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Hitman: Agent 47 review

Dull writing chokes the life out of Hitman: Agent 47 like a piano wire

“You can’t fight who you are. You’ll lose.”

These are wise words, spoken by Agent 47 (Rupert Friend), dressed to the nines in his finest Italian wool and blood-red tie. It also feels like the mantra of the makers of the movie he’s starring in. While there are enjoyable aspects of Hitman: Agent 47 if you look hard enough, it is, for the most part, just another video game movie — another swing-and-a-miss.

For the first five minutes, director Aleksander Bach’s adaptation of the video-game series feels like it might work. There’s a John Wick appeal to the thing. Take Keanu Reeves out, and plug in Rupert Friend. Get the dog motivation out of the picture, and insert some murky business about a German scientist. Remove the night club, and put an office building with a twisting-and-turning stairwell in its place. With those adjustments made, recline and watch as Agent 47 executes head-shot after head-shot, dropping bodies from high heights, crashing lifelessly, face first, into the stairs below. It’s a brutal ballet of blood-spraying brain explosion. It’s a thing of beauty.

It’s a brutal ballet of blood-spraying brain explosion.

The beauty ends there, unfortunately. What follows next is run-of-the-mill action movie territory, following something of a Terminator mold (not unlike American Ultra, which is also in theaters this weekend, and much better). A young woman named Katia van Dees (Hannah Ware) finds herself pursued by two handsome men with a seemingly robotic ability to kill people: John Smith (Zachary Quinto), alias Brian, who has something of a Jack Bauer meets Kyle Reese thing going on; and Agent 47, acting like a T-1000 with just a smidge more personality.

Eventually, the roles are reversed, with Agent 47 and Katia teaming up, and Quinto becoming… well, one of the weirdest and worst roles in his career. (Ask him about his sub-dermal body armor.) From there, the movie becomes a really bad escort quest. You know that part in Resident Evil 4 where you have to run around protecting the President’s daughter? And then you have to play as the President’s daughter? It’s a lot like that — not very fun, and a pretty big slog.

It’s not Hannah Ware’s fault, either. She’s solid as Katia, with pain in her eyes, a lost quality about her as she spends the movie searching for the father who abandoned her. But she’s playing a dreadfully written character. Katia is supposed to be the best of the best, better than all the other agents of the 47 mold, but she’s constantly messing things up.

In one scene, Katia takes apart a handgun right when Agent 47 needs it the most. At an earlier point, she literally leaves a post-it note behind telling the bad guys where she’s going next. Later, she’s tasked with avoiding a bunch of airport security cameras, and then congratulates herself for getting “pretty good at this,” even though she was actually caught by the final camera. On top of all this, Katia has some semblance of clairvoyance, some sixth sense that alerts her to danger and makes her hypersensitive of her surroundings — so why doesn’t it work all the time? You tell me. She’s a wildly inconsistent character, even if her performer is fine.

Maybe Katia comes across as thinly realized because of two movies that came out earlier in the summer: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, two of the best recent examples of ass-kicking leading ladies in high-stakes spy thrillers. Really, both of these films have everything that Hitman does not: Polished writing, simple storytelling, action over words, commanding performances, powerful female leads. It does not help Hitman’s case that it’s coming out so soon after these films, especially Mission: Impossible. Even the opening scene of Hitman takes place in Vienna, dealing with some bad guys called The Syndicate. Sound familiar?

It’s the kind of movie that has an Audi commercial instead of a car chase.

But like Agent 47 says, you can’t fight who you are, and Hitman doesn’t, for better or worse. It knows what it is. It’s the kind of movie that has an Audi commercial instead of a car chase, evidenced by the big glowing word “Audi” flashing on the GPS monitor during the scene. It’s the kind of movie that features an obligatory Wilhelm scream when a bad guy is cut to pieces. It takes elements from the Hitman games, like Agent 47’s numerous and seemingly seamless costume changes, and throws them into the movie for absolutely no reason outside of fan service. It has great actors like Rupert Friend and Ciaran Hinds in roles that just don’t work for them, and probably would not work for anyone. It has excessive amounts of bloody violence and bad language because that’s what it thinks you want — and for a few minutes, the trick almost works. But it doesn’t have much else.

In the same scene where 47 talks about fighting losing battles, he also warns Katia: “Don’t put your faith in me. You’ll be disappointed.” Heed his advice. Maybe Warcraft will break the video-game movie mold when it comes out in a few months, because Hitman certainly won’t get the job done when it arrives this weekend.