It is difficult to pin down any specifics on the Splinter Cell film rumoured to be in development. However, what news we have heard should trouble fans. The film keeps losing directors–Doug Liman was once attached but has moved on. Filming keeps getting pushed back–Tom Hardy, supposedly attached to play Sam Fisher, has been posting updates for years. Now, recent statements from producers indicate that the film may not resemble the iconic game series at all. Let’s look at why Ubisoft’s refusal to embrace the unique gimmicks of the Splinter Cell games dooms the movie before it even begins shooting.
Misunderstanding the Splinter Cell Series
Splinter Cell really is a first-person shooter game. And so the challenge of making Splinter Cell interesting was we didn’t have this IP with a very specific backstory. That allowed us to make up our own world and really augment and fill out the characters … I think it’ll feel like a badass, Tom Hardy action movie, which is what we wanted.
There have already been articles pointing out that everything in that statement is untrue. Splinter Cell is a stealth game that downplays combat. Early instalments of the game could even fail a player for using too much violence.
Both the concept and the characters have a very specific backstory: Sam Fisher is a veteran black ops agent who is brought out of retirement to work for Third Echelon, an NSA initiative specialising in information warfare. To say that this gives the filmmakers license to “make up” the film’s world to create a “Tom Hardy action movie” is absurd. More importantly, it sets the film up for failure.
Generic Action Doesn’t Sell Anymore
The minds behind the film understand that in today’s world of mega-franchises, their movie starts off at a clear disadvantage. But sitting in the second tier of movies that tend to perform well without shattering box office records, are a completely different ball game. One features large budgets used to deliver middle-of-the-road-quality movies that underperform domestically. The other type features films shot on a much lower budget and become big hits due to critical success.
Movies like Dead Men Tell No Tales and The Mummy were rescued by their overseas performances. This is due to the popularity of stars like Johnny Depp and Tom Cruise. Even if Tom Hardy can carry a franchise on name recognition alone, it’s a massive and unnecessary gamble for Ubisoft to take.
However, films like John Wick (which was also produced by Iwanyk) and Logan succeeded because they understood their core concepts and had a distinct aesthetic vibe. For John Wick, that meant expertly choreographed gunfights and a lurid, moody atmosphere. For Logan, that meant brutal, animalistic combat scenes and the trappings of a modern Western. In each case, those choices indicated a deep understanding of the material and their audiences. Logan is, after all, the story of a man with claws who has spent his life struggling with his aggressive tendencies. It would not have succeeded if the director had not understood the material in that way.
What a Splinter Cell Movie Could Be
In the same vein, understanding the Splinter Cell franchise means understanding that the film cannot be a simple shoot ’em up. The games are famous for their use of lighting and sound to create a slow, tense atmosphere that emphasises stealth, patience, and finesse. The player often has limited ammunition to work with and cannot afford to be drawn into a firefight.
A faithful film adaptation would play more like a thriller. Imagine Sam running low on bullets and creeping through the shadows as he navigates an enemy base. The aesthetic would be dark, as Sam strikes his enemies from above or behind with expert precision. If handled by someone with a distinct visual flair, the result could be a tense, exciting spy film.
The Untapped Potential
In today’s world of franchises and cinematic universes, it’s also disappointing that Splinter Cell is being discussed as a single film. Recent failures like The Mummy and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword serve as a warning against working too hard to set up a series or a franchise. However, John Wick is getting a TV spinoff and Split is a secret sequel to Unbreakable (with a third movie on the way). This shows that, when done right, a studio’s willingness to dream big can pay off.
The Splinter Cell games coexist alongside other games released under the “Tom Clancy’s” label such as Ghost Recon, Rainbow Six, EndWar, and The Division. Throw Clancy’s literary hero Jack Ryan into the mix, and you’ve got the makings of a great cinematic universe focusing on espionage, counterterrorism, and futuristic warfare. A Splinter Cell movie that embraces its material and succeeds could set this world up and allow Ubisoft to reap the rewards.
Splinter Cell is a unique and iconic game series with a rich history and a concept that deserves respect. If Ubisoft does right by it, we could one day get a movie worthy of a protagonist like Sam Fisher. Hopefully, Ubisoft will realise the potential of what it has and deliver a fine product.