There is a lot of negativity on the internet. That’s an understatement – the internet is basically a big ball of negative energy with a few points of light here and there. Of the myriad ways this manifests itself, the one that bothers me the most is what I call the “nitpicker critics” who have proliferated on Youtube. You know the type – Honest Trailers, Everything Wrong With ______, Cinema Sins, etc. I hate them. I don’t find them funny.
So why then do I like James Rolfe, AKA The Angry Video Game Nerd? Well, two reasons. One, I really don’t care much about video games. I grew out of them in my senior year of high school and never looked back. So it really doesn’t bother me that he is ripping a video game to shreds for purely prejudicial reasons. But there’s also number two – Rolfe actually likes some things. I actually became aware of Rolfe first while looking for decent trailers of Godzilla films on Youtube and stumbled across his Godzillathon edition of Monster Madness (a series he does daily through the month of October in which he sings the praises of classic horror movies). I found a profane man explaining in often hilarious terms why each Godzilla movie was (or wasn’t) great. But more often than not it was a mix of the two – he rarely just offered pure praise, and almost never just dumped on a film without any sort of evaluation of its merits. The same is generally true of his game reviews, which are performed in character as the AVGN. He isn’t a hater, nor is he just some schlub looking for a cheap laugh. He often does have lowbrow humor, and there is the occasional game that gets no praise, but more often than not he considers why a game is terrible and if it really lives up to (or down to) its reputation. Putting it another way, he’s an actual critic.
I’ve watched every episode of AVGN and have been anxiously anticipating the film for the same reason any fan would – The Nerd was finally going to review the most notoriously bad game of all time, E.T. for the Atari 2600. A little history – in 1983, Universal had what promised to be a hit on their hands and was down to get their hands on some of that sweet merchandising money, so they hired Howard Scott Warshaw to create a game to accompany the Christmas release of Spielberg’s newest film. Warshaw had also designed the tie-in game for Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Spielberg was so impressed with that game that Warshaw was his first pick. That’s good. Warshaw was then given five weeks, as opposed to his usual schedule of half a year, to complete the game so it could be released in time. That’s bad. The result – a game that has no apparent connection to the film it’s based on and gameplay so terrible and illogical that few have ever bothered to beat it. It was so bad that it brought Atari to their knees financially and the remaining unsold copies were buried in a landfill in New Mexico. Oh, and it brought the video game market to a grinding halt that analysts at the time feared it would never recover from. To put it in cinematic terms, it was the Heaven’s Gate of video games.
All of this info is in the movie, so don’t be alarmed. There is also a sinister plot by the U.S. government, or at least some rogue faction led by a character that in a more expensive production would be played by Michael Ironside, to keep those cartridges buried, even if it means nuking a bunch of hippies, or even Mt. Fuji. Oh, and there’s a giant, Daimajin-like kaiju called Deathmoisis (or something like that) who created God and the Devil and holds all of the multi-, mega-, and ultraverses in his hands, and can cause them to have never existed with a turn of the satellite dish on top of his head. And there’s also a conspiracy involving the 1947 Roswell incident, Area 51, and a disgraced Army scientist out for revenge. And all of these things are related to one another.
What’s most impressive is that for a film that intentionally mimics the feel of a low-end Troma production, AVGN: The Movie never feels all sloppy or hastily prepared. When I bought my digital copy I balked at the two hour runtime, but I can’t say a moment was wasted or boring. Surely this is the result of Rolfe’s ungodly (in a good way) consumption of B-movies and genre films, but a lot of the credit goes to him being likable in an unlikable kind of way. The Nerd as a character is one of the more interesting creations of the Youtube era because Rolfe has drawn a clear distinction between himself and The Nerd. It doesn’t feel as indulgent as it would if, say, Britney Spears kid got a movie (that’s the best example I could think of). The Nerd is a lonely, basement dwelling gamer who refuses to update his technology and doesn’t like any new games. A life time of the worst gaming has to offer has turned him into bitter husk who tells his partner things like “Nerds before birds.” The film is ultimately about how he lets go of his rage and his fears.
That may sound laughable and I’ll admit I’m taking it a bit more seriously than Rolfe does, but the fact remains that there is a beating heart in all of his best work and a definite passion for the intersection of games, movies, and “trash” (sorry, Mike G.). And ultimately, the moment we all were waiting for, the review of E.T., isn’t the seven minute long string of profanity and vessel-bursting rage we expected, but a fairly apologetic look at a game that gets blamed for way more than any one thing could ever be responsible for. He even goes as far as to suggest that it might not be the worst game of all time. That certainly wasn’t what I expected, but it was true to the evolution of the character in the film.
Bottom line, if you enjoy Rolfe and think that he’s grown as an artist over the years, this will only confirm that and you will enjoy it. If you haven’t ever seen an episode of AVGN, don’t bother with this movie because it’s as much a love letter to a dedicated fan base as it is a movie. It’s fun, it’s funny, and that’s all I got to say.