Hitman: The Movie

Hitman

Movies based on video games often get a tough time, and to be honest they deserve nothing less. A bad movie is a bad movie whether it’s based on a game, a TV show, another movie, a book, or the life story of the director’s cat. There’s no excuse for bad filmmaking, and pointing to the source material with an accusatory “that’s what the game is like” just doesn’t cut it.

It’s depressing, however, to see movie critics disregard a video game-to-movie conversion simply because it was inspired by a medium that isn’t film. It’s okay not to like the movie, but it’s not okay to not like the movie based on your dislike of a video game you haven’t played and have very little knowledge of.

Take, for example, this:

“…players act as a hired assassin, working their way through various levels of intrigue and crazy, chaotic firefights. The purpose, clearly, is to slaughter everyone who’s in your way.”

Or perhaps this:

“Other scenes, which involve Agent 47 striding down corridors, an automatic weapon in each hand, shooting down opponents who come dressed as Jedi troopers in black. These scenes are no doubt from the video game.”

I understand that I’m using these quotes out of context, but my point still stands – it’s clear from both of these excerpts (both taken from reviews of the Hitman movie) that the reviewers in question have no experience with the video game series.

I’m not meaning to discredit either of these reviews here, by the way: I’m not a film critic, and I don’t pretend to be, but I’d like to take a moment just to consider this movie from the perspective of someone who is, first and foremost, a gamer.

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Hitman is, probably, the best example of a video game-inspired movie, and it’s still not very good. Its flaws are numerous and blatant, and are explored in the reviews I linked above. Here, though, I want to briefly discuss some things it does right, particularly in regards to the games it is based on.

Agent 47 (played by Timothy Olyphant in the movie), the protagonist of both the film and the video games, is a genetically engineered assassin created from the recombinant DNA of five of the world’s most dangerous criminals. He is one of many, trained from birth to be nothing but a killer.

The movie does a good job of establishing this in a way that doesn’t delve too deep, but provides enough context for 47’s actions throughout. During the opening credits sequence, a number of children are shown being tattooed and trained for combat; in a couple of instances, dialogue between the characters indicates that Agent 47 has been bred solely to kill. This explains his somewhat superhuman instincts and abilities, but also his social failings, particularly in his interactions with women.

For example, there’s a scene quite early on in which Agent 47 is approached by a good-looking blonde while drinking in a hotel bar. When the lady starts to act vaguely flirtatiously, 47 immediately drains his drink and says “I have to go” like a nervous child, before leaving the room without as much as a glance back.

This is a good scene because, despite his combat prowess creating an image of an almost infallible warrior, here we see some genuine weakness in his character. This theme continues throughout with his relationship with Nika, a prostitute (played by Olga Kurylenko) who serves as a principle witness to one of the film’s major events. Her role here is in service to more than just the narrative, however – she’s flirty, vulnerable, emotionally distraught and close to Agent 47 all the time. This is an idea that the video games never explored; how 47 might react when forced to actually protect someone rather than simply murder them.

I’m glad to see that this particular relationship didn’t pan out the way I thought it would, with no obligatory sex scene, no self-sacrifice for Nika’s benefit, and certainly no remorse when it comes to Agent 47’s particular line of work. It was easy to imagine that 47 was going abandon all of his emotional defences, fall in love with Nika, renounce violence and sail away with her to Narnia, but thankfully none of that happened. While he did develop genuine feelings for her, I don’t think they were born of love, or even lust. I think Agent 47 essentially sees in Nika all the human characteristics that he lacks. Like I said, it’s certainly not lust because when Nika gets pissed up in a restaurant and tries to get 47 in the sack, he stabs her in the neck with a syringe.

It’s difficult to argue that Hitman is a good movie, because for the most part it isn’t, though it does have its moments. Whenever I find myself watching a movie based on a video game, I almost feel as though I’m at an unfair advantage; that my knowledge of the source material puts me in a position to enjoy the film more. Perhaps that’s true. I certainly got that feeling during Hitman.

Sometimes it’s just the little things. During a hotel firefight, 47 stumbles upon a couple of kids playing one of the Hitman video games. When Nika meets with a shady CIA agent, 47 covers the conversation in this exact position. I would never have noticed these tiny things if I wasn’t familiar with the game. There’s more, too – the disguises, the scene with Robert Knepper and the rubber duck – and these are all small elements that added to the experience for me. It’s not a great film, sure, but I enjoyed it for what it was, and my love of the series aided in that.

All I’m saying is give Hitman a chance, especially if you’re a fan of the games. There are plenty of things there to like if you allow yourself to do so, and if all else fails just watch it to see Olga Kurylenko get her tits out, you dirty bastards.

Dead Space: Aftermath

Dead Space Aftermath

Usually in horror movies, or at the very least movies with strong themes of persistent danger and the ultimate goal of survival, one of the most entertaining aspects is trying to figure out who’s going to survive until the end. Dead Space: Aftermath, the second full-length animated movie in the ever-popular Dead Space universe, throws us a curveball right from the start by opening with the survivors of its disaster being rescued.

As marines board the deserted, carnage-strewn corridors of the USG O’Bannon, we’re introduced to the four mismatched individuals who will function as our principle characters: Nicholas Kuttner (Christopher Judge), head of security; Alejandro Borgas (Ricardo Chavira), an engineer; Isabella Cho (Gwendoline Yeo), a doctor; and Nolan Stross (Curt Cornelius), the ship’s chief science officer.

The group is quickly incapacitated and transported to the Marine battleship Braxus, which is on its way to the Sprawl – a huge space station built on Titan (one of the moons of Saturn) and also the setting for the Dead Space 2 video game. It quickly becomes apparent that all is not what it seems, and a pair of interrogators is brought in to decipher the happenings aboard the O’Bannon before the Braxus reaches the Sprawl.

The majority of Aftermath takes place in the past, as each of the four main characters tell their story through flashback sequences. As a framing device this is hardly original, but here it works surprising well, allowing us to see radically different perspectives on the same event, while we witness first-hand the trauma these individuals have suffered and how their psyches have been affected. While the guy who constantly cries out for his dead daughter is a little bit of a cliché, in general I liked the four main characters and was interested to learn more about themselves and their stories.

Unlike Downfall, the first Dead Space movie experience, Aftermath doesn’t rely on a single, comic book-style of art and animation. Rather, the portions set aboard the Braxus are presented in an (admittedly crude) CG rendering, while each individual flashback plays out in a different artistic style. I was worried this format may come across as somewhat schizophrenic, but it actually worked out as one of the stronger elements of the film, providing a range of interesting aesthetics while adding a strong sense of separation between each character’s versions of events.

While we’re comparing Aftermath to its predecessor, it’s also worth mentioning how the pacing is wildly different. In Downfall, the basic premise was introduced and vaguely explained in the first ten minutes, leaving the remaining hour to show the massacre aboard the Ishimura in as much detail as possible. Here, we have a much healthier balance of exposition and action, with the former being presented in a reasonably dynamic and interesting way, and the latter just as vivid and brutal, if not more so, than it was before. Once again, the most impressive element on display here is the art and visual design, which juxtaposes the grim, industrial feel of the O’Bannon with the almost surgically pristine, white-walled corridors of the Braxus. The movie looks great throughout, with the weakest elements (the off-key CG) being the least prominent.

I said in my review of Dead Space: Downfall that for fans of the video games that movie was a must see, and that goes for Aftermath and then some. Overall, it’s a vast improvement over its feature-length predecessor and a credit to the Dead Space universe. Highly recommended.

Dead Space: Downfall

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It’s a widely accepted fact that videogame adaptations make terrible movies. We need only to look at the work of German filmmaker Uwe Boll to see many examples of respected intellectual property butchered, for want of a better word, in its transition to the big screen.

The task of transforming a piece of interactive media into a product that can entertain and excite without the need for agency is undoubtedly a difficult one; video games succeed or fail depending on how well they adhere to their own language, rather than the language of film or other, non-interactive mediums.

The key in crafting a successful video game-to-film adaptation is simply setting the bar low. Trying to create the next big-budget blockbuster invariably fails unless you have the money, time and talent to see it through. Rather, play to the strengths of your license and understand exactly what you want your product to be. Such forethought yields infinitely more favourable results.

Take Dead Space: Downfall as an example. Developed by Team Roman in collaboration with Electronic Arts, this animated movie functions as a prequel to the events detailed in the original Dead Space video game, its closing moments set within minutes of the game’s opening.

It’s quite clear throughout the 75 minutes running time that Downfall isn’t a self-sustained narrative experience. Rather, it is to be taken as a portion of the overarching storyline of the series; although its culmination ultimately serves as a catalyst for the events in the first game, it doesn’t need to spend time establishing mythology and backstory – the meat of the exposition can be found in Dead Space.

Because, however, Downfall is an independent work separate from the main series of games, it’s important that we employ a different critical lens in the interest of fairness. In that regard, Downfall has several narrative shortcomings, the most prevalent of which being its hasty summarisation of important aspects of the universe which deserve more explanation. An 8-10 hour video game has the liberty of drip-feeding us context without spoiling the pacing, but a 75 minute movie has no such advantage.

We’re presented with a lot of questions and few answers are provided – we’re told about the Church of Unitology, its desire to uncover an alien Marker from a dead planet called Aegis VII, and the fact that several of its sympathisers or members have been planted on the USG Ishimura, the “planet-cracker” (and setting of the first game) sent to lead the excavation of the artefact. We’re then required to accept these facts at face value.

Once the concept has been established, though, Downfall launches into a wonderfully drawn survival story. As the alien Marker begins to corrupt the members of the Ishimura, transforming them into hideous, savage creatures called necromorphs, security officer Alyssa Vincent must lead a ragtag group of her crewmates on a mission to summon help and, more importantly, prevent the Marker from being taken back to Earth.

Downfall’s primary selling point is its excellent art and animation, with an intentionally muted colour palette lending the dark, mechanical corridors of the Ishimura a real sense of place. The action, when it comes, is exciting and visceral, and the inevitability of the crew’s demise brings with it a terrific feeling of urgency. You know bad things are going to happen, you just don’t know when, or how, or to whom, and as a result many of its slower scenes are wracked with the suspense of knowing everyone on the ship is inevitably going to die.

The characters, while sometimes unconvincing, are nonetheless interesting to follow. While there are a few too many heroic self-sacrifices for my liking, as dementia begins to set in it becomes a gruesome guessing game of who is going to succumb to the effects of the Marker next, and what the consequences will be.

As a huge fan of the Dead Space universe, Downfall was a highly-entertaining prequel for me. My foreknowledge of the finer narrative aspects allowed me to enjoy the movie for what it is, and that’s an exciting science-fiction story of desperation and the will to survive. If you’re a fan of animation this is definitely worth a look, and if you’re interested in the video games, I’d even go so far as to call this a must-see.

A Serbian Film

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[I think its important to clarify a couple of things at this point before we jump into the body of the review. I’d apologize for the image, but frankly its the safest one I could find that gave a reasonable impression of the tone. I tried to keep things as SFW as possible here, but even summarizing the film as a whole has resulted in a number of unsavory things being mentioned and sometimes briefly discussed, so if you’re offended/upset by such things, I recommend you stop reading now.]

There’s something wrong with me.

Over the past twenty-two years I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. I’ll always be the first to admit that. I haven’t necessarily made the decisions I should have, and often the ones I have made have proved to be incorrect for all involved. I’m not shy or ashamed about any of this, because it’s a fundamental part of growing up and, in essence, being a human being. We live, and we learn from the experiences we live through.

Watching A Serbian Film is possibly the most tragic mistake I have ever made.

There were four separate moments between the opening and closing credits where I simply turned the thing off. Four individual points where my brain kicked in, my senses returned, and I realised what I was doing. I think it was possibly the third of these instances when I exclaimed, loudly and to myself, “what the fuck am I doing with my life?”

That is a question I still don’t have an answer to. I thought I did, before this, but now I’m genuinely not sure.

The more prevalent question is why I kept turning the thing back on.

I know what the answer isn’t. It certainly isn’t because any part of this film is worth anyone’s time. I know that for an absolute, definitive fact. Not a single second or frame in these ninety minutes can be deemed as valuable to the medium, to genre fans, or to the human race as a whole in any conceivable way. A Serbian Film simply should not exist.

The only thing I can think of is that there’s just something wrong with me.

A Serbian Film is the first feature-length production from director Srđan Spasojević. While I would never elect to attack the man personally, questions must be asked about his character. I won’t be the one to do so, but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone else was. There is shit on display here that transcends any kind of depravity I’ve ever seen in filmmaking before, and the only thing more horrifying than the fact I saw it is that someone actually thought of it and committed it to film. There have been war crimes tribunals based on less atrocious acts.

Speaking of which, Spasojević would have you believe that Film is actually a political allegory on the sad state of post-Milosevic Serbian society and the condition of the movie industry within that nation. Even the title is, supposedly:

“A metaphor for our national cinema – boring, predictable and altogether unintentionally hilarious which throughout our film to some extent is commented on and subtly parodied.”

None of that is true. There is undoubtedly room in this medium for tackling morally and ethically questionable topics in the pursuit of artistic commentary, but simply saying you’re doing so doesn’t lend the least bit of credibility to your material. If the work doesn’t qualify itself, you didn’t do it right. Beating a dead horse in the fervent hope that its twitching carcass will resemble some form of life isn’t commentating on anything.

I’m not going to go into too much detail about any of the events that actually transpire within, because I feel that doing so would directly lower my worth as a human being. But, because I like to consider myself something of a professional, here’s a plot synopsis:

Miloš is a middle-aged sort-of-retired porn star with a perplexingly good-looking wife and a young son who he’s struggling to provide for. In the interest of catching a clean break and living happily ever after, he accepts one last job in the form of, and I have never used a term as loosely in my life, an “art film”. The guy behind this project is a self-styled auteur named Vukmir, who a less professional critic may suggest is an author-inserted approximation of some other Serbian director who may or may not be Srđan Spasojević himself.

Of course things start going rapidly downhill when it becomes apparent that Vukmir’s “art film” is in fact a child exploitation movie, and around the time the newborn baby gets raped (yes, that genuinely happens) Miloš does the thing that anybody with an ounce of dignity and common sense would do and declares he wants absolutely no part of this fucking shambles.

Needless to say, Miloš wakes up three days later to find footage of his escapades during the previous fifty-two hours. His activities include, but are not limited to, performing some kind of machete-themed variation of a donkey punch and being beaten up and anally raped by Vukmir’s security, all the while drugged up to his eyeballs on some sex-based narcotic that is purportedly designed to make him aggressively aroused and suggestible.

You know when I said I wasn’t going to go into too much detail about any of the events? Well, I haven’t.

What follows from there is essentially Miloš’ variation of redemption and atonement, but it really does get worse, if that’s even possible. There’s one scene in particular towards the end that I’m reasonably sure was banned from the American release, and I can honestly say with total conviction that, upon its unveiling, I felt as low and disgusted as I think I’ve ever felt in my entire life.

I can’t stress enough that this movie shouldn’t exist. It has no message or moral, and its sole purpose is to push boundaries of acceptance and use its startlingly sickening subject matter to lure people into spending their money and time on an absolutely worthless, toxic piece of garbage.

A Serbian Film is the epitome of shock-horror, controversy-seeking filmmaking. It lives in the same polluted, grim niche as The Human Centipede, and its very existence depresses me. I will never get those ninety minutes back, and I’ll have to live with what I witnessed during them for the rest of my life. Please, don’t make the same mistake as I did. Suspend your curiosity and feel content in the knowledge that you didn’t fall for its bullshit.

If I never give any piece of advice again in my life, let this be my final departing message to everyone. You must never, ever watch A Serbian Film.

The Purge

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The thing I really, really dislike about The Purge – aside from its obvious and numerous failings as a film – is the fact that it somehow manages to take perhaps the most interesting, high-concept dystopian premise I’ve ever heard and do absolutely nothing of worth with it. What we have here is a beautiful idea trapped within the confines of a thousand other formulaic slasher movies, and it genuinely upsets me how much of a waste that is.

It’s the near future of 2022, and things are pretty much exactly the same as they are now aside from the fact that the United States government has been commandeered by a vaguely-defined organization known as the New Founding Fathers, the titular ‘Purge’ being their primary contribution towards abolishing violent crime and poverty within America. The Purge itself is an annual, twelve-hour event wherein all crime is legalized and emergency services are completely shut down, allowing citizens to run amok and behave however they please with no potential repercussions to inhibit them.

James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) is a salesman for a security firm which provides the wealthy and privileged – including those who live in the same pleasant gated community as Sandin himself – with advanced systems designed to prevent home intrusion. Inhabitants of this neighbourhood seem to treat the Purge as a kind of reality show, gathering at one another’s houses to pore over giant plasma screens and watch the poor and homeless get beaten to death. Sandin himself is in an unusual position, not only unaffected by the Purge, but also substantially wealthy as a result of it.

(Interestingly, the “advanced home intrusion systems” that Sandin sells can be bypassed in about five seconds with one truck and a length of rope, but, details.)

James is married to Cersei Lannister, and together they have two children: a dopey slut named Zoey (Adelaide Kane); and Charlie (Max Burkholder), who for some reason has the mechanical aptitude to build remote-controlled surveillance robots but lacks the requisite common sense not to open the doors to random vagrants in the middle of the night.

As a result of Charlie’s ill thought-out compassion, the Sandins suddenly find themselves harbouring a wounded tramp (Edwin Hodge) who is being pursued by a group of elitist miscreants led by Rhys Wakefield (credited as “Polite Stranger”, for some reason), who promptly arrive on the doorstep demanding that the Sandins release their new mate before a designated time. If they fail to comply, everyone inside will be slaughtered.

This first act is undeniably the highlight of The Purge’s entire running time. It’s tightly-paced, well-staged, and contains enough social commentary and philosophical musing to keep the intriguing premise at the forefront of our minds. What writer/director James DeMonaco doesn’t seem to understand is that this is the kind of thing we want to see from the concept the whole time, and he is either unwilling or simply unable to sustain the kind of subtle commentary in these opening scenes throughout the entire narrative.

Ethan Hawke and Lena Heady, to their credit, actually do a really good job in their respective roles of Mr. and Mrs. Sandin, particularly when they are forced to awkwardly justify both what they are doing and why to not only their children, but also each other. James Sandin as a character is a little more than the typical upscale suburban dad forced to defend his home; he’s a man balancing the desire to protect his family with the guilt of having to profit from those less fortunate than himself in order to do so, and any sympathy for his character is constantly underscored by the fact that he’s absolutely part of the problem.

Unfortunately, when Rhys Wakefield turns up on the doorstep with his band of heavily-armed masked maniacs, the whole thing goes completely off the rails, taking the characters with it. Wakefield himself is probably the standout performance of the entire movie, and he does more than anyone could really expect with a truly awful role. The majority of his screentime is taken up delivering incredibly heavy-handed, on-the-nose monologues to the Sandin security cameras, extolling the virtues of the privileged and attempting to camouflage his classism behind patriotic hyperbole.

DeMonaco’s writing credits include both The Negotiator and the 2005 remake of Assault On Precinct 13, and strong elements of both creep their way into uncomfortable focus as soon as the Polite Stranger and his cronies gain access to the house. The previously-established tension is quickly lost as DeMonaco attempts to weave the (admittedly well shot) action sequences into the horror trappings he spent the first third erecting, and it’s an incredibly awkward and confusing tonal shift. All of James Sandin’s characterization up to this point is abandoned in favour of letting him roam around the house taking out the intruders with perplexing efficiency, and the Sandin kids are content to drift in and out of the shadows at various points to force the adult characters into yet more danger as a result of their breathtakingly stupid decisions.

Charlie and Zoey really are nothing more than human MacGuffins; poorly-drawn, hollow caricatures assembled from tired genre clichés and bound by inexplicable narrative logic. Along with Edwin Hodge’s “Bloody Stranger” (who receives literally no characterization whatsoever), their presence in general is just born of lazy, low-quality writing which relies too much on the blind idiocy of characters who don’t matter in order to drive events towards characters who do. This is muddled, derivative screenwriting all the way from the start of the second act to what is literally the most awkward and terrible conclusion to a horror/thriller film I have seen in a long, long time.

Conceptually, The Purge is a fascinating idea, and it really is a shame that such an elaborate premise has been used to frame nothing more than an incredibly by-the-numbers slasher flick. The promising subtlety of the opening third is crushed beneath the clumsy writing that the Stranger brings with him to the Sandin doorstep, and any potential tension to be found in the action cannot hope to permeate the genre tropes and omnipresent stupidity of the film as a whole.

This is a disappointing bit of work in pretty much every aspect, and my only real recommendation is that you avoid it.