Streaming: the best film adaptations of video games | Movies
The humble video game movie tends to get it all over the place. Critics turn their noses up, and gaming nerds are often just as hard to please, albeit on very different points of principle. Children are perhaps the most indulgent demographic for video game film, which is why the delay sonic the hedgehog the film franchise did well to target them squarely.
Now available on DVD and streaming, sonic the hedgehog 2 replicates the garish formula of the first slightly tongue-in-cheek action-hunting movie, complete with screaming primary-color CGI and industrial-strength hamming by Jim Carrey as Sonic’s nemesis Dr. Robotnik . It does the job, perhaps a bit too thoroughly at over two hours.
Many of the best video game adaptations succeed in making it all a bit of a joke. I’ve already broadened the definition of the genre by quoting the absurd candy-colored animation from 2016 The Angry Birds Movie (Amazon Prime) like my favorite video game movie, but Rob Letterman’s Pokémon Detective Pikachu (Google Play) also embraces the company’s caffeinated, neon-soaked surrealism. Shameless riffing Who Framed Roger Rabbitits gumshoe investigative format brings a game element into the narrative.
Released in 2019, it was only the second live-action movie to be made from a Nintendo game, nearly three decades later. Super Mario Bros. (Amazon), which has aged better than people might have guessed in 1993, when its ancient, universe-split history, postmodern stacking of cultural landmarks, and chaotically imaginative design and production effects left people widely baffled. Today it’s more of a romp, though its perfectly cast star Bob Hoskins once described it as “a fucking nightmare.”
Even back then, however, it was a stark difference above other potential game-based blockbusters that came in its wake. street fighter (Amazon) has rather deftly attempted to shape its source material into another Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle: above average on that front, with bonus camp points for Kylie Minogue in military beret mode, but with to barely a nod to the distinctive action style of the game itself. One year later, mortal combat (Apple TV) served fans a bit better. Its fight scenes are well staged, honoring both gaming and vintage Hong Kong action cinema, though there’s a cheesy smell to it all, especially when game slogans such as ” Flawless victory!” turn into human dialogue.
Crucially, mortal combat was the creation of British director Paul WS Anderson, who became the genre’s defining author in collaboration with his wife and lead actress, Milla Jovovich. Their series of six resident Evil the films began as maligned as planned, before gradually building a critical following with their gonzo, grand-guignol action pieces and cringe-inducing commitment. Resident, Evil, Extinction (Now TV) is perhaps the craziest of them, and therefore the best. More recently, Anderson and Jovovich have turned their attention to self-explanatory play monster hunter (Now TV), with a similarly ornate world-building and happily meaningless writing.
The grave robber films – the first impetuously comical with Angelina Jolie – Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (both BBC iPlayer) – and the more recent, more low-key but simply compelling reboot starring Alicia Vikander, grave robber (Netflix) – also struck a happy medium between self-aware silliness and sincerely serious action. Lean too much towards the latter and you’ll be in trouble. In 2016, the optimistic title of Duncan Jones Warcraft: The Beginning (Apple TV) was scuppered as much by its lack of humor as by its ugly digital effects, while Australian arthouse director Justin Kurzel’s attempt to make Assassin’s Creed (Amazon) a solemn medieval fantasy epic with its macbeth Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard were an austere and hubristic disaster.
Some popular games come with too much baggage to thrill the screen: sometimes it’s better to create something new from a less iconic source, like last year’s small-scale horror comedy. Werewolves inside (Amazon). A quick and supple little B-movie filled with solid creepy jumps and macabre violence, you wouldn’t know it was based on a PlayStation VR game if you hadn’t been told. Perhaps that should be the bar that all video game movies aspire to.
Also new in streaming and DVD
Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s almost literally spellbinding adventure in the Colombian wilderness may find him far from home, but he’s still fully in his alluring, weird, and sultry element. As a Scottish outsider searching for the source of the strange sonic disturbances that may or may not be in her head, Tilda Swinton is perfectly on her director’s wavelength.
I Found Terence Davies’ Emily Dickinson Biopic A quiet passion disappointing things, but the life and work of Siegfried Sassoon draw his cinema towards a much more moving effect. Propelled by a magnificent lead turn by Jack Lowden, this portrait overflows with ideas and feelings, weaving lines of sexual, historical and poetic study into a rich whole.
After the British Film Institute’s Robert Bresson retrospective, this Blu-ray version of his latest film – restored from the original negative – finds his almost 40-year-old Tolstoy-inspired anti-capitalist parable in very good condition. Bresson’s ascetic, cut-to-the-bone storytelling style ages more gracefully than many of its flashier peers, while the film’s politics remain painfully relevant.
Focus Festival: Locarno
With a new edition of this Swiss film festival kicking off this week, Mubi recaps some offbeat highlights from last year’s program, including French director Emilie Aussel’s coming-of-age tale. Our eternal summer; dynamic thai animated short film focusing on mental health Gurgling!; and the witty revenge of Ghanaian director Kofi Ofosu-Yeboah Africa Public Toilets.