It’s been a banner year for nerds in Hollywood. Comic books hit the big screen all throughout the year, from the Dark Knight Rises, to the Avengers, even to the surpisingly decent Amazing Spider Man reboot. We had the genre mashup Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, then Ridley Scott fanboys (and girls) got Prometheus, and for all of the devotees of post-apocalyptic teen on teen violence, we got an amazing rendition of the Hunger Games.
At some times, it wasn’t that great. I commiserate with all of my fellow nerds that also suffered through Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. Apparently, there were also additional sequels Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and Underworld franchises that sadly refuse to die. Then there was the sleeper bombs of Dredd and John Carter.
So what does that give us? Comic books? Check. Golden Age Sci-Fi? Check? A sort of Alien prequel that wasn’t quite an Alien that I actually thought was really good, but no one agrees with me? Check? Presidential monster hunters? Check? Zombies and werewolves? Check. Video games? Check, and then some.
Wreck-It Ralph falls in this last category, and, for me, it promised to be the high point of video game inspired cinema for the year. Sadly, I was pretty disappointed. Here’s why.
The movie follows the story of video game antagonist with a heart of gold Wreck-It Ralph, voiced by John C. Reilly, an ostensible 8-bit Nintendo Era Donkey Kong stand in, who decides he wants to become a hero, like his video game Mario-type counterpart Fix-It Felix, Jr, voiced by Jack McBrayer. To do this, he embarks on a quest to become a hero, traveling to multiple video game worlds, which sort of exist behind the digital veil of an arcade, à la Monsters Inc. There he meets Halo-esque Sargeant Calhoun, voiced by Jane Lynch, and fellow lovable misfit Vanellope von Schweetz, voiced by Sarah Silverman. The characters make bad decisions, good decisions, make bad jokes, reach a climax, have a twist, and then save the day. It’s all pretty par for the course, as you would imagine from a Disney animated film.
Also, you could probably make a drinking game out of all of the big name character cameos.
Three things make this movie for me. Jane Lynch, the lead in animated short Paperman, and the sense of nostalgia and familiarity the movie easily evokes.
Jane Lynch really made this movie for me. As always, she gives you the best half-crazy, prone to violent outbursts, middle-aged lesbian that she never fails to portray. Maybe I just love Sue Sylvester, because she’s fantastic in that role, but in most films she plays in, her character tends to drift that way. So, it struck me as odd and a little forced when the love story emerged between her character, Master Chief….er Sargeant Calhoun, and Fix-it Felix.
The movie starts with an adorable short Paperman was fantastic. It’s an adorable little silent, black and white Pixar-esque love story, about two strangers that meet and fall in love on a train platform but are soon parted. Through some whimsical window gazing, and some pretty opinionated paper airplanes, the two reunite two in this heartwarming short by director John Kars. You can catch his breakdown of it here.
Lastly, the movie definitely tries to play to its strengths, and that’s the fact that is a gamer movie for gamers. It trots out a gallery of characters from the past 30 years of gaming. I mean, like everyone is in this movie. In total ignorance of good grammar, you get the following: M. Bison, Zangief, Ryu, Ken Tapper, Sonic, Clyde from Pac-man, Solid Snake, Sora, Princess Daisy, Dr. Robotnick, Chun-Li, Aeris, that dude from Joust, and so many more. It’s meant to be familiar, and it achieves this sort of wonder, by turning the background scenes in the movie into a nerdy treasure hunt.
Also, I didn’t know Sora was in it until today, and I’m really upset that I missed him. Grumble.
Notice how I only mentioned one of the four main characters above? That’s because they’re boring, kind of unrelatable, and totally out of sync with what makes the movie appealing.
A good portion of the movie is set in the fictional game Sugar Rush, which is like a Candyland version of Mario Kart. In Sugar Rush, the set of characters you can play changes daily, which is explained by some sort of internal race which occurs every night between the game characters. It just feels really detached from the setting that the movie started in, where as Wreck-It Ralph is a pretty clear metaphor for the original Donkey Kong-eque games of the 70’s and 80’s arcade era, and another game visited, Hero’s Duty, has the strong feel of Halo, Gears of War, or Mass Effect, this Sugar Rush feels out of place.
So, when it plays as the backdrop for at least half of the film, you lose the wonder of the character hunting that really engages you in the first scenes of the movie. In the end, the setting just feels extremely forced, and winds up really displaying the characters of Ralph, Felix, Vanellope, and Calhoun, as poorly constructed plot elements.
The movie tries to accomplish way too much. Without giving to much away, in the last ten minutes, there’s a “twist” climax that feels totally disjoint from the rest of the film, with a surprise villain, and the resolution of at least four, possibly five, plotlines. It’s busy, and a little predictable.
All in all, the movie wasn’t bad, but it also wasn’t great. I’d definitely save it for Netflix of a Blockbuster Express rental.
Oh, and if you figure out where Sora, tell me. I need him to explain some stuff to me. I'm still really confused about what happened to Riku.