Letter From The Editor - Issue 58 - August 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
August 2015

Hitman: Agent 47

You again?

The 'Hitman' franchise is needlessly revived - and feels more superfluous than ever

Hitman: Agent 47
20th Century Fox
Director: Aleksander Bach
Screenplay: Skip Woods and Michael Finch, based on the video game Hitman
Starring: Rupert Friend, Hannah Ware, Zachary Quinto, Thomas Kretschmann, Angelababy, Dan Bakkedahl and Ciarán Hinds
Rated R / 1 hour, 36 minutes
August 21, 2015
(out of four)

Hitman: Agent 47 is not redundant because a Hitman movie was already made, of approximately comparable quality, just eight years ago. It is redundant because it exists in a world that already has Jason Bourne and John Wick. The genetically created superagent of the Matt Damon trilogy; the meticulously choreographed gunplay of Keanu Reeves' great assassin/revenge flick; the ruthless efficiency of both.

Yep, those four movies and those two actors just about cover it. Indeed, while watching this movie I could not identify a single thing that filled a niche, or pushed a button, that had not already been filled or pushed by one (or all) of those other films. There are moments where we're meant to be impressed by the title character's dispassionate efficiency and preternatural quickness and instincts ... and all I could think of was Keanu's delightfully witty barrage of maneuvers and killshots in John Wick's great nightclub scene. Needless to say, that comparison did not go well for Agent 47. This is not simply a poor imitator, or a lesser entry in a particular genre - it is an imposter suffering from the sad delusion that it needs to exist at all.

Someone, somewhere, must have felt very strongly that it was important this video-game franchise be exploited further. The thought crossed someone's mind at 20th Century Fox that there was a pressing need for this. Even more curiously, in rebooting a franchise that was still relatively fresh, the studio ended up making a movie that's more or less the same as its predecessor. Oh, the narrative specifics and visual touches vary ... but this isn't exactly a reinvention. Then again, this is the same studio that pulled the exact same thing with Spider-Man, so perhaps I shouldn't be surprised. This is getting to be an M.O.

In any case, it was a miscalculation, if only because, aside from a few aesthetic details - the bald head, the bar code, the bright red tie - Agent 47 is made for a market that was doing perfectly well without it, and does nothing that countless recent movies haven't done better. (Maybe if the studio had been able to pull off the dream casting of Jason Statham, the movie may have stood a chance - he at least has a pre-existing brand and following, and the film may actually have had a bit of personality with him on board. But alas.)

There's something refreshingly bare-bones about what the film is going for - its narrow focus and ambition. At its heart, it wants to be a very straightforward filmmaking exercise, with one essential purpose: to show us a badass who's very good at killing people. In the words of our old pal Ash, "I admire its purity." In theory, anyway. It's not unlike a monster movie. Or a dance movie. Or, say, a Tony Jaa movie.

Only ... that's kind of the problem. This movie doesn't have a Tony Jaa to make it work. It has a uniform, and needs only to find someone to wear it. But that simply doesn't work. There's no selling point here - no centerpiece around which the rest of the film can orbit. There's a reason I mentioned Statham earlier - he may not make many great movies, but he does give each one the full force of his Stathamness (Stathamity?), and that's just enough to make the movies something.

Hitman: Agent 47 is nothing. Its story of a genetically engineered super-assassin on the run and trying to protect another genetically engineered super-assassin (who, as it turns out, isn't yet aware that she's a genetically engineered super-assassin) isn't worth much if there's not something really making us watch. Something that urges us to pay attention. Which in this case means you either need an extraordinary action filmmaker or a dominating screen presence, or both. This movie has neither.

This is nothing against Rupert Friend, you understand. I actually like Rupert Friend. He's like a talented Orlando Bloom. And it's not hard to see why he got the role: He played a badass professional killer on Homeland, and so someone gave him the chance to play a badass professional killer with no personality. The role is not his fault; it is what it is. I like his Agent 47 predecessor, Timothy Olyphant, as well. But neither is able to lift this franchise above the limitations it set for itself. You need something entirely unique to do that, and neither this film nor the previous entry was able to find it.


Read more by Chris Bellamy


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