25/12/2013

Editorial: Top 5 Stories of 2013

Happy Holidays everybody! Here at Kaiser Critics we hope everybody is having a good one as people around the world celebrate (or don't! In which case we hope you have a nice day) the holiday of their religious choice. Around here it's become time to find out just what stories held it together the best this year. Why stories you ask? Well as you may very well be aware here at Kaiser Critics we review both movies and games, so instead of making two separate lists (which we arguably don't have enough material for) I've decided to just judge both things interchangeably on their stories. Ground rule for this one? It has to be from something that's been reviewed on the site, meaning if your favorite from this year isn't on the list it just might be because it hasn't been done on here. Here we go!

#5: The Wolverine


The 20th Century Fox X-Men movies helped bring back superheroes as a genre when the original film was released in it's hayday. Following the deteriorating releases of X3: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine a lot of people had sentenced the Fox X-Men series dead until the release of X-Men: First Class which despite some minor flaws managed to bring back the notion of a genuinely good X-Men movie. Many were still vary however when Hugh Jackman once again returned as the most popular X-Man Logan, whose previous solo-effort has been dubbed one of the worst superhero flicks ever by fans and professional critics alike. However The Wolverine managed to not only pull through, but become one of the better Superhero movies featuring a solo-hero to date. The story takes place following the events of X-Men 3, Wolverine had been forced to take out his beloved Jean Grey in a last ditch effort to save the world from the crazed homicidal force of The Phoenix and is now living in seclusion in the wild. This is where his past once again comes back to haunt him, as an elderly Japanese man he saved from the Nagasaki bombing by shielding him with his regenerative body sends for him to thank him one last time before he dies. However things go terribly wrong as Wolverine is cast into a succession drama surrounding the large company owned by his old friend and loses his power to regenerate in the process. Ultimately not wanting the attention of any such action at all, he reluctantly becomes the bodyguard of the mans granddaughter and must fight a large army of highly trained professionals with the very real possibility of death looming over his head all the while being haunted by hallucinations of his deceased beloved. Wolverine has a real danger of being written a little cheesy, even portrayed by his most iconic actor as was the case in X-Men Origins. However he's here written very sympathetically and as a very 80's type action heroes in a classic kung fu movie type story. It's not often that western movies get this genre right, and throwing in as well-known a character as Wolverine would have made the movie almost seem impossible to do. However there is a lot of visible heart and dedication in this film that could just as easily have been another quick paycheck in the box office from one of Fox's most popular cinematic franchises something that was sadly lacking in some of the former outings. There also seems to be less of a snark about the source material, keeping in some of the cheesy fun that most previous X-Men movies has tried to leave behind completely.

#4: Monsters University


2013 has been a busy year for Disney animation, and this latest outing from their masterpiece-littered studio Pixar has surprisingly ended up not being the most popular animated release this year. Monsters University gives us the backstory of the superstar scaring team of Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan, inhabitants of a monster world which is entirely powered by the frightened screams of little children. The original movie, while not the most popular Pixar movie had gathered a following it was interesting to see how they were gonna justify a sequel to a movie where the problems of the universe were all solved in it's first installation. That's why I'm guessing they decided to do a prequel instead, and what a prequel it was, the previously in the background character of Mike Wazowski takes top billing in this college-comedy with a surprisingly sobering message behind it. Between a new fun supporting cast, and three pretty cool origin stories, Monsters University may not be the best Pixar movie out there, but I actually think it might be one of the better stories from the studio as it for once doesn't explore the parent/child relationship that dominates a lot of it's other movies.

#3: Pacific Rim


Bringing us a western take on the Kaiju formula, Pacific Rim ended up being a movie meant for fun and games but also one hiding just a little bit more. The premise is very basic, a rift in time and space has opened somewhere in the pacific ocean in the near future and giant monsters dubbed "Kaiju" by humanity are unleashed from the depths wrecking havoc all other planet Earth. To combat these abominable creatures the governments of the world has banded together and created giant robots named Jaegers that are powerful enough to go toe-to-toe with the monsters. The catch? Only certain individuals are able to actually pilot the things and they have to do so via a psychic link, only possible to obtain between two people who have aligned personalities meaning almost only family members pilot them. However one young man who used to be an ace-team with his brother suddenly has to be teamed up with a woman he's never met when his brother unfortunately passes away and it's a race against the clock to get all the jaeger pilots up and about in time for what seems to be the biggest Kaiju attack yet and before the program is scrapped in favor of another experiments. What could've been a very sappy spectacle-fest actually turns everything on it's head when it presents us with one of the better female characters in years, and a mostly unknown cast that even beats the performances of this years outings from some of the bigger names. Guillermo Del Toro has proven with Pacific Rim that the Kaiju genre doesn't have to be obscure to a western audience that's mostly been fed with poor westernizations of Japanese series up to this point. With it's great blend of spectacle and honest to goodness well-written drama it breaks tradition from roots of the genre and the previous American imitations.

#2: Thor: The Dark World


Picking up after the bestseller of The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World had the burden of not only living up to the expectations following that, but also raising the popularity of Thor as a cinematic character. The original Thor, while a fun movie in it's own right was not a very popular one compared to the other releases in the aptly dubbed "Marvel Cinematic Universe" series. However whereas Thor was very much a dramatic comedy, Thor: The Dark World decides to go full on Space Opera as we leave Earth behind in favor of more exciting adventures in the world of Asgard. The story picks up where the previous title left off, Jane Porter has now not heard from Thor in 2 years after he had promised to come back for her once he had dealt with the immediate threat of the previous movie. Now trying to move on, she is cast into a conflict several millennia old as her actions awake a dormant race from the beginning of the known universe called The Dark Elves. Their leader is the hard-hearted Malekith, played by Christopher Eccleston who has the gigantic burden of being in the shadow of fan favorite Loki played by Tom Hiddleston. Eccleston unfortunately doesn't pull through as much as he would seem to as the writers doesn't give the character a lot of nuance for him to work with. However, what makes the movie good is the absolute spectacle of the space opera genre, gone are the shifty eyed jokes of the New Mexico desert from the previous movie and instead we have Thor fighting against armies and directly fighting against the will of his own father as he does everything in his power to stop the threat with as little casualties as possible. Hemsworth does a great job as he shows us just how far Thor has come from his role as a hearty frat-boy like character in the beginning of the first movie. He has learned to judge every situation on it's own merit and doesn't just barge into a fight trying to take every problem out with the power of his hammer. We are also given a more in-depth look at Asgard, a world that was left mostly in the background in the previous story. Supporting cast members are likewise no longer just standing idly in the background as some of them each get their own respective crowning moment in the movie to justify them being there instead of just being there for the sake of keeping true to the source material. Loki also returns and he is given more depths as well, as we see just how much his journey mirrors that of his brother's, him becoming more blunt and rash in his decision making as a result. Thor: The Dark World takes us on a breath-taking adventure with great fight scenes and some really cool imagery.

#1: The Last of Us


Stealth titles has seen a great resurgence in recent years, given new popularity with Rocksteady's Arkham series. Sony's in-house studio Naughty Dog previously well-known for titles like the original Crash Bandicoot trilogy and the Uncharted series gives us a taste of just how much juice can be pressed out of the aging Playstation 3 even in the same year as the launch of it's much more powerful successor. Bringing us not only some fun gameplay mechanics but beautiful environments, nerve wracking situations and a great cast of characters. The Last of Us takes place 20 years after the fall of mankind, a weird fungus-like plague that takes control of the dead has made most of the planet completely uninhabited, humanity instead gathering in small closed up societies controlled by the military. The player takes control of Joel, a man who makes his living smuggling supplies and humans in and out of the otherwise completely exclusionists cities with his partner the tough-as-nails Tess. Joel, like so many others has become disillusioned with the world and he will seemingly do just about anything to survive till the next day. When he and Tess are given the task of smuggling a young girl named Ellie who's around the age of his now deceased daughter, he very reluctantly abides and through their many adventures the two of them form a special bond of mutual dependency in a world that has gone completely crazy. It's a very basic concept when you think it through, and you can tell where the story is going a times but what makes it so great is how well written the characters are. Ellie could just as well had become a damsel in distress, a girl who'd constantly need saving by the sheer masculine musk of the very capable Joel. Joel could just as well have been your very basic "badass" hero, but both of them along with the supporting cast turns out to have so many more nuances in their characters than what would normally be the case in this kind of story. Zombie survival tales are easily the most drama driven horror genre, however a lot of writers depend a lot on archetypes to make it work out so it's a real treat to see what has been done with the characters this time. A lot can also be said for the great use of juxtaposition, throughout the game you will be fighting cannibals and gangsters and horrible abominations but that has next to no effect on the environments. All of these cities has been left to their devices for 20 years, meaning they're completely overgrown by trees and grass. As such you will see all that the PS3's graphics engine has to offer as you will be treated to some absolutely spectacular sights throughout.  
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