Martin Campbell's The Protege is a by-the-numbers action flick, featuring cliche revenge movie motives, wrapped in a bloody R-rated skin. Maggie Q and Micheal Keaton share decent enough on-screen chemistry, while Samuel L. Jackson collects a paycheck. The Protege has more in common with Taken than John Wick.
Action director Martin Campbell‘s latest, The Protege, boasts being from the same studio that brought us John Wick, despite having very little in common with the Keanu Reeves franchise. Instead, The Protege plays off more like a Taken sequel, in the sense that it borrows trademark action-movie cliches to make for a revenge flick that’s more bark than it is bite. Maggie Q and Micheal Keaton make the movie somewhat enjoyable, while Samuel L. Jackson does his auto-pilot thing to grab a quick paycheck. The Protege is far from a bad movie; it’s just not an interesting one.
Anna (Maggie Q) and Moody (Samuel L. Jackson) are the type of assassins that you call when you want somebody eliminated without hesitation and generally, without mistake. They are stone cold killers that live in the shadows and mostly keep to themselves.
Moody actually found Anna when she was a kid and raised her and helped show her the good in the world….by training her in the art of killing.
Things start to get complicated when Moody asks Anna to track down a name which stirs up some interest in the hitman world and now people are after Anna because of the mission that Moody assigned her with.
This brings Rembrandt (Michael Keaton) into the mix. He’s the guy you call to clean up the loose ends after the first or second wave makes a mess of things. He’s a bit more reserved and calculated, unafraid to put two into the back of your head after sharing an evening dinner with you.
This essentially turns The Protege into a revenge flick with a little bit of playful cat-and-mouse chase as Anna attempts to finish the mission and find the name that Moody left her, while trying to avoid Rembrandt’s associates, despite running into Rembrandt himself rather often and in the weirdest of circumstances.
And that’s the kind of tone The Protege balances. It’s an R-rated action flick that isn’t afraid to cut someone in half, yet it’s also is totally fine with just side-stepping the story for cocktails and upstairs pleasantries between Keaton and Q’s character.
It balances humor and action in lopsided fashion, with most of the action being shoot ’em up scenes between Maggie Q‘s Anna and dozens of nameless henchmen. There are no real stakes, thus failing to create any sense or urgency or an actual point to the movie.
Richard Wenk‘s script doesn’t dig any deeper into the characters, aside from knowing that they are hitmen and that Anna’s past is full of death and destruction and that Moody pulled her from it, which is why she won’t stop until justice is served.
I’ll admit that despite thinking the interactions with Maggie Q and Micheal Keaton were somewhat off-putting and out of place for the film; I did enjoy their chemistry and thought that they gave convincing enough performances to make their relationship one of the highlights of the film, despite it knee-capping the rest of the film.
Maggie Q is a believably cold bad ass, jumping off of balconies and slicing and dicing fools with not a care in the world and she does it with a wink and a smile and a sort of confidence that I believed.
Micheal Keaton is much more restrained here, giving us a cool and collected “been there, done that” type of character that he’s no doubt earned over his years in the industry. I just wish he had more to do or a more direct link to the overall plot of the film, because his involvement makes the film a million times better, but it just doesn’t add up to be an effective nor needed part of the overall story.
Samuel L. Jackson is no doubt an actor with an unmeasurable amount of talent and range and he chose to take part in The Protege as a supporting player that sets up the central plot and that’s about it. I will never turn down a Samuel L. Jackson performance, but I’d be lying if I said he brought anything to the table here aside from a few quick jokes and a trademark “save the day” moment. Again, much like Keaton, Jackson has reached that status where he can just drift in and out of a movie without much impact. I selfishly wish he had more to do in this one, but I can see the appeal.
And that is kind of the whole problem with a film like The Protege. It very much feels like an afterthought that tried capitalizing on the whole “from the studio that brought you John Wick” tagline, despite having nothing in common with that film.
Director Martin Campbell is no stranger to shooting action and at least the film is an R, which makes the violence a bit more enjoyable and creative. But there’s nothing here that he hasn’t done better in a previous movie.
The Protege is an uninspiring revenge flick that you’ve no doubt seen in a better capacity elsewhere. The cast is all game to deliver, but the script doesn’t require much effort from anyone involved and Martin Campbell simply directs what is on the pages, which isn’t much, but could make for an easy matinee if you’re completely down on your luck.