From the director of Casino Royale, the studio behind John Wick, and the writer of The Equalizer comes a film that really wants to be another Casino Royale, John Wick, or Equalizer. The Protégé ultimately shares more in common with Martin Campbell’s last two action thrillers, Edge of Darkness and The Foreigner. It’s serviceable entertainment that you’ll enjoy enough throughout, but the film won’t stick with you beyond one viewing. Considering that Campbell saved James Bond twice, the other time being GoldenEye, one can’t help but wish that The Protégé left more of an impression. At its best, though, Campbell gives us a glimpse of the female 007 movie that MGM will probably never make.
Maggie Q has proven time after time that she was born to be an action star. While she once again brings the martial arts and badass glances in The Protégé, we also get to see a side of her that wasn’t showcased in the Mission: Impossible or Die Hard franchises. Behind closed doors, Q’s Anna is a deadly assassin who’s been trained to kill since childhood. Outside of the throat-slitting and headshots, though, Anna is funny, charming, and highly sophisticated. It kind of makes you want to see Q in a romantic comedy. There’s even a scene between her and Michael Keaton in a book store that calls Notting Hill to mind.
Raised by Samuel L. Jackson’s Moody, Anna is sent on the path of vengeance following a tragedy. This brings her to her birthplace of Vietnam where she’s reunited with a biker gang led by Robert Patrick. She also develops a close relationship with a mysterious figure named Rembrandt, played by Keaton. Q and Keaton’s scenes are easily the movie’s best. The two walk a fine line between wanting to kill each other and sleep together, sometimes in the same scene. In addition to James Bond, the attraction is almost reminiscent of a Hitchcock thriller. While some may find the age difference off-putting, the chemistry between the two is undeniable.
Q also has a nice rapport with Jackson, who’s like a father, fun uncle, and best friend all rolled into one. The three stars and an occasionally well-choreographed fight scene elevate what’s otherwise a shallow script. Motivation is The Protégé’s biggest problem. The best action movies give us a simple reason to root for the hero. John Wick wants payback for his dog’s death. The Equalizer wants to defend those who can’t defend themselves. Anna starts with a relatable motivation, but it suddenly changes in the final act. A villain is shoehorned in that we learn little about, leaving us to wonder what Anna is fighting for. More importantly, we’re not given much reason to care.
The Protégé would be an easy enough pass if it weren’t for the cast. Yet, the presence of Q, Keaton, and Jackson goes a long way. If you’re willing to look past the underdeveloped plot, as well as the fakest looking mustache and severed head of recent memory, the cast does make for an amusing watch. If the film guarantees Q more starring roles in the future, it’ll have done its job.