It seems like almost every other week, a movie about an elite assassin — usually on a mission of revenge — is released. Call it the John Wick effect. Adding to this burgeoning subgenre is an ever-growing set of movies in which the central assassin is female, such as The Protégé, Ava, and Gunpowder Milkshake. The latest example is Netflix’s Kate. And though it arrives with extra credibility due to the inclusion of David Leitch, director of Atomic Blonde and co-director of John Wick, among its executive producers, there’s nothing surprising or unique here. Still, that doesn’t stop Kate from being entertaining, even if it’s exactly the kind of entertainment you’re expecting.
Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is introduced arriving for a mission in Osaka with her handler, mentor, and father figure, Varrick (Woody Harrelson). A seasoned assassin who’s perfectly comfortable killing adults, Kate hesitates when her target arrives with his teenage daughter in tow. Kate ultimately takes the shot but feels guilty about the trauma she subjects the girl to, so 10 months later, she informs Varrick she’s planning to get out of the assassin game after one final mission in Tokyo.
Of course, things go horribly wrong. For the first time Kate fails to take out her target because she becomes too ill to aim her gun. Soon she learns the guy (a wasted Michiel Huisman) she met at a bar the previous night slipped something into her drink and that something is killing her, leaving her with only 24 hours left to live. Kate decides to use her remaining time to get revenge on the people she believes are responsible for her impending demise. In the process, Ani (Miku Martineau), the daughter of the man she killed in Osaka, becomes her unlikely sidekick, and even as Kate continues to physically deteriorate, the pair form a mother-daughter style bond.
Kate‘s story arc is remarkably similar to that of Gunpowder Milkshake, which Netflix released back in July. It even features a similar third act revelation that is staged in a way that indicates director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan recognizes viewers will have already picked up on the (supposedly) big twist. Meanwhile, Winstead is pretty much playing a more confident version of her Birds of Prey character, Huntress. Still, Winstead completely commits to her role, delivering the stunts in a number of gritty set pieces with a convincing naturalism, and grounding her character in her desire to take control of her life for perhaps the first time ever. Even though we still don’t know all that much about Kate, Winstead makes her highly watchable and at least somewhat sympathetic. Matching her is newcomer Martineau, who slowly reveals the grief, uncertainty, and desire for guidance lurking underneath Ani’s obnoxious teenage posturing.
Like Gunpowder Milkshake, Kate also features a neon aesthetic, but in this case it’s the result of the movie’s Japanese setting. Unfortunately, when it comes to this backdrop, the movie traffics in stereotypes, mixing in geishas, kabuki, night markets, and cutesy kittens. Between that and the slightly queasy feeling that comes from watching a white woman slay dozens of nameless Japanese men, the movie almost seems to be commenting on itself when the head of a yakuza family observes that Westerners “gorge on cultures they don’t understand.”
However, even though there are many things to criticize in Kate, due to its impressive central performances and exciting action, the movie is fairly diverting. Although it doesn’t have anything new to offer, if you’ve enjoyed similar films, you’re likely to enjoy Kate too.