I'll explain that last comment later, but let me say just because I think a sequel to Leon would have done the original an injustice, it does not mean Colombiana is a bad film, far from it, it's an enjoyable action thriller with a fair degree of characterisation, some stylish film-making and writing, some cool actors, and Zoe Saldana, who I'm really beginning to love on screen.
Let me first return to that previous comment. I do believe that if this had been a sequel to Leon it would have struggled to connect us. I mean put to the side that getting Natalie Portman to return would be difficult, trying to get the audience to connect with the lead in that storyline would have been far harder than it was with Colombiana, and I'm sure it would have had to have been a much darker film.
With Colombiana the opening sequences of the film pull you in emotionally, connecting you to the motives of the lead character who is, after all, going to murder people on her way to the crime boss, and that would be a hard sell without those scenes. I was surprised how long the film stayed on this side of the story, showing us everything from that instigating event until Colombiana finally gets to her destination in America and begins her new life.
Of course being directed by Olivier Megaton and written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen it's no surprise that even here there's an action scene for our leading character, despite being a child. Chased across the favelas by gun totting baddies it raised the question, does every action sequence these days need someone jumping down from a wall barely double their own height and over exaggerating the landing? Yes, the crime boss has free runners too.
It's not long after this that we're based in America and the explanations of how she becomes the woman that she is are all out of the way. It happens quite fast, although not fast enough to lose track of what's happening but you'll notice that not a single scene is left with room to spare and during action sequences there are cuts galore, during the height of the chase of the child I counted four or five a second.
This fast cut style doesn't affect the film until one fight sequence near the end, for the most part the film manages to keep a more considered pace and I didn't feel like I was losing track of events as is so easily done in films like Bourne, except for the one fight sequence, unfortunately it just happens to be the biggest of the film.
During the fight scene there's some action using a towel and a couple of toothbrushes that just flashes by you, and neither of us watching the film at the time had any clear idea of what was happening. This was really rather disappointing because up until then the action had been stylish and well thought out so that we could follow everything.
There are some moments during that fight scene that make you think of The Transporter, it's not surprising considering who is behind the film, but at the same time they've managed to do a strong job of making it stand far enough away from that film. The action feels less blocked and the stunt sequences less prominent, meaning that this is more of a film with strong action in it rather than a film that feels as though it's been built solely around the huge action set pieces.
There are a few moments during some of the scenes of Cataleya in action that do touch on being a little unrealistic and could easily fall into the realm of the more over the top action sequence, but the film just reins it in enough and always returns to the core emotional elements of the story and the lead character.
The writing has something to do with why the film is a lot stronger, there's more development of characters and work on relationships here, Cataleya has connections not only to her murdered family, but she has a new family in America with Emilio Restrepo and Mama, played by Cliff Curtis and Ofelia Medina and a relationship with Danny, played by Michael Vartan.
I'm not saying that it's really deep and analyses them in any great detail, but the relationships are there and they're complicated and troubled, they're a lot more real than we might expect from a EuropaCorp Luc Besson action film. It is a lot more Leon than it is Transporter.
Cataleya struggles allowing any connection to Danny who is in turn trying to connect with her, and she's surprised to learn that she's actually starting to care for him. With the family she begins to realise that she loves them as much as she did her own mother and father. For a period later on in the film we see that little girl come to the fore again, but not for long.
I like how the latter stages of the story are written for they don't always play the expected card, offering something a little different, and Megaton delivers it all with plenty of style without wasting a second on any single scene with the highly efficient editing.
What's lacking here is some depth to the bad guys, something we've seen stronger in other similar action films. Here they are very one dimensional and hardly seem that dangerous or evil. In fact half of the people that Cataleya is killing don't even seem connected with her ultimate goal, and it's through these actions that the darker side of the lead character is hinted at.
Still, they don't seem that bad that she can escape them when she's a little girl, and when she's a well trained assassin she can dispatch them all with ease. There's no denying that the bad guys in this film are paper thin and needed much more development and weight behind them, for when she's up against them I really felt no anxiety, just interest in the way she was going to kill them.
It's not just the story that delivers something more than the average action film, it's down to Zoe Saldana and I'd also say Cliff Curtis. He plays his more complex character well and surprisingly he's more the Leon character in the film, building her into the person that she finally becomes.
However it's Zoe Saldana that steals the show for the film, even with the support of Lennie James as the FBI Agent on her tail, she delivers the strongest performance in a role that could have easily ended up being all about the action. There are some emotional moments and she plays them well, and during some scenes when they come to the fore you do feel that she's experiencing them rather than just acting them out.
She plays Cataleya well and is undoubtedly the main draw to the film, oh and did I say she's incredibly sexy too?
Ending wise I enjoyed how it turned out, the action elements of the ending hit all the right notes and deliver well, and it doesn't turn out the way you might expect.
I enjoyed Colombiana, it delivers the usual Luc Besson EuropaCorp stylish action film and adds some depth and stronger writing around the characters and relationships. Of course it's no Shakespeare or psychological thriller, but there's much more of the Leon feel to this film while still delivering stylish action and a strong pace.
Saldana plays her lead character well, and since she has more in the way of relationships to connect with she doesn't just play a one dimensional action star, here she gets to act as well and adds plenty to the character and the film.
An enjoyable stylish, action film that has some strong sequences, a good lead character portrayed well by Saldana, and a little more focus on the story than the action. Despite a few less than believable moments during the action, it never tips into the ridiculous as we've seen with some of the Transporter films. I just wish there had been more to the template characters of the easily dispatched and not really that bad, bad guys.