It is the late 80s and the cracks in the Berlin Wall are getting more pronounced. The fog of the cold-war is wafting through the world but some bureaucrats in the USSR, a British billionaire and his good-for-nothing son, a small family in Tokyo and a Dutch video game enthusiast willing to risk it all, are occupied by a bunch of differently shaped tetrominoes on a computer.
Named after the game Tetris, Jon S. Baird’s 118-minute-long movie is based on a real story of how the video game escaped the Iron Curtain to spread its wings across the globe.
Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton) is a Dutch-born entrepreneur whose overwhelming passion for video games gets him to Las Vegas where he stumbles upon Tetris at a trade show. Upon realising the potential of the game, he sets out on a mission to win licensing rights to the game. In his journey, he meets greedy capitalists who also have their eyes set on the game — Robert Stein (Tony Jones), the shrewd capitalist at Andromeda Software, Robert Maxwell, a billionaire publishing magnate and his son Kevin Maxwell (Anthony Boyle) — and Soviet bureaucrats looking to make a quick buck.
The choice to focus on the licensing war of the game instead of its conception is questionable — the details of contract negotiations seem futile, boring and confusing with power-hungry caricaturish characters fighting it out in a crumbling USSR.
The movie is unsure about its tone as it dilly-dallies between comedy and suspenseful drama rather abruptly. But the most jarring aspect of the 118-minute-long film is its politics. It pits communism against capitalism using its characters as wooden puppets who mouth cliche sentiments. Henk is the charming Western middle-class man who is aspirational and represents freedom while Alexey Pajintov (Nikita Efremov), the creator of Tetris, is the naive Russian who is trapped by his government and the idea of rebellion seems like a distant dream until he meets Henk. However, its praise of capitalism comes in direct conflict with the existence of a billionaire and his overzealous son who has not worked a day in his life.
The creators did not bother with the characterisation of Roger’s family — his Japanese wife and children are more than happy being pushed around as he chooses his dreams over them and are quick to forgive when he makes a grand gesture. Two of his three children disappear halfway through the film, one could only assume they got bored of the antics of their dad and his friends. While the Tetris-like pixelated animation works as an exciting transition idea in the beginning, I wish someone taught Bird the law of diminishing marginal utility.
While his moustache might need some getting used to, Taron Egerton is reliable in this chaotic narration and you can count on him to keep you hooked, the soundtrack does the job in scenes without Egerton. However, it is the high-octane car chase featuring 80s cars in Soviet Russia that slightly makes up for the bore.
The real-life story of the game is far more thrilling than this adaptation and you are better off reading it on Wikipedia.
Tetris is currently streaming on Apple TV+