Monday, June 18, 2018

Veteran Reviews: Ace Attorney (2012)

Hey, folks. Bob here, and Al asked me to weigh in on the Ace Attorney movie as well, as I'm a pretty big fan of the game series. Just a note that I will be using the English names for characters here, as those are the ones I'm more familiar with.

Al hit the basics, but to review: Phoenix Wright is a young defense attorney who is just getting started in his career. After defending a friend, Larry Butz, on a charge of murder, he finds himself getting pulled into other cases that strike close to home - involving both his old friends and the family of his mentor, Mia Fey. He's aided in his efforts by Maya Fey, spirit channeler and little sister of Mia. The film revolves around his desperate attempts to get his friends through the cases safely, repair his friendship with an old friend, Miles Edgeworth, and find the truth about not only present cases, but an old case from years long past.

And make no mistake, Phoenix is desperate. One of the best elements of the film here is the portrayal of Phoenix by Narimiya Hiroki. He does an exceptional job capturing Phoenix's general demeanor. Phoenix in the games is particularly lovable hero, with an admirable attitude towards truth and justice balanced by an ever-present palpable sense of panic. He seemingly exists in a near-constant state of tension, and if you go more than a few minutes in a game without seeing him break into a cold sweat or bury his head in his hands after something turns his case on its head, you...probably set the game down and went to get lunch or something. Narimiya's portrayal is perfect - I really got the sense of all of Phoenix's characteristics coming from him, and it always seemed to fit the tone of the film. He's determined when he needs to be, desperate when he needs to be, and manages some wonderful befuddled, confused, and outright panicking moments that could easily have been goofy but actually come off really well.

(Unfortunately - and maybe this is part of why there's not been another film - I understand Narimiya's since retired as an actor for reasons I won't get into here.)

Others are quite strong as well: Ishibashi Ryō's Von Karma, in particular, is portrayed very well and comes off as an intimidating presence on the screen. He seems to be in command of every last detail and just feels powerful. And Dan Rei doesn't get much screen time as Mia Fey, but for the time she's there, she feels like a capable attorney who has things quite a bit more together than Phoenix - you can tell why he looks up to her and why her brief hints throughout the film are enough to help him get back on his feet.

Others don't fare quite as well, through honestly no fault of the actors and actresses. I don't think the film gives Mia's younger sister Maya Fey enough room to work, really, owing to a factor I'll get to later, and Edgeworth suffers a bit for similar reasons. We just don't get to spend enough time with those characters outside of The Most Dramatic Moments of Their Lives to really understand who exactly they are, and for me, it hurt the film a little. I wanted to like Maya - she's probably my single favorite character from the games - but she felt really underutilized and just didn't seem to have her complete personality here. The Maya of the games is full of funny quips and little asides, and those are pretty much absent from this Maya. And Edgeworth...he just doesn't get an arc that's quite fully developed. He gets the start and the finish of it, but the middle felt lacking to me. Maybe, again, it's because I've seen the game's version, but I think Al actually got into the film's version more than I did...I felt like it didn't get enough time. More on that in a bit.

Otherwise...Gumshoe was nice enough but again isn't much in the film (and I really felt like they should've got a taller guy to play him - maybe it's just me, but I always got the feeling Gumshoe would be physically imposing except that he slouches a lot. I guess looking at wiki information he's not supposed to be that much taller than Phoenix, but still...just didn't give me the same "big" feeling he does in the games). I didn't get to see much of the lovable, somewhat oafish detective as I would've hoped. Larry Butz was as weird and generally hopeless as expected, and while his hair looks particularly ridiculous in real life even compared to the odd hairstyles of Phoenix and Edgeworth, I felt like his use in the film was pretty great - I really got a sense of "oh no, what now" any time he opened his mouth, and that's Larry in a nutshell. The Judge...the Judge just kind of made me sad. In the games, he's a huge part of the humor as a wonderfully befuddled old man who somehow still ends up coming to the right conclusions (eventually), and here it just felt like...well, he was a judge. He's not a character, really, just a prop they have to have there because it's a courtroom.

I know, I'm talking a lot about how the film was compared to the games, but I'm pretty sure that's why Al asked me to watch along, after all!

So, to continue on's what I really missed as part of the film: the third case from the first Ace Attorney game.

I'll explain.

In the game, you've got five cases - four in the original release, and one more added on when it got remade for DS (and we first got it over here). The four original cases together make a good story - you get Phoenix's beginning and the establishment of his friendship with Larry, the murder of Mia and the establishment of Phoenix and Maya's partnership and their rivalry with Edgeworth, the development of that rivalry and the hints that perhaps Edgeworth isn't lost forever, and then the biggest threat to Edgeworth and Phoenix getting the chance to step up as a friend and try to save his old friend's life and soul.

That third act - the development of the rivalry and the hints that Edgeworth might not be fully gone - feels like it is either underdeveloped or in fact completely absent here. We go from game case 2 to game case 4, skipping game case 3 (except we use a clip of it, sans Phoenix's involvement, in the intro sequence establishing Edgeworth at all, and reference the Steel Samurai show involved in that case numerous times in the film). For me, this really cut out a valuable part of Edgeworth's arc - it's in case 3 that we really saw that he still cared about the truth and wasn't just out to judge criminals guilty at any cost like we thought. It doesn't fully remove our worries about him, but it gives us some hope.

In this film, on the other hand, we see Edgeworth solidly as Phoenix's nemesis...and then right away as Phoenix's next client. There's no transition, and it feels jarring. Maybe that's just because I've seen the slower-paced version, but I felt like there was a big chunk missing from the middle that made it a lot smoother. do you solve that in one movie? I honestly don't think you can. If they were intent on doing just one Ace Attorney film, then I think they went about it the right way. But ideally...I would've done two films. The first would do cases 1, 2, and 3, and the second would do case 4. Keep Cases 1 and 2 about how they're done here - they're simplified vs. the games, but it feels fine. Then do case 3, finish it up well, and give us a little spark of hope for Edgeworth. Then end the film on him being accused of murder - big old cliffhanger. Not as big as another movie I may have watched recently that ripped my heart out and refuses to let me put it in until sometime next year, perhaps, but still, a nice big cliffhanger. Then, the next film would be case 4, with plenty of room to breathe.

This would also give Maya time to transition - in case 2, she's understandably quiet, having just lost someone important to her and being accused of murder, to boot, and in case 4's movie version, things need to be reaching their most dramatic so there's not as much time for her to be her energetic self. Case 3 in the game gives her a valuable period of time to be established anew as her real, lively personality, and without that as a transition period for her, it doesn't feel like she ever makes the leap...she kind of remains more quiet and almost shy through a lot of the film, and while she gets some moments speaking out, there just aren't that many times we get to see Maya Fey rather than Phoenix's quiet assistant who dresses kinda funny.

I don't want it to sound like I disliked every difference from the games, though! For one thing, I thought the truth of the DL-6 case was far superior in the film's version - no need for extraneous earthquakes and elevators, the reason for the fight was better and more understandable, Yanni Yogi comes off much more sympathetic, and it makes perfect sense why everyone involved is in the same place. The game's version makes several elements of the crime more happenstance, and while it still comes off well, the film's version just makes some more sense. (It does also cut out the explanation for Miles Edgeworth having claustrophobia, but that only matters if they do some of the later cases and could probably be written around.)

Similarly, while cases have been streamlined, they've generally been streamlined pretty well. A lot of the added detail to the game cases is there because...well...they're from a game, and there have to be things there to challenge the players. Some details or misdirections aren't as necessary in film format and would just add to runtime or slow the story down. I do feel like things maybe move a little too quickly at times - thus why I'd rather this be two films, or, say, an anime series that I'll probably review in a bit - but it is easy to understand the choice and most of the time - "why is Phoenix interviewing a bird on the witness stand" aside - we don't lose the most important details.

I love that moment, by the way, and it comes off hilariously in the film (before leading into one of the more powerful emotional moments in the film, wonderfully enough) - I just feel like he has a clearer reason for doing it in the game.

I'm a little more torn on the change in how the Fey family's Kurain channeling technique operates, but again, that doesn't matter to this film. I just worry about it because it would quickly matter if they had decided to make a sequel, as the most important cases revolve around the technique. In the games, to make this clear, a Kurain channeler actually physically transforms into the appearance of the spirit they summon. In the film, it varies a bit, but it seems clear that's not happening - Maya's mother is shown in a much more standard sort of medium ritual early in the film, and though Phoenix sees Maya overlaid by the spirit she's summoning a couple times, it seems likely that's just him - and it is pretty obviously a spirit, glowing and all, which would preclude it being used like it is in other cases in the game series even if everyone saw her that way.

One more comment, and this is something I kind of wish they weren't as faithful to the game on: costumes and appearances. Ace Attorney is very faithful to the game's character designs...often, to a fault. While it's fun to see the costumes and weird hair replicated in live action, it makes it a bit harder to take the story seriously sometimes. What looks good in animated form often looks weird in real life. Larry's hair is nuts, Lotta Hart's hair is insane, and Edgeworth's looks like he got far too enthusiastic in a visit to Colonial Williamsburg or something. Phoenix's is weird too, but I got used to it pretty fast since he's pretty much always on camera. Particularly hilarious was the flashback scene to Phoenix's youth with Edgeworth and Larry, and those poor kids having to wear those bizarre haircuts...oh, man, I about died. In any case, it's hardly bad and it's an attempt to be nice and faithful, but I think the film might have been better off hitting the important points (Phoenix's blue suit, Gumshoe's shabby coat, Edgeworth's cravat) and not trying to get the appearances one-hundred percent perfect.

The over-the-top witness breakdowns were something I could do without in live action, too...they're great in animated form, but a guy suddenly whipping out a megaphone in a live action film takes me out of things a bit. I don't know - I guess I want my animation animated and my live action, uh...boring. Not really, but you get what I mean. Sometimes what works really well for a game or anime is just kind of weird in a movie.

I also appreciate a number of little nods they made to the game series, though they're moments you'll only get if you actually played the game - like brief appearances by the Blue Badger mascot (though one was a little out there), the confetti that falls down at the end of trials (particularly the underwhelming first representation of that), and several glimpses of characters from other cases not covered by the movie. Less thrilling was the brief nod to the investigation segments in the late film, with Phoenix just kind of holding up weird items and making faces rather than engaging in any witty banter like you'd get in the games. Again. Maya. Criminally underused.

Overall, though...Ace Attorney is pretty great. I was a little down on it after watching it initially, but that was because - as my review above makes it seem like I'm still doing - I was really heavily comparing it to the game. I know it doesn't sound like it above, but with a little time past it and after hearing Al's view on it, where he - despite not having played the game - was able to "get it" for the most part and enjoy the film...I'm pretty happy with it. There's things I would have had them do differently, and make no mistake, there will be moments where you will have to reaaaaaaally suspend disbelief about everything from basic court proceedings to where the heck someone just pulled a large object from in a court of law, but Ace Attorney ends up quite a respectable little courtroom story that tells a good, personal tale mixed in with a nice and surprisingly deep mystery with a lot of twists and turns. It was definitely fun to watch, and while I'll prefer the game's version of the story, the movie version is perfectly acceptable and makes for a good watch.

It may play fast and loose with the rules of a court of law, and I dearly hope no one ever actually designs a legal system that works the way the courts do in the film or game series (wait, you can just declare a verdict whenever the prosecutor says, "hey, judge, you wanna get on that verdict thing?" unless the defense attorney is all, "uh, no, wait, please"), but Ace Attorney is a fun ride that mixes some genuine mystery and drama with a quirky atmosphere and some good comedy. It's well worth your time.

No comments:

Post a Comment