At long last, Detective Pikachu hits our theatres this weekend, and along with all the anticipation it carries with it a pretty significant badge of honor…
As of this writing, Detective Pikachu holds a 64% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. (That’s from critics, mind you; the audience score is 86%). While that might not seem like the biggest Fresh take, it’s significant in that it’s still the highest critics rating ever for a movie based on a video game. It’s true, video game movies have suffered mightily over the decades for never quite establishing the kind of solid narrative that we expect from great films adapted from source material. (Which, given the strength of storytelling in many video games themselves these days, seems like a boatload of missed opportunities.)
This sub-genre hasn’t been around more than a few decades, but while we’re still waiting for that one video game epic that will blow everyone away, it’s fair to say that production values have definitely improved over time. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we don’t love the goofy video game flicks of the 90’s for exactly what they were: pretty campy and over the top, yet sometimes filled with a caliber of talent you never would have imagined would have signed up for this. Let’s dive into five of them!…
“Guys, we’re going to adapt one of the most popular video games around and it stars Jean-Claude Van Damme! What could go wrong?!” Wellll… first of all, there’s no getting past the oddness of casting a character such as Mr. over-the-top “USA! USA!” Guile with a French dude, even if he was one of the biggest action stars of all time. The cast is bananas overall (Ming-Na Wen as Chun-Li! Kylie Minogue – WHAT?! – as Cammy!), but at least the late, great Raul Julia knows exactly how bananas all of this is and he proceeds to play M. Bison like he’s advertising his own brand of ham. (This was Julia’s last screen role before he died of a stroke, which might make one cringe until you find out that apparently his gamer kids encouraged him to do it, and… that’s kind of sweet.) It’s loud and goofy, and entertaining as hell if you love cheese. (Although combining the character of Guile’s dead war buddy with Blanka is still a weird flex.)
Hoo boy, this one’s a relic! Gang members rule the streets of a semi-sorta-post-apocalyptic Los Angeles, ruled by Koga Shuko. (Robert Patrick, who is maybe an ancient Asian character posing as a white dude, or maybe it’s just questionable casting?) Mark Dacascos and Scott Wolf are the adopted brothers who are drawn into a battle to keep a magical medallion called the Double Dragon out of Shuko’s hands an… oh, if you’ve played the game you know the basic premise. There really is not much more to it than that. The FX aren’t bad for their time but whoa, everyone’s being directed to perform as if they’re in a kids show most of the time. The one truly great thing about Double Dragon is that they took the game’s damsel in distress, Marian, and made her an active character: Played by Alyssa Milano, she’s the daughter of the police chief and the leader of the heroic vigilantes, the Power Corps. Nice.
If we’re going to hype one masterpiece of cornball video game flick history, it’s hard not to vote for Mortal Kombat as the top dog. The absolutely ridiculous CGI effects! Goro as a full-on Ray Harryhausen-style stop motion character! That uber-90’s electronica theme that you cannot get out of your head for days! Yes, fans were and (and still are, to an extent) annoyed at the casting of Christopher Lambert as Raiden (he’s the Chinese god of thunder, guys), but it’s hard to deny that he who was the Highlander is amusingly poker-faced, except when he tries to make dad jokes at the end. (Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa, meanwhile, is a pretty terrific Shang Tsung.) Anyway, the real diehards were likely more annoyed by the fact that this notoriously violent game was turned into a PG-13 movie, but back in 1995? They were never going to go full Mortal Kombat, let’s be real.
Admittedly, not all of these films have aged to the point where we can kick back and enjoy them for the nostalgia of what they are. Wing Commander was one of the last video game movies of the 90’s, and the choice of this particular game to adapt for a film is suspect at best; the game was known primarily for its terrific flight simulation action, not for its story or characters. And boy, does that show here; the script tries it’s best to make us care about the humans (Terran Empire) struggle against the feline-like Kilrathi, but it’s basically a lot of standing around and talking, standing around and shouting, and Freddie Prinze Jr. being extremely pumped to be in the cockpit shootin’ at this and that. Its worst crime in comparison to the rest of this list is that it’s a bit boring. Most significant thing about Wing Commander in retrospect is its foreshadowing of the Prinze Jr./Matthew Lillard pairing that would end up co-powering the Scooby Doo franchise in the 2000’s.
Super Mario Bros.
Remember what we said before about Mortal Kombat being the “best” of this genre? Well, if you’re mostly in it for the crazy FX and high-flying action, that’s probably true. However, if you are a true connoisseur of so-bad-they’re-good movies, someone who only loves it more the weirder the movie gets, then no one has ever come close to Super Mario Bros. Legendary in its WTF-ery and the fact that it bombed so spectacularly it put Nintendo off of feature film development, the film stars Bob Hoskins as Mario but basically playing his Who Framed Roger Rabbit character again, with John Leguizamo as a mustache-less Luigi and man, they do more actual plumbing in this than either character has ever done in the games. Has anyone ever explained why King Koopa is now President Koopa and played by Dennis Hopper with a weird Max Headroom-y haircut? (Fun fact!: The directors of Super Mario Bros. are Headroom’s creators, Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel; their futuristic cityscape aesthetic was a brave choice here, but at the end of the day the disconnect from the brightly colored funscape of the game world was a lot for fans to digest.) By the way, this trailer doesn’t even reveal half of the weirdest stuff in the movie; we recommend watching the Honest Trailers version so you can marvel at pinheaded Goombas in all their glory. And the fungus…. dear lord, the fungus!