Hollywood hasn’t had the greatest track record when it comes to translating video games into films. There’s been but a handful that have been worth watching, the Resident Evil series, Lara Croft Tomb Raider and cult classic Mortal Kombat all rank amongst the good ones. With Hitman: Agent 47 this is actually a reboot and has nothing to do with the 2007 film Hitman (starring Timothy Olyphant in the lead) other than originating from the same game. With this film endeavouring to take a little bit more from the source material to fuel the story which adds a notch to its belt above its predecessor. But more importantly, does this bomb, or does it have enough juice in it to reinvigorate the franchise?
If you can manage to sit your way through the first 15 minutes of exposition and some back story, as well as wrap your ears and head around the names and characters of who’s who and what they’re doing, then you’re on your way to the good stuff. We’re introduced to Katia Van Dees (Hannah Ware) who is trying to track down a mystery man from her hazy memories when she encounters John Smith (Zachary Quinto) who may or may not be trying to protect her from Agent 47 (Rupert Friend) who may or may not be trying to kill her. What is clear is that both 47 and Smith are actually trying to get to Katia’s father Dr Litvenko (Ciaran Hinds) who was one of the scientists that created the Agent program that 47 was born from – genetically altered people to be faster, smarter, stronger and killing machines. In order to stop the evil corporation ‘The Syndicate’ run by Le Clerq (Thomas Kretschmann) from restarting the Agent program and creating an army of super assassin soldier types, 47 must eliminate Litvenko and Katia.
Frustratingly the film’s plot (courtesy of Skip Woods and Michael Finch) is a bit too convoluted and messy which makes you switch off pretty quickly so it’s best that you just ignore the larger story arc in favour of focusing on the characters. Firstly our anti-hero Agent 47, and Friend does a surprisingly good job of treading the fine line of calculating assassin who develops a moral conscience. And even though physically he’s slightly less stocky than our animated game version, he still looks convincing and pulls off the expressionless stares, rigid posture and abrupt conversations. Clearly his recent work as an assassin in the show Homeland has paid off here. And on a sidenote, this role was originally cast for Paul Walker before his untimely death. Ware has her work cut out for her as the evolving Katia, from a character who’s a scared and confused fugitive to embracing her abilities and becoming an ass kicking heroine. It’s barely believable but I’m all for seeing more women in assertive roles no matter how far-fetched. Zachary Quinto gets to relive his Sylar days from Heroes by playing the seemingly good guy but really he’s a very bad guy. It’s a shame that we don’t get to learn any of his backstory or his motivations coz it seems like he has some pent up rage, particularly towards 47. Thomas Kretschmann and Ciaran Hinds are both wasted sadly, Kretschmann in particular as he’s supposed to be the big baddie of all but really he’s just a corporate big-wig sitting behind a screen giving orders. I was hoping for some sort of a showdown but it never eventuated.
What is most astounding in this directorial debut for Aleksander Bach is how polished and slick this is. Within the first few minutes we’re treated to a visually intense scene of 47 taking on a small army of guys as he tries to escape a bunker, alarms going off, strobe lights flashing and one by one he dispatches those in his way. The scene closes on an iconic shot of him, head down and eyes shadowed, wearing his distinctive black suit, white shirt, and red tie and as he neatens his shirt sleeve we see a bright red blood stain on the wrist cuff. Then there’s all the high tech gadgetry and swipe-y holographic screens that are on show. And the action scenes in this are pretty top notch, from the hand to hand combat through to the stunt driving, and a couple of times the way those CGI guys fell and landed on the railings looked like it was straight out of a video game. And to be perfectly honest this is on occasion quite graphically violent with a fair amount of blood splatter going on, a blatant nod to the body count of the game. Location-wise the film jumps from Germany to Singapore, the latter being a unique choice that pays off as there are some beautiful tracking shots of the city skyline or the orchid gardens. You might also notice that light and shadow and the colour red, play a key part in texturizing this film too, something that to a degree harkens to its video game origin. And for those who aren’t eager to leave the cinema as soon as the screen fades to credits, there’s a mid-credit scene that sets the film up for a potential sequel featuring a very iconic character from the Hitman universe. Considering that Friend has been confirmed as signed on for more films, it’ll be surprising if there are more to follow.
All in all Hitman: Agent 47 is a pretty good action thriller film, and has done a fair job of trying to bring the essence of the game and its leading character to life on the big screen. The film relies heavily upon Rupert Friend’s portrayal and personally I felt he delivered. I fear though that it hasn’t done enough to win over the true gamer fans and that this may affect any potential steam for more films to add to the franchise. And whether the fast paced stunts and slick look is enough to entice the more casual movie goers may not add up enough either. So it looks like this may be relegated to being another average video game to film adaptation.
Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Running Time: 96 minutes
Hitman: Agent 47 is out in Australian cinemas from 20 August 2015 through 20th Century Fox Pictures