As a critic I really don’t want to dismiss a whole category of films, but as a general rule, if a movie is based on a video game, odds are it’s going to suck. Even if it doesn’t bastardise the source material, it’ll still probably subject you to painful dialogue, uninventive action and a lead so dull they’re practically a prop. There have been glimpses of hope here and there, but on the whole video game movies can’t escape their much-deserved reputation as generic, throwaway, genre flicks. Most big-budget video games, at least the ones Hollywood seem to take notice of, resonate with their audience by adding layers of immersion to archetypes and genres they grew up loving from cinema. Fallout showed you what it was like to live in a Mad Max-style wasteland, just as Mass Effect let you live out your Star Trek fantasies as you explored the galaxy. The cost of this immersion is usually the cinematic aspects of the source material getting scaled back. So when it comes time to adapt the game, the studio is trapped retelling the story in a linear fashion (and with much less time). Those elemental factors that inspired the game are all that filters through to the movie and we are left with a poor copy of a decompressed imitation. Which brings us back to that aforementioned sucking, and, of course, to Hitman: Agent 47.
Putting aside the methodical planning and creatively complex infiltration that made the games so interesting, screenwriters Skip Woods and Michael Finch go for a bare-bones, sci-fi/action hybrid with Hitman: Agent 47. The film follows Katia (Hannah Ware), a transient young woman with some nifty (but poorly defined) cognitive superpowers travelling the world in search of her estranged father, Dr. Litvenko (Ciarán Hinds). When she begins to get close, Katia gets the attention of other parties hot on Litvenko’s trail, namely the titular genetically engineered assassin Agent 47 (Rupert Friend) and John Smith (Zachary Quinto), an agent of the malevolent Syndicate International who has been modified to be almost unkillable.
On the one hand, a ‘sandbox’ game like any in the Hitman series is really about letting the story unfold with you, so it’s tempting to give the writers a pass on going so out there with their interpretation, but the whole sci-fi angle of this movie is so hackneyed it’s impossible to award them points for creativity. Once again the studio has zeroed in on the basic genre staples of the property instead of the things that actually made the game special. In Hitman’s case it was in understanding the situation, forming a plan and the satisfaction in seeing it all play out. This is a property about stealth and strategy, not super-soldiers, and I’ve seen way too many heist flicks to believe a more calculating approach (especially with the added assassin angle) wouldn’t work as a movie. I guess a bald dude firing off pistols just looks better on a poster.
Funnily enough, the film does almost inadvertently touch on some of those themes from the game in one of the film’s better action sequences, featuring Katia as she begins to understand how to use her powers to pre-empt her enemies and understand her surroundings. Here, Katia and 47 use the environment to cause the gloriously gruesome deaths of many would-be attackers and for a moment the film genuinely recalled the good things about Hitman; for the briefest time, it was actually kind of fun.
Tragically, this is an outlier in what is otherwise a mess of uninspired and disorientating action. It’s hard to blame first-time director Aleksander Bach for the sub-par set-pieces given his experience, the limited budget and probably a bit of coaching from the studio, but the result is nevertheless a bust. The camera is too close too often and uniformly, intensely shaky, obfuscating not only the small production budget – as intended, but also the audience’s ability to comprehend the action, and consequently enjoy it. If being jerked around by the camera doesn’t give you a headache, the intrusive and overbearing sound mix will finish the job. Between how uncomfortable the action was for both the eyes and ears, and how vanilla it all was in conception, I found myself frequently waiting for gunplay to wrap up so I could recalibrate and get back into the film. This is a pretty substantial problem given how little else is left in the film with the action eating up so much of the 96-minute runtime.
The decision to make Hitman: Agent 47 a bullet-spraying bonanza means the action has choked the life out of any story or character work that could have developed into anything worthwhile. The plot is definitively cookie cutter, and the cast are as bone-dry as they come. None of the actors do a bad job specifically, but they really have naught to work with in this script and come off flat and uninteresting regardless. Quinto probably stands out the most, by virtue of seeming moderately human, but that’s really not saying much. Friend is completely robotic as the titular killing machine and Ware is totally aloof as the movie’s damsel in distress/super-powered badass (depending on what the scene called for).
Again, it’s not necessarily that any of the cast turns in bad performances, just hollow ones emblematic of their enthusiasm for the roles, and frankly the film as a whole. Add in some loose plot threads and gratuitous shots of Ware’s body that really don’t fit into the movie at all, and it’s clear there is no real vision or direction, just a cheap cash in on a familiar I.P. A film like this was only ever going to work as a labour of love, not the disposable copy/paste genre movie it turned out to be.
Hitman: Agent 47 had plenty of story-telling potential, even with the limited budget, but instead joins the long list of video game adaptations that have trepidatious fans coming into cinemas to see their favourite properties treated like juvenile trash by the studios tasked with sharing them with the world.
THE REEL SCORE: 4/10