The early reviews are in for the Max Payne movie, and judging by the average score, it looks like the constipated look for which the game character is known was a sign of developer clairvoyance. As of this writing, the average Metacritic score for Max Payne the movie is 58 percent. In game-review terms, that’s well below average. In classroom terms, Max Payne is flunking out of the theater.
It’s a bad sign when the best review so far, from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, not only scores the film a 67 percent, but says the Max Payne movie is “a dumb film with a great conceptual hook from a director who visualizes better than he dramatizes.” Talk about a back-handed compliment. That’s like saying John McCain could make history by being the oldest President to take office if he wins next month’s election. Yeah, like that’s how he’d want to be remembered….
When you delve deeper into the reviews, however, one element stands out more than the bad scores: mainstream movie critics don’t appear to know the source material. On more than one occasion, Max Payne critics deride the film for trying to “out-Matrix the Matrix” with bullet time and slow-motion effects. The thing is, Max Payne released for the Xbox and PlayStation 2 on December 11, 2001, two years after the theatrical release of The Matrix, and was the first game to really do bullet-time right. When Max Payne released on the consoles, its slow-motion sequences were clearly influenced by The Matrix, but not once did game critics bash Rockstar’s game for its use of bullet-time as a gameplay mechanic. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery, right?
Not necessarily. Had The Matrix been a single film, Max Payne wouldn’t be perceived nearly as big of a “me too” as it’s currently being labeled. But The Matrix was a trilogy, had animated spinoffs and brought the Wachowski brothers more fame and fortune than they arguably deserved. By the end of the third film, moviegoers’ affinity for The Matrix had run its course, with even John Woo’s unrelated action films feeling a bit of the malaise. So to see Max Payne, five years after the last Matrix film, hit theaters using what appears to be the “same old shtick,” critics were bound to raise a few eyebrows.
The thing is, they’re missing the point.
Max Payne may not be a good film, even if Uwe Boll didn’t touch it with his 10-foot poopstick. Mark Wahlberg, Beau Bridges and Chris O’Donnell may not be able to save a weak story, even if they are big-name actors. If that’s all the critics were panning, so be it. But to call out Max Payne for using “old” ideas (bullet time) and chastising it accordingly shows that those critics didn’t do their homework with regard to the source material. The Chronicles of Narnia have been compared to Biblical stories; that didn’t stop the first film from averaging a 75 percent on Metacritic. The Lord of the Rings trilogy was essentially a Cliff’s Notes version of JRR Tolkein’s epics, and Return of the King walked away with an Oscar. Does a film need to be original to be successful? Clearly not.
But Max Payne was original in the gaming world, and the critics don’t seem to understand that. The fact that its movie adaptation has happened so late is unfortunate. Timing is everything, especially in Hollywood, and this one’s timed horribly. But not once does a critic mention that the source material inspired the use of bullet time, nor does a critic discuss the influence Max Payne has had on the game industry since its release.
In fact, one of the few game references is actually a downright insult, courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter, which describes Max Payne the movie as “a banal revenge melodrama-cum-detective story, but fans of the video game on which it is based should not be alarmed.” So now all video games have banal plots? Really? Way to show respect for a fellow entertainment industry.
The Hollywood Reporter goes on to backhand gamers on several other occasions, but this article isn’t meant to defend gamers or gaming. Instead, it’s a request that the next time a film based on a videogame hits theaters, that the movie studio release a one-sheet about the game’s industry impact and, better yet, that the critics do their own research on the source material before reviewing the film. The game industry has a hard enough time shedding its redheaded-stepchild status in Hollywood without critics bashing a game-based film for its “lack” of originality or failing to refer to the game’s influence even if it stinks as a movie.
Critics may “get” that Uwe Boll can’t seem to direct his way out of a toilet paper roll, but they clearly don’t understand that games have as large an influence on today’s youth as literature and television. Even if a game-based movie stinks, it’s time for movie critics to at least feign interest in games as an influential medium and, yes, an art form.
— Jonas Allen