It might be hard to remember now, staring down a summer that's going to give us A-list comic-book films featuring Thor, Captain America, the X-Men and Green Lantern, but there was once a time when superhero movies were considered both a complete joke and utter box office poison. Back in the late 1990s, after Joel Schumacher had run the bloated Batman series into the rubber-lined Wall of Camp at 100 miles per hour, nobody wanted to touch the genre.
And then Marvel Comics did something interesting. Teetering on the throes of bankruptcy, the company turned to Avi Arad, a businessman who both respected comic books and understood Hollywood, to start converting their heroes into big screen superstars. A slew of mega-successful Spidey, X-Men and Iron Man flicks later, the superhero movie is heading toward a decade of box-office success, with no apparent end in sight. Top actors now clamor to slap on spandex tights they would have run screaming from 10 years ago.
Videogame movies, meanwhile, are 20 shades of green with envy.
Actual videogames couldn't be healthier. Everywhere you turn, there are intelligent and interesting games that push and redefine their genres, from the Bioshock series to Mass Effect, Portal 2 and Heavy Rain. Some of these are slowly wending their way to the silver screen, but at this point they're still just pixels in the distance.
The present is far more depressing. Thanks to talent-free black holes like German director Uwe Boll, the auteur of Postal and Bloodrayne, the videogame movie has been its own built-in punch line for years. The height of the genre, if you can believe it, might be Milla Jovovich's zombie-blasting Resident Evil adaptations, and that's not saying much.
So it's good news, today's announcement that the developer UbiSoft, which gave us the Assassin's Creed, Prince of Persia and Splinter Cell series -- three of videogaming's most respected franchises, for those scoring at home -- is forming its own film division to handle future film treatments of its products.
Anyone who's played even a few moments of Ubisoft's transcendent Assassin's Creed series knows that putting Ezio's epic adventures on the big screen has the potential to be like a magical mixture of Inception and The Borgias. Ubi's production team has already shown us they know how to tell stories and create believable characters, both on the small screen and the big. It could have been a little darker and a lot less focused on Jake Gyllenhall's pecs, but last year's Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time certainly showed the potential of what videogame flicks could be. Imagine how cool it could have been without the Disney label.
So while we wait for the news that Ryan Reynolds has been cast as Splinter Cell's Sam Fisher, we'll take the Ubisoft announcement as a sign of hope -- and hope that other videogame companies take note and follow suit.