The first couple minutes of Hitman: Agent 47 are pretty much a video game cutscene, with grainy video and voiceover talking about secret and bad human research. The segment’s purpose is to explain, “Hey, this is a video game movie, and it’s about genetically modified hitmen, and you’re just going to have to deal with that.” It’s cool if you’re late to the movie, though, because they explain all this in the clearest terms possible again about halfway through.
But who cares about the story? I watched Hitman: Agent 47 to judge whether or not Agent 47 is a good hitman. A good hitman, at least in the Hitman games, is one who succeeds at killing his targets with as few witnesses as possible, ideally without killing anyone but the targets. Sure, you can go nuts if you want, but stealth is encouraged, so that’s the standard I’m holding the movie version of Agent 47 to. With that in mind, I've graded his performance in the film's major action scenes. He did badly, as you'll see.
Obviously, reading about every action scene in a movie is going to lead to some spoilers, if you care.
As the movie starts, Agent 47 is out to get some bad guys, and you better believe he’s gonna get them. First off, why can no one in the film industry design a UI that anyone would actually use? Agent 47 literally presses a button that says “upload virus” at one point. Then he tracks the bad guy cars with the Watch Dogs companion app while they all fumble with their infected, also stupid interfaces.
Pretty quickly, it’s clear that our friend 47 is doing a bad job. He kills so many dudes he doesn't have to. He even shoots two guys sitting at bad-UI computer terminals and then props them up as if they’re still working just so the other bad guys will get mad at them for not responding, discover that they’re dead, and then see him emerge from the shadows. That’s just rude as hell, and not very sneaky at all. F.
This showdown is set up when the camera pans through the ground, letting the audience know that subways are underground, as Agent 47 chases Zachary Quinto. So, Agent 47 and Zachary Quinto (who I’ve decided is a character in the film for simplicity’s sake) are fighting in a subway station, on the tracks, and the camera is shaking big time. “We know martial arts,” they yell into each other’s faces at the same time, but they don’t really. They just know how to work with direction that obscures the details of a bad fight.
There is a cool bit where Agent 47 almost, but doesn’t, get killed by an oncoming train—remember that, from The Matrix?—but as a hitman he does very badly. Everyone in the subway station sees him. He shoots bullets into all kinds of crowds. There’s no way he isn’t being chased by law enforcement. F.
Next there’s a part where Agent 47 walks into a heavily guarded military complex covered with guns. The metal detector and X-ray scanner detect all of these, another thing that happened in The Matrix, but instead of killing all the guards with sick moves, he lets himself get captured so that he can use his sick moves on everyone later. Getting captured is not a good hitman thing to do, even if you plan to escape later, but especially if you plan to escape later by loudly shooting people. F.
Jet engine fight
This is a prolonged fight involving a jet engine, and it isn’t bad. Some dudes even get sucked into the jet engine, which almost approaches the creativity you'd see in an actual Hitman mission. And Agent 47 is a little stealthy here, sneaking up behind people and killing them with stuff he finds lying around, which shows improvisation and stealthiness. Still, he almost dies and is only saved by the villain’s fatal flaw: pride. You can’t always count on a villain to have a fatal flaw, 47. Sometimes they’re just regular guys. D+.
Audi RS 7 chase
This is the best scene because it stars an Audi RS 7 drifting around the bends of a parking garage and killing the hell out of a bunch of motorcycle jerks chasing it. I guess Agent 47 is driving it, but let's just pretend the Audi is its own character with its own motivation.
I really felt the Audi’s pain when it was being shot full of cables from rooftop bad guys, who held it in place with their evil grapples, and then tried to zipline down the cables to kill Agent 47. No one mourns the Audi, but I suppose they don't have time what with bad guys coming from every direction. It turns out, those zipline guys made a bad mistake. They could have just shot at Agent 47 from the relative safety of the rooftops, but instead they get all plugged by his dual handguns while slowly descending. This happens in the middle of the street. Everyone sees it and Agent 47 is not stealthy at all. Also, he picks up Hannah Ware and carries her through streets full of people and no one cares and that's dumb. F.
This is a cool scene, because it involves helicopters and the roof of a skyscraper—you might say that the final gunshot was an exclamation mark—and Hannah Ware finally becomes the badass she secretly was the whole time. It’s also the most visually arresting scene, with 47’s white shirt losing its edges against the impossibly white walls of an evil office building, which was the signature technique of one of my favorite American illustrators, Coles Phillips. Meanwhile, most of the rest of the movie oozes with all style of stock art: Bald man uses laptop. Depressed woman’s empty pill bottle rolls across the floor. Establishing shot of car.
Anyway, it’s fun to look at, but is Agent 47 finally a good hitman here, at the end? No way. He comes up with a convoluted plan to hit his man, sure, but everyone is looking at him like, “I know who you are, you are a hitman, and I have seen your face.” That’s just not good hitman work. F.
So, is it a good movie?
Not really. I’ve tried not to spoil the details of the plot because the only thing it has going for it is a couple misdirections. Other than that, it’s pretty boring. Turns out an emotionless dude with a moderately close head shave is not very exciting to watch any time he’s not shooting people.
Zachary Quinto is also boring, and doesn’t convince me that he is a tough man, though he tries. Hannah Ware plays the best of the characters, because she’s allowed to express feelings with her face, but the story doesn’t let her be much more than a human MacGuffin. She appears at the beginning in a movie-ready state: a woman whose only defining qualities are plot points, like Lisbeth Salander if all we knew about her was that she has a dragon tattoo, and that the tattoo is a treasure map.
And that’d all be fine if Agent 47 had James Bond or John Wick or The Raid levels of style and choreography, but it only timidly approaches those films to ask if it can borrow some of their stuff, and then breaks their stuff. Daniel Craig’s contemplative rooftop swim in Skyfall, for instance, said a little about his headspace, and was a damn cool establishing scene. In this movie, Ware takes a nighttime dip in a hotel pool for no reason. I guess she’s swimming because she’s… upset… about the hitman?
Meanwhile, even with John Wick's David Leitch on staff, the action is good but never exceptional. Hitman is so concerned with making sure its characters look badass that it’s often cut like a trailer, obscuring the greater form of the fights, and the complete windup and follow-through of each movement. The Matrix, on the other hand, shows us the full breadth of every dumb flip, kick, punch, block, and grimace in that subway scene. It’s silly, and not really convincing, but it's still a wonder to watch all that continuous action and reaction. In Equilibrium, Christian Bale looks super dumb doing gunkata forms, but he doesn’t give a crap, and not giving a crap is what makes him so cool. There's no attempt to obscure his choreography, allowing the action to be unreal and goofy and way more fun to watch.
There is some cool action choreography in Hitman, for sure, and I spotted not one but two helicopters in it, but that’s all it has to offer. Helicopters, a good car chase, and a bit of good gunplay. Otherwise, the sentimental bits are entirely inert, the plot consists of cutscenes I'd skip in a game, and rather than being cool and effortlessly badass, Agent 47 seems like a self-conscious Bond impersonator. Check it out, guys, I just got out of this big fight, and what do I do? I just casually adjust my sleeve. Is that cool? It was cool when Bond did it but is it cool when I do it? Ah, it's cool, yep. I'm cool.