Kate is a beautiful and deadly assassin and although she has killed many people in the past, we can be fairly confident they were all bad guys who deserved it. We are not actually assured of this, but she seems to demonstrate some reticence regards killing a yakuza leader in Japan when the guy’s young daughter is seen alongside him. Kate’s pressured by her handler to pull the trigger anyway, and she does, but it doesn’t sit well with her seeing the bad guy’s blood- splattered daughter screaming at the sight of her father having had his brains blown out.
Maybe a more interesting film would have demonstrated Kate to be a cold-hearted killer without any conscience or remorse and over the course of the film changed her, shown her the error of her ways and then sought atonement for her sins. Not that this would have been particularly original, but this isn’t that film.
No, this is further demonstration of the considerable impact of John Wick on action flicks, because this is a John Wick-is-a-babe film with nods to Kill Bill -and maybe, at a stretch, Black Rain too, if anybody’s memory can stretch that far back (1989 being like Ancient History to many). There is also a very definite nod to noir classic DOA, although probably not the 1949 original (who remembers THAT far back?) but rather the 1988 remake featuring Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan, which was something of a misfire but one I quite enjoyed. Kate, you see, wants to quit after the events at the start of the film featuring the blood-splattered child, but nobody quits: instead she gets betrayed and poisoned with a radioactive substance leaving her with just 24 hours to live. This could have been the premise of a film with an interesting noir vibe, of a doomed assassin trying to exact revenge for her own murder, an examination of a murky world of crime, violence and murder and the futility of a wasted life. But nobody makes films like that these days.
What people want to see is an indestructible killing machine making the bad guys pay, and Kate does this in spades; its as deliriously violent and gory as the John Wick films and just as daft, existing in a parallel universe of bloody carnage that never seems to attract the cops (although considering the number of police I ever see, maybe these films are actually more realistic than one would initially think). And you’ll believe a fairly slight pretty woman can snap bones, smash faces, throw brutes around etc even when outnumbered ten or even twenty to one, although when the film nears its climax and the numbers get hysterically close to small armies she at least gets the help of an honourable Yakuza and his own troops to back her up. One’s suspension of disbelief does start to wane though considering some of the antics she gets up to whilst we are assured her insides are rotting away and her skin turning black with what’s presumably gangrene or something (thankfully her pretty face is the last part to go gangrenous, so hey, she’s always a sexy killing machine).
There’s little wrong this film, as far as testosterone-fuelled action flicks go. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is very good as the titular Kate- she’s a good, charismatic actress with decent physicality for the action stuff. Marvel possibly missed a trick not seeing her potential for one of their own comicbook movies but there’s no reason why she couldn’t be announced for one: Spider-Woman, maybe, or a female Captain America? Her supporting cast is very good, but by now Woody Harrelson has been seen in too many similar roles and the eventual twist re: his character is seen a mile off: at this point his casting in stuff like this is surely a red flag that ruins any possible surprise (its frankly diabolically lazy casting).
The Japanese setting is visually arresting and as beautiful as one might expect, everything drenched in eye-popping neon that melts the screen in Dolby Vision. Its not a bad film, and its not a boring one, either; the stunts are always good value (only a silly CGI chase scene that looks like a Tron outtake messes things up with cartoon car-play). The problem is, we’ve seen all this before and eventually the familiarity of these John Wick knock-offs will inevitably breed contempt, if it hasn’t already. I enjoyed Atomic Blonde much more if only because that came out back when these things still seemed a bit fresh; there’s a distinct whiff of decay hanging around at this point.