Don’t expect this reboot of the “Hitman” franchise starring Zachary Quinto and Rupert Friend to break the curse of bad movies made out of hit video games
Violence is the point of “Hitman: Agent 47,” but there isn’t enough of it to sustain this second film based on the “Hitman” video game series. Technically a reboot, “Agent 47” is a redo at establishing a movie franchise after Timothy Olyphant, star of 2007’s “Hitman,” refused to participate in a sequel and proclaimed that he only signed up for the first installment because he needed to pay his mortgage.
Rupert Friend (“Homeland”) takes over from Olyphant as the franchise’s lead, but it hardly makes a difference. The genetically engineered Agent 47, bred and trained to be a “perfect killing machine,” isn’t more than a shaved head, a raised tattoo of a barcode on the back of his skull, and an absurdly conspicuous Santa-red tie. He’s so devoid of humanity, let alone a personality, that he sits upright on the sofa while waiting for his laptop to complete an hours-long search through a database. At night, he simply closes his eyes and wills himself to fall asleep instantaneously; he powers down faster than my smartphone.
The plot is a weightless tangle. As a voiceover introduction explains, Agent 47 was one of several super-assassins who fled the organization that created them. After the destruction of that org, a new corporation has emerged to create a new army of mutant mercenaries. It needs either to coerce the original scientist (Ciarán Hinds) who created the Agents to replicate his experiment or to extract the best of his findings from his daughter Katia (Hannah Ware, ABC’s “Betrayal”), a possibly psychic woman who holds the key to her father’s research in her genes. While Katia searches for her father, 47 and a rival agent (Zachary Quinto) race to find her first.
Agent 47 lacks the ability to feel pain and remorse — emotions that would get in the way of his trigger finger — while Katia is burdened by the constant fear that comes with her Spider Senses. First-time director Aleksander Bach’s major misstep — which he takes over and over — lies in presuming that those two, who eventually join forces, have psychologies worth exploring.
With one foot in a slick Berlin and the other in a futuristic Singapore, the film offers reasonably diverting amusement in the form of death by bullet, vertebrae snap and wind turbine, with each new mortality leveling up in creativity and improbability. Most of these nearly bloodless killings are neat, efficient, and about as eventful as a stapler going about its business. (Agent 47’s sweatless ease must save him a fortune at the dry cleaners.) Bach is so generous with slo-mo that there’s even a drawn-out scene of Katia pulling her hair up into a ponytail.
Most frustratingly, though, too many scenes devoted to Agent 47 and Katia’s paper-thin backstories or damaged minds tend toward the unbearably long and vapid. Neither Bach nor writers Skip Woods and Michael Finch are actually interested in what it means to be denied access to emotions the rest of us depend on (or can’t escape from). They bring up the same questions over and over again, yet never bother to answer them.
There’s a fun enough action sequence where Agent 47 teaches Katia the tricks of the junior assassin while sneaking up on baddies together and pulverizing them with random gizmos in an industrial warehouse. (That wind turbine is just the beginning.) We later discover that Katia is essentially an improved version of her new mentor, but she then spends the rest of the film getting rescued when she’s not undressing or swimming or lingering in the shower.
Unfortunately, that sacrifice of any originality — to the point of throwing internal logic out the window — is the modus operandi governing Bach’s film. For all its cheap talk about the importance of innovation, “Agent 47” just feels like a copy of a copy of a copy.