Film Review: The Protégé sees Maggie Q, Samuel L. Jackson, and Michael Keaton together in a big action flick

MANILA, PHILIPPINES — Fans of the action movie genre over the past 30 years are surely familiar with the name Martin Campbell. The New Zealand-born director is behind some of beloved action flicks including two James Bond films in 1995’s GoldenEye starring Pierce Brosnan and 2006’s Casino Royale featuring Daniel Craig as 007. Campbell also made magic twice with Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones in The Mask of Zorro in 1998 and the 2005 sequel, The Legend of Zorro. Thus, when his name was attached to the assassin flick The Protégé, one would expect something worthy of Campbell’s resume.

Anna (Maggie Q) is an assassin who is hired for contracts that also have her securing things that are difficult to find. Raised by her adoptive father Moody (Samuel L. Jackson), he rescued her from Vietnam as a child when Anna’s family was slaughtered there in the 1990s. Moody and Anna have settled in England, and she spends the day running a store for rare books even as he celebrates his 70th birthday.


At her bookstore, Anna encounters Michael Rembrandt (Michael Keaton) a smooth-talking American looking for a rare book to give to his employer’s wife. When Anna visits Moody at his mansion, she finds evidence of a struggle and finds his unrecognizable body murdered. Seeking vengeance for her mentor’s death, Anna believes that her last assassination target, Edward Hayes (David Rintoul), is behind it.

Hunting for Hayes brings Anna back to Vietnam for the first time since Moody took her out of the country as a child. She gets information from Moody’s old friend Billy Boy (Robert Patrick), who rides with a group of bikers in Vietnam. As she plots meeting with Hayes’ assistant Vohl (Patrick Malahide), despite his heavy security, Anna is unprepared for the revelations about her and Moody’s past that are about to occur.

Maggie Q has been a staple of action movies almost as long as Campbell has been so putting them together was sure to cause sparks for any motion picture. Casting big names like Jackson and Keaton only made The Protégé even more appealing although it is not without its faults. As endearing as the father-daughter dynamic is between Anna and Moody, and as intriguing is the flirting and love-hate that Anna and Rembrandt have, there are parts of the film that run slow or is plain confusing.

The action sequences and fight choreography are great though, as one would expect from a veteran hand like Campbell, so it’s safe to say that The Protégé is more like his Zorro and James Bond films and less like the confusion that was his Green Lantern film from 2011. Maggie Q relishes doing her own stunts, whether it was in her early work with Jackie Chan or even her TV work for five seasons in Nikita, so that is definitely a plus here.

What can be difficult at times is to believe that both Jackson and Keaton are directly involved in the action. After all, Jackson is already 72 while Keaton just turned 70. That means a lot of suspension of disbelief, particularly for Keaton and the fight scenes he has with Q. Campbell manages to hide this for the most part but the audience who remembers that Keaton first starred as Batman 32 years ago when he was “only” 38-years-old might not be able to reconcile that.

As the title character, Maggie Q has proven before that she is more than capable of carrying an action TV show but having her as the lead in a film with an admittedly thin plot like The Protégé might hurt her reputation. She has always done well whether it was in Mission: Impossible III or Live Free or Die Hard as a supporting character but the lack of a more inspired script in The Protégé might push her out of the lead once again in her next attempt at action. And that’s a shame for someone as capable as she is.

The best parts in this film are the interactions Anna has with Rembrandt as the dialogue written for the actors really emphasizes the attraction that the characters have for each other. Despite being on opposite sides, their intelligence, exquisite taste, and knowledge of weapons inevitably leads to flirting even though there are weapons pointed at one another first. Q and Keaton play those scenes up to the hilt.

Although Jackson is indeed in his 70s, the man can still act and has been one of the greatest bad asses in film history for a reason. He still brings that to this performance as Moody but, as his Nick Fury has done in the films from Marvel Studios, he is better placed in the background, supervising the action or sniping at Anna’s would-be killers.

Campbell’s previous experience in actions films shines through in this film written by Richard Wenk, but that ultimately might not be enough to save it. For a year that is still relatively thin in terms of those big action films that Campbell made his name on, however, The Protégé is good enough to try.

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