‘Hitman: Agent 47’ and Why So Many Video-Game Movies Suck
Hitman: Agent 47 came and went this past weekend, vanishing in a box office fizzle; the cinematic equivalent of one big ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. It’s not the kind of bad movie that really makes you angry, just one that’s completely forgettable. It’s a nothing of a movie.
It’s also the latest to make the same mistake that’s plagued the world of video-game movies for over two decades. For reasons unknown, this film ditches everything that gave the Hitman series its spark of life in favor of a familiar monotony. The creative choices that made these games stand out, the elements that gave them a devoted following and attracted Hollywood in the first place, have been inexplicably wiped away.
This is nothing new. It began with Super Mario Bros., Hollywood’s first torturous foray into the realm of video-game movies, which remains one of Hollywood’s worst adaptations. You liked Mario because he was a cheerful character going on an adventure in a colorful Mushroom Kingdom? Well, here’s Bob Hoskins in a Blade Runner-esque dystopia.
We can chalk that disaster up to baby steps, a learning curve in the process of adapting a young medium. But 20 years later, it seems like no one in Hollywood has learned anything from past mistakes. While video games have gotten richer and more interesting, video-game movies have somehow managed to get blander and more forgettable. Unlike Super Mario, the Hitman series offers proper characters and mythology to play with and utilize. So why does nothing in this movie reflect the game itself?
Compare the set-pieces of Hitman: Agent 47 to any level or mission in just about any Hitman game. In the film, the titular bald-headed assassin (Rupert Friend) is an unstoppable killing machine, waltzing in firefights with faceless baddies with terrible aim and causing all kinds of CGI-enhanced mayhem. It’s typical action hero stuff; and it’s exactly the kind of shoot-first mayhem that Hitman games explicitly punish players for practicing. If you remove the weapons and the body count, the Hitman games are very much a puzzle series, rewarding clever strategy and patience. Players pride themselves on not being seen by the enemy, accomplishing their mission without firing a single shot from Agent 47’s trademark pistols, and waiting for a clean moment to strike.
It’s telling that the mobile app version of the series, titled Hitman Go, literally reduces the gameplay to that of a turn-based tabletop game. Its core isn’t shooting or stabbing – it’s finding a solution to a seemingly impossible problem. This series has always been about the hunt, not big action.
Hitman games are about suspense. The movie adaptation is about endless gunfight after endless gunfight. The former is open to dark humor and surprise. The latter is all about generic, safe action. The games ask the player to step into the shoes of a mortal professional who can be taken down by a single bullet and has to outthink his enemies. The movie is about Superman with guns. A Hitman movie that attempted to capture what makes the games so special isn’t guaranteed to be good, but at least it would have a chance. That’s got to beat reconfiguring those characters into a familiar Hollywood mold, right?
(For a better Hitman adaptation, see Edge of Tomorrow, which gets way closer to the die-dozens-or-hundreds-of-times-while-trying-every-possible-strategy aesthetic of the games than Agent 47 ever does. Actually, Edge of Tomorrow is a better video-game movie than every actual video-game movie.)
We’re picking on Hitman: Agent 47 because it’s pretty rotten, but it’s only the latest example of video-game movies dragging their respective games through the muck. The Resident Evil films are just as guilty of throwing away their source material, ditching the old-school dread of the games in favor of Big Ridiculous Slo-Mo Action. Both Tomb Raider films lost the sense of isolation and adventure that made them so memorable in the first place. Max Payne abandoned the blend of horror and noir that made the original game so compelling in favor of, well, whatever the hell that movie was. How is it that Mortal Kombat, released in 1995, remains the only video-game movie to adequately capture the spirit of the original game? Granted, that spirit is honestly not very good, but at least it’s something. At least it taps into the right vein.
Someday someone smart is going to make a truly great video-game movie. That wise writer or director or producer will find a way to translate the specific pleasures of a popular game to the cinematic format, rather than paste some familiar characters into a boilerplate action film. Video games like Mass Effect, Uncharted, and Red Dead Redemption take specific advantage of their format to deliver unique entertainment experiences. They do things that haven’t been seen before. Any potential movie adaptations should take a closer look before they take the easy way out. Video games respect movies, so why can’t movies respect video games?