Everything leading up to my viewing of Hitman: Agent 47 seemed to warn me to stay away. In the two-minute drive from my apartment to the theater the light drizzle that welcomed me out the front door had turned into a full on thunderstorm as I parked my car. In the parking lot, movie theater employees were prancing around in the howling storm. After buying my ticket, the lights flickered.
Hitman: Agent 47 is a vacuous film that is under-acted, nonsensical, and totally devoid of any redeeming quality. After watching it I am not sure who I feel worse for: Zachary Quinto or myself. After walking through the parking lot I realized that the answer was “everyone else” as I overheard a fellow patron state “I really enjoyed that.” It’s a movie that is essentially what happens when everyone involved in the production of the film only has the most cursory knowledge of the source material. It’s entirely conceivable that they read the back of a few Hitman games from a bargain bin at their local GameStop and watched a few trailers on YouTube. Specifically, it’s highly likely that they watched the “Saints” trailer for Hitman Absolution—the one with the scantily clad nuns blowing up a motel—and said to each other “we can do better” before turning away in disgust.
Besides the titular character and barely featured handler there are almost no connections to the game series at all. Hitman is a franchise that’s known for disguises, hiding in plain sight, and orchestrating over the top “accidents” for Agent 47’s marks. The series is not known for its gunplay. Though the newer entries in the series seem to attempt to correct it, sneaking around and being creative still remains the best solution, or at least the most enjoyable one. Hitman: Agent 47 throws all of this to the wind. Instead of a methodical, often dispassionate assassin who slinks through the shadows, we’re given an explosion-hungry, painfully blank slate who can’t wait to get his gun off.
The movie really doesn’t ever give itself the chance to be good, either. Everything about the movie feels aggressively mediocre. None of the actors have particularly lauded careers, with perhaps the exception of Ciaran Hinds, who must have massive student debt or something. I cannot remember a single line of dialogue that was not hackneyed or dull. The movie works desperately hard to check off every action movie trope possible: Bullet time, CGI whenever possible, hacking solves everything, impossibly useful gadgets (including an automatic tracker firing gun that hits hubcaps perfectly and can even detect car manufacturer), unkillable villain, torture scene, hero is a dick in order to push his companion to greatness, and I guess Agent 47 and Agent 90 are brother and sister maybe? It’s a throwaway line that is instantly ignored for the rest of the film.
This isn’t to pretend that the Hitman series is venerated for its acting and narrative. It’s not. But that doesn’t mean the movie needs to be a totally devoid of quality as it is. It’s very possible that a good Hitman movie could totally ignore the plots of the games and focus on the core aspects of what define Hitman, instead of focusing on generic action movie nonsense and the worst parts of the games. Underlying the fact that 47 mainly kills criminals is the fact that he also kills people attempting to create clones of himself or supersoldiers or something. It’s not particularly exciting compared to infiltrating the White House or dressing up as a priest and breaking the neck of the groom.
There’s also no reason that the movie is as catastrophically bad as it is. Budget-wise, it cost more than Die Hard, even when adjusted for inflation. Plot-wise it’s based on a game where a super assassin drops chandeliers on people, explodes sports cars, and murders criminals. These game set-pieces could translate well to cinema, but they’re mostly ignored.
What’s funny is that looking back all of the best videogame movies have been based on totally fictional games. Existenz, Wreck it Ralph, Tron, and Spirits Within all completely disregard any kind of faithfulness to source material and instead find inspiration in the aesthetic feel of games. Hitman: Agent 47 could realistically have done that in the same way that Spirits Within did. Instead I nearly fell asleep twice during a 2pm showing. For a movie about stealth, it blunders the mission completely. It will probably be viewed as a war crime in a few years.