In spite of a solid (albeit interactive) source material and large following of video game players, Xavier Gen's 2007 Hitman movie starring Timothy Olyphant was poorly received by critics and fans alike. With a $30 million budget, the movie was still able to turn a profit - snagging $99 million in global box office revenue. Yet, word of mouth was mostly underwhelming and a sequel, Hitman 2, languished in development hell for years - until 20th Century Fox decided to reboot the franchise entirely with Paul Walker in the lead role. Following Walker's untimely death, Rupert Friend (Homeland) was cast to take over the role of Agent 47.
With Friend on board, production on the reboot finally started in early 2014 - with an intended release date set for February 27, 2015. However, following an underwhelming response to the first film effort, and the same writer onboard for the reboot, what makes the franchise worthy of a second chance from filmgoers? According to Zachary Quinto, who plays the pivotal role of John Smith, Hitman: Agent 47 is first and foremost a dynamic and high stakes action film experience - as well as a faithful extension of the video game source material.
Speaking at the Comic-Con 2014 press conference for Hitman: Agent 47, Quinto asserted that a lot has changed since 2007 - and that filmmakers have been forced to up their game in order to meet the rising expectations of theater audiences:
"It’s eight years on since they made [the first] movie. I think technology and cinematography have evolved in a lot of ways, I think it’s very different visually. There’s a scale to this movie and a dynamic to it, there’s a sleekness to it, that I think separates it a little bit form that previous film. But again, times are different, and appetites have changed, and people have higher expectations for visual effects and special effects - and I think that’s what this movie is based in, it’s what we’re trying to pursue, at the same time as trying to be something rooted in character and the dynamics of those relationships."
Quinto also discussed the process of preparing for a role in a video game film adaptation - essentially stating that while it's different for every actor, movie, and role, he's focused on what's ahead, so that fans of what came first get an enjoyable movie:
"The character I play in the movie exists in the world of the video game but in a peripheral way, so for me it wasn't about playing the video game to understand the character - and Hannah's character is not in the game. [...] I think Rupert actually did go into the game a little bit and explore the world through the game because he is the titular character. So it makes sense for him in a way. Prep for a movie, any role, is just very different depending on what is required.
I feel like my approach is to try and set myself free from the expectation and comparison because alternately if they are reimagining something or adapting something or evolving something beyond the point of its original concept or execution then they're doing that because they want to take it into a different landscape and so for me I just try to let myself focus on the work that's ahead of me and what my job is and how I bring something to life. That's a fan-based thing, the idea of comparison, that's what fans do. That's why fans exist - because they believe in something, something connects to them and they have passionate feelings, and connections, and opinions about stuff. So I hand things over for that debate to be held among people besides me. My job is not to engage in that debate so much as it is to give them something to debate about or discuss or have a reaction to."
Some video game enthusiasts might be put-off by the fact that Quinto and other performers aren't intimately familiar with the game series but he makes a good point about adaptation as a means to bring existing material to a new medium. No doubt, fans want a Hitman film to capture the spirit of the plot and characters that inhabit the original world but, as we've seen in multiple video game adaptations that failed in their transition to the big screen, some aspects that work in an interactive medium are lost in a transition to film.
Fans love to hear that actors know a game (or comic book or young adult novel) in and out but, at the end of the day, it's really up to writers, directors, and producers to set the stage with an adaptation that captures source material in a convincing and believable way on screen - as well as guide performances accordingly. As a result, for movie fans, it should be encouraging to hear that, this time around, the Hitman filmmakers have recruited actors that can bring genuine gravity and drama to the main roles, so that when explosive action takes center stage, it will actually carry weight and meaning. If the filmmakers can actually create a dynamic and sleek Hitman film, one that is rooted in character, it's very possible that moviegoers (not just video game fans) will turn-up this round at the box office - especially after the footage shown in Hall-H wowed many in attendance.
Nevertheless, for those that still think playing a video game is essential to portraying a video game character, it should come as some relief to know the man in the title role has explored the world of Hitman and Agent 47 in game form. Unfortunately, we'll have to wait to hear from Friend regarding what his time with the Hitman game series might have taught him about the character - since the actor was abroad filming Homeland at the time of the press conference.
Hitman: Agent 47 opens in U.S. theaters on February 27, 2015.
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