Following the futuristic foul-ups of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017), Luc Besson has returned to the kind of film that helped to make his name. Anna (Sasha Luss) is a secret agent who ends up walking a tightrope helping two opposing sides, fighting men and manhood on the way to her freedom. The hand of Besson crafting a femme-powered action movie draws immediate comparisons with La Femme Nikita (1990), but Anna lacks all the things that made the former such a unique watch.
You would think a spy thriller set at the tail end of the Cold War should offer plenty in the action department, but Anna regularly forgets what kind of film it needs to be. The only three sustained action sequences (one of which is a montage, so does it really count?) are impressive but other than that, Besson opts for a restrained approach grounded in hostility and character interplay. It fatally backfires, because said characters are all second grade at best.
The cast fill the roles of a two-dimensional ensemble that you feel no attachment to, from Luke Evans’ peculiar sounding Russian agent to Cillian Murphy’s CIA shrink. Even Luss feels too robotic for much of the movie, given little to work with beyond daydreams of freedom and steely looks. Only Dame Helen Mirren, as a chain-smoking and spectacled KGB commander, feels like she is worth watching. Beyond her, there is too little action to distract from a story that feels frustratingly shallow.
Anna seems like it is looking to be stylish and slick, but can’t work out how to do it. Even the moments that should at least look cool are framed in such a way that they leave you with nothing. Only fleetingly does Anna come close to realising its pulpy, stylish potential, and these moments are short-lived. In the age of John Wick, a franchise that knows exactly what it wants to do and how to make it look like a neon-dripped work of art, Anna just doesn’t stack up.
Instead of sucking you into the story as it unfolds, Besson’s non-linear script tries to be smart. The resulting time jumps stop being confusing after the third instance and just start getting on your nerves, replaying scenes you’ve seen before almost to remind you what a stupid decision this all was. Besson’s film is at its best when it keeps things simple – the restaurant scene from the trailer is by far the film’s best moment, because it temporarily casts aside all of the nonsense that forms the rest of the film and lets you revel in a satisfying, action-packed brawl. Anna for the most part tries too hard to be clever, and instead comes across as disappointingly stupid.
Anna tries and fails to leave a lasting impression beyond how ridiculous parts of the story feel. Any sense of empowerment in this female-led spy thriller is lost amidst a hanging fog of poor decisions and cardboard characters. Gone are the days when Luc Besson was the master of the stylish and thought-provoking thriller. Instead, the reminders of what he is capable of are drowned out by what his films have become.