DIRECTOR: JONAS ÅKERLUND | SCREENPLAY: JAYSON ROTHWELL | STARS: MADS MIKKELSEN, VANESSA HUDGENS, MATT LUCAS, KATHERYN WINNICK | RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (NETFLIX)
As the world’s greatest assassin, Duncan Vizla AKA The Black Kaiser (Mikkelsen) is approaching retirement and a hefty payout, while his employer Mr Blut (Lucas) has a very different plan in the movie adaptation of the Dark Horse graphic novel of the same name. From the outset, the film is a tonal mess. We’re first introduced to a batch of younger assassins, complete with codenames and obvious gimmicks (worse than some WWE superstars) as they carry out an assassination of a retired agent. As we get acquainted with each assassin, a graphic is displayed on screen as if taken directly from a comic book, which is a nice stylistic choice. That being said, the colour pallet we’re presented with is comparable to cranking the contrast and brightness on your TV up to the maximum level, which works to begin with, until we shift focus to Vizla living in a remote town covered in snow - a jarring divergence from what we’ve already witnessed. And it doesn’t get better from there.
As we cut back and forth between Vizsla and the ragtag bunch of assassins, the tone is so inconsistent that you can’t quite figure out if this is meant to be a comedy or something more serious. It’s as if John Wick and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World had a baby, and it inherited none of what made those two movies great. After each dramatic or action-packed scene, it transitions in the cheapest looking way possible to our bumbling, over the top villain Mr Blut. Don’t get us wrong, Matt Lucas can be fantastic, but this piece of casting feels really out of place. We never thought that we’d see Lucas going face-to-face with Mikkelsen in any capacity!
Concerning the violence that one would expect from an assassin thriller, the box is undoubtedly ticked. Vizla’s rampage in the final act of the film is easily the most entertaining and brutal part of the story, with no expense was spared. However, when it comes to progressing the narrative and developing interesting characters, there just isn’t much there. Vizla’s neighbour Camille (Hudgens) feels like an obvious bargaining chip with a cheap backstory until it’s painstakingly forced into the plot for the ending and, like Mikkelson in the first act, Hudgens sadly looks bored with what’s happening.
With an acting powerhouse such as Mikkelsen at the helm of an action thriller, one would think that the outcome would be much more entertaining and well crafted, but that isn’t the case. Two-dimensional characters, questionable casting choices and a lacklustre script means that the two-hour runtime slogged from start to finish rather than feeling like an adrenaline-induced, blood-filled dream that it could have been.