Film reviews: Tetris | Dungeons and Dragons: Honour Among Thieves | John Wick: Chapter 4

Telling the stranger-than-fiction story behind the bestselling video game, Tetris offers a dose of 8-bit nostalgia and two appealing underdog characters to root for, writes Alistair Harkness

Tetris (15) ***

Dungeons and Dragons: Honour Among Thieves (12A) ***

John Wick: Chapter 4 (15) ***

Pulling triple duty as a tall tale, a Cold War thriller and a tech origins story, Tetris offers a stranger-than-fiction account of how the eponymous, highly addictive video game went from being a Soviet computer programmer’s side-project to a best-selling video game that helped make the Nintendo Game Boy a global phenomenon in the late 1980s. Directed by Jon S Baird (the Scottish director behind Filth and Stan & Ollie), and shot largely in Scotland – with Aberdeen and Glasgow providing appropriately brutalist backdrops for Moscow in the 1980s – it’s a surprising film, not least because it also weaves in the imminent implosion of crooked media tycoon Robert Maxwell’s Mirror Group (which licensed early versions of the game), as well as the imminent end of the Soviet Union itself.

The main focus of Baird’s Eastern Bloc-buster, though, is really Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton), a New York-raised, Tokyo-based video-game developer who leverages everything he owns to license the game for the Japanese market, only to find himself tied up in a complex web of legal and bureaucratic red tape that he tries to untangle by going directly to the Motherland and connecting with Tetris designer Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Efremov). Although a film about contract negations may not sound dramatically scintillating, Baird imbues the Soviet side of the story with Le Carré-esque flourishes involving duplicitous KGB agents, blackmail plots and brutal violence, all the while providing us with two underdog characters to root for in Henk and Alexey (both Egerton and Efremov are very appealing as idealists with radically different backgrounds, but a shared passion for the possibilities gaming holds). The film also benefits from Roger Allam as the aforementioned Robert Maxwell. Prosthetically enhanced, he’s fantastically odious as Maxwell warbles on about his friendship with Mikhail Gorbachev (played by Matthew Marsh) and repeatedly undermines his son Kevin (Anthony Boyle), CEO of Mirrorsoft, the computer gaming division of Maxwell’s empire.

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What Tetris lacks, though, is a cogent sense of the game’s impact and why it wasn’t just a game but a game changer. Retro computer graphic inter-titles and scene transitions (an idea devised in post-production) provide a dose of 8-bit nostalgia, but the film could have used some of those mic-drop moments that make stories like this this pop on screen (the introduction of the Game Boy is the closest equivalent to The Social Network’s “drop-the-‘the’” scene, but it still falls flat). As one of the more bizarre chapters of the final days of the Cold War, however, Tetris is an entertaining watch, with Baird – keenly aware of the current state of the world – smartly drawing proceedings to a close on a note of cautious optimism rather than rampant triumphalism.

It’s been 23 years since someone last attempted a big screen adaptation of Dungeons & Dragons, the beloved swords-and-sorcery role-playing board game. That previous version was terrible, but the game’s pop-culture prominence in everything from ET to Stranger Things has always suggested that one day there might be a way to do it justice. Dungeons and Dragons: Honour Among Thieves is a valiant attempt to do just that, turning into a kind of light-hearted riff on The Lord of the Rings, The Princess Bride and the original Star Wars trilogy, with star Chris Pine also very much relishing his chance to unleash the roguish charms that made his Captain Kirk such a hoot in the Star Trek movies.

Dungeons & DragonsDungeons & Dragons
Dungeons & Dragons

Pine plays Edgin, a wise-cracking thief of noble stock whose misadventures have driven a wedge between him and his teenage daughter (Chloe Coleman). Hoping to repair their relationship, he becomes embroiled in a quest to save their kingdom from an insidious sorceress, a plot that requires him to team him up with a lovesick barbarian (Michelle Rodriguez), an insecure wizard (Justice Smith) and an elfin shape-shifter (Sophia Lillis). Perhaps in the spirt of the game, there’s a lot of exposition to get through, but Pine’s charm goes a long way. Hugh Grant co-stars.

Over the course of three previous films, the John Wick movies have evolved from a gloriously simple revenge thriller into an expansive, globe-trotting action franchise, replete with elaborately orchestrated set-pieces and an increasingly dense and deranged mythology. As such, you can perhaps forgive John Wick director Chad Stahelski and star Keanu Reeves for throwing everything at this last hurrah for the titular assassin. At nearly three hours, John Wick: Chapter 4 is ridiculously indulgent and epically pretentious, even kicking off with Reeves on horseback chasing bad guys through the desert like a suited-and-booted Lawrence of Arabia. Yet it’s also very much aware of its own absurdity and, unusually for an action movie, it understands its own heritage, putting its own kill-crazy spin on everything from samurai epics and spaghetti westerns to Hong Kong action movies and Hollywood car-chase thrillers.

The character may no longer have the clear motivation that made the first film such a blast (you may have forgotten this all started with a murdered puppy), but after almost a decade in the role, even the genetically blessed Reeves is starting to look a little ragged round the edges, which gives Wick a visible weariness that makes it easy to believe he really just wants to find an honourable way out this time. True, the middle hour is a slog, but the finale is suitably bizarre, and the ever-watchable Reeves is brilliantly complimented by Donnie Yen as a Zatoichi-esque blind assassin who’s both friend and foe – and particularly handy with a blade.

Tetris is available to stream on AppleTV+ from 31 March; Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves is in cinemas from 31 March; John Wick: Chapter 4 is out now.

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