Tag Archives: movies

Premature Movie Reviews (2017)

Since I so accurately gauged the quality of last year’s set of pop culture blancmange-athons in slightly cryptic and vague ways (I’m still not quite sure what “Will Smith’s rap career / 10” actually means), I thought I’d dust off the old crystal ball, pull the soothsayer out of the fridge, and give it another crack. Maybe this can become an actual thing with a schedule, although it’s basically the end of January by this point so maybe not.

Helpfully, it seems that Hollywood is dumping a million bajillion films on us this year, so to stem the tide a bit I’ve added some vague categories. Notice that not one of them is anything along the lines of ‘new interesting franchise with promise that could be a big deal for the company’, no, they’re all fucking sequels again. Onwards!

 

Superheroes!!

The big obvious thing to start with is your regular overpowered idiots in shiny spandex. They’re still extremely popular for reasons unbeknownst to modern science, so I should probably talk about them.

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First of all, we get to see if DC can dig themselves out of their overly gritty hole with some hopeful course correction, aiming to move away from gleeful Batman murders to something a bit less grim. It doesn’t help, then, that Justice League looks like The Jetsons if it was set in the Holocaust, while Wonder Woman is The First Avenger in a different war and with less sensible clothing options. It’ll also have to do a hell of a lot to convince me that the pose-able mannequin in a tiara that we saw in Batman v Superman: The Broodenating can actually act. They might as well charge people to inhale a gravel driveway.

Rating – A donut filled with wallpaper paste and slugs / 10

 

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Meanwhile, Marvel continue to churn out the same film over and over again in the form of Thor: Ragnarok and Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2, two films that I can’t possibly be excited for when I know they only exist as setup, like a two-hour filler episode of a TV show that’s stalling for time. Thor might have something fun for Hulk to do rather than play emotional pattycake with a forced love interest, and Guardians will have some amazing, new, innovative soundtrack that James Gunn found down the back of his dad’s sofa one rainy Tuesday evening, but it’s impossible to be excited for Marvel films anymore. Hopefully the giant purple thumb in a chair will do something soon.

Rating – A Panini album of Fisher Price workbenches / 10

 

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After last year’s incredibly boring X-Men: Apocalypse, Fox are clawing (heh) one last payday from Mr Huge Jackhammer with the dusty depressing Logan before he sods off to be far too handsome somewhere else. Quite what the fuck they’re doing with the plot is anyone’s guess, given they’ve re-tooled one of the most insanely violent and depressing (or ‘mature’ if you’re a pissant) comic book storylines into a knock-off of The Last of Us but with sand instead of zombies. They’ve also put the post-apocalypse a measly decade away, just so they can introduce a character that will be usable later in the franchise. Inevitably boring and pointless.

Rating – Three perfectly good clocks that have been dropped in a woodchipper and re-sold as a toaster / 10

 

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While Fox are experts at being very boring, Sony appear to be the best in the world at ruining immensely popular things; they’ve had five cracks at Spiderman now, and have managed to get it right a stellar one-and-a-half times. Having somehow failed to understand the appeal of a talkative teenage wanker who jizzes from his wrists, Sony have had their toys ripped off them for Spiderman: Homecoming, with Marvel promptly throwing Robert Downey Jr and a couple of jokes in, as is the way. It’s not hard, Sony.

Rating – Reddit: The Movie / 10

 

Remakes/Reboots/Re-awakenings/Re-inspirationalisings!!

If Hollywood isn’t busy making superheroes for every age, ethnicity, gender, culture, species, blood type, fursona, and flu strain to relate to, they’re busy remaking an old thing we used to like in the hope we recognise it and throw money at them, like a dog distracted by some keys. It seems that executives are imaginatively bankrupt and can’t stomach the idea of having ideas. Presumably they explode when asked for ranch or barbeque.

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Instead of just watching the originals on Netflix we’re now gifted the pleasure of amazing ‘new’ (massive quotations) versions of things, such as Alien: Covenant, whose alternative title should probably be Prometheus -0.2: Maybe You’ll Like This One Instead. Some sort of weird prequel/sequel/reboot/parallel universe, it’s just the first Alien on repeat but filmed in spacey blue spook-o-vision and with your old pal Fassassin’s Creedbender in it again for no particular reason.

Rating – Laminating a VHS tape / 10

 

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Other pointless franchise rumblings come from Kong: Skull Island, a film which will almost certainly have some people looking for a giant monkey for half the film then running away from it for the other half, and Blade Runner 2049, a film which should never exist. It’d be like making A Clockwork Lemon where Alex is suddenly un-brainwashed and sat at home watching TV.

There’s also Baywatch and Jumanji, films linked by their starring roles being taken by a man known more by his genetic link to boulders than his real name; The Mummy, which won’t be nearly as entertaining as it’s botched trailer was; and for some reason XXX: The Return of Vin Diesel and a Motorbike or Something, featuring gnarly bike jumps and off-key edgy one-liners that just sort of make you a bit confused more than anything.

All of these movies would be pretty highly anticipated if it was 2004. Shame it isn’t, then.

Rating – Laminating a VHS tape that everyone wishes you’d thrown out several decades ago / 10

 

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We also have Ghost in the Shell, which promises to be a series of anime set pieces re-shot in live action, strung together by half a plot that’s notionally about AI and technology and whatever but mostly just makes vague coo-ing promises of nearly nude robo-Johansson. This, depressingly, will be enough for some.

Finally, there’s the baffling Power Rangers film, which has taken such an amazing tonal shift from the original franchise that I’m amazed it hasn’t broken in half from the torque. Imagine Fant4stic, but made of Skittles.

Rating – Laminating a VHS tape that nobody remembers you ever having, and now the laminator’s broken so you’ve just shat plastic all over your film, you idiot / 10

 

Standard Sequel Land!!

Yes, pretty much everything in this list is a sequel. However, while the others at least had some flavour, things like Pirates of the Caribbean 5: Dead Franchises Make No Money appear to be happening for presumably some reason, but nothing to do with what any member of the public could possibly want. You can lump Transformers 5: The Last Straw in with this as well, as it’s guaranteed to make infuriating amounts of money despite basically being one of those sleazy American second-hand dealership adverts with the boobs and the cars and the racism, but stretched to 600 minutes with a load of random CGI metal flailing everywhere as a distraction. Despicable Me 3: Yellow Bastards Forever will shove more fucking minions down your throat until you choke to death on the tiny bean-shaped cunts (I’m not a fan), while Cars 3 seems to be attempting to do gritty realism in an animated franchise that has a redneck tow truck screaming and yodelling every five minutes. Fifty Shades Darker is porn for people who don’t understand the internet (or porn), Saw 8 is torture porn for people who don’t understand the internet (or basic common decency), and World War Z 2 is a film with an abomination of a title that’ll have even less to do with the book than the first one. It’ll probably be just as underwhelming to boot, if it even comes out.

Rating – Landfill / 10

 

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In terms of actually slightly interesting sequels, Lego Batman is another shameless cash in but one that stands at least a slight chance of being alright, given the previous shameless cash in was surprisingly decent. War of the People who are Fighting for the Planet that the Apes live on Angrily is probably here more for contractual reasons than anything else, but again the previous ones were good so maybe the film with a monkey on a horse with a machine gun won’t be totally stupid.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle will have as much cocky British charm as the first but will just end up retreading all the same steps as the previous one, so much so that the Wiki for this unreleased film seems to give away an unsurprising plot spoiler (click here if you want to read it, you daring scoundrel). Meanwhile, I have no idea what John Wick 2 is going to be doing in order to top the brilliant original, which covered almost every action set piece and plot point it could without derailing into insane gibberish. Probably some Face-Off level jiggery-pokery involving doves and exploding windmills or something.

Oh there’s also a Star Wars film or something. It’ll be fine.

Rating – Having to attend your distant cousin’s wedding despite only talking to her once at a drunken New Year’s Eve party when you fell in a pond and your pants fell off so now it’s a bit awkward and you’d really rather not be here at all but it is a nice wedding and there’s cake and bonbons but your Aunt Marge has had too much wine again and this analogy’s getting away from me somewhat / 10

 

Shite!!

The Emoji Movie can fuck off forever.

Rating – Fuck off forever / 10

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Join me next year for when I bitch about how movies are all the same and Hollywood should stop making sequels for absolutely everything. It’ll be great.

I’m sensing a pattern here.

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A Word On… Modern Visual Media and Why They Suck

 (Originally published in Issue #4 of Cobalt Magazine at Warwick University, released in November 2015. Read that version here, on pages 12-15.)

Why does everything have to be a movie? Don’t get me wrong I like movies, but whenever a book, game or even TV show becomes a hit there’s instantly talk of when the movie version’s coming out. It’s indicative of the steaming pile of sequel factory bullshit the blockbuster movie industry has found itself in, and videogames aren’t far behind either.

For starters there are books that have absolutely no right to become movies, like the unbearable Fifty Shades of Grey. Like any film based on sex, it would have either had to be Pornhub: Extended Cut or two pasty personality sieves gawping at a dildo for two hours in various vaguely hospitable settings. However, the critical issue with Fifty Shades is that the book is absolute putrified garbage, written as fan fiction to fucking Twilight of all things before they changed some character names around and fed it to sex hungry mums whose husbands were too busy eating mud and kicking themselves in the testicles to notice they were married. If a book is lacking in plot, characters, material that can actually be released in a cinema, or general noticeable quality, then it has no purpose being a film. It’d be like trying to make an action thriller based on the contents of my shower drain.

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If it’s not just a shit adaptation of shit material then it’s movie execs wringing as much money out of a franchise as they can. Endless sequels, prequels and duringquels effectively split one story into eleventy billion parts for maximum dollar and minimum customer satisfaction. Harry Potter started the trend and sort of got away with it since the book was legitimately too big, but since then films have been all too happy to stall for time like lawyers at a strippers wedding. The second Hunger Games film was the movie equivalent of a fat moggy getting stuck in its own catflap, Twilight existed for about 8 films longer than it should have, the Marvel cinematic universe is currently making movies just because it needs to keep existing, and The Hobbit padded a fairly short book with mine cart races and stoner wizards. Modern movie franchises are like public bus services; short journeys, loads of stops, irritatingly expensive, and a decent chance of finding a homeless man masturbating with a paper bag in the back row.

But while book-to-film adaptations are getting progressively stupid and pointless like when a dear relative passes into their ninth decade, videogames have a much more chronic problem; they’re beginning to think they are movies. Little Jimmy Ubisoft likes to dress in Momma Paramount’s dresses on occasion and is slowly hatching a plan to kill her off in a freak golfing accident so he can replace her in society, even though he’s about 8 and smells of Wotsits and fear.

Games publishers talk bullshit. When a game claims it’s ‘cinematic’ it means it has expensive graphics. When a game claims it’s ’emotional’ it means it has an over-complicated, under-acted story. When a game claims it’s ‘immersive’, it means it’s paranoid about being shit and praising itself for doing its job. Listen: if your game is not immersive then your game is bad. Immersion is broken by inconsistencies, so if the players are noticing physics glitches and graphical weirdness or it controls like a crab at the helm of a 747 it’s going to pull you out of the experience no matter what the experience was to begin with. If you advertise a visual media as ‘immersive’ you may as well advertise the fact that it makes pictures appear on a screen.

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‘Cinematic’ is even worse. It means nothing and screams of the desperation of marketing departments trying to ride the coattails of a medium they passed by in profitability somewhere in 2009. More worryingly, however, it implies that marketers or developers or whoever think that visuals are the only important part of a film. If this was the case every film would just be a procession of flashy lights, tits, and fireworks. I can’t be certain, but other than some experimental student art films I highly doubt there has ever been a movie that hasn’t at least tried to tell a story of some kind, no matter if it was good or not. A film can look decent while still being absolute shit, such as every single thing Michael Bay has ever done in his entire career, but the best films have more than that: an excellent plot, clever use of music and set design, good dialogue etc. When a game claims  it’s ‘cinematic’ it’s often artistically good at a level of shallowness not offered by most tea-trays. Controls and gameplay don’t matter since people don’t need to play it, only sit entranced by a giant noisy screen while their body fat slowly fuses to their seat.

Then there’s the insanity of transferring a videogame franchise into a film, which boggles the mind. Videogames aren’t particularly known for their excellent storytelling, and if one is it’s often at the expense of gameplay complexities, like Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons or The Walking Dead series. If a game has an excellent story in its own right then a film spin-off is pointless, as the story has already been told in a visual medium so all you’d be doing is removing any user interaction and throwing Ryan Reynolds in for Nolan North. On the other hand, if it hasn’t told a good story then you’re removing the pop-ups from a pop-up book and leaving behind a story nobody cared about in the first place. Films that tell a different story but set in the same universe are fine and have the potential to be interesting provided they don’t magic up a story out of thin air using a franchise name, of which Battleship is the logical stupidity black hole. If all you’re going to do though is regurgitate the same Mass Effect story with no customisation or moral choice then at least one of the creative teams involved has wasted literally years of their life.

Even ignoring all of that, why is cinema the bastion of quality anyway? There’s nothing intrinsically better about films than games or books, and the industry is now as bloated and overconfident as Jabba the Hutt. The critically ‘best’ films aren’t the most successful and the most successful are normally pretty crap. Transformers 4 grossed over a billion worldwide but is so absolutely atrocious in almost every possible way I wouldn’t be surprised if  Michael Bay was just seeing what he could get away with without being fired. The reason Marvel has taken over the box office isn’t because their films are universally amazing must-sees, it’s because they deliver a solid, consistent 6.5 out of 10 every time, with the occasional 8 sneaking in there to make up for the hopeless gibberish that was Iron Man 3. Marvel has made a TV series in the cinema, so people want to come back and watch more of their favourite characters get into hijinks in their armoured pyjamas. Unfortunately now every studio wants to do this, and it’s absolutely not going to work.

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To sum up – pretentiousness runs through the industry like a clogged artery through an obese dog stuck in a McFlurry machine, the majority of content is trash of the highest degree and the good stuff is either lost in the crowd or swiftly dogpiled by the higher ups for sequels if they made any chunk of money at all. While that may very well be a description of modern Hollywood, it’s also a perfect example of the giants of the videogame industry. Two of the biggest media industries on the planet are circling each other down the drain with blinkers bigger than Quentin Tarantino’s ego, caring little if at all for customer satisfaction or end quality. If that’s not a terrifying thought, then… well, go and watch Pan’s Labyrinth or something. I heard it was scary.

Read more of Cobalt magazine here, and check out their blog here.

A Word On… Batman

(Originally published in Issue #2 of Cobalt Magazine at Warwick University, released in November 2014. Read that version here, on pages 38-40.)

My God it never ends. A new poster has slated a Bananaman movie for a 2015 release [this never happened, the filthy liars]. Yes, the Man of Peel (their pun, not mine) is making a return, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg; Marvel’s current box office domination has extended into the amazing sink unblocking powers of Ant-Man, a scientist who can shrink himself down to any size provided it’s plot relevant, and Rocket Raccoon, a small furry Jack Bauer. But behind the faux-science shenanigans and random costumes of the modern superhero movie industry stands Batman, the big broody grandfather of it all. He’s practically part of the furniture at this point.

Batman films have been going for some time now, starting with the incredibly camp 1960s Adam West flick which was adapted from the TV show from the same time, featuring a snout nosed Batman who always seemed to be busting for a piss. After being put through the ridiculously successful NolanFilterTM of confused non-messages and Hans Zimmer brass explosions that seem to follow the director like a Doberman with a foghorn for a face, the character is due to be portrayed by Ben Affleck, a man who simultaneously looks like a confused baby and the sharp side of a cliff. Hopefully he’ll be as terrible as he was in Daredevil just so we can get rid of Batman for a while. The guy’s spent too much of his time working out his anger on drunk tramps in his pyjamas for the average billionaire, and not enough of it dedicated to buying out the world’s media or whatever it is they spend their weekends doing.

Now don’t get me wrong, I like Batman. I mean you can hang hats on his ears after all. It’s just that the character himself is simply not as interesting as his villains, probably due to having the personality of a frowny filing cabinet stuffed with money and with no concept of personal space. How many people remember the original Burton film primarily for Batman, and not Jack Nicholson as the Joker? The Dark Knight was similarly dominated by Two-Face and the Joker, probably since the plot was primarily about a sad businessman in armour playing a long angsty game of Blues Clues with a GCSE Biology diagram and Margaret Thatcher in drag. Even the incredibly atrocious (or atrociously incredible, your choice) Batman and Robin is mostly remembered for the Governators total lack of shits to give about the script, hamming it up so much it could be cut and sold at a butchers. Oh, and the Bat Credit Card. Fucking what.

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No, despite being as interesting as a tub of lard with marital issues, Batman is now so popular he dominates huge sections of pop culture. He’s so integral in fact that he’s basically the modern day action character archetype, i.e. an angry bloke who says very little, punches people repeatedly and talks in shrouded half-metaphors. This is of course a far cry from the 80s action character archetype of an angry bloke who says very little, punches people repeatedly and talks in amazingly bad one-liners, but the point remains. Garrett from the recent Thief game is really just a skinny Batman, a man who says he steals things because ‘it’s what I do’. Thanks for that Garrett, but I doubt the jury will empathize with your suffering.

In my opinion, Batman just needs to go away for a while. Film, comics, TV shows, musicals, charity calendars, everything. There’s been a new cartoon with the chinned wonder almost every year since the excellent Batman: The Animated Series kicked things off back in the 90s. Man of Steel was essentially marketed as being Batman the alien, and he’s now being farmed out for the Justice-League-in-disguise film Batman vs Superman, which is a fight that should realistically last as long as a hamster in a jet turbine. Take a well deserved break from the self discovery and face breaking, put your Bat Boots in the Bat Wardrobe and go to the Maldives for a bit. You deserve it, you big mopey bastard.

When the public can actually get excited for a new Batman film, there should be some changes for old whiney Wayne. Stop trying to be Watchmen, and try a few ridiculously camp 60s throwbacks. It’s happened recently on TV, where Brave and the Bold freshened things up by pitting Bats against idiot villains like Clock King, Crazy Quilt and the amazingly named Animal Vegetable Mineral Man. My favourite Batman scene is in the 60s film where he’s running frantically along a holiday pier desperately trying to get rid of a giant bomb. Exasperated at insurmountable obstacles like a no smoking sign, some nuns and five ducks, he runs towards the screen, whereupon water and metal pipes go everywhere and the bomb is defused, somehow. It’s weirdly like the ending to Dark Knight Rises, on reflection. Anyway, Batman needs more of that brilliant nonsense and less bullshit hero statements based on the difference between the meaning of ‘deserves’ and ‘needs’.

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In fact, just remake Batman and Robin. It was so ridiculously over the top that you can somehow manage to enjoy it, like Birdemic, The Room or Troll 2. Remake that stupid film with the clear intention that it’s going to be nothing like Dark Knight Rises (more Bane in flasher trench coats, less Bane struggling to be heard through a cyberpunk facehugger), develop a dumb side story that ties the goddamn Bat Credit Card in to the plot, and I’ll watch the hell out of that. I’ll probably be the only one that does, but who cares about brand strength when you’re Batman. You can just Batman the problem away by jumping on its face in your underwear.

Read more of Cobalt magazine here, and check out their blog here.

A Word On… Trilogies

(Originally published in Issue #1 of Cobalt Magazine at Warwick University, released in May 2014. Read that version here, on pages 69-71.)

Trilogies are bullshit. How many major film or game series have you seen go down the same path – a breakout hit that gathers massive attention, a follow up that expands on the ideas of the first and a third that has nothing to add except a wet fart and an apology? Seemingly every brand that has a (theoretical) story ending is put into this mass marketable format nowadays. The recent Batman: Arkham Knight was released as the fourth game of a trilogy, J K Rowling is expanding her empire with three fan-fiction offshoot ‘megamovies’ which have as much to do with Harry Potter as my arse does with a chicken sandwich, and the latest 7-hour New Zealand Walking Tours advertisement is taken from a book that takes about two hours to read. Also Legolas is back, because why the hell not.

One fairly major issue with trilogies is that they are inherently predictable, borrowing heavily from the traditional three-act structure of your standard plot. Typically, the first act is used to set up the characters and plot, the second is normally where things start to go wrong and the villains plan is revealed, and the third is where they start indiscriminately destroying buildings, saving orphans and filming footage for the release trailer, only with a trilogy they take each of these acts as a separate film. There should be three separate stories to tell, otherwise you’re just retreading old material, and so you’ll have a total of nine acts to do things with, three acts within each act. It’s a padded fractal headache, and by the time you’re setting the characters up for the third time it starts to feel like Groundhog Day only with slightly less suicide attempts and more boredom.

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Because of this there are two roads you can go down when structuring a multi-part story – you can do something akin to Mass Effect and Star Wars, where the main plot thread is lightly sprinkled throughout and only comes together for a climax at the end, or follow the Batman route and totally ignore everything that came previously in favour of hollowing out football stadiums.

The problem is that both of these are very hard to get right; the first comes with the obvious flaw of the tension-payoff scenario, where the ridiculously long plot thread has to be wrapped up well or face the wrath of a thousand angry nerds on IGN forums. Of the above examples Star Wars did it best, if only because Mass Effect’s drunken self-circumcision of an ending actively hurt to watch. Yes the ewoks were kind of dumb, and Vader did sort of look like a bootlegged Faberge egg, but the finale was exciting and more importantly made sense in its own universe, unlike literally everything in the last ten minutes of Mass Effect 3. Getting the balance right of story cohesion, fan service, payoff and everything else is a tricky task indeed.

The second approach forgoes this, of course, since the plots are about as related to each other as an episode of Scooby Doo is to a documentary about Jeffrey Dahmer, but this means it’s no longer a trilogy, it’s a series that just happens to have three parts. It could have seven for all we care.

Despite this, there are trilogies that worked, and the format isn’t worthless by any means. Lord of the Rings is one of the obvious choices, and other than the ‘Choose Your Explosion’ sequence at the end the Mass Effect series built tension well and had enough revelations spread across enough time to keep you invested. There have, however, been enough atrocities to make the overuse of trilogies questionable, such as Spiderman 3’s splurging emo confusion or The Matrix sequels generally being awful to the point where it becomes a bit concerning, like one of the Wachowskis must have had a stroke or something.

The problem almost always boils down to vision – do the creators have enough vision to see where the story is going, how it is going to end, and roughly what’s going to happen on the way? If not then there’s a large chance it’ll fall apart faster than your mum in the company of Cliff Richard. Star Wars and Lord of the Rings worked because the creators knew what they wanted to happen. George Lucas wrote three films at once but put enough closure into the first in case he couldn’t get funding for the sequels, suitably ending that story arc. Lord of the Rings was an adaptation of a classic work which already had a proper ending, and was well handled apart from some suspect bed jumping. The Matrix, on the other hand, seemed to be the result of a daydreaming office worker trying to avoid work without masturbating or Photoshopping Kanye West’s surprised face onto things, and somehow managed to get a budget for three films. The story blew its load halfway through the first film when Neo the naked mole rat wakes up in a H R Geiger birthing chamber, and the rest of that series is either a bunch of dirty, growly men shooting at robot squids or some overly pretentious shite that pretends to be much more than it is. For a series that devolved unnervingly quickly into nonsensical drivel, it quite appropriately ends with two men in sunglasses standing still, punching each other in a rainy sewer. Safe to say, it didn’t work.

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Surprisingly it turns out that the best stories are ones that end. If one doesn’t it’s either because it was cancelled and you will never know the resolution, or because it’s an ongoing story, which is, generally speaking, massively boring. Most American TV shows stretch their plotlines to breaking point so they can make more seasons with the same characters doing their iconic thing of standing around arguing for 85% of the show, then taking drugs/killing people/solving crimes/having sex for the other 15, delete as appropriate. Comic books have it the worst, having lost the shock value of killing off main characters by continuing to do it, and Jesusing them back to life a few weeks later is as lazy as that time that a whole season of Dallas was a dream because the previous storyline was as well received as a genital wart. Basically if you don’t know how to end the story, you’re going to lose track of what made your initial project good, or simply run out of ideas and go for the shark jumping world record.

Essentially, if you want to make a trilogy, you should try and know what bloody well happens in it. If not, don’t be surprised if you get dismantled by sarcastic pricks on the internet who write articles for student magazines. You have been warned.

 

Read more of Cobalt magazine here, and check out their blog here.