The live-action film, Tom Clancy’s The Division: Agent Origins, is set in the universe of the upcoming shooter, The Division, and is surprisingly not what I thought it was going to be. I noticed it on my Amazon Prime recommended list this weekend and decided to give it a try despite a multitude of other video game movies failing miserably. But what I watched was not your typical game movie, but something that extended further than the incessant need to be as cool as the game itself.
The film opens with a scene of two survivors, maybe husband and wife, understandably confused about the lack of human existence in New York City. They are approached by a man in a mask, who begins asking them questions. Even though, pulling from prior experience with apocalypse movies, I knew exactly where this was headed, I still jumped and winced at the sudden bullets that tore through their bodies; they were so loud and powerful and horrifying. It was a remarkably moving and jarring opening scene to set the brutal tone of the world in which these people now inhabit. You can check out the episode "Ashes" from the web series, including the short's opening scene, below.
During the movie, I felt myself struggling to differentiate between live-action and video game. Sometimes, the people really did look like a part of the game, and other times when I saw their faces, I realized it was a person. It was an interesting effect or a filter that felt like an homage to the game, which I didn’t seem to mind. Plus, I also enjoyed the third-person perspectives that felt very video-game-like.
In terms of production, I thought the film was on point. It all felt very put together and choreographed well. The story really lacked, though. They did a great job of introducing the characters that were a part of The Division, but we never got to learn any names. But I guess it’s hard to expect much from a video game short.
Another thing I noticed about this short was the map used when the leader of The Division gang tapped on his fancy wrist watch. This very map has actually caused a lot of controversy and has put Ubisoft under fire. Back when the game was being hyped at E3, the map you see in the film was also exactly how it looked in the game. You could scroll through the menu on your wrist watch and open the very vibrant and detailed map.
But, as production went on and E3 hype calmed down, Ubisoft got real and put out the actual in-game menu.
And the map looks nothing like the older map, appearing less detailed and less vibrant and kind of hard to see.
I don’t understand why the high-tech, futuristic wrist watch menu would be replaced by a bland menu and a map that can hardly be seen, but it’s a level of video game planning we maybe don’t understand. Or maybe it was all about money. Understandably, though, fans weren’t very happy. But it was good to see the old map in the short film.
While video game films have a bad rep, I can honestly say I didn’t completely hate Tom Clancy’s The Division: Agent Origins. It was originally a four-part series on YouTube, but the film recently released as an entire short on Amazon Prime. If I had to ask for some kind of change, I’d ask for more character details and more story, but that would probably only come with a longer film. And with longer films, well video game narratives just seem to fizzle out and fail. Maybe now all I have to do is actually play the game. The Division releases on March 8 and I’ll be one of the many anxiously waiting to play.