The first Hitman videogame was an instant smash when it hit PCs in 2000. Four more entries followed, and though the franchise has never quite reached the popular heights of blockbusters like Tomb Raider, Grand Theft Auto, or Halo, the Hitman series still remains one of the coolest around. With its sleek visuals, memorable main character (a genetically-engineered assassin code-named Agent 47), and a backstory that seems ripped straight from the pages of a graphic novel, the series always seemed like an obvious candidate for a big Hollywood movie adaptation. Needless to say, when Fox finally announced a Hitman movie was going into production, the gaming and fanboy communities geared up with excitement, expecting nothing less than a kick-ass flick.
Unfortunately, rumors of a troubled production soon surfaced on the net, and the bad buzz snowballed into an avalanche. By the time 'Hitman' finally sneaked into theaters last December, there was little excitement, and the film grossed a respectable if unspectacular $40 million domestically. Having missed the flick in the theaters, and given the ominous mood that greeted its release, I went in with zero expectations for this Blu-ray. That may have been a good thing, since although 'Hitman' is not a great movie, it is enjoyable enough in its own meager way that fans might actually like it.
The plot of the movie doesn't replicate any one of the original videogames, but boy, is it ever complicated enough for ten of them. The film wastes no time introducing us to Agent 47 (a bald Timothy Olyphant, looking scarily like a bald Billy Zane), who it is being framed for the apparent murder of Russian President Mikhail Belicoff (Ulrich Thomsen). 47 is informed that a prostitute, Nika (Olga Kurylenko), may have witnessed the crime, so he's assigned to rub her out. Unfortunately, the set-up goes awry, and things really get weird when it turns out Belicoff is actually alive, and that his drug-pushing brother Udre (Henry Ian Cusick), may be more involved than it first appeared. Meanwhile, Interpol agent Mike Whittier (Dougray Scott, a long way from TV's "Desperate Housewives"), who has been tracking the Hitman for the past three years, gets wind of the whole mess, and is determined to finally nail his assassin.
'Hitman' suffers by having to distill the game's considerable mythology down to a movie-length 94 minutes. Unfortunately, much is lost in the translation. Agent 47 was barely fleshed out before the over-stuffed plot kicked in, forcing me to pay such close attention to all the story details (I seriously whipped out a notepad at one point to take notes) that little else registered. Olyphant certainly has the mean-dude stare down pat (and the guy looks like he could crush my head with a simple flick of his fingers), but that's about the extent of the characterization. The result is a hollow cipher at the center of a whirlwind of stock action movie components.
The story is also hampered by some misguided attempts to add substance to the mix. The Agent 47/Nika romance just doesn't gel, a situation only exacerbated by the realization that essentially the same story device was employed much, much more effectively by Matt Damon and Franke Potente in the 'Bourne' films. Scott also comes off as a pretty wimpy foil to Olyphant, and a stronger, tougher actor might have made the cat and mouse game a bit more suspenseful. Thomsen is also a bit of a bore as the duplicitous Belicoff -- it's ironic that Olyphant's villain in the last 'Die Hard' flick is actually better than the one he battles here.
Despite the fact that 'Hitman' is pretty much a mess, I will go out on the limb and recommend the movie to action movie fans because it is so gleefully kinetic. As directed by Xavier Gens, it's wall-to-wall style, albeit styles borrowed from any half-dozen Tony Scott, Rob Cohen, and John Woo movies. There seems to be an edit just about every other second (even during the "dramatic" scenes), so regardless of whether or not I knew what the heck was going on, there was always something cool to look at (however briefly).
'Hitman' is also excessively violent, which should appeal to fans of the games. Fox presents the film in its Unrated form on Blu-ray, and it revels in the label -- limbs are hacked off, bodies riddled with bullets, and blood splatters all over the walls. I found it oft-putting (particularly the almost fetishistic nature of the sadism and the lingering shots of torture), but it's exactly what fans of the character probably want. I can't say the movie is anywhere near the level of the best videogame adaptations (or even light-hearted schlock like 'Tomb Raider'), but if you are in a guilty-pleasure mood and want to get your rocks off watching lots of mindlessly-stylized violence, then 'Hitman' is your movie.
Fox presents 'Hitman' in 2.35:1 widescreen and 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 video, confined to a BD-25 single-layer disc. This is a solid presentation of a good-looking movie, even if the transfer doesn't quite earn the title of demo disc.
'Hitman' looks as slick as you'd expect for a new release, with a pristine print and excellent, deep blacks. Colors have a hard-edge to them, with intense primaries, as well as use of a darker palette (especially the attractive crimsons, blues and browns). Contrast runs a little hot (which seems to be de rigeur these days on action movies), but remains well detailed. The image is also razor-sharp, but free of edge enhancement, so despite the overt stylization of colors and contrast, it remains relatively natural.
I have only two major caveats regarding the transfer. The first is the level of black crush, which is steep and removes fine visible detail in even moderately dark scenes. More distracting however was the level of noise -- I was quite surprised at how heavy it could be in certain shots (usually those with intense contrast). I didn't find these problems absolutely devastating, but they were prominent enough that I knocked down the Video rating by a star. All in all, though, 'Hitman' still looks quite good.
'Hitman' enjoys a DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/24-bit), along with a French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (640kbps) option and subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Korean and Chinese. It's an aggressive, sometimes pummeling mix.
Action elements shine. Surround use is intense, especially with gunfire, explosions, and crunching metal. Discrete effects bounce all around the soundfield, with movement between channels quite seamless. Score deployment is also superior, and combined with the effects, the overall intensity of sound can be quite impressive. The subwoofer also packs a wallop, with low bass extension that can rival the best Blu-ray audio presentation I've heard.
Unfortunately, there is not much else that's noteworthy about the mix. Any scene without action falls flat, with near-quiet surrounds, aside from score bleed. Even at a decent volume, the dynamic between loud and quiet scenes can be so lopsided as to be distracting. Surprisingly, however, dialogue held up well against the onslaught, so at least I could always understand what the actors were saying. If you can deal with the peaks and valleys of the film's sound design, you should get a kick out of listening to 'Hitman.'
'Hitman' is, well, hitting Blu-ray day-and-date with the DVD version. Both editions include identical extras, though the Blu-ray does benefit from all of the video extras being presented in full 1080 video. (No subtitle options are provided on any of the supplements.)
'Hitman' is a no-nonsense, sometimes brutal action film. Unfortunately, it lacks personality, and often lapses into the most generic cliches of the genre. This Blu-ray release is pretty strong however, with solid video and audio, as well as an array of extras. More discerning action movie fans might want to take a pass, but if you're in an undemanding mood, 'Hitman' is probably worth a rent.