It’s finally happened. They’ve made a good video game movie. No. Really. It happened.
Unsurprisingly, the biggest reason that Ace Attorney works is that it is a quirky, very Japanese movie, directed by Miike Takashi, a quirky, very Japanese, director, based on the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney franchise, a quirky, very Japanese series of video games for the Nintendo DS and Wii. If this sounds like the sort of thing you’re into, then you will love this movie. If it doesn’t, there isn’t really much point in you continuing to read this review, so please, move along.
The film opens in suitable WTF fashion, with a CGI-heavy scene involving spirit mediums, lawyers in Hell and some seriously Yakuza-looking police detectives. We flash forward many years later to Phoenix Wright (Hiroki Narimiya), a bumbling attorney working in the lowest sublevel of Japan’s new Bench Trial justice system, where the defense and the prosecution have a mere 3 days to battle things out tournament-style. If it weren’t for his boss and mentor Maya Fey (Mirei Kiritani), he’d never have won his first case. Unfortunately, Phoenix’s second case turns out to be defending his boss’ sister Mia (Rei Dan) in the case of Maya’s murder.
Things spiral from there into an increasingly convoluted conspiracy involving superstar prosecutor Miles Edgeworth (Takumi Saito), dastardly reporters, lake monsters and a talking parrot. While Phoenix’s eventual triumph is guaranteed by the title of the film, the real star of the show is how much fun everyone seems to be having. Everyone seems to understand how goofy the premise is, with the anime hairdos and the ridiculous plot, and Miike does a masterful job of of taking things just seriously enough. The humor is goofy, but not gimmicky, with lots of in-jokes for fans of the video games, like an early gag based on the video game’s mechanic of showering you with confetti when you win a case, which pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the humor in the film.
The visuals are fun and colorful, but not cloying, and the performances range from hammy to deadpan where appropriate. The only real mark against the film is that it really is too long at over 2 hours, due in large part to the convoluted plot. The popularity of the games and the obviously larger budget mean that there was a lot riding on this film in Japan, so what could have been a fun romp in video game land suddenly becomes an actual courtroom drama in an attempt to lend credibility to a film that didn’t really need it.
While certainly not perfect, Ace Attorney comes much closer to capturing the spirit of a video game than any North American attempts so far.