Wednesday 10 June 2015

WWE Wrestle Mania XXXI DVD Review By Dave Adamson


Presented over three DVDs, Wrestlemania 31 includes the event itself, split across two discs, along with the Wrestlemania KickOff Show, featuring the Fatal 4-Way Match for the WWE Tag Team Championship and the Andre the Giant Battle Royale, the Hall of Fame and interviews with John Cena and Seth Rollins.

Every year, Wrestlemania manages to draw the highest of expectations and equally elate and disappoint.  For all the big moments and matches that fans remember, as with every WWE PPV and many of their shows, there are many moments that don’t hit the mark - this year, we’ve got the “much anticipated” Sting vs Triple H - fourteen years in the making, WCW vs WWE and all the other hyperbole that the commentary team throws out, but at least a decade too late.  There are highs - Paige & AJ Lee, the opening ladder match, The Rock appearing with Rhonda Rousey, Brock Lesnar being the machine he is.  There are also many lows, as there always are in Wrestlemania, but Wrestlemania 31 is by no means the worst WWE PPV, or the worst Wrestlemania.

With Michael Cole, Jerry “The King” Lawler and JBL on commentary, WWE know fans know what to expect as they switch from calling the action, to talking amongst themselves, bickering and generally filling in bits of silence as they go along.

WWE has incredibly high production values - camera angles seem to pop up out of nowhere, capturing every moment and getting up close to the action.  It’s incredibly polished and everyone looks great - like superstars, which is what WWE builds its guys up to be.

The WWE Hall of Fame is split over discs two and three, with the bulk of the inductees featured on disc 3. With much of the WWE roster, including Legends and previous Hall of Famers, in attendance, and a large, vocal representation of the WWE Universe, The Hall of Fame is certainly a lively affair, though if you want the full experience in one go, it’s worth looking at the WWE Network.

Jerry Lawler, as the master of ceremonies, does a decent job, and the WWE Superstars vary in their quality as they talk about each inductee, but passion and belief of the inductees shines through as they speak about their careers.  There are some touching speeches and plenty of humour, though some of the speeches due tend to drag on - a combination of age and failing memory seem to contribute to this.  The recognition of the WWE Hall of Fame cannot be faulted as a nostalgia trip.

From a technical point of view, there are issues with the DVDs - the long shots of crowds and some of the panning shots of the Wrestlemania set certainly does no favours to the DVD format as there’s plenty of pixelation going on.  The commentary occasionally quietens randomly, though occasionally to emphasise the cheers of the crowd or certain high spots.  This would be fine if it achieved its purpose - you can’t help but feel that hearing the crowd be louder than the commentary would be better, instead of turning the commentary down - instead it just gets distracting rather quickly.

The elephant in the room, of course, is whether it’s worth investing in this DVD, the BluRay or just sticking with the WWE Network.  Given the choice, it’d be cheaper to opt for the WWE Network, which will, at least, give you a 720p experience, whilst the BluRay will, no doubt, have better picture quality than the WWE Network and DVD and suffer fewer of the issues present in the technical mastering seen here.

For those of you who may not have seen the show, here follows a lengthy breakdown of Wrestlemania 31 and the other matches that feature on the discs

Aloe Blacc starts off proceedings with a rendition of America, The Beautiful before LL Cool J reminds us why we should care about Wrestlemania and how we’re all connected.

Daniel Bryan vs Bad New Barrett (Intercontinental Champion) vs Dolph Ziggler vs Luke Harper vs R Truth vs Dean Ambrose vs Stardust

A ladder match with, just to emphasise the point, probably a dozen ladders outside the ring, is the first match and sees all seven men fighting for the Intercontinental Championship, using the ladders to thrill the crowds whilst throwing each other around the ring, flying through the air and battering each other with the ladders.

As an opening match, this was certainly spot on at getting the crowd excited.  It was a high-octane spotfest with enough jeopardy to tease the fans.  With both Ziggler and Bryan atop the ladder, the fans were clearly divided, but it would eventually be Bryan who snagged the belt for the win… and the crowd went wild.

Randy Orton vs Seth Rollins

Having betrayed both The Authority and Seth Rollins, Randy Orton goes into the match promising the end the “future of the WWE”, though “Mr Money in the Bank” Seth Rollins is accompanied by J&J Security who will, no doubt, get involved at some point.

Making his twelfth Wrestlemania appearance, Orton has become a master of moments - turning a kerb stomp into a powerslam, looking flawless as he slowly stalks around the ring, and then there’s that RKO.  Rollins’ future looks bright in this match, too - he is a beast of a man who moves gracefully and powerfully, equalling Orton’s ability on many levels.

In the end, J&J Security weren’t really needed - making you wonder why they’re there in the first place - and Randy Orton manages to lure Rollins in for an RKO that would be talked about for months to come as he hits it… out of nowhere.

Cut to a very excited Rhonda Rousey.

 Triple H vs Sting

“Two icons of an era, two cornerstones of two companies” and it starts with a promo video building up Triple H and his contribution to WWE and cementing his role as the authority figure, before introducing Sting as the vigilante with a vendetta.  It also sets up, effectively, what will happen in this match as “The King” goes up against “The Vigilante” - sadly, not The King vs The King Slayer, but there you go.

Sting comes out to a Japanese band with Sting facepaint playing drums and banging gongs - it’s not a recognisable ditty, but they’re certainly enthusiastic.  Then we get the black and white Sting Titantron video (Out From the Shadows, for those wondering) which starts off as a cacophony as the band continue to play.

To show they’re on a level playing field, Triple H is introduced by Arnold Schwarzenneger as the Cheese-800, sorry T-800 from Terminator, and we get an end-of-the-world vibe as the King of Kings, The Game, The Cerebral Assassin makes his entrance, surrounded by Terminator statues and some blokes in masks.  As he ascends from the ground, in a custom Terminator crown, with faceplate and arms, he waits to have the accoutrements removed as his theme kicks in - all this because the event is sponsored by Terminator: Genisys.

Then the match begins and quickly gets old.  This would certainly have hit the spot if it had taken place after WWE acquired WCW, but this is just painful - run ins from (the main members of) NWO and DX (with no reference to divided loyalties) break up the action and, whilst both men can still perform, it doesn’t come close to either’s performances only a year or two ago!  Sure, they’re older, but neither is in terrible shape or coming out of retirement for this.

The match amounts to a brawl, slow and methodical, with the crowd behind Sting, as both men tussle, break, tussle, break.  The commentary doesn’t help as JBL lays it on thick, buries Michael Cole more than usual and allows Lawler to shriek.  Thankfully, the pain does end, with Triple H fulfilling his prophecy.

We do get, however, an awkward moment with Triple H shaking off his fatigue and shaking Sting’s hand, patting his head as if he’s just elevated a rookie to superstardom.

Cut to Maria Menounos as she speaks to Daniel Bryan about his Intercontinental Championship win.  Pat Patterson praises Bryan, then Roddy Piper, then Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat awkwardly quoting Randy Savage, then Ric Flair and whoos away, before Bret Hart shakes Bryan by the hand and they all “Yes” away in an incredibly awkward segment, only to be stopped by a single “Damn” from Ron Simmons.

Then we get the obligatory song - Travis Barker and Skyler Grey perform “Rise”, without David Guetta, and Kid Ink raps his way through “Money and the Power”.

 Paige & AJ Lee vs The Bella Twins (c)

Paige has had, as Michael Cole suggests, a great “rookie year” in WWE and her work with AJ Lee has successfully highlighted the skills of both women.  Compared to The Bella Twins, it’s very much Divas versus what many wrestling fans want women wrestling to be.

The Bella Twins are good at what they do and certainly rile up the opinion of the fans in attendance, but it’s the skill of Paige and AJ Lee that shows just how far the others have to go.  Whilst the Bellas can certainly move deftly, they’re nowhere near as nimble as their opponents.

With AJ Lee locking in the Black Widow on Nikki, it’s only a matter of time before the Bella taps.

A recap of the Hall of Fame manages to capture the ceremony, including some of the fun and emotional moments, in effective fashion and all the inductees come out to rapturous applause.

United States Championship Match: John Cena vs Rusev (c) 

Rusev is built up as the Russian monster, whilst Cena is the home country hero.  Mocked and humiliated, beaten and broken, Cena defines America - self-confident, bordering on arrogant, even when the odds are against him.  Rusev defines Russia, an unstoppable machine that listens to nobody and bows to nothing.  Thus ends the video package and starts the best entrance of the night as Lana approaches, championship belt held proud, followed by a retinue of soldiers, and then it’s Rusev’s moment… in a tank… the jeers threatening to drown out the Russian anthem.

Going into this, Cena - despite the negative opinion of the fans (surely, turning their back on him and staying absolutely silent would be a better way) - is the hero and, dare I say, underdog in the wake of the unstoppable force that is Rusev.

Considering how long Cena has been at the top of the WWE tree, it seems odd that some fans don’t get that he’s not the greatest technical wrestler - he doesn’t have to be, he’s there to be a superhero, a larger than life strong man who overcomes all odds and rises above hate.  Rusev is the super villain, a larger than life strong man who wants to destroy the Western world - with Cena as the embodiment of that.  It’s a classic story and it works here and the two superpowers collide until Cena finally brings the title home.

We then cut to the Wrestlemania panel, with Byron Saxton, Corey Graves and Booker T talking about the last match and led by Renee Young.  It’s the usual diverting fluff.

A recap of the Andre the Giant Battle Royale sees Mizdow implode when Sandow takes out The Miz only for Sandow to be eliminated by the Big Show for the win.

The Authority Thanks… Themselves

In a segment that goes on far too long, we see that Triple H is suited and looks like he’s made a full recovery from his match with Sting.  Stephanie McMahon stands beside him in the ring, tells us that 76,976 fans are in attendance and talks about the history of Wrestlemania, how it started with only 20,000 fans.  She puts the success down to herself and Triple H and he backs this up.  As the fans boo loudly, and Triple H talks about his victory over Sting, they show why they’re at the top of their game.   Then The Rock comes out, and the crowd go absolutely mental!

The Rock cuts a sarcastic promo, showing that he’s still “got it”, as the fans would probably chant.  Whereas The Rock’s mic work is full of energy and poetry, Triple H is measured and authoritative.  Stephanie takes over, mocking The Rock and reminding him that the McMahon’s created The Rock, slapping him and humiliating The Rock until he brings Rhonda Rousey into the ring and she delivers an arm drag to Triple H that fan reaction would have you believe is the best move ever in wrestling before getting physical with Stephanie and a Wrestlemania moment is made!

And, that brings us to the end of Disc 1.

Bray Wyatt vs The Undertaker

Two entrances that benefit hugely from ominous darkness are effectively diminished by the open air, daylight venue, even with the creepy, stumbling scarecrows that accompany Wyatt.

Much is made of the post-streak Undertaker and what this match means and both men do the best they can in the circumstances.  The Undertaker is still great to watch - arguably the last of the “comic book” style characters that were once so popular - and works hard to do what he does, whilst Wyatt has been on a breath of fresh air in the WWE - a brash zealot with incredible in ring skill and confidence.

Despite some hard hitting offense, The Undertaker is overpowered by the zeal of Bray Wyatt as he combines heavy hitting with unseemly athleticism.  Driven by the need to destroy, Wyatt leaves The Undertaker lying in the ring, barely able to move, but eventually it’s The Undertaker that, having failed to do so earlier, manages to put Wyatt away with a Tombstone Piledriver.

 WWE World Heavyweight Championship Match: Roman Reigns vs Brock Lesnar (c)

Roman Reigns comes down through the crowd, surrounded by security, to show how he’s a renegade and the fans he pass, broadly, really don’t like him.  By contrast, Brock Lesnar is cheered - probably by a different set of fans who’d decried his “part time” status as champion.  Accompanied by Paul Heyman, Heyman doesn’t have to say anything to get under people’s skins - he’s a true master of manipulation - but, when he does, he’s an incomparable orator, making you wish he introduced everyone, or was still on commentary duties!

From the moment the bell rings, it’s a fight - Lesnar is a true powerhouse, a dominant brute of a man, pure strength and ferocity.  Reigns, despite the fans’ negativity, is by no means powerless - he’s got height, speed and agility over Lesnar, and uses it all when there’s a tiny window in Lesnar’s offence.

Seth Rollins cashing his in Money in the Bank briefcase, turning the match into a Triple Threat and securing the WWE World Heavyweight Championship by pinning Roman Reigns.

Amongst the special features on the second disc is the Tag Team Championship Four Way, which saw The Usos vs Los Matadores vs vs The New Day vs Tyson Kidd & Cesaro (c) that, very much like the ladder match at the start of Wrestlemania, is a high flying affair that sees Cesaro and Kidd, in particular, in top form, with everyone engaging in a variety of over-the-top moments that send the crowd wild, leading to Cesaro stealing the tag from Jimmy Uso and scoring the win.

Also on disc 2 is the Andre the Giant Battle Royale, which starts with all the men in the ring, with the ensuing chaos and rapid eliminations necessary for a match that runs for twenty minutes and features thirty men.  The last minutes would see Big Show square off against Damian Sandow, eliminating him and standing victorious.

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