Latest Gaming Obsession – Battle Chasers: Nightwar

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been playing Battle Chasers: Nightwar, a title based on Joe Madureira’s unfinished comic book and from his latest video game development company, Airship Syndicate.

I’d heard of the Battle Chasers comic in the past, just didn’t know about it being unfinished, still I jumped right into Nightwar hoping my lack of knowledge of the comic wouldn’t leave me confused with the characters and plot. Continue reading Latest Gaming Obsession – Battle Chasers: Nightwar

DC Animated – Young Justice

Young Justice is the second (or third, technically) series in my current project of watching all DC Comics Animated series. At the time of writing my piece on the Justice League, I still wasn’t done with this series, still having the second season to go through. And even if I had, Young Justice definitely deserves its own article. Continue reading DC Animated – Young Justice

Review: The Interactive Adventures of Dog Mendonça and Pizza Boy

Monsters are out there, hidden from mortals but living among them. Some are good, just trying to make a living but others aren’t so nice. When people have trouble with the supernatural, they come to one man, Dog Mendonça and his intern, Pizza Boy.
Continue reading Review: The Interactive Adventures of Dog Mendonça and Pizza Boy

First Look: iZombie

iZombie is a supernatural procedural drama airing on the CW, featuring a zombie partnering with a detective to solve murders. It’s an adaptation of the Chris Roberson and Michael Allred comic of the same name, but only in the loosest of terms.

Genre(s): Procedural

Created By: Rob Thomas

Network: The CW

Air Date: Ongoing (Airs Tuesdays)

Good:

  • Interesting twist on the genre.

  • Rose McIver’s performance.

  • Ravi & Liv have wonderful chemistry.

Bad:

  • Forgettable secondary characters.

  • Deus-ex-machina abuse.

  • Some tired tropes.

Review

The series stars Rose McIver as Liv Moore, a former cardiac resident turned into a Zombie during a party. With her now unhealthy appetite for brains, she abandons her job and takes a position at the Seattle Coroner’s office. The job gives her access to fresh brains to keep her hunger at bay and humanity in check, but if she feeds, she takes on some of the victims’ personality traits and last memories. While working with Detective Babinaux (Malcolm Goodwin) she and her boss, Ravi (Rahul Kohli), claim she’s a psychic to explain he sudden visions.

The premise itself isn’t bad. It’s certainly more interesting than most procedurals and modern Zombie series. It has a lot of style and manages to keep itself silly even with the somewhat dark subjects it handles. And it has to be said, the comic-style intro and scene transitions are awesome! But it depends on Deus-Ex-Machina a bit too much, on Liv getting a vision or hulking-out (more on that later) at just the right time to solve murders or catch the criminals.

The intro panels are really fun!
The intro panels are really fun!

The episodes follow the standard procedural formula: victim, investigation, culprit apprehended. The twist is Liv eats chunks of the victim’s brains to get the visions they need to get the criminal. Along the way they deal with some of Liv’s family and romantic issues—which to me, considering she’s a zombie, feels kinda icky. But while she is the protagonist, I would love it if they explored Ravi & the Detective’s lives as well, to help us form a connection with them. Episode 4 makes some headway on this but only because it’s case-related.

So far, the episodes have stuck to the above formula down to the letter and including some voice-over commentary from Liv, which actually works in the series’ favour as it makes her an even more compelling character. When you’re supernatural, it helps to have something to connect you with us normal folk.

It’s impressive how McIver portrays the different personality traits she inherits from the brains she eats. Her boss Ravi provides the much-needed comedic relief, acting as the mad scientist, studying his zombie employee. The two actors have wonderful chemistry so their scenes are always a joy to watch. On the other hand, there isn’t any chemistry between them and the Detective, making all his scenes drag on more than they should. It doesn’t help the fact that he’s stuck in a very tired trope: the Detective using a disreputable source of information because it works. It’s been done before, masterfully so in series like Psych, but it hinges on the chemistry, which we’ve established is non-existent, and the performances. I have to give it to Malcolm Goodwin, his portrayal is very good. You can feel the stress his character deals with every day.

I was surprised at how good a villain he is!
I was surprised at how good a villain he is!

They seem to be putting David Anders’ character up to be the big bad of the season and at first I didn’t feel it, he felt less of an evil mastermind and more a bumbling sleazeball—much like he is in all his other roles. But then he zombified a one-night-stand, extorted her and has been shown to mercilessly kill people, so I quickly changed my mind! I especially like his scenes with Liv, how he tries to both get into her good graces and still manipulate her. Their Zombie-shop-talk is lovely.

The rest of the cast, however, is entirely forgettable. Even the room-mate and ex-fiancé are bland and uninteresting. Liv’s mother is the cliché overbearing mother, his brother is the cliché annoying teenage brother and so on. It’s still early in the series, I know, but the characterisation is just too weak on the secondary characters.

It’s very early to tell just how deep the ‘lore’ is. Zombies all have chalk-white skin and ash-blond hair…and no one comments on this. I’d say that’s a dead giveaway that something is definitely wrong with you. The way they feed to keep the zombie-urges at bay and keep their humanity is a bit too Vampire-y for my tastes, but it’s not bad, though I wish they explored how other Zombies react to the brain eating—is it just Live who gets a personality shift and memories or do they all? In certain situations they can ‘hulk-out’ and become unstoppable killing machines but so far it’s just another example of Deus-ex-Machina. It’s not something Liv has to struggle with, to keep at bay, but something that happens at the most convenient moment. I wish they had used it as an avenue for character growth.

Best scenes in every episode!
Best scenes in every episode!

Conclusion

So far, I’m on the fence with iZombie but the good outweighs the bad. It has an interesting premise, oozes style, Liv is a strong character and her scenes with Ravi are so fun—and good at world building—they overcome some of the series’ deficiencies.

Do note that is just a first impression based on 4 episodes.

TMA SCORE:

4/5 – Exceptional

First Look: Powers

Adapting the Brian Michael Bendis comic by the same name and set in a superhero-filled world, Powers stars the Detectives from the Powers Division, the ones tasked with dealing with superhuman crimes.

Genre(s): Sci-Fi

Created By: Brian Michael Bendis | Charlie Huston

Network: Playstation Network

Air Date: Ongoing (Airs Tuesdays)

Good:

  • Interesting world.

  • Unique spin on procedurals.

Bad:

  • Bad plot and pacing.

  • Abominable performances.

  • Clichéd characters.

Review

I first heard of this series during 2014’s E3. I wasn’t thrilled about the PSN exclusivity, but didn’t know enough about the comic to actually care that much.

In a departure from my usual 3-episode limit for first looks, I saw more than half of Powers’ current season, up to the latest one (6/10) and getting there was as struggle.

I like the premise. I’m not a fan of procedurals, having seen so many in my life that the genre bores me on principle alone. But the idea of cops dealing with superhuman criminals and sometimes working along the superheroes, aka Powers, is extremely appealing. Add a former-Power protagonist and you should have enough to make me jump for joy. So why didn’t powers do that for me? Well, several reasons in fact.

The cast...only the one in the garish spandex does a good job!
The cast…only the one in the garish spandex does a good job!

First are the characters. Procedurals hinge on their likeability, on the chemistry between the partners and on how much you can relate to the things they go through. Powers fails on every mark. Sharlto Copley can’t manage a single emotion as Christian Walker, he has the same expression for happiness, sadness and everything in between. I only found his anger convincing and only because of the Batman-factor: snarling voice and scowl. As a former superhero—now depowered—he should be our bridge between the regular folk and the Powers, to help us understand them all. But his inability to display any emotion makes it impossible to connect with him.

But it’s not just the abominable performances but also the direction and editing for the show. During the first couple of scenes, his partner dies and instead of showing him grieving and thus making him human enough to relate to, they show him watching the news with extreme indifference and then going back to work as if nothing had happened.

Asking for information on the witness they already lost twice in as many episodes!
Asking for information on the witness they already lost twice in as many episodes!

Walker’s partner is the stereotypical hard-ass female cop. She is unwavering, uncompromising and the only things she’s capable of are sarcasm and aggression. The rest of the police are a forgettable bunch, so much so that after six episodes I couldn’t remember any of their names. They are all tired clichés: the brash younger cop, the ball-busting female detective, the old-timer only six months away from retirement and afraid to die before he gets there. Beyond quips and vain attempts at cheap laughs, there is no depth to them.

And if this wasn’t bad enough, there is absolutely no chemistry between any of the characters. It’s forgivable for Walker & his partner, because they start out disliking each other but not even when they ‘make up’ do you feel any rapport between them, and it’s on their relationship that the entire thing hangs on.

The ‘main’ superhero present in the series so far is Retro Girl and she’s just as unlikeable as the rest, though for her you can tell—because there has to be at least one good performance—that it’s because of years on the job and keeping a nice public image, as Powers are both heroes and celebrities.

Oh Eddie, why did you sign up for this?
Oh Eddie, why did you sign up for this?

The supervillains lack punch and the producers/directors seem to be at a loss as to whether humanise them or show how dangerous they are. And it shows in the performances. I’ve seen Eddie Izzard play bad guys before and he’s lovely at it, but in Powers I hated his scenes. You can see Izzard struggle to make the character monstrous and pitiful at the same time. Rule of thumb: establish one aspect of the character before you add to it. Otherwise, it’s confusing for the audience—and the actors.

It’s the same problem with the ‘secondary’ villain, Johnny Royalle (Noah Taylor). Introduced as a cunning and ruthless crime lord, the characterisation derails the second the arc’s McGuffin, Calista, comes in to play. They try to show you he’s not truly evil by having him care for the girl—some of it due to his very weak backstory—but much like Wolfe’s (Izzard) case, they also want him to remain ruthless, leading to one inconsistent performance after another. The emotional scenes are worse as Noah Taylor is incapable of crying on demand, leading to mawkish expressions at best. The scenes between him and Izzard during Wolfe’s escape are appalling.

You can tell this a promotional image because he's smiling!
You can tell this a promotional image because he’s smiling!

But these are examples of another issue the show has: indeterminate tone. Powers doesn’t know what it wants to be, if comedic or dark. It tries to do both and doesn’t quite accomplish it. Wolfe’s escape is a clear example. Police banter is well and good but when you have the Detectives exploring a superhuman prison looking for the escaped supervillain, you want tension, not two Detectives having fun talking about their love lives. The tone of their conversation doesn’t match that of the episode or even the scene. Comic books are very good at tonal shifts within stories, but they are very difficult to do right on TV.

The plot for this first story arc revolves around the drug Sway. Its first victim is one of Walker’s close friends in his superhero days—not that he shows any sign of feeling anything—and the one witness is the woman he slept with, the wannabe Calista. The investigation, which is central to the first season’s plot and takes up most of the six episodes I saw, goes nowhere and when it does, it’s in circles and muddled by unnecessary subplots with Walker’s dead partner’s son and Walker’s relationship with Retro Girl. Powers wants to do too much at the same time and because of it, the pacing suffers. The episodes are slow and tend to go nowhere. Episodes four and five, Wolfe’s escape, finally start moving things along, but by episode six, the progress once again stops dead in its tracks.

What should've been a simple witness turns into the central focus...and it's a horrendous character.
What should’ve been a simple witness turns into the central focus…and it’s a horrendous character.

The series overreaches with its considerably low budget—you can tell from the minimalistic set/costume design. Understandably, they will want to show the heroes fighting but good low-budget shows know that less is more, the less you show, the more convincing you can be. The people behind Powers didn’t learn that lesson and the first thing they show you is a superpowered fight in the sky with extremely cheap CGI. They follow that up a few episodes later with Zora, the coloured-light flinging superhuman. It’s bad. I haven’t seen CGI this bad since Once Upon a Time in Wonderland!

A couple more points, one of which is pure nitpicking: First, they should have invested in some tactical training for their actors. The way they move in pairs or teams while exploring the super-prison is amateurish: they would sometimes walk side by side, point their guns in near each other’s faces, there’s even one of them holding two handguns, which no one actually does. Second, they should’ve hired some choreographers! Those fight scenes are atrocious. Powers will forever be the series that bored me—or confused if we count the nonsensical Walker/Wolfe fight—with superhuman combat.

Powers' version of Batman...is actually not bad!
Powers’ version of Batman…is actually not bad!

Conclusion

With more than half of its season aired, there’s very little that can save this series. Bad direction, casting, performances and a mess of a plot killed what could have been another great comic adaptation.

TMA SCORE:

1/5 – Oh Hell No!