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Streaming: the best video game adaptations | Movies

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The humble video game movie tends to get it from all sides. Critics turn their noses up and game nerds are often just as hard to please, albeit on very different points of principle. Children are arguably the most forgiving target audience for the video game movie, which is why the late Sonic the hedgehog movie franchise has done well to target them entirely.

Now out on DVD and streaming, Sonic the hedgehog 2 replicates the first film’s garish formula of mildly ironic in-jokery, chase-heavy action embellished with garish, primary color CGI and industrial power hamming by Jim Carrey as Sonic’s nemesis, Dr. Robotnik. It gets the job done, maybe a little too thorough at over two hours in length.

Many of the best video game adaptations succeed by making fun of it. I previously stretched the definition of the genre by quoting the candy-colored nonsense animation of 2016 The Angry Birds movie (Amazon Prime) as my favorite video game movie, but Rob Letterman’s Pokemon Detective Pikachu (Google Play) also embraces the company’s caffeinated, neon-soaked surrealism. Shamelessly running away Who framed Roger Rabbit?the gumshoe research format brings an element of gameplay into the story.

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), who aged better in 1993 than people might have guessed, when its antique, split-universe narrative, postmodern accumulation of cultural reference points, and chaotically imaginative production design and effects left people largely baffled. Today it’s quite a romp, even though the perfectly cast star, Bob Hoskins, once described it as “a fucking nightmare”.

Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo in Super Mario Bros. (1993).
Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo in the ‘postmodern pileup’ of Super Mario Bros (1993). Shutterstock

Even at that time, however, it was clearly above the other gaming-based potential blockbusters produced in its wake. street fighter (Amazon) has rather cunningly tried to reshape the source material into just another Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle: above average on that front, with bonus camp points for Kylie Minogue in military beret-wearing kicks mode, but with barely a nod to the signature action style of the game itself. A year later, Mortal Kombat (Apple TV) served fans a little better. The fight scenes are well staged, honoring both the game and the vintage Hong Kong action cinema, although there is a touch of cheese in it, not least when game slogans like “Flawless Victory!” are converted into a human dialogue.

crucial, Mortal Kombat was the work of British director Paul WS Anderson, who, along with his wife and lead actress Milla Jovovich, has become the defining author of this genre. Their series of six Resident Evil movies started out predictably maligned, before gradually building a critical following with their gonzo, grand-guignol action set pieces and clenched stakes. Resident Evil: Extinction (Now TV) is perhaps the most demented of them, and therefore the best. Most recently, Anderson and Jovovich turned their attention to the self-explanatory game Monster Hunter (Now TV), with an equally graceful world structure and cheerfully empty-headed writing.

Angelina Jolie in Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003).
Angelina Jolie in Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003). Rex Features

The Tomb Raider movies – the first, brash comic book-like with Angelina Jolie – Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (both BBC iPlayer) – and the more recent, more understated but clearly immersive reboot starring Alicia Vikander, Tomb Raider (Netflix) – also hit a sweet spot between self-conscious silliness and seriously serious action. Lean too far towards the latter and you’ll be in trouble. In 2016, Duncan Jones’ optimistic title Warcraft: the beginning (Apple TV) was plagued as much by its lack of humor as its ugly digital effects, while Australian arthouse director Justin Kurzel’s attempt to Assassin’s Creed (Amazon) a solemn medieval fantasy epic with its Macbeth stars Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard was a harsh, overconfident disaster.

Some popular games just have too much baggage to captivate on screen: sometimes it’s better to make something new from a less iconic source, like last year’s small-scale comedy horror Werewolves inside (Amazon). A fast paced, nimble little B-movie packed with firm jump scares and uncanny 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 aim for.

Also new on streaming and DVD

Tilda Swinton in Memoria.
Tilda Swinton in Memoria. © Kick the Machine Movies

Memories
(Sovereign)
Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s almost literally mesmerizing venture into the Colombian wilderness may not find him at home, but he’s still completely in his seductively strange, sensual element. As a Scottish outsider looking for the source of the eerie sonic distortions that may or may not be in her head, Tilda Swinton is perfectly on her director’s wavelength.

blessing
(Fear of heights)
I found the Emily Dickinson biopic of Terence Davies A silent passion disappointing things, but the life and work of Siegfried Sassoon gives his filmmaking a much touching effect. Driven by a magnificent lead turn by Jack Lowden, this portrait brims with ideas and feeling, interweaving sexual, historical and poetic lines of inquiry into a rich whole.

L’Argent
(BFI)
Following on from the British Film Institute’s Robert Bresson retrospective, this Blu-ray release of his latest film – restored from the original negative – finds its nearly 40-year-old Tolstoy-inspired anti-capitalist parable in very good name indeed. . Bresson’s ascetic, sober narrative style ages more elegantly than many of his flashier peers, while the film’s politics remain painfully relevant.

Festival focus: Locarno
(Mubi)
With a new edition of this Swiss film festival kicking off this week, Mubi rounds out some unusual highlights from last year’s program, including French director Emilie Aussel’s woozily seasonal, tragedy-brushed coming-of-age story. Our eternal summer; Vibrant Mental Health Thai Animated Short Film squis!; and the witty revenge ride of Ghanaian director Kofi Ofosu-Yeboah Public toilet Africa.

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