It seems that even the lukewarm reception to big budget CGI-Orc-fest Warcraft isn't enough to stop — or even momentarily halt — the ceaseless march of the video game movie. For although Blizzard might be reevaluating its relationship with the big screen, Ubisoft is forging ahead with another video game announcement, and a big named star to go with it.
Ubisoft Motion Pictures has recently announced they would be producing a live-action version of their recently released open world New York apocalypse-em-up, The Division. What's more, Nightcrawler and Prince of Persia star Jake Gyllenhaal has already been cast in the lead role.
What Is The Division?
Released on Xbox One, PS4 and PC earlier this year, Tom Clancy's The Division is the latest in a longline of Ubisoft-produced titles to feature the late author's name — following in the wake of the established and successful Rainbow Six, Ghost Recon and Splinter Cell series of games. Much like the latter two titles in that list, The Division isn't actually based on any of Clancy's novels.
The game itself is a third-person open world role-playing game in which players trawl through the broken remains of a "mid-crisis" New York. The game is relatively unique in that it is "online only," with players teaming up with — and fighting against — both computer characters and other real players.
The Division Plot
Of course, at this juncture it is unclear what will be the exact plot of The Division movie. The open world nature of the game also means there isn't one single narrative all players will play in precisely the same way. However, The Division's plot certainly does lend itself to a vivid live-action adaptation.
Taking no small amount of inspiration from John Carpenter's Escape From New York, The Division is set on a quarantined Manhattan, in which law and order has degraded into ongoing feuds between different groups. As with any good apocalypse setting, The Division features a mysterious virus that has spread among the population. Dubbed the "Green Poison" or "Dollar Flu," the previously unknown strain of smallpox was spread on cash during the insanity of Black Monday sales, resulting in Manhattan being locked off from the rest of the country.
The live-action The Division trailer might give a hint at what the movie will look like:
To deal with the crisis, the government activates the Strategic Homeland Division, a special group of sleeper agents who are hidden among the population. It is down to this "Division" to fight for the government's interests in Manhattan, navigate the dangerous Dark Zones and deal with their inhabitants, and ultimately find the source of the virus.
As you expect, it's not exactly an easy ride, and along the way they go toe-to-toe with a range of deadly denizens. There are many groups taking advantage of the situation, including standard street thugs, escapees from Rikers Island prison and the Cleaners — a group of insane flamethrower-wielding New York sanitation workers who believe everyone is infected. However, most dastardly of all is the Last Man Battalion, a traitorous and fascist private military company that was abandoned in Manhattan by the government.
It's also worth noting that the player character is a silent and basically backstory-less and emotionless protagonist, meaning Gyllenhaal's The Division character will likely be a new creation.
So Why A Division Movie?
They have also approached the concept of a video game movie differently from other companies. Whereas previous game studios were happy to sell the rights to their characters and head to the bank, Ubisoft developed their own motion picture department that works closely with partner studios.
Established in 2008, we are still waiting to see what big screen delights this relationship might sire. Their freshmen outing, this year's Assassin's Creed movie is highly anticipated, with many pundits suggesting its long development and impressive cast — including Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard — might finally break the video game movie curse.
Check out Assassin's Creed's first trailer below:
It seems Ubisoft is following a similar path with The Division, and the attachment of an impressive lead actor certainly helps to placate those who fear such projects are simple cash grabs (although cash is certainly part of the equation).
According to Ubisoft, The Division holds the highest number of first-day sales for the company and is now the company's best-selling game, despite only being released in March. Moreover, The Division broke the industry record for first-week sales of a new intellectual property, and became No. 1 in Japan — a market which is traditionally more reticent of US titles.
Given these figures, it's not hard to guess why Ubisoft have made it their next movie property, although their current roster of upcoming adaptations is certainly not small.
So, Will The Division Make a Good Movie?
For the most part, The Division has received positive reviews, with most criticism being based around technical and connectivity issues that wouldn't factor into The Division movie. Furthermore, although The Division has been described by some as repetitive and dull after a while, I'm sure its story and action will be enough to sustain even a two-hour runtime.
The story has also been praised by some. For example, despite being devoid of characters who aren't gun-wielding maniacs, Forbe's magazine's Paul Tassi states this actually helps the story, allowing the vivid and oppressive environments to tell the tale of a dying New York. This allowing of the background to tell the story has been used to great affect in other apocalyptic movies, namely Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men.
With this in mind, The Division's setting is perfect placed to take advantage of our only increasing obsession with apocalyptic stories and movies, while its visuals are already the stuff of cinema. So, if a decent screenwriter can be signed on to "movie-ify" The Division's story and setting, I see no reason why The Division can't follow in the footsteps of well-received movies of a similar genre.
For example, Kill Screen's Gareth Damien Martin called its ideology perverse, stating:
"'The Division' is a game so eager to criminalize the poor, so eager to play into clichés of class war. Yet it staunchly refuses to take responsibility for its representations, for its politics. "
He adds that the game portrays an authoritarian regime that is more concerned with punishing petty criminals than actually saving people. This might be a fair criticism, but who's to say such concepts could not be developed into a meaningful The Division movie plot? For example, the above mentioned Children of Men also illustrated how, when confronted with rampant insecurity, the government can often quickly recoil in the most distasteful directions.
Currently, there is no word on The Division movie's release date, and it might be awhile before we hear anything. Currently Ubisoft has a crowded slate of upcoming projects, but with the exception of Assassin's Creed, few have seemingly moved beyond pre-production.