FlixChatter Review: THE PROTÉGÉ (2021)

Is it just me or every action flick these days always want to be associated with John Wick. Granted it’s a lucrative franchise but really, the secret ingredient for its success is Keanu Reeves. So the same studio hopes they could launch another action franchise with yet another actor of Euro-Asian descent. Maggie Q, who Irish/Vietnamese was apparently discovered by legendary action star Jackie Chan when she was doing films in Hong Kong. I remember her from a few episodes of CW’s Nikita, but haven’t seen her in anything since, so it’s cool to see her finally get a feature leading role as Anna in The Protégé.

theprotege-maggie-q

The movie starts off with the protagonist Anna’s origin story back in Saigon on a grim, rainy night. Discovered by a legendary assassin named Moody (Samuel L. Jackson, natch!) as a young girl, he immediately adopted her and trained her to be a contract killer. Director Martin Campbell didn’t waste time to let us know just how skilled and deadly Anna is while on a job in Bucharest, Romania. It’s definitely a cool intro introducing Maggie Q’s potent cred as an assassin. Cool as a cucumber, she has no qualms in killing people… in fact she seems to relish in it.

The fact that Campbell has directed two of my favorite Bond films, Goldeneye and Casino Royale, there’s a deliberate Bond-like vibe about the movie. There’s the exotic locations, stunning locations, and the fact that Anna is also based in London. It’s actually refreshing to see a bad-ass female heroine who isn’t morose or have a chip on her shoulder, she seems happy living her double life as a contract killer and rare bookstore owner. She’s shown quoting Edgar Allan Poe though there’s not a single scene of her actually reading a book, ahah. But really, who has time when you’ve got people to kill and vengeance to pull off.

theprotege-slj-maggie-q

Let’s just say the first half hour of the film is really enjoyable and promising. I enjoyed the surprisingly sweet father/son dynamics between her and Sam Jackson, especially the moment she gave him a very expensive vintage electric guitar. Clearly being a contract killer is massively lucrative business, Moody’s palatial home looks like those owned by Bond villains! Then there’s the somewhat of a meet-cute with Michael Keaton‘s Rembrandt at her store. Now at this point, I was more amused by this flirty exchange despite the nearly 30-year age difference between the two actors. More on this later.

theprotege-still

You know the action trope of ‘you can’t escape the past,’ well that’s especially true for assassins. Anna finds Moody brutally killed one night, which leads her back to her home country to track down his killer. I have to say the main reason to see this movie is to see MaggieQ kick ass and she absolutely delivers on that front. She trades her long reddish hair with a sharp, jet black bob-cut that shows off her features and makes her look even cooler and meaner.

There are some genuinely thrilling action stunts inside a sleek skyscraper where she continually eludes her captors. She’s proven lethal even with just a piece of metal tray or twisted sheet as she is with a gun. I love when an actress playing a femme fatale looks believable that she can perform her own stunts, and she sure fights with style. 

theprotege-action-scene

Unfortunately style is mostly what this movie has going for it. Campbell’s direction is uneven, the more thrilling bits are often held back by overuse of unnecessary flashbacks. Writer Richard Wenk‘s (The Equalizer, The Expendables) is laden with clichés and throwaway characters. In fact, one of the actors Ray Fearon, has a strong presence but not sure what the point of his character was and he’s gone before you even figure it out. The twisty plot is overly convoluted that it takes the fun out of the movie in the third act. I think there’s something intriguing here, but it’s not explained well at all. It doesn’t matters that the actual villain is so laughably weak he seems like an afterthought. What’s worse, they even made an initially intriguing character but make him rather pointless delivering some morality speech about choosing the path of evil. SPOILER ALERT [highlight to read] Why make Moody come back to life (a la Nick Fury who only pretended to have been killed) if you’re going to have him die in a murder suicide?!! And what’s with THAT ending?? It’s frustrating to see all that build-up ultimately leads to a lame payback.

theprotege-michael-keaton

As for the half-baked romance between Anna and Rembrandt, let’s just say it’s a hit and miss. I enjoyed watching the flirtatious banter in the restaurant which seems to be modeled after the Casino Royale‘s train scene between Bond and Vesper. Even the way Anna, in a heart-stopping red dress, leaves the room reminds me of when Vesper walked through the Casino with all the men drooling over her. The seductive vibe between them is fun initially, though I think it would have been much sexier (and less cringe-worthy) had the filmmakers kept the sexual tension brimming but left it at that. As much as I enjoy seeing Keaton in a movie, I feel like he’s strangely miscast here as an action AND romantic lead. On the way home my husband and I thought perhaps someone like Pierce Brosnan would’ve been a better fit and kinda fun to see him as a sort of Bond baddie. But hey, at least they gave Keaton quite a bit to do here in terms of action, compared to Robert Patrick who’s completely wasted here. 

theprotege-keaton-maggie-q

Despite its shortcomings and there are plenty, I still think it’s worth a look for all the MaggieQ’s action scenes alone. It’s as if Campbell was making his vision of a female Bond, a powerful killing machine with equal style and sex appeal. Except she wouldn’t need Q as she’s already born with it (sorry I can’t help it!!) In any case, based on her commanding presence and phenomenal action work, I hope we get to see more of her in the leading role, but hopefully with a more compelling narrative well worth her (and our) time.

2halfReels


Have you seen The Protégé? I’d love to hear what you think!

FlixChatter Review: Casino Royale (2006)

CasinoRoyalePoster


This review was part of Mark & Tom’s Decades Blogathon that was published back in mid May. But since July 6 is Eva Green’s birthday, I decided to post it here this week.


I can’t believe it’s been a decade since Casino Royale came out. I just re-watched it this weekend to refresh my memory for the blogathon, though I had probably re-watched it a few times in the last 10 years. It’s still as good as the first time I saw it, and I still would regard it as one of my favorite Bond films… ever. I’ve mentioned Casino Royale so many times here on my blog, in fact it’s one of my fave films of 2000s and one of the 8 films I’d take with me if I were stuck on a desert island.

Like many Bond fans, I too had trepidation about Daniel Craig casting (too blond, too short, etc.) but of course we’re all proven wrong the second he appeared on the pre-credit scene. Craig might not be the most good looking Bond actor (and he is the shortest), but he more than made up for it in charisma AND swagger. Apart from Craig’s brilliant casting, it’s the story that makes this film so re-watchable. It’s not only a great Bond film, it’s a great film, period. An origin story of sort, James Bond goes on his first ever mission as 007, and he didn’t get off on the right foot with M right away. The scene when M berated Bond when he broke into her flat was intense but humorous, a perfect balancing act the film continuously play throughout. It’s not the first time we see the venerable Dame Judi Dench as M, but I must say I LOVE the banter between her and Craig even more.

CasinoRoyale5

A great Bond film has to have an effective adversary and we find that in Mads Mikkelsen‘s Le Chiffre, a cold-looking Scandinavian with a bleeding eye. It would’ve been a silly gimmick if not played carefully, but here Le Chiffre is a cool and ominous villain. The fact that he’s really not a mastermind in the likes of Blofeld or Drax, but the fact that he’s not hellbent in ruling or destroying the entire world is frankly refreshing. He is a banker to the world’s terrorists, and so his only motive is money, like most of real world villains are. And a great Bond film also needs a memorable Bond girl. Well, Eva Green‘s Vesper Lynd is perhaps the hottest cinematic accountant ever. “I’m the money,” she quips the first time she enters the screen and into Bond’s heart. To this day I’m still enamored by the train scene to Montenegro, the way Bond & Vesper banter each other with wit and sexual undercurrents is what Bond movies are all about. Vesper is no Bimbo and that automatically made her a bazillion times more intriguing than bombshells in lesser Bond movies.

CasinoRoyale4 CasinoRoyale_Vesper

Casino Royale isn’t big on gadgetry, and as a longtime Bond fan, I actually didn’t mind it. It’s got everything else one would expect in a Bond movie – the cars, the exotic locations, the suspense, action and quick wit – it’s all there. Compared to Craig Bond movies, the Roger Moore versions feel more like a drama given how relentless and vigorous all the action sequences are. The opening parkour/free running scene apparently took six weeks to shoot and my goodness, I’m out of breath just watching it! This is one sprightly Bond and Craig did most of his own stunts, so it looks believable that he was the one doing the action in the movie. He reportedly has the injuries to prove it too! The car chase wasn’t overlong, but dayum was it memorable. The scene where Aston Martin missed Vesper by a hair and rolled over multiple times still took my breath away every time I saw it.

CasinoRoyale3

But all of that action stuff wouldn’t have mattered much without a grounding story. I think the last time Bond was genuinely romantic and emotional was On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which was when Bond fell in love. The scene of Bond tenderly comforting Vesper in the shower is one of my favorite scenes in all of the Bond films. There is nothing erotic or sexual in this scene, instead it packs an emotional wallop that makes Bond/Vesper relationship one of the best and most convincing romances in a Bond movie. The love story in Casino Royale is core to the plot and it was woven perfectly into all the espionage intrigue.

Vesper: You’re not going to let me in there, are you? You’ve got your armour back on. That’s that.

Bond: I have no armour left. You’ve stripped it from me. Whatever is left of me – whatever is left of me – whatever I am – I’m yours.

Bond films are known for being an eye and ear candy, and this probably ranks as one of the most beautifully-shot. The scenery in Venice as Bond stroll in the Grand Canal is especially striking, topped off by the intense fight scene in a crumbling house (shot at Pinewood Studios modeled after Venice’s Hotel Danieli). The soundtrack also ranks as one of the best, done by David Arnold with an homage to the legendary composer John Barry. I can’t get over how much I love the track City of Lovers, which I’ve highlighted for my Music Break here. The theme song You Know My Name by Chris Cornell is also one of my favorite Bond songs, and the cards-themed opening sequence is spectacularly-done.

CasinoRoyale6

Per IMDb, this was the first James Bond movie to be based on a full-length Ian Fleming novel since Moonraker 27 years prior. Goldeneye‘s director Martin Campbell helmed the film from a screenplay from Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis. I wish Campbell would be back in the director seat again as his previous two Bond films rate as one of my all time favorites. There’s so much style & sophistication in abundance here, but never at the expense of story & character. What I also love is that the quieter moments in the movie is still just as intriguing as the high-octane action scenes. That poker game in Montenegro is brimming with elegance as well as suspense, whilst showcasing the film’s excellent production design and costume design. Vesper’s plunging purple dress is a real head-turner and I don’t think Craig has looked more suave than in his tuxedo that Vesper tailor-made for him.

I really can go on and on about this movie as it’s really a masterpiece in the 50 years of James Bond films we’ve got so far. It also made me even more dismayed that the recent film in which the plot directly followed this one was such a downgrade. Looking back at Casino Royale‘s fantastic finale with Bond introducing himself to Mr. White, I expected SO much more than what they gave us with Spectre.

4halfReels


What are your thoughts about ‘Casino Royale’? Does it rank amongst your favorite Bond films?