My guess is, if you found this review on your own, you already know who the Angry Video Game Nerd is, and that this movie was crowdfunded (at the time it was the most money ever raised, but that was in the pre-Veronica Mars days). If that’s you, no worries, you are going to enjoy this film. It was made for you and has all the charm of the popular long-running YouTube personality, the Angry Video Game Nerd. For the uninitiated, a little back-story must be provided. The AVGN, as he is often known (in print as well, as he is often quoted in gamers’ magazines), is a mean-spirited game reviewer, who often focuses on the worst games from our childhood, games that frustrated or bored us and from which we deserve our money back. They are vitriolic, foul-mouthed and hilarious reviews, often delivered shouting while playing said video game. James Rolfe created the AVGN character in 2004 and it has since become his profession. And now it’s a movie.
For a fan-funded film, the story of AVGN: The Movie is surprisingly well-developed. Because of his fame, the AVGN is sought by a video game to review a new game they are releasing, ET 2, a sequel to the Atari 2600 game that many people feel to be the worst video game of all time, and, not coincidentally, the one game AVGN refuses to review. A widespread urban legend surrounds the original ET, that, after it basically tanked the Atari stock prices, near two million copies were buried somewhere in a desert. AVGN’s ‘manager’ Cooper convinces AVGN to find this hidden stash of games and then review both the old and new ET in one shot. However, they uncover a vast conspiracy involving the military, area 51, and aliens. It’s ridiculous and actually works pretty well. Having played the original ET, I truly enjoyed his hatred of that particular cartridge, as it caused me hours of failure in my formative years. The best sequences, not surprisingly, involve AVGN ranting about something, and the payoff, at the end of the film, is he does indeed review the original ET. So if you’ve seen the series online, you know what it is, and it’s funny. Rolfe easily makes the transition from the online world to the big screen, and they’ve managed to create a fairly entering storyline that fits his character. The rest of the ensemble is also pretty solid. Now, the whole film is sort of operating in an over-the-top world, so the performances are very campy, but they all work together, and I think they would have to be in order to mesh with AVGN. The film has a great score provide by fan and Walking Dead and Battlestar Galactica composer Bear McCreary. It even has a cameo from the creator of the original ET game.
Where AVGN: The Movie goes wrong is in the production value. Possibly the choices made to really set the film up as a B-movie will be enjoyed by its core audience of fans, but to us outsiders, it all looks hokey. This is a shame because there is so much to like about the film. The dialogue is great, the characters well (if broadly) drawn, and the plot points all hold together. However, the alien character, the Godzilla-like monster that destroys Las Vegas (sorry, spoiler, although strangely, it’s not a major part of the plot), and other ‘special effects’ are all done using methods perfected in the fifties, and I am sorry to say, basically destroy any sense of the film’s world. They constantly intrude on the story being told, by pulling us out with visual elements that are laughable at best. The ‘ET’ character is the worst, especially since we all know what ET is, and this barely maneuverable puppet makes Howard the Duck look like Gollum. Now it’s very easy to blame the budget but I’ve been watching indie films for years with one-sixth the budget of AVGN: The Nerd that managed to find a way to tell the story they wanted to tell on the money they had raised. In fact, a majority of the money supplied by the crowd-funding campaign seems to have gone to a human sized model of Las Vegas for the Godzilla-like creature to destroy. Again, maybe this is keeping within the aesthetic desired but since this is the first expansion of the AVGN character outside of his rants, anything was possible, and I think this film needed to seriously reconsider what it could and couldn’t accomplish.
Another unforgivable error is the film’s length, which is at least twenty minutes too long, and feels a bit self-important. This is a silly, fun movie, and simplifying the story and focusing the efforts on decent effects could have better utilized the budget. Where as I was laughing and cheering on the little film that could at the open, by the end I was exhausted and waiting for the credits. The film does pull you back at the very end, when AVGN reviews the original ET game, but for me, that was more about exorcising the demons of my youth than the plot of the film.
In the end, the film resembles a fan film such as Batman: Dead End or Pink Five, but without the production value. And this is its biggest problem. The team behind the film did the most difficult thing, taking a preexisting world and expanding it into a believable and fun viewing experience for a new audience. However, there was not enough gut-checking done on the length of the film and the ‘effects’ and the team may have been too small without enough outside voices to steer the choices. Still, AVGN: The Movie will probably please fans of the original character, and is certainly more entertaining than Sin City 2, but I can’t help but imagine what countless indie producers could have done with the money raised for this film, and the intellectual property.
Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie is available on VOD today, September 2nd, after playing a string of sold-out dates around the country and playing Fantasia Fest in Montreal.