Mary Elizabeth Winstead works tirelessly to uplift Netflix’s latest derivative shoot-em-up, to disappointing results.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the next cinematic revenge thriller brawler is too brilliant not to at least try. Her bonafides in 10 Cloverfield Lane as lead and then clutch supporting turn in Birds of Prey do more than enough to establish precedent. Throw in a unique location (Tokyo) with an urgent, grisly hook (an assassin only has 24 hours to enact revenge), and Kate should be one of the most satisfying Netflix originals to presumably hit the Top 10 in 2021. Sadly, the only watchers who might find this satisfying have either watched too many action revenge thrillers or not nearly enough.
Regarding originality, Kate wants for nothing. Winstead plays the titular character, a veteran assassin who has “never missed a shot in 12 years” and is now on her final mission: to eliminate a pair of related, Japanese mob bosses. Her handler, V (Woody Harrelson), traumatically “adopted” Kate into this life of bloodshed when she was only a child, but before she can get out of the hit game for good, someone lethally poisons her, and she awakens with the news that she has less than a day to figure out who did it. Do you seriously not see where this is going?
The audience will be so comically far ahead of Kate, despite all its delusions of intrigue, it might actually be more possible to forget you called out all the revelations of the third act way back in the first, plus there’s the distraction of Kate bringing on a young, runaway protege (Miku Martineau) along the way, reluctantly showing her the ropes and tropes while relying on the teen’s underground knowledge to circumvent scores of gangland baddies who want nothing more than to take Kate down for good.
Kate doesn’t suffer from outright dullness, at least. The action is satisfying in a visceral, “momentum has consequences” way, and it frequently opts for more hardcore bloodletting than some of its obvious inspirations. Speaking of which, it excises the style of Atomic Blonde and mythology of John Wick in favor of a more personal character study about confronting the realities of death, which gets sloppy when the movie tries to present Kate as an undeveloped adult with suspended adolescence due to her violent backstory. Good idea, but it doesn’t lead to anything truly novel or cathartic.
The parallel to her newfound friend is obvious, but certainly something to grab onto while waiting for this undercooked Crank plot to skip along to its expected destinations. This is the second film from French director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, who similarly favored visual effects and intentional production design in his previous feature, The Huntsman: Winter’s War. No small feat, though both movies suffer from exhausting the pedigree of these leads.
Winstead has more than enough presence and verve to guide Kate through its many hoops of tired story beats. The addition of a poison that slowly, but surely eats away at her, without diminishing the established limitations of her skill, is one of the few aspects of Kate that elicits real empathy and feeling. By the end, it’s hard, though, to determine the whole point of this bloody affair.
While more contemplative, yet still enjoyable action films are currently in the middle of subverting the standard action revenge thriller, questioning and examining the very reasons why we root for these characters and ignore their pain, Kate takes a guided, studio lot tour through the greatest hits without landing any of its own.
Kate hits Netflix on September 10th.