Divergent and Nikita star Maggie Q deserves a starring position, however The Protégé doesn’t deserve Maggie Q. A by-the-numbers lady-assassin motion flick within the mould of Anna, Atomic Blonde, and Ava, The Protégé solely feels daring in its willingness to interrupt the alliterative titular sample of this specific subgenre. In any other case, it’s all standard-issue post-John Wick stuff: Beautiful feminine killer is betrayed, devotes herself to vengeance, and is liable for a spree of violence in worldwide locales. “Homicide me, Maggie Q” could be an acceptable response to The Protégé, however giving into the thirst means eye-rolling by means of a good quantity of silliness.
The Protégé is a film a couple of girl made by males — usually the case for this subgenre, as with the current Gunpowder Milkshake. Director Martin Campbell and author Richard Wenk craft their titular character with the standard unsurprisingly bland mix of gender stereotypes. Anna Dutton (Maggie Q) is a badass who can determine weapons by the sound their bullets make coming into the chamber, however she additionally wears Manolo Blahniks and designer garments. She bakes apple pies from scratch in her multi-thousand-dollar La Cornue oven, and also can energy by means of quite a few waterboarding classes with out shedding her cool. It’s solely due to her impenetrable self-assuredness that the character holds collectively in any respect, and solely due to her dedication as a martial artist and stuntwoman that the motion scenes have any verve or thrill. Not one of the males round her (and it’s, in fact, solely males round her) can actually sustain.
The Protégé begins in Vietnam in 1991, when murderer Moody Dutton (Samuel L. Jackson), in nods to Léon: The Skilled and Kill Invoice: Quantity 1, takes Anna beneath his wing. On the time, she’s a younger woman (Eva Nguyen Thorsen) with a gun in her hand and an array of rebels’ our bodies scattered round her. Thirty years later, that woman has grown as much as be Anna, Moody’s shut good friend and companion within the gun-for-hire enterprise. They dwell poshly in London with palatial residences and top-tier automobiles, they do jobs throughout Europe, they usually’re one another’s solely actual household.
However quickly after Moody turns 70, three occasions change Anna’s life. First, he asks her to search out out what occurred to a 9-year-old boy named Lucas Hayes, who Moody was liable for defending in Vietnam when he was there within the Nineties, however who disappeared after his father Edward, a famous struggle felony, was killed by a automobile bomb. Second, Anna meets a mysterious man named Rembrandt (Michael Keaton), who flirts together with her by quoting Edgar Allan Poe and calling her “attention-grabbing.” (It’s as meaningless a praise as “positive.”) And third, Anna realizes Moody’s questions on Lucas will lead her again to Vietnam, so she decides to lastly return to her delivery nation to search out solutions concerning the case, and herself.
Except for the “feminine murderer goes dwelling to turn out to be complete” trope, which is so acquainted that Black Widow prolonged it into a whole movie, The Protégé will get twisted right into a pretzel made up of various agendas, hidden identities, and shared histories. All of that is wrapped round Anna, which implies that Maggie Q shares most of her scenes with male actors many years older than her: Jackson, taking part in her father determine; Keaton, taking part in her love curiosity; and Robert Patrick, taking part in a motorcycle-riding ally named Billy Boy.
Every of these actors brings in their very own particular person late-career freewheeling vitality: Jackson is in the identical mode he’s been in by means of each Hitman’s Bodyguard films, whereas Keaton is mainly reprising Vulture from Spider-Man: Homecoming. Though the familiarity of those performances makes for undemanding watching, it additionally imbues Anna’s pairings with a sure repetitive sameness. She isn’t handled as a wunderkind or trainee a lot as she’s handled like everybody’s daughter, and that dynamic lends a specific ickiness when the movie thrusts her and Keaton in opposition to one another, our bodies grinding in one thing we are supposed to assume is intercourse. (Whereas Campbell and Wenk are completely snug displaying exploded and decapitated heads, or the blood splatter from murdered youngsters, they’re surprisingly cagey about displaying Maggie Q and Keaton kissing.)
And though Maggie Q holds her personal in opposition to these bombastic personalities by underplaying her line deliveries and counting on barely bemused sarcasm, The Protégé usually feels caught in a single gear. The movie solely comes alive throughout its motion scenes, which profit from her grace and energy. In a single sequence, she flips open a cellphone with a knife hidden inside, stabs a person within the neck, after which kicks out at different attackers in opposing instructions. In one other, she loops a dagger in a wild arc, scutters up a vent system, tiptoes alongside a slim pipe as bullets whiz throughout her, then launches herself off a balcony, utilizing a hearth hose to rappel down a number of tales.
This can be a movie the place Maggie Q balances her manner out of a noose. She fires by means of a fridge door and drenches her assailant with milk and bits of meals; she flips and kicks and shoots. However all of that occurs in the identical film that asks her to maintain a straight face whereas saying, “You level a gun at my pussy, and then you definitely ask me to mattress? I like your fashion.” A few of The Protégé’s missteps might be tolerated as a result of the movie offers Maggie Q a lead position with some tooth, however that line asks an excessive amount of. The Protégé can’t simply let Anna kick ass: It has to tack on a try-hard romantic subplot whose major operate appears to be insisting that Anna is a wild sexual being. Is that related to the story at hand? Probably not. It’s a disgrace Maggie Q was so busy carrying The Protégé on her again that she couldn’t make time to kick the movie’s embarrassing script into form, too.
The Protégé opens in theaters on August 20.