Hitman: Agent 47 once again builds a cinematic world out of the popular and long-running video game franchise. In this version of the mythos, Agent 47 (Rupert Friend) is a shadowy figure living on the peripherals of society, taking contracts from his handler, Diana (Angelababy). Life gets complicated for 47 when he is assigned to find Dr. Litvenko (Ciarán Hinds), creator of the now-defunct Agent program and the only man capable of restarting it.
Litvenko has been missing for years, but a turn of fate puts his daughter, Katia (Hannah Ware), on the international radar – right into the competing crosshairs of CIA agent John Smith (Zachary Quinto), 47, and Syndicate International – the nefarious organization that has been trying to use Litvenko’s research to create its own breed of unstoppable assassins. The chase ensues to get to Katia and then use her to get to Litvenko, but the girl proves to be resourceful in her own right, and not easily taken. But as 47 pursues his quarry, he begins to see a bigger and more important mission in front of him, and his decision to pursue that new objective makes him as big a target as Katia herself. Luckily, Agent 47 happens to be a master in the art of killing.
A 2007 Hitman film adaptation came and went with little love from fans of the long-running video game series, and little notice from casual moviegoers. With game developers now gearing up to launch their own cinematic adaptations (Assassin’s Creed, Splinter Cell), in the hopes of better translating the gaming experience to the screen, Agent 47 arrives like the Laser Disc of video game movies, purporting itself to be some next-gen gaming film, when it’s really just a regrettable stepping-stone to something better.
Hitman: Agent 47 plays like a high-production Hitman fan-film during its action bits; and like the film school project of an untested director (in this case, first time feature-film helmer Aleksander Bach) in its… (ahem) “dramatic moments.” Bach tries to use exotic locations, high-concept architecture or sharp interior design as substitutes for actual skill and confidence behind the camera, but it’s not nearly enough camouflage to cover his inexperience at the helm. Virtually every one of the scenes in Agent 47 take place in some kind of interesting setting – yet so many of them are aslo utterly forgettable, or are only memorable for being poorly staged and shot.
When the action does kick-in, fans do get the sort of John Wick-style “Gun Fu” that is satisfying on a visceral (and totally fantastical) level. Agent 47 makes a point of emphasizing the brutality of its violence, which is more hilarious than shocking, given how the kills are staged with the hyper-real feel of video game virtual reality – complete with bloody traps and savage executions that are dutifully crafted in emulation of the Hitman games. Indeed, the most praise-worthy aspect of Agent 47 are the flickers of brilliance it shows when staging certain sequences that actually capture the look, feel, and player interactivity of the games – but these flickers are few and brief when they do appear.
It’s unfortunate that Bach isn’t more skilled with the presentation of the ideas – or that script writers Skip Woods (who also wrote the ’07 Hitman movie) and Michael Finch (Predators) can’t avoid silly gaming gimmicks (on top of their convoluted and uninspired screenplay). In more capable hands, the sparks of ideas in creating a true “video game movie” experience could catch light; here they’re doomed to fizzle out, drowned in bad dialogue and the sort of hackneyed espionage story that makes one yearn for a return to the “agents vs. syndicate” games of Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. It’s hard to even say whether or not this reboot outpaces the ’07 film (probably not) – but if there is anything that’s apparent, it’s that the original Hitman had more personality.
It’s hard to call if star Rupert Friend (Homeland) is at fault for the drab and lifeless Agent 47 we get. Like Mad Max: Fury Road, this film pulls a sort of bait-and-switch that will anger some fans, making Agent 47 more of a plot device than a character, as the female protagonist, Katia (Boss star Hannah Ware), is the real lead of the film. Friend (like 47 himself) is a forgettable presence until his stunt double steps in to demonstrate the deadly skills of the legendary agent; to his credit, Friend does the appropriate job of servicing video game fans, with spot-on iconic poses and gestures that 47 is known for.
Ware provides a good enough performance – it’s just a performance suited for a different movie. Her on-the-run and mentally rattled character is supposed to be moving and captivating, but in the context of this film, there’s not enough quality material (story-wise or in dialogue) to support that gravitas. Things grind to an agonizing halt whenever Agent 47 moves away from the mayhem of its namesake, in order to focus on Katia’s dramatic story of self-discovery.
Meanwhile, Zachary Quinto’s “John Smith” floats somewhere between these warring sides of the movie, never quite taking shape until the very end. To be fair, both Ware and Quinto (and of course their stunt doubles) look convincing enough in the film’s action moments – but again, given how poorly the film is constructed, that’s not saying much.
In the end, Hitman: Agent 47 is a second missed opportunity to translate one of the more adaptable video games into a satisfying movie experience. Like The Punisher is to comic book movies, the conundrum of why a popular game character so basic in premise (he’s a great hitman) can’t make it to the screen intact, after multiple tries, is almost more interesting than the film itself. Hopefully, the upcoming wave of developer-led gaming films have something better to offer, because if Hitman: Agent 47 is any indication, Hollywood studios still haven’t cracked the source code.
Hitman: Agent 47 is now in theaters. It is 96 minutes long and is Rated R for sequences of strong violence, and some language.
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