consideration. Overall, the film is fun but nothing spectacular, which is a shame given the source material.

tl;dr: A fun but basic monster movie, where the kaiju have more personality than the humans.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

First thing first, can we all just agree to forget that the title for this film continues after Rogue One? What do you mean it has a subtitle? No, I think you’re mistaken, it’s definitely just Rogue One, right? Are we all on the same page now? Good, let’s continue.

But seriously, other than the daft addendum to the otherwise well pitched name, Rogue One definitely exceeds expectations as a franchise film. For the first entry in the Star Wars Anthology series, Rogue One stands up by itself incredibly well, telling a self-contained story with absolutely no chance of a sequel that rewards fans of the larger universe without being cut-off from those who have never journeyed to the galaxy far, far away. That’s a pretty big achievement, a remarkably fresh method of film making and one hell of a good creative decision from Disney.

Disney deserves further props for allowing the creative team behind Rogue One to actually stick to their planned ending. Again, this is the first Anthology film which gives it a lot of extra hype that may never occur again. That means, if you wanted to spin-off a TV series or additional properties, this is the film to do it with and yet what we get is a prequel to a story that has already been told, where every main character is dead by the end. There’s no wiggle room here to bring back characters that have rapidly developed a fan following for a sequel – no one survives a Death Star blast. Hell, even the main villain is categorically dead at the end. It’s a brilliant decision for a number of reasons but I’m just amazed a studio with the marketing focus of Disney ever let it happen.

Still, the result is a genuinely impactful war story that serves to flesh out the already beloved universe with a more human, personal tale. Rogue One takes a peak behind the scenes of the classic, beloved franchise and discovers a tale equally as interesting but without any of the grandeur. There are no all-powerful space wizards, princesses or renowned smugglers; instead our focus is on an orphan with no exceptional qualities except being someone’s daughter and a group of, well, grunts. These are the equivalent of Star Trek‘s red shirts, individuals that are only ever seen in the background or maybe heard off-frame, now suddenly thrown onto centre stage. And once there they don’t suddenly become exceptional, skilful heroes; they remain just a group of people, trying and sometimes failing. Even the one person with connection to the Force is a blind beggar, a remnant of a lost religion, who never shows any more powerful a skill than simple faith and courage (well, okay, he does kick ass on several occasions but that’s not the main point here).

It should be clear by now that I approve wholeheartedly of both the plot and the general characterisation found in Rogue One. Despite that, none of the characters really get any true development and are mostly, when analysed closely, just puppets pulled and prodded to be where the plot requires them. Why is Jin imprisoned? How did the Rebellion locate her? What actually happened to Bodhi, a lowly cargo pilot, to choose such a risky, treasonous path? How do the Erso’s know Saw? Why do Chirrut and Baze get involved and keep tagging along? What happened to the other guardians? For that matter, in a galaxy where the Jedi are outlawed, why are the guardians of their temples allowed to continue preaching their ways? If the Rebellion isn’t actually at war with the Empire then what, exactly, is their plan and why do they have an army? There are a lot of questions surrounding the events that occur throughout Rogue One and its a fair criticism to point out that barely any are ever even vaguely addressed. Despite creating some truly memorable characters (K-2SO… too soon!) none of the core cast are given much time to develop or be understood.

Character criticisms aside, however, Rogue One cannot be regarded as anything less than resounding success. The action, effects, design and sound are all on par with the rest of the Star Wars film canon; the acting is probably only rivalled by The Force Awakens and is pretty much flawless. It may also contain the most Easter eggs of any film ever made, with some pretty fun call backs to the original trilogy as well as a lot (apparently) of crossover with the current TV show Rebels, which all make a lot of sense. The CGI renditions of Peter Cushing and young Carrie Fisher are a little unnerving at first but weirdly became less uncanny-valley nightmares as the film went on. Certainly, from a franchise continuity point of view, Rogue One is seriously impressive, putting even the previous kings of cross-overs, Marvel, to shame.

The result is an entertaining, galaxy-expanding adventure casting the spotlight on some very different areas of a much beloved franchise. It definitely isn’t the best Star Wars film ever made, but Rogue One definitely sits further up that list than I’d anticipated and can hold it’s head high in the company of some of the best.

tl;dr: A spectacular and surprisingly intimate look at the characters that usually lurk in the background combines to form an excellent addition to the growing franchise.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 [rewatch]

I absolutely loved the first film in this (hopefully ongoing) franchise. It has brilliant creature design, excellent animation, a fantastic cast and – most importantly – an intriguing, developed, emotional and fairly original story. What it did not do, however, was clearly leave an opening for a sequel, so I have to admit to approaching HtTYD2 with a fairly sceptical outlook.

My first viewing was at a wonderful independent cinema in New Zealand, which was both a lot of fun and a great memory. What I remember of my reaction, however, was distinctly mixed. I can recall feeling that the plot was a little telegraphed and that various characters felt rehashed or a bit weak, rather than more developed. I definitely enjoyed myself, loved the new dragons and considered the animation and humour on par with the original, but the spark that made the original an instant classic felt lacking.

Firing up the film for a second time was, well, enlightening. For some reason, knowing the rough beats that the plot was going to take made the story a lot more interesting. On the whole, the movie felt somehow more complete. The humour and animation seem almost better than the original and characterisation was hard to fault. Most interactions felt natural and consistent with the characters I enjoyed in the first film and the new cast felt like they belonged.

HtTYD2 is clearly a more mature outing than its predecessor and, perhaps, that threw me a little first time around. However, I’m happy to say I think that initial impression was wrong: this is a solid sequel that builds nicely on the original in just about every way. A friend recently pointed out that, though further films are in development, they are clearly not rushing them just to make bank off the success they’ve received so far. Instead, they’re crafting them, taking the time that is required and it definitely shows. If the creative team continues in this vein, and similarly continues to mature the subject matter, when the set becomes a trilogy we could be in for something truly special. I’m definitely a lot less sceptical than I was two years ago.

tl;dr: Lives up to the original to deliver a brilliant yet more mature look into the relationships between dragons and Vikings. An exceptional kids film and a lot of fun for adults as well.

TV

Planet Earth (Season 1)

Whilst seemingly everyone on the planet has become enraptured by marine iguanas battling snakes, we remain in our self-enforced BBC purgatory. Unable to ignore the hype surrounding season 2 of Planet Earth I managed to track down the full first season on Bluray for the cost of a Gregg’s pasty!

Overall, the original series has held up pretty damn well, exactly as I had expected. With a more modern eye (and TV) it is clear where the filming suddenly slides out of the jaw-dropping HD filmography, especially during intense action sequences, but whether in 1080p or 480p the quality and skill of the film work remains exceptional. Sure, the producers get a bit carried away with the heli-pan shots, often reusing particular sequences in multiple episodes, but those slow pan-outs from several miles away were utterly ground breaking at the time and, honestly, have few rivals even today.

In fact my greatest surprise was seeing how many revolutionary tricks Planet Earth packed in. Whilst the series became famous for the helicopter mounted camerawork, it also pioneered stunning slow motion sequences, underwater shots and use of satellite imagery, much of which remains on par with more recent examples.

Production value and filmography aside, it hardly needs mentioning that the voice narration provided by David Attenborough is just as brilliant as ever. There are some re-used sequences and phrasing here as well and, watching them back-to-back, certain terminology gets a little grating – not everything needs to be the “xest in the world”, David, especially when you contradict yourself between episodes! Still, paired with an exceptional soundtrack and audio-scaping, you can’t really fault very much about Planet Earth. It truly may be the greatest documentary series ever produced.

One quick aside, however, is that the Bluray experience was less than, shall we say, enthralling. I have a love/hate relationship with the medium anyway, but convincing our media PC to play the discs was arduous and still resulted in stuttering or skipping issues, seemingly due to decryption problems rather than disc faults. Plus, for what should have been the deluxe, all-singing-all-dancing version of the franchise, the special edition set actually lacks the small featurettes that originally aired after each episode and for which Planet Earth was, once again, a pioneer. I had hoped they would all be sandwiched onto the extras disc at the end but nope. Instead, two additional documentaries were provided, but ultimately the aired behind-the-scenes features were what I wanted. Maybe they’re on the discs somewhere but, if so, they’re buried deep! Frankly, that just seems a bit stingy.

tl;dr: Visually, audibly stunning and loaded with top quality content; a true masterpiece. Disappointing extras on the special edition Blurays, though.

Daredevil (Season 1)

The fight choreography in Daredevil deserves immense recognition. Let’s be clear here: the entire season is a triumph, from plot to characterisation to soundtrack. But the fight sequences are some of the best I’ve seen in years, probably since the lobby sequence in the Matrix. In particular, the long take in the hallway at the end of episode 2 had me utterly riveted. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a piece of action that so carefully balanced humour, suspense, cinematography and realism in any film or TV show before. That sequence will stay burnt into my memory for many years to come and, for that sequence alone, Daredevil is required watching.

Yet, the fighting is also the shows biggest downfall. I understand that Netflix wanted to present a grittier, more realistic side of the MCU and they’ve definitely succeeded, but every now and then the excessive violence was just that – excessive. The Kingpin would be just as terrifying, arguably more so, if the scene where he exacts his revenge on one half of the Russians was less visceral, even occurring off screen. Yet at the same time, it is refreshing watching a superhero that grows fatigued, with injuries that actually hamper people rather than just extending a fight. So I’ll grant that the reality and gore of Daredevil does succeed in elevating the stakes, even when they do go overboard.

It’s also genuinely refreshing to see a dark, gritty, realistic superhero property where the hero is both clearly super and human. Matt Murdoch is wonderfully cast and portrayed, with a real sense of depth, yet his alter-ego is clearly more than a well trained bloke; they don’t mince around making you guess if he has genuine superpowers, addressing that question within the first few episodes. The end result is a much more tangible show than the likes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, but one that still feels distinctly connected to that universe.

Part of that tangibility, that connected feeling, is definitely the surrounding cast. Every character is perfect, even the ones that are only brief acquaintances. Murdoch feels like a man walking a fine line between hero and monster, whilst accepting an existence that screams double-think so well that it actually makes you question the normally black and white reality of comic book morality. Foggy, Karen and Ben are all solid foils and mirrors, cleverly reflecting or highlighting many of the nuances that make Daredevil such an interesting hero, whilst presenting genuinely enjoyable dialogue and some very well crafted humour along the way.

But a hero is only ever as good as their villain and, once again, Daredevil does not disappoint. Vincent D’Onofrio plays a very interesting Wilson Fisk, arguably one of the best takes on the character in some time. This Kingpin is ambitious, monstrous and chilling yet, somehow, almost sympathetic. Whilst his true plans are never fully laid bare, you begin to believe that, though his methods may be foul, his intent could (just) be pure. Plus, as with Murdoch, Fisk is surrounded by a wonderful supporting cast of career criminals. They feel fresh from the pages of a graphic novel, yet equally at home in the real New York; somehow, both wonderfully pastiche whilst remaining nuanced and believable.

Then there is Wesley. The Kingpins right-hand man, an utterly loyal lackey and a character that left me utterly morally confused. James Wesley is clearly intelligent, cunning and ambitious yet he never feels like a Brutus, just waiting in the shadows for his time in the spotlight. No, that he is utterly devoted to Fisk, not just as a businessman but as a friend, is without question. It is this moral slight-of-hand that Daredevil succeeds in so well; both Fisk and Wesley are clearly immoral people yet, as with all the best villains, you can’t help but feel for them, even begin to like them. So when Wesley gets dealt his comeuppance, it doesn’t feel victorious – it hits you like a punch to the gut. The combination of anticipation of Karen’s death and the slow build of incite into Wesley’s mind over the preceding couple of episodes culminated in a moment of incredible television. As with that hallway fight sequence, I believe Wesley’s final scene will stay with me for some time to come. It was simple, unexpected and genuinely shocking without the need for any over the top violence or effects.

So, if you are still in any doubt as to where I stand on Daredevil, let’s put it plain it in one word: brilliance. Utterly enjoyable, cleverly scripted, perfectly paced and an excellent balance of humour, action and moral questioning. I’ve heard great things about the rest of Netflix and Marvel’s team up but I’m not convinced they will ever top these thirteen fantastic episodes. I said it at the start and I’ll say it again, Daredevil is required viewing.

tl;dr: Astounding, riveting, memorable, funny and utterly fantastic. Watch it – now!

The New 52: A Challenge [#1]

Well it’s a new year and that means a new challenge: The New 52!

First of all, no I am not challenging myself to read the entirety of DC’s New 52 range of comics, nor am I going to eat my way through 52 varieties of Heinz. Instead, this challenge can be considered a spiritual successor to the 100×100 challenge that effectively caused theAdhocracy to exist.

I’ve (hopefully) learnt from my mistakes, however, so the ‘New 52’ is going to be a little looser and a lot more lenient. The aim is to publish one article a week, every week, until December 31st. No daily or (really) weekly commitments and no punishments; articles can be queued up months in advance or left pending until I actively need them. There are no restrictions on content, so an article can be ten words or ten thousand long and it doesn’t matter a jot. Similarly, articles that I already intended to write count just as much as utterly unique posts, so hopefully my Month in Media series (behind yet again!) will fill up 12 of the respective slots straight away.

The hope is to craft a challenge with low stress levels but just enough incentive to actually push me to write when my reptile brain is screaming “why bother!”. I’m aware that it’s not the biggest challenge but, ultimately, it’s something I’ve never actually done. I published 23 articles last year, including MiMs, so managing 52 in 2017 would be over a 100% increase, which would be pretty awesome to be able to achieve.

So, with that said, welcome to article #1 of 52. I’ll be interested to see what the others stack up to be.