Once every decade or so, an action movie comes out that resets the bar for kinetic, thrilling action sequences. These movies quickly become favorites, and studios scramble to recapture that same magic in derivative efforts. This is nothing new, of course. Films like Die Hard, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, The Matrix, and John Wick have inspired a host of pretenders to the throne that, while they share DNA with their predecessors, fail to capture the magic that made those movies iconic.
Which brings us to Kate, Netflix’s latest entry into the elite assassin genre. Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Birds of Prey) plays the titular unstoppable assassin. Living in Tokyo, Kate is content to take orders from her handler and father figure Varrick (Woody Harrelson) until a hit goes wrong and Kate ends up shooting a member of the Yakuza in front of his own daughter, Ani (Miku Martineau).
The act so shakes Kate that she considers quitting the game and starting fresh. But after a one night stand with a handsome stranger (Michiel Huisman, who played another disastrous one night stand in The Flight Attendant), Kate is fatally poisoned. With only 24 hours left to live, Kate goes on a rampage to murder Kijima (Jun Kunimura) the Yakuza big boss, and kidnaps his niece Ani in an attempt to find him.
If the premise sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Versions of this story have been told for decades, dating back to the 1950 film noir D.O.A. up to the Jason Statham fever dream Crank. Kate is one of many “elite assassin goes on a rampage” films that have sprouted up since John Wick hit theaters in 2014. More recently, studios have sought to create a female take on John Wick with forgettable dreck like Gunpowder Milkshake, The Protected, Jolt, and a whole host of Ruby Rose-led vehicles that don’t bear mentioning.
Kate does little to reinvent the wheel, with predictable twists and turns that will only be surprising if you’ve never seen a movie before. But what it does have is Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who has transformed herself into a confident an extremely watchable action star. Winstead does excellent work in the action sequences, and brings gravitas and gallows humor to a thinly drawn archetype.
Kate also reunites Winstead with her Birds of Prey stunt coordinator Jonathan Eusebio, who has previously worked on all three John Wick films. The result is a series of creatively violent and thrilling fight sequences, which sets Kate apart from standard action fare. Each hit bruises, as Kate’s rapidly deteriorating body keeps fighting. Between the fight choreography and Winstead’s compelling performance, Kate makes a case for itself where similar films have floundered.
While the film is hampered by an uninspired script that makes every obvious choice, there’s enough style to overcome the film’s complete lack of substance and its near-fetishization of Japanese culture. There’s rich territory to explore with Kate as a foreigner in Japan, as well as Ani’s own struggle to fit in as a biracial teen. But those are clearly themes that the film isn’t interested in exploring beyond the surface.
Despite its shortcoming, at a lean hour and 46 minutes, Kate makes for a solidly entertaining watch. You could do a lot worse with a weekend Netflix offering. So turn off your brain, grab the popcorn, and enjoy some escapism. And in lieu of a standalone Huntress film or series, Winstead’s performance is more than worth the price of admission.
(image: Jasin Boland/Netflix)
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Netflix’s ‘Kate’ Leaves No Assassin Movie Cliché Unused