Video game movies are almost always bad, everyone knows that. But now that a handful of surprising exceptions have managed solid films based on hit games, it may be time to take a look back and see if some good slipped through the cracks. In the modern-day, Sonic the Hedgehog stands resolutely atop the pile of every video game movie that came before it. With one good movie out of the way and a hotly anticipated sequel coming soon, was the Blue Blur really the first iconic character to make the jump to the big screen unscathed?
The Hitman franchise began in 2000 with IO Interactive’s Hitman: Codename 47 and has gone on to include 8 main games and a couple of spin-offs. The games are generally set in huge open environments, wherein the titular assassin, Agent 47, must engineer the deaths of his various targets and escape the scene. From that simple concept has emerged some of the greatest stealth gameplay in all of video game history.
The plot centers around 47’s life as the world’s greatest assassin, and his relationship with the International Contract Agency for whom he works. 47 is a clone, designed to be a perfect physical specimen and unquestioningly obedient killer. The individual game narratives are semi-linked, but they regularly tell similar if not identical stories. The franchise has spawned novels and comics as well as over two decades of hit games, so it was only a matter of time before they hit the main screen.
2007’s Hitman was released to terrible reviews and substantial box office success. Justified, Deadwood and The Mandalorian star Timothy Olyphant donned the iconic suit and tie to portray Agent 47. Olyphant’s take on the film is largely negative, for the record. The film was directed by Xavier Gens, a French filmmaker whose other credits mainly consist of poorly received horror films like The Crucifixion. Though he still works in film and TV today, Hitman is by far his most financially successful project. Hitman made $101.3 million against a $24 million budget, but DVD sales and TV airing rights would likely see that number increase dramatically. This success can be hard to account for, likely owing in large part to the marketable name, but 2007 should’ve been recent enough for fans to know the trouble with video game movies.
Critics tore it to shreds, obviously. It holds a respectable 15% on Rotten Tomatoes, which some have called generous. There are some dissenters, however. Roger Ebert gave it three out of four stars while arguing it stood as a monument to the lack of artistic merit video games hold. Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek seems to have genuinely enjoyed it, placing it on a top 10 films of all time list he drew up in 2012. Hitman landed between Zhang Yimou’s historical epic Hero and the original 1947 Nightmare Alley for Zizek. But did the film deserve the hate it received? Or were audiences correct in showering it with cash?
If there’s one thing that can be said for Hitman, it’s that it delivered what was to be expected. Gallons of largely meaningless gore, faux sincerity about 47’s first time experiencing an emotion, a tried and true plot with another ICA betrayal, and some decent shots of international scenery. Fans and newcomers could get a more enriching experience watching all the cutscenes from any chosen Hitman game. As video game movies go, it comes closer to capturing the spirit than most, but Hitman is not a plot-heavy franchise. It is and has always been, entirely gameplay-driven. This is the very lesson that wasn’t learned when, in 2015, a largely unrelated crew came together to reboot the franchise one film in.
Hitman: Agent 47 shares only a couple of producers and one screenwriter with its predecessor. While the first film saw Agent 47 described as a young child raised to become an assassin, the reboot went back to the clone-based backstory of the games. None of the original cast returned, 47 was portrayed by Homeland star Rupert Friend. Star Trek reboot star Zachary Quinto joined the cast as a lab-grown nemesis for the eponymous assassin. This film was also a financial success, but a considerably more modest one on a slightly higher budget.
It’s hard to say whether Hitman: Agent 47 is worse than the 2007 film. In some ways it’s more restrained, in others it’s just lazier. The first John Wick film had been released by the time this film came out, giving it something to easily rip off, and something to be unfavorably compared to. The film is comparably badly written and features equally dull characters. Its action is arguably better, but the first-time director Aleksander Bach seems terrified to put any of it on screen. It’s constantly obscured by fast-moving camera tricks. An audience capable of turning off their brain may find some enjoyment out of the film, but it’s ultimately pointless.
Ultimately, the Hitman movies aren’t hidden gems or secretly good. They’re as bad as expected, but, for an audience who doesn’t care about quality, they’ll fulfill the brain’s quota on loud noises for a while. The most sincere feeling the movies will engender is a desire to play a Hitman game, and that’s probably the best-case scenario.
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