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Kate: Style Over Substance in New Netflix Thriller

Kate is a vibrant and ambitious take on the action genre, but ultimately feels like a more tiresome version of what we’ve seen many times before.

From the producers of the iconic John Wick and the more recent Nobody comes Kate, Netflix’s new action-thriller about a retired assassin hunting down the man who fatally poisoned her. With stunning visuals, electrically choreographed action sequences and a roughed-up Mary Elizabeth Winstead in the lead role, it seemed hard to imagine how the film could ever disappoint – but sadly, it doesn’t take long to realise that Kate has fallen victim to the same problem that plague plenty of other films of this genre. It’s a common criticism that often feels cheap or unwarranted, but Kate is a perfect example of the dangers of prioritising style over substance. There’s no doubt that the technical aspects of the film are top-tier, but the narrative is so formulaic, predictable and lacking in character development that it’s often hard to really care about what you’re seeing.

The titular Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is first introduced to us as a deadly assassin who eliminates potentially dangerous targets for her mentor, Varrick (Woody Harrelson). Following a hit gone wrong, Kate is poisoned by an elusive figure and told that she only has 24 hours left to live – and she spends these hours hunting down the man responsible for her imminent death. What ensues is a vicious, bloody game of cat and mouse, as Kate attempts to atone for her sins and save the life of a young girl she encounters along the way. The story might be something that we’ve seen plenty of times before, but the film admittedly adds its own visual and thematic twists along the way that keep it interesting to the casual viewer. Much like most Netflix original films in this vein, Kate won’t give you anything revolutionary, but it should scratch that late-night bloody action movie itch.

To start with the positives, Kate’s individual set pieces are all wonderfully constructed and intensely paced to keep a constant level of engagement throughout the whole runtime. They don’t hold back on the violence, but rather highlight it and make it a key component of the narrative – Kate is a character that displays very little remorse or empathy, and the rhythm of these action sequences successfully demonstrates that. They’re directed effectively, allowing every individual beat to shine and establishing a consistent tone that runs throughout. Unfortunately, they’re really the only exciting part of the film – and you can watch them all in the trailer. The narrative itself is frustratingly simple and never diverts from its conventional structure, allowing you to easily predict exactly where the story is going next. The one twist towards the end of the film sadly doesn’t work at all, and manages in spite of its predictability to completely undermine the minimal development of the central characters up to this point. It feels a lot like watching a really long recap of a TV series, in that it expects you to fill in the blanks for yourselves when it comes to character development and backstory, instead just documenting the progression of the plot. 

loud and clear reviews Kate Netflix
Mary Elizabeth Winstead (“Kate”) and Miku Martineau (“Ani”) in Kate (Jasin Boland / Netflix)

Kate is a film with a lot of potential, but ultimately squanders this by not taking any risks with its story or ideas. The screenplay often feels as though it’s explicitly walking the audience through the story step by step, when it could be offering developed ideas that make us think and make us empathise with the central characters. The action, violence and stunning scenery may be enough to captivate some viewers, but not many will come away from Kate with a totally satisfied appetite. It’s also worth noting that whilst I found the presentation mostly harmless, there will be those who take issue with the story’s treatment of Japanese culture and heritage. The location is solely used as an aesthetic, and it’s fair to say that the scenes depicting Japanese people being carelessly slaughtered by Western assassins will certainly not sit right with some viewers, despite the film’s attempts to somehow humanise and justify Kate’s morally questionable character. 

Whilst Kate will certainly be a disappointment to those who had high hopes for the stylish thriller, the film will still surely find its audience with more casual viewers just looking to pass two hours with some mindless fun. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a force to be reckoned with as the titular protagonist, and I’d definitely love to see her pull off a role like this again. It isn’t anywhere near as exciting or thrilling as the premise may suggest, but there’s still entertainment to be had with the flashy execution.

Kate is now available to watch on Netflix.

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