Fun Fact: Pixels was a short, two minute film released in 2010 that briefly depicted a world overrun by an array of characters from old school arcade games. Not So Fun Fact: This short film would go on to be adapted into a feature length film of the same name five years later, starring none other than Adam Sandler. If that doesn't sound like a bad idea to you, that probably means you are one of the envious few who really enjoyed this shambling mess of a film.
Pixels is one of those movies that you'll go see because the ads looked cool, but you'll walk out only to realize that two precious hours of your short life have been sucked away from you, never to be seen again. While the special effects of Pixels are on point, the predictable (and occasionally nonsensical) plot, one dimensional characters, and shoddy script drag down the overall experience and prove that not every short film translates well into a full length one.
The premise of the story is intriguing, but never really capitalizes on any potential that it may hold. Footage of the 1982 Video Game World Championships was sent out into space on a Voyager-like probe and an advanced alien civilization took it as a declaration of war. That's all well and good, but for some reason that the writers never bother to explain, these aliens choose to attack and invade Earth by assuming the forms of the various video game characters.
The plot's passable if you don't think about it too much; but when you're watching Tetris blocks meticulously destroying a building by clearing out rows just like in the real game, one must wonder why an advanced civilization would resort to such inefficient and roundabout tactics to wage war. This is made all the more evident by the fact that each side has three "lives"; if the humans win, the invaders will leave, but if the aliens win, they'll destroy the Earth. If this alien civilization was actually at war, why would they deliberately pull punches to play games with the humans they hate? It doesn't add up, and while the plot is obviously just used as a vehicle to showcase various arcade games in real life, it would've been nice if there was a bit more depth to it.
Additionally, the characters are mostly bland and uninteresting, each one filling an archetype or cliché that'll just have you cringing with each line of cheesy dialogue. You have Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler), the unlikely hero who turns out to be the only one who can save the day; Violet Van Patten (Michelle Monaghan), the love interest who against all odds falls for Sam throughout the course of the movie; Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad), the socially inept conspiracy theorist and geek who acts as the comic relief; Eddie Plant (Peter Dinklage), the self righteous rival with a planet-sized ego; and Will Cooper (Kevin James), the bumbling idiot and best friend.
None of these characters grow in a meaningful or dynamic way and many elements of their personalities feel shoehorned in. For example, Will is the President of the United States (just because), but nowhere does he remotely demonstrate any sort of leadership qualities that would justify Americans voting him into office. While this is used as something of a running gag, it adds next to nothing to the story or the character and just feels like a gimmick. Additionally, the personalities of characters can be a bit heavy-handed and corny, such as how Eddie still has a mullet, uses '80s slang regularly, and remains obsessively fixated on his big "win" at the '82 World Championships. Simply put, it feels like the writers went out of their way to create the most unexceptional and cliché characters possible.
Fortunately, the video game influences do manage to infuse a modicum of entertainment into this otherwise useless film. All of the video game characters are brightly coloured and well animated, and it's no stretch to say that they completely steal the show in every scene they appear in. It's just a shame that they aren't given much screen time, especially given that they're the main selling point of the whole thing. For example, the fight scene with Pac-Man on the streets of New York City is memorable and entertaining, but it's over just about as quickly as it starts and nothing interesting really happens for the next half hour.
Of course, how could we not mention the fight against Donkey Kong that has doubtless coaxed many curious Nintendo-loving individuals into paying money to see this film? Unfortunately, it isn't nearly as entertaining or exciting as it's built up to be and it only serves to further add to the ongoing problem of the video game characters not getting a fair amount of screen time. Donkey Kong's appearance properly pays homage to the classic look from his eponymous debut and the iconic "25m" stage is recreated well with girders, ladders, and hammers, but we're only given the barest glimpse of this interpretation of a piece of gaming history before it ends rather abruptly.
The idea behind Pixels is a genuinely good concept and it's something that - if nothing else - is a refreshing new idea among the slew of superhero movies and sequels that permeate Hollywood. The problem is that the execution completely misses the mark when the film focuses on the wrong things. Pixels could've been something really special if it focused less on stale jokes and a predictable plot and more on the fascinating real world interpretations of 8-bit video game characters. We'd suggest you pass this one up; it's not worth the time or money, and all but a very select few - hardcore Sandler fans, presumably - will likely leave disappointed.
Don't forget to check out our other Movie Reviews so far, to see how other gaming subjects have translated to the big — or small — screen.