The “video game movie curse” is a phenomenon where most film adaptations of video games are inexplicably mediocre and the movie going audience waits with bated breath for the Chicago Cubs style curse to be lifted. This “curse” is discussed every time a review for a “video game” movie is released, usually by asking the question of whether or not the film in questions is good enough to break it. 

However, maybe it’s time we define what the definition of a “video game” movie is. Does it mean that it has to loosely follow the plot of a video game like Tomb Raider, Uncharted, or Sonic? Does it need the structure of video game where the main character levels up and eventually defeats the main boss like Edge of Tomorrow? Or can it also include the story about the creation of a video game, like Apple TV+’s brilliant new film, Tetris. Because if it can include the latter, then the curse is not just broken, it’s shattered. 

Tetris is the story of how one of the world’s greatest puzzle game is smuggled out of the former Soviet Union by Danish-American salesman Henk Rogers (Taron Edgerton). It starts at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show (CES) where he is trying to hock the rights to his company’s latest game. No one is buying, and that’s mostly because there is another game that is attracting everyone: a Russian game called Tetris. 

It turns out that Tetris was invented by a Soviet software developer named Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Yefremov) and somehow made its way out of the USSR thanks to a middleman named Robert Stein (Toby Jones) and Robert Maxwell (Roger Allam), CEO of a multinational media company. As Henk tries to find out who has the rights so he can license it, he discovers that it’s not as black and white as he had hoped. 

The ensemble in this film is just spectacular, with many people neigh unrecognizable. Edgerton (a Brit by birth) continues his tradition of being a chameleon character actor in the vein of Gary Oldham. He embodies the 80’s businessman, as being part cowboy and part entrepreneur.  And then we come to Robert Allam’s portrayal of Maxwell who is only recognizable by his voice, yet he still has the commanding presence that Endeavour fans are used to. 

The script is so very tight and really plays like a political espionage thriller but with the structure of an actual video game with each act having an 8-bit title card announcing the “level” our main character is on. Each level is an obstacle to Henk’s main goal: securing the rights of one of the most addictive games of all time.  He eventually finds himself in the Soviet Union in order to try and secure what he considers to be the deal of a lifetime. 

With so much of the film spent in Soviet-era Russia, a good deal of the plot involves the corrupt KGB and their role in keeping the “dream” of communism alive. The lack of freedom that Soviet citizens of the time experienced also feels timely considering recent events and one can’t help but draw parallels to the current Russian state and the way that its current dictator wants to restore “Mother Russia” to its Bolshevik roots. 

The music in the film consists of many 80’s tunes, and they are used to perfection. But the real hero is the score by Lorne Balfe. Balfe has been really killing it lately and his score here is among his most effective he’s ever done. He somehow finds a way to use what the West thinks of as the Tetris theme (but is really Korobeiniki , an old Russian folk tune) and teases and weaves it throughout the film until it comes to a satisfying crescendo. 

Ultimately this final act of this film is among the most thrilling final acts of recent years. The tension builds to near breaking and then the payoffs at the end are exquisitely satisfying. 

THE BOTTOM LINE

Tetris is the best video game movie of all time, full stop. It’s also one of the best films of the year and is now streaming on Apple TV+. 

  • Tetris
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