Pixels is a science-fiction comedy about aliens attacking Earth in the form of characters from 1980s arcade video games. Obviously, this is one of those movies that you will either dislike because of an absurd premise or at least give it a chance because you can suspend disbelief and consider virtually no plot idea to be absurd. Even if you get past the challenge of accepting this story idea that others would dismiss as absurd, Pixels presents another possible reason to dislike the movie: opportunities to nitpick various unexplained things in it. If you want everything in Pixels to make perfect sense, just skip this movie so that anyone else, including me, could enjoy it for what it is: a fun sci-fi action movie presenting something we’ve never seen before.
So you got four male characters who, as young boys, loved 1980s video games. There’s Adam Sandler as Brenner, a guy who makes a living setting up home entertainment systems; Josh Gad as Ludlow, a nerd who is obsessed with conspiracy theories; Peter Dinklage as Eddie, a dwarf criminal; and Kevin James as U.S. President Cooper, who is actually pretty clumsy. In addition, you have the lovely Michelle Monaghan as a military officer named Violet, who is in this movie as a romantic interest for Brenner and, to a certain extent, as a female heroine. Other characters include Sean Bean as a rough British army officer, a certain 1980s video game character who is portrayed as friendly here (take a guess as to which one), the creator of Pac-Man, and cameo appearances by two female celebrities whom Eddie wants to have a threesome with (again, take a guess).
As for the action, it’s pretty cool, I have to say. You got computer-generated enemies flying across the screen while our heroes are racing against time to defeat them. Given that the enemies are giant three-dimensional real-life versions of video game characters, the destruction you see is unique. Things get blown to smithereens while the pieces end up being colored cubes of various sizes (in other words, 3D pixels). It’s rather fun to watch, whether or not you have actually played games like Pac-Man or Galaga. Yes, we’ve seen countless sci-fi action movies enhanced by special effects, but have we ever seen real-life versions of video games in the context of life and death? As far as I know, never.
Now, for the sake of the naysayers, let me play devil’s advocate and look at it from their perspective. Yes, I agree that plenty of things are not adequately explained. For example, Ludlow the conspiracy theorist figures out that video game-based aliens are attacking us because images of 1980s video games that were sent out into space on a satellite to exhibit human culture have been misinterpreted as a declaration of war, but wouldn’t it be nice to have an explanation from an alien representative? And if the invasion is a response to our so-called declaration of war, are the aliens doing this because they really hate us and want to kill us, or do they actually admire our video game skills and want to present a fun challenge for us by putting people into real-life versions of the video games? Admittedly, the latter is a small possibility, given that the invading video games rigidly follow the same rules and patters as the original games. Of course, that leads to another question: why not design the alien invaders as meaner and tougher than their game counterparts in order to throw us off completely?
There are a few more things you can ask yourself. It is mentioned that the 3D pixels are a special kind of light energy that can alter matter in unusual ways. Makes you curious about the alien race that is invading us, right? And about the aliens’ method of sending us warnings before each destructive game, with dubbing of 70s and 80s television clips: did the aliens have any thoughts on 70s and 80s pop culture? Basically, there are questions that you may ask yourself while watching Pixels, and how much that determines your opinion of the movie is up to you.
For me, such questions prevent my rating of Pixels from going higher. At the same time, there is enough of a story to be a basic story, and the action is fun. When you have a movie about video games, considered a mindless hobby by some, why expect something intellectual and cerebral? Just let yourself go like I did, so that you don’t get nitpicky and overly critical. Still, if all of those unanswered questions about the movie are enough of a distraction, I understand. As for me, Pixels does send the message of “game on” (entertaining) rather than “game over” (not entertaining), though not with the power to be at the top of a high score list (an awesome movie). Rather it does good enough to be on the high score list, towards the low end. In other words, Pixels is an OK movie.