You have got to salute the marketing folks for giving Steven Soderbergh's Haywire such a high octane sounding synopsis that promises plenty of action given a plot that treads on the usual betrayal of an alpha-character who comes back to seek revenge against the handlers. The film isn't anything like what its synopsis had promised, being silent for the most parts and having little spoken segments, relying on plenty of mood and music generated, which reminded me of Drive, but without the coolness and chic since it's very much grounded in reality with no frills and no flamboyance.
And by that I mean no exaggeration in its fight action sequences, where sound effects usually get amplified and for some cinema, elevated to becoming a key component to camouflage the lack of hard hitting impact, which in real life hardly ever happens anyway unless someone possesses some out of this world bionics, or ability to whistle one's punches when punching through to another body. The fight choreography by JJ Perry and team is so vividly real that the choreography itself is invisible, where exponents rely on just about everything within grasp to be used as an advantageous weapon and use just about every component of one's body to gain tactical advantage, which is why MMA works. Everyone seems to hit very hard in very convincing fashion onto the other and go for the jugular, and never fail to make you wince when the fighters begin their no holds barred battles that can happen just about anywhere, anytime.
Which is why for the longest time I was waiting for yet another MMA film to show itself after Wilson Yip's Flashpoint, given the potential of the martial arts for more cinematic screen time, and who would have thought that it would come from Soderbergh instead, not exactly when known for tackling the pure out and out action genre in his filmography. But there's always a first time, and why not before the director decides to retire from filmmaking to dabble in painting. Curiously it's how the director had decided to treat the entire material, not just allowing the fights to take centrestage, but to weave a tale of curious jet setting espionage around it, dealing with shady characters with even shadier intents, and assemble a wealth of acting talent and action knuckle-men in its testosterone filled ensemble cast - check this out: Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Bill Paxton, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas etc - at his disposal to deliver on all fronts.
Before you go Gina Carano who? in terms of the lead actress on whose broad shoulders the weight of this film got carried upon, it's good background to know that she's a one time #3 in Unified Women's MMA Rankings, thus making her the genuine deal required of an action heroine, sorely missed in Hollywood these days, especially those who possess real skills and not poser ones that any camera can turn one into. While Haywire is not her debut feature film role, it doesn't mean that Carano already possesses that varied range of acting emotions, but reserves her range for her battling abilities instead, from hammering away at key anatomical parts, to gripping one's head in vice-like thighs, and so on. My personal favourite of her fight sequences happen to be that with Michael Fassbender, which began so suddenly, threw just about everything into it, and ended on a brutal yet anti-climatic note which deliberately stripped away all romanticism associated with on screen violence.
Somehow, watching this film is like watching a Bruce Lee film (who arguably is one of the first MMA proponents), where regardless of the plot we know who to align our emotions to, and are sitting on the edge of our seats just waiting for the scheme of things to pass so that our hero(ine) can begin to kick ass. There isn't much talk here by the leading character as she devotes herself to carrying out her mission and overcoming obstacles put in her way, and Soderbergh fashions the pace and mood of the film almost like a typical 80s B-action movie if not for its European trot from Barcelona to Dublin predominantly told in a series of flashbacks. MMA embodies plenty of fight utilizing just about every body part available to inflict damage, with its fair share of throws and grappling, and when done well like what Haywire features, can simply be engaging on the big screen.
Unfortunately the plot pales in comparison to its action and treatment, and you'll be holding your breath for the next big action sequence to come on screen in between the double crossing and scheming committed by men in power. It shouldn't have to be this way if Lem Dobbs' story managed to provide a proper emotional centre for its central lead, which would have made her less of a one-dimensional character. Still, it's action that had piqued one's interest to come see this, and thankfully that aspect didn't disappoint, save for the long waits in between to endure before you get rewarded for your patience.