Netflix‘s new action-packed revenge movie is here. Kate follows an assassin on her last mission through Tokyo, taking on virtually the entirety of the Yakuza.
For fans of revenge flicks and martial arts movies, Kate will definitely have some appeal, but for anyone looking for a fresh new entry in the genre, it’s likely to disappoint.
You can predict where the film is going from the start, and despite some impressive fight choreographer and tight pacing, we’re reaching a saturation point with this kind of cinema. John Wick and Birds of Prey have set the bar high in recent years, and while Kate is playing in their ballpark, it isn’t keeping up.
Kate premieres on Netflix on Friday, September 10.
What is Kate about?
Kate has a wonderfully simple setup. An elite assassin working in Tokyo, Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), is poisoned. She has about a day to live, and no way to stop the effects of the poison on her body.
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Rather than take up her doctor on his offer to keep her comfortable until the end, she does what any good contract killer with no human attachments would do. She uses what little time she has to go after the people who did this to her.
Of course, all of that is complicated by the fact that it’s not at all clear who did this to her or why. Throw in the teen daughter of her last hit, and you’ve got a fun bit of chaos as she protects the girl while staying on mission.
So far, so good! This is the kind of bare-bones setup that allows for sharp storytelling focused on action and character over other plot points.
Cycles of violence
But Kate never fully lives up to its generic potential.
It has some interesting things to say, no doubt. At its heart, Kate explores cycles of violence, where entire underworlds are build on never-ending rivalries, where new generations build on the death and destruction that came before them.
Within all of that is an acknowledgment of the ways American colonialism is to blame for much of this violence, along with an attempt to atone within the film. But still, the unsavory optics of a white woman killing hoards of nameless Japanese enemies aren’t fully squared away.
The fun, shoot-em-up action relies on a pretty huge non-white body count, and that feels off.
The backlash against another recent white-woman-killing-people-of-color actioner, Peppermint, seemingly didn’t have a huge effect on the folks behind Kate.
An 11th-hour attempt to condemn the cultural hegemony of Americans abroad is undermined in a film that, for most of its runtime, seems to bask in its own superficial love of Japanese pop culture and aesthetics without making its Japanese characters much more than targets.
Kate review: The verdict
The biggest drawback to Kate is that it feels like I’ve seen this film before. And not just once or twice. I’ve seen it a lot.
Netflix has been accused of just factory farming content based on the cold numbers of its algorithm. And Kate doesn’t do much to dispel that impression.
It’s by-the-numbers action cinema. It’s playing the hits, no doubt, but without any innovation or fun new angles.
Kate is a little bit John Wick, a little bit Nikita, a little bit Crank, a little bit Gunpowder Milkshake, and a little bit Birds of Prey. Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s excellent performance in the latter may as well have been her audition for this similar if far less rewarding role.
Kate is by-the-numbers action cinema.
If you want to shut your brain off and enjoy some well-executed action scenes — and who doesn’t, at least sometimes? — Kate is certainly an easy choice. There’s a reason people replay the hits, after all.
You can check Kate out on September 10 on Netflix.