This is not a film; it’s an endurance test.
The best simile to describe this film? It’s as if the writers of the film were like children on Halloween, though instead of pick’n mixing sweets they pick’n mixed pieces of a generation’s childhood nostalgia. Then, just like a child having a sugar rush before the inevitable crash and throwing up. The resulting technicolour vomit in this case is ‘Pixels’, which will leave you with the same feelings of regret and shame of a sweet-tooth binge. Throughout watching you’ll be left wondering who thought this mash-up of beloved video-games and crappy cinema was a good idea and why they spent $88 million making it. Before you carry on reading I will warn at this point that here be SPOILERS as this will not be a film review but will mostly become an essay on why this film is so bad and has had such negative reviews. Whenever one goes to see a film that has been as poorly received as this film, there is always a degree of hope that ‘Maybe it’s not as bad as the reviews say?’ or ‘Surely it has a couple of good moments!’ Prepare to be disappointed…
In case you’ve not seen the trailers, here is a plot summary. The film opens in the Summer of 1982, with 13-year olds Sam Brenner (later played by Adam Sandler) and Will Cooper (later played by Kevin James) excited by the opening of a video game arcade opening in their town. Both are naturals at the games, with Sam able to win most (but not all, hint hint!) games due to his innate ability to identify and memorise the formulas. Will is good at crane machines (a skill momentarily useful later in the film, unsurprisingly). Will persuades Sam to enter the ‘Arcade Game Championships’ which their hometown is conventionally hosting, with Dan Aykroyd (WHY?!?) playing MC. He announces that a time capsule featuring aspects of the game championships is being launched into space (an example of the neon flashing exposition light I mentioned in my review yesterday!) They meet Ludlow Lamonsoff (later played by Josh Gad) who is opposed with a game character called Lady Lisa (more on this later) and befriend him as he is a kindred spirit. Sam breezes through the competition, but stumbles at the final hurdle when he loses playing Donkey Kong to Eddie Plant (later played by Peter Dinklage, another WHY?!?!).
The film then comes to the present day. Will is now president of the United States (no reason is given as to why this happened, how or what skills the man actually has to befit him of this title. He is a buffoon for the majority of the film, so maybe this is an attempt at satire?) It’s alluded that Sam never recovered from the loss, his second place status at a game championship scuppered his dreams of MIT and probable resulting success (because that is totally believable and not at all odd or regressive). Sam instead works for ‘Nerd’ a company who install electronics and software (because clearly a company supplying these skills had to be given that name). Whenever he arrives at a house for a job he must state, ‘Hello. I am a Nerd from Nerd Squad.’ (Yes, presumably someone got paid for this literary masterpiece.) At his latest job he meets a divorcee called Violet (Michelle Monaghan) who lives with her son Matty. Sam bonds with Matty over video games (they are of seemingly similar maturity) and has a ‘moment’ with Violet where they almost kiss. Or, more accurately, he goes to kiss her and she refuses (of course, how dare she!) He berates her for being a snob as to why she din’;t kiss him (ignoring the fact he is a self-entitled man-child who is not the catch he seems to believe he is). He then throws back the killer line, ‘I’m a good kisser. All us nerd are. It’s because we’re so grateful.'( I, on the other hand, am grateful not to have meet such an arrogant arsehat.)
Sam gets a call from Will, telling him to get to the White House asap. He gets there and finds out that Violet wasn’t in fact following him in her care (because obviously he is such a catch that she will be so filled with regret for letting him go that she must follow and ensnare him) but is instead a Lieutenant Corporal. It turns out Earth has started been invaded by aliens using old video games to attack Earth (wonder who saw that coming from the opening? Maybe everyone?!?) They are told that first to three wins is the ultimate winner. If Sam and his arcade buddies loss, then it’s Game Over for Earth. After winning a level they are awarded a trophy, a ‘warrior’ from the opposition. After completing ‘Centipede’ in Hyde Park (overseen by Sean Bean. WHY?!?) then ‘Pac-Man’ in New York City they are awarded Q*bert (last seen in the far superior ‘Wreck It Ralph!) They then have a ball to celebrate (even though they still must complete one more challenge…) Sam and Violet bond (over her attractiveness and his infantility) when the aliens announce that Eddie, who had been released from prison (imprisoned for fraud. Surprising, as I thought a Lannister always paid their debts…sorry…not sorry.) to help the cause, had in fact cheated when playing ‘Pac-Man’. In fact Eddie even cheated during the championships, so Sam was the worthy winner that he always believed he was and spent the past 30 years brooding over (because that’s normal…) The aliens do not react will to that cheating, taking Matty as a trophy and sending their entire fleet to destroy Earth. However, they are given a reprieve within the invitation to enter the battleship and ‘meet the boss’ . The team split up. Violet, Sam and Will enter leaving behind Ludlow to ‘defend Earth’ (I wouldn’t hold out much for that.) He’s soon joined by Eddie, then Lady Lisa (the collection of pixels Ludlow had spent his life lusting over).
Meanwhile Sam, Eddie and Violet find out that the ‘boss’ is Donkey Kong. We are then given the unnecessary reminder that this is the only game Sam ‘sucks at.’ Yet, with the realisation that his 13-year-old self rightfully worn the world championships he is filled with enough confidence (as if he wasn’t inflated with enough of it) to beat Donkey Kong, rescue Matty and save Earth from annihilation. The aliens on Earth are destroyed, including Lady Lisa which devastates Ludlow. Yet somehow, during the awards ceremony for their ‘heroic’ efforts Q’bert transforms into Lady Lisa (no reason or explanation is given as to how or why). Fast forward to a year later, Ludlow and Lady Lisa are married and have five Q’bert children. THE END.
There are two main issues (of many) about this film that I really need to discuss. One, Lady Lisa. From the age of ten Ludlow worships her. Then she appears as a warrior for the opposition, but does not retain the pixel format of every other single alien and instead becomes human. She is incredibly attractive and Ludlow is overcome with emotion. Lady Lisa proceeds to fight Ludlow until he declares love for her. Obviously, as this is the kind of wish-fulfillment world this film is set in, his unrequited love and obsession with her is enough to persuade her to stop fighting him. Then when Ludlow announces to Eddie she is actually his fiancee she just smiles. When Q*bert then regenerates into her she is thrilled to see Ludlow. All of this is done without a single line from Lady Lisa herself, she does not utter a single word or do anything beyond looking gorgeous or briefly flailing a sword around. It’s the one of the more distressing negative stereotypes of ‘nerdom’, of obsessive and controlling lust and views of women as objects, brought to life.
Two, the film’s message is condescending garbage. The entire story-arch is to redeem Adam Sandler’s character, to give him the adulation and recognition he felt he always deserved. It’s as if they want him to represent every ‘nerd’ in the audience and try to clumsily reassure them that they aren’t actually wasting their lives playing videogames, you are actually heroes. It is this kind of ‘the geeks shall inherit the Earth’ bullshit narrative that is the waste of time, space and energy. It implies that anyone who thinks of themselves or is labelled as being anything considered ‘nerdy’ has this consuming desire to be appreciated for their niche skills asset or affirmation of self worth, which is total bollocks. f I want to spend hours playing zelda, Sims or song pop! Then that is my choice. I don’t need you patronising cockends telling me that’ll it’s fine and may even all for a greater cause. I know my ability of being able to guess an 80s song from 6 seconds of intro will never be called upon to help save the Earth, and I’ve no idea who these writers believe actually think in that way. Maybe themselves?
‘Pixels’ is a cynical and empty attempt to jump on the ‘nerdom’ bandwagon. A total misfire. A synthetic attempt which instead undermines and humiliates anyone who considers themselves ‘nerdy’.