The battle to deliver good movies based on popular video games took a while to win. Yet films like Pokémon: Detective Pikachu and Sonic the Hedgehog proved it’s possible to succeed in the genre after decades of struggle. However, Apple TV+ decided to take a different approach to their game-based film. Tetris, from director Jon S. Baird, brings the story of Henk Rogers to the big screen. With an electric performance from Taron Egerton, Tetris remains enjoyable, despite falling into many of the tropes of political thrillers.

Henk Rogers (Egerton) sees a salesman pitching Tetris at a gaming convention in Las Vegas. He immediately sees the potential in the game, not only for what money it could but for perfection as a game. He begins tracking down ways to get the rights wherever he can and discovers Nintendo building a handheld gaming system in the process. A scramble for Tetris’s rights begins, with Rogers, Robert Stein (Toby Jones), and the Maxwells (Roger Allam & Anthony Boyle) all bidding for the game’s future. Simultaneously, Rogers begins a friendship with the game’s creator, Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Efremov).

Tetris 2023 SXSW Taron Egerton

Egerton’s performance unlocks Tetris, ensuring it overcomes the tropes littering the screenplay. His energy and talent are undeniable as he pours passion into the role. It comes through in every scene, and Egerton delivers a lighthearted comedic foil to the madness on screen. There’s an earnest streak that he delivers that’s hard to ignore.

Unfortunately, the rest of Tetris has difficulty keeping up with its star. Half a dozen Russian characters begin to blend together and have almost no motivation outside of beating up Egerton or extracting more money out of the situation. The same issues plague most side characters, including the Rogers family and video game developers at Nintendo. With so many characters playing into cartoonish tropes, the story loses a lot of its individuality. Instead, it plays out like Argo or Bridge of Spies with less subtlety.

Tetris 2023 SXSW Taron Egerton

The only other character that receives a definition is Efremov. In a few scenes, he communicates more worry and sorrow than most actors over a complete film. There’s genuine worry for his family, and his interactions with Egerton inspire us to root for whatever team he joins. If not for Egerton, he would be the highlight of the film.

Meanwhile, the villains of Tetris get cartoonishly silly. Allam plays the silliest of the bunch, though this feels the most purposeful. He plays a larger-than-life business executive who also finds himself willing to bribe any official at a moment’s notice. He’s hysterically corrupt. Other performers follow his lead, which starkly contrasts the far more sincere tone of the Alexy/Rogers storylines.

Tetris 2023 SXSW

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Tetris becomes the all-knowing way every character approaches the situation. Every character seems to believe that selling Tetris to the West will destroy the country, from a low KGB agent to Mikhail Gorbachev (literally). There’s no doubt that the bidding war for Tetris was intense, but painting it as a moment that shifted world history quickly turns into hyperbole. Combined with exaggerated scenes and more tropes, the credibility of Tetris is long gone by the time the film claims it assisted in bringing down the USSR.

Still, Tetris makes for an enjoyable experience on the whole. Knowing you are watching an exaggerated political thriller helps the movie join a lineage of films with similar ideas. Add on Egerton’s performance, and you’ll find a fun way to spend the evening.

Alan’s Rating: 6/10

What do you think of Tetris? Let us know in the comments below! Apple TV+ distributes Tetris. It is set for release on March 31, 2023.

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