Man, am I lazy. Real lazy. If there were an Olympic event for watching TV and smoking tabs, I would definitely get a silver medal. (I’m too lazy to even be bothered in training to get the gold.) The point I’m trying to make is that all this laziness has left me dangerously unfit. Even though I’m out of shape I can still partake in most activities, with a lot of wheezing and vomiting, with one exception: parkour.
For all you not in the know, parkour originated in France and, in the simplest terms, involves the participants getting from point A to point B using only their bodies and the environment around them. In full flow it is truly stunning to behold, and the very best resemble real life Spider-men.
This is probably why parkour has, in a very short space of time, crept into popular culture. The scene in Casino Royale where Bond chases the bomb maker across a building site not only encompasses elements of parkour but also stars one of its founders. Practitioners, like martial artists before them, are rapidly becoming film stars, especially in their native France.
One of the first films to use parkour successfully was 2004’s District 13. Written by Luc Besson and starring parkour founder David Belle with martial artist (and Besson regular) Cyril Raffaelli, the film revolved around an area of Paris in the near future that, due to rising poverty and crime, has gone to the dogs.
In a move not too dissimilar to a certain John Carpenter film, the government decide to wall in the inhabitants and let them fend for themselves. District 13 becomes a law free society ruled by the gangs that live there.
Belle plays an inhabitant who tries to fight against the drug trade and, when the top gang lord attempts to blow up Paris, he teams up with an undercover copper, played by Raffaelli. Fights are fought and in the end good triumphs over evil.
The film was generally well received, so now we have the sequel District 13 Ultimatum. Set three years later, District 13 has descended into even more chaos with five separate gang leaders fighting for control. The war in District 13 is now primed to blow out into the rest of Paris. Obviously, this creates a problem for the French government with one particularly evil minister coming up with a particularly evil plan to get rid of District 13 for good. Of course, this leads to our two favourite parkour martial artists once again teaming up to put a spanner in the works.
On a whim I rented out the original District 13 when it came out and really enjoyed it. The plot was nonsense and the script laughable, but it was still hugely entertaining. This was in no small part due to the astonishing stunts performed. Whilst Cyril Raffaelli is a mean martial artist, all the attention was on David Belle and his parkour skills. The seemingly impossible leaps and maneuvers he performed were even more incredible with the knowledge that they were done without the use of wire work or CGI. It brought to mind the stunts of Jackie Chan in his early days.
It also helped that the director, Pierre Morel, kept things running at a breathtaking pace that glossed over the scripts flaws. Unfortunately, whilst still written by Luc Besson, the original director has now moved on and has been replaced by Patrick Alessandrin. Although a competent director, he lacks the flare to keep up the pace in the action scenes. Now the plot’s deficiencies start to stand out as the film starts to drag.
In the first film, the parkour scenes were the obvious stand out, which left poor Mr. Raffaelli playing second fiddle. His action scenes were very good, but just could not compete. In a bizarre twist, this has completely switched for the sequel. Now the parkour scenes come in second behind the martial arts. I don’t think this is a conscientious decision, rather a failing in the filmmaking.
In an attempt to up the ante, all the parkour stuff has a bigger scope to it. Unfortunately, this doesn’t come off as well as it might. Whilst the originals stunts had an air of implausible reality to them, in Ultimatum the stunts seem too far-fetched to be real. Although I’m not saying they’re not, it just leaves you with doubt.
Luckily, Cyril Raffaelli steps up to the mark and really performs. The choreography in his fights is outstanding and displays the intimacy that the parkour scenes are lacking. Also in Ultimatum‘s favour are the two lead actors. I don’t think it would be too much of an insult to say that they won’t be winning any acting Oscars anytime soon, but the chemistry they share keeps the film going. They genuinely seem to be having a good time on screen and it shows.
I also have to mention how stunning the soundtrack is. Although probably not everyone’s cup of tea, it consists mainly of French hip-hop songs that really suits the feel of the film and helps to pick up the pace when the film starts to drag.
Overall, District 13 Ultimatum is an okay film that, for all its flaws, is still worth watching if you like action over story. I don’t think it’s a patch on the original, but definitely worth a rent.
This is where the DVD really comes into its own. If you’re a fan of parkour then the ‘making of’ is a definite bonus. This is where we get to see the stunts planned and performed and the filming comes off better than in the film. The ‘making of’ is a decent length and I actually enjoyed it more than the film.
Also included on the disc are a couple of deleted scenes that I’m not too sure why they were deleted as they seem to tie up a couple of plot holes, and a music video for one of the songs. Not sure if it’s an extra but the film can also be viewed dubbed, but if you watch it dubbed you’re a philistine and I want nothing to do with you as I am a subtitle snob.
District 13: Ultimatum is out now.