An Unfortunately Forgettable Action Thriller
With the worldwide release of John Wick 3 this week, Netflix bite back with their own revenge thriller, Maria. Borrowing elements from numerous different films in this genre, Maria feels like a jumbled, stitched together patchwork of ideas and one-dimensional characters, with the charisma of Maria herself preventing the film from falling apart. With a simple story and an emphasis on the action, Maria does do a good job with its fight choreography and these scenes are certainly visceral and brutal. Unfortunately there’s nothing here to help this Filipino film stand out from the glut of others in this genre.
The film begins with a former BlackRose cartel assassin refusing to complete her final mission and bowing out of the game to start a new life, away from the violence. Cut forward 7 years and Maria is happily married to Bert with their beautiful child Min-Min. Maria’s dark, bloody history is all but a distant memory until an election campaign for the Governor sees Maria back in the firing line for those wanting her dead for her betrayal. As the powers that be make their move, tragedy befalls Maria and her family, forcing her to go a murderous rampage and get revenge over those who have wronged her.
From Kill Bill and John Wick through to Atomic Blonde and Jason Bourne, this revenge-assassin plot has been done time and time again. Unfortunately, unlike the others in this genre, Maria fails to instill its own flavour onto the genre. While a few scenes are artistically shot, they pale in comparison to Kill Bill’s masterful use of colour. There’s a flurry of quick-cut fights but they don’t compare to Jason Bourne’s dizzying fights. When you strip each element down in this way, what we’re left with is a story that can’t quite stand on its own, propped up by the others in this genre with little to help it stand out.
Having said that though, the entire film would fall flat if it wasn’t for Cristine Reyes. Her emotional depth and tenacity to the role really helps this film and you certainly empathise with her struggle through the Maria’s run-time. Aside from her though, the rest of the cast can’t quite match up to this level. Victor and Kaleb in particular feel like one-dimensional caricatures and the exaggerated manner their lines are read certainly hurts the credibility of their characters. It’s particularly problematic for one scene early on too and during the dramatic peak of the film, a fade in/fade out effect accompanied by slow motion shots really takes you out of the moment.
What we’re left with then is a film that’s on the cusp of being a solid action thriller but can’t quite stand on its own two feet. There are enjoyable elements here, especially the music which is fantastic, but these moments are crushed under the weight of mediocrity hanging over almost every other aspect of the film. Cristine Reyes’ portrayal of Maria will keep you engaged until the end but compared to others in this space, Maria fails to really make its mark.