ST. LOUIS — Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) was the world's most deadliest assassin, and that was before she was poisoned.
Walking around a gorgeously-rendered Tokyo, Kate now has 24 hours to find out who wronged her before succumbing to Acute Radiation Syndrome, a killing-them-softly method if there ever was one. If she was a cunning killing machine before the poisoning, Kate has somehow acquired an even deadlier status afterwards. As she stalks around the city trying to figure out if the Yakuza had her killed or someone else, the audience is treated to one sure thing: The Mary Elizabeth Winstead show.
If there is one surefire reason to give this slick and well-shot Netflix actioner your precious time, it's an actress completely leaning into a role that most would say is of the throwaway variety. Like Maggie Q in the similar 2021 avenging female assassin actioner, "The Protege," Winstead goes full throttle in a lead role that feels like an expansion of her arrow-wielding character from "Birds of Prey." However, Kate doesn't really need a team of ladies to get the job done; poisoned or not, she can take down a crew of six in the pouring rain in no time. Winstead sells the carnage and keeps you invested in a screenplay that most film addicts can unfold in their heads during the first ten minutes.
Thankfully, nobody comes to an action opera for an original story or plot thread. Did we really find "John Wick" to be mind-blowing? Not really. It simply aced a test that was written decades ago. Create an action-adventure, but make it your own. All "Kate" needs to be is entertaining and carry a personality, two things it has in spades due to its female lead. While I have been a fan of Winstead for a long time, I don't think moviegoers have enjoyed her craft in this manner before. It's visceral, blunt, and relentless.
Woody Harrelson shows up and does Woody-type things, playing Kate's longtime mentor and father figure. Jun Kunimura, Michael Huisman, and Kazuya Tanabe all perform well in their small yet vital roles. Miku Patricia Martineau is the young girl that Kate reluctantly befriends and takes along for the ride, even if there is a secret binding them together that the audience is privy to early on in the movie. Outside of Winstead, there isn't a real standout performance from the cast.
The other flashy and efficient element here is the cinematography, and how it syncs up with the story and overall aesthetic of "Kate." Director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan has a confident eye with the camera, and his DP Lyle Vincent gives every rain-drenched shot extra sex appeal that mixes well with the "one last ride" mission at the heart of the tale. A particularly bright interior of a car turns a chase sequence into something else, merging a road between a Japanese anime dream and a movie masquerading as a modern-day western.
But it's the little things that make "Kate" something extra. The way Winstead's avenging femme fatale pauses before a gunfight to grab a quick bite of noodles from her eventual victim's plate, or the precise manner in which Kate uses a few supplies from a gas station to make a silencer for her weapon. The fight choreography leaves little to be desired, adapting some of the well-known and already overly used "Wick Fu" while allowing its star to shine.
What else makes "Kate" stand out? The stakes are real, with A.R.S. controlling the clock and our heroine's actions. This isn't a situation where some secret superpower will bail her out at the last minute; she has been poisoned and will go, but first there will be blood--lots of it actually. "Kate" doesn't completely rely on the action genre playbook, adding its own shades of beauty and brutality. Also, she isn't a clear-cut protagonist. The movie doesn't try to paint her a satisfying-yet-insincere backstory to make you warm to her more. She's cold for a reason, and that's a path the filmmakers thankfully don't trip over.
Think of "Kate" as a Netflix smashed double cheeseburger, made just the way you asked for. A few bites in, you may know where it's going but that won't stop you from finishing the burger. This one was made right, with its B-movie flag waving proudly and loudly clear: This is for action junkies only. Just wait for the unexpected beauty of that final shot.