The Review: Video games have evolved from a curiosity in a small black box controlling two lines and a small blob to photorealistic depictions of carnage and wanton destruction, an evolution that’s happened in barely two generations. With that evolution, a host of memorable characters have come and gone, then come again in sequels, living on in homes across the world. Once upon a time, in that first generation, the majority of those games could only be played in arcades by handing over small change for 8-bit thrills, where now the arcades are almost as forgotten as the games that we played in them, at least in this country. But they do still exist, and imagine if you will an arcade where simple but classic gameplay is enough to keep you plugged in while other lesser games get taken off to that big arcade in the sky. Would the characters in those games be fulfilled with their lot after thirty years of cycling through the same repetitive actions, or would they long to break their programming – especially the bad guys?
Wreck-It Ralph takes the world of video games and applies a similar logic to that of Toy Story, even though Ralph has been in development in some form since the days when 8-bit was still the standard, rather than retro chic. It’s a world where good and bad are cast in stone in the world we see, but when we’re not looking those collections of pixels can travel down the power cables and visit each other’s worlds. Ralph (John C. Reilly) would be happy in his own game if he got a little more recognition for his work as a wrecker, rather than being forced to spend the night on the garbage heap of bricks while Fix-It Felix and the other game characters spend their nights in comfort and Felix gets all the adulation. Despite the Bad-Anon group of bad guys attempting to tell him he’s a Bad Guy, not a bad guy, Ralph can’t shake the feeling that he’s really capable of more, and sets off to the Hero’s Duty and Sugar Rush games to try to find his purpose. In Sugar Rush he encounters outcast Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), but Ralph’s adventures might have dire consequences for both his game and the others.
Where Wreck-It Ralph struggles compared to the likes of Toy Story is in the simplicity of its conceit. On the surface it’s just “video games come to life” instead of toys, but this is a world with more boundaries and where more rules need to be created to engineer jeopardy for the characters. While the set-up is initially complicated, it’s eased by the front-loading of characters from real-life video games – you know what I mean – so that the majority of the running time is actually focused on those characters invented for the film itself. The two leads, Reilly and Silverman, are both great, continuing a long standing Disney (and Pixar) tradition of good voice casting, and they’re rounded out by a diverse supporting roster which features the likes of Jane Lynch – admittedly delivering the same sort of patter that will be familiar to fans of her Sue Sylvester from Glee, except with slightly less offensiveness – and Alan Tudyk as the king of the Sugar Rush world, seemingly channelling Uncle Albert from Mary Poppins. But a spoonful of oddness helps this medicine go down quite nicely, and the cameos never serve as too much of a distraction; if youngsters have for some reason never heard of Pac-Man or Q-Bert, they should still get the joke.
Where Wreck-It Ralph succeeds in spades is in almost every other aspect. Once you get over the slightly complex rules of the world in which we’re set, then the story works splendidly, with satisfying twists and turns in the narrative which still allow those of all ages to keep up. Ralph’s dilemmas, about his behaviour and his perception to others, are easily to relate to and there’s a good gender balance once Vanellope is thrown into the mix too. Toy Story proves another good reference point, for while I wasn’t brought to actual tears as the second and third Pixar efforts from that series managed, I was still quietly emotional by the action-packed climax and Ralph overall will satisfy both parents and children alike. There was at one point talk of a Sims-like world visit, but it was jettisoned for both narrative and logical reasons, and that care and attention to the through line and the characters will help you warm to Ralph, Felix and their friends greatly. There’s talk of using Mario for the sequel; let’s hope that it’s not game over for these characters for a while yet.
Why see it at the cinema: It’s a riot of colour and sound and the wideness of the cinema screen will allow you spot all of the minor cameos from lesser video game characters. Plenty of laughs for the whole family will also work better with a big audience.
Why see it in 3D: The 3D is just an add-on, and doesn’t really add a huge amount, but apart from the normal issues around brightness and glasses, doesn’t really detract much either. Take your pick.
What about the rating: Rated PG for mild violence. That’s a fair enough rating, given that it’s effectively excluding only the youngest of children.
My cinema experience: Saw this at the Cineworld in Bury St. Edmunds at an early evening screening on a Saturday; consequently it wasn’t full to bursting by any means. This enabled me to get a fairly central seat (ideal for 3D to minimise the ghosting effect), and a generally well behaved audience saw a screening with no noticeable projection issues, other than it being in 3D. The one point of note was that, after a week of being told my old Unlimited card would no longer work in their machines, I got both a ticket and my evening meal of choice (large hot dog combo and a small Ben & Jerry’s – dinner of champions) by swiping the card with no problems at all.
The Corridor Of Uncertainty: A tidy twenty minutes of ads and trailers. Just right to keep kids of all ages happy.
The Score: 8/10
The Review: Movies based on video games are almost invariably bad movies. From the spectacularly awful Super Mario Bros. onwards, the genre (if it deserves such a grand title) has thrown out bad movie after bad movie, so it would take a brave soul to invest major summer movie money in a video game adaptation. On paper, this had two things going for it – it’s based on one of the best games from a series of really good games, and it’s a Jerry Bruckheimer production, which normally ensures at least some level of quality threshold.
But there’s something else in common with most video game movies – any of the best bits in most of the not completely terrible ones do have that feeling of watching someone else play a video game, in that it would be more fun to be controlling the action than watching someone else do it. As video games themselves have become more cinematic over the past ten years, you could reasonably hope that adaptations would also improve, and to a certain extent that’s true here. If anything, the biggest single failing here is of the movie to use the video game power effectively – the rewinds thanks to the sand offer less here than they did in the original game, and somehow feel less mythical.
There is good stuff here if you’re patient, but it’s mixed in with some not so good. Jake Gyllenhall was an unlikely choice for the titular prince, but brings a flawless English accent when, after movies like Robin Hood, people may not have complained if he’d stuck with his own, and he has also acquired the appropriate physical stature. Gemma Arterton, sadly, fares less well; she gets some good lines, although oddly her accent is less convincing than Gyllenhall’s in some places, and she doesn’t have the same sense of fun that she’s managed to bring to some of her other movies. That’s left to Alfred Molina, who is comic relief to such an extent that he appears to be in almost an entirely different film, but one that while not necessarily better, may at least be more fun. Ben Kingsley delivers a rent-a-baddie and manages to be clichéd without being scenery-chewing, when neither or both may have again served better. The script is the most variable, keeping things moving along nicely with the occasional surprise, but sometimes featuring exposition so heavy you can almost see the bottom of the screen sagging under the weight.
Going in, you’d hope that the movie might evoke comparisons to Pirates of the Caribbean or an Indiana Jones movie; instead the level is more Romancing the Stone and its desert based sequel, The Jewel of the Nile, with the main characters bickering their way through a sort of road movie adventure. This is the best video game adaptation yet brought to film, and that is damning with faint praise, but the action scenes are all well realised (to the extent where I’d almost like to see what Newell could do with a Bond movie) and there is more fun and adventure than many failed summer efforts, just not enough to make this more than a passing entertainment. If only Bruckheimer had a real Sands of Time dagger, he may have been able to rewind enough to tweak this to greatness.
Why see it at the cinema: It does deliver on scale and spectacle, and thankfully escaped a fate worse than box-office death (a 3D conversion).
The Score: 6/10