As I’ve said in my reviews of other video game movies, it’s a struggle to adapt an interactive medium to a non-interactive one, although I’ve come to admit that this may be a generational bias on my part. I have no idea why Twitch is so popular because I find playing a video game always more appealing than watching someone else play. So perhaps the time is right for Aleksander Bach’s Hitman: Agent 47, which is more faithful to the popular video game series than the 2007 Timothy Olyphant film, but still removes the audience from the thrill of the source material despite some well-choreographed action scenes. There’s plenty of violence and gore on display, but it always feels like we’re waiting for “Press ‘X’ to Murder Faceless Henchman” to pop up on screen.
The program to create “agents”—genetically modified assassins—has been shut down, but nefarious corporation The Syndicate, is looking to start it back up again. To do so, they must track down lead scientist Litvenko (Ciarán Hinds), and they believe they can find him through his daughter Katia (Hannah Ware), who is also trying to find her lost father but for personal reasons. The Syndicate sends John Smith (Zachary Quinto) to find her, but the rogue Agent 47 (Rupert Friend) is also tracking Katia, and it’s a race to see who can find her and in turn, find her father.
Agent 47 is a tough character because he’s purposely been deprived of a personality because his makers thought it would make him a better assassin. He’s basically the Terminator in a stylish suit, and the Terminator would be a pretty boring character if not for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s larger-than-life charisma and personality. Schwarzenegger’s stature speaks volumes before he even opens his mouth, and it makes the character memorable. In a video game, 47 is a fun, stylish avatar, but you don’t need him to be a fully formed character. You, through your choices as a player, bring that to the table. But in a film, you need a distinct personality to create a connection to the character, and if a pile of pixels replaced Friend, you would hardly notice. It’s faithful to the game, but in the wrong respects.
The translation of the Hitman games to the screen feels like we’re watching tutorials for stealth maneuvers and how to use the environment to take out enemies, and in between there are cut scenes packed with flat dialogue and bland performances. Rather than try to build a narrative into the Hitman world, the movie is fine coasting on the license and a thin story just to provide a cozy sense of familiarity. But that familiarity creates a feeling of absence and deprivation rather than getting us deeper into the world of Hitman.
The film’s lack of a personality becomes even more distinct during the action scenes, which are admittedly a huge step up from the first film in terms of their design and execution. They’re highly reminiscent of the proficient and precise action scenes from last year’s sleeper hit John Wick, but that’s a double-edged sword because the other fantastic aspect of John Wick was its world-building. Hitman never expands beyond its borders, and is content to play to the beats of a game you can’t play. You’re not the one setting up the assassinations or putting on disguises or hiding from cameras. You’re watching characters you don’t care about do those things.
I’m not against video game movies on general principle, but it’s not enough to just carry the license and hope that fans of the game will be fans of the movie, and that everyone else will enjoy a generic action flick. Agent 47 doesn’t do anything particularly wrong (although the final, sequel-baiting minute causes some teeth-gnashing), but it shows that filmmakers are still wrestling with how to effectively translate one medium to another, and while gamers may tune in to see a game of Hitman on Twitch, there’s nothing in this film adaptation to get them to come out to the theater, buy a ticket, and see something similar.