Based on the popular videogame franchise of the same name, Ace Attorney strides confidently into the ring of videogame movie adaptations and teaches us a thing or two about how to handle source material. For those not in the know, Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney began life as a Gameboy Advance game, before finding a wider audience through the titles subsequent re-release on the Nintendo DS platform. The series found instant success, spawning a multitude of offshoot series including a Manga and even a musical. It would seem that an invasion of this spike haired attorney is afoot, and now thanks to the talents of Takashii Miike, a full length feature film can also be added to list.
Taking place in a somewhat skewed version of modern day Japan, Ace Attorney follows rookie Defendant Phoenix Wright, as he tackles a series of cases that slowly unfurl to reveal a twisted plot that stretches back years ago. Opening with a haunting and visually arresting sequence, Ace Attorney shows the police’s reliance on spiritual mediums, as a suspect meets a verdict based on the abilities of medium Misty Fey. Fast forward to the present day, and after the murder of Mr Wright’s mentor, a series of cases begin to unfold. Oddly enough, the film’s structure follows that of the games to a key. Being somewhat uninitiated with the franchise, and picking up the first couple of titles after viewing the film, there is an accomplishment in how Ace Attorney manages to follow the game’s rigid structure. Put simply, Phoenix Wright takes on a case, interviews the suspect, visits all the major crime scenes gathering evidence, before court hits session- and what a session that is.
Blending the confident and frankly bonkers visual style of Takashi Miike with the Ace Attorney franchise was a master stroke. During the film’s production, many began to speculate exactly how a film could translate the off-kilter court room drama of the video game series. It would seem Miike stumbled upon the special sauce. By blending a whole host of visual wiz bang effects with the likes of fast cut editing, split screen and even bullet time, Ace Attorney takes on a life of its own. Each procession feels more like a bout in a boxing match, as verbal blows are struck and the two attorneys’ battle with wits rather than brawn. Performances all around are fantastically realised; when you see Hiroki Narimiya shout “objection” chills will be had as the giddy absurdity of it all comes to light.
If there are any drawbacks to the film, it’s the overly generous runtime of over two hours; a crime which could be held in court if it only wasn’t so damn entertaining. The episodic structure of the film does create a second act lull, though thankfully things kick into high gear once court gets under way. As the film came to a close I began to wonder why other videogame adaptations failed to capitalise on their source material. Ace Attorney feels at times like a blend of Scott Pilgrim and A Few Good Men, and whilst the fantastical setting and frenetic pace will grate some, those looking for a title that encapsulates everything we love about Japanese Pop Culture need look no further. Ace Attorney stands as a benchmark for what can be achieved with the perfect marriage of director and source material, with an array of fantastic performances and oddly compelling plot; you would be a fool to miss out on such a treat. Verdict: Not Guilty.