As of late a couple of welcoming trends have started to resurge in Hollywood. One of them is the huge growth that we’re seeing in science fiction films and the overall acceptance of them. Whether it’s Star Wars plan to make 2-3 movies a year for the foreseeable future, or Marvel‘s brave explorations into space, or even the original science fiction work incoming from great independent directors such as Alfonso Cuaron‘s Gravity and Neill Blomkamp‘s highly anticipated Elysium. For now, science fiction seems well and truly back, and most importantly welcomed by the general cinema going public.
The other trend that seems to be coming back in full force is that of videogame movie adaptations. This is dangerous territory, as we are yet to witness a truly great or worthy videogame adaptation, and yet still, the idea that everyone is compiling some great talent to have a second attempt is comforting news to me. Perhaps I’m a glutton for punishment, but I’m genuinely excited by the potential of receiving a great movie based on a videogame.
The truth is, the videogame industry has become one of the most lucrative entertainment fields in recent years, turning over billions annually. It no longer has the stigma of a nerdy past time, and is a full fledged mainstream hobby. As such, there is plenty of market value to exploit by making successful adaptations. While we have not seen a particularly good adaptation there have been certain films that have actually been commercially successful, such as multiple editions of the ongoing Resident Evil film franchise and Prince Of Persia: Sands Of Time.
Currently in the works we have a number of high profile videogame films in development. We have an Assassin’s Creed film starring Michael Fassbender; a Splinter Cell vehicle starring Tom Hardy; a film based on Deus Ex: Human Revolution directed by Scott Derrickson (the director of Sinister), as well as numerous others in the works. Needless to say, with the talent alone attached to these projects there is still some hope yet that something good could come from these projects.
However, in true 20th Century Fox fashion, they’re jumping into the fray with a frankly terrible sounding offering. They have decided to make a reboot of the failed Hitman film starring Timothy Olyphant from 2007. Hitman was easily one of the worst videogame films ever made. It was Uwe Boll standard on a bigger budget. It was a colossal failure in almost every possible way. I admit watching the film that I felt pretty bad for Olyphant – he’s a genuinely great actor as his tv work is beyond brilliant, but he’s never been able to cut much of a break in his film career.
Hitman was critically decimated, yet for it’s relatively tidy budget, it made a profit. The new reboot will be called Agent 47 and is scripted by Skip Woods (Hitman, A Good Day To Die Hard) and Michael Finch (Predators) as well as being directed by Aleksander Bach – an award winning commercials director. The fact that Woods is writing this film too, suggests that it was originally intended as a sequel, before being re-appropriated as a reboot because of the overwhelmingly negative stigma attached to the original. Again, this is Fox and it demonstrates a severe lack of care for the character and the original franchise as a whole.
What’s worse than all of this though, and is some seriously, seriously bad news is the casting of Agent 47. They have cast Paul Walker to play the eponymous assassin. Paul Walker. Paul Walker. Paul Walker. Let that resonate like the remnants of a nightmare echoing around your skull. Paul Walker is of course the D grade actor who stars in the Fast & The Furious series, his most high profile acting job to date. If you’ve ever seen a film with Paul Walker you’ll notice that he’s a pretty boy/jock type and a uniformly terrible actor, not the cruel, unemotional, stoic titular Agent 47. Sure, Hollywood’s impressive make-up can most certainly make him look the part, but is he actually capable of acting the part? Is it a role conducive to screen performance? Here is where I think the idea of a Hitman film really becomes unstuck.
Hitman is a franchise that is very open ended, you get a contract to kill someone and then you’re dropped into an area and given a lot of freedom as to how you would choose to execute that target, and then you leave, aside from the most recent, somewhat lacklustre game Hitman: Absolution there haven’t been strong overarching narratives present in these games. For the most part, it’s moving from one contract killing to the next. Agent 47 works perfectly as a game character because he’s lean, athletic, unemotional and cruel. He moves through the world and kills without mercy. He doesn’t have a love story. He doesn’t really possess any social skills. He’s the perfect avatar for destruction in a videogame, but not a great empathetic central character for a film. Therein lies the problem that we faced with other videogame adaptations in the past, that Fox still haven’t seemed to learn. The reason why we could never get a good videogame movie is not because there aren’t great stories to tell, but because the ideas are severely lacking. The truth is, a lot of studios doe’t take videogames seriously, they just see it as a way to make money. The Max Payne film is probably the most prominent example of this, and is something that frustrates me to no end.
Max Payne is a game that has won awards for its great, mature narrative. It’s a story and character that will stay with me forever. Making a great film adaptation of that game would actually be pretty simple, because all the tools for building a great narrative are already present. However, the production pretty much ignored the game, merely taking the character names and some of the basic ideas and it resulted in a generic thriller with supernatural elements. I personally want to set the person on fire who decided to literally interpret the fact that the superdrug on the streets called Valkyrie made ACTUAL NORDIC VALKYRIES appear from the fucking sky. We all know that films can tell mature stories, and occasionally games can too. Hopefully in this second wave of adaptations, studios other than Fox will take the material more seriously.
Back to Hitman. In the original film, Olyphant did his best to portray the character, but obviously because of his lack of social skills or emotion (the character, not Olyphant), he actually came across as mildly autistic, which to some people seemed really strange, but to me it felt rather authentic. The problem was is you put this character who was always so focused and driven by one goal; to keep killing people, and then trying to match him up with Olga Kurylenko in a love scene, is going to create some pretty awkward moments. Also, Agent 47 is not the type of person to be hunted by armies or fight jets or helicopters. No high speed car chases, no crazy martial arts action sequences or epic setpieces. He’s a ghost, he appears and disappears at will, and he’ll kill you without mercy, before vanishing into the ether. It makes for a great game, but it doesn’t necessarily make for a great film. Unfortunately, as much as I love the games, Agent 47 is a one note character and not ripe for adaptation.
Whatever you do folks, don’t let this bad news dampen any anticipation you may have for other videogame to film projects in the works.
Honestly, it doesn’t matter who you cast, it’s just not going to work… Though you could do a damn sight better than Paul Walker.
What do you think? Is this overly harsh? Would Paul Walker make a good Agent 47? Should Hitman be rebooted? Should someone burn the production team behind Max Payne? Sound off in the comments!