There is a subsection of the Action genre I have entitled the “Local Badass Kills Everyone” genre. This has mostly been popularized by John Wick and Taken. Since then, there have been quite a few attempts to replicate this. It must be hard to do, because even John Wick’s and Taken’s sequels have failed at capturing this supposed lightning in a bottle.
Atomic Blonde tried to replicate it last year and utterly failed.
Now we have Proud Mary (basically black Atomic Blonde (basically female John Wick)).
Now, I understand that there are people who have no idea what makes the genre “Local Badass Kills Everyone” so special. Here is my list explaining what is needed for films like these:
1. Make a hero with a likable persona and a believable backstory to their skills.
2. Make a cohesive crime universe that makes sense on paper.
3. Give our hero an intensely compelling motivation to do what he/she is doing.
4. Make the bad guys somewhat detestable, and for the love of God, do not make them cartoons.
5. Make brutal, intense, well-made action sequences that benefit from rules 1 through 4.
Taken and John Wick (the originals) were great movies because they followed these five simple, but concise rules.
John Wick 2 failed because it couldn’t follow rule 3 and 4.
Atomic Blonde failed because it couldn’t follow rule 1 and 3, and was iffy on rule 2.
Proud Mary literally fails at all 5 rules.
I am absolutely astonished at how much Proud Mary fails as a film. I can’t remember the last time I was so bored and uninvested in an action movie. So… let’s go through point by point why Proud Mary fails miserably:
Rule 1: Make a hero with a likable persona and a believable backstory to their skills.
Proud Mary has no idea who exactly Mary is because they are completely indecisive about what they want her to be. Half of the time, she’s a coldblooded killer who wouldn’t think twice about murdering a man in his own apartment or murdering a guy as a sacrificial lamb for a screw up she committed. The other half of the time, she’s a shriveling wuss who can’t take the brutalities of crime despite being exposed to it for decades.
So when these two contradictory natures clash, it made me wonder why Mary was chosen to be this talented assassin? The movie certainly doesn’t explain why she’s chosen. She just is an assassin because it’s what she does. The film never hints at any sort of training, trials, tribulations, etc. that made her into the killer the movie wants us to believe she is.
Mary is so bafflingly uninteresting that I honestly got tired of watching the film 30-40 minutes into it.
Rule 2: Make a cohesive crime universe that makes sense on paper.
Good Lord, does Proud Mary fail at this rule.
Basically, it’s the Black mob vs. the Russian mob. It’s never explained how their dynamics necessarily work, and thus their relationship changes at the drop of a dime. The film never organically works through the history of either of these groups, mainly because the dialogue is so godawful that it couldn’t even bother to try.
There’s no air of true secrecy about what anyone does. There’s no clever mechanics to how the crime world works. The crime syndicates are very effective when the movie needs them to be, and then they are completely forgotten about whenever Mary wants to play house with the child she more or less adopted (we’ll get to that soon).
This is not even to mention that the Russian mob is all but forgotten halfway through the film, comes back so that Mary and Tom can obliterate them, and then the movie becomes Mary vs. the Black mob.
Rule 3: Give our hero an intensely compelling motivation to do what he/she is doing.
Mary’s motivations for doing anything are extremely poorly defined. They establish that she had some sort of former relationship with Tom, and that she was adopted by mob boss Benny as a child. However, the film never really explains why she fell in love with Tom, and they never explain why they broke up. Meanwhile, Mary has this quiet abrasiveness and disrespect towards Benny throughout the entire movie, so it baffles me that the film wants us to think she’s this highly esteemed assassin that Benny puts all of this faith in.
Here’s what is truly motivating Mary: a child she adopts named Danny. Danny is the son of a man Mary killed a year ago. She later finds Danny being a cocaine mule for The Russians, she kills those Russians, adopts Danny without his knowledge, and then trusts him with ungodly amounts of permissions and knowledge even though Danny is a little shit of a child that is an insane liability to literally everything within the entire universe of this film.
Danny, by the way, is an unlikable character, and it is never explained why Mary switches from taking care of him out of some sense of guilt to wanting to adopt him as a son and alter her entire life.
Rule 4: Make the bad guys somewhat detestable, and for the love of God, do not make them cartoons.
At first, it seems like the bad guys are The Russians, until they’re just not. Shoot, the film is so lazy that they casted stand-in Russian baddy Rade Serbedzija as the Russian crime boss, utilize him for one awful scene, and he never ever comes back again. They then have two other scenes with the Russians, one to sloppily set up a stupid turf war, and then they later get easily obliterated and are never heard from again.
Then, Mary ends up fighting the Black mob that raised her, and the film never commits to having Benny (Danny Glover) be a “bad guy”. He’s not cruel, he’s not calculative, he’s not smart, and he’s certainly not memorable. So when Mary pretends that she needs to get away from Benny at all cost, it is simply unbelievable.
Rule 5: Make brutal, intense, well-made action sequences that benefit from rules 1 through 4.
There is only one fight scene in Proud Mary that’s worth any damn. It’s at the end, and it’s not good enough to justify sitting through 80 minutes of rubbish to get to it. Now the fight scene is not all that impressive on it’s own, but it could’ve been something if Proud Mary nailed rules 1-4, but as already explained, they failed at all 4 of them with astonishing precision.
The dialogue in this movie is dreadful. None of it is clever, and all of it feels excruciatingly contrived.
The soundtrack was one third generic-movie-soundtrack, and two thirds woefully stereotypical soulful black music that did nothing for any scene it is played in.
The plot is abysmal and unfocused.
There is almost no character development that makes any sort of sense.
The pacing in this movie is exhaustingly fast, so fast that the film forgot to take any time to truly succeed in anything.
This movie sucks. Honestly, after being so disappointed with Atomic Blonde, I had some sort of delusion that maybe Proud Mary would succeed where Atomic Blonde failed. Boy was I wrong. Proud Mary fails in nearly every aspect that Atomic Blonde did, but exponentially more. And it failed in many ways that even Atomic Blonde didn’t. This is one of the most boring movies I have ever seen in my entire life.