Nobody likes Hitman: Agent 47. It’s one of the worst-reviewed movies of the year, and it’s not making much at the box office. But I saw the thing Friday night anyway, and I liked it.
Video game movies exist in a weird place. They’re 90-to-120-minute adaptations of games that are probably like 15 or more hours so they’re inherently at a disadvantage there, and the prevailing wisdom today is that video game movies are always bad so they have that going against them as well. Video game movies aren’t actually that bad, though.
This Hitman movie, for example, is a fairly standard example of what I’d call European trash action. Like The Transporter or Banlieue 13 or Taken. Paper-thin plot that’s just an excuse for a bevy of over-the-top and very stylish and creative action. While Agent 47 may not be a great adaptation of the game series, it is nonetheless a pretty enjoyable action flick. Not the nadir of cinema, and not something anyone will remember comes awards season, but it’s a good time and that’s all it’s really aspiring to be.
I think the issues people have with game movies is mostly about perception. Gamers, I think, tend to have somewhat of an inflated view of the quality of storytelling in games, and everybody else goes hard in the opposite direction. Even as somebody who plays more games than even most hardcore gamers it’s not difficult to understand why that is.
We talk about this “Citizen Kane of games” idea, and to anybody on the outside this is going to inherently appear ridiculous. Probably the most recent game that folks used that term for a bunch was The Last of Us—a zombie game! In a purely abstract sense, that’s pretty funny, and that’s where the disconnect between us and everybody else lies. Zombies stories just are not going to seem important or prestigious to regular folks.
Story-driven video games, particularly the most well known ones, are usually very nerdy genre stuff. We know that very nerdy genre stuff can be great, but that’s not what wins Oscars 99 percent of the time. B-level concepts such as zombies and monsters and aliens (and actiony things in general) are just not held as prestigious even while they can have plenty of mass appeal.
So when you have Hollywood folks tackling nerdy genre game stories, they’re specifically handling that subject matter the same way they would any with any other nerdy genre property with a fanbase of marginal size (it’s not a stretch to say that far more people have watched a Resident Evil movie than have played a Resident Evil game, by the way). It’s not disrespect. They just see it differently.
In having to distill lengthy game concepts down to a 90-minute movie, they may in some ways even see it better than we do. In Hitman: Agent 47, Zachary Quinto’s character has “subdermal titanium body armor,” literally liquid titanium injected under his skin that makes him impervious to most injuries. It sounds hilarious (and awesome) when you’re watching actual humans explain it but, hey, that’s certainly a very video games thing. Something to think about, eh.
Hit me - @philrowen