Director Martin Campbell has had an interesting career, from directing gritty and exceptional spy films like Casino Royale (2006) and GoldenEye (1995) to the nearly atrocious Green Lantern (2011). But regardless of some of his questionable directorial choices, there’s no doubt Campbell is beyond capable of directing entertaining films for audiences to be latched and engaged. Luckily for Campbell, he delivers yet again, a good time with his new feature, The Protégé. In this rambunctious film, we follow Anna Dutton (Maggie Q) years after being rescued as a child by the infamous assassin and now father figure, Moody Dutton (Samuel L. Jackson).
After being meticulously trained by Moody, Anna is now an extremely deadly assassin taking up contracts and eliminating targets with Moody at her side. But the consequences of stacking so many bodies over the years have finally taken their toll, with Anna now being hunted, she must track down and eliminate the individuals seeking to end her and the ones she loves. At the same time, finds herself entangled with her charming assassin, Michael Rembrandt, played by Michael Keaton.
The Protégé is one of those action films that you feel like you’ve seen before but sort of stick around because of its mindless and fun attitude. Sticking to a generic action film formula, revenge and badassery are the key themes the film sticks to and clumsily executes. But again, Campbell is no stranger to the action genre, so he’s able to somewhat redeem and make up for parts of the film that fall flat. And by far the best aspects of this film come from the cast and the action scenes.
We’re given a cast that works very well together such as Maggie Q (Mission Impossible: III, Naked Weapon, Fantasy Island), who has made a name for herself and mixes well with Samuel L Jackson and his banter, creating a charming onscreen duo. But these two aren’t the only seasoned actors in this film, Michael Keaton makes his appearance here, playing the very suave and skilled assassin coupling effectively with Maggie Q’s character.
The dialogue between each character is one of the highlights of this film, combining crude humor with witty repartee. The scenes involving action are also thankfully competent, with decent choreography and it is well shot for the most part. Such a smart decision to cast Maggie Q as the tough protagonist, as she is well known to be trained in the martial art Wing Chun. Each fight scene involving her character feels believable, and it’s always exciting to visually see the actor in combat rather than a double.
And writer Richard Wenk, known for his writing credits for Expendables 2, The Equalizer 1, and The Equalizer 2, writes interesting banter that holds up the film and feels snappy rather than dull, and the dynamics amid the characters are quite enjoyable. Though as you watch the film, you begin to notice Wenk wanting to stray far from the clichés that usually accompany action films, yet writes in many action hero tropes that dilute the characters. Not only that but Wenk almost forgets about character development and instead decides to push snappy dialogue in your face, rather than expanding on our characters. The Protégé lacks tension during most of the film, feeling little to nothing when Maggie Q’s character is in danger.
It can be frustrating watching characters either shrug off or fail to acknowledge the bullets flying past their face, dialing the intensity to implausibility. Wenk continues to write in subplots that are more interesting than the narrative, cramming in senseless information and answers to questions not many really cared to learn. With most of the problems born from strange writing decisions, the film becomes a very slightly above-average action film. There’s not a lot of original ideas introduced, and the film feels like your run-of-the-mill action thriller looking to make a quick buck.
Although the film is neither groundbreaking or at all inspirational, Wenk and Campbell deliver more of a fun rather than a smart action-packed thriller. Offering a cluster of competently made choreography and a fair amount of forgivable writing between characters, The Protégé presents itself as the one-dimensional and linear action film of 2021. The material given lacks originality but looks to create an amusing mess for the people seeking a mindless film to sit through for almost 2 hours. It’ll sure captivate you for those 2 hours, but it by no means conveys any deeper meanings or is looking to change your perspective, and you’ll walk out of the theater forgetting a majority of the film.