I never thought I'd be able to say this, but video game movies are starting to "get it." Detective Pikachu is a delightful movie for Pokemon fans because it really captures the essence of what it'd be like to live in a world populated by humans and Pokemon. Sonic the Hedgehog ejects us from the speedy shrew's mystical home world early in the film, but it's still a sweet adventure that's not afraid to have fun with its source material.
As a life-long Mega Man fan, I should therefore be happy to learn the live-action Mega Man film, first announced in 2018, is still in the works. Now that we've unearthed the "secret" to making good video game movies—just let the movie be as unabashedly strange as it needs to be (a secret the Mortal Kombat film admittedly subscribed to in 1995)—making a decent Mega Man movie should be a breeze.
Unfortunately, a recent Polygon interview with Mega Man movie writer Mattson Tomlin doesn't have me brimming with confidence. Tomlin, who wrote the script for the poorly-received recent Netflix movie Project Power, tells Polygon the Mega Man movie will be "universal and primal and emotional." But what does that mean, exactly?
"My way into it was always, what is a compelling story? And what is the real soul of that character?" says Tomlin. "We all kind of know him as this cartoonish Blue Bomber who jumps and shoots, and to kind of go beyond that and knowing that, OK, visually it’s going to be a certain thing that is going to please the video game fan, but you know what is the story at the center? They’re like, what is it that this character can really go through?"
Oh, damn it all to the bowels of bloody robot hell.
Now, I'm a weirdo who's loved Mega Man and its subsequent series (X, Zero, ZX, et al) since 1991. I don't expect the average tax-paying adult to have the same obsession with Capcom's robot boy and sometimes-mascot. But if someone's writing a movie about Mega Man, I'd hope they know something about the themes that connect the games.
Going back to Detective Pikachu: It's a successful movie because it doesn't just acknowledge the games—it revels in them. Someone who's not a fan of Pokemon won't understand why it's fun to watch main character Tim Goodman catch a weeping Cubone. That's OK. Detective Pikachu isn't really for them. It's a movie for people who've long fantasized about having a Pokemon pal of their very own.
In 2017, film producer Adi Shankar proposed the idea of an R-rated Mega Man, a project thematically similar to his gritty 2015 Power Rangers tribute. I hated the idea and said so out loud. (Shankar, to his eternal credit, was very understanding of my viewpoint.) The Mega Man series isn't extremely narrative-rich, but I believe it has more than enough material to build a good story out of.
Mega Man isn't just "a cartoonish Blue Bomber." The games explore themes of man versus machine and challenges the definition of humanity. Heck, Protoman, Dr. Light's first robot and Mega Man's mysterious but protective brother, is powered by a flawed nuclear core that might go critical at any moment—but he refuses to let Dr. Light fix him because he fears being tampered with might negate his independence. That lone concept has enough meat on its bones to spin a movie from, but it's not the only compelling story material supplied by the games.
In 2008's Mega Man 9, Dr. Wily convinces the Robot Masters to rebel when he points out said Robot Masters will be scrapped and recycled at the whims of the humans. "You work hard for humans, and then they destroy you when you're no longer needed," he says in a cutscene. "Doesn't that make you angry?" It's not Oscar-winning dialogue on its own, but it's potentially the start of a decent plot.
Archie's Mega Man comic, which ran from 2011 to 2015, successfully built up the Mega Man cast using the bits of established lore dished out by the games' canon. I even warmed up a bit to the Mega Man: Fully Charged cartoon show. It's mostly an original take on Mega Man, but it still built some great ideas off Capcom's long-lived universe. The narrative mentions robot wars that left Dr. Light scarred. Nevertheless, he strives to be a good dad to his robot son (and flesh-and-blood daughter) and is even open-minded enough to date a reformed female Robot Master. That's pretty cool.
In the ending for Mega Man 7 on the SNES, Mega Man loses his temper and threatens to shoot Dr. Wily for his sins. Dr. Wily justifiably freaks out a little and reminds Mega Man that, according to the First Law of Robotics, robots aren't allowed to harm humans. Mega Man lowers his arm canon and says, "I am more than just a robot." (He also screams "Die, Wily!" in the translation, but, uh, that's not supposed to be there.) Mega Man is a hero in a complicated world, and the longer he fights, the more questions he asks.
Meanwhile, Protoman looms over his shoulder. He can't get close to those he loves, because every passing day brings an increasing danger of his core going nuclear. Elsewhere, sentient Robot Masters wonder if they're fated to be nothing more than tools who survive according to the whims of their human masters. Then there's Dr. Wily and Dr. Light, once the best of friends, who are constantly at each others's throats because of different ideals. But is Dr. Wily truly evil, or is he actually looking out for the rights of the robots humanity so callously scraps? It all depends on how you write him.
We don't need Mattson Tomlin to sweep all this lore off the table so he can give us his idea of Mega Man's "real soul." The soul of Mega Man and his friends is already laid bare across 11 games and several pieces of supplementary media. I want Tomlin to build off that. I don't want him to roll out a new set of blueprints so he can build a generic robot character fans don't recognize.