The Protégé: Why Maggie Q and Michael Keaton's Romance Matters - VRGyani News and Media

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Saturday, August 28, 2021

The Protégé: Why Maggie Q and Michael Keaton's Romance Matters

Here are some of the big action movies that have come out in 2021 thus far: Zack Snyder's Justice League, Nobody, Mortal Kombat, F9, Black Widow, The Suicide Squad, and now, The Protégé. These films pack literal punches, depict explosive carnage, and use all kinds of visually domineering tricks to raise our adrenaline levels. But do they make any kind of lasting impression as we walk away? In a landscape full of loudness, of mayhem, of bald-faced attention-seeking, how can you truly stick out from the crowd?

The Protégé, a mid-budget, original action-thriller, finds an invigorating answer, one that surprised me the moment it began to rear itself in the film, before realizing just how fundamental it is to the human condition.

It is, of course, being horny.

RELATED: How to Watch 'The Protégé': Where You Can the New Maggie Q Action Thriller Right Now

Some of the films listed do involve romance. Nobody tracks Bob Odenkirk's reignited masculinity with his reignited permission to touch estranged wife Connie Nielsen. F9 features Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez doing some smoochin'. The Snyder Cut shows The Flash expressing attraction by, um, plucking a hot dog out of mid-air so his crush doesn't get hit by it (hey, everyone's got their love language). But none of these films' depictions of desire come close to the bluntness, the obviousness, nor the intrigue of what you get in The Protégé, ultimately making these other films' moments feel shoehorned, noncommittal, frustratingly symbolic rather than thrillingly alive.

In The Protégé, when rich criminal mastermind Michael Keaton walks into extraordinary assassin Maggie Q's rare book store (her legit business to hide all the assassin-ing), he straight up comes onto her. For someone (like me) who walked into this film ready to watch Q and Keaton be violently adversarial to each other, this was a wild surprise from the jump. The film, even in all its old-school sturdiness, is immediately, subversively breaking down our expectations of what actioners "need" to tell us about their protagonists and antagonists. I expected Q to quip and deflect her way out of this direct proposition; a kind of MCU-esque rhythm of self-aware screwball comedy without that genre's understanding that banter often equals flirtation. Q banters back, alright. But she absolutely says "yes" to Keaton's proposition, immediately establishing herself as a complicated, human hero who's into this fun rich guy talkin' suave, and wants to talk suave herself. And, frankly, wants to get laid! In a contemporary action filmscape where even James Bond is moody and unconcerned with the joys of sexuality, this frank portrayal of "two adults who are into each other from moment one" feels like a breath of fresh air, a patient-but-forward promise that this film will treat you with intelligence, will delve into every aspect of humanity among its obligatory moments of carnage.

When these moments of carnage ramp up (shot, cut, and performed with hunger and vitality, it must be said), and Q realizes the depths of Keaton's evil, their mutual attraction does not stop. In fact, I'd say it heightens. One dinner table tête-à-tête, in which both characters are pointing guns at each other under the tablecloth, features Q matter-of-factly stating such a bluntly sexual line that I nearly gasped; that I feel like I'd be breaking a rule to even print here (it involves a slang term, and I've already said too much). Later, as they're fighting the hell out of each other (while constantly landing in suggestively straddling positions), Keaton retorts with a bluntly sexual question that I will risk printing: "You have to decide. Kill me or fuck me."

Guess which one Q chooses? It's the second one! And her joie-de-vivre-enhanced running into horniness doesn't inhibit their action-oriented conflict, nor the deeper interior traumas her character must reckon with. It enriches them, deepens them, elevates the character from a stock symbol of nonsensical fun to a genuine "take" on being alive (while also being, I cannot stress enough, very, very fun).

As The Protégé runs toward its status-shifting climax, this inherent and explored attraction begins to fold in on itself, to crumble under the pressures and realities of their high-stakes lives. It provides such interesting, gripping, welcomely compelling drama, giving their final showdown a sense of melancholic regret among the obvious external conflict between them; a subtext that screams silently, yearns sweatily, aches with the kind of sadness that comes when you're really, really horny for someone. To get all of this verve, this spectrum of emotionality in what's being sold as a fun action flick about punching and shooting people is such a testament to what storytellers can find if they give their genre works even a little more variety of tonality. The Protégé is a welcome, present-tense reminder of the import of theatrical mid-budget pictures, of orienting works toward, not away from, grown-up matters like "lust" and "regret."

KEEP READING: Why Theaters Still Need the Mid-Budget Movie



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