The lights are on
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"The truth split my skull open, a glaring green light washing the lies away. All of my past was just fragmented still shots, words hanging in the air like balloons. I was in a graphic novel. Funny as hell, it was the most horrible thing I could think of."
When trailers for the movie Sin City first appeared, fans of Max Payne were commenting on how much it seemed like the game in movie form. Some even accused the movie of ripping off Max Payne, apparently unaware that the comics came first.
The quote at top is from one of my all-time favorite moments of the PS2/Xbox/Gamecube era of gaming, a dream sequence where the game briefly goes meta, lightly pokes fun at itself (you can view the clip here). Afterwards, Max picks up the phone and is confronted with a parody of his own faux noir narration, which he describes as "someone spouting insane babble. I couldn't make any sense of it."
I'm not actually sure if Max Payne was actually inspired by Sin City, or if they're both just playing off of the same tropes, but I wouldn't be surprised. Either way, there's something about that purple prose faux noir narration they share that makes it somehow easier to forgive the more nonsensical aspects in both stories. It's like it establishes a clear tone that this story is going to be hard boiled, but also doesn't take itself too seriously.
The biggest mistake the Max Payne movie made was deciding to forego narration entirely.
The reasoning behind it probably had to do with how passe narration is considered today, but Sin City came out just two years earlier and did quite well for itself. "Cashing in" on the movie's success by imitating Sin City with an adaptation of a videogame that already imitates Sin City seems like it'd be a no-brainer, but leave it to a movie exec to screw something like that up.
The second biggest mistake the movie makes is the attempted inclusion of supernatural elements. When people take the street drug "Valkyr," they hallucinate visions of literal "valkyries." While it's confirmed by the end that these are indeed just drug-fueled hallucination, there are times where it seems like the movie is trying to make us question whether it really is just the drugs or maybe something more. But it never comes across as a convincing argument.
Even worse, apparently the director was unaware that the word valkyrie traditional refers to a female warrior, not a winged male demon.
And by going with the demons angle, I can't help but feel they missed out on a perfect opportunity for some great meta dream sequences. "The endless repetition of the act of shooting, time slowing down to show off my moves. The paranoid feeling of an audience watching my every step. I was in an action movie. Funny as hell, it was the most horrible thing I could think of."
Despite the common complaints about the movie's acting -- most of which are complaints about Max Payne being played by "Marky Mark" -- I didn't find anything wrong with Mark Walberg's performance. Beau Bridges is fittingly cast as a character with the initials "B.B.," and does such a good job playing an emotionless character with no proper motivation, that I totally forgot he was the same guy who played the dad in The Wizard.
The weakest link is Mila Kunis (That 70's Show), who was severely miscast as Mona Sax and is completely unconvincing as a Russian assassin.
While the movie does change various other minor details from the game -- mostly for the sake of simplification -- it retains a few plot holes from the games that become more readily apparent when you don't have cheesy narration to distract you from it.
In particular, why did this pharmaceutical company start selling Valkyr as a street drug? Or if someone else has been stealing or manufacturing the street drug version, why is the company killing employees who discover the company's connection to it? Was it their fault it got out in and became a street drug? If so, killing your employees really the most effective way to keep it covered up, when you then have to also cover up the murders?
The movie also introduces new story problems that weren't in the games. The main bad guy isn't the CEO of the pharmaceutical company as in the game, but is instead B.B., a longtime acquaintance of Max Payne's who was once Max's father's parter in the force.Purely for the sake of a twist, it turns out B.B. is the one who killed Max's wife and kid.
He killed the wife because she had accidentally uncovered the Valkyr thing. He killed the kid because "it solved a problem," though we're never told what it solved exactly. It's also never explained what sparked his suddenly becoming a psychopath after so many years of being good.
His turning bad seems to have been related to personal gain, but it's never explained how he personally benefits from this street drug being sold. He's not the one leaking it out, because it's made clear that the CEO knows what he's doing and doesn't have an issue with him killing the people he's killing. Again, is he merely covering up the company's connection to the creation of the drug, or is the company directly selling the drug? We're never given any answers.