The phrase “This movie is like a video game” has become derogatory in the world of film criticism, but just because nine out of nine-and-a-half movies based on video games suck, that doesn’t mean such comparisons between media are fair.
Would anyone say that a painting sucks because it’s just like a sculpture? Parsing lazy disparagements aside, game movies are largely terrible, with a (very) few notable exceptions.
Here are some of the worst of the worst video game movie adaptations, and a few comparative gems.
The Worst Movies Based on Video Games:Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li (2009): A target rich environment in terms of game movie criticism. Picking just one item: a simple character name change and this movie would be unrecognizable as a part of the Street Fighter franchise. Naming the female lead “Chun-Li” doesn’t make her Chun-Li, just as labeling a bag of crack cocaine as ‘baby food’ doesn’t make that true either.
Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997): "Mortal Kombat: Annihilation", the ultimate filmatic cash-in, took everything that was great about the first movie, ripped its heart out and held it aloft to the horror of its fans. Cast changes, special effects sequences instead of physical fights and the shoehorning-in of useless characters like Nightwolf and Ermac made "Annihilation" foretold the decline of the core franchise.
Hitman (2007): While not necessarily bad, this bland and inoffensive story about a hired killer in film budget-friendly Eastern Europe is hurt most by its faithful recreation of the game’s star. A six-foot plus tall bald man with a barcode tattooed on the back of his head doesn’t feel out of place in the game, where a player is going to project him or herself in that role anyway. Seeing a shaved Timothy Olyphant dressed up as Agent 47 and having the character somehow manage to blend into a world where he looks like someone you shouldn’t just be waving through security crosses the border from ridiculous to unnatural.
Doom (2005): For everything the "Doom" movie got right: Mars, space marines…and, well, that’s it, there are at least half dozen things it got wrong. Like bothering to conceive of and spend screen time explaining the science behind the berserk-power up, casting Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as anyone other than the hero and the bright idea behind that whole first person sequence, which turned out to be as fun as watching someone else play which, of course, is no fun at all.
Wing Commander (1999): A game movie directed by the game’s creator? What could possibly go wrong? How about: everything. This adaptation of the legendary space fighter sim gets its own continuity so wrong it’s a surprise that it’s not a western.
The Best Movies Based on Video Games:
Street Fighter II: the Animated Movie (1994): Animation does a good job at hiding some of the most common elements of gaming that are just plain ridiculous when depicted in reality. For example: that the right combination of yelling and flexing will allow one to shoot blue fire from their hands. The animated "Street Fighter II" movie capably tells the game’s ‘story’ from default hero Ryu’s perspective while keeping intact the fluidity, obscene musculature and supernatural attacks necessary for a faithful adaptation of the game. Without picking a side in the sub/dub debate, go ahead and trade the gratuitous, but not at all unwelcome, Chun-Li shower scene in the original Japanese version for the Western edit’s superior mid-nineties rock soundtrack.
Mortal Kombat (1995): Before the franchise succumbed to bloat born out of its own success, the "Mortal Kombat" movie showed what could be done with a game property when you respect its mythology, get a good cast, an even better fight choreographer and know when to risk offending a few fans by editing characters back rather than trying to shoehorn everything in from the game.
Mega Man (2010): Sometimes it’s not the faithfulness, the special effects, the big stars or a mammoth marketing campaign that makes a great video game movie. Sometimes it’s just the passion of a game’s fans. The "Mega Man" fan film was financed by debt and donations, doomed never to make a profit thanks to its unlicensed, but tolerated, relationship with Capcom.
Resident Evil (2002): Displacing a fan favorite lead character from the S.T.A.R.ing role in their own franchise with a Mary Sue should instantly doom any movie to ignominy, and for the large part, Milla Jovovich’s Alice is and does just that. However, the original "Resident Evil" movie pulls it out in the end with some terrific zombie drama, the instant classic ‘laser hallway’ sequence and the right amount of R rated sex and violence, the latter quite more than the former, that video games still can’t get away with without a special report on news at 11.
Final Fantasy VII Advent Children (2005): Look past the seemingly endless scenes of characters staring off into the middle distance, and the fact that the movie's villains are a trio of second string joke characters, and you have a beautifully rendered film that was everything that "Final Fantasy: the Spirits Within" wasn’t. More stunning than the action, when it finally gets going, is the idea behind the film, one that asks the question: ‘what do we do now that we’ve saved the world?’ As incomprehensible as it is to franchise newcomers, "Advent Children" rewards the legions of "Final Fantasy VII" fans for whom "The End" wasn’t enough. The "Complete" edition released on Blu-ray is worth the re-purchase; the new cut, with nearly half an hour of scenes added, doesn't just make the movie make much more sense to fans and newbies alike, but extends the already amazing action sequences, too.
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