Martin Campbell's latest continues a downward trend of forgettable action
Martin Campbell was one of the more exciting directors coming up in the early 2000s, he’d managed to capture a sense of thrill and excitement both in dark ways (Casino Royale (2006)) and in light-hearted ways (The Legend of Zorro (2005)). However, since his horrible flop Green Lantern (2011), he’s been struggling to rediscover his identity, relying on overwrought tropes from the spy and action genre. He recently came out with the entertaining, but forgettable The Foreigner (2017) and now has delivered his latest attempt with action and spies in The Protégé (2021).
The Protégé follows renowned world assassins Ana (Maggie Q) and her mentor/adoptive father Moody (Samuel L. Jackson). Their newest contracted kill, however, seems to have some very powerful friends, among them the suave Rembrandt (Michael Keaton), who soon has Ana running for her life and trying to decipher her enemies at the same time.
The Protégé’s main fault is that it is a wholly unoriginal premise. A spy/assassin on the run from an unknown powerful man/organization? This premise has been done to death in the past; however, many of those firms had curious twists, either with the realism of Three Days of the Condor (1975), the set-pieces of Mission: Impossible (1996), or even the setting of The Firm (1993). The Protégé, written by Richard Wenk, is unable to pair this overdone premise with anything else original, however. In these types of cases, many studios rely on a visual appeal or action aesthetic to paint a more captivating aura around the bland plot.
Campbell has shown an adeptness at action in the past, however, the genre has been setting new highs with the likes of John Wick (2014) and Atomic Blonde (2017). Thus, what had worked so well in Campbell’s 007 adventure in Casino Royale, seems like run-of-the-mill in The Protégé. The lack of memorable action, paired with the rather cliché and unoriginal plot make for an extremely forgettable flick.
As with The Foreigner, however, Campbell is trying to revive or accelerate the action credentials of many unlikely stars. The Foreigner gave Jackie Chan a chance to portray a more serious and aged action hero, while in The Protégé, the hardworking, but relegated actress Maggie Q is finally given her moment to shine. Q has always exuded charisma and movie star charm in the past, but her brief appearances on screen have left audiences wondering why she wasn’t given a bigger vehicle. In The Protégé, Q fully commits to her every scene, the best of which rely on the sexual tension between her and Keaton’s character. I would have gladly watched a romantic comedy starring them instead. Q, however, is straddled with a plot and narrative that not even the best of actors could spin something original out of. Keaton comes closest to wringing something special, with a performance so in control and at ease that it nearly steals the entire affair.
In the end, The Protégé fails to grasp viewers’ attention or memory, making it the kind of flick that you forget on your way home from the theater. The mediocrity surrounding the whole affair doesn’t deprive the film from being a flick you can mindlessly watch, but it sadly becomes another entry in Campbell’s downward spiral of a filmography.