If you see one movie about governmentally modified assassins this weekend, don’t make it Hitman: Agent 47. American Ultra is the far superior take on the unknowing super spy, because it takes itself far less seriously and can actually poke fun at the genre. Hitman: Agent 47 was just never going to be able to keep up, especially with its overly serious take on the genre. It’s so coldblooded, it’s practically reptilian.
Directed by newcomer Aleksander Bach, with a screenplay by Skip Woods and Michael Finch, the story seems overly complicated but is actually quite simple: Someone’s trying to make more of the genetically enhanced “agents,” and in order to succeed, they need to find the originator of the project, Litvenko (Ciaran Hinds), who has dropped off the face of the earth. In pursuit are Agent 47 (Rupert Friend), a contract killer so focused on his job he’s practically a robot, and John Smith (a woefully miscast Zachary Quinto), who works for the private organization Syndicate International. 47 is trying to stop Syndicate from making more agents. He works for a woman, Diana (Angelababy; that is actually her name), who gives him cryptic instructions on the phone.
Caught in the middle is Litvenko’s daughter, Katia (Hannah Ware), who is also searching for her father, having been abandoned as a child, equipped with near psychic survival skills, including an extrasensory perception for lurking dangers. She falls in with Smith and 47, and after a series of rapidly switching alliances, they’re off to the races, with a quick training for her while in pursuit of her father.
There’s a half-baked attempt to answer some existential questions about the nature of humanity when you’re a murderous robot person, but the sentimentality doesn’t mesh with the film’s desire for cathartic, cinematic violence. Unfortunately, the action that we do get is chaotic and incomprehensible, largely bloodless, and without any sense of tension. There are times when it feels profoundly like a first-person shooter video game, which makes sense because it’s based on one.
Something like John Wick worked beautifully to showcase a waterfall of cascading murder. Wick’s motivations were clear: vengeance. Agent 47’s motivations aren’t clear because he’s barely a human, despite Katia’s protestations otherwise. He’s just doing his job, and ultimately, the film is about work — what it means to work a job that strips one’s humanity in the service of a contract, and what it means when your life’s work results in those agents. However, the execution of that particular story just falls flat in the sanguine Hitman: Agent 47.
Cast: Rupert Friend, Zachary Quinto, Hannah Ware, Ciaran Hinds.
Director: Aleksander Bach.
Screenwriters: Skip Woods, Michael Finch.
A 20th Century Fox release. Running time: 96 minutes. Vulgar language, strong violence. Playing at area theaters.