LAN Party | Master Chief’s Course | Exclusive Super Mario Maker 2 Stage — Normal Happenings

Each The Characters That Define Us piece comes with a custom-made inspired Super Mario Maker 2 Course!

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Master Chief: The Character That Defines Hear Dave Write — Normal Happenings

Or: How Mike died (repeatedly) from Dysentery.

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Mushroom Kingdom Space Program | Roger Wilco’s Course | Exclusive Super Mario Maker 2 Stage — Normal Happenings

Each The Characters That Define Us piece comes with a custom-made inspired Super Mario Maker 2 Course!

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Starting at the End | Yuna’s Course | Exclusive Super Mario Maker 2 Stage — Normal Happenings

Each The Characters That Define Us piece comes with a custom-made inspired Super Mario Maker 2 Course!

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Top 10 Comic Books of the 2010s #5

He is inevitable.

Avengers | Infinity War was going to appear somewhere on this list at some point. It’s the best case example of the most ambitious films being the most impressive to watch if made to their full potential. Half the entertainment value of Avengers | Infinity War is the fact that it even exists, that someone was able to actually make it – and that they didn’t disappoint.

They say a superhero film is only as interesting as its super-villain and Thanos is the greatest super-villain of the decade for several reasons. He has a developed perspective on the universe, the kind not usually seen in action-packed blockbusters. He’s a real character rather than a plot device and arguably, in an ensemble of heroes from across the universe, the protagonist of the film (something rarely seen, if ever). His ideology makes sense, the psychological arithmetic behind it checks out. He’s not a “villain” per se – just an individual whose experiences in life have informed his view. He’s a real person, not merely an excuse for the Avengers to assemble again. He’s also empathetic, in a disturbing way.

The issues which motivate Thanos will need addressing for real when the Human population reaches 10, 000, 000, 000 in the mid- to late 21st century – during most of our lifetimes. In spite of everything, he compels you to at least listen to him – the sign of a great villain.

Which is not to say the other characters are in any way less interesting as a result. The joy of a film like this is of combining a universe of characters together to first see how they come up against each other before eventually combining their respective abilities to find a common solution. When pulled-apart to be examined clinically, these interactions are probably revealed to be nothing more than algorithms in which each character is one functional piece of a larger puzzle but they’re all written consistently so this is hidden by the appearance of everything they say and do being what would naturally happen.

Such a large ensemble cast could’ve threatened to capsize the plot with its own form of overpopulation, so what’s satisfying is that, despite the scope and scale, everything is self-contained and still happens for a reason. The cross-cutting between the three action scenes taking place simultaneously on Nidavellir, Titan and in Wakanda may be a perfect representation of the experience of reading whole-company crossovers with great, double-page spreads but the crucial thing is that it manages to feel weighty and substantial without seeming bloated. The form and function are, like the humour and darkness, perfectly balanced (as all things should be). None of it is ever forced, it all happens for a reason. The crowd-pleasing presentation style comes after the content of the scenes, as opposed to the other way around (something far too many blockbuster filmmakers completely fail to understand).

This is the kind of film which I could spend much longer writing about – a good thing but inconvenient. I’m ranking this 5th amongst the films of this decade in its genre because of how the almost impossible task of bringing together an entire universe of characters was accomplished with simplicity and how the desired spectacle was delivered within that simplicity in order to still be coherent. This is, in a way, the ultimate comic book film and as such demonstrates the appeal of the genre in the best way as well as demonstrating how to avoid some of the genre’s biggest problems. Every character has a least one key moment that proves crucial for the plot yet none are included simply for the sake of being there.

On paper, this must surely have been the most ambitious film to make and therefore the most difficult to do well, never-mind in a way which achieves its full potential – and they did and it does. Simply as a piece of film-making, it’s an unrivalled achievement and is the most easily re-watchable blockbuster – not because it requires no engagement but quite the opposite.

Plus, it’s the first comic book film in which the heroes fail and the villain succeeds. Thor could’ve decapitated Thanos there and then and everything I’ve said about it already would still be true. But it managed to still crawl over that one last, unclaimed inch to deliver an ending which defied everyone’s expectations – and which everyone who, like me, grew up with these films – particularly with this franchise – will remember for the rest of our lives.

Avengers | Infinity War will be streaming soon on Disney+

Top 10 2010s Comic Book Films #6

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 takes everything that worked about Vol. 1 and amplifies it. Vol. 1 was an amusing space romp with larger-than-life characters and cool music, so Vol. 2 is even funnier but also explores deeper themes while developing its characters’ backstories.

Peter Quill’s relationship with his father, Ego, is an extended analogy for humanity’s relationship with God; discovering the love He must feel for all His children throughout the Universe but also His ability to justify being what mortals would think of as psychotic. Watching Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 for the first time was an incredible experience for me, because I saw a big-budget mainstream blockbuster sci-fi film using its characters and concepts to delve into such big ideas.

Ego can justify what he did to Peter’s mother because she could die of old age in the blink of his eye anyway. His nature as a celestial and everyone else’s nature as mortals can’t be resolved – in other words, God and man will never truly be able to understand each other because of their fundamental differences. Ego killed Meredith Quill to spare them both pain but Peter will always be traumatised by it. All the major characters have suffered some sort of defining trauma in their pasts and Vol. 2 fleshes them out in more detail – from Gamora’s abusive upbringing under Thanos to Yondu, previously a supporting character, having grown-up in slavery. They’ve all been emotionally wounded by circumstance and that’s what brings them together as a family.

The reputation of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is that it’s derivative of Vol. 1 but with more jokes and action sequences but it’s not. It’s much more sophisticated than it receives credit for because – while it’s true that a lot of Vol. 1’s beats are revisited – there’s more happening beneath the surface. But it’s good that it’s beneath the surface because the general Marvel movie audience still get what they came for.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is now streaming on Disney+

Top 10 Comic Book Films of the 2010s #7

Avengers: Age of Ultron is the controversial entry on this list. I’ve had to accept that I get more out of it than most, who generally think of it as being too generic a blockbuster to stand out from its genre contemporaries. So allow me, then, to explain why I’ve listed it as the 7th best comic book film of the 2010s.

It’s because, despite most of the film being one, long action scene, in and amongst that is one of the more personal, character-based films about superheroes. Every major character has some sort of emotional subplot that plays a much more significant role in the main narrative, rather than being an afterthought as usual.

For instance, Tony Stark’s self-obsessed curiosity is followed-through to its logical conclusion with the creation of Ultron, who acts as a cracked mirror for his own internal struggle between taking great risks with the best intentions. Barton’s character is developed more than anyone else’s in a way which reminds the audience that these heroes do have families and homes, their own lives outside of their super-heroism. They are real people. The Maximoff twins, who only have each other and hate Stark for how his imperialist past has directly affected them are the outside perspective providing as much of a critical look at the Avengers as Ultron.

Perspective is also the key word here. Ultron is a mistake made with honest intentions, the Maximoffs’ hatred of Stark is justified by what he’s unknowingly done to them and, after being created by Stark, Ultron decides to side with the silent majority and stand against the Avengers. It’s a simple equation but it’s informed by what we know about these characters and their experiences: Stark on one extreme, the Maximoffs on the other and Barton in the centre as the every-man just doing what he can to keep his family safe. There’s also Banner, who, after initially helping him create Ultron, comes up against Stark when only he realises the true extent of what they’ve done – but still agrees to help him create The Vision, despite the same risks applying.

Banner’s relationship with Romanoff is a microcosm of the Avengers’ whole team dynamic; they’re all trying to be better people than who destiny has made them and that’s what brings them together.  They choose to believe in the optimistic alternative to Ultron’s algorithmic philosophy because they’re the human element – something the Maximoffs eventually come to realise.

At times, the scale does seem overwhelming but beneath the surface is a drama about what it takes to be these characters, who they are and what their motivations are. This is not the best Avengers film but it’s the best example of each character working together as a team. Out of all four Avengers films, this is the one that doesn’t just have them in it but is also primarily about them.

Top 10 Comic Book Films of the 2010s #8

What makes the comic book genre unique from others is that it’s the only one which has perfected the cinematic universe. This was inevitable as it’s how the comic books which inspired the films were always structured, whereas other genres are reverse-engineering their properties to connect with each other after-the-fact and to lesser results. In this way, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is like an entirely new form of cinema and Avengers: Endgame distils that form into a single product, which is why it’s the one piece of essential viewing for that franchise. If you can see only one Infinity Saga film, this is the one that will provide the most satisfying experience. It includes all the major characters (an almighty 45 actors receive single on-screen end credits) and journeys back to previous films (including Guardians of the Galaxy, featured on this list as #10).

This is the singular representation of the experience of having followed the Saga from its beginning twenty-one chapters prior and is the most expensively-budgeted thank you to the fans that have enabled it to exist. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is an experiment so far not replicated by any other production company to such popularity and Avengers: Endgame is a microcosm of that experiment. It would’ve been the perfect ending had Marvel Studios the wisdom to eventually stop in order for the story to have value in being complete. Just as Logan (#9 on this list) will, I think, be remembered as the film which was produced by a studio brave enough to end their story, Avengers: Endgame will inversely be compared as the moment Marvel Studios should’ve done the same but didn’t. How the two films’ respective legacies will develop only time will tell.

Avengers: Endgame will definitely be the more well-remembered film, though Logan will likely earn more academic favour. And yet, I’ve placed Avengers: Endgame above Logan. Why? Because, for a list ranking the decade’s comic book films, Avengers: Endgame is more representative of the whole. The Infinity Saga has been the golden age of the genre and its finale, Avengers: Endgame, is the golden statue of it, reminding us in one film of exactly what that golden age was by being the definitive on-screen depiction of comic books: a mishmash of characters from all genres and styles in a heightened reality combining themselves in emotionally stimulating adventures of epic proportions. No other film based on comic books will ever come close to better translating them to the screen because Avengers: Endgame gets it exactly right.

Those of us who’ve grown-up reading comic books and watching the films they subsequently inspired have waited our whole lives for something like this and part of the joy seeing it done so perfectly is that it doesn’t just transpose the frames to motion pictures but brings with it the same feeling so accurately as for there to be no difference in experience. This film is a generational zeitgeist that, in years to come, will serve as a preserved reminder of what growing up as a shamelessly naive comic book reader was like; the way they can switch between high fantasy action to intimately dramatic scenes as if they’re one and the same. The third act accomplishes this to a fault, making the final battle, like all the great double-page spreads of iconic whole-company crossovers, one in which everything external is an outward manifestation of the internal.

Captain America has finally overcome the greatest challenge and become worthy of Mjolnir and now finds himself, when faced with the worst threat he’s ever fought, surrounded by all the friends and allies he’s ever known or inspired – a This is Your Wonderful Life befitting of a centennial warrior who’s devoted his whole life to guiding the human race and giving them everything he can to protect them. In his most desperate moment of need, everyone he’s every positively affected assembles to help him and I found myself asking, if this were me, how many would come? Who would they be?

It’s the perfect conclusion of the dramatic half of the film, which is about trauma and learning to overcome it, and does so by exploring the question of what happens when superheroes lose? How do they cope with that? The genre exaggerates the Human experience and so, in this case, overcoming it is Thor finding himself still worthy of his name. It’s a relatable moment because it’s when he has the key breakthrough that begins to turn things around for him. Everyone has their own version of that moment. It matters because we’ve been on his journey with him through all his previous appearances, and so that moment is the culmination of the developing character arc which led up to it. This doesn’t need a cinematic universe to be possible but only a cinematic universe can develop a film character in so much detail for that kind of pay-off to be delivered – or any of the other moments of pay-off.

Every previous Infinity Saga film is somehow referenced by Avengers: Endgame – some directly, some indirectly. But that’s what makes it the perfect case study of what happens when a cinematic universe is done well, rather than just being a marketing gimmick – the result is directly proportional. That’s why I believe that Avengers: Endgame will be the essential viewing for film students in decades to come when studying the cinematic universes of the early 21st century: Marvel’s is the prototype and Avengers: Endgame was what it all led to and didn’t disappoint and so will therefore be looked back-upon as the definitive example of the kind of films that are being produced by western culture at this current time – which is what making films is really all about.