Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is one of the more predominant visual novel adventure game series in gaming. The iconic poses, the objections, the distinct character designs and the over the top reactions, there is no way one who has come across such a series can really forget it especially when it has entered the pop culture space with memes and gathered quite the following outside of Japan. I have to be honest, I came into this knowing the first game in and out. I feel like for one to sometimes understand the adaptation, one must know the series well enough to see where the director or producer is coming from. Especially when that director is best known for his outrageous ideas and spectacle like Takashi Miike. The vision of Miike is clear throughout the film, but does this film have enough passion to make it a worthwhile movie worth viewing outside of the fanbase?
Miike is well known for his visual spectacle, whether it be just visually distinct or gory beyond belief. Ace Attorney is no exception to this rule as it is clearly a passionate recreation of the game with some tweaks to make it work visually in a movie format. The character’s designs are…some of the best I have seen in a film adaptation. It is hard to pull off some of the more ludicrous designs of the cast, yet each one feels exactly what each of the characters would be in real life. Whether it was Lotta’s giant afro, or von Karma’s amazing weave that came undone the more he got upset, or even how they managed to get Wright’s hair to stick upwards like it always does, the costume design is out of this world. Faithful designs aside, the visual sense and flashiness of the cinematography and editing makes this feel like a very distinct and fast paced/erratic film. Yet it also understands when to allow its defense and prosecution have their moments of flair and grandiose movements.
One of the best elements that was added to the film was the use of a projector in the courtroom that served as the case log. Seeing Wright, Edgeworth and Karma use the projections as if they were slapping their opponents with the hard truth felt very refreshing as when they don’t use it and the people all fall down for a comedic punchline to a joke it feels awkward and far too cartoonish for live action no matter how well it is done. The courtroom cases in the film are done with a sense of gravitas where the prosecution and defense combat one another while those who bear witness to the proceedings look on like a crowd at a sports match. In a sense the tickets one buys to be able to be in the audience in this bench trial system makes this entire courtroom feel like a play and thus the dramatic and overdramatic tendencies feel at home sometimes unless it goes a bit too far with ludicrous notions like the witness having a giant megaphone. Yeah that type of physical gag is used and feels off-place in the live action film and that is only the tip of the iceberg of awkward moments in this film.
The story of Ace Attorney follows the DL-6 plotline from the original murder of Mia Fey to the Miles Edgeworth case. My biggest problem with this is how they plotted both the first and final courtroom cases together. This is not a cohesive story in the first half. It jumps from random moment to random moment with no build up, no character direction or establishment besides a few personality traits. The entire beginning of the film is almost unequivocally nonsense masqueraded as trying to tailor the first and last trials together. The only moment where I felt comfortable with the story and slowly became engaged with the performances and events is in the second half of the film where it becomes only a courtroom drama surrounding one case. In that case we have all the great things I listed up above, and a great performance from von Karma and even Larry Butz not being as annoying. The Miles Edgeworth trial is actually quite riveting and while the mystery is just as strange and filled with twists and turns you can’t help but glue your eyes on the screen.
The opening tried to set up a grand conspiracy without giving us a reason to care for any of these characters. I don’t know who Mia Fey is besides the fact that she was a friend and mentor to Wright and was looking up a case. I don’t know who Gumshoe is besides the fact that he is a policeman, even the incompetency shown in the game did not come across the same way in the film and he felt more like a rookie cop who was trying his hardest. Maya Fey is a literal costume upon the shell of a character. There was nothing there that made me feel attached to her at all, no personality to discern from her many lines and the lines of personality she did have were delivered so blandly that I couldn’t find myself even attempting to crack a smile. That is why the opening of this film falls apart, they are shoving more references and trying to set up the story in such a rushed and scattershot fashion that there is nothing to grab onto as an audience.
Phoenix Wright, Miles Edgeworth, and Larry Butz do get some screen time to effectively tell their story in an endearing way during the second half of the film. You understand why they are friends through flashback, understand the motivation of Edgeworth to be in the position he is in and understand why Wright and Larry fight to keep Miles from being called guilty. The only other character given somewhat of an arc through the movie is Von Karma the prosecutor or the boat shop rental owner. These two have some of the better performances within the movie, both given time to really sell their motivations and personalities. These five characters are the ones that take us through the rollercoaster of emotions and conclusions through the second half of the film and if it wasn’t for them this film would have been nigh unwatchable.
I say unwatchable for good reason, since half the film is just an incoherently executed mess. What could one expect from trying to cover an entire game in one film while only really covering one trial in a five trial game about building characters from the ground-up? It feels rushed when outside of its key focus the DL-6 case. When it is taking the case seriously in the second half, the film takes its time giving the plot well needed time to flesh itself out and even give characters moments to shine. Even if some of the performances and exaggerated expressions were done far too much creating awkward moments of dead air that were trying to be comedy (primarily because of Phoenix Wright himself).
This is a passion project that is for certain, one that wanted to tell the last and most important trial of the game. It forgot that in every good film you need to care for the characters involved and give them time to grow for the audience, instead the film feels like it wanted you to know the ins and outs of the game in order to truly appreciate what is going on. That is not what a good adaptation should be. A good adaptation should make time to do everything right without rushing to the good part and making the film feel longer than was needed. Fifty minutes of the film is bland and boring to sit through because of its lack of coherency or ineffective use of character building. It looks and feels exactly what a Phoenix Wright movie should be, but it lacks the same narrative brilliance and character progression that the games had coming off as a costumed event for recreating one of the best moments in the first game. That is not a bad thing as when it truly gets into the case it takes flight, it just means that this is more a fleeting moment that is easier to experience within the game itself making the adaptation inconsequential in the long run despite Miike’s fantastic direction. Either that or skip to the second half of the film.
This will be more of a hit for fans and people who can just enjoy the spectacle taking place, even if it is at times quite messy. If you find yourself a fan of Phoenix Wright, take the chance to watch this film but this is not an example of how to do a video game adaptation effectively but it is a valiant effort. You don’t know how that hurts me to say with all of my respect towards Miike as a filmmaker…
My heart goes out to the people who made this as it was a lot of fun to sit through. I enjoyed seeing this case brought to life even if it was superficially recreating it. The design on this film was superb and I actually want to see Miike get even more shots to bring properties to life, I heard he was doing a Blade of the Immortal film this year.
So what do you think of the Ace Attorney (2012)? Is this how you expected a Phoenix Wright film to be? Feel free to leave a comment down below or send me a recommendation for another video game adaptation through the comments or through my email at
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