Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether a film has been a success or a failure. This example in particular had all the makings of yet another video game adaptation disaster – it suffered a critical mauling in the United States and the box office returns were lower than expected as a result. However, it found an audience overseas, where reviews were generally kinder and (perhaps buoyed by the immense popularity of the games the film is based on) in the end it turned a healthy profit, enough to muster up talk of a potential sequel. How history will look back on it only time will tell, but for now it’s difficult to understand why it got such a harsh reception. Perhaps the American critical establishment (almost entirely white men over 65) don’t have much overlap with the gamers and fantasy genre fans target demographic.

Not that the film is without its flaws, of course – it’s a pretty derivative Tolkien-lite tale that never quite shakes off the tongue-in-cheek ridiculousness that the games deliberately celebrate. This would be okay if the film was a comedy, but playing things so seriously and poker-faced when your source material is wilfully light-hearted is what leads to most of the narrative problems. However, it’s also got plenty going for it, especially the keen visual eye of director Duncan Jones (whose previous films Moon and Source Code both impressed) and a clutch of committed, impressive performances, for which credit should be given to both the actors and the real-life wizards who enhance their work with motion-capture assisted CGI. Best of all, there is a wholehearted embrace of the film’s own world-building here, an earnestness and commitment that shouldn’t be sneered at.

Absolutely nowhere near as bad as most American critics would have you believe8
Duncan Jones' sense of scope and striking visual palette 8
Duncan Jones' somewhat clumsy attempts at writing fantasy dialogue5
Sacrificing the inherent humour of the franchise and therefore getting stuck in it own silliness5
We're beyond the point now where CGI performances are legitimately great ones8
Bechdel Test Passes
  • Features more than one named female character
  • The named female characters talk to each other
  • They talk about something other than men
Bechdel Test Failures
  • n/a
7Overall Score

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