Review – Nikita & Nick Fury Vs Batman (“The Protégé”)

If the plot seems familiar, that’s because it is. You’ve seen it before in John Wick, Kill Bill, Atomic Blonde, La Femme Nikita, xXx, Red Sparrow, Hanna, and many others. But! This ain’t your A-typical ‘bad-ass female assassin gets revenge for her mentor’s death’ plot. It’s better!

Staring off in 1991 Vietnam, an 11-year-old Vietnamese girl (Eva Nguyen Thorsen) is rescued by mercenary Moody Dutton (Samuel L. Jackson) after she apparently took out a room full of bad guys. Raised to be an elite assassin, grown-up Anna (Maggie Q) goes on contract-killing assignments with Moody, her friend, mentor, and boss. In her downtime, she owns a quaint London bookstore and has a super-hacker friend (Gamba Cole) for information. However, one day after a strange visit from a guy named Michael Rembrandt (Michael Keaton), Moody and all of her colleagues are killed one by one. Who did it and why? Following clues, she goes back to Vietnam for answers.

Once there, Anna hooks up with an American Hells Angels biker gang run by Billy Boy (Robert Patrick), an old friend of Moody’s. Could Moody have been killed by the wealthy Mr. Vohl (Patrick Malahide)? Not likey, as his business assets have been usurped by the nasty Duquet (Ray Fearon), who doesn’t like Anna snooping around and wants answers from the plucky assassin. But ever resourceful Anna is too quick on her feet and manages to escape, only to return to get answers herself! First from Duquet, then from Rembrandt who, as it turns out, happens to be the head security advisor to the very guy Anna’s been looking for!

This is NOT your typical cut ‘n paste, shoot ’em up, John Wick-ish kill ’em all type of movie you’d expect. This screenplay by Richard Wenk (The Equalizer movies, 2016’s The Magnificent Seven) is what I’d like to call Tarantino-lite. It’s funny, smart, quirky, has unexpected twists & turns with characters that are more than just cardboard cut-outs, but has far less F-bombs and blood spewing. I went into this movie thinking, “This is just another Jane Wick rip-off”, but was not only surprised, but enjoyed every minute of it. The script wasn’t a cookie-cutter hodge-podge of other films, but an actioner wrapped inside a detective mystery with a wickedly quirky style and witty dialogue.

The film excels, not only because of the script, but because of veteran filmmaker Martin Campbell, who has given us exciting, action-packed blockbusters like The Mask of Zorro, Goldeneye, Casino Royale, No Escape, and more. Even though this film isn’t on a grand scale like his Bond movies, just look at his choice of camera moves, use of light & shadow, and how he films those incredibly choreographed fights. Wow!! This guy knows what he’s doing and ups the quality of the film by miles. But let’s not forget his choice of actors!

Maggie Q, unlike other female bad-asses on the screen, doesn’t play Anna as a boring one-note killer. She’s got a vulnerable heart & soul that you can feel, a wonderful change of pace, especially in the surprising second act when she fights Rembrandt with, shall we say, unusual consequences. Then you have her counterpart, Michael Keaton, as the methodical, careful, but lethal Rembrandt. He could have phoned in this role, but Keaton makes it his own, giving his character an amusing, quirky, and unpredictable personality. Then, of course, you have Sam Jackson doing what he does best. . . just being himself, which is super-cool, laid-back, and having a great time.

**Now showing only in theaters

Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)

While shooting Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino and Uma Thurman came up with the idea of The Bride, a revenge-driven, samurai-carrying assassin. Originally planned as a four-hour epic, Tarantino split his opus into two movies, thus giving him more creative freedom, and banking him more money!

In what many are calling his masterpiece (me, included), this first volume deals with the “death” and rebirth of The Bride (Thurman), whose name we later find out is Beatrix Kiddo. She is. . . or rather was. . . part of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad headed by Bill (David Carradine), her former lover. Each killer has their own unique “snake” code name, and Beatrix’s was Black Mamba. This movie, told in backward & forwards storytelling (like Pulp Fiction was), is a simple tale of revenge. Beatrix, pregnant and decked out in a wedding dress in El Paso, Texas, is brutally assaulted by her old team, then gunned down by Bill. Not a good way to start your day, huh?

BUT! Beatrix somehow survives this and, four years later, wakes up in a hospital where Elle Driver (Darryl Hannah) has come to finish the job. Luckily, her death is called off by Bill, much to the ire of Elle. Beatrix escapes and through sheer force of will, nurses herself back to health. And that’s a good thing, ’cause the first name on her “Kill List” is Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox), whom she takes out after a lengthy, nasty fight. Beatrix then flies to Okinawa and employs the legendary Hattori Hanzo (Sonny Chiba) to make her a samurai sword of unparalleled strength. Her next target? Chinese/Japanese/American O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), head of the Yakuza and hold up at the Blue Leaves nightclub and restaurant. We see her backstory via a gruesome anime that is, I’m told, one day to be a full-length movie!

Anyway, Beatrix calls out O-Ren and, after wiping out her subordinates one-by-one, including Go-Go, (Chiaki Kuriyama) her psychotic schoolgirl-dressed bodyguard, has to deal with the Crazy 88’s; a whole room filled with guys armed to the teeth with katana’s, axes, knives, and other nasty blades. Uh-oh! However, Beatrix dispatches them in furious style, as the film switches to glorious black & white for a while. After killing all but one of them (she spanks a teenager with her samurai!), she goes after O-Ren in a beautifully choreographed and nerve-gripping showdown between two incredibly skilled warriors. Naturally, Beatrix wins, but not by much, leaving us thirsting for the conclusion that is Kill Bill Vol. 2

Tarantino really had fun with this one, as you can tell in the writing and the direction. Just like in his previous movie, he blends the perfect marriage of film and music together, as witnessed in many scenes. The Japanese band, The 5, 6, 7, 8’s, perform live at the Blue Leaves, and who can forget the rock score (“Battle Without Honor or Humanity”) as O-Ren and her crew are walking down the hallway in slo-mo? There is SO much to love in this movie! The exchange of dialogue between Beatrix and Hattori in the sushi shop is wonderful, Beatrix’s rage-filled anger at the hospital orderly is searing, and the fight scenes are jaw-dropping. My only beef was saying Vernita’s little girl was four-years-old when she was clearly 7 or 8. There is NO WAY that kid is FOUR!!

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