Borderlands Has Me Feeling Cautiously Optimistic

Courtesy of Lionsgate Films

I have spent…more than my fair share of hours playing the various Borderlands games. According to my latest Steam playtime metrics, I’ve spent 721.6 hours playing Borderlands 2, 324 hours playing Borderlands 3, and a relatively quaint 52 hours playing Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. I was naturally curious (perhaps morbidly so) about the upcoming Borderlands film adaptation. Having seen the first trailer, I have many, many, very mixed thoughts. These thoughts are leaning a smidge more positive now than when all I had was a poster and some casting announcements.

The first, most important thing to know is that the Borderlands movie is, quite deliberately, not a 1:1 recreation of any of the Borderlands games. The film is a story (and universe) parallel to that of the games, one that looks to take well-known characters and story elements from the games and remix them with new characters and elements into something unique. Naturally, this has Borderlands purists up in arms, with the trailer’s YouTube page being overrun with comments like “Where’s the intro from Marcus?!?!” and “But but but what about Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked?!?!?!”

I can understand where these comments are coming from, but I think it’s largely a case of missing the forest for the trees. What is evident throughout this trailer is the spirit of the Borderlands franchise. The games are a gonzo mix of Mad Max style apocalyptic wasteland and mid-to-late-2000s internet and toilet humor, set on a planet so utterly desolate that by the time of the third game you’re having to make biofuel by running over skags and bandits because that’s the only thing close to a natural resource that the planet has left. The spirit of the games is heavily filtered through the Guardians of the Galaxy style lens that Hollywood seems to think every space-based franchise needs to be told through (except for Star Wars, which ironically enough would probably benefit the most from a bit of Guardians style irreverence and levity).

What I am still a little apprehensive about is the film’s characters and casting choices. Tiny Tina looks to have most of her wackier edges sanded off and we don’t get enough of Krieg to see if we’ll get anything resembling the fascinating duality of his mind. For those who haven’t played the games, there’s a sane half and an insane half to Krieg’s brain with the sane half doing his best to steer a runaway freight train of a body to only kill or maim people who actually deserve it. As good as Jamie Lee Curtis is in everything, I had to keep reminding myself that she was, in fact, playing Patricia Tannis.

Most importantly, there are the two leads of Roland and Lilith, which when compared to their game counterparts could not be more miscast (at least on paper). Roland in the games is a tall, reliable, overly serious former soldier…played by famously short comedian Kevin Hart. Lilith is a sarcastic, twenty-something daredevil who finds herself having to take up a mantle of leadership whether she likes it or not…played by notably not twenty-something Cate Blanchett.

I’m still on the fence about Blanchett’s casting—she certainly appears to capture the sharper side of Lilith’s attitude, but a youthful daredevil she is not. What winds up being the most surprising is what we see of Kevin Hart’s performance as Roland. Hart is playing surprisingly against type, capturing bits of Roland’s no-nonsense demeanor. The more typical Kevin Hart-style outbursts that we do get come across as natural reactions to the insanity of everyone (and everything) else around him.

Yes, the Borderlands movie looks to be fairly different from the Borderlands games, but what’s most important is that it looks like Eli Roth and company at least got the point of why people love those games. There are a number of small changes, but nothing looks to wildly miss the idea of the Borderlands franchise in the way that, say, the live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender series boldly declared that they would be changing Sokka’s character to not be sexist because “it’s 2024 and We Don’t Do That Anymore.” That alteration from the original completely misses the point that most of Sokka’s character arc is about him being sexist and being forced to overcome those attitudes (guys the new Avatar live-action just looks…so, so bad). The spirit of the Borderlands games certainly looks to be present in the upcoming film, and if that proves to be the case, then I know a wonderfully insane, wonderfully fun time is in store for all.

Directed by Eli Roth and co-written by Roth and Joe Crombie, and starring Cate Blanchett, Kevin Hart, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jack Black, and Gina Gershon, Borderlands is set to hit theaters on August 9th, 2024.

Written by Timothy Glaraton

Writer. Editor. U of M Graduate.

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