Wrestlemania 35 Review

*Yes, Wrestlemania was a few days ago, but it was also a seven and a half hour show! I was too burned out to write about it right away. So pardon me if I’m late.*

To put it simply, Wrestlemania 35 was the best Wrestlemania in years! While I don’t think any of the matches on the card will go down as all-time greats, it was a terrifically satisfying show for almost the whole way through. Some might argue that there weren’t any big surprises, but I would disagree and say that the fact the show delivered on the results the fans wanted (particularly the “big trifecta” of the show) was a surprise in of itself. After four straight Wrestlemanias of WWE doing what WWE wanted despite negative feedback, Wrestlemania 35 felt like a long-overdue show for the fans. Besides, I’d rather have the storylines reach the proper conclusions, even if they’re predictable, than have swerves for the sake of swerves. Continue reading “Wrestlemania 35 Review”

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Fighting with My Family Review

*Caution: review contains spoilers*

The world of professional wrestling is one of peaks and plateaus. Depending on the quality of the in-ring action, promos and backstage segments, pro-wrestling is either monumentally entertaining, or so bad it’s cringeworthy. Middle ground is almost nonexistent.

This extreme contrast has seemingly found its way into movies based on professional wrestling. You either have the serious side of things which depict the hard lives professional wrestlers live (usually through documentaries), or the completely moronic comedies that insult the intelligence of their audience, seemingly because they assume wrestling fans are stupid (like Ready to Rumble).

Fighting with My Family is a pleasant surprise then, pulling off a feat which has previously seemed impossible: delivering an entertaining and heartfelt movie rooted in the world of professional wrestling. A family-based comedy/drama revolving around real life professional wrestler Paige (real name Saraya Bevis), and her journey to the WWE, which eventually lead to her to changing the company’s perception of women’s wrestling for the better.

Taking place in the early 2010s, Fighting with My Family follows Saraya/Paige (Florence Pugh) and her family of wrestlers: older brother Zak “Zodiac” (Jack Lowden), father Patrick “Rowdy Ricky Knight” (Nick Frost) and mother Julia “Sweet Saraya” (Lena Headey). You probably noticed that Paige’s real name is her mother’s ring-name. That’s how dedicated the family is to the sport.

Patrick and Julia own a small-town wrestling promotion, and have trained Zak and Saraya from an early age to follow in the family tradition as professional wrestlers, with Paige having had her first match at the age of thirteen. Both Paige and Zak have sent audition tapes to the WWE in hopes of making it big in the industry, and eventually NXT (WWE’s developmental brand) stops by their hometown looking for tryouts. Paige and Zak’s coach in NXT training is Hutch Morgan (Vince Vaughn), whose cold disposition emphasizes the rough road the siblings have ahead of them. And when Paige is eventually selected to move on to the NXT brand while Zak is denied, it creates a riff in the sibling’s relationship.

What caught me by surprise about Fighting with My Family is that it’s a genuinely good and entertaining – even inspiring – biopic whether you’re a wrestling fan (such as myself) or not. The film was written and directed by Stephen Merchant (best known as co-creator of The Office, but best known to me as the voice of Wheatley in Portal 2), and executive produced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (who has a recurring role as himself in the film). Merchant’s writing and directing, in addition to the performances by the actors (especially Pugh, Lowden and Frost) help give the film a strong emotional weight, as well as a strong sense of humor (though not all of the jokes stick the landing).

Fighting with My Family is ultimately an underdog/rags-to-riches story, but one that feels pretty unique for two key reasons: one is the simple fact that it treats the world of professional wrestling as a serious and relatable backdrop for its story. Under less capable hands, the film may have aimed lower, given the popular misconceptions of the pro wrestling industry (news flash Hollywood, we all know it’s a show. That why we like it).

The other reason is its heroine. The pale-skinned, raven-haired Paige was as different as can be from the typical bleached blonde, spray-tanned, plastic-bodied “WWE Diva” that had been present in the company even before WWE’s wildly popular (but actually kind of crappy) Attitude Era sent things into overdrive. Though the film may suffer a tad from a mostly overly flattering portrayal of the WWE, it displays enough humility from the company to admit to its rampantly sexist past (a little eye candy and sex appeal is fine. But blatant sexual objectification is a problem, one which WWE indulged in for far too long). It’s pointed out in the film that every other female competitor training alongside Paige was either a model or a cheerleader hired for their looks, as opposed to a life-long wrestler like Paige.

The biopic chronicles Paige’s time in NXT and culminates with her debut on WWE’s main roster in 2014, in which she defeated AJ Lee to claim the WWE Divas Championship (at the time the company’s token attempt at a women’s title) to become the youngest women’s champion in company history. By ending the story when it does, the film ensures a happy, inspirational ending.

Though the sad truth is that Paige’s in-ring career has a more tragic ending. Despite being the primary centerpiece for WWE’s progressive evolution of its women’s division (though AJ Lee deserves some of the credit as well, she wasn’t the in-ring competitor Paige was), Paige barely got to see the fruits of her labor firsthand. Once she actually received some worthy competition on the roster with the likes of Sasha Banks, Charlotte Flair, Asuka, Bayley and Becky Lynch – as well as WWE dropping the “Divas” term entirely and introducing more serious women’s championships – a multitude of injuries saw Paige miss one opportunity after another, and shortly after a comeback in late 2017, forced her into an early retirement (she still makes various on-screen roles for the company, but can no longer compete in the ring). But I suppose it’s nice to see a wrestling movie have a happy ending for once.

As a wrestling nerd, I do have to nitpick some of the historical revisions the film makes, particularly in regards to NXT. In the film, NXT is presented as little more than a gym where wrestlers train for their WWE debut. While it’s true NXT serves as the company’s “developmental” brand, it is a fully-functioning brand in its own right, complete with championships and pay-per view events.

I only bring this up because the film skips over an important detail in Paige’s career as a consequence of this. Joining NXT in its early years, Paige was the inaugural NXT Women’s Champion, a title she held at the same time she won the WWE Divas Championship. I’m guessing the film was aiming to make the Divas Championship victory feel more important by removing a previous title victory. But considering Paige’s NXT Women’s Championship win was pretty much the first step in her changing women’s wrestling in WWE, it seems like a bizarre omission in the story.

Fighting with My Family is a pleasant surprise, a movie about professional wrestling that proves to be both entertaining and inspirational. Fans of professional wrestling will definitely enjoy it. And for a nice change, it’s a wrestling movie that you can enjoy even with no knowledge of the sport whatsoever. It may even get non-fans to tune into a professional wrestling show to see what all the fuss is about. I only hope that, should they tune in, it’s during one of its ‘peak’ moments…

 

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WWE Royal Rumble 2019 Review

Let’s take a moment to talk about wrestling once again. This time, it’s the 2019 edition of WWE’s Royal Rumble, the first of WWE’s “big four pay-per-views” in the calendar year and probably WWE’s most loved PPV aside from Wrestlemania. Now, if you include the pre-show, this Royal Rumble went on for nearly seven hours, I’m going to try and keep my synopsis as short as possible. And I’m skipping the pre-show bits. Now let’s get started.

Becky Lynch vs. Asuka (C) for the Smackdown Women’s Championship.

The pay-per-view proper started off with a bang, as Becky Lynch challenged Asuka for the Smackdown Women’s Championship in a great match. Surprisingly, Asuka won completely clean by making Becky Lynch tap out, but they found a way to end the show making both women look strong, and it was such a strong match that Becky still looked strong in defeat.

The Bar (Sheamus and Cesaro) (C) vs. the Miz and Shane McMahon for the Smackdown Tag Team Championship

This match was…okay. Everyone involved pulled off some strangely stiff shots on each other, and Shane McMahon got some time to do his usual ‘he’s-too-old-to-be-doing-that-kind-of-thing’ top-rope stuff, including ending the match with a Shooting Star Press for the win and the tag team titles.

Ronda Rousey (C) vs. Sasha Banks for the Raw Women’s Championship

This match should have been better than it was. Not bad, but with how much progress Ronda Rousey has made in her year as a wrestler, and how good Sasha Banks always has been, it was a bit clunky. Rousey retained of course, and I don’t see her losing the title (or a match) until Wrestlemania.

30-Woman Royal Rumble match

This felt like the proper Royal Rumble of the night, and should have gone on last. Not a whole lot of surprise entrants, but we had the ironwoman of the match (Natalya Neidhart), the blink and you’ll miss it entrant (Liv Morgan), and all that jazz. It wasn’t anything too special, until Becky Lynch interrupted the entrance of an injured Lana, took her spot in the match (which makes no sense, but don’t worry about it), and went on to win the Rumble despite being beaten and battered after her war with Asuka. Great finish that, again, probably should have closed the night.

Daniel Bryan (C) vs. AJ Styles for the WWE Championship

“uhhh, okay… why not? I guess…”

As expected for two wrestlers of this world class caliber, the in-ring action was stellar. The ending, on the other hand… kind of random. Erick Rowan (AKA the guy who was one half of a tag team whose gimmick was carrying around giant mallets for all of last year) made his return, and conveniently showed up about a minute before the referee got knocked out, gave AJ Styles a choke slam, and helped Daniel Bryan retain the title. Because reasons.

This was just an utterly random ending. And if this were the route they were going with, couldn’t Rowan have entered the fray sooner? I get that it’s a show, but having the guy who’s bound to interfere enter the scene mere seconds before he’s supposed to do his thing kind of crushes the suspension of disbelief.

Brock Lesnar (C) vs. Finn Balor for the WWE Universal Championship

*Sigh*

Look, I get it. WWE has some bizarre infatuation with Brock Lesnar, despite the fact that his “special attraction” aura disintegrated years ago now. I knew Finn Balor wasn’t winning this. And to their credit, WWE did give Balor a lot of really good offense. So he almost looked good in defeat.

I say ‘almost’ because WWE decided to give the match a crap finish by making Finn Balor tap out after a less-than ten minute match. Okay, I get that the show was obnoxiously long already, but was this really the match to trim down? And making Balor tap out kind of undermined the whole “David vs. Goliath” story they were going for. Couldn’t they have made him pass out from taking too much punishment and refusing to give up or something? You know, an ending that would play into his heroism, even in defeat. And what about after the match? Balor just got destroyed by Lesnar some more! What was the point? Who benefits from this? I mean, other than Vince McMahon and his fetish for overplayed acts?

30-Man Royal Rumble Match

This was decent, but not as good as the Women’s Rumble. Seth Rollins won, of course. Narratively speaking, they haven’t built up anyone else who could have won (unless they did for Finn Balor what they did for Becky Lynch). So it was a pretty obvious conclusion, but at least they didn’t show a video package ahead of the show that more or less screamed who the winner would be like they did with Randy Orton in 2009.

The only real noteworthy story was that Nia Jax, after having been eliminated in the Women’s Rumble, beat up R-Truth during his entrance and took his place (again, don’t think about it too hard). She managed to eliminate Mustafa Ali, before taking a super kick from Dolph Ziggler, 619 from Rey Mysterio, and an RKO from Randy Orton before being tossed out (you would think she would have eliminated more people if WWE went through the trouble of adding this mini-narrative…but again, we’re talking about the company who still thinks the idea of Brock Lesnar as champion warrants a shred of interest).

 

Overall, it was an okay show. The Royal Rumble matches are always fun to watch as they happen, but after the fact you can think about how well everything played out. And well, the Rumble winners were expected but deserving, and the in-ring work of every match was solid. But the ending to Daniel Bryan/AJ Styles (a match that needed no screwy finish), and especially the ending of Lesnar/Balor really dampened the show. And with a five-is hour main card, and a total of seven hours including the pre-show, and the 2019 Royal Rumble was another example of a modern WWE pay-per-view being waaay too long.

The only other noteworthy bit to take away from the show is that Kacy Catanzaro and Naomi out-Kofi Kingston Kofi Kingston. That is to say, Catanzaro and Naomi saved themselves from elimination in their Rumble match in more creative (and believable) fashion than Kofi Kingston did. I always enjoy the Kofi Kingston spots we get to see every year during the Royal Rumble, but this year Kofi did two, both of which seemed derivative of previous spots from yesteryear, and both of which I swear both of his feet hit the ground anyway.

An okay show, and hopefully Seth Rollins and Becky Lynch’s victories mean things will pick up from here. And here’s hoping that something will actually come out of Finn Balor’s loss, instead of him just being another unnecessary burial to Lesnar. Far from the best Rumble (I don’t think it was nearly as entertaining as last year’s edition), but not the worst either (that would be 2015).

Wrestlemania 34 Review

Hey, look at that! I’m talking about wrestling again!

Yeah, I don’t talk about wrestling much on this site, so who knows if I’m alienating those who do read my writings. But it’s hard to be a wrestling fan and not write about Wrestlemania. Maybe I’ll even start writing more on the intriguing world that is pro-wrestling.

Wrestlemania, the biggest event on WWE’s (and indeed, all of pro-wrestling’s) calendar has come and gone. Overall, the event could be argued as one of the best Wrestlemanias ever in terms of consistency (there was no truly awful match). But it did have it’s share of questionable booking decisions. I’m going to try and give a run down of every match, but because it was an exhausting seven hours long, I’m going to try to keep each match description/my opinions brief.

Continue reading “Wrestlemania 34 Review”

WrestleMania 33 Review

Let’s do something a little different and talk about wrestling! Granted, I’m predominantly a video games and movies man, and this is a predominantly video games and movies site, so who knows how many of my readers will actually give a care. But oh well, I like wrestling, WrestleMania is the biggest wrestling event of the year, so I’m going to write about it.

I haven’t talked about wrestling much here at the Dojo (save for my WWE awards as part of my Christmas blogs, and of course when reviewing wrestling-based video games), but due to the ending of WrestleMania 33, I just had to write a little something. So let’s give this a shot.

As a whole, I thought it was one of the better WrestleManias of recent years. Admittedly, the build-up could have used some extra work (as was the case for the past few years), but in terms of execution, it was probably one of the most consistent WrestleManias I can recall. I don’t think there were any matches that will go down as classics (which is, quite worryingly, a trend of the past few Manias), but there was also nothing really bad about it. There were no duds, and that’s always a bonus. Continue reading “WrestleMania 33 Review”

WWF Super Wrestlemania (SNES) Review

Though LJN was most infamous for the many movie-based games they brought to home consoles (namely the NES), the also had their go at the realms of pro wrestling-based games, such as WWF Super Wrestlemania, which was released in 1992 on both the SNES and Sega Genesis.

The good news is that WWF Super Wrestlemania is far from the worst LJN game I’ve played. The bad news is that it still isn’t very good, as it lacks depth in its content and cohesiveness in its gameplay.

In WWF Super Wrestlemania, players can select between ten wrestlers from WWF’s (now WWE’s) wrestlers from their golden period: including the Undertaker, Hulk Hogan, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, and “The Million-Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase. Players can partake in singles matches, tag team matches, and 4-on-4 Survivor Series elimination matches.

Obviously, there aren’t a whole lot of modes, which is understandable considering the limitations of gaming technology of the day (not to mention the now-WWE hadn’t introduced many of their gimmick matches until the mid-to-late 90s, so they couldn’t very well appear in a video game adaptation), so this would be forgivable if the gameplay captured the action and fun of actual WWE programming of the day.

Sadly, it doesn’t, and this is where the game truly stumbles. Wrestling a match in WWF Super Wrestlemania feels more like mindless button-mashing, with successful strikes and grapples being determined simply by who can press the buttons the fastest.

Worse still, the sense of perspective is nothing short of atrocious. Granted, trying to merge the in-ring action of pro wrestling in a two-dimensional space would surely be complicated, but games like the Fire Pro Wrestling series have proved that it can work. But here, you can never really tell when you and your opponent are next to each other, or when one of you is above or below the other from a three-dimensional perspective. It’s just plain confusing to look at, and when combined with the button-mashing, just make the matches feel really sloppy.

Another downside is that all of the characters play identically to one another (the Genesis version includes finishers unique to each character, at the expense of two less characters). Given the colorful, larger-than-life nature of pro wrestling characters of the day, it’s a real shame that the only differences between characters are cosmetic. And having Hulk Hogan having an equal arsenal of moves as the Undertaker is just wrong on so many levels.

On the plus side of things, the character sprites look nice and detailed, and the music has some decent 16-bit recreations of the wrestlers’ theme music (though admittedly, you could also imagine much cooler 16-bit remixes as well).

WWF Super Wrestlemania may provide a few short minutes of fun if playing with a friend, but the action is too sloppy and confusing, and the lack of variety in characters and modes are just too disappointing, for it to be the fun multiplayer brawler it could have been.

 

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