Light on plot, but an impressive bodycount and a potential new leading lady in the action genre help Maria stand out.
Pedring Lopez’s actioner Maria, which arrived on Netflix today directly from the Philippines, understands the single most fundamental rule of balls-to-the-wall genre filmmaking: Clarity. Say what you like about the boilerplate revenge plot or the low budget or the distracting flip-flopping between spoken languages, at least you can see what’s going on. And that’s more than you can say for most action movies — those from the West, anyway.
Yes, like The Raid and The Night Comes For Us, Maria further proves that Asia still does blood and brutality better than virtually anywhere else on Earth, although the direct comparison to either of those films doesn’t do this one too many favors. But it’s still closer to those flicks in style and tone and overall competency, so I reckon I can get away with it. Just moderate those expectations slightly, folks. Maria is good, but it isn’t that good.
In the bizarre swamplands of Netflix, though, good is quite enough. And the real advantage that the film has is Christine Reyes, who, if there’s any justice in the world, will be thrust into some mainstream limelight on the strength of her work here as a former cartel assassin who is forced to seek revenge on her old employers.
Yeah, you’ve seen it all before. An assassin who won’t complete a mission once it becomes too morally murky; a fake death; a new life. It’s the basic setup. So it’s no surprise when Maria’s former flame Kaleb (Germaine De Leon) turns up to cause some problems, and it’s equally unsurprising when those problems are solved with bullets, knives, and various other unpleasant tools.
Maria is less stylized (and well-funded) than John Wick but evokes it better than, say, Atomic Blonde did, favoring the same kind of crystal-clear action and deeply satisfying one-(wo)man-army chaos. Reyes is a highly compelling physical presence and as a showcase for her, Maria is virtually flawless. As its own thing, though, its well-worn approach and focus on action above all else leaves little to latch onto emotionally, despite some rather heavy-handed attempts at pulling the audience’s heartstrings. That aside, this is above-average entertainment that’ll undoubtedly satisfy genre fans and might have introduced the next big action star. What were people saying about Netflix being worthless?
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.