Warrior women are all the rage in action movie these days, and the newest lady killer with a score to settle is ready to rumble in the Filipino actioner “Maria”. Under the direction of Pedring Lopez, “Maria” is a cold-blooded, hard-hitting revenge thriller that doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but still delivers a pretty satisfying 90 minutes of fist and blade-FUelled, vengeance-driven action.
Christine Reyes steps into the role of the titular anti-heroine Maria, with Guji Lorenzana and Johanna Rish Tongcua assuming the roles of her beloved husband and daughter, Bert and Min-Min. Germaine De Leon portrays the villainous Kaleb, an old associate and embittered former lover of our heroine, while Freddie Webb tackles the role of Kaleb’s father, local crime boss Ricardo. KC Montero plays his formidable right-hand man Victor, and Ronnie Lazaro appears as Maria’s one-time mentor, Greg, while Jennifer Lee assumes the role of Black Rose assassin, Miru.
Many moons ago, Lily killed an enforcer for the Black Rose, but that was seven years ago. Now, she enjoys life to its fullest with her loving husband Bert, and their young daughter Min-Min. However, that idyllic setting swiftly changes when her fellow assassin and former lover Kaleb tracks her down, and with the help of his fellow cartel enforcers, spitefully murders Bert and Min-Min. With the new life she built for herself now torn asunder, Maria wastes no time in returning to her assassin roots to exact her vengeance upon the ones who destroyed everything she’s since held dear.
As we previously established in the introduction, “Maria” doesn’t radically reinterpret the basic template of a revenge thriller or an assassin caper, but the secret to its success all comes down the performance of Christine Reyes as the title character. She’s equally at home in the role of the loving housewife or the cold-blooded killing machine, and the way in which the film divides the two roles is what really allows her leading lady talents to shine.
Within a minute of the opening credits, we see our anti-heroine chopping and slashing her way through a heavily guarded mansion, before jumping ahead several years to her newfound domestic bliss, before throwing her right back into battle mode when all of that is stolen from her. That kind of narrative oscillation is handled with the greatest of care in the hands of Lopez’s direction and Reyes’ performance, who both know just how to zig-zag the title character from killer to homemaker and back without the transition feeling rushed or jarring. That’s especially true when it comes to the loss of Maria’s husband and daughter, both torn from Maria’s grasp in a home invasion that feels as cruel and horrifying to the audience as it does to her.
Once Maria takes up the sword once more to literally and figuratively, cut down her family’s killers, the film is a vendetta-fueled bloodbath, the title character now stripped of the innocence she had found and is now left with nothing left to lose.
Her one-time mentor Greg provides her with some requisite guidance in returning to the world she left behind, but there’s preciously little she needs, and by the third act, “Maria” is almost entirely a one-woman show of remorseless payback. Maria’s fellow Black Rose assassin Miru proves to be one of the few antagonists in the film capable of standing her ground against Maria in a one-on-one confrontation when the two cross paths in a public restroom, which they more or less destroy when all’s said and done.
Nevertheless, Maria’s might as an assassin is of such a high caliber that most of the action sequences are effectively one-sided chop-fests – which is hardly a criticism when it’s done this well. The finale especially sees Maria turn the tables on her enemies, with one adversary after another dropping like flies until she’s face-to-face with Kaleb. The symbolic final battle even has a bit of a “Merantau” feel to it; combatants surrounded by cargo containers with heavy rain giving it a solemn sense of atmosphere as Maria enacts her vengeance with Mother Nature herself seemingly on her side.
In this era of warrior women conquering the world of action movies, “Maria” plants its flag with a simple but compelling story of a former assassin getting her payback after losing the new life she’s built for herself. It won’t win any screenwriting awards, but Pedring Lopez invests the audience in his protagonist’s quest, and Christine Reyes throws down the gauntlet in an endless barrage of action as a gender-swapped John Wick with a blade. For a concept like that, you could certainly do a lot worse than “Maria”!
- The film was released in the Philippines on March 30th, 2019, before debuting on Netflix in North America on May 17th.
- Pedring Lopez’s past directorial credits include “Darkroom”, “Binhi”, “408”, and another female-led action film, “Nilalang”.
- Sonny Sison served as action director. Some of his other stunt credits include “The Green Hornet”, “The Rundown”, “Small Soldiers”, “Godzilla”, “Olympus Has Fallen”, “Iron Fist” Season One, and “Broken Path”.
- “But do you think that can anything good still happen to me anyway?” – Maria (after being told that nothing good will come from revenge.)
- “Lily is dead. I am Maria.” – Maria (asserting her new identity.)