Movie Review: Ace Attorney

Phoenix's début on the big screen makes a good case

While the video game and movie industries have arguably managed to advance and make some great strides over the last few years, the same can't be said for their offspring. Whether it be the sexy archaeological adventures of Lara Croft, or the hard-hitting, guns-a-blazing ways of Agent 47, most video game movies fail to capture the feeling of what made their respective games so good, opting instead to distil them into 90 minute sessions filled with enough guns and innuendo to leave a 12-year-old smiling from ear to ear.

And then there's Phoenix Wright. A man who would rather point a finger than a gun, this mild-mannered defense attorney has finally made his way from his humble beginnings on handheld screens to the big one. And despite a few questionable casting decisions, Ace Attorney ends up being one of the (if not the) best video game movies ever made.

Ace Attorney, or Gyakuten Saiban as it's known in Japan, closely follows the storyline of Pheonix Wright: Ace Attorney, specifically the first, second, and fourth cases. After barely coming out on top in his first courtroom appearance, Phoenix Wright finds his mentor, Mia Fey, murdered. With Mia's little sister, Maya, formally accused of murder, it's up to Phoenix to face off against legendary prosecutors Miles Edgeworth and Manfred Von Karma, all while unravelling a mystery that ties them together.

What sets this movie apart from other video game adaptations is how closely it sticks to the source material. From costumes and hair styles to the eerily silent Blue Badger, everything is taken straight from the game with very few (if any) changes. The set designs look identical to their in-game counterparts, and the music returns — fully orchestrated — but with a more subdued tone that fits the film. Granted, the movie is not afraid to take some liberties here and there. Director Takashi Miike (Ichi the Killer) manages to bring his trademark sense of black humour and the surreal to the table, creating a world that feels like a natural extension to the video games we know and love. Miike adds some flair to the world of law, where rabid fans buy tickets to courtroom trials, and lawyers butt heads in 'pre-game' interviews.

More importantly, the lengthy sections of text and still images that the games are known for get the treatment they deserve. Rather than have a witness talk about past events, we see it all unfold through flashbacks. When a contradiction is spotted, rather than pulling out a piece of evidence, holographic projections are thrown around the room to varying degrees of hilarity, and important information is relayed via TV screens. Without spoiling too much, this level of insight is key to explaining character backgrounds and motivations, and a handful of characters are shown in a whole new light, leaving their 2D counterparts feeling rather flat by comparison.

If there's one area where the movie falters however, it's the cast. While Phoenix, Edgeworth, Mia, and Von Karma are spot on, a handful of supporting characters leave a little to be desired. Detective Gumshoe and the courtroom judge (who still remains nameless) come off as level-headed and calm, compared to their confused counterparts. On the other hand, Maya, a 17-year-old spirit medium (in training) loses much of her childhood innocence in the transition to the big screen, replacing her with a woman in her 20's whose performance feels rather forced.

And despite all of this, Ace Attorney is still in our view the best video game movie out there. Granted, the bar is set rather low, but it's an thrilling comedy/mystery that feels like a high-budget fan-made film, and can be enjoyed by seasoned veterans and newcomers alike.

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