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Review: 'The Protege'

I have seen the face of the female who could replace James Bond. For real.

And her name is Maggie Q.

If there ever was a female counterpart to 007 it is the character Anna in the hard-hitting new action thriller The Protégé.

Perhaps it is no surprise to learn that the movie was directed by Martin Campbell who directed no less than two James Bond movies, Goldeneye (1995) and Casino Royale (2006).

He’s a director who knows how to create adrenaline pumping action sequences and well-staged fight scenes.

With The Protégé, he has a first-rate script from Richard Wenk as well as a first-rate cast, including Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Keaton.

Granted, both men are in their 70s, but they bring their A-Game to this film in high-intensity roles that could have been laughably ridiculous if not in the hands of a veteran action director (and some talented stuntmen and stand-ins).

Keaton is back in his badass Batman mode with some brutal physical scenes that fans might have thought he left behind years ago. Not the case.

As for Samuel L. Jackson, well, he’s back doing his best Samuel L. Jackson, essentially the same character he plays in every movie like this. Fans, including me, love what he does. “Why fix it if it ain’t broke,” right?

I wonder if his phone ever stops ringing with offers to play nothing but roles like this. I hope it never does.

But let’s get to the real star of this movie, Maggie Q, who has played a number of supporting roles in recent years.

The Protégé is her break-out film. It’s a bit of casting genius on the level of Gal Godot playing Wonder Woman, which is to say perfection.

She’s stunningly attractive, icy cool and sexy and menacingly tough.

Her character Anna is an unstoppable force. That is not to say that she’s not vulnerable. Unlike female superheroes, Anna can feel pain, experience shock and is capable of romance.

In The Protégé, the romantic connection is with Michael Keaton’s character Rembrandt who, in many ways is like Anna. He becomes fascinated with her, despite the fact that there is a high probability that their relationship can only end in one of them killing the other.

Call it a fatal attraction.

The Protégé gets off to a slightly bumpy start, but quickly shifts into gear with non-stop action and a multitude of plot twists and turns.

It keeps you on the edge of your proverbial seat. It even has you jumping out of your seat with some real shockers.

It’s bloody, it’s violent, it’s something along the lines of a John Wick movie, though not nearly as preposterous. What it does have in common are some masterful action sequences.

There are some Bond references tossed in for fun; including what appears to be some vodka martinis.

In one of the fight scenes, Anna violently smashes the head of one of her assailants into a sink, reminiscent of a Daniel Craig James Bond moment.

As mentioned, she’s tough. Her backstory illuminates where her toughness and strong survival instincts originated in two scenes that bookend the movie and offer insight to her character’s intelligence and fearlessness.

There is a Bond-like villain in The Protégé, who is rich and powerful and corrupt though he’s not out to destroy or enslave the world.

His ruthlessness does provide the fuel for a good revenge story, however.

Rembrandt knows that his wealth and power can never save his boss from a high-paid hit woman who simply won’t give up. Ever.

Though her mission may seem impossible to everyone else, Rembrandt knows just how talented and resourceful and resilient she is and realizes that, although he admires her and is attracted to her, he nevertheless might be the only person capable of stopping her.

It makes for a powerful story. We’ve seen the hired killers falling in love with each other before.

I’m thinking of movies like Prizzi’s Honor (1985) or Mr. & Mrs Smith (2005), but the tone here is deadly serious with only a few laughs to relieve the palpable tension.

A minor fault with The Protégé is the long, drawn exposition at the end.

Why do villains and good guys have to spill out their guts in such extensive detail?

After pursuing one another for an entire film with ample justification for the act they are about to commit, why not just take out a gun and pull the trigger and be done with it? Why explain all this to someone you’re about to murder a moment later? Do they really need to know?

Scenes like these are always drawn out for the sake of suspense and this is no exception. A minor criticism.

Overall, The Protégé lives up to the supercharged teaser trailers. It’s an action thriller with a breakout female lead who owns it. Every minute of it.

A character like this is the result of a long evolution in the movies.

Only relatively recently in movie history have we seen some strong female heroines like Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in Alien (1979) or Charlize Theron’s characters in movies like Aeon Flux (2005), Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), Atomic Blonde (2017) or The Old Guard (2020).

Some kickass women have popped up in the Bond series like Michelle Yeoh in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997).

But Maggie Q has the distinction of stepping into a starring role previously reserved for men and doing what many thought was impossible for so long.

She’s the reason to see The Protégé.


The Protégé is in theaters now.

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