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Film Review | Hitman: Agent 47

Formulaic to a fault and hardly breaking with the unceremonious tradition of dire video game adaptations, this shooter still gives way to nostalgic delights if you're patient enough to indulge them.

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
21 September 2015, 8:30am
Rupert Friend and Hannah Ware attempt to breathe life to yet another video game adaptation
Rupert Friend and Hannah Ware attempt to breathe life to yet another video game adaptation
Historically, film critics have gotten something of a bad rep. We’re often seen as sad-sack leeches who are effectively failed filmmakers venting their frustration by penning snarky critiques of things they don’t like and making sure to extol the virtues of only the most sophisticated of cinema fare, so as to up our cultural capital.

“Those who can’t do, crit,” as it were.

But the true value of film criticism lies in the critic’s function as someone who not only recommends good stuff and steers you away from the bad – this is just the surface benefit – but also provides a historical and cultural context for what you’re about to watch (or, as it happens, not watch).

They’re meant to re-package their knowledge clearly and humbly, to give you a good overview of each element in the given film.

Admirable as the above may sound – and it’s a raison d’etre I try to abide to week in, week out for your benefit, dear readers – I must confess that this won’t be one of those reviews.

The reason being that, we’re dealing with the second film adaptation from the ‘Hitman’ video game franchise. And while the game – like many of its other counterparts in various genres – commands the respect and attention of a number of people (among whom are some of my closest friends), I must confess I never took the controller to it.

So this review will be less of a comprehensive tour of what the ‘Hitman’ universe means, and more of a rudderless plunge into the unknown. You may not come out of it much wiser, but I hope you enjoy the ride either way…

 

Directed by Aleksander Bach and penned by Michael Finch and Skip Woods – working off the video game by IO Interactive – Hitman: Agent 47 sees the titular elite assassin (Rupert Friend) on a mission to stop a mega-corporation from getting their hands on the secret formula that has engineered ‘47’ and his ilk – which would allow the ‘Syndicate’ will be able to mass-produce an army of ruthless and efficient killing machines.

His mission intersects with that of Katia (Hannah Ware) who is haunted by superhuman abilities that leave her hyper-sensitive to her surroundings, and which she tries to stifle with pharmaceutical drugs.

But as she embarks on a mission to find out who she truly is, she bumps into mysterious benefactor John Smith (Zachary Quinto) who shields her from a volley of bullets from 47’s rich array of hand-held weaponry… but whose motives may not be as saintly as they first appear.

My only real knowledge of video game movies is that there hasn’t been a single one that was any good. Blame it on the storytelling-unfriendly format – most mainstream video games are inspired by movies so that feeding that formula back into movies will make for a stillborn concoction – but there has yet to be a critical hit in the genre.

Armed with this opinion (ahem!) I approached this second attempt at a Hitman movie – the first one was the universally derided, Timothy Olyphant-starring flop from 2007 – as little more than a slice of brand recognition driving action-exploitation.

On this front, it doesn’t disappoint, and though the critical drubbing it got is sort-of understandable, perhaps we should just accept that video games reheated into movies are never going to yield succulent meals, and to make the best of what we can from what’s on the plate.

Though your mileage may vary based on how tolerant you are of juvenile action movie clichés – complete with symmetrical bravura shootouts set to a thumping soundtrack – Bach does his best tap into the kind of nostalgic thrills previous generations got from Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger in his heyday.

It’s also fortunate that Rupert Friend – of ‘Homeland’ fame – manages to imbue the glacial ‘47’ with enough stone-cold authority while allowing just enough humanity to seep through.

I know – commenting positively on the actorly chops behind a human machine character will always be damning with faint praise, but Friend really does hold his own.

I wish the same could be said for Ware, though the faults here have little to do with her performance and more to do with her sloppily put together character. She’s a confused assemblage of hastily put-together plot conveniences, and as such doesn’t leave Ware with much to sink into.

Still, for all its faults – and there are many – this video game adaptation is probably the most entertaining and unapologetic action movie of the season. Give me this dumb-but-fun shooter over the pageantry of The Expendables franchise any day.

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...
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