Thursday, May 13, 2010

Exfanding Review: MEGAMAN

Hollywood has a poor, poor track record of successfully converting video games into movies. Seriously, name one movie based on a videogame that has been better than strictly average. Resident Evil is the closest I can think of, but then again, I don't watch zombie movies, so what do I know?

People complain about movies based on books because they usually stray from the source material, sometimes don't match what the readers imagined, and often unsuccessfully capture the style and depth that make the book popular in the first place. Video games are perhaps even tougher to successfully translate into movies because of the significant difference in interactivity between the two mediums, and because the source material doesn't always provide a solid foundation for a movie.

That's why I was excitedly hesitant--scratch that; cautiously enthusiastic--when I heard of a fan-made movie adaptation of my all-time favorite video game series, Mega Man.

My first concern was about the visuals--creating a non-dorky Mega Man costume to wear to a convention is difficult on its own, but a full cast of live-action robot masters? Nobody could take the movie seriously with a Cut Man who throws silver Pac-Man boomerangs and a Fire Man running around with a lit can of Sterno on his noggin. Game Over.

My second concern was with the story--though later games in the series contain just barely enough plot to give a movie something to work with, the original Mega Man--which is what any halfway logical Mega Man movie would start with--is a bit thin on the plot.

It's all setup, really: Dr. Light is a brilliant scientist whose assistant, Dr. Wily, goes crazy and reprograms Dr. Light's robots to take over the world. Dr. Light transforms one of his peaceful robot helpers into a super fighting robot who fights for great justice. If the movie was to have any actual plot, we'd end up with a painfully prolonged telling of Mega Man's origin story. If the movie stayed true to the game, it'd be all action all the time...which sounds like a liability without a Hollywood budget to back you up.

How do you get around these issues? You deviate from the source material in a big way, which in my mind defeats the purpose of making the movie in the first place. There was no way a live-action Mega Man movie could ever work, but I'd be darned if I wasn't going to watch it anyhow.

Let me be the first to say that Eddie Lebron's Mega Man movie exceeded all expectations and almost immediately became the best movie-based-on-a-video-game in history. That I've seen, anyhow.

What I love and respect about the movie is that it stayed remarkably true to the source material and elaborated on the source material, rather than simply making things up. Though there's virtually no character development and backstory throughout the course of the classic Mega Man series, writer/director Eddie Lebron takes the tiniest details and character interactions found throughout the games and links them together to create characters, situations, and explanations that are remarkably believable.

I was surprised by the visuals. The costumes took a few liberties with the source material, but ultimately the characters looked more convincing than they would have in blue spandex and spray-painted foam. There were actual special effects as well, and three of the robot masters are computer-generated. It's far from top-of-the-line CG, but it's a serious step up from the 8-bit visuals that fans of the game should be used to, and there's a certain charm about the Dark Forces II-esque robots.

As I sit here writing this, I realize that I don't really need to write a review. The movie speaks for itself. There's a real plot with unexpectedly dynamic characters, action sequences that make the most of the budget and talent at hand, an impressive soundtrack, a solid script, a cast that excellently conveys the spirit of each character, a few really fantastic laugh-out-loud moments, and an unparalleled faithfulness to the source material.

If you're watching the film through a critical lens, you'll see an imperfect film with a lot of heart. If you're watching the film as a serious Mega Man fan, you're in for one of the most enjoyable movie experiences of the year. I'm not exaggerating: I believe I've written before about how meaningful it is to experience a favorite fandom in another medium--having a set of KISS action figures, or owning a Discworld t-shirt, for example--so to see Mega Man retold as a feature-length film--and retold well, at that--was a geeky joy of a unique variety. Everything I love about the Mega Man games, short of physically playing the games, was perfectly captured by the film, a film that holds up well even if you're not a Mega Man fan.

It's about an hour and a half, and it's about time you watched it:


Clinton said...

Great review. I wish Hollywood would stay true to video game franchises, but of course being a business they have to adapt it in such a way as to make it appealing to fans. Which means we usually get a film that is almost nothing like the video game (i.e. Super Mario Bros.).

I have watched the film twice. I want to start writing reviews and I figured since I love the Mega Man franchise so much, what better movie to start with? So the first time I watched it, I turned my critical eye off -- I watched it solely as a huge fan of Mega Man. I absolutely loved it, and I can't verbally express how I felt seeing my favorite video game franchise brought to the big screen, in such a respectable way to the franchise. The second time I watched it, I was a bit more critical. And while it's not perfect, it's a movie I will recommend to anyone, Mega Man fan and non-Mega Man fan alike.

I'm glad they used the original storyline, but I was a little iffy on so much of the plot being taken from the remake, Mega Man Powered Up (such as the robot masters believing they're fighting on the side of justice). Although this does explain a few of the liberties they took with the plot, such as Proto Man being in the movie (rather than waiting for the third movie, if they were to have one). Also, it kind of begs the question why they didn't use the two robot masters that were ret-conned into the game (Oil Man and Time Man). It was a little questionable since Mega Man Powered Up is generally, from what I understand after discussing this on a Mega Man message board, not considered part of Mega Man canon.

But all in all, it was a very enjoyable movie, and very respectful of the source material.

zharth said...

I thought that having the robot masters believing they were fighting on the side of justice didn't make a whole lot of sense. Maybe there's an explanation in Mega Man Powered Up (I haven't played it), but they're robots. They're designed to obey their master. The extent of the "brainwashing" necessary is the reprogramming Wily performed in the lab. Making them believe what they're doing is right is, in my opinion, entirely extraneous.

Now, if there was some ambiguity at all regarding Wily's intentions - like the possibility that he really did want to create a better world through chaos and destruction - then at least there'd be an argument. But as it stands, it's pretty clear that Wily is just a bitter old man hell-bent on revenge, with an overload of evil ambition. Which makes the robots whining about "justice" seem pretty hollow, to me.

Flashman85 said...

Thanks, Clinton!

Regardless of whether or not Mega Man: Powered Up was a source of inspiration, I felt like the movie took the facts of the games as a starting point and developed logical circumstances around them to make them work in a real-ish world setting.

If MM:PU had never been made, the movie would still make perfect sense in the context of the original games; the remake just provides one possible set of explanations for everything.

I think Time Man and Oil Man were probably left out because it would bloat the cast and budget unnecessarily, a lot of fans wouldn't recognize them, and MM:PU is totally not canon.

Personally, I think Proto Man needed to appear for the movie to work the way it did. He injects an element of story that's lacking from the original game, and some of the explanations surrounding him help to flesh out the plot.

Concerning both your thoughts about the robot masters believing they're fighting on the side of justice, that wasn't hard for me to buy. It's very clear that Dr. Light's robots are incredibly sophisticated and free-thinking, at least to some extent; from a story standpoint, it might get kinda dull to fight six bosses whose only dialogue consists of "MUST KILL MEGA MAN."

I think of it more like one of the mind-control spells in Dungeons & Dragons. You can "reprogram" a person to do your bidding, but it has to be within their character to do what you ask. You couldn't get an enchanted adventurer to murder his best friend in his sleep, but if you convinced him that his friend's presence was somehow a threat to their mission, then you've got yourself a brainwashed murderer. It's all in the presentation.

I imagine Dr. Light put in a great deal of failsafes to make sure the robots could never become succeptible to simple Kill/Destroy commands; we can make a lot of assumptions about Dr. Light's safeguards and Dr. Wily's reprogramming ability to fill in the gaps.

Alternately--and I don't recall specific dialogue from the movie to support or refute this--the "justice" the robot masters talked about could be letting Wily get the recognition he deserves. Or maybe it was a cruel joke to twist Dr. Light's peaceful wishes against him.

Either way, Mega Man's brief dialogue with Ice Man, who kept flashing back and forth between personalities, made it seem like Wily's reprogramming was more of an on-the-surface thing rather than a comprehensive rewrite, allowing the robot masters to struggle against their new programming or integrate it in unusual ways.

zharth said...

Hmm. Taking your interpretation into consideration, it seems maybe I underestimated the robot's virtues (not being able to accept simple Kill/Destroy commands). On the other hand, I must be overestimating their reasoning abilities, because I find it hard to believe that these robots would process death and destruction as being in line with justice. Or maybe that kind of logic is one of the things that Wily short-circuited?

On the third hand, regarding what you said about Light vs. Wily, considering how much Light emphasized his desire to help humans (I'm sorry, but I had to groan when he said that in reference to the floating island - I actually liked the explanation for it and thought it was relatively plausible - but when that phrase popped up yet again, it's like, yes, yes, Doctor, we know, your only intentions were to help people...). Gee, where was I going with that? Oh, right. Forgive me for citing Asimov, but considering Light's intentions, you'd have thought he'd program a do-no-harm-to-humans clause in the robots. Then again, maybe Wily overturned that as well.

I mean, where do we draw the line between what Wily is capable of reprogramming and what he's not? I guess, as a philosopher more so than an engineer/programmer, I thought there was something missing behind the evil robots' empty arguments for justice. ::shrugs::

Flashman85 said...

zharth: "I find it hard to believe that these robots would process death and destruction as being in line with justice."

Don't certain states include the death penalty as part of the justice system? Justice and peace aren't necessarily the same thing, and I think such concepts are also subject to interpretation. Or, it could've been Wily.

I like how you grew a third hand. The floating island was the one thing that made me squint a little bit, and the repeated emphasis on Dr. Light trying to be a paladin was a bit much, yes.

As for the first rule of robotics (which is stated in the intro to Mega Man X, so let's assume it was in effect here as well), you'll notice that no individuals were directly harmed by the berserk robot masters, I.e. Cut Man didn't snap a pedestrian in half. Another one of those "fuzzy area" possibilities is that the robots can't directly harm humans, but tossing a car or blowing up a building is acceptable--they might just happen to have people inside. Or, it could've been Wily.

I think it's also worth considering Wily's reprogramming skill as well as the amount of time he had to do the reprogramming, not to mention how well he thought out his reprogramming scheme. There's a lot of factors we're not aware of, so I'm willing to give the movie the benefit of a doubt and accept that what happened was still plausible.

Although, as a writer, I would've tweaked a little bit of robot master dialogue--the problem might be more on the level of the actual words that were spoken than the intent or circumstances behind them.

A Philosophical Nerd said...

I would intend to agree with what you said. I don't know if it was ever officially stated in any Mega Man game, but I always just assumed Dr. Light programmed something similar into the robots as Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics. And also considering that Dr. Wily aided in the construction of the robot master series and knew the intimate details of them, and is likely just as brilliant as Dr. Light, I feel it is completely within the realm of possibility that Dr. Wily would be able to reprogram them.

(By the way, this is Clinton with an official, fresh, brand-spanking-new blog.)

Light Warrior said...

I absolutely agree that most movies adapted from video games are terrible. (Example: Super Mario Bros., 1993) But what are your thoughts on the Mega Man animated cartoon? I thought that while the dialog of most of the episodes left a great deal to be desired, SOME of the action and almost all the artwork (especially of the robots) were excellent. I was somewhat saddened that it lasted only two seasons. One thing I really loved was the fistfight between Mega Man and Proto Man. For that reason, I thought a Mega Man animated series had a lot of potential, and maybe still has. Maybe they could take the positive things from the attempted animated series and overhaul the rest. What do you think?

Flashman85 said...

APN: The intro to Mega Man X indicates that Dr. Light did indeed build those rules of robotics into X, at least.

quixote88pianist: I really enjoyed the Mega Man cartoon--the action was fun, the art was great as far as American cartoons go, and the voices were absolutely perfect--but my biggest issue with it (and any videogame-based movie/show) is how far the writers strayed from the source material.

I'm not suggesting that the cartoon show needed to follow the exact progressions and plotlines of the games, but all too often it felt like the plot could have been for *any* superhero.

I wanted to see more of the stage enemies, more utility items than just Rush Jet, and more bosses than just Cut Man and Guts Man all the time. The show needed more robots and crazy traps and fewer humans and ridiculous plotlines such as robots that can de-evolve.

"Must... oog... warn Dr... oog... Light." Or something like that.

The dialogue was cheesy, to be sure, but with just a little more variety in the catch phrases ("Sizzling circuts!") would've made it a charming kind of cheesy. Just look at the Super Mario Bros. Super Show--cheesy, yes, but some of those one-liners are pretty hilarious and clever.

I seem to recall another Mega Man cartoon based on the *other* continuity, so I think there's certainly room for another Mega Man cartoon, though I don't think we could get away with a revamped version of the old cartoon in today's world.

It'd have to be either the X series done in the style of the TMNT reboot some years back, or a very kidsy Powered Up-style chibi show. A Mega Man Zero show would work really well as an anime. I think something like Mega Man Legends might also work. Who knows?