Mary Elizabeth Winstead is just a legitimate action star who has been squandered by Netflix’s Kate McKinnon.
The “lady-killers” action film series from 2021 continues with yet another female assassin.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead should be considered as the replacement to Sigourney Weaver’s role, Ellen Ripley, in the next Alien sequel or spinoff.
Since her breakout role in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Winstead has developed into a confident actor with physical assurance, sarcastic line delivery, and a shaggy cut ‘do that evokes Weaver’s sci-fi icon.
Whether she portrays Amanda Ripley, Ellen’s canonical daughter, or a clone of Ellen herself (a plot option
explored in Joss Whedon’s 1997 film Alien Resurrection), Winstead should be released against the
Weyland-Yutani Corporation so that everyone may see the sparks fly.
Perhaps taking on such a legendary role will steer Winstead away from drab material like Netflix’s action
Kate misinterprets “Women can kill equally as well as men!” for some kind of novel concept in another
boring woman-led action film written and directed by males who telegraph their twists and rely on
flashbacks instead of trying to create character development.
It isn’t — not for Netflix, which released Gunpowder Milkshake right after it, and not for other studios,
which have followed in the stiletto-clad footsteps of The Protégé and Jolt in recent months.
The film’s portrayal of Japanese society as closed-off, concerned with “honour,” and contemptuous of
foreigners isn’t exactly new. Also uninspiring is the Western fetishization of the yakuza as businessmen
wielding samurai swords.
Winstead and stunt coordinator Jonathan Eusebio, who previously collaborated on Birds of Prey, are deserving of better. At the very least, you could watch Kate just for the combat sequences and be pleased.
Winstead has acquired a physical assurance as a performer that underpins her work as Kate’s eponymous
assassin in films like Birds of Prey, Gemini Man, and 10 Cloverfield Lane. When she’s pointing a sniper rifle,
she’s poised, and when she’s slamming a pistol into someone’s face after running out of rounds, she’s
Her motions are rapid, almost whirling, as she stabs again and again with a knife or a shattered glass
bottle. And, as shown in the John Wick series, The Fate of the Furious, Haywire, and Nikita, Eusebio is
adept at organising the fluid one-against-many action sequences that have become his favourite
Kate benefits from this technique since it portrays the heroine as a single lady against waves upon waves
of yakuza men. Kate slams men’s faces into hibachi grills, raises and holds herself between buildings so
she can fire downward at her assailants, and chops off fingers before stabbing guys in their mouths.
With upside-down combat sequences, cinematographer Lyle Vincent turns the camera around to confuse
the viewers. He shoots close-ups of blood splattering over shoji screens and slow-motion footage of
Winstead twisting her way through rifle scopes’ neon-green laser beams.
Although the violence isn’t ultra-violent, it does lend some spice to an otherwise uninteresting narrative.
In the film, Winstead plays an assassin who hasn’t “missed a single target in 12 years.” Varrick (Woody Harrelson), her handler/boss/father figure, orders her to kill others. Varrick informs her who she must murder, and she does it without hesitation.
(It’s unknown if Varrick works for a bigger government organisation or operates his own murder ring.)
Varrick has had an unbalanced connection with her since she was adopted as a kid. (If this seems eerily
similar to the premise of The Protégé, that’s because it is – Maggie Q and Samuel L. Jackson had a similar
dynamic in that picture.)
Kate’s newest targets are high-ranking members of a Japanese criminal family, but something about the
assignment doesn’t seem quite right to her. First, she’s told to murder someone while his adolescent
daughter is there, which is a serious violation of procedure.
Then, ten months later, she’s ordered to assassinate Kijima (Jun Kunimura), the main boss, and her body
seems to revolt against her deeds.
Editors Sandra Montiel and Elsabet Ronaldsdóttir fragment Kate’s vision with askew angles and unsettling
memories, while composer Nathan Barr pipes in skipping, cacophonic electronic music to suggest that
Kate’s body is malfunctioning.
Kate misses the shot, and when she seeks medical help, she is diagnosed with acute radiation syndrome,
which would kill her in a matter of days. So she spends her last 24 hours trying to find Kijima, and she
plans to use Kijima’s adolescent niece Ani (Miku Patricia Martineau) as a bargaining chip.
Kate then travels to the same place as Netflix’s Gunpowder Milkshake went.
Once again, a cold-blooded killer who also happens to be a woman is given a tragic backstory, saddled
with a child, she sees as a younger version of herself and pitted against a cast of male characters who
primarily see female characters as their subordinates, which is ironic given that they’re being murdered by
That’s the anticipated storey, and Kate doesn’t go too far from it. Kate dreams of quitting the murdering
game for a suburban life with a family, but she softens toward Ani because of their shared orphan status
and a similar love of Boom Boom Lemon Japanese soda, according to Umair Aleem’s screenplay.
That’s a startling motive change for a guy who has been murdering people without hesitation for more
then a decade.
Within approximately 20 minutes of narrative time, Ani goes from telling Kate, “Fuck you, cancer bitch,”
to “You’re so awesome.” Martineau deserves praise for the vigour with which she ploughs through this
arduous discussion. However, the conception of these figures lacks a real feminine touch, as well as a
convincing human-behaviour touch.
Before Varrick took over, what did Kate intend to accomplish with her life? Is she a social butterfly? Has
she ever been in a relationship, or is one-night hookups (like she did with Michiel Huisman’s character) a
self-imposed restriction for her? Is Ani’s mixed identity causing her to be shunned at school? Has she
never had a female role model since she grew up in the yakuza? Would she ever contemplate relocating
outside of Japan? Beyond their plot-pushing obligations, who are these characters?
Kate and Ani don’t wind up being completely three-dimensional,
and to be fair, such depth may be unnecessary for the exciting effect of Winstead’s first ass-kicking
moments. However, when the film switches to concentrating on Kate and Ani’s love and loyalty to one
other in the second half, it doesn’t seem justified since their feelings are so shallow.
Unless the producers want viewers to think that Kate and Ani’s tethering is mainly due to their status as
“gaijin” foreigners? It doesn’t serve as a unifying element, but it does serve as another example of the
film’s “Japan despises white people” clichés.
Nonetheless, Martineau’s high-energy Ani contrasts nicely with Winstead’s deadpan Kate, and their
dedication is the key to temporarily lifting the picture from its flaws.
The self-serious grandiosity of the blowhard villains, who spew endless platitudes about honour, is
tattooed with Japanese calligraphy, carry samurai swords and machine guns, and refer to outsiders as
“monsters,” is wrapped in self-serious grandiosity. Kate exaggerates those villains to the point that the
easy girl-power moments it offers Kate and Ani are ineffective.
Kate exclaims dramatically in the film’s third act, “I’m not looking away anymore,” to explain how the last
24 hours have transformed her. Kate, on the other hand, isn’t much to look at apart from its combat