Pixels is a terrible video game movie

Pixels Photos

I’m hiding under my baseball cap as I walk into the theater inside the Metreon, a blue block of a building that Sony dropped on San Francisco in the late ‘90s. It’s an appropriate setting. The Metreon once housed a big, unpopular arcade I frequented in college, but under Westfield’s ownership it’s now just a theater, a Target, and some restaurants. And I’m here to see Pixels, the Adam Sandler film about arcade classics come to destroy Earth. This is their revenge.

I use a machine to buy my ticket, waving it on as it hangs on the screen displaying my order. I grab the ticket and lower my cap. This is fun. I feel like a spy. I even brought a notebook. Do people take notes while reviewing movies? I don’t know. This is my first movie review.

I put on my 3D glasses. Why did I think I’d be able to take notes in a dark theater with 3D glasses on? I tear up a little at the trailer for The Good Dinosaur. And then, Pixels. Spoilers ahead, if you care.

15 minutes into Pixels

The early-'80s opening sees young versions of all the characters go to an arcade tournament, which is apparently the only one that was ever held, and they set all the records there are to set. Young Peter Dinklage (Eddie) beats young Adam Sandler (who cares), and mocks him, as he should. We jump to present day.

Adam Sandler is the lead, of course: a Geek Squad parody manchild who was super good at arcade games way back when but has no ambition now. He falls in love with Michelle Monaghan, who’s like, a Lieutenant Colonel of something. And here we go: it’s that godawful ‘nerd approval’ plot, where the lifelong loserman tries to prove his worth so he can sleep with an attractive woman who’s otherwise too snobby to be into him. Nerds are valuable too, and if they say you’re sexy you should kiss them.

Of course, Sandler only has value in this movie because aliens are literally attacking earth with real versions of the arcade games he’s good at. Also, he knows the President of the United States. Kevin James plays the President of the United States.

I drink half my medium Diet Coke, being sure to shake all the ice cubes around during quiet parts to express my displeasure.

30 minutes into Pixels

Two people leave the theater. Here’s what they’re missing: the footage from that '80s arcade tournament was misinterpreted by aliens as a threat. As a result, they’ve challenged Earth to an arcade game tournament with a televised message that aired during a rerun of One Tree Hill. Josh Gad discovers this after first checking 4chan (for the sole purpose of mentioning 4chan).

So, if Earth loses at the life-sized arcade games (we invent magic light cannons to shoot the alien arcade guys with, by the way), the aliens will destroy us all. The games have no clear rules. No one cares. There’s a robot man.

Pixels Mv 11

Losing track of time

Eddie (Peter Dinklage) is now a convict, and desperately wants to sleep with Serena Williams and Martha Stewart in the White House. This joke comes up more than once.

But even without the promise that he can have sex with these women, Eddie agrees to fight the aliens. He uses a Pac-Man “cheat code” while driving a ‘Ghost’ Mini Cooper, teleporting himself around New York City. This all happens off-screen and is not explained. The aliens get mad.

But no one knows the aliens are pissed off yet, so they decide to have a ball. It’s a weird as hell adult prom, and Adam Sandler asks Michelle Monaghan to go with him, and she shows up in a dress, looking all good. Then, Kevin James—who, I must protest, is The President of the United States—refers to her (a Lieutenant Colonel) as a “ten” while standing next to his wife. The First Lady is played by Jane Krakowski, who is the best person in the film even though she does nothing. Because she does nothing.

So, Monaghan falls in love with Sandler, I guess, even though he keeps telling her that nerds are good kissers because they appreciate it more. No one pities him. I'm blowing bubbles in my Diet Coke now.

Pixels Mv 7

I have to pee because I drank too much Diet Coke

Did I mention that Q*Bert was given to Earth as a trophy? He was. He becomes a “traitor” to the aliens for some reason, and mentions that his civilization used to be peaceful before all this crap with Earth. None of this matters and no one cares. No one cares about the plot of this movie at all.

So, Adam Sandler and crew go to the mothership to face his Achilles’ heel: Donkey Kong. To defeat Donkey Kong, Sandler has to take the advice of a kid: stop trying to find a pattern like in Galaga or whatever, and just try to survive like you do in modern games like The Last of Us. He jumps over some barrels (it’s super easy) and the aliens are like, “Ahh, oh nooo!” (You never actually see the aliens.)

Meanwhile, Josh Gad is still fighting on the ground. His character is a basement-dweller who’s in love with Lady Lisa, a sexy arcade character who coincidentally comes to life as one of the pixel creatures attacking Earth (except she's not pixelated, she's Ashley Benson) but joins our side when he proposes to her. She never speaks.

Sadly, Lisa is killed when Adam Sandler defeats the aliens. But it’s OK! Q*Bert, who again, was a trophy given to Earth by the aliens, transforms into Ashley Benson. Thank goodness. The kid who cried when he thought Q*Bert was dead earlier is fine with this. Sandler is the only one to object, but we move on because the movie is almost over.

It’s implied that Peter Dinklage has sex with Serena Williams and Martha Stewart in the White House.

Q*Bert (disguised as Lady Lisa) gives birth to a litter of Q*Berts, who we see Gad coming home to. He slept with Q*Bert, in the form of Ashley Benson, and they had Q*Bert babies. That’s what happens. That’s the last thing in this movie, Pixels.

Pixels Mv 14

I can finally pee out all this Diet Coke

I knew Pixels would be bad, but I thought, at least, that there might be some silly references—maybe even some PC game references—that I could say were fun. Pixels does not care about games. They’re just there. Remember Galaga? Asteroids? They’re here! Some guy screwed Q*Bert!

The lazy, drooling sexism isn’t funny, and neither are the game references. Pixels is a stupid and bad movie and I feel bad for going. Watch Wreck-It Ralph instead, because it’s infinitely better. Wreck-It Ralph cares about where it comes from, whereas Pixels does jokes like: “Have you been playing Space Invaders recently? Because you’re invading my space!”

I’m exhausted.

Tyler Wilde
Executive Editor

Tyler grew up in Silicon Valley during the '80s and '90s, playing games like Zork and Arkanoid on early PCs. He was later captivated by Myst, SimCity, Civilization, Command & Conquer, all the shooters they call "boomer shooters" now, and PS1 classic Bushido Blade (that's right: he had Bleem!). Tyler joined PC Gamer in 2011, and today he's focused on the site's news coverage. His hobbies include amateur boxing and adding to his 1,200-plus hours in Rocket League.