Its probably weighed negatively upon my opinion of this film, but I must confess, Jessica Chastain in roles like this seems an unlikely fit. I don’t know why exactly an actress of her calibre should feel inclined to slum in such sub-par action material – its not that I’m being snobbish here, I love good action movies- other than the sad fact that every actress seems to be doing it (the diminutive Natalie Portman a female Thor for goodness sake).
To her credit, Chastain largely manages the action stuff quite well (or her stunt double does, anyway) but any effort she makes in the drama stakes (more of which later) is wholly undermined by the utter preposterousness of the enterprise. Indeed, crucially even the action scenes are totally preposterous- at one point when she has run away from an assailant in a park, and the killer searching for her walks past a water fountain/pool, I thought, ‘even the daftest film wouldn’t have her leaping out of that shallow pool’ and boom, she did just that! I almost applauded the sheer audacity. We are supposed to believe that, in the moments he lost track of her, she submerged herself in that shallow fountain, held her breath underwater -and herself, for that matter, I mean, we naturally float, you know?- for an interminable amount of time on the off-chance he’d walk past that way, and then somehow have traction enough to leap out and dispatch him. She leaps out of the water as if propelled by a spring board. What is this, Wonder Woman here?
Bad enough that -apologies to female empowerment junkies- a woman of the slight build of Chastain can repeatedly beat the shit out of armed heavies twice her weight and size and weirdly dodge bullets. The fight sequences throughout the film are, again, preposterous and laughable. Is this where all the Marvel movies have left us? Any sense of reality, any sense of the real outcome of actual violence, all the punches, stabbings, being thrown through windows and into walls etc is long gone in the face of several years of spandex sensibilities infiltrating sane stunt design, as is the reality of a ten-stone woman taking on a fifteen/sixteen-stone hulking brute. I know its only a movie, but its not a superhero movie, right?
Thinking back to female screen icons like Ripley and Sarah Connor, when I really think back on it, they never really did anything wildly implausible or ridiculous, there was always a sense of reality, of a real woman in whatever situation they were in. You were never expected to see Ripley beating the shit out of several hulking brutes (never mind a Giger monster) or Sarah Connor dispatching a squad of armed goons in a gun battle all by herself.
Alas, Chastain cannot retreat to using her acting prowess in any drama away from the action, because the absurdity bleeds from the action into what would usually be the dramatic story/character arcs hidden between the stunts and carnage. We are expected to believe Chastain’s Ava was, just eight years before, a teenage delinquent and alcoholic who went off to join the army, got clean, excelled in training, served a few tours and then got hired as an assassin by some mysterious agency, earning a reputation of ‘best in show’ or something by dispatching 40 victims who deserved to die. Well, I say deserved, even Ava seems to have eventually appreciated her orders may be dubious, taking to asking her victims what had they done to deserve their murder before she finally pulls the trigger, a rebellious tactic that angers her employer enough that it orders her own assassination. Returning home from her eight year stint as a killing machine, she finds her ex is now shacked up with her sister, her mom is in hospital and her scumbag father dead. Yes its all daft nonsense and frankly rather insulting of any audience intelligence. Not Chastain’s finest hour, but I guess it pays the bills.