With Pokemon: Detective Pikachu just weeks away, you have to wonder if the film is an exception to the rule about video game movies. It hasn’t exactly been easy for filmmakers to create a well received gaming movie. The movies generally tend to either stray too far from the source material, like Super Mario Bros., or expect the audience already knows the rules of the world, like Assassin’s Creed. I personally enjoyed both of those films, but it is no secret that the general consensus is a thumbs down.
There is definitely an audience for game-based films, as made painfully evident by the six film Resident Evil franchise. The question is, why is it so hard to encapsulate the story of these games into a feature length film? Video games give players the ability to immerse themselves in an experience. Whether you’re raiding tombs or street fighting, you are the one going on this adventure. The characters often represent us as our avatars. When the immersion aspect is stripped away you end up with a mess of fan service and no direction.
The issue may just be that filmmakers often attempt to capture the full picture of the story. The Tomb Raider films, starring Angelina Jolie, actually took the smaller story approach to the project. They sought out to tell one specific story, at a time, and it just so happens to be our main character doing what she does best in the games. Despite these films being not-so-great in the writing department, a mistake often made is trying to make a film more than just a story in that universe.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are films that rely solely on a game’s rich character pool, while letting a plot with meaning fall to the wayside. For example, Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat: Annihilation are two films that have little to no depth in plot. There is a tournament of fighters and that is about it. Sure, each fighter has their little shtick, but there is not much in the way of character arcs. Focusing on the story of one specific character’s journey, both inward and out, can create a much more rich script than just showing cool fights in crazy locations. As awesome as some of the Mortal Kombat movie fights are, it just lacks the essence of a real movie. One video game film to do this tournament angle right was the movie Tekken. Unfortunately for the makers of this film, the character likability and acting performances were near non-existent. The overall focus of the plot, however, was well executed. It followed Jin Kazama’s journey from slum life to stardom in the King of Iron Fist tournament. Characters made their cameos as opponents or simply in glimpses of fights happening while the main character was pursuing his storyline elsewhere.
While not a video game film, Solo: A Star Wars Story was rejected by many because people feel like we just do not need more movies about the characters we already know. Fans want new stories that are not less developed copies of the source they’ve already consumed. This is not to say that an exact recreation cannot be done well. For evidence of that watch Allan Ungar’s Uncharted: Live Action Fan Film starring Nathan Fillion. These types of spot on adaptations come so few and far in between because experienced and interesting writers tend to shy away from video game projects. They carry a nasty stigma. This cycle continues the pattern of not-so-great films.
So, what is the right move? Pokemon: Detective Pikachu has decided to take a smaller, more manageable, story within the world of Pokemon and craft it into a film. They could have easily tried to capture the full Red story of becoming a Pokemon Master, but why try to squeeze a thirty plus hour game into one cohesive story. Not every film has the benefit of rolling their story out over the course of two or three films. They decided to take a pre-existing, smaller, game in the franchise and allow that to be Hollywood’s introduction to the world of Pokemon. Another thing many video game movies do is take their own concepts too seriously. Rampage took a game about monsters destroying buildings for points and turned it into a high stakes love story between a giant albino gorilla and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Check out the 2nd trailer for the film:
There are a handful of gaming movies that I have not seen, so I can’t pass judgement on Mark Wahlburg’s Max Payne or Warcraft starring Paula Patton. These films, however, seem to fit into the category of not enough effort being placed into the development team to make it interesting to casual, non-gaming moviegoers. Pokemon: Detective Pikachu seems to be fully embracing the silliness of the property while not trying to explain the entirety of the game too much. They even brought Ryan Reynolds in fresh off of his Deadpool fame resurgence as Hollywood’s new funny man. Chris Pratt is probably heated about that. It looks to be the type of film that someone with little to no Pokemon knowledge can enjoy while understanding it is just a weird world with little monster pets. If nothing else, the new trailer has freaking MewTwo in it so don’t be a square and go support video game movies. Maybe it will set a trend and we will get better ones as time goes by.
For anyone unfamiliar with the Pokemon franchise and series, Pokemon Origins is a great show to check out. If the super long, hundred and something episodes of the normal Pokemon show intimidate you, this is for you. The shows touches on the major aspects of the video games while staying as close to the source material as possible. Pokemon: The First Movie is also an extremely classic film that really takes the original show to the next level. MewTwo was out there killing dudes.
Do you think Pokemon: Detective Pikachu can break the video game movie curse? What video game would you like to see turned into a movie?