In the history of cinema, there’s been one genre of film that’s garnered a seriously bad reputation over the years: video game films. This is not without merit: truthfully, a lot of movies based on video games just suck, either because the director doesn’t understand how to adapt the source material from one medium to another, or because the film ends up losing the spirit of the series entirely. Even thinking about it, I can’t come up with any nationally distributed big Hollywood gaming film that was something I’d even call “good”—I have heard some good things about the Silent Hill movies, however, so maybe not all is lost. Despite this track record, 20th Century Fox plans to try once more with the Hitman series; an especially timely move given the announcement of a new Hitman game at this year’s E3. Will this movie break the video game slump? Eeeeeeh, probably not.
I’m not an expert on Hitman by any sense of the word, but stacking this up against anything from Marvel, it just seems like another entry into the MCU rather than a film with its own property. Explosions, cool martial arts, guns, some girl that is inexplicably there and doing nothing: this is what trailers have decided sell a movie, and they’re not wrong. But in this case, I can’t help but feel that the trailers—and the film itself—are being disingenuous to the series and its focus. While the game is certainly bloody and exciting (as one would expect from a game staring an assassin) I find it strange that the games have a viable, made-for-Hollywood protagonist, and they choose to ignore him entirely. Or, rather, choose to ignore his potential for character development and instead bring in characters that appear to bring nothing to the franchise.
Hitman is the story of one Agent 47: a genetically-enhanced super-assassin trying to deal with what has been done to him and how to continue on with his life. Games tend to focus on stealth, so while the inclusion of so many explosions and so much destruction is counter-intuitive to an assassin, it makes sense through the lens of a summer blockbuster. However, the film doesn’t focus on Agent 47 (as played by Rupert Friend). Instead it focuses on the growth of another super assassin in Katia van Dees (Hannah Ware) and her choice of working with Agent 47 or cooperating with someone called John Smith (Zachary Quinto) whose motives seem to be more heinous than Agent 47’s.
Normally, I’d be all for a female lead in an action movie, but from the trailers this is not the case at all. Katia is perhaps mentored by Agent 47, but the power balance between them doesn’t seem to be equal at all, despite their having the same abilities. (Also she seems completely unaware of her heightened intelligence and physical skills, which seems like an odd thing to totally ignore for your entire life.) Even though Fox is trying to market her off as, perhaps, the female co-lead that the Hitman video game never had, the trailers don’t show her doing a damned thing except running and looking like she’s about to go into action, while 47 gets to do all the shooting and killing. I have no doubt that at some point during the movie, despite her super-human skills, she’s going to get captured and 47 is going to have to save her. Yadda yadda, some conclusion about him finding his humanity, some stupid forced love plot, and there’s your Hollywood summer movie.
Furthermore, if the film is not focusing on 47—a white cis male—couldn’t they have at least added some characters of color in the cast (in roles where they’re not doomed to die)? Everyone is so damned white, and in this age it’s pointless to do that, and unforgivable to deny this kind of representation. Even in a possibly terrible video game movie.
While still incredibly white, I do think Hitman: Agent 47 could have been interesting as a character study of 47 adapted to the big screen. However, what Fox seems interested in bringing to the table is a tired plot with predictable characters, and the same explosions we’ve been seeing since Transformers tested our limits with their love of the boom. A small part of me hopes that it doesn’t suck, that there’s some hope for video game movies yet, but I’m not holding my breath. Maybe the Warcraft movie will provide more of what we deserve.