Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Movie Review: ‘Tetris’ Strikes Just The Right Balance

Director: Jon S. Baird

Writer: Noah Pink

Stars:  Taron Egerton, Nikita Yefremov, Mar Huf

Synopsis: The story of how one of the world’s most popular video games found its way to players around the globe. Businessman Henk Rogers and Tetris inventor Alexey Pajitnov join forces in the USSR, risking it all to bring Tetris to the masses.

Films based on true stories always capture my interest. Whether it’s about a subject matter I know nothing about or an event with significant personal impact, my expectations are always positive because, even if the movie doesn’t manage to escape the formulas and barriers of the respective subgenre, it’s almost always able to add essential information and other details that I was unaware of. Tetris guides us through the origins of one of the most popular video games ever, as well as the birth of the handheld console that contributed so much to its success.

Having been born in 1994, games like Super Mario, Mario Kart, Zelda, Tetris, and many, many others marked my childhood and adolescence in a very memorable way. So much so that every year I get together with my older brothers during Christmas to play Super Mario Bros. on the somehow still-working Nintendo 64. In these moments, when we pick up the robust controls again and blow on the cartridges, we go back to being children and having fun as such. This is the highest compliment I have to give Tetris: it made me reminisce about unforgettable moments from the past.

I’ve never seen a Jon S. Baird flick or experienced a Noah Pink screenplay, but after watching this Apple TV+ film, I’ll be on the lookout for future projects from both of them. Tetris doesn’t avoid the predictability of its narrative structure and feels the need to fill parts of its runtime with personal/family storylines so superficial that, honestly, they could have been removed altogether due to their lack of development. That said, the two hours fly by…

Baird moves through the various narrative points at a brisk pace, contributing to steady levels of entertainment throughout most of the movie. Tetris contains just the right amount of humor and fun, surrounding the film with a sometimes intentionally exaggerated, silly environment. 1980s Soviet Russia is a big part of the story, but like other sensitive topics, it’s handled with care and lightness. After all, it’s a movie about the origins of a videogame.

Tetris also benefits from the superb performances of the entire cast. Taron Egerton stands out with his immense charisma as Henk Rogers, the protagonist and, in parts, the narrator of the story. Rogers has lived all over the world, having a completely different life experience than the game’s creator, Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Yefremov), who never left the same apartment. However, their common passion for Tetris and programming, as well as their honest, humble desire to spread the “perfect game” across all continents, brings together characters who truly deserve a happy ending.

Capitalism, greed, corruption, and politics are themes with a strong presence in the film, and I really appreciate Pink’s care in portraying people and not stereotyping nationalities. Tetris demonstrates that there are people with good and bad intentions, whether they are American, Russian, or from any other country. The constant negotiations and back-and-forth reach a point where they start to become repetitive, but Baird knows when to inject a dose of entertainment through chase sequences or moments of wit.

Personally, I love the pixelated transitions between scenes, as well as the 8-bit renderings of the various locations. Evidently, the iconic video game music can be heard in Tetris, being one of those technical details that, regardless of being something expected, leaves all audiences smiling from ear to ear. I wish they had explored the origins of the famous soundtrack, but the main objective was fulfilled: any viewer will end the movie more knowledgeable than at the beginning.

Tetris offers a fun, informative true story about one of the most popular video games of all time. Filled with delightfully pixelated transitions and just the right amount of humor, as well as the game’s iconic music, it’s a film that makes its two hours go by in no time. It may not feature the most innovative storytelling in the subgenre, nor will it totally blow your mind, but whether you’re a fan of the game or not, it’s a home viewing that I highly recommend!

Grade: B

Manuel São Bento
Manuel São Bentohttps://www.msbreviews.com/
I'm a Portuguese critic based in Sweden with a tremendous passion for cinema, television, and the art of filmmaking. I try to offer an unbiased perspective from someone who has stopped watching trailers since 2017. As years went by, I was able to develop my voice within the community and cover major festivals. Co-host of a weekly film podcast, R&M: A Conversation on Cinema. Outlets: Firstshowing, InSession Film, That Shelf, Filmhounds Magazine, Echo Boomer (PT), Magazine.HD (PT). Proud member of associations such as GFCA (Global Film Critics Association), IFSC (International Film Society Critics), and OFTA (Online Film & Television Association). You can find me across social media through @msbreviews. Portfolio: https://linktr.ee/msbreviews

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