Classic villains, the ones who really stick with you, can be difficult for a screenwriter to invent -- which is why, sometimes, it's best just to let real life do the work. In the terrific documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, one such classic villain is gloriously on display -- video game record holder Billy Mitchell, a Floridian whose two decades at the forefront of competitive gaming have transformed him from a (presumably) likable prodigy into a devious narcissist who uses every double standard in the book to stay atop the roost. In the other corner, we have Steve Wiebe, a sweet, multi-faceted dad from the Pacific Northwest who has the audacity to be really, really good at Donkey Kong. Seth Gordon's film gives us an epic struggle between these two archetypes -- the nice guy and the douchebag -- that eventually assumes Wrath of Khan proportions. But The King of Kong is about so much more than video games, viewing the seemingly frivolous activity of manipulating a joystick as a metaphor for all our hopes and ambitions. It also shows how the powers that be -- particularly an incestuous organization like the Twin Galaxies gaming society, which certifies world records -- can conspire to crush those ambitions. Whereas other gamers should look at this condescending a-hole and see a genuinely bad person, instead they see a hero and standard bearer for the small pond in which they all want to be big fish, and see Wiebe as the dubious outsider trying to shake things up. Wiebe's attempt to change minds -- and get his Donkey Kong record recognized -- is the story's thrilling high. The King of Kong showcases the natural human impulse to be the best at something, and reminds us that it's up to the individual whether this pursuit entails unforgivable self-involvement, or quiet dignity.
by Derek Armstrong review