Gaming Editor Louis Wright explores the possibility of video game adaptations replacing comic book movies in light of the MCU’s decline.
With the rapid decline of the superhero genre that was firmly cemented as a cultural zeitgeist with the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008, the next juggernaut (and scourge) of cinema is a sought after topic. Effectively a money-printer to the company that weaponises the trend first, the topic must be broad, cover a wide audience both casual and hardcore, and allow for an endless torrent of shameless adaptations. Like comic books before them, I posture that video game movies are set to take over the cinematic landscape in the coming years.
Similarities can be drawn between early video game movies and early superhero films. In the dawn of the 2000s, standalone franchises for the superhero genres were commonplace. The likes of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy and Fox’s X-Men franchise set the stage for cheesy, yet enjoyable romps that had distinct visions from the individual directors and creatives involved. This changed when Jon Favreau and Kevin Feige hit the scene however, crafting Iron-Man into a film that may have been a little too good. Because of the success of the film, they were able to take a B-list character and catapult the humble superhero movie into the largest single film franchise of all time.
In light of this success, every other company tried to follow suit, most notably DC and Warner Bros. with Zack Snyder’s DCEU. What followed was an absolute cavalcade of quality from Marvel and DC alike, pushing superheroes further and further until parodies of the now tired genre began to emerge. The Boys and Invincible most notably make light of the tropes of the genre and turn them on their head.
Regarding the developments of the superhero genre, we can analyse video game movies in a similar lens. The 2010s, for all intents and purposes, were the wild west of video game movies; companies were producing individual films based on certain properties at a steadily increasing rate, with some becoming established franchises. Resident Evil and Angry Birds saw some success, but many (namely Moshi Monsters: The Movie) were unsuccessful critically and commercially.
It has not been until the 2020s (see the last three years) that video game movies have become more established and are becoming fully realised as the box office juggernauts that their nerdy brethren comic books have been proving themselves as. Detective Pikachu is the most concrete starting point that can be established for the rapid take off of these films. For the effort that was put into the film translating Pokémon designs to the live action space in a way that wouldn’t be horrifying, the “star” power of Ryan Reynolds voicing a suave and sarcastic Pikachu, and its world building it posted itself as the first video game movie that was truly faithful to its source.
What defined Detective Pikachu was, in essence, how tailored it was for the average Pokémon fan. With its inclusion of Pokémon past the most recognisable (Morelull is in the film), willingness to utilise concepts that Pokémon fans would be more readily able to pick up on (Ditto’s shapeshifting ability), and dedication to adhering to the general rules laid out by the Pokémon games, the film felt like a natural extension of the series rather than just the typical cash grab.
And this trend continued. Sonic the Hedgehog had the entirety of the film’s CGI redone to make Sonic less terrifying and more accurate to his game counterpart thanks to fan outcry. The Super Mario Bros. Movie is a fan’s wet-dream (for lack of a better term) for the sheer amount of references and easter eggs that the film is capable of cramming into 90-minutes; not that it had much else going for it. And Five Nights at Freddy’s animatronics look cool.
Bringing the discussion of these films back in-line with the superhero genre, the success of certain early superhero movies and, namely, the MCU can be attributed to a similar reasoning. These films were the ones that acknowledged their source material, gave fans something to talk and speculate about, and ultimately understood how to appeal to a wider demographic while tying themselves to their roots. This allowed easily consumable, yet faithful adaptations to be made of the comic book industry, that is now being paralleled by the gaming industry.
To answer the question “Are video games the new comic books?” you need look further than Nintendo. Cranking out Detective Pikachu alongside Legendary, The Super Mario Bros. Movie with Illumination, setting up their own in house film development department, and now with the announcement of a live action The Legend of Zelda movie with Sony Pictures (probably starring Tom Holland), they seem to be poising themselves to be in the position Marvel were in 15 years ago. While they do not seem to have the intention of forming a Super Smash Bros. Cinematic Universe (thank god) with the endless depths of properties they own, the juggernaut of cinema certainly seems to be shifting away from the comic book and towards the video game.
We can only pray that a completely arbitrary and redundant (thanks to the game being so heavily inspired by Alien) Metroid movie never sees the light of day.
Enjoy this feature? Check out more below!