When Casper asked me to review a movie based on a game I was very intrigued. Not because I really wanted to review the movie itself, but to try out something new. I am always up for a new challenge, especially since I want to be a better reviewer every day. That being said: how many good movies about games are there compared to bad ones? Not so many. I just wish this one could have been an exception.
The plot of the movie is based on the original Max Payne, going so far as reusing many characters from the original game. Max’ wife and child have just passed away, and it even includes all the norse mythology. Because of this, there will be some comparison to the original, but I also welcome some creative freedom. We start off in medias res, with Max drowning before a flashback. We see him again as a distressed cop, with his family gone, and on the case to track down those responsible for their deaths. This sets up a passable reimagining of the original, but it quickly falls downwards.
This is not a well told story, as Max is basically going from one “clue” to another without much development or interesting progression. It is the essential fetchquest without anything intriguing happening, except for one hilarious murder at the beginning. What makes these threads uninteresting is how blatant the clues are and it becomes clear early on who the villains are, even if you haven’t played the game. They try to make the symbolism in these clues deep, but they come of as shallow and outright dumb.
The worst part, however, is how the story is literally told. We start off with monologues by our main character, but nothing is poetically or emotionally portrayed, despite how hard they try. They rather state the obvious, instead of showcasing the distress Max is suppose to suffer from. Portraying a man’s pain is not easy, but the movie really has no idea what to do. The monologues are lost after the first 10 minutes, when it favors having other characters tell about Max’ struggles, or having aggressive teenagers harass him to give him a reason to be sad. Guess a dead wife and child was not enough to begin with.
Everything is shallow and it is so strange that they could not replicate the video game when it bases itself so much on the original. Why not show Max’ dreams or have him tell his struggles in creative ways? Why is it so hard for filmmakers to remember to show, and not tell? This is not an audiobook! Symbolism in this movie has been reduced to visual gags only the youngest would find interesting, and the rewritten lore is not much better. Even the explanation of the symbolism is literally explained despite how obvious they are to begin with. I also wondered why they had to change certain elements to seem more realistic, such as the reason behind the name Ra Gna Rock, or those dumb, over explained visuals when you see people under substance abuse.
The progression of the story feels sloppy, as stated before, and the other fault lies in the characters. There are plenty of new and old faces in this movie, and about 60% of the cast feels worthless. It was a shame that the characters could not be more personalized and that the director thought having a quantity of people was just like having quality. The dialogue between all the characters is rather poor, with no one having clear emotions except rage and sadness, similar to a minor having tantrum, and barely any motives. I would have actually been okay with the stereotypical villains speaking Russian (that is not uncommon when you can’t write good villains), if it was used to mock itself and be cheesy, similar to the original. But Max Payne tries so hard to be serious and deep, without ever being clever. There is no humour to it, just annoyances and people getting angry or whiny. It is a shame, since the actors aren’t bad necessarily, but their directions on how to act are misguided.
If you were at the very least hoping for some good action, please don’t. The fights are always up close with bland film-cutting, making the action look messy and gives the effect of a seizure. Making the screen red is also common during these parts, since the characters apparently can’t bleed much. The gunfights are also poor and quickly over. There is no creativity to them that could even come close to recreating the game’s action, which is a huge letdown. There was one part where Max wields a shotgun and it is bizarre to see how powerful it is. It is fun, and one out of two scenes that uses the slow-mo effects at least decently to recreate the bullet time from the games. The rest are used on the cliched setup, where it all goes in slow-mo just to make a character’s death seem more intense. Despite the deaths being rather humorous, the action is generally boring.
The settings are the only thing I can really praise it for. They do venture through suburban New York, from the streets and the police office, to the underground and factories. Sadly, the style in these areas are often too bright or lifeless to be as unsettling as the original. The music and the ambient sounds to give a sense of atmosphere are forgettable or even oddly placed. Some music pieces feel too strong and orchestral in the more depressive scenes, for example. The original dark and gritty places are only partly recreated well, and that is in the later part of the movie. But what are decent settings worth when the progression is so poor, characters are bland, the symbolism mishandled and Max’ pain is shallowly executed?
Max Payne is not worth any of your time. There are a bunch of great comics and some entertaining fan-made movies based on Max Payne that are much more worthwhile. You also have the videogames of course, which should be a no-brainer. If you, however, are in need of something on the bigger screen: I do hope, beg, and pray that Payne & Redemption will be a much better take on a cop with psychological problems. It even has the voice actor of Max Payne from the games in a bigger role, instead of a silly cameo. Just don’t bother with this one