We have seen the enemy and he is us.
- Pogo/Walt Kelly
The next Hollywood game changer will be when someone figures out how to adapt a stunning, sophisticated movie out of a video game and it makes a bazillon dollars.
Think it through: video games have stories, characters, plenty of sequel potential and a rabid fan base that spent twice as much money as filmgoers in 2015. It's a match made in Hollywood heaven and the numbers back it up. One single game, Metal Gear Solid V made $179 million domestically in a single day!
In contrast, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the highest grossing opening day of all time, only raked in $119 million — that's like 25 per cent less. As the low-hanging fruit of the comic book world diminishes (and some of the mid-hanging as well), video game movies are waiting to throat-kick, headbutt, shovel-punch-combo comic-book movies into a bloody pit of spikes and fire,
But not until someone makes a good one, or at least one good enough to hang with Hollywood high-water marks like The Avengers and Harry Potter and Twilight (so actually, it only has to be pretty good).
And that isn't happening this week. Warcraft, opening Friday and based on the role-playing game universe (you know, from the Internets), is just not good enough to change cinematic history. Even with established sci-fi director Duncan Jones acting as Dungeon Master on this one, the script just doesn't have the hit-points to survive its own CGI onslaught.
It's bad enough when a professionally trained actor spews lines like, "This war will destroy us all... but together we might stand a chance...," but it's way worse when a giant cartoon orc with an upside-down-walrus under bite and beaded cornrows says it. A lot of the camerawork in Warcraft integrates the video-game perspective well enough, but all the bad guys look the same as the good guys and overall it is not a good movie.
And that won't matter. There are over 160 million gamers in North America. More notably, Warcraft is already breaking records in China with the most profitable midnight screening in that country's history. Only the U.S. sells more movie tickets each year than China and their movie market has grown by 17 per cent in each of the last five years and could be the largest in the world by 2020. China makes plenty of its own blockbusters, but Hollywood films do well there too (Avatar made $760 million), so making easy-to-follow crossover movies is quickly becoming Hollywood's latest life support system. Battle scenes don't need very nuanced subtitles.
Of course, even golden slippers sometimes step in poop. The Chinese sometimes impose seemingly random censorship laws on their film industry — in 2011 officials banned time-travel movies — but you can't make an omelette without cracking a few eggs. While I like to think Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure would slip through the cracks somehow, the official reason China wasn't into time travel flicks was because they "treat serious history in a frivolous way" and "promote feudalism, superstition, fatalism and reincarnation." A.K.A: a lot of the best parts of any movie.
Those are certainly a lot of the best parts of The Conjuring 2, also opening this week at the inimitable Village 8. Director James Wan (Saw, The Conjuring) is back with more of what made the first Conjuring so killer. Vera Farmiga (The Departed) reteams with Patrick Wilson (Watchmen) as based-on-real evangelical paranormal investigators who seem to repeatedly get their shit handed to them on a bone-chillingly cold platter.
The first film proved Wan knows his audience and has some of the strongest pacing and tense-heightened surprise scares in the game. He cranks those abilities up again for the sequel, but this one also benefits from a lot of physical effects: dressers actually slide across the room, doors suddenly slam shut and real people bounce off real walls. This grounds the film, a ghost story, in reality and helps the actors act naturally — we get scared because they get scared. It works.
The script suffers form some jumbled themes and underdeveloped characters, but there is no shortage of shock-cut scares and creepy-ass satanic radness. For a lot of us, that is good enough and while it's not perfect, The Conjuring 2 is a movie horror fans need to see if only to make the point to Hollywood that mid-budget horror movies are worth making and profitable, even with all the fatalism, superstition and frivolous use of history.
Also opening at the Village 8: Now You See Me 2, a magician-heist sequel that I did not see coming.