Connect with us

Reviews

‘Ghost of Tsushima: Iki Island’ Review: A Beautiful Blend of Old, New, and DLC Elements of the Samurai Story

Published

on

‘Ghost of Tsushima: Iki Island’ Review: A Beautiful Blend of Old, New, and DLC Elements of the Samurai Story

Ghost of Tsushima debuted a little over a year ago. That auspicious beginning was followed up by much critical and gamer acclaim, numerous award wins, and a dose of supernatural yokai adventures thanks to a multiplayer co-op DLC in Ghost of Tsushima: Legends. In my humble opinion, it was nearly a perfect game, a perfect roll-out, and a perfect plan of attack beginning to end from Sucker Punch Productions. The only thing I wanted after Platinum’ing Ghost of Tsushima and battling my way through Legends was, in a word, more. A sequel, a DLC, a horse-riding romp through the pampas grass with Jin, whatever. Thankfully, as of today, the new “Director’s Cut” version of the game comes with a whole new and wholly worthwhile expansion, taking Jin to Iki Island and beyond.

If you’ve played through at least the first act of the main game, you can access the new expansion either mid-run or after you’ve completed Jin’s original mission. It’s a great excuse to come back to Ghost of Tsushima after some time away or a wonderfully expanded side-adventure that’ll pump up your skill set, build out your armor and weapons stash, and scratch that explorer’s itch just as much as the base game itself. What I most appreciate about the expansion as a returning player, however, is how masterfully it blends elements of the original game, the more supernatural DLC Legends, and new island adventures that keep things fresh. My review follows below, with the appropriate spoiler warning here.

Advertisement

Spoilers AheadRELATED: ‘Ghost of Tsushima Director’s Cut’ Content Revealed: DLC Length, New Abilities, and More


In the base game, you play as Jin Sakai, a noble samurai who is caught between the ironclad honor of his family and fellow samurai, and the ruthless invasion of Mongol forces. Your inner conflict, throughout the game, bristles between honoring your fallen father and other noble samurai allies, and learning the relatively less honorable ways of spies, rogues, and assassins. Eventually, Jin will become the Ghost of Tsushima in earnest, the word of your own brutal nature spreading through the Mongol horde but also reaching all the way back to Japan’s Emperor himself. That conflict ultimately boils over in a final fight and fateful decision that’s up to you, dear gamer. However, whatever you choose, Jin’s story is not over.

While we’re still waiting for news of an actual Ghost of Tsushima sequel, the Iki Island expansion is a great way to build out Jin’s story as it exists so far. A rogue encounter with a Mongol shaman and their pumped-up warriors will lead Jin to an extensive expansion mission to said island, taking players anywhere from 10 to 15 hours to finish up. While there, all the familiar combat, exploration, and stealth mechanics from the base game are retained, though you’ll obviously get some new skills and gear along the way. You’ll also have similar waypoints and objectives to explore and collect, like banners and haikus, but you’ll also have some new points of interaction to help make the island locale stand out. And while you’ll run into familiar types of roguish, pirate, and warrior NPCs in a similar fashion to the base game, you’ll soon find that the greatest enemy here might just be yourself. To dig into that a little bit more, we’ll have to talk story spoilers here.


In Jin’s original journey, we learn that his father was killed by a raider on Iki Island when Jin was young, though not so young that he couldn’t possibly have helped defend his fallen patriarch. That memory literally haunts Jin and the player in the expansion, thanks in a big way to the island’s new Mongol leader, the Eagle. The female leader of this band of Mongols does not yet know about the legend of the Ghost, but the people of Iki Island know about the Sakai clan all too well. Jin’s father once led a band of samurai to the island, known to the locals as the Sakai Invasion, so he’s not too keen on revealing his family ties in a hostile nation where both sides of the conflict want to kill him. But while the raiders and their tenuous alliance with this wayward samurai might just break upon finding out his true identity, Jin’s own mind might break first thanks to the Eagle’s hallucinogenic poison.

Advertisement


I was genuinely surprised to see that Ghost of Tsushima‘s expansion did something that I had hoped Marvel’s AvengersBlack Panther expansion would have done: The Iki Island adventure borrows a bit from the surreal, supernatural vision journey of the Legends DLC by dosing Jin with a poison that makes him hallucinate and relive his darkest memories. This is a brilliant way to freshen up the gameplay while keeping the same base game mechanics intact. Jin’s own internal struggle here mirrors that of the main game’s external conflict between his more and less honorable companions. The decision also answers the call for a dose of the supernatural in the main gameplay itself; Ghost of Tsushima is far from turning into Sekiro, but now that Legends has dipped a yokai toe into the cursed waters, the main game can loosen up the reins on reality a bit.


So while the story remains strong and connected to the core conceit, how does the expansion’s gameplay ramp things up? Well, for starters, the island enemies are pretty tough thanks to their shaman links (familiar to Legends players) and foes who change up their stances mid-battle (the new target-lock camera option may or may not help gamers here). I was also happy to see that Sucker Punch has not only been very kind to your horse, they’ve also let you pet various animals across the island countryside. Your horse, whatever you named it, will get a fun new ability early on (I won’t spoil it here but it’s a fun one, for sure) as well as some more cosmetic options. And R2 to Pet? Yes, please! My favorite new addition are the animal sanctuaries scattered throughout, featuring pettable animals and the best flute-based mini-game since The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

Petting animals, reciting haikus, and gathering gear is all well and good, but the foundation of the expansion is rock-solid thanks to a focus on aspects of Jin’s story. The main game leaves some lingering questions unanswered and some traumas not dealth with. The aforementioned death of Jin’s father early in his formative years certainly plays a part, but so do Jin’s allies from the main game, especially those who formed a bond with him and then severed it through betrayal; you’ll know it when you see it. The real challenge is an internal one for Jin himself. Players will learn a lot more about jin as a person, a hero, a son, a leader, a Ghost. Sure, there’s still that illusion of choice here—the story will play out pretty much straight no matter what you do—but the expansion allows Jin’s internal monologue more room to breathe while packing a dense, dynamic, and totally worthwhile adventure into an exploration of Iki Island.

Advertisement


The Ghost of Tsushima: Director’s Cut is drop-dead gorgeous across the board, not just in the new island setting. The Iki Island expansion itself, however, is a perfectly condensed and flawlessly executed version of everything that made the base game so great. To new Ghost of Tsushima players, welcome; to returning samurai, Ghosts, and everyone in between, welcome back.

KEEP READING: ‘Ghost of Tsushima’ Movie in the Works With ‘John Wick’ Co-Creator Chad Stahelski Directing


Advertisement

Reviews

Bullet Train Review: A Wickedly Funny, High-Octane Thrill Ride

Published

on

By

Bullet Train Review: A Wickedly Funny, High-Octane Thrill Ride

Brad Pitt leads a wickedly funny ensemble in a high-octane actioner loaded with twists. Adapted from the 2010 Japanese novel by Kōtarō Isaka, Bullet Train has a bevy of disparate assassins manipulated by a mysterious criminal mastermind. Stuntman turned action director, David Leitch (John Wick, Atomic Blonde), stays true to form with unrelenting bloody and flamboyant violence. The codenamed characters get downright verbose before beating, stabbing, and shooting each other to bits. The loquacious banter tends to run long, but the narrative always bounces back with sharp reveals. Strap in for a helluva ride.

Ladybug (Pitt) boards the overnight bullet train to Tokyo with a newfound sense of self. He’s chock-full of philosophy after recovering from a near fatal ambush. Ladybug ignores his unseen handler’s advice to take a gun. Surely any issues can be resolved peacefully. The job seems straightforward enough. Steal a briefcase with a sticker and exit at the next stop.

Advertisement

Also on board are Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), ruthless “twins” known for their brutal methods. Lemon is obsessed with the British children’s show “Thomas & Friends”. He reads people by comparing them to the anthropomorphized trains. The twins are escorting the previously kidnapped son (Logan Lerman) of a powerful gangster, the White Death (Michael Shannon).

None of the hired guns are aware of the Father, aka Yuichi Kimura’s (Andrew Koji), mission. He’s out for vengeance but foolishly runs into a deceptive figure. The Prince (Joey King) has a score to settle with the White Death. Meanwhile, the Wolf (Bad Bunny) joins the fray after his truly horrific Mexican wedding. He’s also ready for serious comeuppance. Ladybug quickly realizes they’re all unwitting pawns in a dangerous game. Someone has packed the train with killers for an unknown purpose. He desperately wants to get off but can’t seem to escape the carnage.


Related: I Love My Dad Review: Patton Oswalt’s Delightfully Cringeworthy Catfishing Comedy

Cast of Bullet Train

Bullet Train introduces the cast with splashy entrances that flashes back to their dark pasts. The murderous montages are informative but don’t fill in every gap. The script doles out more critical information as the bodies pile up. Alliances bounce back and forth as everyone wonders who’s actually pulling the strings. The whodunit element works well as the audience becomes embroiled in a series of betrayals. You don’t have a sense of the plot’s true trajectory until the third act. The film builds to a showdown that delivers a huge action payoff.

Advertisement

Bullet Train has complex characters that each contribute slices of devilish humor. Brad Pitt preaching self-help and understanding is an effective gag throughout. Brian Tyree Henry’s constant comparisons to Thomas & Friends aren’t as comical but play an important role in the story. There are a lot of moving parts. Leitch, who worked as Pitt’s stunt double for years, is clearly fond of his players. He gives everyone a chance to babble incessantly. I would have trimmed the dialogue to be more incisive.


The action scenes are worth the price of admission. Leitch has a great eye for mixing stylized set pieces with intimate fights. He knows when to go big and small. You never feel let down by his pacing. There’s always the right amount of adrenaline to keep your pulse pumping. Bullet Train is another feather in a skilled filmmaker’s cap. Watch out for A-list cameos and a mid-credits scene.

Bullet Train is a production of Columbia Pictures, Fuqua Films, and 87North Productions. It will be released theatrically on August 5th from Sony Pictures.

Advertisement
Continue Reading

Reviews

Bullet Train Review: Brad Pitt Has A Blast In The Silly And Badass Action Comedy

Published

on

By

Bullet Train Review: Brad Pitt Has A Blast In The Silly And Badass Action Comedy

If orchestrated properly, with adjusted stakes, tone, and atmosphere, there can be a beautiful, symbiotic relationship between intense action and comedy. A hero pulling off a rapid and vicious series of blows against an opponent can be savage and dramatic in one context, but it can also be so deliriously awesome that an audience’s first reaction is to laugh. Fast paced martial arts can be used for wonderful physical humor (see: the legendary career of Jackie Chan), and the best examples provide dual layers of entertainment: you marvel at the skill in all the ass-kicking, and cackle at the creativity in the choreography.

This is a sweet spot that filmmaker David Leitch knows well. After peppering funny moments in John Wick and Atomic Blonde at the start of his directorial career, he brilliantly utilized the action/comedy weapon that is Ryan Reynolds in Deadpool 2, and crafted some excellent physicality with the unique styles of Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham in Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. His latest, Bullet Train, is another effort that takes aim at that particular tonal target, this time with his most expansive ensemble yet, and it’s another success. With a sensibility that could be described as early Guy Ritchie with more specific action focus, it’s a movie that is both silly and skilled and inspires its primary star in particular to do energetic and engaging work.

Based on the novel Maria Beetle by Kōtarō Isaka, the film weaves multiple narrative threads through the cars of the titular bullet train as it speeds through the country of Japan – all of the protagonists being killers with their own particular reason and motivation for being aboard. Ladybug (Brad Pitt), for example, is a hired gun who has been tasked by his handler (Sandra Bullock) to perform what sounds like a simple job: find a briefcase marked with a train sticker and steal it. What he doesn’t know, though, is that said briefcase belongs to a pair of British hit men named Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), and that the contents include the recovered ransom for the kidnapped son (Logan Lerman) of a powerful crime lord known as The White Death.

Meanwhile, Kimura a.k.a. The Father (Andrew Koji) is on the bullet train because he is on a mission of vengeance – hunting down the person responsible for nearly killing his son by pushing the boy off of a building. What he doesn’t expect is that the individual he is looking for is a young woman identified as The Prince (Joey King), and that she has purposefully gotten him on the high speed rail with the intention of forcing him to execute an assassination attempt.

And while five killers sharing the space would be enough for most movies, Bullet Train actually has even more that pop in and surprise throughout the film’s runtime – and their roles are worth keeping as a secret pre-release.

Advertisement

Bullet Train has a chaotic storyline, but the pieces properly connect as a fun puzzle.

Narratively speaking, Bullet Train is a messy movie to put together, as focus briskly ping-pongs between the different players, but everything stays in harmony as the film persistently finds ways to build on each protagonist’s arc. This is particularly cool later in the movie as different characters are drawn together from individual angles and instant conflict is generated from their simple interaction.

The film is at its best when it keeps things simple, but it does let things go off the rails at times (if you’ll pardon the pun). This is especially true as it gets into the third act and it tries to pull off stunts like one of the leads leaping from a platform on to the back of the train as it leaves a station; it’s both a problem for the “rules” of the universe and in its strained use of visual effects. The movie also frequently tries to get a bit too cute and Tarantino-esque with what are admittedly familiar-but-not-quite-stock characters – the most prominent example being an ongoing and quickly tiresome gag with Lemon explaining that he understands people through the lens of Thomas The Tank Engine.

Primarily, though, it’s a movie that is able to generate its entertainment with engaging and quippy dynamics between the members of the ensemble, both when they are talking out their issues and trying to kill one another.

David Leitch puts a lot of exciting and weird fights in a confined space, and is at its best when working with a “less is more” philosophy.

Coming from a stunt background, both as a performer and a coordinator, David Leitch’s bread and butter remains deftly and specifically choreographed action sequences, and Bullet Train proves to be a terrific challenge and opportunity for his skills. Regardless of where you are in the titular transport, space is not a luxury, and the best fights in the movie are those that are being fought only between the characters, but against the limitations provided by the location.

There are guns, knives and explosives in the mix, but Bullet Train also has some terrific “found item” moments that add spice and humor to the various showdowns, whether it’s a pocketed cell phone saving a character’s life from a blade, a laptop making for a solid cudgel, a water bottle making for a useful projectile, or a venomous snake showing up at a perfect moment.

Once again we see David Leitch work a special magic turning dramatic and comedic actors into badasses with slick and stylish moves, and while everyone shows off some terrific skills, it’s very much the Brad Pitt show at the end of the day.

Advertisement

Brad Pitt’s joy in the role of Ladybug is palpable.

At the nexus of everything good in Bullet Train is Brad Pitt, who very clearly had a blast reuniting with David Leitch (who performed the actor’s stunts in films including Fight Club, The Mexican, Mr. And Mrs. Smith and Troy). He’s a joy to watch in action not just because of the talented craft he demonstrates in his physicality, but how he channels the psychology of the character. As we meet him, Ladybug is reluctantly getting back into his business following a number of important breakthroughs with his therapist, and Pitt does a fantastic job conveying that he doesn’t ever want to choose violence as a first answer – both via verbal pleas and defense-heavy moves. Action/comedy is a genre he should revisit a lot more often.

Bullet Train doesn’t aim to revolutionize hitman movies, but instead plays with a tongue-in-cheek vibe that lets you recognize the tropes and appreciate how the film plays with them. It’s a slick/goofy action movie that is both contained and wild, and a satisfying late summer release.

Continue Reading

Reviews

Luck Review: A Spectacular Debut Film from Skydance Animation

Published

on

By

Luck Review: A Spectacular Debut Film from Skydance Animation

The world’s unluckiest woman enters a magical land to change the fortunes of a fellow orphan. Luck will make you smile and possibly shed a few tears. The big-budget, CGI animated fantasy shines a spotlight on needy children while telling a truly original story. An assortment of lucky critters and creatures dazzle in a spectacular setting. The highly imaginative narrative gives age-old superstitions a dynamic new spin. Luck is a brilliant first film from Skydance Animation.

Sam Greenfield (Eva Noblezada) reaches her eighteenth birthday with trepidation. She’s finally aged out of the foster care system. Sam never found her “forever family”. She spent her entire life living in orphanages. It doesn’t help that Sam has the worst luck. Everything she does or touches ends in abject disaster. Her only thoughts are for young Hazel (Adelynn Spoon), Sam’s roommate at the girls home. Sam has been set up with a job and tiny apartment. She has to stay in school and employed to remain housed.

Advertisement

Sam’s first day at Marv’s (Lil Rel Howery) floral shop goes exactly as expected. She sadly eats dinner sitting on a sidewalk. Sam learns that Hazel’s weekend trip with a foster family was canceled. She gives half of her sandwich to a curious black cat. It scampers away but leaves a strange penny behind.

The following day is a revelation. Sam’s lucky penny changes everything. Her ecstatic mood sours when she loses the penny in spectacular fashion. Stewing on the sidewalk, Sam’s surprised when the black cat returns. She’s astonished when Bob (Simon Pegg) asks for his penny. The “travel penny” is the only way a creature from the Land of the Luck stays safe in the human world. She follows an unnerved Bob back through the portal to the Land of Luck. Sam has to find another lucky penny to help Hazel. Bob reluctantly agrees, but they have to be careful. Misdeeds end up in banishment to Bad Luck.

Related: Bullet Train Review: A Wickedly Funny, High-Octaine Thrill Ride

Advertisement

The Land of Luck

The Land of Luck is an absolute joy to behold. Leprechauns, cats, pigs, and rabbits, lucky creatures, are the bureaucrats tasked with spreading good fortune. Bringing Sam in such a place is a recipe for absolute chaos. Bob, and his leprechaun assistant Gerry’s (Colin O’Donoghue), efforts to contain Sam’s bad luck will have audiences in stitches. I’m still chuckling at Sam’s “Latvian leprechaun” disguise; their harebrained excuse for why she’s so much bigger than everyone else.

Luck’s serious themes are artfully addressed. Sam’s lonely childhood, and her desperate efforts to change Hazel’s, brings a melancholic touch to the narrative. The film reminds us to not take love and family for granted. Every kid deserves care, nurturing, and a safe place to grow. It shouldn’t take luck or chance for a child to find a “forever home”.

Insert sigh here. Recent headlines concerning John Lasseter (Toy Story, Cars) will undoubtedly cloud this film’s release. The genius storyteller and animator behind Pixar’s success left to head Skydance Animation after awful “Me Too” allegations. He’s brought his incredible talent to Luck, and it shows. This wonderful film deserves to be judged on its own merits. Sometimes we must divorce ourselves from art and the personality of the artist.

Advertisement

Luck is a production of Skydance Animation and Apple Original Films. It will have an exclusive Apple TV+ premiere on August 5th.

Continue Reading

Trending