Hitman: Agent 47 (2015) Review: Shoot to Thrill
Video game movies are plagued by mediocrity. Every attempt at producing a film based on the interactive art form has done nothing to appease those who say it simply can’t be done. The end result is always a half assed attempt to cram every reference to the source material the writers can think of, which does nothing but alienate the fans they’re trying to appease. Critics of video game movies will call them cursed for trying to adapt an inferior, juvenile form of entertainment. However, these same critics said the same about comic book movies not too long ago. Now you have 6 comic book movies being produced next year alone. The notion that adapting video games leads to nothing but ruin is as short-sighted as it is dismissive. All the genre needs is a ‘Dark Knight’ or an ‘Avengers’ to beat the boss of sub-par filmmaking so it can reach the next level.
That being said, ‘Hitman: Agent 47’ doesn’t break the mold on video game movies but it’s definitely one of the better so far. The story that follows is simple enough. In the late 1960s, a secret organization known as The Agency tasks Dr. Litvenko, played by Ciaran Hinds, with human engineering, taking the strongest genes and combining them into superhuman assassins called hitman agents.
Faster, stronger and smarter than regular humans, essentially the Indominous Rexes of the assassin world, with no fear or emotion. After realizing that creating human killing machines is…bad, Litvenko, racked by his conscience, decides to go AWOL so that he may never be forced to use his intellect for evil. When an obviously evil group known as ‘Syndicate’, and ‘The Agency’ itself discover that Litvenko left behind a daughter, Katia, both organizations attempt to pursue her in the hopes of capturing Litvenko and bringing a new breed of hitmen into the world.
All of that is explained in the first act of the film, and at quite a brisk pace. What isn’t brisk, however, is the entire rest of the first act. The film explains its plot at multiple points and seems to forget that the audience has heard all of this already. Characters retell information to other characters and the audience is forced to sit through the same exposition twice.
Exposition on its own is bad enough but when you double down on unnecessary exposition it becomes daunting. It makes the movie feel slow as all hell. Almost as if it’s looking at you saying “Hey do you get it? Do you understand? I don’t want to move on if all of this isn’t clear?” Not to mention it says this with horribly unpolished dialogue, completely wooden and eye-roll inducing. Yes movie, I understand your basic plot. Now, do you realize you’re based on the same game where this happens?
The only saving grace of this segment is Rupert Friend as Agent 47. After a well shot and very well choreographed opening scene, you’re very much looking forward to following this character. Every time he pops up in the first act you breathe a sigh of relief because there’s something interesting going on. Rupert Friend captures both the slow methodical patience of an assassin whilst also conveying the fast-paced quick thinking of a killer.
Zachary Quinto’s character John Smith is tasked with protecting Katia by the Syndicate and thus attracts the attention of Agent 47. Smith is generic and flavourless, and his scenes with Katia could’ve been taken straight out of any script where one character tries to protect another. In these scenes, 47 is played as the villain but he’s definitely the audience favourite, simply because, and what a shocker this is, the character named John Smith is just absolutely dull.
However, after that, the movie completely wakes up. Suddenly you stop watching a hollow action movie and start watching one that definitely does not care about general movie rules. Frankly, the latter is preferred. The characters are inconsistent, which is better than boring, and the dialogue is ridiculous, which is better than wooden. The perfect example of this is Zachary Quinto’s character, John Smith. It’s revealed that his organization ‘Syndicate’ is actually evil, which, hello?, and once he no longer has to play the good guy protector, Quinto absolutely relishes in his material.
He’s an enhanced human much like 47 which gives him the ability to go toe to toe with our titular superman, but whereas 47’s dialogue is very precise, John Smith is broad and bombastic. The only thing I would’ve loved for him to do that he didn’t get a chance for, is give a big monologuing speech to Agent 47. There are snippets of it but because Quinto is more of a super-powered henchman, rather than the head antagonist, it wouldn’t really have worked. Which is a shame seeing as Smith’s boss is an absentee overlord who’s in the movie for all of 10 minutes. Smith is the antagonist the audience gets to know, it’s a missed opportunity on the movies part to make this character more important.
The through-line of this movie is the action. The aforementioned opening action scene sets the stage for the way these scenes will go. 47 is able to predict any eventuality in whatever dangerous situation he’s put in. This makes his movements very calculated and the movie puts some very intense work into choreographing these scenes, with gunplay akin to ‘John Wick’ or ‘Equilibrium’ with the weapon being an extension of 47’s arm. Of course what works for these scenes is tension.
47 is the perfect killing machine, and you never lose a sense of his badassery, but when he has to handle a room full of opponents all aiming for his shiny bald head, you get the sense that he might not make it out alive. The balance between making your character formidable, whilst still creating stakes is fundamental in movies that are heavy on action and ‘Hitman: Agent 47’ strikes that balance with precision and gusto.
It’s also just the way the movie is shot. The action uses shots that are interesting and definitely sell the scenes you’re seeing. There are a few moments of hand to hand action where the movie isn’t clear in the slightest. Everything is cut very quickly and with heavy emphasis on close-ups, but these moments are brief and are surrounded by action scenes that do a good job of establishing scale but also space.
Telling you where characters are in relation to each other and using that to create a better idea of the scene in the mind of the viewer. Not only is the movie cool to watch, it’s also just cool to look at. 47 wears a crystal red tie set against a bright white dress shirt and the movie seems to dress that way as well. Colours pop amidst a vivid, almost saturated background and it’s not overbearing. Even in scenes shot in the dark, the screen is filled with greens and blues that make the movie beautiful at moments.
What also picks up after the first act, is the comedy, but I don’t think it’s always intentional. ‘Hitman’ doesn’t really handle drama well, unrealistic dialogue tends to do that. Therefore a lot of the scenes in which characters are supposed to be menacing, sincere or revered, come off as laughably so. Then there are scenes that are played for laughs that really work. This is especially due to the interplay between 47 and Katia.
Katia is being trained how to survive throughout the film and 47 is a mentor of sorts. Thankfully their relationship never devolves into forced, trite romance and instead takes the road less traveled of the squabbling siblings. This is typically where I’d find an example to convey just how well the movie does it, but with comedy, it’s always better when you hear the joke from the source.
The performances are good across the board, if not exaggerated, but since the movie makes that drastic turn around after the first act, the actors seemed to be playing two different roles. Rather than choosing to give their character’s arcs like most films, the film opts for the sudden right angle. Katia goes from a human deer in headlights to a hyper impatient psychopath, John Smith goes from honourable protector to sneering villain, and 47 goes from emotionless killer to stern teddy bear with a gun. Sure this makes them horribly inconsistent but it’s definitely an entertaining technique. Plus, seeing as their motivations remain the same throughout the film, it’s easier to swallow.
As the movie made me laugh, I felt like I was forced against my will to like it. Its charm was undeniable and it consistently felt as though it was wooing me to enjoy it. It’s the same feeling you get when you’re mad at someone and even though you want to stay mad, you can’t help but crack a smile and say… “aaaah you’re all right movie.” Is it a great movie? No not by any stretch of the imagination. Its plot is thin, the development is stupid, and the characters are inconsistent. Not to mention that first act truly is a mess. Is it entertaining? Absolutely. It’s one of those movies that I’ll probably rewatch just because I enjoyed myself when I’m watching it. I don’t think you should rush out to the theatre to see it, but it’s definitely something you can take the time out to watch down the road as the ones you missed of 2015, and you won’t be disappointed.
Rating: Catch It On Cable