Film Review: ‘Hitman: Agent 47’

Hitman Agent 47 trailer
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Say hello to Rupert Friend, the eponymous killing machine in this junky and incoherent adaptation of the popular videogame.

During a rare moment of quiet amid the glass-smashing, brain-bashing mayhem of “Hitman: Agent 47,” a character offers the wise observation that we are all a bit more complicated than our internal circuitry might suggest. Applying this logic to the movie itself, it’s fair to conclude that while Aleksander Bach’s directing debut is indeed the junky, incoherent shoot-’em-up we feared it might be, to dismiss it as just another late-August studio craptacular doesn’t quite do it justice. But what to call it, exactly? The 47th best action film of 2015? A feature-length Audi commercial, or a promo reel for the Singapore Tourism Board? The most unnecessary artistic contribution ever made by someone named Bach? Fox is surely hoping that “surprise box office hit” might be a plausible alternative, though the best one will likely be able to say on that front is that where disastrous franchise relaunches are concerned, it’s no “Fantastic Four.”

Indeed, many of those who pay to see “Hitman: Agent 47” will have no idea that it’s a reboot of “Hitman” (2007), the forgettable EuropaCorp-produced first film adapted from the IO Interactive videogame about a chrome-domed, genetically engineered contract killer. Ruthlessly precise in his targeting and virtually invincible, Agent 47 was first played by Tim Olyphant in the first movie and is embodied here by the steely-gazed Rupert Friend (“Homeland”), coolly donning the character’s familiar black suit, white shirt and red necktie. He also sports a back-of-the-head barcode tattoo that serves as a continual visual reminder that 47 was cooked up in a government laboratory back in the 1960s, and that he is a cold-blooded killer devoid of such ordinary human qualities as fear, compassion and love.

In the new film, however, 47’s mission is not to preserve and uphold his murderous order, but rather to destroy it, or at least keep it from being permanently reinstated. To do that, he must head to Berlin and track down Katia (Hannah Ware, “Betrayal”), a guarded young woman who’s spent her entire life looking over her shoulder, and not without reason. As is revealed soon enough, Katia possesses both a mysterious ability to foresee the immediate future and a mysterious connection with Dr. Litvenko (Ciaran Hinds), the scientist who first devised the Agent program. Also in the mix is John Smith (Zachary Quinto), a highly skilled fighter who early on assumes the role of Katia’s protector, giving her fair warning about exactly what kind of danger she’s up against. Together they will reinforce the well-known cinematic truth (also evident in the upcoming Owen Wilson thriller “No Escape”) that if you’re looking for a place to hide, you should really steer clear of your nearest U.S. embassy, where Agent 47 stages an audacious, foolhardy assault on Katia, John and the laws of probability.

Eventually the characters make their way to Singapore to take down a sinister group known as the Syndicate Organization (not to be confused, presumably, with the Syndicate in “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation”) that wants to kick the Agent program into high gear, an act that would have disastrous consequences for humanity. But never mind all that. Insofar as “Hitman: Agent 47” is about anything, really, it’s about the pleasures of being on location — from the gratuitous image of Ware taking a dip in a five-star-hotel swimming pool to the sight of Singapore’s staggering Gardens by the Bay, where we’re briefly allowed to stop and smell the orchids right before an impromptu shootout. It’s about the sheen a luxury vehicle throws off as it races through the streets of Salzburg, right before getting blown to smithereens, in a sequence that gives the fine folks at Audi more than their money’s worth in product placement.

Before it bogs down in dialogue of the “You (Hero X) and I (Villain Y) are not so very different” variety, the screenplay — credited to Skip Woods (who wrote the first “Hitman”) and Michael Finch — manages to juggle at least a few surprises where its characters’ motives and identities are concerned. (Judging by the particularly inexplicable developments in the muddled final reels, some of the specifics still remain a mystery to the writers themselves.) And at its core, the story does express a modicum of curiosity about whether a government-funded killing machine could retain his conscience — a question that nods briefly in the direction of “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” with its incomparably poignant man-or-machine riddles.

Still, its target audience probably won’t be too devastated to learn that “Hitman: Agent 47” is not, first and foremost, a profound meditation on what it means to be human. Bach is too busy showing us what brains and other body parts look like when they’re dashed against the glossy white interiors of Syndicate HQ (courtesy of production designer Sebastian Krawinkel), or the bloody mess that ensues when someone gets sucked into the blades of a giant turbine engine — an image that the movie returns to with queasy regularity. Even without these slaughterhouse aesthetics, the script would give the actors little room to maneuver; in a role once intended for Paul Walker before his death in 2013, the unfriendly-looking Friend more or less gets the job done, though both Quinto and Hinds feel disappointingly underused. As for relative newcomer Ware, she looks credibly anxious even as her Katia becomes one of the more perfunctory action heroines in recent memory: a woman with the gift of second sight in a movie that scarcely warrants a first viewing.

Film Review: ‘Hitman: Agent 47’

Reviewed at 20th Century Fox Studios, Century City, Calif., Aug. 18, 2015. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 96 MIN.

Production

A 20th Century Fox release of a Fox Intl. (Germany) Prods. production, in association with TSG Entertainment. Produced by Charles Gordon, Adrian Askarieh, Alex Young. Executive producers, T. Michael Hendrickson, Daniel Alter, Marco Mehlitz.

Crew

Directed by Aleksander Bach. Screenplay, Skip Woods, Michael Finch; story, Woods, based on the videogame “Hitman” by IO Interactive, a Square Enix Camera (color, widescreen), Ottar Gudnason; editor, Nicolas De Toth; music, Marco Beltrami; production designer, Sebastian Krawinkel; art director, Sabine Engelberg; set decorator, Yesim Zolan; costume designer, Bina Daigeler; sound (Dolby Digital), Ed Cantu; sound designer/supervising sound editor, Glenn Freemantle; re-recording mixers, Brendan Nicholson, Andrew Caller; visual effects supervisor, Samir Hoon; visual effects and animation, Industrial Light & Magic; visual effects, Mekko, Rise Visual Effects Studios; stunt coordinators, Chris O’Hara, Jonathan Eusebio; fight coordinators, Jeremy Marinas, Jon Valera; assistant director, Robert P. Grayson; casting, Denise Chamian.

With

Rupert Friend, Hannah Ware, Zachary Quinto, Ciaran Hinds, Thomas Kretschmann, Angelababy.

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  1. Genjurooo says:

    So, I’ve seen this movie couple of weeks ago and it was just fine. In fact I don’t know what all these critics are on.
    Hitman 47 was put by the critics against Mission Impossible Rogue Nation, The Man from Uncle and American Ultra. Well, I’ve seen only the MI and American Ultra, but seriously, MI is a borefest with a lame plot, bad reasoning and done to death boring action. And American Ultra? That movie was like a TV episode of something. The premise of it was interesting, but was so poorly written with such bad lines and with characters that did the most stupid things with the stupidest reasons possible. What these idiot critics smoke again? They rave over boring crap or nonsense crap (like furious 7), because:
    1. safe borefests without anything interesting are their game
    2. money from the studios
    3. go with the masses of morons who’ve seen like 2 movies their whole life and who think Furious 7 (or some other over-advertized garbage) is the best movie ever

    Hitman Agent 47 has better action than all the movies listed in this comment (excluding the one I didn’t see yet) and even some sequence where the leads avoid just a bunch of airport cameras is more entertaining than MI+American Ultra+Furious7 COMBINED. Now I feel that I should watch Fantastic 4 too, seeing the insanity going on with these critics nowadays. I mean, this is not the first time they go full brainless en mass, but I think it is the first time I’m witnessing such a large mass of ’em doing that.

  2. jimpeel says:

    Just watched the movie and it was as expected. Why does Variety expect every movie to be “important”? This is not” Gone with the wind “, it is a fantasy. Know the difference. It is for, as many warning labels state ” for entertainment purposes only.” Stop expecting so much and simply sit back and enjoy the show.

  3. Jacqueline says:

    People who complain that reviewers only like Oscar bait clearly don’t know that Furious 7 is at 81% on rotten tomatoes! I had the misfortune of seeing that clunker, now my bar for quality is set VERY low. I honestly call payola, as it now seems random what is panned or praised. Furious 7 was given an 81, yet the latest Terminator got a 26%. Not a great movie by far, but 1/3 as good as Furious 7!?!?! Explain the math!?!? Not only that, Avengers 2, with actual actors who actually act, and a writer who can write a compelling script with actual jokes, got a 74%! Random, I tell you! Forget the critics, read the reviews for entertainment only. I am planning to see Agent 47 tomorrow. I actually quite liked the 1st one, even tho I am not the target audience, neither male nor a gamer.

  4. critic of critics says:

    critics are all idiots who are payed to think for people i stopped listening to them a long time ago becasue they do not know what i like in fact all they do is make sure that the only movies that get made are stupid i hate critics you should all quit your jobs your usless wastes of space

    • Odinson2k14 says:

      I agree in that while reviewers look for an oscar contender in EVERY movie, you, as a movieger, may not be looking for that in a particular film. You look for a perfect movie in certain films, bullets in others, goofy laughs in others.

      If a lot of these critics had their way, there’d be nothing but Woody Allen movies playing at theater :D.

  5. Guest says:

    Somethings shouldn’t be adapted to films.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I never understood why they made this. The first one was also a critical miss and failed at the box office, so a sequel makes no sense by any metric.

  7. irwinator1992 says:

    Last year, Fox was having a ball. What the hell happened??

  8. macd says:

    BREAKING NEWS!!! The reviews are beginning to trickle in to Rotten Tomatoes. The score so far: 11 out of 11: Rotten. Rating 0%!!! Is Fox going to let this turkey out of its coop for Thursday night advance screenings? My guess is that the theatres will be so empty there will be plenty of room for last-minute bowling tournaments.

  9. Taylor says:

    Congratulations Fantastic Four! It seems you’re no longer the worst movie of 2015. In all seriousness though, I feel bad for Rupert Friend. He’s a genuinely good actor, and this was probably his only chance to be a leading man.

  10. adele says:

    With “Hitman” hot on the heels of “Fantastic Four”, it’s now official. The name of the studio releasing these gems has been changed to 20th Century F–ks. Poor Darryl F. must be whirling in his grave.

  11. gabyples says:

    I liked the review more than I’ll probably like the film itself. I’m a big fan of the game, if I ever catch this on cable, will surely DVR

  12. cadettssk says:

    I plan on seeing the movie regardless of reviews. Sounds like a fun, fast and fantastic movie!!

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