A London stage production of a 415-year old play has been proclaimed a “blockbuster” and is trending on social media. Meanwhile, a Hollywood action movie with a budget of thirty million dollars can barely muster a kind word from its target audience.
Guess what these two entertainments have in common?
No doubt it is futile to ask why people keep handing huge amounts of capital to directors like Aleksander Bach (maker of commercials for expensive cars) so that they can churn out yet another “sleekly hollow mélange of dull violence and product placement.” (The reviews for Hitman: Agent 47 have been uniformly abysmal, and everyone in the film seems to drive an Audi.)
Reader, I saw it, and I enjoyed it. Maybe it’s the fact that this type of movie is a novelty for me. Or maybe it’s the obvious, that I’m an incorrigible, ineducable, unrepentant fangirl. But let us not forget that I readily recognized and condemned the heinous offense against taste and reason that was Ghost Rider, Spirit of Vengeance.
My cinema experience with Hitman Agent 47 was delightfully surreal. On a Friday afternoon, the day after the film opened, I was the only person in the theater. (A polite young usher pointed the way to the correct room, betraying no surprise at this middle-aged woman seeking out an ultra-violent gun-and-gore-fest. I guess video games are more ubiquitous than I realized.)
At the aforementioned 415-year old play, every seat was filled and phones were strictly forbidden. (Rumor has it that monitors now roam the aisles with tasers at the ready to punish scofflaws.) But with Hitman I enjoyed a glorious private screening. I pulled out my phone and shamelessly filmed Doctor Litvenko until my battery ran out.
So why did critics hate Hitman so much? It is deeply unoriginal, but that’s true of virtually everything made in Hollywood. It delivers plenty of the mindless, cartoonish violence that its target audience loves. The sets and locations are impressive and fun. It’s stylishly filmed and the acting is on a par with, or better than, the few superhero films I’ve seen. I find video games, fights and explosions unspeakably boring, but the plot of Hitman was engaging enough to hold my interest.
The problem is the feeble dialogue. Why is it so difficult for these guys to grasp that they need to avoid “screenwriters” like Skip Woods, whose other job (according to IMDb) is as a “weapons handling and tactics consultant.” Why do they keep hiring people who take themselves so seriously? Why, just once, can’t an action movie producer hire a writer from, say, The Simpsons?
But I am too harsh. Perhaps I missed the subtle sparks of genius twinkling in the dross. For example, Doctor Litvenko, the scientist who created the genetically modified Agents, withers a rival by telling him “You were always a small mind, Antoine. A derivative thinker at best.” Surely, surely this is a self-parodying, ironic comment on the fact that they are making yet another film about genetically modified super-assassins with noticeable similarities to The Terminator? No? Well, then, what about the fact that Doctor Litvenko is an orchid expert? Surely this is a loving allusion to that other orchid-obsessed genius Nero Wolfe, and not, NOT the result of Aleksander Bach saying, “Okay, we’re filming in Singapore in the Gardens by the Bay. How can we use it? I KNOW! Let’s have Litvenko hang out there because he likes orchids.”
Actually, Ciarán Hinds breathes life into most of Litvenko’s lines. What he has to say is simple and direct. He’s speaking either as a father meeting his long-lost daughter or as a guy who just got tortured by his worst enemy, so his task is to convince us that he is feeling the corresponding emotions. It’s the other actors who get handed the real boners:
Quinto: It’s an honor to meet a legend like you.
Friend: I thought you had to be dead to be a legend.
Quinto: You are dead. You just don’t know it yet.
Friend: You might say the same of this movie.
But wait. I think I see what they’re trying to do. Rupert Friend’s Agent 47 is a soft-spoken Vulcan type who hides his emotions. Zachary Quinto’s John Smith is fiery and passionate, but everyone knows that Quinto played a Vulcan in the last Star Trek movie. Coincidence? I think not! Hitman Agent 47 is about powerful, suppressed desires. The two antagonists try to hide their erotic wishes, but they’re all too apparent to the viewer.
All these guns are there for a reason. They are metaphors for sex, the real subject of the film. Don’t believe me? Consider: it is a film about rival projects aimed at MALE ENHANCEMENT.
Now if scientists actually went about creating a superior breed of human males, do you honestly think they could resist giving them a little something extra? But we’re not simply talking in crude terms about penis size (or even the interesting fact that 47 always carries two guns). Oh no, the screenwriters have created a much more nuanced portrait of these Ultimate Love Machines. There’s a great scene toward the end where a frustrated John Smith tries to force Doctor Litvenko to share the secret: how to make an Agent. Litvenko explains that Smith himself is a failed experiment:
Litvenko: An agent’s advantage is not his body, John Smith. It’s his MIND. You will never be as good as him in bed.
Okay, so maybe I added the “in bed” part. But this movie is perfect for the Fortune Cookie game. Just add “in bed” to everything they say, and you’ll not only have cracked the ultra-sophisticated hermeneutic code of the film. You’ll also have a great time watching it.