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Review: Maggie Q deserves better than ‘The Protégé’ provides

A woman aiming her gun towards someone offscreen
Maggie Q as Anna in “The Protégé.”
(Raul Jichici / Lionsgate)

The Times is committed to reviewing theatrical film releases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because moviegoing carries risks during this time, we remind readers to follow health and safety guidelines as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials.

The allure of onscreen female assassins is complicated. Watching highly skilled, dangerous women take out their marks in dynamic action sequences is undeniably thrilling — especially if these targets are bad men. But it’s less exciting that in many of these stories, the women are only assassins because of their history with bad men.

“The Protégé” does not stray too far from this formula with its assassin Anna (played by Maggie Q), who was raised by a contract killer that she met as a child in Vietnam. Moody (Samuel L. Jackson) has clearly trained Anna well and they make a sweet father-daughter-like killing duo.

Despite their cavalier attitudes about their profession, Anna and Moody are assassins, so it does not take long for things to get messy. After asking Anna to help him locate a missing person, Moody is killed and Anna goes on the run. Determined to figure out who killed her mentor and why, Anna takes off on an international adventure that involves plenty of intrigue, lethal encounters and gratuitous violence.

Q shines as the confident, dangerous Anna, a role that allows her to flaunt all of her action bonafides from her breakout role on “Mission Impossible III” through her starring turn as a different assassin with a grudge on the TV series “Nikita.” There is also an easy chemistry between her and Jackson that helps ground their characters’ relationship and gives the film a foundation.

“The Protégé” also boasts veteran action filmmakers, including director Martin Campbell (“GoldenEye,” “Casino Royale,” “The Foreigner”) and writer Richard Wenk (“The Expendables 2,” “The Equalizer”). So there’s a palpable confidence in the movie’s action sequences and slick choreography that helps keep it engaging enough despite the holes in its storytelling.

If there were only fewer holes. It’s disappointing that the film didn’t include more context around post-war Vietnam, since some of its key elements seem connected to that history. But there are plenty of other things the film leaves under-explained.

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Another misstep in the story, unfortunately, is how it approaches Michael Keaton’s character Rembrandt, a sort of fixer who seems to have met his match with Anna — and vice versa. Keaton definitely adds to “The Protégé's” pedigree and the easygoing and charismatic Rembrandt has the potential to be an interesting foil to Anna, but their rivalry is muddled by a confusing May-December attraction they share.

Anna’s interactions with Moody and Rembrandt are ultimately a double-edged sword: They give facets to Anna that show she is not just a means to connect the various (impressive) action scenes. But that makes you want more for Anna and Q than the cliched backstory the movie ultimately delivers.

'The Protégé'

Rated: R, for strong and bloody violence, language, some sexual references and brief nudity

Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes

Playing: In general release


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