Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Ghoul Versus Hitman (Part 1)

"Can we hire Agent 47 to take out this movie?"

Hitman is a video game franchise that stars the violently creative Agent 47 as he stealthily kills his way across the world in a variety of exotic locales. It is a stealth game series that is highly praised for its innovative open game play that encourages you to experiment, and is highly derided for its utter lack of taste. Games have featured latex S & M bondage nuns, while advertisements for these games have featured murdered women in lingerie. There's... there's some issues going on here and they are NOT pretty.

There actually is an overall narrative to the series, but I've never seen it because most of the games involved me screaming “That's bullshit! There is no way he saw me!” five hundred times and giving up. Thus I have no idea how loyal the film is to game but if it's anything like, oh say 100% of all video game to movie adaptions, I'm going to say not at all.  The film of the game came out in 2007, directed by Xavier Gens, who gave us the insane gorefest Frontier(s). From what I've been able to gather, he was fired after submitting his cut of the movie and someone else was brought it in to make it more acceptable. Reshoots followed, rarely a good sign in the industry.

It was written by Skip Woods, who has a Shakespearean resume of such epics as Swordfish, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the A-Team, and A Good Day to Die Hard.  With a lover of gore over story and a guy who loves senseless action over story behind the reins of this, we're in for a lot of fun! Grab your favourite murder weapon and strap in for A Ghoul Versus Hitman.


We open with the lead of our story, Agent 47 (he has no real name and actually isn't even named by his code until an hour from now) as a young boy getting a bar code tattoo on the back of his head. A priest supervises for reasons that are never revealed.  We see he's part of a huge complex of young bald boys training to be assassins. Any that try to escape the barbed wire fences are shot dead, and... hmm. That looks really familiar. We see the boys being taught to fight with their hands and weapons, as well as classes where they're taught lessons in discipline and... waitaminute!

In 2000, Fox aired a sci-fi show called Dark Angel which is only notable for being co-created by James “I'm the King of the World” Cameron and introducing the world to Jensen Ackles (of Supernatural fame) and Jessica Alba (of Fantastic Four shame).  The show was about little kids being genetically engineered to be super soldiers, featuring scenes of them training to be assassins, getting shot as they try to escape over barbed wire fences, and learning lessons of discipline. Apparently, someone on the Hitman crew was a HUGE fan because they recycled the footage for the film's opening.

You can really tell how much the film's creators cared about this project as in one classroom scene, you can see a kid with a bar code tattoo on the back of his neck (which is where the Dark Angel kids were tattooed) instead of the back of his head. They couldn't even be bothered to edit that out! An added element of hilarity is the footage of 47 as a young boy is actually Jessica Alba's character as a kid, played by a girl.

This sets the tone for what to expect from the film as we open in London, with Interpol Agent Mike Whittier coming home to find his lights won't turn on. Being Genre Savvy he looks for his gun, but a desk lamp turns on and we find 47 sitting in a chair with a gun drawn on him. We also get a quick shot of a dead body on the floor. 47 asks “how does a good man decide when to kill?”.  Flashback three months ago as 47 narrates for us. Whittier has spent the past three years chasing an assassin from “the Organization”, an agency of hitmen for hire that is so secret no one knows it exists. Except Whittier, apparently. We see 47 in Niger taking out a target with Whittier one step behind him, as always. Whittier has linked 47 to over a hundred kills, but no one believes him. “Character knows what's going on, but everyone think he's crazy” cliché, check.

Next stop is St. Petersburg, Russia, where 47 is drinking in a hotel bar while being excessively hit on by an attractive woman. He awkwardly leaves and goes back to his hotel room, booting up his laptop and reading a mens magazine while he waits. We see he's reading an article on how to pick up women, somehow failing to notice step one is “don't walk out while they're hitting on you”.

The laptop (via Organization contact Diana, a staple of the games) announces his next mission has been moved up and that the client wants the hit to be very public. The target is Russian President Belicoff, whose moderate and West-friendly political stance goes against the intentions of his enemies.  47 reviews his file, making a note he has a brother named Udre (played by Henry Ian Cusick of Lost fame/shame), who is an arms dealer. Belicoff is going to be speaking at a rally soon, which 47 chooses as the place to carry out his hit via sniper rifle.

At the rally 47 first shoots a bodyguard to get a clear shot at Belicoff, and then headshots the president. He easily escapes, because if this film teaches us nothing it's that security in Russia is something of a joke. As he's about to leave the country, 47 gets a text to call the office. He opens up his Organization logo branded laptop (because secrecy must come second to brand awareness) and learns a woman named Nika witnessed his hit and must be eliminated.

She is awaiting extraction by Interpol agents on a street corner, so 47 goes to intercept. He walks up to her on the street, about to draw his gun and shoot her- wait, seriously? He's just going to shoot her at pointblank range in front of hundreds of people? 47's supposed to be the like best assassin in history and that's what he's going with?  Before this incredibly incompetent hit can be carried out, Nika looks at him and doesn't react in the slightest. 47 realizes she's never seen him before as a person right in front of him suddenly gets shot in the head. We see another bald assassin with the bar code tattoo a distance away with a sniper rifle try to hit 47 but he escapes.

At the St. Petersburg airport, Whittier arrives where he learns Belicoff isn't dead but was just grazed in the head by the shot. Whittier believes the job was done by his target but is doubtful as he never misses. Jenkins, Whittier's partner, shows him footage of the hit and Whittier remarks on the large amounts of blood for something that wasn't lethal.  They get a call that 47 is at the Grand Hotel via an anonymous tip and rush off.

Back at the hotel, 47 reports to Diana that Nika was no witness. She tells him he won't be paid for the mission at it was a failure, showing him footage of Belicoff still being alive. 47 demands to know who the client was, warning if he's being setup he'll kill everyone at the Organization.  Outside Whittier butts heads with the head of the Russian Secret Police, Chief Agent Marklov. Whittier advises against just storming the hotel but of course Marklov doesn't listen, even when Whittier drops the “you have no idea what you're up against” line. Marklov is confident as all of his men are only two days way from retirement so nothing could possibly happen.

47 gets an actual phone call from Diana, who says she can be “retired” for contacting him directly. She tells him Belicoff was the client and that people are coming to get him. Cue the agents who try to smash their way into his room, tripping a bomb he set on the door and exploding themselves into slow motion gymnasts. Naturally, the Russian judge only gave their routine a “2”.  Using a rope that he tied to his balcony earlier, 47 comes crashing into a room on the lower floor. He finds himself in a room with two shocked kids playing the Hitman video game. 47 thinks this looks awesome, sitting down to play it with them. We're treated to a hilarious montage of him continuously failing missions, until he gets frustrated and shoots the TV out in slow motion.

Unfortunately, he gets so caught up playing the game the police have plenty of time to arrest him. As the cops carry him away, he turns to the camera and says “Hitman: Blood Money now in stores! Get your copy today!” and gives us a huge thumbs up, accented with a wink.

Cue the credits.

That would have been SUCH a better movie than what we're about to get. Instead, 47 retrieves two guns he had stashed in an ice machine and kills his way out of the hotel. He does take time to stop and do the trademark “arms crossed” pose from the games, which I have to admit is a nice little touch.  Whittier and the police search the burnt remains of 47's room, Whittier finding a suitcase full of various gadgets all helpfully branded with the Organization's logo. How is this group a secret again?

As Marklov arrives, Whittier secretly pockets an listening device. Whittier confronts Marklov with a photograph of the Belicoff hit, where a person has now been photoshopped in to cover up all the blood. Marklov feigns ignorance as to what he's getting at.  47 arrives at a motel where Nika is hiding, roughly grabbing her and dragging her to his car, where he throws her in the trunk with a dead body in it. He takes her to a hideout and interrogates her. We learn she's dating Belicoff and was told to meet his driver at the street corner where 47 saw her. She reveals Belicoff used body doubles just like Saddam Hussein did to kick off our convoluted plot.

Having got all the information he needs, 47 is about to kill her but then I guess he notices the dragon tattoo on her face which triggers a flashback of him getting his bar code tattoo which is suddenly enough to make him care about her.. or something.  He asks why she tattooed her face and she replies because it's the only place Belicoff wouldn't hit. What? He then asks about Udre, who we learn also runs slave girls and drugs in addition to weapons. Shouldn't he have asked that before he was going to shoot her? This whole scene feels really disjointed and out of order.

Now 47 wants Nika to come with him, as she's not safe anywhere else. He tells her the dead body she shared the trunk with was Belicoff's driver, and he had a gun on him to kill her. But why in the world would 47 wants the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo to tag along and almost certainly be a burden to him? Oh wait, Nika doesn't own a bra in this film!

Nika's only job in this film is to wear the skimpiest outfits humanly possible, or no clothes at all. I'd keep calling her the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but Miss Fanservice seems way more appropriate. Defying all logic, 47 takes her with him to a train station to escape the city despite having a car that'd be much easier to leave in.  Whittier and Jenkins are there, as they predicted that's where 47 would go. The bald assassin whom I'm going to call Agent 48 is also there. See? If 47 had just taken his car he could have avoided what is surely going to become a massive situation.

47 tells Nika to wait for him on a platform as he goes to get a security guard uniform. This would almost be a good idea except you can still see the massive bar code tattoo on the back of his head! This has always been one of my biggest problems with the games too, could you be anymore conspicuous? The bald head is bad enough for someone who would want to blend in, but such a huge noticeable tattoo would just set off flags of any sane person. I guess I can't fault the movie for this, it's just following the lead of its source material.

47 lures 48 into the lower tunnels, Jenkins mistaking 48 for 47 and following as well. 47 easily gets the drop on 48 and incapacitates him, but then sees an armed shadow at the end of the room. He follows the shadow into an old train car, where he walks into a trap of three more bald assassins. Who... all draw their guns... on each other.  Why?! Do the other hitmen also have their own movies going on where each has been framed for a murder they committed but actually didn't because they maybe killed the wrong guy... or something? And they just all happened to arrive at the same time? Or maybe since they all look the same they got confused which one was the target. But no, one is black so THAT can't be it.

Seriously, what the hell? But because this scene isn't already migraine inducingly stupid enough, 47 suggests that they all die with a little dignity. Each agent nods their head slowly in agreement, and they all unload their guns and drop them simultaneously. Then, because I'm not laughing hard enough already, they all pull blades out of their magic space inventory and engage in a 3-on-1 knife party.

Through a bland and overly choreographed fight, 47 emerges victorious. He goes back to 48 but decides to kill him without asking any questions. I'm surprised he didn't shoot him and THEN start asking for information. He also sees Nika hiding nearby, I guess she got bored and went looking for him?  Whittier and Jenkins appear, 47 disarming Jenkins by shooting him in the arm. 47 recognizes Whittier as the man who's been tracking him and shoots him in the stomach. He's about to kill him but Nika begs him not too, and since she's basically a Hooker With a Heart of Gold her powers work and he spares the Interpol agent.

It's worth noting the original version of this scene had Nika drag 47's arm down as he was shooting, causing him to miss Whittier. But I guess this made 47 seem too ruthless and he needed softening up, despite having killed 16 innocent cops a few scenes ago.  I'm thinking in Gens' version 47 was ruthless to the point of being not even remotely heroic, whereas the replacement Fox brought in went the other direction.  Unfortunately the movie is so poorly edited between these two versions 47 comes off VERY inconsistent.

Later, we see 47 has driven his car to a small gas station in the middle of nowhere. So what was the point of going to the train station?! I guess the world would have been a much darker place if we didn't have the assassin knife party.

Click here for Part 2!