I suppose I should give credit to Blackhat for not making its hacking scenes unbearably poor. I mean, maybe coders and real-life hackers will see them as silly and not at all how it works in reality, but at least to the average viewer, the hacking sequences seem at least kind of what hacking scenes might look like. That’s something that the movies can often get wrong, and at least Blackhat doesn’t get it horribly wrong.
Unfortunately, that’s about the only thing in Blackhat that’s worth even a little bit of praise. The rest of it is simplistic, predictable, uninspired, and for some inexplicable reason runs for 130+ minutes. If this movie was edited down to 90 minutes it might be tolerable; as it is, it’s almost unbearable. It’s not ambitious enough, and while it takes on a subject that might actually make you think about the potential being there for this to happen in the real world, it doesn’t do anything well enough to make it feel real, or make you care that it could be real.
The plot begins when a power plant being hacked into and being overloaded. This is in China. An attempt is made to do the same in America, but was unsuccessful. So, the two countries team up in order to take down the man behind it. Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang), speaks both languages, so he heads up the Chinese side. America is represented by Carol Barrett (Viola Davis). The code the hacker is using was created by Chen and his MIT roommate, Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth), who is currently serving 15 years for causing millions of damages to banks by, you guessed it, hacking into their systems. Of course, Chen decides to bring in Hathaway in order to figure out a way to get the criminal, with promises of freedom if he’s caught.
What this essentially becomes is a spy movie. Not a good one, either. We monitor the bad guys, then there’s a shootout, then we move onto another bad guy or group of bad guys. Another shootout, and we move on again. Most of the time, we’re watching bad guys or looking at computer screens. The brief shootouts — that’s really the only action Blackhat has — aren’t particularly involving or entertaining.
It’s aimless. There’s a big subplot involving Hathaway and Chen’s sister (Wei Tang) that takes up so much time and is just so stupid. They instantly fall in love and then … nothing much happens. Wei Tang hangs around and some decisions are made because of their romance, but it’s just so stupid and pointless, existing in an attempt to bring some pathos to both characters but failing to do that at a fundamental level.
Actually, a lot of the movie is like that. It wants to be smart, but it’s stupid. It wants us to care, but we’re unable. It tries to thrill, but we’re bored. It doesn’t even look particularly good! And this is a Michael Mann movie! He’s a director who’s done some of the best action ever. What went wrong? How did he make something so bad that it’s getting dumped by the studio in mid-January in hope that the weak competition will help it turn a profit? I’d really like to know the answer to that question.
Chris Hemsworth is the “good” Hemsworth brother, but he’s not particularly good in the role. I don’t know how he would be, though; his character’s written poorly. He’s supposed to be really smart, but rarely demonstrates this. But he worked out a lot in prison, so he has Hemsworth’s physique. Meanwhile, everyone else in the cast is more or less just along for the ride. Leehom Wang, Wei Tang, Viola Davis — they don’t really play characters here; they play accessories to Hemsworth who get to be in the movie until their jobs are fulfilled and they can exit.
About as exciting as watching me type up this review would be — although slightly more violent, probably — Blackhat is a film that fails at every turn. It wants to make us care about what happens, but can’t. It wants to thrill us by taking us into the world of cyberterrorism, but is often so stupid and predictable that it can’t succeed. It tacks on a horrible romantic subplot and plays for about 40 minutes too long. Blackhat is a dud.