It’s bad enough that Hitman: Agent 47—the second big-screen adaptation of the popular Hitman video-game series after the by-now-long-forgotten Xavier Gens film from 2007—just barely satisfies in the action-spectacle department, what with its chintzy-looking CGI explosions and blood splattering, and a flashy editing style that comes dangerously close to making a hash out of the rather impressive stunt choreography (courtesy of John Wick directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch). What’s worse is its wasted thematic and dramatic potential, the sense that Aleksander Bach’s film could have added up to something more than the sum of its paltry parts.
That potential is made painfully clear during a quiet moment in the middle of the film, when Katia (Hannah Ware) asks her protector, super-hitman Agent 47 (Rupert Friend), whether he still has the capacity for anything resembling human feeling. But Agent 47, as the expository opening-credits sequence breathlessly explains, is the product of a scientific experiment to create superior assassins, free of anything resembling empathy to impede them from carrying out their deadly missions. In the film’s dramatic scheme, he represents everything Katia—herself imbued by her scientist father, Litvenko (Ciarán Hinds), with superior anticipatory abilities—is fighting against: the denial of her humanity. But, as more than one character portentously intones throughout the film, it’s an open question whether she can escape her scientifically induced inhuman destiny.
If director Aleksander Bach’s choices are any indication, he cares less about characters and actors than about dubious surface dazzle.
Those are certainly heady themes for any science-fiction film to tackle, even one as action-oriented as this one, and for Hitman: Agent 47 to come anywhere near making anything resonant out of this material would require filmmakers with at least a modicum of emotional maturity of their own. But instead of developing any potential human interest, screenwriters Skip Woods, who also wrote the 2007 Hitman, and Michael Finch seem content to have its colorless characters spell out its themes in heavy-handed lines of dialogue (“We determine who we are by what we do,” Katia intones at one point).
If first-timer Bach’s choices as a director are any indication, he’s a filmmaker who cares less about characters and actors than about dubious surface dazzle: the billowing slow-motion shots of Agent 47; the shoot-outs with our hero taking out armies of henchmen with two guns, one in each hand (as if John Woo’s pioneering overuse of the two-guns trope hadn’t already turned that into an instant cliché); the glossy German and Singaporean metropolitan and industrial backdrops captured handsomely by cinematographer Óttar Gúðnason. Certainly, no spark of life is to be found in any of the actors, most disappointingly in Ware, whose Katia is meant is the supposed emotional linchpin of the enterprise. In a film full of dialogue howlers, perhaps the most fitting for Hitman: Agent 47 is Litvenko’s taunt of main baddie Le Clercq (Thomas Kretschmann): “You always were a small man, a derivative thinker.” For all its big-game thematic talk and occasional bits of stylish flair, so is this movie.