Monday, October 20, 2008

MAX PAYNE + Guns - Stubble

* Beware - this is a review of a movie of a videogame by a gamer geek. As a result? There are spoilers for the movie and the video game, and a few comparisons. Because when it comes to Max Payne, I'm a gamer geek. And proud of it.

I have to admit, I was approaching the premiere of the Max Payne movie with both a sense of excitement and a little bit of dread. While there are probably fans of the Max Payne franchise that are a little more hard core than I am, I have a great, deep love in my heart for the video game and it's sequel.

It's the first first-person-shooter that I could literally NOT stop playing, and a lot of that had to do with not just the controls and game play itself, but the story. The noir-ish over-the-top voiceovers, coupled with the dark and imaginative comic book panels unfolded a story and a hero that was both deep and dense, disturbing and exciting. What sets apart Max Payne as a character and as a franchise from every other 'brooder with a gun' storyline is the richness of the world, the vitality of the characters, and Max's haunting gravely whisper, who gets into your head and reveals his intentions and feelings in poetic, complicated analogies and adjectives. He drowns in his emotion to the point where he can't function without it. It's what wills him to live and drives him half-insane in his quest to avenge the senseless murder of his family.

And the game itself? It's a barrage of shooting, pills, death, frigid climates and dreary backdrops. Characters emerge from the underbelly of the city Max inhabits, and they change loyalties and agendas midway through the game, keeping Max and the gamer on their toes every step of the way.

So maybe I was expecting too much when I waited for the Max Payne movie. I was hoping beyond hope that the tone would be there. The homages would resonate, and while I wasn't expect the exact same story, I was expecting the same tone.

There's two ways to judge the movie: in comparison to the game and on it's own. Unfortunately, for me at least, although it fared better as a standalone (thoough by no means exceptional), the video game was just miles better.

A lot of the failure is atributed to the lack of tone. The comic-panel's dark mood was definately mimicked, but gone were the voice-overs that narrated every step along the way. Instead, we hear only a voice-over at the beginning, one at the end. But nothing in between. We're left to navigate the world alone, and unfortunately, Mark Wahlberg's brood, one-expression Max just leaves us with a man who feels nothing but rage. Okay, fine, but is that Max Payne? It's hard to tell. It could be any other broody Punisher-Wolverine-Broody-Anti-Hero out there.

Another interesting note: the PG-13 rating. Understandably something most movie execs want, because it generates bigger box-office, but Max Payne is not a PG-13 game. It deals with drugs, with murders, with sex. Strip away its core elements and you again lose the tone. For a movie about a first person shooter, there is not a lot of shooting. And the result? It lags.

As Mona Sax, Mila Kunis steps up to the plate gamely, but the mysteriousness and fierceness of Max's future soul mate gets lost when she becomes regulated to 'semi-love-interest-with-possible-weakness-for-max(for no discernable reason'. Mona Sax is a bad ass, and she has her own agenda and her own conflicts. In the regard, the movie did her a disservice.

Of course all this whining and complaining comes from a fan of the game. As a movie goer? The movie could satisfy. Is it the next Iron Man? No. But it's well-filmed and put together in a pretty package. It's just disapointing because based on the source material? It could be so much better.

But I'm still hoping for the sequel. Max and Mona deserve their chance. Maybe the second time's a charm.

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