Tetris starring Taron Egerton, is Apple TV+’s feature film exploring the global four-blocked video game phenomenon.
Tetris, directed by Jon S. Baird and written by Noah Pink, is an intriguing sell from the Apple TV+ platform. To tell a story about tetrominoes, the game’s creation, or its global licensing issues presents a visual challenge to keep audiences engaged in its politically fuelled story.
Thankfully, produced in partnership with Matthew Vaughn and his MARV studio, elements of the Stardust and Kick-Ass filmmaker influenced Tetris’ storytelling style to account for its wobbly script.
Taron Egerton‘s casting as lead Henk Roberts is an example of Vaughn’s preference, having previously made both Kingsman and the Elton John biopic Rocketman together.
However, even with the Vaughn-Egerton duo, Tetris needs help translating the game’s multiple licensing issues into a cohesive film.
Specifically, Egerton’s Roberts navigates trying to secure the global licensing rights for Tetris’ appearances in video games and arcades for Nintendo whilst not infringing on Mirrorsoft’s rights, the daughter company of Robert Maxwell’s Mirror Group newspaper publication.
But, when the game originates from software engineer Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Efremov) within the USSR, Roberts heads directly to Moscow to negotiate rights of the game to members of a crumbling state.
That’s one hell of an elevator pitch. Much like the game of Tetris itself, the film is full of moving pieces; only sometimes fitting together, causing the continuous details it piles on, stacking atop the mess it generates.
Something curious is how, much like other streamers, Apple TV+ has been putting recourses into content adapted wholly or partly from video games. Mythic Quest, its multi-Emmy nominated show, is partially produced by video games company Ubisoft, and Tetris is now its latest addition in an era of adaptations.
Therefore, to put recourses into intellectual property, in this instance, Tetris, with its links to Nintendo riding off the hype for the upcoming Super Mario Bros Movie, was a bold but clever decision on Apple’s part.
Similarly, with the performance of the HBO series The Last of Us finale garnering 3.1 million UK viewers, there is a growing demand for video-game adaptations.
It is plausible to assume that this could lead to a renaissance for the tech origin story that saw relevancy a decade ago, with Steve Jobs and The Gamechangers being two examples from the mid-2010s.
To do all Tetris seeks to achieve whilst juggling the shortened attention of an on-demand audience, as well as the filmmakers’ artistic vision, and the approval from Maya Rogers, the now CEO of Tetris, was always going to be a tall ask.
Even if Vaughn had directed, under the penmanship of his partner-in-crime Jane Goldman, for whom together the pair have created Kingsman, Stardust and Kick-Ass, they would be between a rock hammer and a sickle in creating a cohesive Tetris story that made the legality of intellectual property seem digestible for general audiences.
Some elements of the presented version directed by Baird do work. The first meeting with Egerton’s Rogers has tetrominoes fall behind him whilst passionately recalling the game to a bank manager is a clever visualisation of how infectious the game had become for him, with it later repeating in a car chase scene where every nick and scratch pixelates the car into an 8-bit render.
Still, these two sequences get sandwiched by a monotonous retelling of the Gorbachev era that feels distasteful given the former leader’s passing during the film’s production.
Only in its backstabbing, deceitful depictions of the cloak-and-dagger nature of the USSR does the film find its footing, even if the 8-bit vibrancy of video game title cards ruins the thematics.
Reminiscent of Iannucci‘s The Death of Stalin, the film leans into the black-comical nature of selfishness during the descent of politics, as if knowing its failings and offering a serving of something passable instead could distract audiences from the clunky storytelling.
Yet, the film achieves nothing substantial with all these ideas, concepts and styles.
It’s made all the more disappointing given the cast includes Toby Jones and Roger Allam, who each bring an attempt of sincerity to their respective roles, with Jones acting as USSR middle-man Robert Stein and Allam as Robert Maxwell.
Tetris had the beginnings of a strong idea, and a playful execution, but perhaps it had too much stacked up against it.
Tetris is streaming exclusive to Apple TV+ from 31 March.
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