It wouldn’t be a surprise to learn that Kate Beckinsale can lead an action film, she came to international prominence with films like Van Helsing, Total Recall and the Underworld series. However, it does seem that actors with a certain amount of prestige and of a certain age (by Hollywood’s dire standards) are looking for their own John Wick, or even their own Taken. A film franchise that follows the likable lead (played by the popular star) on a revenge-fuelled odyssey to right the wrong done to them, with action set pieces that become a chance for the actor to show off what they can do, and to also have a bit of fun. It seems that this is what Jolt is aiming for, and with more films in a series it might succeed at. Although it’s not confirmed that Jolt will become a series or have a sequel, the film did seem to purposefully build for that eventuality, as most action debuts optimistically do, as if putting in a cliffhanger and numerous unanswered questions is going to manifest a green light from the studio. But it does feel probable, with a likable lead, interesting supporting characters to build around the protagonist and a strong, if sometimes misled, direction from Tanya Wexler.
Jolt opens with a four-minute long narration explaining Lindy’s (Kate Beckinsale) condition, “intermittent explosive disorder”, that causes her to have uncontrollable bouts of anger that manifests itself in acts of violence to others. These scenes from her childhood, narrated by the recognisable voice of Susan Sarandon, aren’t meant to be serious. While they are able to reach silly, they unfortunately can’t really capture funny, it needs to push a bit further to capture the kind of comedic and quirky tone it seems to be aiming for. These scenes include slow motion explosions of anger at a birthday party, and a young Lindy chasing two grown men with a bat, as we’re told she is too dangerous to live safely in the world. The narration then explains that the huge amount of cortisol in Lindy’s body makes her faster and stronger than the average human and meant that the military were interested in her, until they found a cure for her condition, a treatment that is “brutal, barbaric, outrageous” as Sarandon’s narration explains, closing the opening scene.
A grown up Lindy is then nervously arriving at a restaurant date with Justin (Jai Courtney). She overhears a man aggressively berating a valet worker and we see her anger rise properly for the first time. The claustrophobic soundscape and camera work make this feel a lot less silly than the opening scenes, and even slightly believable, while we immediately sympathise with Lindy for wanting to hurt that bully. As her anger rises, and after a fantasy violence scene, she presses a red button attached to her body and is seemingly electrocuted, the eponymous ‘jolt’, to prevent her explosion. Her meeting with Justin, who she charmingly tries to cancel on, is electrified by Beckinsale and Courtney’s chemistry and on-screen presence. They flirtily volley back and forth until they are disturbed by an irksome waitress who begins to get under Lindy’s skin as Beckinsale seamlessly weaves from sardonic rom-com protagonist to troubled and unnerved action heroine, as she does throughout the film.
We then meet Dr. Ivan (Stanley Tucci) in an empty and tattered apartment, he is experimenting on Lindy and this meeting allows for even more exposition of Lindy’s condition and backstory, told in a slightly clunky way but made bearable by the actors and sharp, funny dialogue. A lot of the film’s earlier scenes are punctured by visceral scenes of the violence she’s thinking of enacting that we are led to believe is real until it’s shown she was just fantasising about it. This and the many flashbacks make for a very insular, and almost psychological, action film but also for a jilted tone and rhythm. The early tonal shifts are probably purposeful to represent her state of mind but they’re not really strong or committed enough, some of these scenes are messy and thrown in unthinkingly to build the character and therefore feel hollow.
Lindy’s neon light soaked city apartment has the film for a brief moment feel like a sci-fi rom-com, especially when we see her body. Covered in wires and machinery, she looks cyborgian and suddenly very vulnerable. Her body is a vessel for experimentation and never fully under her own control, and the story suddenly starts to feel specific to women, or anyone not cis male, unlike the John Wicks and the Takens. Justin’s somewhat predictable and unavoidable murder sets off her mission, and is exactly what she needed. The film now really picks up when the exposition is over and the expected and predictable Big Event That Propels The Protagonist To Seek Revenge happens. It settles into a tone when the storytelling becomes more simple and the story being told is more enjoyable. And, while great in both emotionally taut and comedic scenes, Beckinsale truly shines in the longer action sequences, when she starts driving the fast cars, running from the police and fist fighting with the bad guys. And it’s great to see her display that as well as vulnerability.
The film manages to surpass the ‘badass woman’ and empty ‘strong female character’ archetypes; Lindy has more than one personality trait and while she is strong and capable she also has obvious weaknesses. And although it is almost unavoidable that the media coverage of the film will push the ‘badass woman’ narrative and no doubt allude to a female John Wick, this is validated by Jolt’s female director, something that other similar female-led action films that were marketed as ‘feminist’, like Atomic Blonde or Gunpowder Milkshake, can’t profess. And it definitely makes a marked difference visually and tonally. However, it is undeniable that the best thing about Jolt is its lead. Kate Beckinsale could easily head up a franchise and in Jolt she is deeply and easily likable, even if the film isn’t always.
Jolt is available to stream exclusively on Amazon Prime Video from July 23rd
by Madeleine Sinclair
Madeleine Sinclair @madeleinia
Madeleine (she/her) is a film student at the University of Winchester currently working on a dissertation on women killers in giallo films. She’s a big horror fan (the tackier the better) and also loves sci-fi and fantasy. Right now, she thinks her favourite films are Pan’s Labyrinth, The Wicker Man and Deep Red but she is also very indecisive. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @madeleinia and Letterboxd here.