As I watched Tetris (which comes out tomorrow, March 31 on Apple TV Plus), I almost felt like I was playing the more-modern Tetris Effect. A bit more stylized than the original, but also filled with pivots and surprises, director Jon S. Baird's film is the video game movie you didn't know you needed.
But while Tetris it's definitely one of the best Apple TV Plus movies, it could have been even better, had it only been a little different.
Bearing the words "based on a true story," and complete with historic visuals and footnotes at the end, Tetris explains the complicated history around the beloved block-sorting puzzle game. And, shockingly, it actually works pretty well. And that's a little surprising. Much like the upcoming Ben Affleck and Matt Damon movie 'Air,' about the history of the Air Jordan shoe, this is less about how Tetris was made than how it was licensed and sold. Which isn't the best elevator pitch.
Still, despite an unnecessary abundance of 8-bit visuals and a villain who's just on the wrong side of cartoonish, Tetris is a movie you'll be glad you watched — and a lot of that is due to Taron Egerton's lead performance. And don't worry about spoilers, as I'm hiding everything I wouldn't have wanted to know in advance in this Tetris review.
Tetris is Taron Egerton's movie
You may or may not know who Tetris' leading man Taron Egerton is, as he's still something of a rising star. I knew him from Apple TV Plus' excellent Black Bird miniseries, while others may recognize him from the Kingsman movies and the Elton John biopic Rocketman.
Either way, Tetris is another solid link in Egerton's filmography, as he puts a lot of humanity into Henk Rogers, the guy who got the rights to distribute Tetris. Fortunately, Egerton's performance isn't just about sales, as his love of video games and coding lead to fantastic moments, especially with Nikita Efremov, who plays Tetris inventor Alexey Pajitnov.
And since most of the characters orbit around Rogers, it makes sense that Egerton is the lynchpin of the film. Egerton plays the role with equal parts charm, ambition and eagerness, and those characteristics are amplified by how he's surrounded by snakes.
Those include MCU vet Toby Jones, Roger Allam and Anthony Boyle as the slimy father/son duo who are intent on getting all the Tetris rights for themselves. The latter two, as well as Igor Grabuzov's Communist Party villain Valentin Trifonov, though, fail to rise to the level of their co-stars. This is mostly a problem with being under-written in the script, though Trifonov looking like a Soviet Pete Campbell doesn't really help him.
Tetris tries too hard at times
From its humble beginnings (there was a game called GO that flopped) to a spy-vs-spy game where the Russians are pitting interlopers against each other, Tetris does its best to deliver a lot with a story that isn't exactly Die Hard. And there's enough international espionage in there to make it exciting — and it has an inspiring story about the freedom of choice if you look close enough, too.
The best moments come as Rogers is confounded by the complexity he faces with a whole lot of two-faced businessmen — and when he finally connects with the well-intentioned people in this house of cards. Rogers' victories almost feel like ours, and it's neat.
Unfortunately, Tetris is far too liberal with its use of 8-bit visuals. While that proves helpful when they need to explain the differences between a computer and a Nintendo Entertainment System, it’s often overused. Why do we get digitized fun in everything from a plane trip to an exterior building shot? Heck, even the car chase scenes have breaking 8-bit bricks.
I can't tell why they thought the movie needed all this animation, but it often took me out of the movie, and felt like a distraction. On top of that, Tetris bears a somewhat flat look, which feels as if excessive CGI and green-screen was used for wide shots.
Bottom line: Tetris can't compare to the original
Again, this isn't meant to be a negative review of Tetris, but I still feel like a better movie was left behind on the cutting room floor. With a little less retro chic and a little more time for the Russians to be fleshed-out, well-developed characters, Tetris could have gained a throne in the hall of fame for movies and shows about video games.
Instead, it's a good — but possibly forgettable — movie. Packed with great moments (that needle drop for "The Final Countdown" is great), Tetris is a fun time. It's just not as addictive as the game itself.