[Spoiler scope: Some details at the end of Hitman: Blood Money. General plot descriptions of Hitman: Silent Assassin, and Hitman: Absolution]
The Hitman series has one of the most interesting combination of elements in a game franchise. It stars an iconic character with a distinctive look and personality. Its stealth mechanic is different from most stealth game staples like Thief or Deus Ex. It has a rich mythology and even the supporting characters are interesting and memorable. I have played all five games from start to finish (Hitman; Codename 47, Hitman: Silent Assassin, Hitman: Contracts, Hitman: Blood Money and Hitman: Absolution). In particular, I have replayed the middle three multiple times. I didn’t like the most recent game (Hitman: Absolution), nor the 2007 film.
The most recent reboot staring Rupert Friend was dissappointing. And I”m not the only one who thinks so. The movie is indistinguishable from a generic action thriller, not Hitman the Silent Assassin as fans know him. This is particularly frustrating since, in my opinion, the mythology and iconography is so unique and different that it would stand out and catch people’s attention. Instead what the 2007 and 2015 film did was to be so generic as to blend into a crowd of other generic action thrillers. What a missed opportunity.
Here I will go through a few of the aforementioned things that make the Hitman story different from all other movies, and what makes Agent 47 different from all other movie assassins. As a Hitman fan, I would love to see this series grow to be a counterpoint to other spy-thriller franchises like Mission: Impossible, or Jason Bourne, or even James Bond. If we think about it, Hitman has the similar ingredients that sets it apart from the other three franchises. Each of the three established movie franchises has some interesting skill set associated with it. M:I was about the teamwork and heists, Bourne was about survival and quick resourcefulness, Bond was about the charm and set-piece stunts; Hitman could have been about the surgical precision in stealthily dispatching targets. All three movie franchises are globe-trotting adventures which take place in beautiful, exotic locations; the early Hitman games had that too. All three franchises were adaptations from different media (M:I was a TV series, Bond and Bourne came from novels). Why not Hitman be a successful adaptation of another?
So let me through a few things that would make Hitman a unique movie with franchise potential.
Plot, assassinations and morality
Regardless of its mythos and plot, if we boil down to it, Hitman is essentially a assassination simulator. How did this series last so long despite its questionable morality? Even Grand Theft Auto started to lose its appeal as its audience grew up. (That’s true for me, at least.) One reason is this: the targets of assassination are almost always caricatures of evil people. They are usually psychotic serial killers and murderers themselves, such as Malcolm Sturrock, who hangs his victims upside-down and dismembers them in a creepy ritual.
This is where the films missed its mark – the assassination targets. The people that movie-47 assassinated are under-written characters involved in some geopolitical thriller plot. It’s boring. It was missing the visceral reaction that the players felt upon discovering a kidnap victim’s mutilated body, and then killing the murderer soon afterwards. It would be more interesting if the targets that 47 kills have some level of creepiness to them. It would make players and audience not think too much about killing these characters. It is a small step above killing faceless soldiers in Call of Duty or Bioshock. In Hitman, players are emotionally invested in the enemy’s death.
Since death and murder is such a big theme in the series, it would serve as an interesting theme for the hypothetical `ideal’ Hitman movie as well. To be ambitious, we can draw inspiration from *the* literary work about murder: Crime and Punishment. In Dostoyevsky’s book, we follow the thought process of protagonist Raskolnikov, where he decides to commit murder and formulates a plan for it, all the while hearing how he justifies it. Now, Agent 47 as a character is inherently different from Raskolnikov since he essentially an emotionless robot. So a potential plot would be having 47’s viewpoint clashed against a Raskolnikov-type character. What if he observes Diana killing someone and is plagued by guilt with it? What if he starts to observe the consequence of his assassinations? What if 47 reads(!) Crime and Punishment? What if 47 asks the question you’re probably thinking challenging me with: why is it okay to revenge-kill a psychotic murderer, but is morally against killing innocent bystanders? How would other Hitman characters explain this to 47?
Diana Burnwood and strong female characters
Even though I like the Hitman series, it’s still important to recognise the games’ problematic portrayal of women. Anita Sarkeesian has rightly called them out for its problematic depictions of women. Its female characters are gratuitously objectified, being either sexy nuns, sexy angels, prostitutes. Some of whom tried to seduce Agent 47. Even the marketing campaign for Blood Money shows a scantily clad *dead* woman with a bullet hole on her forehead. Absolution continues by sexualising nuns – clearly no progress has been made at all on this front.
The original Ian Fleming Bond novels were pretty misogynistic, racist and homophobic, but the Bond films manage to transcend beyond that, to the point where in Goldeneye, M calls him out for being a misogynist dinosaur. There is no reason why a Hitman movie adaptation can also remain faithful to the source material while evolving beyond its problematic portrayals of women.
The one female character that’s important to the Hitman story and not sexualised was Diana Burnwood (until Hitman: Absolution shows her naked in the shower). A strong portrayal of Diana would give a good point-of-view (POV)/audience-surrogate character for a hypothetical `good’ Hitman film.
Diana Burnwood is 47’s controller, or `handler’. She assigns the mission to Agent 47, and is the primary connection between 47 and his Agency (the ICA). We may think of Diana as 47’s best friend – she did save 47’s life in the games, though their relationship is always shown to be distant and professional. While we may think of 47 as a character who never trusts anyone, Diana would be the an exception.
I mentioned earlier that Diana would be a good POV character because, for reasons that I will describe when I get to 47 himself, we may not enjoy seeing from 47’s viewpoint the entire movie. I think a good balance for a movie would be to shift between 47 and Diana at an appropriate pace. While it would be the most interesting to follow 47 on his missions, it would also be great to see how Diana handles things at the Agency. Since she is the one assigning the contracts to 47, her point of view would be the best to provide context to the plot or whatever story is behind each assassination. As a character, Diana is quite badass. In Blood Money, she single-handedly saved Agent 47’s life and the Agency from liquidation. Furthermore, unlike 47, she is a normal human being. She would be a good emotional, human, empathetic counterpoint to 47’s cold, calculated precision.
Agent 47 – the character
The movies have no problem capturing the visual iconography of Agent 47. Everyone knows he has a barcode tattooed on his bald head, wears an elegant black suit with a red tie, and typically wears black gloves which gives him the assassin look. And the movies seem to understand that he is a genetically-engineered human clone. However, narratively speaking, Agent 47 in the film wildly differs from him in the games.
To me, Agent 47 is interesting because of his lack of humanity, and in Silent Assassin, his struggle to find one. He is typically described as a cold, heartless assassin. But I don’t think that’s entirely accurate because that’s how you might also describe a mob gunman. He’s more like a Terminator. Even a quote from Terminator aptly describes 47: `It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear.’
In the 2007 film, Timothy Olyphant’s portrayal of 47 shows rage, annoyance, and awkwardness. The 47 in the games wouldn’t show that. He might understand human interactions and emotions, but he is always clinical and detached. A good example was the opening mission of Blood Money, in which 47 was contracted by a grieving family whose son was killed due to negligence at an amusement park. 47’s task was to assassinate the park’s owner, Joseph Clarence. One of the requests made by the family was to show Clarence a picture of the son before killing him. He flatly asks Clarence to look at the picture before killing him exactly as instructed, giving no indication that he understands the significance of the action.
He is essentially a robot, and thus the obvious character arc for the hypothetical Hitman film would be something akin to Terminator 2: Judgement Day, where he learns something about humanity. Though we may have seen many similar plots before, for example The Professional, Chappie, and maybe, if we stretch it a little, The Iron Giant.
So to make a story more unique to the spirit of Hitman, would be of course to draw inspiration from the games. Silent Assassin is an obvious choice. In that second game, 47 takes refuge in a church. Presumably the first time 47 was shown care and affection from another person was the priest. Early in the game, he goes into confession with the priest where he says he does not belong in this world (partly because he’s a clone), and questions why God would care about him. Even me, as a non-Christian, find this fascinating because it’s his evolution from being a clinical killing machine to wanting to participate in aspects of humanity – in this case, religion.
Perhaps the biggest gripes that purist game fans have with the trailer is that Agent 47 is not supposed to barge into a room with guns blazing. The games are classified as `stealth games’, and the core game mechanic is to steal clothes to approach targets in disguise. The games reward players if they do not kill any enemies except the assigned target, and punishes you for killing innocent civilians. It’s even better if you could make the death look like an accident.
So a movie with 47 being stealthy and *not* performing a mass shooting would be appreciated by the fans, in addition to being different from every other action movie. The obvious counter-argument would be to say that being stealthy would make the movie boring, but that’s not true. The train station scene in The Bourne Ultimatum proves that it is possible to create a tense scene where your hero stealthily evades enemies.
Thus the iconography of Hitman might be contradictory, since the most common images of 47 shows him dual-wielding his hardballers.
People who are not familiar with the game might easily assume that Agent 47 dispatches his enemies by dual-wielding his pistols in an intense gunfight. So why is this an iconic image for 47 and how is this part of the game? The answer is that, for most playthroughs, these John Woo-type scenes typically occur only once in each game, usually towards the end of the story. Usually that’s when the bad guys manage to corner 47 into an inescapable environment. So players might have to shoot their way out of trouble. (Players may still choose to complete these mission stealthily, though it would be much harder.) The movies can follow the same structure. We let stealth be the main M.O. of 47 for most of the movie, and let the movie end with a climax where our Agent 47 has no choice but to defend himself with his double Hardballers.
The dark humour
Although 47 is a cold, humourless character, the game often juxtaposes him into silly situations like these:
Even the developers of the game says that the humour is important to the series. A Hitman movie would need to preserve this to some extent. We have learned from previous movies that a joyless, humourless movie that takes itself too seriously is not a good thing. Dark, gritty stories still need sprinkles of humour here and there to balance things out. For instance, The Shield, which is a police drama known for its edge and intensity but also has a hilarious scene where the a toilet broke and flooded the police station. If a movie took itself too seriously it would again just be like any generic action thriller.
Of course, everything I mentioned here are just what I personally hope to get out of a Hitman movie. But since the last two movie adaptations aren’t that well-received, maybe it’s time to try a different approach?