[Welcome back to the Evolution of Video Game Movies series. Every week, I will be moving forward through time, starting with the earliest and ending with the most recent of video game movies. I will be detailing the histories of the games and how the films came about, and both my and fan reaction to the adaptations. Practically all of my background information is either common knowledge or from Wikipedia. So without further ado, let's move on to the next film on the list.]
The game was first released in 2001 as a third-person shooter. The game is known for its noir and comic book elements, Norse mythology connections, and its heavy use of bullet-time action and Hong Kong cinema style. Max Payne is a former detective and fugitive DEA agent whose family were recently killed. They were connected to a case involving a drug called Valkyr, so he goes undercover in the mob to find out who was responsible and will kill anyone who gets in his way. (And why go into more details because, honestly, do any of you actually read this?)
I've never played the games, so I can't say how close the film came to them. From what I heard, it strays pretty drastically, despite being similar on the surface. So I know something went wrong somewhere... so let's see, exactly, where that was.
The strongest aspect of the movie is definitely its visuals. This film is pretty damn gorgeous. The overall aesthetic is fantastic. Even the CGI is great. But... unfortunately, that's about where it all ends.
First you have the really strange choice of actors. Mark Wahlberg can be good in certain films, particularly if he has to act over-the-top or comical, but here--as he's playing it straight and serious--he's just bland. And then there's the casting of Mila Kunis as the film's femme fatale... which is just bizarre. I can't for one second believe her as this character, and it's just so beyond a bad and strange casting decision. Chris "Ludacris" Bridges is also in the film, though I always end up liking him and thought he did well.
The worst thing is that the film breaks the cardinal rule of cinema... and it's just plain boring. There's zero action for basically the entire first hour of the movie, so we're left with Wahlberg and Kunis to carry the film on their charisma (which, of course, neither have here). It's also slightly confusing as not much is explained and characters just show up for no reason as plot devices. And just what exactly Mila Kunis is isn't explained, either (though she's apparently an assassin... a fact I seemingly had to look up the first time I watched this, as well). And there's no suspense or emotion anywhere as you can't connect with any character. Actually, there's a brief 1-2 minute scene where they talk to this tattoo parlor guy, and he was cool just knowing random shit about Norse Mythology (even had a book lying around). I would rather have seen a whole movie following him.
And then the action itself wasn't all that exciting. The games apparently are very much inspired by the likes of the Wachowskis and John Woo and put an emphasis on bullet time and slo-mo. There's definitely some of that here, but it's done so... awkwardly. I read somewhere else where someone said that it was almost more of a parody of bullet time, and that's definitely true. There's a sequence (one that I even remembered from the theatrical viewing) where Max bends over backwards to shoot a guy behind a railing behind him. Just to fire one bullet and shoot this guy takes roughly 45-50 seconds. It's freakin' ridiculous and almost comical in its execution. Otherwise, there's really not much action in this film based on a stylized action game, and when there is... it's pretty dull. Actually, the closing credits almost have more action than the rest of the film as it's just CGI guns shooting for a minute or two.
Speaking of the credits, the movie just kinda ends. There's no real denouement. It's just over. So you sit through what is a very pretty movie, but for no real good reason besides that. The story is dull. The action is dull (and sometimes so stupid it's funny). The casting is way off. I haven't played the game, like I said, but I can imagine why fans were disappointed. I thought it was entertaining when I saw it in theater (with the exception of that ridiculous 1-minute slo-mo gunshot). But on this second viewing, I have no idea what I was thinking. I actually went back and looked at my original review, and it's interesting that I basically felt the exact same way this time, but with stronger emotions that led me to disliking it much more. Anyway, I think "pretty/boring" sums it up well.
Feed Me, Seymour!