Review: Hitman: Agent 47
PLOT: An assassin trained as part of a government experiment finds himself protecting the daughter of one of the men who created him.
REVIEW: Can praise get any fainter than "it's not as bad as I thought it was going to be?" Probably not. It's also going against the critic's code, which is that you're supposed to go into a film without any preconceived notions about it; remaining objective as possible is the name of the game. But, c'mon, we're all human, and some movies you walk into thinking they're going to be awesome (I never had a doubt about MAD MAX: FURY ROAD) and some you walk into thinking they'll bite the big one. HITMAN: AGENT 47 falls into the latter category, and I was somewhat surprised to find it's a mildly engaging effort. Not exceptional or astounding in any way, mind you, but it is a serviceable time-killer that demands very little from the audience.
I will say it's definitely better than Xavier Gens' 2007 attempt; that film, starring Timothy Olyphant, was meddled with early and often by the studio, but it's anyone's guess who was to really blame for the ugly final product. HITMAN: AGENT 47, directed by first timer Aleksander Bach, is not a very subtle or slick specimen, but it at least has characters you somewhat care about and action you can more or less follow. Its cast is solid, some of the locations are marvelous to behold, and it leaves you just barely curious about what direction the franchise might take in the future.
The film opens with a laborious voiceover catching anyone unfamiliar with the video game HITMAN is based on up to speed: the titular character was raised by a secret government faction to be an emotionless, fearless assassin, along with many others exactly like him. (Hence his name, 47.) The project was shut down, but nefarious forces are seeking one of the main scientists behind it in order to start it back up again. The key to where the scientist might be is with his daughter, Katia (Hannah Ware), who possesses an uncanny ability to predict the future, especially when danger is involved. Katia is about to find herself in plenty of danger, as she's suddenly caught in the middle of two men: One, calling himself John Smith (Zachary Quinto), appears to be a helpful, if deadly, ally, while the other, 47 (Rupert Friend), comes out of the woodwork like the Terminator, a blank killing machine intent on capturing the girl. Can Katia trust either of these men, or is it simply a case of siding with the lesser of two evils?
Naturally, you know the answer to that one. Katia eventually winds up with 47 and gets him to display a smidgeon of a soul while learning about the true nature of her father's work. She also learns that she herself has some interesting skills (in addition to that precognition), and in the process become more than just a female in distress in 47's fight against "The Syndicate." (Can't these evil corporations come up with a better name?) Some globe-trotting ensues, as 47 and Katia race from Berlin to luscious Singapore in order to find her father and thwart the Syndicate's seemingly unending supply of henchmen.
The action in AGENT 47 is acceptable but nothing we haven't seen before. 47 shoots maybe 200 people in the film, breaks a few necks, uses a few slashing implements. As a non-gamer I couldn't tell if the film's by-the-numbers shoot-em-up sequences were homages to the game or just by-the-numbers on their own. (A colleague well-versed in the game informed me later that the film did seem to be intentionally channeling the game in many sections.) One disheartening reality is that there's plenty of CG fakery involved, and in a summer where MAD MAX and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE are killing it with practical stunts, HITMAN: 47's lame computer-generated action fails to impress. Bach, it would seem, definitely needs more seasoning in the field, or at the very least more money to play with. If anything, he shows more flair directing the quieter moments in the film. (The dialogue is very bland, but the cast is able to elevate it ever so slightly.)
I mostly found myself drawn into the film thanks to the three leads. Friend, while not as intimidating a physical presence as Olyphant was in the first try, brings some humanity to 47, which is necessary. The game may make due with an emotion-free cypher, but that's not going to fly on the big screen, and Friend exudes charisma, so the character is at least someone you'd want to hang around with for a little bit. (Even if he's always murdering.) Ware, who I admit I have never seen before, is a strong choice for Katia; she's vulnerable yet determined, and when she starts taking down bad guys you can't help but root for her. (You can add Katia to this summer's surprising roster of kickass action heroines.) Quinto's John Smith is a mysterious character - like Katia, we're not sure if he's friend or foe - and Quinto ably plays both his compassionate and sinister sides.
HITMAN: AGENT 47 is nothing special, but it's a bit more watchable than you might think, with characters you're actually semi-invested in. Faint praise, yes, but who thought it would receive praise at all?
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