Directed by Martin Campbell (Casino Royale), The Protégé follows Anna (Maggie Q), the world’s most skilled assassin. Rescued as a child by Moody (Samuel L. Jackson), Anna was both raised and trained by her beloved mentor who taught her everything she knows. However, when Moody is viciously murdered, Anna swears to avenge his death and sets out on a mission to bring his killer to justice.
As the man charged with rebooting the Bond franchise twice, Martin Campbell certainly understands his way around grittier action films. While he admittedly has some blemishes on his stellar record (*cough* Green Lantern), his career contains far more hits than misses. With Protégé, the director is in full form, creating action sequences that are a treat for the eyes. Featuring some truly wonderful set pieces, Campbell creates a world of danger and destruction that keep the viewer glued to the screen. Similar to other recent revenge features like John Wick, Nobody and Atomic Blonde, the energy behind The Protégé may be its wanton recklessness but the film also gives space to his cast in their performances.
Of course, any action film requires a solid cast and Campbell has some enjoyable talent to work with here. While we’ve seen Jackson in this sort of role many times before, seeing Keaton as the villainous Rembrandt is a treat. With an aura of charming creepiness, Keaton is clearly enjoying himself as a bad guy and he’s a joy to watch onscreen.
Having said this though, the brightest star in the film remains Q herself. Like Daniel Craig before her, Maggie Q provides Campbell with an absolutely charismatic yet lethal lead and she absolutely makes the most of the opportunity. While she is no stranger to the action genre, Protégé gives her a time to shine. As Anna, Q has a charisma about her that makes her endearing yet she also imbues her character with darkness. We trust her but we also know that she means business. Focused and fierce, Q is simply a delight to and her chemistry with Keaton is surprisingly palpable.
Personally, I will always respect an action film that tries to be more than a simple revenge thriller. With its recognition of the importance of the soul, Protégé falls into that category. Whereas most films of this nature treat its characters as empty targets, Protégé at least takes pause to remember that the victims still matter. Despite the nature of his profession, Moody understands that each of the people that he’s killed have a soul worth remembering. In addition, as Anna must return home to Vietnam for the first time since her childhood, the film explores the effects of generational trauma and its burden on the soul. While the film’s primary focus remains on Anna’s vengeance, moments like these acknowledge the complexities of the murder biz and the fact that violence has very real consequences in the larger scheme of things.
Stylish and energetic, The Protégé is another fun ride into the elite world of assassins and vengeance. Led by Martin Campbell’s ability to create visually interesting action sequences and combined with the magnetism of its leads, the film entertains with enthusiasm. However, what truly makes the film unique is that, even with its hand on the trigger, Protégé keeps its eye on the soul.
The Protégé is available in theatres Friday, August 20th, 2021.