Thursday, 12 November 2009

District 13: Ultimatum


Directed by: Patrick Alessandrin
Screenplay: Luc Besson
Starring: Cyril Raffaelli, David Belle & Elodie Yung

The original District 13 blew everybody (well, most people) away with its heady mix of martial arts, parkour styled stunts and super charged momentum. A quick, slick 80 minutes it was a world wide hit and brought martial artist Cyril Raffaelli and free runner David Belle cult action status. Now they are back in a sequel, that while not as super charged, does add a little more grit and still delivers a heap of well choreographed action.

Not much has changed from the first District 13, the promises to clean up and help out the walled in slums of Paris not kept. Leito (Belle) obviously let down by this, is still running around the District trying to fix things the best way he can i.e. attempting to blow up the huge concrete walls himself, or least do some damage to them. Gangs run rampant in the walled in districts, each laying claim to their own territory. Drastic measures are set in motion to clean up and essentially eradicate the war torn districts by some shifty secret service types. Acquiring a tape that shows the secret service instigating a set up that will benefit the shifty secret service types and not the residents of the districts, Leito ventures into the city to meet up with old partner Damien (Raffaelli). He himself has got into trouble (i.e. set up) and landed in prison, so Leito must first rescue him and then the two set off to stop the destruction of the district.

Despite the fact that District 13: Ultimatum is a good film and a competent action film perhaps what mars it the most, and doesn’t make it as good as the first, is that both too much has changed and not enough has changed. The plot is essentially the same as the first go around without the kidnap of Leito’s sister and this time Damien must be broken out of prison. It still takes a good chunk of the film’s running time for the two heroes to actually meet up and each are given their own introductory action scene. Nothing really wrong with this formula, but perhaps just a little too much rehashing of the good bits of the first entry. In addition, the tone and pacing is a little grungier and slower this time around. This does to some extent dilute the adrenaline pulsing rush of the first film but it gives Ultimatum its own style and a bit more tension as we build to the action. New director, Alessandrin doesn’t quite have the sharp, full throttle direction of Pierre Morrel (who directed part 1) but he does ring some tense moments out of the non action scenes which give this instalment a little more bite.

If the original District 13 was criticized for anything it was for its lack of plot and character interaction, instead focusing on jamming in as much action as possible (why this is seen as a negative in a movie about free running, martial arts and showcasing the acrobatic talents of the two stars, I’ll never know!). It seems like producer and screenwriter Luc Besson has attempted to give this film a bit more character, dialogue and non-action scenes, which has in turn caused most of the complaints to be that this isn’t as fun as the original and too slow in getting to the action. I guess people are never happy! In some respects it’s a fair point as there will be initial disappointment that this sequel isn’t as fast moving or features as good as action as the original but at least the makers were trying to do things a little differently despite the recycled plot. Plus each director has put their distinctive mark on each film, for better or worse.

Action wise, District 13: Ultimatum still delivers. Yeah, it’s not as tight, sharp and momentum pushing as the original and it does take time to get to it but the action scenes are still exhilarating, and choreographed and performed with aplomb. Raffaelli (choreographing much of the action as well as performing it) gets a number of show stopping set pieces including a great scene where he has to protect an original Van Gogh while using it to ward of a bunch of attackers. His choreography is clear and crisp and his fight scenes a joy to watch. Unfortunately, David Belle doesn’t seem to get as much screen time, his free running abilities less showcased this time around. His introductory action scene pales in comparison to Raffaelli’s (arguably the best in the film) and his own in the first District 13. Perhaps they didn’t have enough time to film many parkour scenes or wanted to concentrate more on martial arts but it’s a shame as his character is just as important to the franchise as Raffaelli’s. However, he does get one action scene to show his stuff, once again running across, up and down the high rises attempting to out run his pursuers.

Perhaps not quite what fans were expecting, District 13: Ultimatum may not feel as fresh and fast as its originator but it’s still a quality example of Euro styled action and pretty decent sequel with some top notch action scenes.

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