One of the most beloved and enduring cinematic staples is that of super spies and master assassins. Ever since James Bond cemented this in our culture, audiences have loved watching these suave pinnacles of badassery kick butt, get laid, and utter show-stopping one-liners. The Protégé exists to carry on this fine tradition. However, as fun as these movies can be, it can be difficult to stand out in the genre. The Protégé has a lot going for it but unfortunately fails to do exactly that.
While investigating a crime scene in Saigon, professional assassin Moody (Samuel L. Jackson) discovers a young girl Anna (Maggie Q) hiding in a dresser still clutching the gun she used to dispense of her captors. Moody rescues and raises her to be his Protégé. The two perform hits together in the present day, content with the notion they only kill those who deserve it. Moody begins investigating a hit from his past and this leads to his own assassination. Anna travels back to Vietnam to find answers and get revenge on whoever is responsible. Along the way she attracts the attention of Rembrandt (Michael Keaton), a master assassin in his own right, and the two engage in a cat and mouse game of mutual intrigue and suspicion.
The Protégé isn’t trying to be anything more than an entertaining 007-esque espionage thriller and several of the essential pieces needed to accomplish this are in place. With GoldenEye and Casino Royale director Martin Campbell at the helm, there is certainly the filmmaking expertise. Maggie Q is perfectly cast as our badass protagonist and it’s a thrill to watch her kill with both stylized action and wit. Yet it’s Michael Keaton whose talent and charisma really stand out. He doesn’t steal the show, because he’s better than that, rather plays off Maggie Q exquisitely while bringing his own unique flavor of sly wit and badassery to the screen. The back and forth between these two is the best part of this film and gave it a lot of potential.
Unfortunately, all the charisma in the world wasn’t going to save The Protégé from its sloppy writing. The danger in establishing characters that are seemingly the best at everything is that any bad decisions or mistakes start to read as unbelievable. Plot twists that require a suspension of disbelief become harder to get away with when they make these characters look dumb. The Protégé walks this tight rope well enough through the first half of the film, but by the third act, the film derails in a cascade of bad tropes and narrative nonsense. The characters’ motivations for their actions become increasingly unclear and no effort is made to make us care about the concluded mystery. Perhaps worst of all is an ending that could have gone a number of ways but settles for the least satisfying.
Ultimately, it’s fair to say The Protégé obviously didn’t set out to win any screenwriting awards. The plot is just a vehicle for the ass-kicking, much of which is entertaining. Action junkies may enjoy it well enough but, other than an unbelievably witty and spry 69-year-old Michael Keaton, there isn’t anything special here. The charismatic acting keeps it fun but it’s lacking the depth and intrigue needed to be good. It’s a shame because there was a lot of potential wasted here on such a lackluster script.
About The Protégé
Synopsis: After master assassin Anna’s father figure and mentor is killed, she travels to Vietnam seeking answers and revenge.
Director: Martin Campbell
Writer: Richard Wenk
Stars: Maggie Q, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Patrick, Patrick Malahide, David Rintoul, Ori Pfeffer, Ray Fearon, Caroline Loncq
Run time: 1 Hour, 49 Minutes
Releases: August 20th, 2021 (USA)
I am an ASU honors graduate with bachelors in Political Science and Philosophy. I work as a Paralegal by day and enjoy casual, volunteer, and sometimes freelance writing on the side. I'm a long time movie buff and avid gamer. Collectible card and board games are my specialty. I also remain actively engaged in the world of politics and like to stay up to date on all things science. If there is one goal I have in life it is to never stop learning.