5 Movie Franchises That Need Help (From Their Own Games)
The relationship between video games and movies is a loveless dry hump. And these maligned hook-ups usually come about when a Hollywood executive sees something called a "Zelda" and wonders how he can shove Matt Damon into it. However, the pairing doesn't have to be a toxic swamp of indifference. In some cases, characters and franchises that have worn out their welcome in movies can be rejuvenated by the healing powers of Game Boy. These are five instances where cinema's most tired icons are reborn as soon as you start controlling them.
Batman Needs To Just Shut Up And Fight
Recently, I wrote about the fact that Superman, while letting us down consistently in his movie appearances, is really goddamn good at being animated. I don't think that Batman has built up that much ill will with his ubiquitous onscreen portrayals, but I will admit that I'm kind of sick of hearing about how Batman is feeling. All eight Batman movies have been about Batman getting depressed over something and then lashing out about it, usually in the form of "accidentally" murdering his co-stars.
"I'm not gonna kill you, but I am gonna let this burning train kill you."
I'm always down for a good comic book philosophy discussion. It's why I'm a fan of Batman: He loves to blend his clown punching with pop psychology about what it means to be a hero or a villain or an orphan who has a billion dollars. I just don't need much more of it from him. Let Green Lantern talk about the vengeance within a victim's soul, and let Martian Manhunter deliver a soliloquy on the difference between man and god. Every Batman film over the past 12 years has been built on the foundation of "No, you don't understand. THIS is the Batman film that gets deep." For once, maybe remove Batman as the professor of the DC Comics Ethics Department. Let him be the guy in the back of the class who comes in a little hungover but never manages to flunk out.
That's why playing Injustice 2 has been like a bolt of lightning into my passion for the Caped Crusader. And don't get me wrong, the Batman in that game is still going to wag his finger at you if you're stepping out of line. A lot of his dialogue boils down to "No, fuck you, because I'm right, and I'll always be right, you radioactive nerd."
"I totally forgot what we were arguing about, but I know that I was winning, as I am Batman."
But because this is juxtaposed with a nonstop barrage of unleashing Bat combos on a seemingly endless conveyor belt of supervillains, I don't feel stuck in Bruce Wayne's Sunday School. And since every character in that game is screaming morals at every other character between the suplexes, you get multiple choice as to whom you want to side with. You can be on Team Batman, Team Superman, or even on Team Gorilla Grodd -- who, for a talking laser ape, seems to have a pretty good head on his shoulders.
Also, you're not confined to a very strict or "grounded" vision of who Batman is supposed to be. To say that Injustice 2 and games like Arkham City have a loose interpretation of Batman is putting it lightly. In Arkham City, you fight most of the villains because they happen to be in the basement of the established villain's house that you're already in. And in Injustice 2, your finishing move is shooting missiles at your opponent from the Batwing. They feel like Batman Radness Parades, rather than extended marketing meetings based around The Dark Knight's box office gross.
Alien Needs To Get Back To Thrilling Us
It seems like no one is quite certain of what they want to do with the Alien franchise. An extended homage to the earlier films? A series of prequels that give us garbled information about the history of the Xenomorph? I definitely don't want a film that's just there to remind me to go watch Aliens. And whenever I see Alien, my focus isn't stuck on wishing that somehow director Ridley Scott would stop by to give us a paleontology lesson.
In fact, if we could just have a series that does nothing but improve upon the formula introduced in Alien: Isolation, that would be nice. Now, Alien: Isolation didn't exactly invent the "be scared of things" video game genre. That honor goes to that time when I screamed after dropping my copy of Pokemon Blue in a toilet. But it did make it easier for me to buy it, since it gave me something that I recognized instead of some vague horror game with a title like SWEAT or DEAD BY YOURSELF.
In the first Alien, there's a scene in which Dallas is hunting for the monster with a flamethrower. It's the most tense scene in the movie, so Alien: Isolation decided it would be best to invent a whole video game based around nothing but the feeling in that scene. It did not explain anything hearty about the Alien universe. It didn't even especially force us to pay attention to anything other than vents where the alien might be hiding. To put it simply, it wasn't bogged down in stabs in the dark about what audiences might find enjoyable in an Alien game. During the making of that game, no one ever said, "I know that people dig aliens, but what they REALLY want are explanations of these sick hieroglyphics."
Alien: Isolation made me excited about Xenomorphs, something that hadn't been done since the Alien movies were named anything but the plural version of "Alien." And I absolutely know that a sequel to Alien: Isolation is going to be called something stupid, like Alien: Redemption, or Alien: Blood Zone, or whatever. But I want that stupid title, because that stupid title is the only thing keeping me invested in a film series that is fumbling with my bra strap in terms of figuring out what I want from it.
Just give us this for two hours. Trust me, I'll wait.
James Bond Games Aren't A Desperate Plea To Be Liked
James Bond, in the span of a few years, has gone from being a series that I get excited about to being a series that I just kind of expect. Oh, it's 2017? New James Bond will probably be around at some point soon. I can't speak for the whole of the fanbase, but if we took a few more years to really lock down a solid idea for what people desire from a James Bond movie instead of trying to persuade Daniel Craig to halfheartedly trudge through another battle with SPECTRE, I wouldn't mind. Maybe I'm alone here, but James Bond is always best when the guy playing James Bond looks like he gives half a shit about rescuing the world from terrorists and men with different accents than him.
The biggest contribution to the James Bond mythology since I've been alive has been GoldenEye for the Nintendo 64. It's also the most fun contribution, and that's coming from someone who plays GoldenEye like a squirrel trying to escape a living room. I spent countless hours in that game being mauled by my best friends, and I enjoyed every second because the happiness was effortless -- unlike every movie that occurs at the end of a James Bond actor's tenure, as they reek of someone pathetically grasping at Hollywood trends. Most recently, Spectre stank of conceit, as if it had been dictated by a group of blindfolded screenwriters who were told to yell out James Bond tropes until the doors opened.
"Umm, car chase. Umm, younger love interest and a scarred bad guy. Please, I just want to see my family."
Hell, even the From Russia With Love video game contained more entertainment value than anything a movie Bond has done since the end of the Cold War. The movie From Russia With Love is good, but the video game is cartoonish insanity. Sean Connery returned in his 70s to play Bond, and the smoothness of his voice has been replaced by a growl that sounds like he's warming up to inseminate alligators. It's a mishmash of the plot from the movie, the plots from other James Bond movies, and plots that have only appeared in the scattered pages of Pierce Brosnan's fan fiction. In short, it's magical.
The subtitles are necessary if you want to understand "Shreerrrrkern, nart sturred."
But that's what James Bond needs. Let him wallow around in games that high school kids play when they're not throwing up after two whole Busch Ices. Put him in things that aren't really about advancing into the future, but more about ensuring that he's exciting in the present. And then, in a bit, we can talk about throwing him into a movie. But only after there's a generation of people who remember James Bond as something other than that thing that Daniel Craig was paid $100 million to scowl through.
Just make GoldenEye, based on the game GoldenEye, based on the film GoldenEye.
It's Pretty Boring When We Can't Control The Transformers
As a kid, Transformers were mystifying. I'd get the toys, unfurl them into their human-shaped forms, and then be unable to turn them back into trucks. My toy chest was littered with robots trapped in the purgatory of my lack of motor skills. And I was also a huge fan of a 1996 show called Beast Wars, which featured the best CG animation that 1992 could buy. I even cried during that show when Dinobot died. A Transformers show affected me so much at the age of seven that I sobbed about it. His stupid robot sacrifice meant that motherfucking much to me.
POUR ONE OUT FOR DINOBOT.
Now we've had four live-action Transformers movies, but it feels like we've had dozens. Somehow, they've managed to outstay their welcome. We've had six movies about Tony Stark's repeated mistakes, and honestly, I'm still sort of excited whenever he shows up to dispense quips like prize tickets at an arcade. I don't have an explanation for this discrepancy. Life works in mysterious ways, and that includes forcing me to get bored of Michael Bay's All-Spark Championship Wrestling.
Not so with Transformers games, though. The ones based on the movies are lazy cash-grabs that are about as fun as sliding your 3DS on the ground and providing all the "Vroom vroom" noises yourself. But games like the Transformers: Cybertron series and Transformers: Devastation, which used the designs from the '80s cartoon and combined that with our intense biological need to smash a whole city's worth of evil droids, are awesome. That's not a video game revolution. As an idea for a video game, its creativity ranks somewhere between "World War II first-person shooter" and "jumping." But it is painless joy.
Just leave me here, guys. It's not gonna get better if I go.
This isn't a concept that needs an overhaul. We don't need it to be lightened up or taken in a gritty new direction. We don't need a wave of Transformers films that examine robot emotions or is more about the humans and robots inside us all.
They might be the Transformers, but it was YOU who was truly transformed.
But every once in a while, we do need a reminder that this franchise isn't just the filmmaking equivalent of rocketing cash into the sky in the hopes that it starts raining Benjamins in China. I doubt that I'll ever weep over Dinobot again, but I will punch the air when I unleash a Dinobot combo against a legion of bad guys. Me and you, Dinobot. No one will ever understand what we have, and that's okay.
Jurassic Park Should Let Us Run The Park
The plot behind Jurassic Park combines everything that I love in an infinite spiral of euphoria. The folly of man? Check. Dinosaur rampages? Check. Jeff Goldblum? A check written in my own blood. As Ian Malcolm, Goldblum practically Goldblums his way out of the screen. He reaches peak Goldblum. And then you have the sequel, The Lost World, which does the character a disservice by answering the question "What if we wrote Jeff Goldblum as Bruce Willis?" He's not even in the third one, or World, and you can feel his absence. During Jurassic World, I was like a little kid lost in the mall, looking for Jeff Goldblum. I asked Chris Pratt "Have you seen my Jeff Goldblum," but Pratt was too busy doing the most uninteresting role of his career to respond.
"Please help. He's wearing all black, has glasses, and when he laughs, it sounds like a gremlin is trying to fight his tongue."
I'll always go see a new Jurassic Park film when it comes out, but my excitement for them has diminished from "This is what my life is about" to "It's OK if we get a seat on the right or left side." That says it all. I would swing a popcorn machine like a big, buttery mace to get a prime spot for Jurassic Park, but I'll probably resign myself to a seat near the aisle for Jurassic World 2.
And let's be clear: If I tell you that all of the Jurassic Park games are a stunning way to reignite your passion, you'll poop directly onto this column. It'll ruin your laptop, but you'd be justified in doing it. But there is a very specific type of Jurassic Park game, the kind that lets you step into the shoes of Park inventor John Hammond, that are more fun than anything else in the world. Anything. More fun than roller coasters, pizza buffets, and videos of kids trying and failing to play soccer combined. Jurassic Park Builders are a "thank you" from the Universe for not setting more stuff on fire when I could have.
"Here you go, Daniel. Thanks for not lighting all of those fireworks at Scout Camp."
There are a few of these games, Jurassic Park Builder, Jurassic World: The Game, and Operation Genesis being the most notable. In these, you arrange dinosaur exhibits and try to get people to come visit your ramshackle excuse for an attraction. Sometimes, the dinosaurs break out and eat tourists. Sometimes, they break out and eat each other. Sometimes, you're days deep into the construction of a park and a tropical storm renders the whole thing extinct. And sometimes, it all goes according to plan, which isn't the message that the Jurassic Park movies want to send, but that just means that I'm better at my job than John Hammond ever was, dawg.
John Hammond WISHES he had clear, unobstructed walking paths like this.
Will these games ever make up for Jeff Goldblum abandoning me in 1997, just when I needed him most? Will his apology appearance in Jurassic World 2 clean the slate? No, never. Some scars are too deep to heal. But if Goldblum ever wants to see what he's missing out on, he can come to my cramped apartment and we can stare at a computer screen together as I scroll through my T-Rex stats. That'll show him. I know it will.
Daniel has a blog and a Twitter.
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