Deus Ex: Human Revolution was an impossibly good game when it came out in 2011: It was excellent in its own right—"Smart, substantial, funny, creative, and endlessly entertaining," we said in a 94% review (opens in new tab)—and also managed the nigh-impossible task of delivering a worthy revival of one of the most legendary videogames of all time (opens in new tab). It made such an impression that a year after its release, Square Enix and Eidos Montreal did a deal with CBS to turn it into a film (opens in new tab).
Human Revolution was by all appearances a natural fit for a movie—the extended E3 trailer remains one of my favorite videogame cinematics of all time—but, as often happens, the project eventually ran out of steam and fell by the wayside. But now we can get a taste of what might have been, thanks to a new USA Today (opens in new tab) report about the film's failure to reach the finish line, which includes an excerpt from the script.
The wheels came off of the Deus Ex film when Scott Derrickson, who was working on the script with partner C. Robert Cargill, opted to give it up in order to direct the 2016 Doctor Strange film. You can't blame them for wanting a piece of the Marvel Cinematic Universe action, but according to Scott Kinney of Prime Universe Productions, one of the production companies involved in the project, when Derrickson and Cargill left, "it just died."
"I’m really, really sad CBS Films fumbled the ball on this project because I believe Scott would have knocked Deus Ex out of the park to finally make the first great video game film adaptation," Kinney said. "Their amazing work on Marvel’s Doctor Strange film, which should have/could have been the Deus Ex movie, shared a 'more than human' theme in a deft way that translated well into an action-adventure film for a mass audience.
"Replace the mysticism of Doctor Strange with the transhumanism theme of Deus Ex and we felt like we had all the ingredients for a film that could have been memorable, or at worst, ahead of its time."
The excerpts from a 2014 draft script indicate that the movie would have followed the story of the game fairly closely, with one significant exception: Rather than being augmented against his will, Adam Jensen asks David Sarif to load him up with augmentations so he can get revenge for the apparent murder of his girlfriend. It's a doubly ironic change: "I never asked for this" is far and away the most iconic line of the game, to the point that even though Jensen did in fact ask for this in the film, the scriptwriters kept it in.
It comes up at the end of Jensen's fight with Lawrence "The Bull" Barrett: He's getting his ass kicked, but in true Hollywood fashion, he rallies to victory, inspired by belief in himself and the voice of the woman he loves:
You’re a man.
(And a calm we haven’t seen suffuses Jensen, the kind that comes with that ultimately liberating realization that everything you’ve believed about yourself is somehow wrong, and now you understand the truth.)
(low, to self)
…Get up, Jensen.
(lining the mini-gun)
…I’m not like you, Barrett.
You’re a f****** Aug!
Yeah, I am. But–
(And Jensen MOVES, running right at Barrett!
Barrett’s depressing the trigger when Jensen LEAPS, a blade extending from his right arm, and CUTTING Barrett’s arm clean off. Barrett ROARS as arm and gun fall. He swings at Jensen with the other. Jensen rolls, grabbing the arm/mini-gat, lines it–)
I never asked for this.
(–and Jensen FIRES!)
I completely agree with USA Today's opinion that the segment is not great, but Kinney said he thinks it was likely wedged in as a bit of fan service. "That seems like a Hollywood one-liner that was added in a revised draft to me," he said. "It’s hard to totally avoid stuff like that."
Development of the film never advanced to the casting stage, but the report says Kinney envisioned Stephen Lang (opens in new tab) in the role of Barrett, while Bradley Cooper (opens in new tab) was his choice for Adam Jensen. Lang as Barrett is an easy yes, but Cooper as Jensen doesn't convince me: He's too visibly wholesome and All-American to pull it off. Viggo Mortensen (opens in new tab) comes to mind as one possible better option—or perhaps Sebastian Stan (opens in new tab). His most famous role has him partway there anyway.
Regardless of who ultimately got the starring roles, the history of Hollywood and videogames leaves me deeply skeptical—but even so, it sounds like the Deus Ex film could've been a winner. Shame we'll never find out.