We’re in a bit of a lull when it comes to blockbuster action films – Bond 25 won’t be out until 2019 and Mission Impossible 6 is out next year – meaning there’s an opening for a new action hero to take control in 2017.
Maze Runner’s Dylan O’Brien takes the reigns in this first full throttle adaptation of the Mitch Rapp series following a man triggered by a horrific incident that sparks a desire for revenge. It’s a traditional action film that falls on the same traditions that shouldn’t be seen in 2017. Mitch Rapp and his girlfriend enjoy the beaches of Ibiza when he proposes to her. Within minutes, the honeymoon period is over when terrorists storm the beach, wiping out half the holidaymakers including Mitch’s girlfriend. Snap forward 18 months and Mitch is on a warpath to take out these terrorists. He’s bulked up, learnt to fight and posed as a radicalised American to go undercover. Things go awry and he’s quickly picked up by the CIA, given only one option to become part of their operations unit filled with assassins and trained by a tough talking Michael Keaton. Everything up to this point is fresh, tension-filled and makes you think it’s leading to a new direction for these types of films, but then it curves back to an old-hand shoot ‘em up style movie that kind of just becomes boring.
Dylan O’Brein and Michael Keaton are awesome, setting up O’Brein for a definite future as an action star. Whereas previous roles have been him playing fairly young, this is mature and edgy enough to see the 26 year old is capable of bigger things. Keaton is brilliant also; you can see he’s just having fun in this wave of his career. After Birdman and Spiderman, he knows he can let loose a bit and be more unpredictable with characters, and that’s exactly what he gets. There’s a pretty harrowing scene near the end of the film that you believe in because of Keaton’s off-kilter portrayal. Supporting cast members also build the less-than-great story up; a combination of this and a misstep of writing is what ultimately brings the film down. Great set pieces and scenes are let down by a cheesy side piece about losing family or repetitions of training montage lines. The film could have even lost 80% of it’s jet setting missions to focus on one huge one after delving more into the training. We’re left with a formula that occurs at least 4 times where you’re waiting for the cycle to begin again.
You know what’s about to happen – there’s a mission with an objective, something goes slightly wrong, the psychologically scarred Mitch takes it upon himself to pursue after the mission is called off and all chaos ensues – rinse and repeat. For an operative that is supposed to be in and out without a trace, a mass shooting in a cafe in Rome means you’ve left all sense of an operative like this existing. Sure, you could argue that big explosions, car chases and stunt-filled shootouts heighten the drama, but there could have been so much more if they stuck to the ‘assassin’ route that no one film series has yet to get right. It’s what the movie drives you to think will happen, especially in the first half with Mitch’s newfound skills in infiltration. Instead it resorts to brashful violence with a slightly complicated storyline that yet again paints the Middle East as a fully evil state ready to blow up the world with nuclear bombs. It’s been done before and will be done again, especially seeing as there are 15 other stories in this series. In that respect, it’s less about the direction, acting or actual look of the film, it’s more the source material that lets the whole thing down.
It’s an 18-rated movie that could have done far better if they went for a slightly toned down version for a younger audience. Mitch Rapp could have been a new hero for the young adult’s yearning for an icon that’s not in a cape, but American Assassin fails to deliver anything more than a rehashed action film of the 00s with a new face. The new face will go far, but the series? Not as much.