Starship Troopers


Almost 20 years later, Starship Troopers has only gotten more incisive. Paul Verhoeven and Ed Neumeier (co-writer of Verhoeven’s Robocop) construct an elaborate pisstake around Robert Heinlein’s militarist sci-fi novel, framing an otherwise standard issue war narrative about humanity against a varied collective of giant space bugs with the most fascistic embellishments. Kangaroo courts leading to televised executions; screeching, chickenhawk talking heads quick to shoot down anything resembling reason; teachers openly promoting genocide as legitimate solutions; news reports shot like Riefenstahl propaganda flicks; eugenics hints in dialogue; Doogie Howser as a scientist in an SS coat, no opportunity is wasted to twist the source material in the most mean-spirited fashion possible, director and writer laying bare their contempt of a society which valorizes killing for God and country above all else.

Perhaps the most sly touch of all is how little humanity Verhoeven allows these people to show. Chiselled and predominantly Aryan, despite a first act which takes place in Argentina, the cast–led by wooden Casper van Dien–have motivations ruled by pettiness and vapidity, rising through the ranks as much by a combination of nepotism and slaughtered predecessors as it is by any skills they possess. The only time they’re alive is when they’re killing or eyeing one another for a lay. This actually puts them a step down from the bugs: with their varied castes and a mindset ruled by collective well-being of the hive, they embody a form of self-sacrifice the faux-individualism the humans only pay lip service to. Their swarming isn’t out of malice, but an attempt to grind to a halt a force hellbent on extermination.

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Resident Evil: Retribution


The Resident Evil series’ biggest strength has been succinctness. They tend towards the 90-100 minute range, long enough to not overstay their welcome. Each successive installment uses familiarity to race over exposition, recycling themes and incidents from predecessors (as well as the video games) to contrast Alice’s past with her present. Retribution is no different, in this regard, but it is the first in which its short length feels like a hindrance.

Alice, once again captured by Umbrella after the closing moments of Afterlife, awakens in the belly of an Arctic facility designed to stage trauma over and over. Previous outbreak hotspots are recreated to test out viral mutations, inflicting death and torture on a conveyor belt of duplicated franchise players. The Red Queen is brought back to micro-manage this memory lane deathtrap. Dual Michelle Rodriguezes lurk at the plot’s edge. Paul W.S. Anderson even takes another crack at Apocalypse‘s failed attempt at intertextuality with an anti-Umbrella strike team made up of Leon Kennedy, Ada Wong, and Barry Burton–winking references to the former pair’s spotty relationship and propensity towards death fakeouts.

Duplication and iteration are a prominent fascination with Anderson’s Resident Evil scripts. Up through Extinction, the films were bookended by the awakening of a nude Alice (or clone of Alice) to some fresh horror. Afterlife bucked the trend, teasing an escape from this vicious cycle, only to cruelly pull its heroine back into the fray. For all her superhuman (occasionally godlike) skill, Alice is very much a victim, locked into a struggle with something monolithic and automated. She’s able to weather, but her friends–even the planet–are dying off despite her efforts. Retribution confronts this with a squad of cloned fallen comrades, led by a brainwashed Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory, allowed a more interesting space than before). Most notable in this crew are former love interest Carlos and Alice’s first bestie Rain (Rodriguez)–whose alternate is a civvie implanted with pro-gun control memories. The move reads as deliberate, an attempt to throw Alice’s own guilt back in her face, but the miscalculation is obvious: Alice has gone through this all before, and has hardened in response to it. The simple confrontation with known doubles is shrugged off.


Instead, it’s the deaf child, Becky (Aryana Engineer), of yet another of her clones which troubles Alice. Introduced in one of Umbrella’s zombie test sequences, she later appears clinging to her dead mother’s lookalike. Unsure of how to deal with this child, Alice is adamant about protecting her, but quick to leave her in another’s care. Her pause following an “I love you” (spoken and signed) is Milla Jovovich’s best acting in the film, a brief, cutting moment of tangled emotions processing something innocent. While it’s an Aliens rip, the idea is good: the alternate possibility of life ruled by something better than violence and death being more alien to Jovovich’s badass superwoman than any of the monstrosities she fights.

Retribution teeters on moments like these, overstuffed with meta-ideas about its subjects while racing through sets alternating lavishly detailed city/suburbia with stark, glossy white hallways and dank industrial sectors. Lost in the shuffle are the twin Rains. Anderson almost toys with making Rodriguez a figure similar to Dolph Lundgren in Universal Soldier: Regeneration, a haunted shell sussing out her confused half-existence. When told about her “sister,” Good Rain stares, as if a bomb exploded in her mind. A confrontation is teased here, Rodriguez given a prime position to throw the narrative off-piste. With Evil Rain’s spotlight in the finale–beating down two allies before moving to put the hurt on Alice–and talk of many scenes cut from the assembly, this might even have been Anderson’s intention. It never happens in the theatrical cut, though: Good Rain is casually disposed by a CG mutant; Evil Rain is a minor texture to an obedient goon. She’s given no response to her mechanization, losing any power her return could have provided. This becomes a first in the Resident Evil franchise, in that it would have been better if it were longer, slower, and emphasized its ellipses.

Resident Evil: Afterlife


Paul Anderson’s directorial return to the Resident Evil franchise is pure, delirious momentum. Afterlife opens with a dreamy, slow-mo sequence of Tokyo’s patient zero in their corner of the T-virus outbreak, capped with a zoom-out depicting fleeing civilians and their candy-colored umbrellas as individual cells in the death of the planetary body. Then, we’re racing through the promise of Extinction‘s finale, as Alice and her clone army assault the Umbrella Corporation’s headquarters, looking to kill (the now posh-voiced) Albert Wesker. She loses her duplicates and her powers in the process, but Alice destroys her enemies, then sets out to find the survivors she parted with.

This go-go-go mentality comes with cheaper production values. Resident Evil: Extinction brought a polished sheen to the franchise: crane and tracking shots, scale models and crisp cinematography were used to pore over surface details. Afterlife, however, has grainy, digital, green-screen backdrops, atop which CG objects are flung at the screen in 3D. The middle stretch of the film is a muddy brown wash, ugly save the occasional color saturation from a light source. Anderson seems to be stacking up all the worst tendencies of contemporary blockbusters as a challenge, and it works. The disconnect between backdrops and actors, combined with Tomandandy’s electronic score and a relentless stream of zombie variants (specifically importing Resident Evil 4 and 5‘s Las Plagas out of nowhere), stress unreality. Alice, despite lacking her God Mode abilities, still tackles the impossible with ease, swinging off rooftops guns a-blazing or obliterating skulls with shotgun blasts using quarters as ammo. Action often comes dosed with bullet-time. Spatial dimensions seem impossible, even before we get to the pearly bowels of a nightmare barge offering false salvation. Anderson has traded off the Pyun aesthetic, but he’s still operating in (and ramping up) the direct-to-video milieu which propelled his first Resident Evil.

With that, there’s also a (welcome) renewed emphasis on a bond between strong women in her reunion with Claire Redfield (Ali Larter), whose sudden amnesia mirrors Alice’s previous affliction (Wentworth Miller’s butch, growly Chris Redfield toys with being a foil to James Purefoy’s Spence, Alice’s duplicitous work-husband from the earlier film. Both are question marks that hang over the middle section of their respective films). The darker hues in Milla Jovovich’s hair and the throaty tones in her voice evoke Michelle Rodriguez as Rain. Alice is portrayed as instinctively taking a role to help Claire through her trauma. The relationship’s mutual, though: when Alice is KO’d by a big motherfucker with an axe, Claire wastes no time unloading her pistol on him, then going in for a kill.

Will It End? – Movies 2016: December


  1. Jaws (1975) – dir. Steven Spielberg
  2. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) – dir. Steven Spielberg
  3. Slaughter High (1986) – dir. Mark Ezra, Peter Litten, & George Dugdale
  4. Niagara (1953) – dir. Henry Hathaway
  5. C’était un rendez-vous (1976) (short) – dir.Claude Lelouch
  6. Black Christmas (1974) – dir. Bob Clark
  7. Regression (2016) – dir. Alejandro Amenabar
  8. Gods of Egypt (2016) – dir. Alex Proyas
  9. Train to Busan (2016) – dir. Yeon Sang-ho
  10. Rope (1948) – dir. Alfred Hitchcock
  11. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) – dir. Gareth Edwards
  12. Suspense (1913) (short) – dir. Lois Weber & Phillips Smalley
  13. The Monster (2016) – dir. Bryan Bertino
  14. London Has Fallen (2016) – dir. Babak Najafi
  15. Resident Evil (2002) – dir. Paul W.S. Anderson
  16. Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004) – dir. Alexander Witt
  17. The Thing (1982) – dir. John Carpenter
  18. Resident Evil: Extinction (2007) – dir. Russell Mulcahy
  19. Gremlins (1984) – dir. Joe Dante

Year in Total: 273

Resident Evil: Extinction


In the middle of a Resident Evil film marathon, Extinction is a shock to the system. The T-virus has spread, despite all attempts to contain it, and the world is plunged into a Mad Max future. Alice roams the wasteland, avoiding still-operational Umbrella satellites and getting into scrapes with zombies and rockabilly rapists. Occasionally, she exhibits telekinesis. Some familiar faces–Oded Fehr as Carlos and Mike Epps as L.J.–have banded together with new import Claire Redfield (Ali Larter), leading survivors from ruin to ruin, scrounging up canned food and gasoline. Another of Umbrella’s mad scientists (Iain Glen) passes time in a bunker, murdering cloned Alices with a deathtrap course built out of moments from the first film.. Lurking around the edges is video game baddie/shades enthusiast Wesker, low-key threatening Glen’s ambitions. The density of incidents, combined with the slightness of the feature’s actual narrative (the collision between Alice and Umbrella and the survivors is built out of multiple coincidences), gives the impression of having been dropped into some random episode of a TV show five seasons deep. We’re no longer at the outbreak, but in the midst of a long slog towards oblivion. In another franchise, this would be a sign of stagnation, but Extinction marks the Resident Evil films as embracing different modes of storytelling. It’s a considerable step-up.


The improvement is two-fold: Russell Mulcahy, directing as a one-off, is a better fit for the series than Resident Evil: Apocalypse‘s Alexander Witt. His fast cut, tracking and crane shot signatures are well-suited to the rapid clip of Paul W.S. Anderson’s action-fantasy take on zombie horror. Here, he uses the camera to soak in sand-covered Vegas model sets and desert landscapes traversed by rusted transports with slapdash fortifications. Computer grid building layouts (a recurring motif in the series) are zoomed in, around, and through as scene transition. The constant cross-cutting between sun-blasted decay on the surface and sterility of Umbrella’s underground laboratory complex gives the impression of Extinction‘s protagonists fighting an all-consuming rot. Action still occurs in frenetic bursts, but shots and edits hang on just long enough to register the needed information. While the Resident Evil series is still assembling itself from other movies (besides references to Day of the Dead and The Road Warrior, there’s an infected crow attack with an introduction straight out of The Birds), Mulcahy brings a polish and atmosphere lacking in previous installments.

On the same wavelength is Anderson, whose script here is much sharper. Freed from the video game timeline, Anderson pitches Alice less as a Mary Sue and more an adjunct goddess, offering salvation from the undead with dual-wielded Kukri knives. Apocalypse leaned heavily on subordinating recognized characters to a superhero lead, interchangeable save for brand recognition. Extinction, then, is a corrective, portraying individuals with a common good but conflicting motivations: Claire, straining under the responsibility of many lives, doesn’t immediately defer to Milla Jovovich’s raspy-voiced alpha female. When Alice brings news of a sanctuary, Claire contests the intelligence, hashes out the details and the necessities, and chooses to present the case to the collective for a vote. Carlos, infatuated with Alice, questions her choice to go solo. L.J. hides being bitten by a zombie so he can make time with the group’s medic. An early moment involving the group’s cigarette supply pays off later, when it’s revealed one of the characters had one stashed away for their own personal use. They’re light touches, Anderson showing a knack for downtime and payoff, but in a lean, 94-minute actioner, they mean everything.

Resident Evil: Apocalypse


First noticeable thing in movie Resident Evil 2 is the budget boost. No longer confined to impersonal corridors, the series opens up to a city under siege. A breathless montage gives a snapshot of pre-outbreak Raccoon City (including a suburb eerily similar to the one used for another contemporary zombie flick: Zach Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake) before seguing to a throng of civvies attempting to leave through a walled-off checkpoint. Alexander Witt subs for Paul W.S. Anderson in the director’s chair, and while he lacks Anderson’s visual panache–Witt’s framing is more traditional, while action’s left to an editor who jumbles it all about–he manages to maintain the same interest in lighting and surface (particularly, Witt is fond of actors in silhouette).

Anderson, meanwhile, provides a script which plays like fan fiction. He threads his sequel into the broad outline of Capcom’s Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, an emphasis on  original creation Alice (Milla Jovovich). Now superpowered, courtesy Umbrella Corporation’s insistence on tinkering with viral bio-weaponry, she unbalances the zombie narrative with God Mode combat skills. Hordes get their skulls kicked in or ventilated. Lickers, the previous film’s Final Boss, are dispatched with some shotgun blasts and a motorcycle to the face. Her only physical threat is Nemesis, a brutish, leather-clad rubber monster who thuds around in heavy boots and lugs a minigun and a rocket launcher. She’s backed by a couple normals and game imports Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) and Carlos Olivera (Oded Fehr). Aside from some whiz bang introduction–Jill casually strolling into a police precinct wearing a tube top and skirt, headshotting the undead before telling cops what’s what; Carlos attempting a rooftop rescue of a civilian, firing his gun as he jumps out of a helicopter–the pair exist to marvel at Alice.

This becomes the film’s biggest setback. Structurally, Apocalypse redoes its predecessor on a bigger scale. As before, it’s bookended with scenes of Alice waking up, nude, unsure of what’s going on, suggesting some ongoing cycle of victimization and retribution. Her red dress-black shorts combo is replaced with a cropped top, black jeans, and olive string vest, outfitted with various holsters. Later, the pants get ripped on one leg, giving a punk-like asymmetry to her design. The choice seems deliberate, Alice responding to her violation with defiant sexuality. She even flirts with Carlos (“Don’t worry, I’m not contagious”). Anderson very obviously wants to make this a vehicle for future wife Jovovich, while the game characters come across like a mandate.

Not that there isn’t a modicum of effort: early, obtuse references suggest the first film may have happened parallel to the source material, but it’s an intertextual detail robbed of meaning (for instance: Nemesis sent after members of STARS, Jill’s former unit, makes sense in the game’s storyline, but has nothing to do with his purpose in Apocalypse). Jill, herself, has little agency, an odd choice given Resident Evil 1’s wonderful depiction of the relationship between strong women. Guillory is no substitute for Michelle Rodriguez (she never characterizes Jill beyond a bratty pout), but it is strange to watch her passively go along with Jovovich’s prowling, mad science-powered superwoman. A more considered take could have developed tension between a veteran Jill and the suspicious outsider knocking her down the pecking order. Perhaps some distrust sown by Alice’s Umbrella connection. A misunderstanding here or there when Carlos and his partners arrive. Even a double cross? Nah, can’t allow anything like intra-group conflict in a zombie movie.

2016: Film


Nerve: A mixed media rom-thrill-com about social media crossing over into real life. Like the teen comedies it’s a modern re-skin for, Nerve tries to eat its cake and have it, too, positing the wider world as both a threat best avoided and the mechanism by which its fussy good girl lead can grow. That it confronts this contradiction with a preachy, hamfisted ending doesn’t negate the often funny and thrilling sequences of teenagers navigating uncomfortable (if not, outright deadly) situations while strangers live vicariously through the screen.


Batman v. Superman: Ultimate Edition: Smoothing over the theatrical version’s problems is one thing,  the extended, R-rated version of Zack Snyder’s much (and probably unfairly) maligned superhero fantasia manages to rejig the tone entirely. Rather than a messy treatise on two broken boys, Ultimate Dawn of Justice is Superman’s narrative. Footage of Henry Cavill’s Clark Kent pursuing leads in Gotham City’s ghettos not only enunciates the point of Ben Affleck’s Batman having gone insane (and makes Kent’s plea about journalism deciding “what matters” more than the self-serving justification it was in the theatrical cut), it also better contextualizes the conflict. Kent is set against the 24/7 news cycle, peppered with real talking heads happy to turn ghoulish for ratings. Normal people, whether it’s Kansas isolationists, disaster victims, or urban poor are vilified or weaponized, if they’re acknowledged at all. Batman is simply the result of this nightmare society, a Death Wish vigilante reacting to tabloid headlines, easily (perhaps willfully) manipulated because it serves his bubble of comfort. This Superman, then, represents something truly alien: someone more concerned with doing right by all, even a Batman that’s turned himself into a monster,  rather than simply pulp his enemy for the amusement of plutocrats–even when doing so would be the simplest choice. A proper throughline sussed out, the film’s strengths–its haunting, surrealist digressions and Milleresque touches–are better appreciated.


The Invitation: What’s great in Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation is the way it toys with audiences. There’s already something amiss about the film’s get-together, that much is clear. The host couple don’t bother hiding their cult leanings, so we’re already conditioned to side with Logan Marshall-Green as the ex-husband. Every social blunder and misconstrued voicemail even points to confirming suspicion. When his/our paranoia threatens to bubble over, the rug is seemingly pulled out. And then it’s not. The beats are overly familiar, but Kusama’s timing (the lengths she goes to encourage our fears, only to bat them away) turns a boilerplate Manson family narrative into a social battle. The cultists don’t want to butcher these people, but welcome them into blissful ascension (which happens to involve them dying). Like a dinner party, they want it to be just right. Why can’t you ignore what you think and be happy like them?


Green Room: Post-election, Green Room‘s nastiness no longer seems like mere grist for excellent thrills, but a portent. The film’s rock group, while leery of playing in a Nazi skinhead bar, mostly regards their audience as a joke. An opportunity to show how punk they are with a flippant Dead Kennedys cover. It’s only after walking in on a dead body and some of the proprietor’s goons do they realize the shit they’re in. Green Room is a scramble, children deep in the guts of a machine. As the leader of the skinhead gang, Patrick Stewart falls back on a mental script for this scenario. He’d rather get back to business as usual, pushing drugs and white supremacy. Meanwhile, the kids are fighting to survive. Doing so is bloody, the psychic cost high. It always is. A good reminder going into 2017.


The Wailing: Na Hong-jin’s The Wailing straddles so much territory, it’s easy to get lost in it. It’s opening stretch is a bumbling, backwater detective story which seems straight ripped from Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder, before veering off into xenophobic hysterics, possession, mysticism and confidence games. Na’s poor, tragic policeman struggles to keep track of who is on what side in a supernatural battle for his daughter’s soul (with enough contradictions on all sides to implicate or exonerate all parties). The most confounding event is a death hex ceremony, where a slick, moneyed shaman puts on an elaborate display backed with deafening percussion timed to chicken slaughter. It plays a duet with another, secret battle within the woods, a girl’s screams marking their back-and-forth. Your thoughts on this event ultimately rest with how you interpret the ending. However it’s parsed, though, good and evil in The Wailing are remote things, engaged in proxy war through the normal people they chew up.


The Nice Guys: Shane Black’s latest makes gallows humor out of our encroaching environmental doom, the elite class crooks who got us here, and our own inability to affect the mechanisms which keep it going. His buddy comedy protagonists cross paths, stumbling into conspiracies while chasing down private gain. Their conversations, in between crashing porn industry parties in the Hills and getting into shootouts with psychotic hitmen, steer towards Richard Nixon and colony collapse disorder, one of them in a near-constant state of intoxication–Chinatown as if written by Hunter S. Thompson. Action is panicked and flailing, Black showing off his love of cartoon slapstick but with more blood spatter, as Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe attempt to process and survive the nonsense they’re thrust into. Their victories never come decisively, and only ever on the most disposable edges of something much bigger than them. The Nice Guys doesn’t promise anything as hopeful as revolution, only the thought maybe you’ll drink less and do right more on the way out.

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Resident Evil


The first Resident Evil flick comes with a look that suggests a direct to video actioner. Paul W.S. Anderson shoots his game adaptation in a lot of tight close-ups, mostly staged in empty corridors, impersonal sewers, and a train car. The bigger set pieces seem like loans: a bio-mechanical pod room loaded with monstrosities may as well come from an aborted Alien installment; a sequence involving a sterile, booby-trapped room has clear influences from Vincenzo Natali’s Cube; the nu metal/EDM soundtrack even cannibalizes Anderson’s own stab at Mortal Kombat. Obviously, the zombies saunter in from Romero. These disparate threads of influence, along with a text/VO prologue introducing series’ bads the Umbrella Corporation, create a ramshackle aesthetic, as if multiple, cancelled film projects were melded into a misshapen hybrid. Perhaps this is Anderson’s ode to the work of Albert Pyun?

Whatever the case, the film is largely a misfire, elevated by its director’s formal playfulness. Anderson glides and pans along, his camera poring over reflective surfaces, color-saturated faces, and CCTV footage. His script, however, substitutes the escalating, Gothic dread of Shinji Mikami’s franchise starter with repetitive action beats lifted from Cameron. Any sense of mystery–about Umbrella, their corpse-reanimating T-virus, the commandos they’ve hired, even the infected facility they investigate–is dispensed early on, leaving amnesiac kung-fu lead Alice (Milla Jovovich) to learn reiterated information through dialogue or flashbacks. The only looming questions are who caused the infection (a dull whodunnit) and the motivations of a prowling A.I. voiced by a little girl (better, but unexplored). Anderson is more invested in photographing badass women: Jovovich’s Alice in her red dress/black boots and shorts attire, is an arresting visual next to the blue-brown-whites of her surroundings, set immediately apart from her leather-clad comrades even before she ninja kicks a mutant hound. Her foil is the more butch Rain (Michelle Rodriguez), a doomed trooper who talks like one of the boys about “getting laid.” Both are steely and resolved when the situation turns south, while the men around them fluster and panic. Alice yells everyone through the crucible, while Rain responds to multiple bites by unloading her pistol on zombies. No bullshit, no cowering. One could imagine, if they both made it out alive, they’d become a lot closer.

Will It End? – Movies 2016: November



  1. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) – dir. George Miller
  2. Predator 2 (1990) – dir. Stephen Hopkins
  3. Black Widows (2016) – dir. Venita Ozols-Graham
  4. Across 110th Street (1972) – dir.Barry Shear
  5. Predator (1987) – dir. John McTiernan
  6. The Wailing (2016) – dir. Na Hong-jin
  7. Speed (1994) – dir. Jan de Bont
  8. Silver Bullet (1985) – dir. Dan Attias
  9. Arrival (2016) – dir. Denis Villeneuve
  10. The Sighting (2016) – dir. Adam Pitman & David Blair
  11. Action Jackson (1988) – dir. Craig R. Baxley
  12. Born to Defense (1986) – dir. Jet Li
  13. Under the Shadow (2016) – dir. Babak Anvari
  14. Dr. Strange (2016) – dir. Scott Derrickson
  15. The Big Short (2015) – dir. Adam McKay
  16. End of Days (1999) – dir. Peter Hyams
  17. Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie (2015) – dir. Kazuchika Kise & Kazuya Nomura
  18. The Take (2016) – dir. James Watkins
  19. Beetlejuice (1988) – dir. Tim Burton
  20. The Fog (2005) – dir. Rupert Wainwright

YTD: 254

The Last Guardian


Seven years in the making, The Last Guardian is remarkable in its restraint. Games with these kinds of lengthy development cycles tend to show up with a mishmash of mechanics and flashy gimmicks, along with a meandering plot. The Last Guardian, however, never strays from being about a boy and a (large, winged) dog escaping a dungeon. The boy, whom the player controls, is used solely for exploration, puzzle-solving, and directing Trico–the boy’s gryphon-like companion–to the next location. It doesn’t even utilize the entirety of the PS4’s controller (two of the shoulder buttons serve no function, except perhaps when mashing to escape capture). Several of director/lead designer Fumito Ueda’s fascinations also, unsurprisingly, are on display: a duet of characters working together to navigate spacious, often-hostile environments (mostly during the day); crumbling, eldritch architecture which resemble the impossible structures of NES-era platformers; elliptical plotting; horns as a mark of sinister influence (though not necessarily of character). Mostly, Ueda wants us to focus on his characters as physical, intimate beings in a fairy tale. There’s nothing in the game which doesn’t serve that purpose.

Functionally, Trico and the boy are the inverse of Ico and Yorda or Wander and Agro (from Ueda’s Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, respectively). The player is now the one who needs protection from the game’s many hazards, but is key to progression. Any combat, mostly against armored demon statues who try to abduct the boy, is performed by Trico, with you dropping into a support role: distracting enemies, pulling the odd spear out of the beast, or providing soothing pets. The Last Guardian forces players into a different mindset, based not around the infliction of violence, but on sympathy (sort of  an antithesis for Nintendo’s Pokemon franchise). The game starts with the boy waking in a cave, Trico chained up and injured nearby. It is made clear you will need him to escape, so helping him becomes a priority. Their movement through these spaces is also a back-and-forth, the boy squeezing into tiny openings or onto narrow ledges to lower a bridge or open a gate; Trico able to bound great chasms or scale a cliff. Ueda’s team is fond of pitting them against rickety walkways and collapsing towers. Imminent danger and the need to press on propel the duo, but also forges an enduring friendship.

This is boosted by the AI for Trico. It’s excellent, not because Trico is perfect and does everything correctly when asked, but because he’s allowed to not be. Trico will get confused and, like the player, even miss the obvious. Line of sight becomes crucial, as Trico often has to see the boy to understand commands (built around associating words with mimed actions), and occasionally needs encouragement (e.g. tossing barrels of food at him). The dungeon even bears out this theme of conditioning: an elaborate, partially automated mill built within a hollowed mesa, it is littered with signs of the kind of training used by unseen masters. Trico recoils in fear of stain-glass eyes, erected along escape routes. Blue, glassy sculptures which emit pulsing waves trigger rabid freakouts. There’s even a fighting pit, deep in the bowels of the place. It’s very mechanical and cruel, a stark contrast to the touching interactions between the player and their digital animal. Whatever arcane purpose the lair, and Trico, serve, is one built on layers of abuse which need dismantling. The boy offers an alternative, and rehabilitation, through mutualism and respect.