Bold claim time: if comic books were the mythology of the 20th century, then video games might just steal the throne for the 21st.
At the very least, Hollywood certainly seems to be entertaining the notion. With comic book movies currently at their apex, video game adaptations stand a chance at becoming the next big thing. After all, games have never been better from a storytelling perspective (Bioshock and The Last of Us, anyone?) Unfortunately, as was the case with many of the early comic book films, Hollywood is having a hard time cracking the nut. The common consensus suggests that there hasn’t been a single worthwhile film based off of a video game property, and Hitman: Agent 47 is unlikely to change anyone’s mind.
The story revolves around a genetically engineered assassin named Agent 47 and his mission to topple an evil organization known as Syndicate International. Along the way, he rescues a young woman named Katia (Hannah Ware) and discovers that the organization is pursuing a mysterious scientist named Dr. Litvenko (Ciaran Hinds). Together, Agent 47 and Katia set out to rendezvous with Litvenko before Syndicate International finds him first.
This isn’t the first film based off of the successful series of Hitman video games to grace the silver screen. That honor belongs to the stylish but critically panned 2007 film directed by Xavier Gens and starring Timothy Olyphant. The new film is a complete reboot with Aleksander Bach directing and Rupert Friend taking on the mantle of the titular Agent 47.
The only returning player this time around is screenwriter Skip Woods, which probably wasn’t the best idea. The script is at least as convoluted as the 2007 film, and the character work feels just as sparse. Agent 47 has always been a bit of a blank slate (he’s a contract killer born in a test tube, after all), but that ought to feel like an intentional part of the story rather than the result of iffy writing. Action is the name of the game here, but in a summer full of surprisingly excellent action movies, not a whole lot of Hitman: Agent 47 stands out.
There’s a lot of money to be made in adapting video games to the big screen, and boy are audiences in for a treat once someone gets it right. The problem with Hitman: Agent 47, which should be of particular interest to aspiring writers, lies in the adaptation of the material. Sure, the characters are recognizable, and the film has its fair share of assassins doing assassin stuff, but is it enough to simply look the part?
The first few Hitman games immersed you in the role of a cold-blooded contract killer. They provided an experience not unlike an interactive version of Le Samourai, or Michael Mann’s Collateral. Full-blown shoot-outs were discouraged in exchange for intricate planning, and a more methodical, surgical approach to finishing the job. More importantly, the series presented a series of compelling tales that slowly shed light on Agent 47 and his world. The film casts all this aside in favor of an approach that has a lot more in common with something like The Transporter. Don’t get me wrong – that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does away with the core of what makes the games popular.
The writing is on the wall here. There’s a profit to be made in adapting video games to the big screen; that much is clear. Then again, profitability won’t be enough to tap into the cultural Zeitgeist in the way that superhero movies have. That’s because there’s more to an adaptation than just recreating the look of a thing. You’ve got to capture the spirit of what made it successful in the first place. Sam Raimi did that with Spider-man. Christopher Nolan did it with Batman. Hitman: Agent 47 doesn’t even try.