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Blackhat review

The sharpened screwdriver is mightier than the sword - or keyboard - in Blackhat

“Does anyone here have an Android?”

It’s night, and Chris Hemsworth’s super-smart, super-strong, and super-sexy hacker Nicholas Hathaway stands in the shadows of Hong Kong’s Yau Ma Tei district, asking this very ridiculous question to the rag-tag international team of highly trained federal investigators and computer experts he calls his colleagues. When one of his teammates produces an Android, Hathaway taps around on a touch-screen for a few seconds and determines that the tricky bad guy they’re hunting is doing something even trickier than any of them thought. What a dastardly, devious fellow.

The scene represents much of what you can expect from Blackhat, legendary filmmaker Michael Mann’s brand-new thriller that bills itself as an espionage techno-thriller. If you’re looking for brains, you’re in the wrong department. If you’re looking for beautiful, brooding brawn, step right in.

Set in the modern day, Blackhat opens as a Chinese nuclear power plant goes critical, thanks to the work of a “blackhat,” a hacker that uses technological proficiency for illicit means and personal gain. The algorithm the blackhat uses to attack the power plant is a rough-around-the-edges version of an algorithm designed by two MIT students some years earlier.

One of those MIT students is Hemsworth’s Hathaway, equipped with impossible amounts of brains, brawn and beauty. His obvious assets haven’t amounted to much over the years, as he’s busy serving out a lengthy prison term for reasons we eventually learn have much in common with Nicolas Cage’s Cameron Poe in Con Air. Unlike Mr. Poe, Hathaway’s prison stay is interrupted by the good guys, when his old MIT pal and current Chinese government agent Chen Dawai (played with silky-smooth nonchalance by Leehom Wang) makes it clear that Hathaway is the best chance anyone has at locating the blackhat.

Don’t focus on what makes sense. Focus instead on the mood and on the intense action scenes.

Hathaway, alongside Dawai and U.S. task force agents including Viola Davis in Amanda Waller warm-up mode, faces his fair share of obstacles during his pursuit of the blackhat. For one, finding the guilty party requires greater intellectual capacity than the arrogant American (totally not Australian) ex-ish con first expected. Second, Dawai’s sister, Lien (Wei Tang), proves much more attractive and into him than Hathaway’s fresh-out-of-prison loins can handle. Third, the blackhat isn’t just proficient with computer skills; whoever this person is also has heavily armed mercenaries on speed-dial.

Unfortunately for the blackhat and the blackhat’s mercenaries, however, no one accounted for Hathaway’s proficiency with a sharpened screwdriver.

Fortunately for us, of course, Hemsworth spends a decent amount of time screwing his way through Blackhat, wielding household items with deadly efficiency, and putting the word to its other, cruder use when it comes to Lien. The man the world knows best as Thor son of Odin is a magnetic presence as an action star, unfathomable and admirable in hulking size and perfect hair, even if hilariously imperfect in accent. His Hathaway feels like a character ripped from the pages of a Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum, or Lee Child novel, improbably powerful and gifted beyond most people’s wildest dreams.

He’s also the smartest guy in the room, and you just have to believe it. Because where Blackhat excels at slamming Chinese takeout restaurant tables into mercenary faces, it flops and flails during any attempt at intelligence. Blackhat‘s depictions of technology are laughable at best, as is the script, containing numerous unintentionally hilarious scenes, like one between Hathaway and Dawai discussing Lien’s best interests over a helicopter radio channel as they’re both knowingly flying into an intense shootout situation. Another contender for the title: When sharp-shooting agent Mark Jessup (Holt McCallany) asks Davis’ Carol Barrett, without warning and without finesse: “Let me ask you a question, and you don’t have to answer it: Who did you lose on 9/11?”

It’s best to forget your brain at home when you head out for Blackhat.

Needless to say, the script is not as sharp as Hathaway’s screwdriver. It’s best, then, to forget your brain at home when you head out for Blackhat. Don’t focus on what makes sense. Focus instead on the mood, on the intense action scenes, the palpable and percussive echo of firepower blasting through close quarters, bullets ripping through important characters without prejudice and with alarming frequency, the swift movements of workman tools being put to deadlier use, the foreboding imagery of mainframes and circuit boards lighting up and frying with evil genius.

Does any of it make sense? No, probably not. But who needs sense when you have Hemsworth hammering away on some bad guys in desperate need of a beatdown?