A reboot of Xavier Gens’ much maligned (but financially successful) 2007 video game adaptation of (half of) the same name, Hitman: Agent 47 unfortunately repeats much of the mistakes of its predecessor, and is not only a bad Hitman adaptation, but a bad action film in general. IO Interactive’s oft-controversial video game franchise centres on the aforementioned Agent 47, a genetically modified clone who executes assassination contracts with extreme stealth and precision for a shady group called “the agency”. Despite the franchise’s brutality, it is a series that hinges on stealth and an economy of action; it is also a series that has demonstrated an aptitude for strong storytelling with the series’s recent Hitman: Absolution. Alas, both of these defining traits are absent from Aleksander Bach’s debut film: it’s a lazy, inept, generic action vehicle.
Written by Skip Woods, the man behind the original Hitman film, and following a surprisingly similar plot, Hitman: Agent 47 follows the titular agent (an uncharismatic Rupert Friend) through a series of cutscene-esque montages as he protects Katia van Dees (Hannah Ware)1 from a shady government organisation and the evil CIA mercenary John Smith (Zachary Quinto), a man with sub-dermal titanium armor – something that is way too stupid to come from a franchise at least somewhat rooted in reality, but fits in all-too-perfectly in a dumb, generic video game adaptation. Meanwhile, Katia van Dees explores her heritage with Agent 47 in a bid to unlock the secrets that will lead them to her father, the man who was responsible for the para-military experiments that resulted in the birth of Agent 47. At least, that’s what looks to be going on in the film, as the plot is so convoluted and poorly executed that it is easy to get lost in the array of quick-cut drenched fight sequences, dodgy, hollow dialogue and wooden performances.
Herein lies the film’s major problem; not only is it a bad Hitman film – one that goes way off brand and is sure to aggravate even the most casual of fans – it is also a truly terrible action film, a far more egregious error given the text’s medium of delivery. We are subjected to Gun-Fu straight out of Equilibrium for absolutely no reason; it’s not particularly violent, nor are there any impressive set-pieces a la Furious 7; the leading performances are weak; there are way too many shots per clip; the plot is unnecessarily obfuscated, and it runs about 20 minutes too long. It’s shocking to see a high profile game tie-in shoot itself in the foot this badly, managing to effectively alienate action movie audience as well. Box office receipts are (understandably) low, and it’s no wonder the film is fast on-track to becoming one of the worst reviewed video game films of all time in a sub-genre shrouded in critical vitriol.2
There’s something bizarre about a film that tries to operate within the video game mode, refusing to reject the notions that come along with the creation of a game adaptation despite clearly not caring about the franchise’s characters or the world it’s built. The existence of a general faux video game aesthetic is undeniable in contemporary cinema; through the release of films like Sucker Punch, Speed Racer, Crank, and even The Matrix, Hollywood has iterated and developed its visual understanding of what it means to operate within the video game mode, ripping off cut sequences, outlandish camera angles, first-person perspective and superhuman-esque gun and fighting play that goes far beyond the realm of Seagal and Norris’s most outlandish action set pieces.3 Hitman: Agent 47 conforms to the cinematic expectations of the video game movie (for better or worse), although it may mark new territory for the genre in that the faux video game tropes it conforms to have nothing to do with it’s source material – kill all enemies to progress, outlandish gunplay, huge explosive setpieces, and active antagonism towards NPCs4 are swapped in for the game’s signature focus on precision, stealth, costume changes, and (admittedly somewhat nihilistic) sense of humour.
While Gens’ original adaptation is quite clearly much better than this,5 it would be unfair to suggest that this latest film, however dire it may be, is the worst action film of the year – it manages to maintain far more internal logic than Taken 3 or The Gunman. Rather than that honour it should instead be viewed as a huge missed opportunity, especially considering how effectively IO Interactive and Square Enix managed to shoehorn Hitman: Absolution into a narrative mode that retained much of the strength of its prior, contract-based installments. It shouldn’t be this difficult to make an entertaining Hitman movie, particularly if the filmmakers are so intent on discarding the franchise’s lore and constraints. As a result, Hitman: Agent 47 can be nothing more than a massive disappointment, an inept attempt at action filmmaking from a bunch of people who should know better. It’s a shame and we’re the ones who suffer – one can only hope that the inevitable reboot 8 years from now is slightly more competent.