Directed by Aleksander Bach
Starring Rupert Friend, Hannah Ware, Zachary Quinto and Ciaran Hinds
Hitman began life as a series of successful computer games, in which the player controls Agent 47, the ‘perfect assassin’; six-four of shaven-headed, barcode tattooed white beefcake with the ability to disguise himself as a Chinese waiter. Using said mastery of disguise and an arsenal of weapons, the player must plan and execute an assassination to meet the terms of a contract. Some of the games have an ongoing plot i which a series of unconnected jobs add up to a conspiracy, but some are just a series of jobs, and their appeal is not story so much as the replay value inherent in trying various approaches to perfect each kill. The game series was first adapted into a movie in 2007. Hitman was a frankly appalling film in which 47 – played without engagement by Timothy Olyphant, fresh from critically acclaimed yet cancelled TV series Deadwood and with payments due on the mortgage – is betrayed by his superiors as part of an insanely moronic plot to seize control of Russia by treating the entire world as if they were idiots.
So, apparently someone at 20th Century Fox really believed in the potential of a Hitman movie, because despite a modest commercial success and critical mauling, and Timothy Olyphant going on record on the Nerdist podcast to confirm that bit about the mortgage, the collapse of a planned sequel, and the death of intended new Agent 47 Paul Walker, just eight years later they decided to reboot.
In this version, Agent 47 (Friend) is sent to assassinate the founder of the Agent programme, Petr Litvenko (Hinds) and his daughter, Katia Van Dees (Ware), for reasons that are never adequately explored, but possibly as part of a shadow war between two ideologically indistinguishable conspiracies. Katia is initially protected by international man of mystery John Smith (Quinto), before he is revealed as an agent for the Syndicate, the enemy of 47’s International Contracts Agency.
In a twist which would no doubt be shocking if we had any idea why anyone was doing anything in the first place, 47 opts to rescue Katia, because he has realised that she is an agent too, her real name being ‘Quatre-Vingt Dix’, because her Russian father is well into francophone wordplay. As the 90th and final Agent, she has almost prescient abilities and quickly learns to be a badass, while at the same time teaching the Tin Man to have a heart.
Almost everyone dies, and Litvenko blows himself up with an exploding inhaler to kill the head of the Syndicate. Then Agent 48 (also Friend) pops up to punish all this familial bonding that’s going on, and hilarity – or at least a pumping heavy metal credit sequence – ensues.
What’s wrong with it?
What the hell is wrong with Hollywood casting? “We need a Russian scientist; get me that Irish guy who voiced the Troll King in Frozen.”
The screenwriter, Skip Woods, turns in a script that… Well, the best I can find to say of it is that it is marginally better than his own script for the 2007 adaptation of Hitman. In fact, Skip Woods may be about to become the first screenwriting Bad Movie Superstar (counting Albert Pyun primarily as a director.)
While in some ways more faithful to the game than the earlier film, incorporating 47’s genetically engineered nature and ‘mastery’ of disguise, in others it flies further from the coop, turning 47’s handler Diana – in the game a loyal, if ruthless and scheming, ally and his only constant human interaction – into a bland corporate drone whose motives are not unclear so much as non-existent. Similarly to the first movie, it also loses much of the nature of the game by switching the thrust of the narrative from a conspiracy which emerges through a series of seemingly unconnected contracts, to a generic ‘save the girl’ extended chase sequence. Not only does this move the concept into a much more crowded field, it unforgivingly exposes its utter inferiority to the likes of the Bourne… whatever the fuck you call it when there’s a trilogy, then a spin off, then a late sequel.
Arguably, the film may be less confusing than I am making out, but I just couldn’t concentrate on it enough to tell, and I sat through the original Hitman.
Although a lot of people get hurt, outside of the fanbait opening sequence, Agent 47 doesn’t really assassinate anyone.
As with a lot of action movies, especially when they transfer to the small screen, the dialogue ends up an indecipherable mumble unless the volume is up so high that the action sequences constitute common law assault and battery.
What’s right with it?
Zachary Quinto is better than this movie deserves, and Rupert Friend uses his boyish good looks to bring a cherubic menace to the virtually emotionless 47. Further, Hannah Ware is so much better than Olga Kurylenko that it just isn’t funny.
How bad is it really?
It’s terrible. The weird thing is that although most of the parts of the movie are superior to those in the original – the actors are either better or just more engaged, the plot is opaque rather than aggressively stupid, and the script is dull rather than toothgrinding – the actual film as a whole is somehow even more tedious. I could barely focus on what was going on for the sheer pressure of not caring.
Best bit (if such there is)?
The film opens reasonably strongly; once it’s got past the interminable narration, that is. As Litvenko’s hunters close in on their mark, Agent 47 executes a slick assassination on the lead investigator, using explosives, decoys and traps to isolate and eliminate his target. It is basically the only time he acts like Agent 47.
What’s up with…?
- John Smith’s ‘subdermal titanium armour’? Allegedly this is injected as a liquid, but the melting point of titanium is 1,668 Celcius, which is about double the temperature needed to incinerate a human body (oh, the watchlists I’m going to be on after researching around this review.) And if you did manage to get it in, how would you move when it hardened? You’d better hope you were breathing in when it went solid.
- If Agents are created by gene therapy or even in utero augmentation, rather than some creepy cloning process, as is suggested by the case of 90, why is 48 a double of 47? Is it part of some cunning ICA ploy to radically increase the chance of their universal ‘agent face’ getting onto the FBI Most Wanted list?
Production values – The action is competent enough, but the sound quality – especially the dialogue levels, hamper the accessibility of the film. I’m English. I really shouldn’t need the subtitles in an English language film. 12
Dialogue and performances – So, in fairness to the actors, a lot of the problems with the dialogue come down to the script, and a lot more come down to the sound quality (so I’ll bump a few extra points across to Production values for that.) There are, however, a lot of problems. 11
Plot and execution – Why? That’s the question I don’t have an answer for. Okay, the Syndicate want their own Agents so they can beat the ICA at… shadowy stuff. But why do the ICA want Litvenko and Katia dead? They’ve got 89 aging Agents and no long-term strategy? Do they have the secret already and want no-one else to? Heaven forbid, were they actually hired to do something? 17
Randomness – It feels like 60% of the plot is based simply around someone saying ‘hey, and what if you had a French agent called Quatre-Vingt Dix, like Dix-Huit in Terrahawks.‘ And then someone else misheard it as ‘Katia Van Dees’ (maybe they were high) and then they were all ‘and 47 could dress as a fireman’ and… I don’t know. 13
Waste of potential – Let me reiterate: Hitman was a better Hitman movie than this one. Hitman! 20