Look one way in Martin Campbell’s filmography and you’ll get titles like Casino Royale. Look the other way, however, and you’ll find Green Lantern. The Protégé lands somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. If you look at it strictly from an action and acting standpoint, it is coherently filmed and well-staged, and all three leads carry their charisma from start to finish. That being said, the plot of this whole ordeal is so familiar and forgettable, there’s not enough to help the film stand out from the crowd.
We’ve Seen This Before
The Protégé is just not original enough in terms of premise. Maggie Q plays Anna, our female assassin protagonist, who travels around the globe to complete missions with her partner and mentor Moody (Samuel L. Jackson), the man who rescued her and has trained her since she was a little girl.
Just when our characters are getting comfortable enough to settle down and have a normal life, the unthinkable happens: someone has the balls to kill Samuel L. Jackson. In order to catch the culprit responsible, not only does Anna have to return to her hometown of Saigon, but she may have to team up with another assassin named Rembrandt (Michael Keaton) to get her revenge.
And that’s basically what The Protégé is about. It’s a revenge action movie. Everything else involving missing business executives and exploiting the economy of a developing country is all gobbledygook filler. You can imagine yourself browsing your streaming platform, coming across this plot summary, and skipping it.
The Action Stars Shine
This throwaway plot is all such a shame, because The Protégé shines through its actors and action sequences. Though the script constantly struggles to keep you emotionally invested in Anna’s journey, her moments of fighting countless henchmen left and right are raw, brutal, and exhilarating to watch. It’s all thanks to Maggie Q’s ability to sell every punch and kick. There is both an elegant grace and a deadly precision to her movement. Meanwhile, the hits and shots all look extremely painful when they land.
Rivalling her, to my great satisfaction, is Michael Keaton—an actor who proves once again why he is the quintessential Batman. Throw out your worries of whether or not he is too old to perform stunts and fights. This isn’t Bruce Willis in A Good Day to Die Hard. In all the good ways, Keaton gets his hands dirty with several fist fights and shoot-outs that would even make John Wick proud.
Even Samuel L. Jackson, with his brief appearance, gets the chance to showcase his endless charisma. He kicks ass when he knows he’s playing a “bad guy,” as in a person who objectively does bad things, much as he did in The Hateful Eight and Kingsman: The Secret Service.
In the middle of it all is a killer cat-and-mouse chemistry between Maggie Q and Keaton. Though the story leaves much to be desired, the dialogue comes and goes with a snappy, entertaining vibe. The sexual tension between them and their shaky alliance to catch the big bad boss would have made The Protégé a far better movie, if only the movie cared less about its plot.
You Can See The Missed Opportunities
Given the enormity of Maggie Q and Keaton’s chemistry, you really get a sense of The Protégé’s lost potential. If it spent just a little bit more time on personality, and less time on convoluted story points, we could have gotten something like Lethal Weapon or Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Hell, I don’t even remember the plot of those two movies but I do remember them being a ton of fun. Both movies understood that they were really about the duo and their banter and not the mission. The Nice Guys and the John Wick films knew exactly what kind of movies they were making too.
The Protégé has moments where it taps into that knowledge. Moments like Maggie Q and Samuel L. Jackson cracking jokes at each other while they drive off. But the real scene stealer is a moment near the middle of the film, where Maggie Q and Michael Keaton are seated at a fancy restaurant, and they both have pistols pointed at each other’s crotches under the table.
So while audiences are having fun with the performances, the tongue-in-cheek dialogue, and the action, the film interrupts to go “anyway, back to the plot.” I wish The Protégé had more fun with itself. This is from the guy who gave us The Mask of Zorro, GoldenEye, and Casino Royale; two of which are two of the very best Bond films. If there is one major takeaway here, it is that Maggie Q is ready to own a big action franchise all on her own. Unfortunately, The Protégé is not it. It’s close, but it’s not it.
The Protégé is in theatres now.