With every passing generation of gaming console, it amazes me how much more cinematic video games have become. Once just a series of blinking lights and ear-pleasing MIDI sounds, they now resemble the highest budget of Hollywood spectacles in their action and exceedingly pricy cutscenes.
Yet video game movie adaptations, like Hitman: Agent 47, remain strangely inert, still bouncing across multiplex screens every year with about as much creativity and innovation as Pong. Only now, it takes 96 minutes for the bleeping to end.
From the very beginning, Hitman: Agent 47 runs and guns with slick visuals and editing meant to elicit the kind of cartoon violence of those aforementioned cutscenes. The extended 10-minute opening shootout is even juxtaposed with an exposition-heavy voiceover about who the titular hitman agents are and why they are so deadly. But the effect is merely successful to the extent that it floods the mind with meaningless minutia for the diehard fans to covet. For the rest of us, rather than finally getting to play as Agent 47 afterwards, we’re instead forced to watch a cast of actors not having any more fun than their audience while hogging the controls.
Perhaps the biggest shame of the picture is that Rupert Friend, Hannah Ware, and Zachary Quinto are all very appealing performers who attempt to bring a little bit of lifeblood to characters that are comprised of ones and zeroes. Friend in particular has also played a much more believable and scary assassin with a pulse on Showtime’s Homeland. Indeed, he’s well cast here as the central Agent 47, an espionage ubermensch in a red tie. From the buzzed head to the barcode stamp on the back of his neck, Friend appears to have stepped right out of an Xbox.
But other than cutting an imposing figure that must deliver monotone threats, Friend’s 47 has no more depth than the thinly sketched lines of a disc jacket. Constrained by a character that only sleeps sitting up with his suit on and guns out during his off-hours, Agent 47 might as well be as pixilated as the lead characters in that recent Adam Sandler movie.
47’s mission, for what it’s worth, is to hunt down the mysterious Katia, a young woman living in Berlin that has no memory of her life before an orphanage. She also possesses many of the same skill sets as Agent 47, making her a prime target for other vaguely shady assassin guilds. And for that reason, as well as 47’s pursuit, John Smith (Zachary Quinto) enters her life as another spook that wants to protect Katia from the big bad barcode.
Katia, ably played with physicality by Ware, is of course like 47, an inactivated killing machine with a forgotten childhood that has more secrets than she could possibly imagine—or that audiences could possibly care about. Nonetheless, Katia is the best thing about the movie, primarily because she is a woman in a bullets and machismo flick; she is never once fully the damsel and she goes the whole running time without being entangled with either male co-star in a preposterous love story.
Apparently invented solely for the movie, Katia’s presence is a nice inclusion in a genre still stained by the odor of “gamergate” and misogyny from last year. Nevertheless she, much like the equally underserved Quinto, is only asked to throw out some martial art moves and espouse vaguely insidious exposition about post-Cold War conspiracies. If there is a plot for her and the John Smith character to become ensnared in, it is lost in the smoke of CGI explosions and even more suspicious looking car flips.
Action movies do not need to be complicated or even particularly smart. But if recent gems like John Wick have taught us anything, it’s that they must stay away from digital effects as much as possible and that they should look like they’re having fun while doing it. By contrast, the much more expensive Agent 47 has a muddled plot that’s as impenetrable as most other action movie scripts that Skip Woods has contributed to in the past (Swordfish, Hitman, X-Men Origins: Wolverine), and it’s as lifeless as all the ultra-modern office buildings that keep getting shot up. Meanwhile first-time director Aleksander Bach does little to enliven the hyper-edited film that uses so much CGI for its stunts that a couple of Italian plumbers hopping by wouldn’t have looked out of place.
It really is baffling why adapting video games consistently lead to experiences as joylessly insipid as Hitman: Agent 47. If games were ever this boring, kids would never have bothered to put down their homework in the first place. As for the Hitman franchise, it’s game over again.