Blackhat isn’t a failure because it’s a January release, it’s a January release because of a miscast hacker hero who’s an unbelievable super-spy battling a nasty “buttoned-shirt” allergy. Liam Hemsworth tried his hand at the cyber-thriller genre with 2013’s atrocious Paranoia, and this year sees his brother Chris attempting his own brand of ass-kicking techno-intensity under the guidance of director Michael Mann (Public Enemies) – short circuiting thanks to its own unique backlog of bugs. Be it Mann’s constantly out-of-focus vision, Hemsworth’s lame Rocky Balboa accent (listen for it), or writer Morgan Davis Foehl’s nauseatingly formulaic screenplay, Blackhat is nothing but awkward product placement and safely coded criminal dramatics. An actual Y2K bug would have been a more welcoming start to 2015 – yikes.
Chris Hemsworth stars as Nicholas Hathaway, an incarcerated computer wiz who is selected to join a team of American and Chinese agents hunting a cyber criminal at large. Discovering that a code he helped develop years ago is being manipulated by whoever is behind a recent string of attacks, Nicholas is able to trace a breadcrumb trail that leads his team all over the world, but not without drawing some unwanted attention. Thrust into a tangled web of deception, corruption, and imminent destruction, Nicholas must complete his investigative mission if he ever wants to taste freedom again – but he’ll have to make it out of China alive, first.
So, where do I start with Blackhat, a film whose first impression recreates a rollercoaster ride through cyberspace that’s reminiscent of current Regal theater pre-shows where the screen mimics a film-reel-coaster. How about by mentioning Stuart Dryburgh’s frantic, erratic cinematography tactics that make audiences feel as if they’re experiencing a type of minor earthquake? Or how Mann’s personal style avoids cinematic framing and crisp, rendered shots, instead opting for plain, news-show-worthy lighting and subsequent sizzler reels, mistaking flat, bright visuals for realism? Fight sequences whiz by in a flurry of quick-cuts, impossible-to-view choreography, and a dizzying lack of stability, which unjustly loses Hemsworth amidst a blurry mess of thrown fists and broken bottles. Why adopt the most frustrating found footage methodologies when safely filming in third person, I ask?
Ignoring how visually handcuffed Hemsworth finds his action-hero outbursts, the Australian heartthrob also finds himself playing a characterless, generic male protagonist, whose most challenging adversary seems to be shirts that stay buttoned for more than twenty seconds. He’s nothing but a confusing hacker meathead without any defining characteristics besides chiseled abs and bulgy pecs that Mann attempts to unnecessarily showcase whenever possible. There’s absolutely no chemistry between Hemsworth and actress Wei Tang either, as they are crassly thrust together in an attempt to muster a modicum of romantic pornography for lovestruck audiences stuck watching the film.
Blackhat itself settles on being the worst kind of “thriller,” in that not a single creative liberty seems the least bit dangerous. Viola Davis is called in to play the “sassy black agent,” love blossoms out of thin air, and a final confrontation takes place during a crowded local celebration – everything we’ve seen from a billion other watered-down thrillers. Foehl’s plotting effortlessly connects the assumed dots an online thriller might follow, and Mann’s direction safely paints inside those lines as if to streamline simplicity even farther – there isn’t a single unique moment from Blackhat that’s not erased by a goofy, all-too-perfect ending that such a movie dictates hours before the inevitable outcome. No, really, HOURS – thanks to an insufferable two-hour-and-fifteen-minute marathon run time.
Hemsworth gets to rough up a few henchmen, there’s some quick action peppered in as a change of pace, and settings vary from dark US cities to vibrant Chinese locales, but Blackhat is nothing but a big, bland bowl of vanilla cyber-pudding that can’t even manage to be enjoyably generic. It’s hard enough accepting Nicholas Hathaway’s rapid transition from hunky hacker into hunky-hacker-turned-ace-agent, but all hope is lost after he yells “Does anyone have an Android phone?!” – with conviction forced by advertising money. Blackhat was supposed to display a dramatic range in comparison to Hemsworth’s mighty Asgardian God, but instead we’re left yearning for another of Thor’s charming adventures as a rejuvenating palate cleanser.
The name “Hemsworth” just doesn’t belong in the “cyber thriller” genre, it seems.
Blackhat is a sparkless cyber-thriller in which Chris Hemsworth's most worthy adversary is a shirt with buttons, as he constantly fights a losing battle to keep them fastened.