CHICAGO – I always thought that the line between being a spy and an assassin has always been fine. Both kill people on someone else’s orders. They are still highly trained in combat and gun-fu. Chances are, they’re absolutely charming and exceptionally attractive because the job demands it. Hell, they might even be prone to age-inappropriate relationships that stem from mom or dad issues. The real deciding factor on your future path will depend on who chooses you to be your mentor, and this is where we find the origin of The protected.
There are few genres as forgiving as the action genre. Here, you’ll find that the plot is the least important element as long as the lead roles are sufficiently charismatic and the fight choreography is on point. There is so much more to love in The protected that you are more than willing not to take a too close look at the seams that connect all of these overhauled elements and to enjoy the product as a whole. Writer Richard Wenk weaves familiar revenge-focused plots into this film, bringing back popular elements from his previous films like Equalizer and The Expendables. There is gruff and brutal behavior that guides this story, but there is also a playful part that helps develop an emotional core among the carnage. Mixing genres can be a particularly difficult thing to achieve, especially when procedural action movies don’t address the absurdism they often deliver. That’s not a problem here, especially when the back and forth exchanges are so full of humor, fun flirtation, and punchlines that usually end in real punches.
Photo credit: Lionsgate
The comedy is so professionally peppered that it gives us a much needed lightness between our heroine’s dark past and her increasingly dark present. Jokes would be nothing without the talent that delivers them, and with comedy pros like Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Keaton, it all goes effortlessly. The real star here is Maggie Q, who not only steps up to any challenge, but almost always exceeds expectations, even in the blandest movies. Maggie Q continues to be the single most important factor in elevating an average action movie to an enjoyable one. The nuances she puts into every character and line-up almost make it seem like they’re unworthy of some of the material given to her, but in this case, it adds a depth that reinforces her place as the l one of Hollywood’s most underrated actresses.
With a little more tweaking, like Better World Build, this movie could easily have been a franchise movie, à la John wick. They shared some similarities, like exploring an entire underground world that exists in the most mundane places like a bookstore or a dry cleaner. Going deep into the development of that shady belly that exists just behind the scenes of the “real” world would have given the public something more to invest in. Instead, we’ve got something to hang onto that gets us to the end of the movie, but not enough to guide us in the need of another installment. That being said, the sense of finality we get at the end of this one is enough, especially when there may or may not be a potential for a sequel / spin-off.
Photo credit: Lionsgate
The John wick the comparison goes far beyond simple world-building and extends to the strong fight choreography. There aren’t any katana fights on motorcycles or anything, but that’s mainly because their fighting style is much more grounded in realism, for better or for worse. Director Martin Campbell’s experience lends itself wonderfully to The protected by combining his James Bond / espionage past, with a few Zorro– fun style, and just a hint of The Green Lantern irreverence. The action sequences contain no punches, giving us the brutal and gruesome reality of being a trained assassin. Grounding that in reality ends up helping him in terms of credibility. When we see our protagonist facing a gun and knife glove, only to come out unscathed, we lose interest. There is so much vulnerability to be had here, not just on a physical level, but also emotionally. Even though we know everyone’s past, we support them no matter what their actions are, and that’s exactly the kind of character development we deserve from a late summer actor.