Last year saw a couple of excellent female-fronted action films come out of Manilla. We Will Not Die Tonight and BuyBust delivered incredible doses of violent action from opposite ends of the budget scale. This year, we have Maria, a tale of a retired assassin who is out for revenge after her new life is exposed and destroyed. Can it hold its own against last year’s crop?
The film certainly starts on the right note as Lily (Cristine Reyes, Patient X) infiltrates a well-guarded mansion with the mission to kill its owner. However, she can’t bring herself to kill his young daughter, which brings her employer’s wrath down upon her. She fakes her own death and begins a new life as Maria, a suburban wife, and mother.
Seven years later all that is taken from her. Her husband is working on the campaign of a politician who has angered her former boss Ricardo de la Vega (Freddie Webb). She’s spotted in the crowd by his son Kaleb (Germaine De Leon, Lucifer) who was her lover before she vanished. It doesn’t take long until her family is dead and she’s out for revenge.
Director Pedring Lopez seems to draw his cues from Atomic Blonde and The Night Comes For Us in equal measure. Maria moves from sadistic torture scenes to Reyes dealing highly choreographed death while wearing a stylish dress and heels. The fight and stunt choreography were the work of Sonny Sison who has worked on everything from Olympus Has Fallen and Godzilla to BuyBust. Here he delivers with an incredible number of fights, hand to hand, gunfights and with all manner of melee and improvised weapons. And in an equally diverse selection of locations.
The script by Yz Carbonell and Rex Lopez keeps the action flowing although it spends a bit to much time on a power struggle within the cartel between Kaleb and his brother Victor (KC Montero, Kubot: The Aswang Chronicles 2). Maria also has an angle with police and political corruption that I thought was going to figure into things but it really goes nowhere. Maybe it means more given the situation under Duarte in the film’s home country, but it didn’t translate well in that case.
The plot and characters are nothing new. The assassin trying to turn their back on their past idea is a well-worn cliché. Even giving it a female spin doesn’t help much. But Maria carries it off with the kind of energy it needs. The fights are excellent and the cast does a good enough job in between the action scenes. Apart from the main cast, there’s also a nice performance by Ronnie Lazaro (Affliction) as Maria’s mentor Greg.
Maria is currently streaming on Netflix.