Critics’ Corner: It’s Game Over for Pixels

By: Staff Writer Deeksha Raina


The basic premise of Pixels is intriguing: a video of 1980s arcade games sent into space by NASA is received by aliens that assume it is a provocation, so they send back real life video game characters made from light to attack Earth. Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler) was a gaming champion in the 1980s, but is now a middle-aged man who can’t muster up the enthusiasm to do anything but complain about his life. He grumbles to his childhood friend Will Cooper (Kevin James), who is now the president of the United States, that his childhood gaming skills have all but gone to waste. So naturally when aliens attack Earth by sending in their 1980s video game characters to pixelate and destroy whatever they touch, President Cooper decides to call in the best of the best – his old friend Brenner – to save the day. Just as in classic arcade games, Brenner, fellow gamer Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad), and Brenner’s old gaming rival Eddie Plant (Peter Dinklage) have three lives to beat the aliens at video games. If they lose all three lives, the aliens will take over Earth. Brenner quickly realizes that only he and his team of “arcaders”, if they learn to put aside old rivalries and work together, can save the world from the aliens.

Despite having an interesting plot, the film is bogged down by its thoughtless execution. Pixels is littered with racist, misogynistic, and homophobic comments. Violet von Patten (Michelle Monaghan), Brenner’s love interest, is promptly labeled “snobby” because she refuses to kiss him. Ludlow’s obsession with a female videogame character is fulfilled when she is given to him as a “trophy” from the aliens for winning one game – quite literally a trophy wife. Racist remarks from both government officials and main characters quickly make the mood awkward.

The film also has so many logical inconsistencies that they are impossible to overlook. The whole explanation for Brenner’s mid-life crisis and boredom supposedly stems from the fact that he lost first place in a gaming championship to Eddie back in 1982, when he was a teenager. As a teenage gamer, Brenner also stresses the importance of learning the patterns to a game but throughout the film, his character makes rash, last minute decisions in the games. Brenner later trains the US Army how to play these video games in order to beat the characters while strictly adhering to the rules of the game, but as the film goes on, Brenner and the rest begin to use guns that shoot out light to destroy any type of video game character, regardless of the rules in any particular game. Sometimes the scenes are so unrealistic that even the actors are  visibly disinterested and don’t put in any enthusiasm into the scene.

The only upsides to the film are the nostalgia it brings and the aesthetics. All the video games shown are classic arcade games, including Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Centipede, Tetris, and Arkanoid, to name a few. Old hits such as “We Will Rock You” are blasted in the background of dramatic scenes. The visual effects and pixels themselves are also strikingly gorgeous. During the battle scenes, the animation of the whizzing pixels and light-ray guns are awe-inspiring. However, the battle scenes occur so frequently that even the visuals soon lose their charm. After watching similar action scenes over and over again, the acting begins to seem half-hearted and the scenes very unimpressive.

From start to finish, Pixels is a consistently shallow and disappointing movie. It is full of plot holes and forces unnecessary and distasteful attempts at humor upon the audience.


Grade: D

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