Category: Uncategorized

Billions: The Best Show You’re (Probably) Not Watching Returns This Sunday

BILLIONS_S3_PRART_01.R.0A close friend of mine recently commented how the current landscape of TV – including cable channels and streaming services – offers an embarrassment of riches so diverse and overflowing with quality that it has become practically insurmountable to try and tackle even those shows considered essential viewing. Amidst the quarantine, those of us blessed with an abundance of downtime may still find it daunting to navigate the myriad of options when vacillating between the various streaming sites and channels, inundated with binge-worthy options practically oozing out of our devices.

But even amidst this smorgasbord of viewing opportunities, there are shows so fundamentally excellent that they rise like the proverbial cream, overshadowing their rivals by the sheer quality of their execution. Unfortunately, quality alone doesn’t always guarantee widespread success or universal appeal and sometimes, even the best television ends up being marginalized by the general public in favor of more populist, meme-friendly shows.

Billions – a Showtime exclusive – is one such ignored show. Currently about to begin its fifth season this Sunday, Billions is a taught, smartly written, character-driven drama about power, corruption, interpersonal relationships and the collision of these elemental components that invariably leads to chemical, often incendiary reactions. The show centers on two seemingly eternal rivals: Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis), a hedge fund owner and self-made billionaire with a Machiavellian, winner-take-all ideology that fuels the nucleus of his character and Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti), a hyper-intelligent, ambitious U.S. Attorney who initially targets Axelrod’s potentially criminal malfeasance to buoy his own career.

Lewis plays Axelrod as a ruthless but magnetic genius unfettered by contemporary morality and unrestrained by social norms. Instead of wearing a suit, he dons casual attire and moves with a lithe, predatory gait, as if eternally unsatisfied and in a perpetual state of predatory hunger; a classic by-the-bootstraps self-made man whose rise from humble beginnings has given him a sizeable chip on his shoulder. By contrast, Giamatti’s Chuck Rhoades is a child of privilege; a doughy public servant who lacks the boyish good looks and rock star swagger of Axelrod but compensates with a pronounced intellect and acerbic wit that makes him just as captivating.

Complicating matters further is Chuck’s wife Wendy – played by Maggie Siff – a brilliant psychologist who works exclusively for Axe Capital, having helped Bobby Axelrod build the company by providing guidance and emotional nourishment to a building filled mostly with egocentric man-children. This overlap causes immediate tension as Wendy is as smart and cunning as the two most important men in her life and is consistently forced to navigate the tumultuous space between them on a regular basis. At one point in the series she concisely refuses to be a ‘shuttlecock’ batted around by the two warring men and has the intellect and the insight to check their egos at any given time.

Beyond these central characters is a smattering of supporting players, some of whom have grown to becoming integral to the ongoing quality of the show. At the top of this list is Taylor Mason, a fascinating and razor-sharp minded individual who quickly rises to the top of Bobby’s employee pool and proves to be somebody as smart (or perhaps even smarter) than Axelrod himself. Played by the talented non-binary actor Asia Kate Dillion (John Wick 3), Taylor Mason is a mathematical prodigy who sees  every problem through the lens of cool logic and analytics, breaking down even the most potentially emotional complications with an detached yet humane manner that makes for a  profoundly compelling foil to Bobby’s more maverick, devil-may-care style of investing.

What truly differentiates Billions from even some of the best television out there however is the writing, which is smart, tightly woven, and forges very real and nuanced characters who are in an unending state of flux as they forge alliances, break bonds, and navigate a complex, labyrinthine web of intersecting wealth, power, and politics. Instead of heroes or pristine, virtuous protagonists, Billions gives us people who occupy that grey area of humanity; philanthropists who are charitable in public but merciless in private; politicians who preach fortitude and morality even while breaking the law to gain additional purchase. And yet even at their worst, the complexities of these fully formed individuals insulate them from becoming caricatures or two-dimensional soap opera players. As you watch the show you’ll invariably choose sides; perhaps you’ll root for Axelrod because his screw-you approach to finance – which places him at odds with its more traditional gatekeepers – is infectious and his 3D chess is mesmerizing to behold as he manipulates, cajoles and invariably cheats his way through a notoriously cutthroat business. Or maybe you’ll find yourself sympathizing with Rhoades as he tries to bring the enormous ego and unremittent greed that fuels Axe Capital to heel while keeping his loving but complicated marriage from imploding.

Even more impressive is how unpredictable the show has been over the course of four seasons. Alliances shatter, intimate relationships are betrayed, and characters often shift abruptly for motivations ranging from decency to self-preservation. And yet, as jarring as some of these seismic shifts are, they are never cheap or unearned dramatic flourished but rather the result of a carefully scripted narrative that allows us to understand (and often sympathize) why these decisions are made by these flawed but so very compelling individuals.

Billions will never be a zeitgeist-type TV show as it lacks the bombast and melodrama that seems to fuel so much of our entertainment these days yet, for those looking for slow-burn drama buoyed by some of the best-written characters around, this show is required viewing and is arguably the best drama series currently on TV, rivaling even AMC’s Better Call Saul. (Which just finished another brilliant season)

Billions airs on Showtime on Sundays evenings and is available through Showtime on Demand.

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Re-Enter the Dragon

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Criterion’s Upcoming Bruce Lee Collection is an Exciting And Definitive Release

Criterion recently announced a definitive box set of all five films by legendary martial artist Bruce Lee. Scheduled to be released on July 14th, the box set will include not only Criterion’s trademark excellent quality transfers but will also contain a robust smattering of supplementals. To my knowledge, this is the first time all of Lee’s films have been bundled together in a singular package and this news is doubly impressive given the pedigree of the Criterion label.

The specs and content of the seven-disc set are as follows:

  • 4K digital restorations of The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, Game of Death, and The Way of the Dragon, with uncompressed original monaural soundtracks
  • New 2K digital restoration of the rarely-seen 99-minute 1973 theatrical version of Enter the Dragon, with uncompressed original monaural soundtrack
  • 2K digital restoration of the 102-minute “special-edition” version of Enter the Dragon
  • Alternate audio soundtracks for the films, including original English-dubbed tracks and a 5.1 surround soundtrack for the special-edition version of Enter the Dragon
  • Six audio commentaries: on The Big Boss by Bruce Lee expert Brandon Bentley; on The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, Game of Death, and The Way of the Dragon by Hong Kong–film expert Mike Leeder; and on the special-edition version of Enter the Dragon by producer Paul Heller
  • High-definition presentation of Game of Death II, the 1981 sequel to Game of Death
  • Game of Death Redux, a new presentation of Lee’s original Game of Death footage, produced by Alan Canvan
  • New interviews on all five films with Lee biographer Matthew Polly
  • New interview with producer Andre Morgan about Golden Harvest, the company behind Hong Kong’s top martial-arts stars, including Lee
  • New program about English-language dubbing with voice performers Michael Kaye (the English-speaking voice of Lee’s Chen Zhen in Fist of Fury) and Vaughan Savidge
  • New interview with author Grady Hendrix about the “Bruceploitation” subgenre that followed Lee’s death, and a selection of Bruceploitation trailers
  • Blood and Steel, a 2004 documentary about the making of Enter the Dragon
  • Multiple programs and documentaries about Lee’s life and philosophies, including Bruce Lee: The Man and the Legend (1973) and Bruce Lee: In His Own Words (1998)
  • Interviews with Linda Lee Cadwell, Lee’s widow, and many of Lee’s collaborators and admirers, including actors Jon T. Benn, Riki Hashimoto, Nora Miao, Robert Wall, Yuen Wah, and Simon Yam and directors Clarence Fok, Sammo Hung, and Wong Jing
  • Promotional materials
  • New English subtitle translations and subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Jeff Chan

Pro-Tip – Barnes and Nobles typically does a 50% off Criterion sale in July so the timing for this one is looking perfect. 

A Return

Sorry about that lengthy delay…

But I’m back now. And I’m looking forward to talking about all the cool and wonderful stuff out there in quarantine land.

Check back soon as content is forthcoming.

Stay safe and stay healthy. 🙂

Hellraiser: Judgment Review

Gary Tunnicliffe’s sequel is a flawed but earnest and important addition to the franchise.

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As an enthusiast of horror, there is no franchise that I love more than Hellraiser. The original film, based on Clive Barker’s sharply written novella The Hellbound Heart, was an interesting and bold fusion of hedonism and gore tinged with the author’s signature flare for evocatively surrealistic imagery. Barker wrote and directed the adaptation of his novella and in the process, gave birth to Pinhead, one of the most iconic horror screen villains of the twentieth century

Flanked by the Cenobites, an entourage of equally scarred and devout acolytes, Pinhead was an atypical horror villain in comparison to his pop culture counterparts of the era. Neither a silent killer who slaughtered indiscriminately like Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers nor a cackling trickster espousing quips and puns like Freddy Kruger, Pinhead was a stoic, deliberate presence. Authoritative and regal, he commanded immediate respect and his visage suggested nary a shred of hypocrisy.

His bald head adorned with nails driven directly into his skull, one understood on appearance alone that whatever he was going to do to you he had likely already done to himself. As much a theologian as a monster, Pinhead and his minions were devoted to the purest explorations of experience and sensation and clearly believed in the inviolability of their endeavors.

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Barker laid a cerebral and potentially complex foundation when creating the Cenobites, crafting a more nuanced doctrine of hell and its demons. And although some of this was explored in the sequel Hellbound: Hellraiser II, the character and franchise unfortunately devolved into a simplistic commodity. Rather than being expounded upon in any meaningful way, the series was merely exploited for profit. Both Hellraiser III and Bloodline were entertaining films but they were also the product of studio interference and an attempt to commoditize and mainstream something that was, inherently, niche. After Bloodline, the franchise was regulated to direct-to-video offerings, the quality ranging from mediocre to downright abysmal. The only saving grace of these b-tier flicks was the magnetic and compelling work of Doug Bradley, whose ability to deliver poignancy and elevate the pabulum surrounding him made the drudgery of these films palatable.

The series’ low-point was 2011’s Hellraiser: Revelations, an ashcan film that was only made because Dimension studios was contractually obligated to generate a movie or lose the film rights to the franchise. Knowing the film would be unconscionably poor, Doug Bradley opted out of playing Pinhead and the film was shot quickly and cheaply. The final product was to be screened only once for staff and crew. Unfortunately, the executives at Dimension allowed their more mercenary instincts to override common sense and made the unwise decision to release the film on streaming services and home video.

Needless to say, the few critics who bothered to review Revelations tore the film asunder in a manner that would have made the Hell Priest blush.

In the years since, the persistent rumors of a possible remake or reboot of the franchise have come and gone. Clive Barker, who penned his own farewell to the character of Pinhead in his 2015 novel The Scarlet Gospels, reportedly wrote a script for the remake that was – to the dismay of the fanbase –  rejected by Dimension.

The reason I’m prefacing this review with a brief historical survey of the franchise is to demonstrate that those of us who are passionate about Hellraiser have suffered innumerable indignities regarding our beloved series. This is true even as other horror mainstays have enjoyed revivals to varying degrees of success. And even if you believe that the Nightmare on Elm Street remake was a soulless cash-grab or that Rob Zombie’s Halloween reboot was an affront to Carpenter’s classic, these films are practically high art next to the bulk of Hellraiser’s direct-to-video bargain bin tripe.

With all of this in mind, I approached Gary Tunnicliffe’s Hellraiser: Judgment with a certain degree of trepidation. Reports about his film seemed promising despite the lack of money fueling it.

Tunnicliffe’s bona fides with regards to the Hellraiser property are interesting. He wrote the original script for Revelations yet insisted it was butchered by Dimension. He also produced an unofficial Hellraiser short entitled No More Souls which posited a dour and listless Pinhead occupying a post-apocalyptic world where all of humanity has perished from nuclear war. With no more humans left to slake the sadistic thirst of his minions, Pinhead has no other choice but to offer himself as a final sacrament. Competent and creative, the short was one of the best fan films I’ve ever come across.

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Given the quality of No More Souls, I had hopes that Tunnicliffe might bring something unique to a franchise that has essentially been strip-mined and largely disregarded.

As it turns out, I was correct.

Now to be perfectly clear, Hellraiser: Judgment is an incredibly flawed film. And to be fair, many of these failings are due directly to the threadbare budget of the movie. The cost-cuts bleed through in various places and expose seams which are jarring and, at times, unintentionally funny. But beyond this admittedly rough exterior, Tunnicliffe has delivered a Hellraiser experience that is not only very much faithful to the original spirit of Barker’s work but manages to add some of its own interesting mythology to the equation.

The film opens with Pinhead (Paul T. Taylor) and The Auditor, (played by Tunnicliffe himself) discussing their difficulty in luring new victims. Technology has outmoded the likes of the Lament Configuration and they seek new ways to bait their human prey. From here we are made privy to an induction of sorts as a sadistic murderer finds himself strapped to a chair while the Auditor – a bald, sunglass-bespectacled monstrosity whose face and head are covered with deep, crimson lacerations – efficiently catalogues his transgressions on an ancient typewriter. We are then given access to the very ordered yet bizarre process by which these crimes are tallied, processed, aggregated and ultimately ruled upon by an esoteric cast of grotesqueries. This procedure, while not for the squeamish, is a fascinating combination of bureaucracy and pagan ritualism culminating in a grisly scene that pays tacit homage to the original film.

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After this admittedly compelling opening, things slow considerably. The low production values and clunky script, centered around a biblically-inspired killer who derives homicidal inspiration from the Ten Commandments, threatens to derail the film entirely. This element is tired and derivative and Tunnicliffe lacks the budgetary resources to bring any real credence or viability to the storyline. Instead of being filled with forensics investigators and busy police officers, a crime scene contains only the principle actors. A police precinct office interior looks like a rented trailer and is notably incongruous with an exterior establishing shot. Compounding these logistical problems are some very wonky dialogue choices and hackneyed thriller tropes.

As much as I respect the director’s ambition, I can’t help but think that winnowing down the scope of this film would have been a wise decision given the meager funds available. In some ways, Hellraiser: Judgment feels like two distinctive films, one of which is boring, languid and difficult to watch.

The other film, taking up less screen time, is gruesomely enjoyable. This better part of Judgment is a deft exploration of an ethereal realm and its intrigues the likes of which hasn’t been glimpsed in the franchise since Hellraiser II. While Tunnicliffe’s rendition of the hellish afterlife is markedly different in many ways, his creative decisions still feel very much in proportion with both Barker’s cinematic and written work. Unlike the clunky, cliché-ridden detective story wraparound, the sequences in hell (or it’s earthy proxy as it appears in the movie) are fresh, interesting and populated with startling imagery and compelling characters.

Paul T. Taylor as Pinhead proves himself to be a solid replacement for Bradley. While the latter will always be known for the role and rightly credited for nurturing the character’s growth into something truly special, Taylor cuts his own swath as the Hell Priest and possesses both the acting chops and the onscreen presence to make the role his own.

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Perhaps the biggest surprise however is Tunnicliffe’s work as the Auditor. The director plays him as a bookish, nervous being, one whose officious demeanor sits atop a darker, nastier layer of potential violence. Looking like a cross between a Cenobite and one of their victims, the Auditor speaks with a slight and hesitant European accent. It makes him both menacing and vaguely endearing, especially when contrasted with the stoicism of his demonic colleague. What could easily have been a throwaway addition is instead a character I would very much enjoy seeing integrated into future installations of the franchise.

Tunnicliffe, once he draws back the uninspired veil of the serial killer plotline and gives us access to the supernatural underpinnings of the film, delivers these macabre images and scenarios with gusto and a steady hand. For all of the budgetary restrictions foisted onto this production, little of those shortcomings are evident in the exceptional makeup and costume design. The dialogue likewise is mostly on point. While a few stilted lines of fanservice stick out from time to time, the overall flow of these scenes carry both pathos and a familiarity rooted in the aesthetics and tone of first two films.

Tunnicliffe even manages to extrapolate on Barker’s work, including elements and ideas not seen in previous installments but alluded to in The Hellbound Heart and The Scarlet Gospels. Unlike previous sequels where the mythology was clumsily attached to a mediocre plotline, Hellraiser: Judgment feels like a genuine entry in the series. It offers something new even to the most devout and longtime fans. There is an indelible pulse at the heart of Tunnicliffe’s work here; a passion that is evident even when obscured by the shoestring budget or the questionable structural and narrative choices.

Some may be quick to dismiss this film as another cheap cash-in or ashcan movie. But the more I reflect on Hellraiser: Judgment, the more I’m convinced that the movie, despite its problems, possesses some of the greatest highs of the franchise since Hellraiser II. When looking at the film with an eye for what could be improved, it is evident that the majority of the problems are largely financial. All things considered, I’m impressed that Tunnicliffe was able to squeeze out as much blood from this particular turnip as he did.

If the execs over at Dimension have even the slightest respect for the franchise, they’d hand Tunnicliffe a halfway-modest production budget and allow him to make a film without such ridiculously anemic financial restraints. Regardless, Hellraiser: Judgement, despite its flaws, is the best thing to happen to this franchise in a very long time. With any luck, somebody with decision-making clout is watching carefully.

Hellraiser: Judgment is out today on Blu-ray, DVD, and Video on Demand.

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The Ultimate Straw Man Argument: How Nostalgia Effectively Impedes the Fair Analysis of Sequels

I’ll readily admit to being an optimist.

The rampant and persistent cynicism of the Internet – seemingly punctuated by a billion voices trawling incessantly for negativity – continues to mystify me.

I go into most films with the hope of seeing something good, enjoyable, or even legitimately fantastic.

To be certain I’m often disappointed but the idea of being predisposed to dislike something even before seeing it is difficult for me to fathom, especially when the film in question is a sequel to something I enjoyed immensely.

In a couple of weeks, the sequel to the seminal and massively influential science fiction masterpiece Blade Runner drops and outside of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, it is my most anticipated film of the year. Directed by the talented auteur filmmaker Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, The Arrival), and starring Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling, this long-gestating and belated sequel is a project many of us assumed would never come to fruition.

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Everything about the film has looked entirely on point, from the tone and the aesthetics to the casting, yet I recently stumbled onto a large smattering of individuals who are convinced that this movie will be at best a disappointment and at worst an unmitigated disaster.

The rationale employed by these naysayers is largely rooted in speculative conjecture that appears to be housed primarily in their nostalgic reverence for the original. The most common complaint levied against the small amount of footage shown is that it looks and feels “different” than the original movie and that it will never live up to the greatness of the first film.

I’ve always found such criticisms – especially those that are rooted in speculation – to be utterly meritless. For such a criticism to have any validity, you would first have to demonstrate – either by inference or by explicit statement from the director – that the intention of this or any sequel is to somehow supplant or surpass the original.

In logic we call this the straw man fallacy, whereby you refute or attack an argument that was never actually posited, making it easy to knock over. The entire notion that a sequel must be equal or superior to the original is a classic straw man because rarely (if ever) has anyone associated with a sequel proclaimed it as superior to the first.

And for certain, nobody associated with the making of Blade Runner 2049 has suggested it will eclipse its progenitor.

The thing is, even if Blade Runner 2049 is the better film – something I don’t consider impossible given the tremendous coalescence of talent behind it – I would argue that most of the pessimists would never admit it for two very specific reasons:

Pride and nostalgia.

The first isn’t something I’ll waste time addressing other than to state that pride gets in the way of humility and we tend to learn the most when we are humble beings.

As for the latter, nostalgia is sweet glaze that warmly coats our memories and experiences with a thin layer of golden honey that makes even the bitter seem saccharine upon reflection.

But it also makes difficult the ability to give new things and endeavors a fair shake.

My theory as to why this is stems from the power of belief and how it acts like cement of the mind, holding us firmly to an idea with no room to expand, shift or pivot. This type of cognitive stagnation is never a good thing, even when analyzing art, yet people cling to their beliefs with a stubborn, almost desperate tenacity.

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For them, it doesn’t matter that Villeneuve is a master craftsman or that Harrison Ford is reprising his role or that the screenwriter who penned the original script returned to help write the sequel but instead what matters is that the very existence of this film is a threat to the status of their beloved original.

They do not want this film to be better or to even approach the proximity of the original because in doing so, the microcosmic perspective where their favorite films hold sway forever over anything that will ever come afterwards is splintered into irrelevant fragments.

Even if Blade Runner 2049 is a critical darling, there is already a large faction of people who have decided – without seeing the film – that it is an inferior work and those individuals do themselves and the medium a disservice by fallaciously asserting that the quality of a sequel in any way diminishes the impact and legacy of the original.

The respective merit of these two films is not a binary scenario; both can be excellent and the sequel can be a great movie without taking anything at all away from the accomplishments of its forbearer.

And the sweet confection of nostalgia can be pleasant and comforting without acting as a sticky adhesive for the mind, rooting us in place and robbing us of new, expansive experiences.

Just a thought from an eternal optimist looking forward to a long-awaited sequel.

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That Just Happened: Why IT’s Success Should Bode Well For The Horror Genre

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Various outlets are reporting that the Warner Bros. adaptation of Stephen King’s novel IT has grossed a staggering 117 million dollars in its first weekend of release.

Now, just let the reality of that revelation waft over you for a few moments.

One month after the colossal disappointment of The Dark Tower, which was eviscerated critically and largely ignored by the general public, another King adaptation has just become the highest grossing September release of all time and is tracking to be the most commercially successfully horror movie ever made.

So why is this a big deal?

For one, horror films are traditionally regulated to the lower tier of the film industry. While often profitable because of their relatively low budgets, most horror films don’t enjoy anywhere near the resources or the promotion of other competing genres. Even larger horror films released by major studios tend to have much smaller production and advertising budgets and many of these films are given the Video-on-Demand treatment, which entails a limited theatrical run followed by streaming and physical media sales.

By contrast, Warner Bros. implemented an aggressive and clever advertising blitz that began nearly a year prior with strategical leaks of images and information leading to the reveal of the first official trailer, which dropped on March 28 of this year. The preview subsequently earned the record for the trailer with the most views in a single day. In the months since that preview was released, additional stories, pics and trailers have generated a considerable and ever-growing fervor, culminating in a debut that puts many of the movies earmarked for blockbuster status this year to shame.

To place this success in perspective, IT will enjoy the same initial weekend earnings as Spider-Man: Homecoming, and that was Marvel’s tentpole film of the summer.

But beyond the financial success, the deeper question is what the film industry can learn from the accomplishments of this film.

IT is a hard-R horror film; an unapologetically dark, mature movie that pulls no punches and doesn’t cater to the adolescent crowd. The film also has a modest production budget estimated at 35 million, which is a fraction of the budget of the typical blockbuster yet is relatively high for a horror film. IT also has garnered widespread critical acclaim and is being hailed as one of the best King adaptations ever made.

When you examine these elements both separately and collectively, what is clear is that the same message consumers and critics have been attempting to convey for years to the obtuse corporate culture within the film industry has been once again made readily apparent: Make quality films that don’t pander to the lowest common denominator and when adapting beloved source material, create and deliver a reasonable filmic approximation.

And above all else, know that a quality horror film with a decent budget can yield some of the healthiest profit margins within the industry.

With the success of IT on the heels of the impressive performance by Jordan Peele’s Get Out – which has grossed more than 200 million dollars from a production budget of less than five million – studios may want to start considering how to effectively produce and release more high-profile horror films over the next few years as clearly, there is a voracious and insatiable demand for quality movies within the genre that far outstrips the current output.

IT is the kind of seismic shift that can forever alter the topography of the film industry.

Let’s hope the studio heads and producers are learning the right lessons from IT’s success.

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The Top Ten Bad-Asses of Gaming (Part One)

I Rank Them So You Don’t Have To. (But you probably still want to)

Videogames are all about player agency and the proactive roles we assume when picking up the controller.

Games are also about empowerment; letting us assume the role of a persona – good or evil – and becoming somebody else who acts definitively and unapologetically.

The following is the first part in a two-part series where I rank the most prominent gaming bad-asses; characters who in turn make us feel like bad-asses when playing as them.

10. Sergei Dragunov (Tekken)

The Tekken universe is filled to the absolute brim with a colorful and lethal assortment of combatants, ranging from hulking androids to demonic martial artists, yet even among this collection of heroes, rogues and villains, Sergei Dragunov distinguishes himself as a force to be feared.

First introduced in Tekken: Dark Resurrection, Dragunov is an icy-blooded member of the Spetsnaz Russian special forces and is highly trained in Sambo – a form of grappling that places an emphasis on breaking bones and pulverizing joints. With pale, almost translucent skin and a deeply scarred visage, Sergei looks as if he can withstand as much physical brutality as he doles out and his fighting style is a combination of sharp, withering strikes coupled with vicious and relentless ground techniques that can end a fight in seconds.

At the conclusion of an encounter that inevitably leaves his opposition defeated and crumpled before him, the stoic Russian remains silent, allowing the violence of his actions to speak louder than any words.

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Games Featuring Dragunov:

  • Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection
  • Tekken 6
  • Tekken Tag 2
  • Tekken 7

 

9. Samus Aaran (Metroid Franchise)

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Though equipped with powerful and versatile armor that affords this interstellar bounty hunter a broad swath of functionality, what truly defines the lovely and lethal Samus Aaron is her courage and resolve as well as her willingness to explore the deepest and most solitary subterranean destinations in the galaxy to obliterate the eponymous Metroid and those who would use this lethal lifeform as the ultimate bioweapon.

First introduced to the gaming world with the original Metroid in 1986, the developers purposely hid the gender of this lone protagonist, which the player discovered only after beating the game. A trailblazer for female characters, Samus shattered the oft-utilized trope of the girl as the helpless princess or sidekick and instead gave players a female lead as tough and heroic as any man.

A skilled warrior with a myriad of combative-centric talents, Samus is a woman of few words but copious action. Nimble, fast, and efficient, she’s less a mercenary than a rogue hero; a singular force capable of taking on a planet of pirates or an entire species of parasitic organisms.

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Games Featuring Samus Aaran:

  • Metroid
  • Metroid II: Return of Samus
  • Super Metroid
  • Metroid Fusion
  • Metroid Prime
  • Metroid: Zero Mission
  • Metroid Prime 2: Echoes
  • Metroid Prime Pinball
  • Metroid Prime Hunters
  • Metroid Prime 3: Corruption
  • Metroid: Other M
  • Metroid Prime: Federation Force
  • Metroid: Samus Returns
  • Metroid Prime 4
  • Super Smash Bros. 1-4

 

8. Strider Hiryu (Strider Franchise, Marvel vs. Capcom)

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Essentially a cosmic ninja, Strider Hiryu has been a gaming mainstay since his debut in the original arcade version of Strider. Armed with a singular, atom-slicing blade called the Cypher, Hiryu can best be described as a whirling dervish and acrobatic harbinger of death. Fast, precise and fearless, this lithe hero is forthright and honorable but also a merciless warrior, hacking his adversaries into trace molecules while somersaulting about, dodging bullets and engaging in a combative ballet that would make even the most accomplished shinobi feel inadequate by comparison.

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Hiryu has enjoyed a storied legacy, including a classic arcade game and an altogether different NES version that is a masterpiece in its own right, both of which portray Strider as the definitive one-man army capable of toppling all comers, including a mystical despot and traitorous members of his own organization. Strider has also enjoyed the distinction of being included in the Marvel vs. Capcom series and remains a popular choice for his distinctive and relentless playstyle.

Games Featuring Strider:

  • Strider (arcade)
  • Strider (NES)
  • Journey from Darkness: Strider Returns (Released by U.S. Gold)
  • Strider 2
  • Strider (2014)
  • Namco X Capcom
  • Marvel vs. Capcom Series

 

7. Kain (Legacy of Kain and Soul Reaver Franchises)

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Kain is a complicated fellow.

We first met him as a wandering nobleman; a spoiled aristocrat who is murdered on a cold, dark evening and given the chance for vengeance through resurrection as a vampire. Filled with rage at his abrupt death, he hastily agrees, setting off a chain of events that would go on to span a slew of games and complex timelines that sees Kain as both the hero and the villain of a sprawling and dense mythology .

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But what truly defines Kain is his haughty, almost poetic dialogue and regal demeanor fused with his unremittent brutality. For much of the series, Kain is an antihero, willing to slaughter anyone – innocent or villain alike – to achieve his ends. A master swordsman, Kain is able to dispatch his victims and levitate their very blood in thick streams that feed directly into his maw, sustaining him with their fleeting vitality. Kain is also inhumanly agile, capable of shapeshifting, mind control, telekinesis and can even dissipate into fog, emerging to kill and vanishing back into the mist.

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First introduced to gaming audiences in 1997’s Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain, the eponymous character hasn’t been seen since 2003’s Legacy of Kain: Defiance, yet the vampiric savior of Nosgoth remains an immensely popular icon and an example of what a true and distilled badass looks and sounds like.

(A special mention is required here regarding the excellent voice work done by Simon Templeman, who imbues Kain with a rich, nuanced personality and is largely responsible for the success of the character.) 

Games Featuring Kain:

  • Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain
  • Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver
  • Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen 2
  • Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2
  • Legacy of Kain: Defiance

 

6. Chris Redfield (Resident Evil Franchise)

Like his partner Jill Valentine, Chris Redfield has been with Resident Evil since the beginning of the franchise and over the last two decades, our heroic protagonist has gotten bigger, better, and…well…bigger.

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When not fighting zombies or other vestiges of Umbrella Corporation’s bioweapon division, Chris apparently takes growth hormones, eats lots of protein and prepares for Mr. Universe contests.

When we first met Chris, he was a highly trained but decidedly mortal soldier who needed keys to open doors.

By the time Resident Evil 5 arrived, Chris had transformed into a hulking mass of zombie-killing muscularity, capable of punching boulders into submission.

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Chris also spends his spare time fighting amongst the illuminati of the Marvel vs. Capcom roster, where he is able to hold his own with metahumans and makes everyone except the Hulk and Thor feel puny and inadequate.

While at this point he’s a walking, talking sack of testosterone, Chris is also a genuine hero, a fearless soldier, expert gunfighter and puncher of anything that needs to be laid out, be it man or mutated monstrosity.

Games Featuring Chris Redfield:

  • Resident Evil
  • Resident Evil – Code: Veronica
  • Resident Evil Umbrella Chronicles
  • Resident Evil (Remake)
  • Resident Evil 5
  • Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles
  • Resident Evil 6
  • Resident Evil: The Mercenaries
  • Resident Evil: Revelations
  • Resident Evil 7 (Cameo)

 

5. Faith (Mirror’s Edge)

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It has been opined by some that the avoidance of conflict is the ultimate combative art; that the ability to stop a fight or nullify it before it escalates is the purest form of conflict resolution.

If there’s any truth to that statement, the character of Faith – protagonist of the Mirror’s Edge series – is a posterchild for such an ideology, as the swift-of-foot courier and would-be rebel is as apt and able to evade her opponents as she is to fight them directly.

An expert practitioner in parkour, Faith is nimble, fearless and moves with the deliberate speed and grace of a jungle cat, able to deftly pounce, hop and slide her way through even the most dangerous and fortified of spaces. Where most see obstacles and impediments, faith sees alternative routes and environments where she can press her sprightly advantage, moving in such a way as to leave her pursuers far behind.

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That isn’t to say Faith can’t fight because when she does engage her opponents, her martial arts skills are honed, precise and can render an adversary unconscious in seconds. She’s also handy with a gun but what defines Faith and makes her such an interesting and distinctive bad-ass is that she is somebody who uses violence only when cornered; lethal when necessary but more invested in getting to her goal than sending men to their graves.

There’s something uniquely compelling about a character who – amongst videogame contemporaries that kill at the slightest provocation – seems compelled to spare life whenever possible and avoid rather than engage.

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Games Featuring Faith:

  • Mirror’s Edge
  • Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst

I’ll be back soon to complete my list, revealing who I consider the ultimate bad-ass of the gaming continuum.