Ava Review: A bland and boring action thriller
While his career as a director has sort of made him fly under the radar, there’s no denying that Tate Taylor has some solid work under his belt. From helming the Oscar-winning film The Help to directing Chadwick Boseman to give a career defining performance as the legendary James Brown in Get On Up, Taylor has put in some strong work that shows his skills as a director. Even his work on last year’s Blumhouse horror hit Ma was a lot of fun and helped create a very memorable first lead performance for Octavia Spencer. All of this is what makes his latest film, Ava, incredibly unfortunate as it’s far from his best work.
Ava is just another one of THOSE action thrillers – the kind about a talented assassin with a traumatic past that’s abandoned her former life and now has to deal with those that she’s left behind as well as being a target herself after a job gone wrong. It’s a formula we’ve seen time and time again and it doesn’t get any better here. Now, just because something follows a by the numbers formula or is overly reminiscent of something else doesn’t mean that it’s total loss, but Ava adds nothing to make itself stand out and ends up being bland as hell. Everyone just fits into typical trope roles with Ava (Jessica Chastain) being our “anti-hero” protagonist, Duke (John Malkovich) being her old, snarky mentor, Simon (Colin Farrell) is basically Ava’s mirror antagonist as he’s also a former disciple of Duke, and Michael (Common) is a former lover of Ava that’s now become a part of the past she’s left behind. Thus, everyone is written like stock action characters and it heavily hinders the more character-driven approach the film goes for.
It’s hard to have a character-driven narrative without giving any sort of depth or personality to its characters. Ava is so emotionless and rigid that she’s hard to sympathize with and all of the talk about her having a conscience about those she kills comes off like all talk. Throughout the film, we’re constantly hearing about Ava breaking protocol to ask her targets why she’s been asked to kill them and how it caused a rift between her and “management” as well as sparked her to become an alcoholic. However, this never leads to any sort of results that differ from Ava just killing her targets and moving on. We never get to see a moment that sees her questioning what she does and making different choices, so all this talk about her having moments of clarity just come off like total crap.
Even the family matters that Ava has to attend to are a total drag as her emotionless attitude and overly bitter atmosphere of her family add nothing compelling or enjoyable to watch. Her sister Judy (Jess Weixler) holds an immense amount of resentment towards her with every single thing she does, her mother Bobbi (Geena Davis) is just another bitter entity in this family, and Michael is a bland love interest that causes a divide between Judy and Ava since Judy is now with him. It’s incredibly hard to connect to how bitter everyone is towards Ava for keeping secrets since they never feel like a real family as they’re just constantly arguing and sniping with one another and Michael’s “love” for Judy never comes off genuine. Even Ava’s alcoholism is hard to connect with as the film struggles to show it as a real problem. Other than everyone looking down on Ava, her past alcoholism is just talked about and never shown to strongly hinder her or leaves a deep impact. Even when she breaks down and succumbs to her addiction, she’s not punished for it and it doesn’t have any sort of impact on the situation she finds herself in so it’s completely meaningless.
Honestly, it seems like an aspect to make her appear more likeable and make you care about her, but it’s unsuccessful in doing so as there’s nothing all that likeable about Ava. Chastain definitely tries her best and does start to show that she can be an action badass, but there’s not really much else for her to do other than just be a badass and it loses its allure quickly – especially with how nauseating the action is in this film. Taylor hasn’t worked too much within the action genre and Ava makes that clear as it displays action sequences that are basically unwatchable. The choppy editing makes every movement feel nauseating, every sense of movement never comes off naturally, and there’s never any sort of build up to the action so you’re just kind of thrown into the mix. Even when you’re there, there’s nothing to feel about them since there’s no sense of style or pace to them that sucks you into the moment so instead of pumping up the film’s pace it just adds to its blandness.
As for the rest of the cast, they also just add to the blandness as the script barely allows anyone to shine or make a lasting impression. Farrell is just a mediocre mirror villain to Ava and is a clear waste of his talents to create compelling characters. Malkovich and Common continue their trend of just playing themselves in movies – which is starting to get old. Diana Silvers, who has been a major rising talent and was great in Ma, is also totally wasted and outside of its titular assassin, none of the female characters are all that special. Weixler is never given a moment to be anything expect bitter towards Ava, Davis’ appearance is always welcome but she’s totally under-utilized, and even the female antagonist the film tries to create late into the film in the form of an underground criminal named Toni (Joan Chen) who ends up just being a pointless addition.
Ava is certainly not the sum of its parts. It features a cast full of talent that’s never utilized, the kind of action script that could usually be enjoyable but makes for an incredibly bland action experience here, and a director who could normally chock up a pretty solid flick but looks totally out of place here. All in all, it’s not a good look for anyone involved.