DHGF at the Movies – Max Payne

Video game movies. Three words that, when said in succession, make gamers cringe. After all, rarely do such movies capture what made the games they’re based on great. Not that it’s easy to do that. I mean, how can you take something like Super Mario Bros. and turn it into a movie? Dennis Hopper as the human descendent of a Tyrannosaurus? Really? And I’m not even going to try to decipher what the hell is supposed to be going on in the Double Dragon movie.

As games have evolved since then, one would think it would be easier to translate a game into a movie. This is also not exactly the case, as our good friend Uwe Boll has found out. Every so often though, you get a video game movie that you can say is, at least, not terrible, and maybe even simply “okay”. For instance, I was a fan of Doom, the movie. I went in expecting space marines to be shooting the fuck out of monsters, and that’s what I got. Sure, the dialogue wasn’t that good, but anything with The Rock is an automatic three stars in my book.

So, perhaps keeping low expectations is the key to enjoying video game movies, but in watching Max Payne, I couldn’t keep my expectations low. This is a movie based on one of my favorite games of the last generation. I really wanted it to be good, and, based on the story the game told, truly expected it to be just as good as the game. Irrational based on the quality of other video game movies? Yes. But was I right? Almost.

If you don’t know the story of Max Payne, it’s this: Max is a NYPD cop who returns home to find his wife and newborn murdered by junkies on a drug called Valkyr. He wages war against the dealers of Valkyr and the mafia, in the process uncovering a conspiracy involving the huge, powerful Aesir corporation, the origins of Valkyr and ultimately punishing those responsible for his family’s deaths. The story of the movie is pretty much the same as the game, but with some changes, some of which make little sense.

For instance, in the game, Max transfers from the NYPD to the DEA to go undercover among the mobster dealers of Valkyr. In the movie, he transfers to the NYPD’s cold case unit, and hunts down his family’s murderers vigilante style. Why? The DEA story makes more sense. In fact, the entire mobster subplot was completely cut out. It just seemed like an unnecessary edit to the story.

The character of Mona Sax had a makeover as a result, changing from the sister of the Don’s wife to the sister of some slutty drug addict. And while that’s not quite a huge deal, I can’t really buy Mila Kunis as an ass kicker after seeing her for so long on That 70’s Show. Slightly miscast, but she did a good enough job.

I liked Mark Wahlberg as the title character, since it played to his strengths. He was relatively emotionless, but that’s exactly what he needed to be. No bullshit, nothing left to lose; he was just hunting junkies down. I know it sounds like an insult to say someone was expressionless in a role, but I really don’t mean it that way. This was a good role for ol’ Marky Mark.

I also liked some subtle allusions to the game, such as characters (or at least their names) and settings making cameos. And the Norse mythology that was alluded to in the game was manifested in hallucinations the Valkyr junkies had, in which they say demons flying around in the sky. This and the bullet-time effects were done well, though the latter effects seem cliché these days.

Still, it seemed like something was missing. Leaving out the mafia/undercover subplot left the revenge plot as the only thing driving the action. Alex Baldur’s murder in the game acted as a catalyst for the game’s action, while here it was just something that happened. It was like they said, “Well, he died in the game, so he has to die here.” Actually, it seemed like just an excuse to give Nelly Furtado a pointless cameo as Alex’s wife. That really could have been cut out without affecting the movie. Until Aesir became involved (and even a little after that) the movie was basically a string of action sequences. It just felt tired until the twist with Aesir, which also wasn’t handled as well as the game.

In the game it was the C.E.O. of Aesir, Nicole Horne, who was the main antagonist. In the movie, it was B.B., Max’s friend and Aesir’s head of security behind it all. Though he did turn on Max in the game, he was killed off pretty quick so Max could set his sights on Horne. A post-credits scene reveals Max and Mona putting plans in motion to go after Aesir and Horne, but I guess that’s being left for a sequel. Did they run out of time? Or money (some of the effects did seem expensive)? Why not tell the whole story? Just weird.

All in all, it’s not the best video game movie, but not as bad as I had heard. I was slightly disappointed, due mostly to how much I liked the game, but it was good enough, despite some edits, some major, some minor, to the original story and the poor plot that resulted from that. It’s worth a rental, at least. Now I just hope I can keep my expectations down for the Bioshock movie, since that’s one of my favorite games of this generation, and I hope that gets handled well.

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