Introduction: Here is some fun trivia about me – I have always been interested in video games even though I’m not a gamer. I read gamer magazines when I was in college, I enjoy watching walkthroughs on YouTube, and I even worked part-time at a video game store when I was in grad school. Yet I’ve never owned a console or played anything beyond strategy PC games (also back in the day – way, way back in the day). So I’m familiar with the Hitman franchise and, I confess, I harbor a fan girl crush on the bald assassin himself, Agent 47….
Call me wacky.
Thus, when an initial movie was made based on these games, I was interested to check it out. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much, and while the movie didn’t entirely disappoint, it’s nothing worth making extra space on your DVD shelf for. Be aware – some spoilers may be present throughout.
The Story: Hitman (2007) focuses on the titular character, better known as Agent 47 (Timothy Olyphant), as he eliminates designated targets around the world. His latest mission is to assassinate Russian President Belicoff but the client has some odd instructions regarding the killing, namely that it be conducted in public. 47 complies but is later informed that there was a witness, a woman named Nika, and he is ordered to silence her. However, when 47 confronts Nika, he realizes that she has never seen him before and uncovers an overarching conspiracy that turns the hunter into the hunted. As 47 and Nika race to uncover the truth, hot on their trails are Interpol agent Mike Whittier (Dougray Scott) and FSB officer Agent Marklov (Robert Knepper) who will stop at nearly nothing to catch their mystery man. In the end, Agent 47 must rely on his own killer instincts if he wants to keep both himself and Nika alive.
My Take: Make no mistake – Hitman purports to be nothing more than a shallow action movie and that’s exactly what it delivers. It’s a relatively fun, fast ride provided you don’t think too much about its plot or expect in-depth character development. While those two elements don’t automatically make a movie bad for me, the fact there isn’t a strong central story or deeply engaging characters does relegate this flick to my mental DVD bargain bin.
For starters, the plot is paper thin. In fact, at one point I almost forgot the story and was just enjoying watching Agent 47 take down baddies and outrun/outsmart the law. Granted, the movie isn’t totally devoid of story, but it’s a weak narrative at best and simply tries to mirror similar movies (such as the Jason Bourne films, by way of example) without adding any further layers of depth or ingenuity. Thus, the movie’s story pins itself on the preexisting video game franchise, which, to be fair, has plots more engaging than what this movie offers (Hitman: Absolution in particular). Instead, what’s presented here is yet another fluffy video game remake that doesn’t try to branch out beyond its source material. Much of the formula and tropes employed reminded me of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001), which I also found to be an enjoyable popcorn flick that’s heavy on action and certainly entertaining but low on plot and character development.
Character-wise, aside from Agent 47, the other folks here are all one-dimensional. Nika at least adds some color as she tries to cope with her life being in danger and attempts to dig beneath 47’s austere shell (much to 47’s chagrin at times, which makes for a few comedic moments). Whittier and Marklov are the typical good cop/bad cop pairing and we honestly don’t get to know them beyond the definitions of this trope pairing. Whittier’s emotional range is minuscule though Scott brings a sense of intensity to him that fits the movie’s tone. I also enjoyed seeing Knepper in a movie-length work as my only experience with him as an actor was on Fox’s drama series “Prison Break” (which I loved!). But no matter what role I see him in, I will never get T-Bag’s signature drawl and awesome creep out factor out of my head….
But the character who impressed me the most was (probably no surprise) Agent 47.
When I first saw the trailer for this movie, I pre-judged Olyphant as I thought he looked too young and too thin for the part. But to my surprise he was better than I figured he would be. Granted 47 is a bit one-dimensional but he is supposed to be. His years of training and conditioning fashioned him to be nearly Vulcan-like in his range of emotions (or lack thereof), so in his case, his lack of development on an emotional level is forgivable. However, Olyphant’s performance does lend a few additions to 47’s character, such as an occasional display of sarcasm towards Nika’s cheeky remarks. His interactions with Nika bring out most of these quirks as well as a protective nature. You sense 47 is trying to grapple with emotions that he has for too long shoved into the recesses of his mind yet the movie doesn’t linger on any deep, introspective moments regarding this. In the end, I forgave myself for assuming Olyphant didn’t look the part: Olyphant is actually a good interpretation of Agent 47 and it took seeing him in action – and in that trademark suit – for me to realize that.
In terms of aesthetics, Hitman‘s heart is in its action set pieces, which were not as bloody as I thought they might be. They seemed choreographed well and filmed in a way so the action is fluid and easy to follow with the eyes, not choppy and disconnected. (Though I will add that one particular fight scene, which trades handguns for swords, does border on being a bit cheesy.) The lighting and color schemes were also nicely done and, of course, 47’s simplistic yet stylishly sharp wardrobe is spot-on. The settings are elegant and the film gives the feeling of being a sleek international intrigue movie albeit it sorely lacks much intrigue. (Not to mention some of the geographic/location errors were annoying, such as some on-screen text purporting that modern-day Russia borders Turkey – anyone with a contemporary map could figure that one out.) That being said, I will lend credit to the visuals department as nothing here reeks of cheapness in terms of overall design and tone.
Sadly, aside from these positives – Olyphant’s performance being the brightest gem among them – there isn’t much else I can say in the movie’s favor. Is Hitman a terrible movie? No, not in my opinion. Is it as bad as critics seem to tout? Again, I wouldn’t say it’s awful. It’s just okay – the plot (what little there is) is okay, the characters are okay, the acting is okay, the look and feel of the movie are okay, the set pieces are okay…you get the picture. I hate to keep saying that because it sounds like a cop out, but that’s genuinely the impression Hitman left on me. In short, it left me feeling…
with a dash of…
This isn’t to say there is absolutely nothing worthwhile in terms of morality or philosophy here, but when it occurs it’s a bit like powdered sugar on a lemon bar – it’s there in that it physically exists but it’s not the center of attention and is easy to overlook. Obviously the biggest ponderable Hitman offers is spoken from the mouth of 47 himself: “How does a good man decide when to kill?” Or, in other words, can a person kill and still be considered a good person and is murder ever justifiable?
In truth, this question is at the heart of the Hitman games and it’s what prevents Agent 47 from becoming a villain. Just because he can kill doesn’t always mean he will. In the games, I’m fairly certain penalties are taken if you slaughter innocent civilians. But in terms of the movie, 47 makes conscious moral choices to spare certain characters even though he could kill them and it would be of no great consequence. Similarly, he decides to kill other characters out of a sense of justice mixed with revenge and self-preservation. Thus, 47 answers his own question through his actions – he is a “good” man in general (as he’s not a psychopath). Some of his decisions are good (such as deciding to defy orders), some bad (as he obviously doesn’t forsake his hitman ways), and some in between albeit in the film he doesn’t struggle as intensely with these as I would have liked to have seen. While I wouldn’t place him in the same antihero bracket as, say, “24”‘s Jack Bauer, Agent 47 does have some degree of a working moral compass that keeps him from becoming utterly unscrupulous and slaughtering everything and everyone in sight.
That being said, the movie doesn’t live up to its promise in the trailers to present Agent 47 as an avenging angel of sorts who targets “the evil that plagues the world.” Instead, what we’re given is not a story about an assassin antihero who struggles with doing the right thing and brings justice to evildoers, but a gaunt plot with its only purpose being that it gives the characters something to do (as in moving from Point A to Point B…kind of like a video game now that I think about it). Aside from its positives and minor philosophical moments, Hitman at its core is a mediocre action flick, something to kill (no pun intended) 90 minutes or so on a lazy afternoon and nothing more. With that in mind, this movie can either be enjoyed on that merit alone or avoided by viewers seeking something of more cinematic substance.
Content Breakdown: Hitman was given an R rating but my assessment of its content (based on the rated version, not the unrated version) is as follows:
Language – There are mild to harsh profanities (including the f-word and its variants) though their usage isn’t pervasive.
Violence – Since this movie’s main character is a professional assassin, most of the action set pieces showcase people being killed in a variety of ways (stabbed, choked, shot, etc.) though it’s not filmed in a gritty manner. Blood splatter is seen though such scenes aren’t terribly gory and aren’t frequent. Elsewhere, the movie’s opening moments focus on 47 and other boys as youths as they are trained to become killers. They are housed in a concentration camp-like facility and taught to use weapons and fight each other. Two children are killed (off-screen) as they attempt to escape. Also of note, Nika has a quick flashback (as in blink-and-you’d-miss-it) to her time as sex slave when her “owner” whipped her for trying to escape. However, neither sequence is graphic nor particularly disturbing. (Again, this is based on the rated version as the unrated version features more frequent and gorier violent moments.)
Sexual Material – Though there are no overt sex scenes, there are extended moments of nudity as Nika, twice, is seen topless and wearing only thong-like panties. In one such scene, Nika tries to seduce Agent 47 by asking him to undress her then proceeds to undress herself and kiss his neck as she straddles him. Nothing further occurs as 47 tells her to stop, saying this isn’t a good idea because she’s drunk, and eventually injects her with a sleep-inducing serum. Also, a few garments easily reveal that Nika isn’t wearing a bra and another sheer garment shows her panties. Elsewhere, we learn Nika was purchased as a sex slave though nothing further is discussed or shown. Lastly, in a gun smuggler’s den, a criminal is flanked by scantly-clad women but any upper-body nudity is obscured by carefully-placed adornments and/or camera angles. (Again, this is based on the rated version as the unrated version features more nudity, especially an extended scene where Nika is punished by her former “owner.”)
Recommended Audiences: In my opinion, I believe Hitman stacks up this way (note that just because something isn’t recommended for a certain age group doesn’t make it “bad”):
Children – Not recommended. This film is solidly an R due to its language, violence, and nudity and is inappropriate for children.
Older Children & Teens – Not recommended. This movie is based on a video game franchise that’s rated M for Mature, meaning it’s for gamers ages 18 and up; so some of the same content in the games (i.e. language, violence, and sexual content/nudity) are manifested here.
Young Adults & Adults – Recommended but with reservations, provided you’re looking for a thinly-plotted action movie that, to its credit, can be entertaining, or if you’re a fan of anyone in the cast and/or the Hitman video games.
Hitman is, without a doubt, cinematic cotton candy – fluffy, colorful, easy to digest, and devoid of anything too meaningful. Does that make it bad? Not inherently. Hitman is entertaining provided you don’t mind a meager plot and one-dimensional characters. But I can’t say I would highly recommend it as it does have glaring flaws and the nudity is completely unnecessary. Overall, fans of Agent 47 will probably check it out as will action movie fans in general, but beyond a quick 90 minutes of easy-to-take entertainment, which is fine in and of itself, just be aware that Hitman won’t offer you much of anything else.