If Michael Scott and Dwight Schrute are aping your moves, it's safe to say that you've entered the mainstream. Having seen the regional manager and assistant to the regional manager bouncing off the furniture at Dunder Mifflin while screaming Parkour! at bystanders, I believe David Belle's time has come.
As one of the founders of parkour, the art of navigating obstacle-filled environments with agility and speed, Belle got his shot at the big time with 2004's District B13 . Paired up with the formidable martial arts skills of co-star Cyril Raffaelli under the watchful eyes of producer Luc Besson and director Pierre Morel, Belle hit the ground running. Given just how much loopy fun that movie was, it's no surprise that most of the gang is back for seconds with District 13: Ultimatum. Although Morel moved on to utilizing his very particular set of skills to direct Liam Neeson in Taken , Besson, Belle and Raffaelli are all present and accounted for. Along with director Patrick Allesandrin, they have given us a sequel that ramps up almost every element of the original without sacrificing any of its giddy energy.
The film opens in 2016, three years after the events of the first film. Leito (David Belle) and Damien (Cyril Raffaelli) had prevented the destruction of District 13 at the hands of a conniving bureaucrat and even extracted a promise from the government to clean up the run down suburb. Unfortunately, that promise has gone unfulfilled. Due to a change in the administration, District 13 remains the same. It is still a barely contained ghetto that looks like a prison on a good day and a war zone on a bad day. The utter lack of any police presence has allowed the district to fall under the territorial rule of five different gangs who view their walled in community as a fortress. The lawlessness is demonstrated by a speed-ramped opening that takes us through the squalor while casting an eye on unsavory elements ranging from arms and drug trades to dog fights.
Leito is as determined as ever to fight the good fight. When we meet him again, he still wants to clean up his neighborhood even if it means having to personally blow up sections of the surrounding containment wall. This proves to be a fitting way to reacquaint ourselves with the character since it highlights his determination while allowing him to walk towards the screen as explosions go off behind him. This introduction also segues nicely into some of Leito's own parkour pyrotechnics as cops give him chase. Being a traceur (French for superbendyparkourdude) he evades arrest with great style by running as fast as he can while jumping under, over and through a variety of obstacles. Not one to be left behind, Damien makes an equally colorful entry in a scene that has me hoping a body double was on call for the sake of all heterosexual men viewing this film. It's an energetic scene that starts with Damien busting a drug ring and ends with him fending off attackers using a valuable Van Gogh painting that he's trying to protect. Being the supercop that he is, he gets the job done, files his report and goes home to bed his lady friend.
This is the point at which things really go awry. Gassman (Daniel Duval), the head of a shadowy Special Service agency, plans on demolishing District 13 by hook or by crook so that the government can have it rebuilt by a company named (wait for it) Harriburton. What's in it for him? Massive kickbacks of course, in addition to giving Leito and Damien someone to rage against. While the corrupt government official angle was exploited in the first film, here it is taken to another level by showing us that Gassman has the ear of top ranking generals as well as the President himself. His broad circle of influence makes him that much more dangerous. Since Gassman isn't one to take chances, he ensures that Damien is imprisoned on false drug related charges. With the honest cop out of his way, Gassman puts the rest of his plan in action by framing the residents of District 13 for the murder of a few policemen. This escalates the tension between the cops surrounding District 13 and the people within. By the time the riots start, the President is seriously considering Gassman's suggestion of blowing up the troublesome suburb. Leito and Damien's concerted effort to stop the destruction of District 13 forms the rest of the film's fast-paced narrative, leading up to a climactic decision that is surprisingly fitting, considering this is very much a companion piece to the earlier film.
Despite Alessandrin sitting in the director's chair, this film belongs to three men: Besson, Belle and Raffaelli. Although he hasn't directed a slam bang action film since the late 90s, Besson has been active in molding a very specific form of Euro action via his production and writing duties. He pairs high concept ideas steeped in genre conventions with central characters (and actors) we want to watch, no matter how unbelievable their circumstances. For an example outside the District 13 movies, you have to look no further than the Transporter series. Frank Martin may be the stereotypical loner but Statham turns him into such a scowling badass that you almost forget to laugh when he flips his car in order to dislodge a bomb using a crane. The same sort of straight-faced lunacy is present in this film. Damien's first fight with the Van Gogh would have been great even without the prop simply because Raffaelli is a gifted martial artist. However, Besson's requirement that the painting be used in the scene takes it just out of the ordinary and refocuses our jaded eyes on the playful display of Damien's skills.
If Besson is this film's puppet master then he is very lucky to be exerting his control over two men as charismatic and talented as Belle and Raffaelli. Although both men have different skill sets, they happily play in each others sandboxes. For the most part Belle plays to his human bouncy ball strengths but that doesn't stop him from getting a few blows in, especially during the big finale. Similarly, Raffaelli lets his fists and feet fly with wild abandon but isn't above jumping through tight openings during chase scenes. Beyond the bewildering ways in which they use their bodies, Belle and Raffaelli bring two very entertaining characters to life. Belle gives Leito an easygoing charm while Raffaelli paints Damien as a tightly coiled cool customer. District 13 is firing on all cylinders when these characters are thrown together. They toy with buddy movie conventions while developing a breezy dynamic of their own.
If the first film was Belle's moment to shine, then this film is Raffaelli's chance to strut his stuff. It's almost surprising to see how much less parkour we get out of Belle compared to the last outing. In a way it makes sense since the events of this film are split between District 13 and Paris. When he's not on his home turf Belle tends to tone down his wall climbing in favor of more character based moments. Rest assured because Raffaelli more than makes up for this by working overtime to jack up the action quotient from his end. Ever since I first caught a glimpse of his abilities in Kiss of the Dragon , I've been waiting for him to break out in a big way. If the previous District 13 was a sampling of what he had to offer then this is the chapter of the story which allows him to truly flex his muscles. As the fight choreographer of the film, he gives us a number of intricate fight sequences that are endlessly creative and eye-popping. His very first fight in the film is a demonstration of how well he can use large multi-level spaces and props. Later in the film, a police station showdown gives Raffaelli a chance to put on what amounts to an exhibition style fight featuring multiple attackers who wait their turn to try out their best moves against his. As it turns out, he is also generous when it comes to sharing the glory. One of the more thrilling fights of the climax belongs entirely to Elodie Yung, who plays one of the five gang leaders from District 13. She takes on her fight fodder equipped with a blade in her braid while donning a barely there leather and lace number.
It may look like I'm gushing about the movie but it is definitely not without its flaws. There are occasional plot holes large enough for Belle to jump through and the political satire (Harriburton, seriously?) is laughably misguided. Additionally, I have some minor issues with the handling of the film's climax. What should have been an impressive one-on-one battle is played off as a Indy versus Cairo Swordsman joke. This effectively robs the film of one last hurrah, although I can't complain too much considering how many jaw-dropping moments the movie delivers up to that point. Ultimately, I do believe the movie succeeds at what it is trying to be. It's the kind of movie where we see an open window and then wait with bated breath because it's a virtual guarantee that somebody is going to jump through it. That's my idea of fun.
The movie was presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. I found the image to be quite clear and sharp. Additionally, the color palette appropriately reflected the dingy, grimy exteriors of District 13 which stood in stark contrast with the more orderly environs of Paris. In short, I had no complaints with the visual presentation.
The audio was presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mixes in both French and English. Subtitles were available in English, English SDH and Spanish. I chose to view the feature with its original French audio track with the English subs turned on. This was a very pleasing audio mix with the energetic soundtrack giving the surrounds a workout while projecting a healthy amount of bass. Compared to the previous film, the techno tunes outweighed the French hip hop this time around but they still complemented the action sequences quite nicely.
For this entry in the 6-Shooter Film Series, Magnet has provided the release with a healthy set of informative extras. First up we have Making of District 13: Ultimatum (26:33). It is presented in French with English subs and has a widescreen format. This featurette includes interviews with director Alessandrin and a number of folks in the cast and crew. We get to go behind the scenes as the film is shot in Belgrade (representing District 13) and Paris. For me the highlight was watching Belle and Raffaelli work with their respective stunt crews. As entertaining as both of them are on screen, they are equally at ease with their craft and each when the cameras aren't filming.
Next up, we have a featurette on the Production Diary (34:31) which covers a lot of ground but is too choppy to be completely satisfying. It is split up into 19 short episodes which address a variety of on-set challenges. Unfortunately the individual episodes are too short for my taste. Just as I started to get into one aspect of the production, the next episode would start forcing me to abandon my line of thinking. It is better to think of this extra as a collection of promo teasers meant to generate interest in the film. It is also presented in French with English subs and has a widescreen format.
A Music Video (3:35) for Determine by Alonzo is included. It's a pretty average French hip hop track filled with typical anti-establishment stuff. It's no Resistant (by Iron Sy from the first film) but it's a nice inclusion especially since it weaves in scenes from the movie. It is presented in widescreen and includes an English translation of its lyrics. Deleted and Extended Scenes (9:22) unsurprisingly consists of bits of fight scenes that hit the cutting room floor. While it is mostly dominated by Belle and Raffaelli moments, it also features a few scenes of the gang leaders in action. HDNet: A Look at District 13: Ultimatum (4:43) is a fairly short and fluffy promo piece for the film but it does draw an interesting parallel between the events depicted in the film and the 2005 civil uprising in Paris that led to Jacques Chirac declaring martial law. Finally, we close things out with a set of trailers for additional movies that are Also from Magnolia Home Entertainment (7:45).
If you hate it when characters in movies back down from windows, walls and intimidating French men, then you're going to enjoy District 13: Ultimatum. Under Luc Besson's guidance, Patrick Alessandrin has crafted a film where no (in)animate object is safe. He is ably supported in this venture by David Belle and Cyril Raffaelli who crowd the screen with their considerable talents. Quibbles about plot holes and a surprisingly timid climax are set aside given how much sheer, loopy fun has been crammed into this film. An excellent audio / video presentation coupled with an informative set of extras supports this release nicely. Highly Recommended.