The Rebooting of ‘Blackhat’
Michael Mann’s cyber-thriller seemed destined to fade into obscurity after bombing in 2015. Its champions pushed it toward a different fate.
Even Michael Mann can’t seem to figure out why Blackhat landed with such a thud. In a recent Variety profile, Mann offers seemingly contradictory explanations for why the film perfumed so poorly at the box office in January 2015, when it opened in 11th place, earning slightly less than Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb in its seventh week of release. “It’s my responsibility. The script was not ready to shoot,” he says, then follows it with “The subject may have been ahead of the curve, because there were a number of people who thought this was all fantasy. Wrong. Everything is stone-cold accurate.”
So which is it? An unpolished script or an ahead-of-its-time premise? Or was it star Chris Hemsworth’s fault? Hemsworth seemed to think so at one point. “I didn’t enjoy what I did in the film,” he said in 2019, also speaking to Variety. “It just felt flat, and it was also an attempt to do what I thought people might have wanted to see.” In many ways, Hemsworth is echoing the complaints found in many reviews at the time, which found his casting as a god-level hacker implausible.
Hemsworth wasn’t the only target of criticism. At The Dissolve, our own Scott Tobias wrote of its “lumpy pacing” and struggled to embrace Mann’s use of digital filmmaking, noting it robs Blackhat of the “visual lushness” of Mann’s earlier films but “more closely connects his story to the lower-resolution tools of the day.” Others didn’t mince words. Reviewing the film for the Washington Post, Michael O’Sullivan called it “one of the most visually unattractive movies I’ve ever seen. Seemingly shot on a shaky smartphone, Mann’s blurry, jerkily edited digital video is hard to read, especially during action sequences.”
And yet, signs of Blackhat’s resurrection—which has seemingly reached its culmination with the release of a (typically well done) deluxe 4K and Blu-ray reissue from Arrow Video—were starting to appear even as its obituaries were being written. Other reviewers were far kinder in 2015. Manohla Dargis, for instance, noted in her New York Times review that it was filled with Mann’s familiar “obsessions, tropes, sights and sounds” and, not forgotten in December, it landed on several best-of-the-year lists.
So who got it right: those who could see only Blackhat’s shortcomings or those who treasured the way it folded familiar Mann elements into a globetrotting cyber thriller?