Sure, I like films. I like video games. But that’s not to say I’m necessarily going to like it when certain studios think they’re being smart by mixing the two.
Just the trailer for Pixels, released in the UK earlier this month, told me it was likely to be one of the most insultingly atrocious films of 2015 – though admittedly there were more reasons for that than its video game-themed premise; namely the casting and paper thin plot. I understand they weren’t exactly going for “smart”, but it lost me the moment it became apparent they were portraying video games in general as the stereotypical medium for ‘lads’ and ‘man-childs’. While it may have been that thirty years ago, it most certainly isn’t now – and hasn’t been for at least twenty of those years.
In fact, for me there’s only been two times that I recall an attempted crossover between these two mediums being any sort of artistic success. The most recent example would be Scott Pilgrim vs the World (2010). The first was when Square Enix teamed up with Disney to produce Kingdom Hearts back in 2002; a series which has gone on to become one of the most beloved on console. There were numerous factors behind its success that I believe others could learn from if they truly wanted to do justice to a similar project, but to go through them would surely form an essay and… ah I almost forgot, I’m supposed to be reviewing Hitman: Agent 47 right about now.
The best way to describe Agent 47 in a nutshell, if we were to be extra kind, would be ‘Terminator mixed with Heroes mixed with a variety of modern action movie cliches’. Parts of the first third of the film literally feel like they were lifted from the cutting room floor of James Cameron’s 1984 sic-fi classic, from the “come with me if you want to live” idea to the plot swerve that comes soon after, and as such the film initially doesn’t feel that bad – indeed its presentation actually feels quite stylish, up to a point.
Hannah Ware plays the film’s female lead, Katia van Dees, and if you’re wondering whether there’s any need of such a strange name for an American woman in a mainstream American action movie, fear not: there is a very specific reason for it revealed later on. Rupert Friend plays the title character himself; Agent 47. For those unfamiliar with the Hitman series of video games, they were based around, well… assassinations. You were a hitman, basically – the same Agent 47 that we see in this movie.
Friend, though his physical resemblance to the digital version of the character is questionable, does an admirable job of encapsulating everything he should be, especially during those early parts of the film where he comes across as a Terminator-like character. Ironically he may be the most charismatic part of the experience – ironic because this character is supposed to be an emotionless clone; the 47th in a line that will continue beyond him.
It is when the film begins to drift from this that things start to get a little weird. It goes some way to losing the essence of its source material when it attempts to move beyond the ruthless ‘Terminator’ concept, and instead tries to insert this character into a sympathetic family-oriented story, on the run from a bigger and badder organisation than the one ordering him to carry out hits on people. Though I don’t remember much about the 2007 Hitman movie (nor do I particularly fancy investing my time and money on it again to find out), I’m pretty sure this is where it went wrong as well.
The Hitman games, you see, were simple. They didn’t need particularly sentimental sub-plots or a heroic central character, instead winning you over with fresh ideas in gameplay and level design – the multiple ways in which you could complete certain levels, for instance. It allowed you, the player, to get creative without being spoon fed the methods for getting through the game.
A film offers no such luxury, though Agent 47 does itself no favours with an excessive amount of exposition as it tries to keep its audience invested throughout. That’s a shame, because even though all of its action tropes have been used countless times before, it was during the film’s action scenes – as well as the hints of Agent 47’s methodical, Terminator-like way of working – that I found myself actually having fun with it.
The movie’s change of pace correlates directly with another change linked to a character calling himself John Smith, played by Zachary Quinto. I’m a fan of him but his work in this film frankly comes across a little lazy – the role merely requires him to channel his inner Sylar (from Heroes) once again; apart from that it seems like he’s just running around, quoting lines and raising the occasional eyebrow.
Overall there were admittedly parts of Agent 47 that I enjoyed – but I question how much that had to do with the film’s own ideas, and how much of it was borrowed from elsewhere. As a standalone action movie it might have simply faded into Hollywood oblivion; it is the appeal to series fans and those who (like me) were somewhat intrigued, which will give it a nice profit boost. For as long as that pattern continues, we may yet see a few more video game adaptations like this one scooped up by studios during the slower months of the year.
Now, who else is hyped for the sequel?
4 / 10