Not every film has to be a masterpiece. Not every film needs top-notch visual effects, storyline and Oscar-worthy performances. Sometimes, as with the recent The Man from U.N.C.L.E. [read my review], a style and a playful sense of the backstory can be sufficient to create something entertaining. And let’s be frank, Hitman: Agent 47 is based on a popular series of ultra-violent video games that posit a world where genetic manipulation, DNA splicing and a childhood world that makes the Spartans of 300 seem positively coddled has created a series of increasingly deadly assassins, “hitmen”. It’s weak, at best sufficient to propel a first person shooter forward, but, as demonstrated by the horrible 2007 Hitman, not enough to spawn a worthwhile movie.
Except to my complete surprise, Hitman: Agent 47 is actually quite watchable if you can get past the obligatory ultra-violent scenes of improbable slaughter by the titular agent (played by Rupert Friend). It’s not a great action film, but…
Here’s the story, such as it is: After yet another perfectly executed assassination, Agent 47 is set up by his employer, The Syndicate, and after almost killing witness Katia van Dees (Hannah Ware) he realizes she’s also being hunted by The Syndicate and switches allegiance to defend her.
For her part, Katia is desperately trying to piece together fragmentary memories of her childhood and identify the man who haunts her dreams, Hitman Project lead Dr. Litvenko (Ciarán Hinds). Litvenko, however, vanished years earlier, presumably out of guilt after he realized what his experiments were being used for out the world. Le Clerq (Thomas Kretschmann), the paranoid head of The Syndicate, is desperately seeking Litvenko so he can start up the Hitman Project again and create more powerful assassins for hire.
Katia seeks Litvenko. Agent 47 seeks Le Clerq to shut down The Syndicate for good and ensure that no new agents are ever created. Together they stand the best chance of success so an uncomfortable alliance is formed. Which is good timing because John Smith (Zachary Quinto) has already shown up and under the guise of helping Katia has made it clear that he really works for Le Clerq and his mission is to find Litvenko and bring him back to The Syndicate’s headquarters in Singapore.
That’s a lot of story, but don’t worry, the story doesn’t really matter and when it occasionally veers off into even more improbability than the basic storyline, it’s not too frustrating because your expectations really should be pretty low. Friend is surprisingly watchable as the amoral, unemotional 47 and it’s entertaining to see Quinto play an indestructible super bad guy, but it’s Katia (Ware) who steals the screen when she’s on camera with her smoldering good looks and quite believable action and fighting sequences. You’ll see her in more films in the near future, without question, she’s an up-and-comer.
Think about it this way: Hitman: Agent 47 is a mashup of The Terminator, The Bourne Identity and perhaps elements of a Bond film, somewhat of a narrative mess but with just enough story and action sequences to keep this viewer engaged and entertained. The exterior shots featuring various well-known landmarks in Singapore — including the spectacular Gardens by the Bay and OCBC Skyway — and the frequent blood splatter of nattily-dressed security people goes a long way to compensate for the illogical storyline, generally mediocre performances and often derivative stunt sequences.
Hitman: Agent 47 isn’t great cinema. It’s not even a great action film. But it’s still not bad and is unquestionably superior to the original Hitman that came before it. If you’re just looking for a diversion, a film that slams along with a video game sensibility and fantastical action sequences, you might just surprise yourself and enjoy this quick 90min romp.
If not, or if splattery gore isn’t your scene, well, there are better options in the cineplex.