There was a similar problem with the Michael Fassbender-led Assassin’s Creed movie, another big-budget swing that treated its inspiration with respect yet, despite the considerable creative and financial input of Ubisoft, still struggled to fashion an enjoyable film out of it all. (Fassbender is married to Vikander and one wonders if they compared notes on their day jobs leading potential gaming blockbuster franchises over dinner or a two-player game of Arms.) While hardly a box office disaster, the tepid response to Tomb Raider suggests a straight-up sequel is unlikely. The next film-maker to tackle Lara could even make a convincing argument they be allowed more creative leeway rather than sticking to a template laid down by the current game.
Next up is Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, a futuristic Easter egg hunt crammed with knowing cultural Easter eggs that – in one of its more successful jokes – is actually coming out at Easter. While it may be based on Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel, Ready Player One is a film that desperately wants to speak the language of gamers, from that title down. To give Spielberg his due – remember, this is the man who brought us Boom Blox – he has overseen an extravagant chase movie that doubles as a staggeringly expensive advert for VR. Games and gaming culture are given equal prominence alongside movies, music and TV in Ready Player One’s brimming pop-culture gumbo. There are prominent shoutouts for GoldenEye on the N64, a scene-stealing cameo from Mortal Kombat’s grumpy Goro plus excellent background crowd work from Street Fighter characters and any number of Halo Spartans. Most of these gaming nods are in addition to the ones mentioned in the book and while Spielberg probably delegated some of the specifics – or maybe he really is a Tracer main when playing Overwatch? – it seems obvious he wanted players to feel like they were a crucial part of Ready Player One’s epic fizzing-neon sweep, even if the end result feels a little shapeless.
Then, in early April, comes a stealth video game movie, a brawny throwback to those simpler times when film producers would snap up a licence and then proceed to make any old tat. Rampage is based on the 1980s Bally Midway classic but the pre-release messaging has focused more on Dwayne Johnson’s furry bromance with a giant silverback albino gorilla than the movie’s dusty arcade cabinet origins. In fairness, the movie seems to have retained the classic city-smashing trio of a giant ape, a giant wolf and a giant lizard but otherwise this is just an excuse for The Rock to be a big uncomplicated hero while skyscrapers fall to bits around him. Dwayne has previous when it comes to game movies, of course: one of his first big non-wrestling roles was in the lacklustre Doom in 2005. His charisma has only ballooned since then so if Rampage is a substantive hit perhaps he will be able to get some more Bally Midway arcade classics off the ground, like that Spy Hunter movie he was supposedly attached to for years.
So, three gaming movies in the space of a month: one already judged to have underperformed, one a bit sprawling but likely to be a blockbuster success and one featuring The Rock quizzically cocking an eyebrow at a giant mutant lizard. Perhaps the arrival of that first great video game movie remains somewhere over the horizon but there is still something quite cheering that producers are trying to make it happen. And since the bad old days of the Super Mario Bros movie, it feels like mainstream audiences find the language, rhythms and seemingly arcane rituals of gaming far less intimidating: just look at the global sleeper success of Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, a movie entirely constructed around video game logic. It feels like a corner is about to be turned, that there’s a summit ready to be belatedly crested, a final step toward validation that could banish the spectre of Uwe Boll forever. Only a fool would predict what might finally tip the balance, but there’s a Sonic The Hedgehog movie scheduled for 2019. Convince Dwayne Johnson to star in it and we might have finally cracked it.
The 10 most popular stories of the day, delivered at 5pm UK time. Never miss a thing.