Introduction: [Note: For some reason, WordPress decided to adjust the spacing between some of my paragraphs, creating large chunks of text that I didn’t intend. So please pardon the mess – it was entirely unintentional.] In my review for the 2007 movie Hitman, a video game-based film from the titular franchise, I revealed that, despite my not ever playing any of the Hitman games, I was still interested in their stories thanks to the lead character, Agent 47. (That and 47 never fails to impress in his always fashionable suits – hey, you can fangirl over a video game character!) In any case, my opinions about the first Hitman movie were rather middle of the road – it was just okay as it’s a nearly plotless, mediocre (yet still entertaining) popcorn flick that, to its credit, doesn’t take itself too seriously. Thus, I was curious to see what the reboot would be like. And while I have plenty to say about it, sadly it’s not a great deal of praise. Be aware – some spoilers may be present throughout.
The Story: Hitman: Agent 47 (2015) opens with a glimpse into the controversial Agent program, which attempted to create clone “soldiers” for the sole purpose of using them as killers while all but erasing any proof of a conscience. Spearheading this project was a doctor who eventually became morally conflicted over his highly questionable experiments and vanished, leaving behind his young daughter, Katia. The adult Katia (Hannah Ware) now lives in Berlin and is desperately trying to piece together anything that might lead her to her missing father. But before she can get too far into her search, Katia is accosted by a man simply known as John Smith (Zachary Quinto) who insists that there is a hired assassin out to kill her. That assassin, of course, turns out to be Agent 47 (Rupert Friend), and though Smith’s protection offers Kaita a temporary reprieve, 47 eventually catches up with her and reveals to her stunning secrets that might lead her to her father as well as right into enemy territory.
You know it’s not going to be good when I open a review with a face palm.
First, the nutshell version – Agent 47 is boring. Really, really boring.
Now for the lengthy explanation: Agent 47 tries in some ways to copy what its predecessor did but fails, even considering the low cinematic bar that Hitman (2007) provided. Likewise, this movie’s lack of cohesiveness and coherency in both its story and characters, as well as plodding, overly-serious drama and loud, lazy fight sequences, make for a genuinely lackluster experience. I said I was willing to relegate Hitman to my mental DVD bargain bin, but Agent 47 wasn’t even worth the $2.99 I paid to rent it from iTunes. I have nothing against movies that purport to be nothing less than shallow popcorn flicks, but the least they can do is be fun shallow popcorn flicks. Hitman and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) were shallow popcorn flicks but they were fun shallow popcorn flicks. Hitman: Agent 47 is undoubtedly shallow, undoubtedly a popcorn flick, but also undoubtedly not fun.
For starters, the overall execution of Agent 47 is 80% deadpan insipid drama and 20% grossly anticlimactic action. In fact, in the first thirty minutes or so there is hardly any dialogue – just characters moving from Point A to Point B without any clear guidance or motive. And it’s done with so much speed that there is nothing to mentally or visually savor, not even as far as the set designs or locations are concerned. We’re not made to care about any of the characters early on, including 47 himself, who was in far better hands when Timothy Olyphant played him in the first Hitman movie.
Speaking of Agent 47, for a movie supposedly based on the Hitman game franchise and supposedly about Agent 47 (as his name serves as the title of the movie), the plot (what little there is) actually focuses more on Kaita. But this isn’t what the posters and trailers would lead you to believe.
For instance, check out this international poster:
Judging from this, you’d think the movie would be high on action, making Agent 47 out to be a brave antihero, standing up against evil and impossible odds. The tagline even seems to imply that 47 will become a hunted man as there will be those who will seek to eliminate him. All of this sure sounds exciting yet, sadly, absolutely none of these presumptions comes true in the actual film. (If they did, I assume it would have made for a far more enjoyable final product, probably still shallow but at least fun.)
As stated, Agent 47 gets surprisingly little screen time here for being the principle character, thus going back to the fact that this movie really isn’t about Agent 47 at all. I have come to suspect that his name and likeness were just splashed on the posters and featured in trailers for brand recognition so fans of the games would go and see the movie. Little did they know that what they would be watching was an all-too-serious missing family member drama with bombastic action tossed in whenever the script thought it was getting too sleepy.
Likewise, this take on Agent 47 lacks any color or uniqueness. In Hitman, Timothy Olyphant was given the title role and remained the best thing about that flick for me, from his appearance, to his mannerisms, to his slight shows of emotion when the vampy Nika tried to push his buttons. Here, 47 is played by Rupert Friend and, to be fair, Friend does his best but it pales in comparison to Olyphant’s take, which tried to inject at least some human emotion into the character. Likewise, where Nika provided for some intentionally amusing and humorous moments for 47, Katia is dull and doesn’t try to push 47 in any way, not even to get him to smile. Granted, Agent 47 is a difficult character to portray because of his lack of emotional depth but I believe it can be done. Between the two, Olyphant seemed more in tune with the game’s character whereas Friend’s take seemed disinterested, and I trust that had to do more with the script than the actor.
Even the look for this rebooted 47 is wrong to me. In Hitman, Olyphant (pictured right) kept true to the fashion and physicality of the main character. But in Agent 47, while the stylish suits are in place, Friend (pictured left) plays a shaved-head 47 rather than a bald 47, which is the character’s signature look.
In the same way, Friend seems like he can’t decide what accent to give his character as 47 alters between speaking in a blatant American accent and a vague, quasi-British accent without context or reason. It was almost like an earlier version of the film wanted 47 to sport an accent but later decided to do away with it, yet the scenes filmed with him using an accent were never cut. (I have no idea if this is true, so this is all hypothetical.) While some of the nods to the video game here are passable, such as seeing 47 use fiber wire to subdue a victim and an on-screen version of Diana, 47’s handler, they are blink-and-miss-it moments. Thus, Agent 47 fails both in staying true to its supposed premise (i.e. a movie based on the Hitman games focusing on Agent 47) as well as its titular character.
Oddly enough, there are many times when Agent 47 tries to parallel Hitman, first by trying to be a large-scale story that’s rather isolated in scope, and second by having a mysterious woman thrust into danger and aligning herself with the very man sent to kill her. Personally, I would have liked to have seen this movie utilize a different formula than try to recycle Hitman, which was nothing extraordinary. But where Hitman at least was mildly entertaining despite its paper-thin plot and one-dimensional characters, this film feels restrictive and contains a mishmash of ideas, as if it doesn’t know what it wants to be. It’s a few parts drama, sci-if, action, suspense, and even unintentionally a quasi-spoof thanks to the over-the-top fight scenes. The only element Agent 47 seems to “improve” upon (and I’m using that term loosely here) is the plot, which is more focused in that it concentrates on Katia’s attempts to locate her father, which is unlike the first film where 47 just basically did stuff while eluding authorities.
However, the plot in Agent 47 suffers from being dreadfully boring and terribly cliched. I will give the first Hitman movie credit for this – it at least attempted to keep the feel of the video games by trying to be an international intrigue movie albeit it was low on intrigue. But I at least cared about 47. Here, I kept checking the time left on the movie to see when it would be over because all I cared about was getting to the end and making the most out of my $2.99. And even that seemed too steep a price to pay for a popcorn flick that doesn’t even make an attempt to entertain. It’s as if Agent 47 knew it was a popcorn flick but wanted to attempt to not be a popcorn flick as it tried too hard to be dramatic and serious but it quickly became too serious and, hence, came across as canned and forced.
None of the characters are worth isolating in great detail here. Friend’s take on 47 is unimaginative and Hannah Ware’s Katia is a bore despite her enhanced intuition. The technique of alerting the audience that there is something special about her ability to notice the world around her – via a close-up of her eyes/eye – works for the first few times but soon grows tiresome. We know Katia is super-smart and intuitive (yet seems willing to trust total strangers without proof of their intentions). So being constantly reminded that look out – we’re focusing on a close up her eyes – Kaita’s on to something! got really old, really fast and eventually became unintentionally comical. The only other cast member of note is Zachary Quinto, who plays the mysterious John Smith. I, for the life of me, have no idea why he signed on to this. Quinto is a good actor and I love him as the young Spock in the Star Trek reboots. But this is just a waste of his talent. Granted, he works with what he’s given, but in the words of his own character in the Trek films, this was simply illogical.
I confess I fast forwarded through several portions of this movie just to finish it, especially to bypass the poorly filmed fight scenes, which were always accompanied by loud, repetitive music. Granted, action scenes often are accentuated by fast-paced, moderately loud music but Agent 47‘s soundtrack is annoying. The dialogue scenes without music are so quiet, you’re forced to turn up the volume in order to hear what’s being said (not that it makes a bit of difference in your enjoyment of the film, mind you). Then an action sequence kicks in out of nowhere and you find your eardrums pulsing from the horrendous music. I started muting the sound whenever an action scene occurred just so I wouldn’t have to keep fiddling with the volume. Usually set pieces are where a popcorn flick can redeem itself, but even Agent 47‘s action scenes left something to be desired. In terms of cinematography, the fight and chase sequences are choppy and seem to materialize out of nowhere without a good buildup. Even when there is a build up, such as in a fight scene where 47 is apprehended at an embassy, the payoff is weak. The highlight set piece where Agent 47 is cornered by armor-bearing gunmen in the middle of a crowded city street was also a dud. For starters, almost 97% of this sequence was shown in the trailers, so there were no surprises left to enjoy.
When the movie isn’t trying to make viewers deaf with loud fight scenes, it makes dull attempts to get us to care about Katia. Again, this is a movie supposedly about Agent 47, hitman extraordinaire, yet he’s almost like an afterthought character rather than the starring role. The effect is almost like if a Harry Potter movie focused 90% of its time on the origins of unicorns rather than the lead title character. In the same way, Agent 47 has nothing to do with its source material save for 47’s occasional presence and the references to the Agent program.
Likewise, where the first film at least tried to support a philosophical premise (“How does a good man decide when to kill?”) by allowing audiences to judge for themselves whether 47 was a “good man” through his actions, this movie makes sporadic deep comments but never expands upon them. Katia questions how “human” 47 is as he’s been designed to simply do his job and not feel anything, including love. He tells her, “I am what I need to be,” meaning perhaps his lack of emotions is part of his internal programming and part of his own volition in that there are things he doesn’t want to emotionally experience. Elsewhere, 47 tells Katia that, “We determine who we are by what we do,” and recognizes the power of sacrificial love between a parent and a child. But that’s as deep as this movie gets, and these moments are randomly inserted as if the script forgot that it needed to have some sort of takeaway, so it went with trite, tired phrases. Not every movie has to have some kind of deep, introspective message, especially popcorn flicks; but with a character like 47, it comes with the territory in a way. He’s a hitman who isn’t utterly heartless and a big question worth pondering is why. Yet, sadly, neither Hitman movie has approached this question deeply, at least enough not to my liking anyway.
I perfectly understand now why this movie was universally panned and hailed as one of the worst theatrical releases of 2015. It’s not often that I agree with the critics, but in this case I genuinely concur. Agent 47 is a waste of time to watch, even just to poke fun at its flaws. As mediocre as the first film was, it still had gorgeous cinematography, elegant set design, slick action scenes, and a fun lead character who at least tried to contend with new emotions and moral conundrums. Likewise, it ended with a sense of open finality whereas this movie tries too hard to make way for a sequel that I hope never gets made. Honestly, if Hitman were to be revamped for a third time, it needs to go back to the drawing board and scrap everything that’s been done thus far. I still believe Agent 47 would make for a cool film character but, thus far, he’s just not been given a good chance to prove his ability to jump from the gaming world onto the silver screen.
Content Breakdown: Hitman: Agent 47 was given an R rating but my assessment of its content is as follows:
Language – Minor save for a few harsh profanities and a handful of f-words but nothing pervasive.
Violence – The level of violence in Agent 47 is tamer than in the first film in terms of blood-letting but not in frequency as fight scenes crop up often yet randomly. Agent 47 kills using a variety of weapons, chiefly guns and explosives, yet some of which aren’t traditional weapons (such as a propeller blade). In truth, I fast-forwarded through most of the action scenes because they were, quite frankly, boring and the music was grating on my ears, so there might have been moments of blood or gore that I missed. It is worth noting, too, that the movie’s first fight scene contains strobe-like light effects that might affect persons who suffer from photosensitive epilepsy.
Sexual Content – None. Katia is seen briefly in a shower from the back but only from the hip up. Later, she takes a dip in a swimming pool wearing just a bikini bottom (though not a thong) but the camera never glimpses her uncovered front.
Recommended Audiences: In my opinion, I believe Hitman: Agent 47 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 violence and language 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 and violence) are manifested here.
Young Adults & Adults – Honestly, I can’t recommend this unless you’re just curious to see it for yourself. I imagine even die hard fans of the game franchise might be disappointed in this reboot. If you really want to see Agent 47 adapted to the big screen, try Hitman (2007) instead, which is no masterpiece but is at least worth a watch for entertainment value.
Hitman: Agent 47 is a dull action movie, as oxymoronic as that sounds. I normally don’t peruse reviews prior to seeing a movie but the critical comments and single-stars allotted to this film didn’t fail to catch my attention. One review I read got it right: video games are hard to adapt because there is a level of personal interaction with them that you simply can’t duplicate on a movie screen. While I still think the Hitman games could make for a good movie adaption, this most recent incarnation fails on all levels. The plot takes itself so seriously that it borders on becoming ridiculous, the characters are all one dimensional, the look and feel of the film is small-scale despite its expansive backgrounds, and the story is devoid of any real emotion or even fun action. In the end, I watched Agent 47 so I could compare it with the first Hitman movie and it was a complete disappointment. While I can’t speak for everyone’s tastes, as some people might enjoy this movie far more than I did, I can say that I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re curious to see how this second take on the infamous video game assassin stacks up. Otherwise, this movie is just not worth checking out.