Sunday, November 4, 2012

Wreck-It Ralph - A Video Game Movie That's Actually Good

In your lifetime, I'm pretty sure that at one point or another you've heard the phrase "all video game movies suck" or some variation thereof. While there are some that have genuinely tried to be a good movie, they have still all fallen under this umbrella term in some fashion. Since I saw the first trailer for Wreck-It Ralph however, it seemed like it would be the one video game-based movie to finally break the mold. Upon viewing it, I feel like this has come true, thanks mainly in part to taking the video game movie in a brand new direction.

Wreck-It Ralph, the bad guy for the video game Fix-It Felix, Jr., has started to grow tired of his job in the video game. Every day for the past 30 years he's had to wreck a single building over and over so that Felix can fix it, only for the tenants to throw him off the roof once he's finished. Despite that it's been his job, he never gets any appreciation for it, since the characters of the game only see him as a villain and nothing else with no regard for his feelings, and is even left out of the party in his game to celebrate the 30 years his cabinet has been in the arcade. Wishing for a change, and some recognition of his hard work, Ralph leaves his game in pursuit of a medal, jumping to the FPS Hero's Duty and the anime-inspired kart racer Sugar Rush in the process. However, he goes through with this plan with blatant disregard for the dire consequences of his actions, including the possible termination of both him and his game.

Leaving the game for another is known as "Going Turbo," which has a spoileriffic explanation that I won't go into (though the capitalization is important), and serves as a constant source of drama in the film. It handles this well and actually makes certain moments, like those much closer to the end, have more tension and add weight to some of the characters' actions, especially when we learn that death outside of your own game means that you can no longer regenerate. While the movie knows how to be dramatic, it should be given equal credit for its humor. There are moments where the movie gets really clever about its arcade setting and uses that to its advantage to get a laugh. I can't really say if there is a character that is particularly funny, since the main cast all get in a few good jokes from time to time to break the otherwise serious tone of some scenes. But the placement of these jokes is precise enough to not get in the way of the true emotions we are supposed to feel (which we do).

What this movie will perhaps be best known for however is the sheer number of references to video games, including a number of cameos from licensed characters. There are way too many to list in one review, but in the opening Bad Anon meeting, where video game villains help each other come to terms with their roles as bad guys in their respective games, alone we have M. Bison, Dr. Robotnik, Kano, Smoke, Bowser, Clyde (the orange ghost from Pac-Man), a House of the Dead zombie and Zangief (he's not really a villain but it still works). I could easily see people flocking to this movie just for the cameos alone, but then they'd be missing out on what is actually a very well-written story. In any case, the cameos and shout outs are numerous to the point where you'd probably have to buy the DVD/Blu-ray so you can pause it and take a good hard look at any scene. Some of these references are also used for humor, including the setting of Tapper/Root Beer Tapper, an exclamation point from Metal Gear Solid and the Konami Code (won't spoil the context of that one). Again these references don't really take anything away from the setting, but rather make it more believable.

Setting the movie inside an arcade to tell the story from the viewpoint of the characters is actually a smart route to go with the genre. It gives us the idea that the denizens of the arcade all lead lives of their own after hours. They are able to leave their games for Game Central Station, which will change how you look at power strips for a while, where they can either hang out or go to other games for different purposes. If they need to go to a Bad Anon meeting, they'll go to Pac-Man. If they wish to unwind, they'll go to Tapper for a drink. In this way it is the video game equivalent of Toy Story, which is likely what influenced how the world was set up (not that it's a bad thing). While Tron and Tron: Legacy also take place inside a virtual world, a computer network or "The Grid" in their case, Wreck-It Ralph actually goes the extra mile to show how these changes in the virtual world affect how the games are seen in the real world, such as the absence of Ralph causing his sprite to not display in Fix-It Felix, Jr. and break the game.

What helps sell the rather unique setting are the visuals. The graphics of each video game are faithful recreations of the different graphical styles of the games, which also translates well to their 3D counterparts. Games that are already in 3D like Hero's Duty are of course more consistent, but games like Fix-It Felix, Jr. will have polygons in their 3D models that still imply the pixels used in the arcade screen. Characters will also move just like their respective games, like the building tenants in Fix-It Felix, Jr. having jerkier movements and Clyde from Pac-Man moving in straight lines even when idle. It is this attention to detail, including scale, that shows that the animators really did their homework.

Then there's the voice acting, which is not only pretty faithful for some existing characters, but also good picks for the main cast. John C. Reilly matches the appearance of Wreck-It Ralph and brings out the best emotions in him. Jack McBrayer, who some may recognize as Kenneth from NBC's 30 Rock, voices Fix-It Felix, Jr. in a way that his voice doesn't get tiring and brings a certain excitement to the role of the hero. Jane Lynch is also good as Sergeant Calhoun from Hero's Duty, letting us believe her programmed tragic back story. The most surprising voice though would have to be Sarah Silverman as Vanellope von Schweetz from Sugar Rush, thanks to her career as a shock comedian. She sells a tragic character very well and helps us feel sympathetic, but her other work will definitely be too much for young children should they discover it (and that's all I have to say about that).

As a video game movie, Wreck-It Ralph really goes above and beyond the norm and becomes a movie of this genre that is actually good. Attention to detail, believable characters and a really good plot twist near the end are what helps this one stand apart from the rest. I can't really think of anything wrong with it (not just because it's Disney) and found myself having a really good time. Knowing the video game references certainly helps the entertainment value, but you don't have to know a lot of them in order to really enjoy the story. I'd recommend it, but if you're concerned about dark imagery, as this movie contains closer to the end, then weigh your options depending on how young your child is (unless you know they can handle it).

No comments:

Post a Comment