After countless films have been delayed thanks to COVID-19, the arrival of a new one feels like a momentous occasion—even for standard ‘Netflick’ fare. So, I went into Ava with no expectations other than ‘woo new film!’.
I should have just stuck with an old one.
Ava follows Jessica Chastain as the titular assassin who, after a botched job, is marked for death by the very organisation she works for. Not only must she try to survive, but also protect her estranged family who want nothing to do with her.
From the get-go, watching Ava felt like a poor imitation of something else: something I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but certainly something I’d much rather be watching than this. Ava is a film built on some cool ideas that have been done to death so many times before, making the film feel generic and unforgettable, the latter of which is an impressive feat given the cast.
Alongside Chastain, the film stars Colin Farrell and John Malkovich as… truthfully, the only character’s name I remember is Chastain’s, and that’s because it’s the name of the movie. These are all super talented actors but, like the film, are all forgettable. One of the few interesting aspects was Ava’s alcohol addiction, but it wasn’t taken far enough and felt more superficial than a fundamental quality of the character, just to be instantly tossed away in exchange for a cool action sequence.
Speaking of the action, it wasn’t even that cool. The fighting choreography was, like so many things in this film, generic and repetitive and left a lot to be desired. I know that not every film can have the action of John Wick, but can you blame me for wanting more than a punch and a kick to take someone down, or a chokehold that looks like two old friends greeting each other? While I may not have expected much from the plot, as with many action films, I at least expected some memorable fights. I think part of the reason for this was the choice of director. While Tate Taylor is certainly a talented director with films like The Help and Get On Up, it is clear here that he lacks experience with action films. Rather than committing to all-out action or a character-driven tale (heck, imagine if he had both), Taylor lacks the initiative to do either.
A dull character may be one thing, but it’s another thing entirely when the characters aren’t even consistently dull. The screenplay from Matt Newton likes to contradict itself whenever it can with well-written character moments being tossed away in the next scene for the sake of a gritty kill or cheeky snog. It’s almost as if Ava forgets every scene before, panics, and just decided to do the next generic thing on the action movie checklist.
Something I actually liked about this film (I know, I’m shocked too) was Ava’s mum, Bobbi, played by Geena Davis. Not only did she deliver a solid performance as a no-nonsense mum, but also paved the way to one of the more interesting subplots of the film which actually had a satisfying conclusion. The dynamic between Ava and Bobbi was great, building both of them up in an emotionally rewarding way. I just wish we got to spend more time with her.
One thing that was memorable, though, was the soundtrack—but not in a good way. There is an over-reliance on electronic music which can and does work in action scenes, but not when Jessica Chastain is doing something as mundane as walking up a flight of stairs for 10 seconds. And in the penultimate action sequence, where such music would be perfect, it instead goes for a melancholy tune that is more jarring than anything else. It feels almost as if the track and film never actually met until they were smacked together.
Ava takes no risks, recycling everything from previous films and resulting in a film that I’ve mostly forgotten by the end of this review. The only upside is that I won’t remember any long-lasting trauma from it.
Words by George Bell
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