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‘Marvel’s Avengers: War for Wakanda’ Review: Black Panther’s Big Adventure Is Beset by Base Game Bugs

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‘Marvel’s Avengers: War for Wakanda’ Review: Black Panther’s Big Adventure Is Beset by Base Game Bugs

Marvel’s Avengers has had a pretty rough first year in existence. A dwindling-to-nearly-nothing player base, a massive expense without the sales to wipe out the red in the ledger, and a title that’s become less of a meme and more of a forgotten game entirely is not the way you want your flagship superhero service to go. The fact that it remains not only accessible but occasionally receives new content is, well, not exactly a miracle but more of a testament to Square Enix and Marvel’s plans to keep Crystal Dynamics’ game in the mix. However, a pair of Hawkeye DLCs and a smattering of high-level multiplayer co-op mechanics didn’t exactly inspire confidence let alone trigger a resurgent player base. Could the globally popular Black Panther IP change all that?

Released this week, Marvel’s Avengers: Black Panther – War for Wakanda Expansion arrived for free to new and returning players alike. It introduced Christopher Judge as King T’Challa / Black Panther, a casting choice cast in the shadow of the late, great Chadwick Boseman‘s iconic performances in the role in the MCU. It’s a DLC that focuses entirely on the Wakandan royal, his family, and his people, all of whom are threatened by the comic book character’s longtime nemesis, the mercenary Ulysses Klaue. War for Wakanda is a beautiful departure from the somewhat same-y nature of Marvel’s Avengers and its existing DLC, but it’s unfortunately far too shallow an exploration of Black Panther lore and is plagued by the underlying issues of the base game.

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Spoilers AheadRELATED: ‘Marvel’s Avengers: Black Panther – War for Wakanda’ Gameplay Preview Teases the Game’s Most Versatile Superhero Yet

In the runup to the release of War for Wakanda, I had a chance to check out a hands-off gameplay demo to get a sense of what was to come. What impressed me then and there carried over to the hands-on experience itself, I’m happy to say: Black Panther’s abilities and skill sets are stacked and combo-heavy, which takes some getting used to but are a blast to execute; Wakanda’s setting is jaw-droppingly gorgeous; and the world of Marvel’s Avengers gets a much-needed expansion and change of scenery from the same old, same old. However, Judge’s performance of T’Challa / Black Panther never quite sat right with me. His performance itself is quite good, but Judge’s voice and delivery suggest a character much older than the one portrayed in the story, and my inner fan simply can’t separate the late Boseman from his iconic role and voice. Happy to say that the rest of the voice cast remains rock solid, including Debra Wilson‘s super-serious Okoye, Dave Fennoy‘s mystical and playful Zawavari, Erica Luttrell‘s youthful up-and-comer Shuri, and veteran Steve Blum‘s occasionally unhinged Ulysses Klaue. Add in the Avengers’ accomplished cast members when they show up to join the party and the narrative lightens up quite a bit in between moments of deadly seriousness. But all the combat quips and lore drops in the world can’t save the otherwise shallow story and buggy mess that remains Marvel’s Avengers.


Finishing the DLC after roughly five or six hours, I was left feeling satisfied by the game’s version of Black Panther, Shuri, Okoye and the Dora Milaje, and other elements that Wakanda had to offer. But then I thought about it a little more. There’s the story of T’Challa’s uneasy seat upon the throne, the bad blood between his family and Klaue’s, and tensions among the various tribes of Wakanda; the main emotional core here, however, concerns T’Challa as king, protector, and older brother to Shuri, who predictably gets in over her head but also manages to save the day in her own way. That’s all well and good, it’s just too short, too shallow, and leaves too much to be desired in what should have been a meatier addition to the game.

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Imagine an extended version of this story that borrows elements of the MCU’s Black Panther movie—more time with the various tribes, an exploration of the heart-shaped herb, internal struggles between T’Challa and other high-ranking royals who might question his leadership—rather than a one-off adventure that assumes you know pretty much everything there is to know about the character already. Yes, there’s lore scattered about the world of Wakanda through various collectibles and character interactions, and they’re absolutely worth seeking out. And yes, there are surface-level name drops of other notable folks within that world. But while that’s all appreciated, I would have gladly paid for a DLC that took a deep dive into this lore rather than merely brushing up against it for free.


More than just missing a golden opportunity to explore the Golden City of Birnin Zana and other areas—gameplay is mostly restricted to jungle paths, subterranean mines, and palace walkthroughs—War for Wakanda misses out on opportunities to change up gameplay in interesting ways. Imagine, again, a mission where T’Challa partook of the heart-shaped herb to enter a hallucinatory state and either battle against past Black Panthers, or talk to them, whatever; that would have been a much-needed change-up to the stale gameplay of Marvel’s Avengers. Newly introduced puzzles—”match the symbol” and “hit these targets in order” being the best this expansion and the game have to offer—were a refreshing sip of water in the desert of content and challenge variety, but they were also incredibly basic, and too few and far between. There’s so much more left out of the Black Panther lore than I can even note here, but just thinking about it makes me wish the War for Wakanda expansion was its own standalone title, similar to Spider-Man: Miles Morales.

That’s not to say that what we have in War for Wakanda isn’t good. It is, for the most part. Black Panther’s skills are a blast to use, though you likely won’t get to unlock all of them in a single playthrough of the campaign. Same with the cosmetic skins, which are gorgeous but expensive and/or time-consuming to earn. His interactions with Okoye, Shuri, Zawavari, Klaue, and the Avengers adds a much-needed bit of spice to the stale overall story, but the inept AI companions you’re forced to bring with you end up getting in the way more than anything else. (If I had a dollar for every time Cap stood idle with a trio of sonic shockwave bros, or Tony triggered the Hulkbuster Ultimate just to deal with a turret, I could retire, happily.) The combat itself was fun, especially with challenging new enemies who bring their own (often irritating) skill sets, but when adversaries T-pose in the middle of battle, levitate through thin air (without a jetpack), or disappear entirely, otherwise fun fights quickly become tedious and frustrating. Don’t get me started on the sonic effects scrambling your vision to the point of near-total blindness…

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Same with this expansion’s level design, which, while good and refreshingly inventive at times, requires a fine-tuning at least in order to make the whole experience more fun than frustrating without losing that challenge factor. But hey, all of that requires an attention to detail that’s clearly lacking for whatever reason. One has only to look at Tony Stark rocking a full Iron Man faceplate in place of his actual face to know that War for Wakanda is still as wrinkly and buggy as the base game. Maybe the Devs thought we would miss visual bugs like that thanks to an uncontrollably shakey cam that has a wild mind of its own in battle.

When it’s all said and done, I’m glad that War for Wakanda gave us the chance to play as Black Panther and that Crystal Dynamics’ team did a bang-up job of delivering a powerhouse superhero for that experience. I could have done with a deeper story, but what’s there is serviceable and enjoyable for a few hours’ time. And the issues with the live-service game that plague the general player experience continue here, eventually chipping away at the fun I was otherwise having with War for Wakanda. It’s a fun enough addition for existing fans and may lure a few new ones back to the game simply to step into T’Challa’s stylish shoes, but there’s also a reason it’s been included as a free DLC.


KEEP READING: ‘Marvel’s Avengers Omega Level Threat: Family Reunion’ Trailer Faces the Team Against Evil Iron Man Robots

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Luck Review: A Spectacular Debut Film from Skydance Animation

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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.

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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

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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.

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

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