When Den of Geek published our Top 25 must see movies of 2015, we placed the upcoming Steven Seagal movie Mercenary: Absolution in the top spot. I assume. I wasn’t involved in writing that one and didn’t actually get around to reading it. I heard it was good, though, and so naturally assume Seagal took the top spot.
It has proved a canny prediction as the film delivers. Well, it has some flaws, but I think it’s alright. If you’re a fan of modern Steven Seagal movies then this is one of the better ones. If you’re not a fan of modern Seagal movies, this list is guaranteed to convert you. I’d stake the Den of Geek editorial team’s reputation on it.
Whether Mercenary: Absolution has actually turned out to be the best film of the year is currently unclear. We won’t know that for sure until the end of December, or at least until Seagal’s next movie, Code Of Honor, is released. What we can say without doubt is that it’s the toughest film of 2015. It’s simply not possible that any other film this year could be tough enough to compete.
You could produce a 15 hour documentary about World’s Strongest Man competition winners trying to eat chewy steak, soundtracked by RUN DMC, and it wouldn’t even come close to the levels of toughness found in Mercenary: Absolution. There’s a bit in Mercenary: Absolution where Steven Seagal shoots a bunch of dudes while his tied up sidekick chokes a man to death using only his thighs. That’s the level of toughness we’re dealing with here.
Here are 10 of the things that make Mercenary: Absolution incomparably tough. Spoilers abound.
1. Steven Seagal
Steven Seagal makes films tough. A group of PHD students conducted a study in hope of disproving this once. The study never reached a conclusion as they were all sadly found with their throats ripped out. Their throats are still missing.
Seagal plays John Alexander, the guy that shady government agents go to when they need a job doing quickly and quietly. By his own admission, he’s been a bad guy, but he’s looking to do at least one good deed that might absolve him of his sins before he dies. He’s hired to take out a drug kingpin in Ukraine, only to find there’s more to the job than meets the eye. Things are further complicated when the opportunity for that good deed arises and he rescues a young woman from certain death at the hands of a gang of cartel henchmen (who, it’s worth noting, are total fart hounds). Alexander will have to shoot a lot of people to death if he’s going to escape, rescue the girl and save the day.
Seagal’s on screen toughness shines angrily in Mercenary: Absolution. It never feels like he’s in danger in this one. He’s in a lot of fights but he never gets hit, for example. He spends much of the film wearing a really nice coat, though, and that’s where the tension comes from; will anything happen to Steven Seagal’s nice coat? Spoiler alert: no, nothing happens to it. The coat is fine. Not even creased.
I’ve seen every film Steven Seagal has ever made; by now, he should be able to spot a set-up, as he’s in an almost constant state of being set-up. It happens again here. Of course, Seagal always makes it out of double crosses entirely unscathed, which is more than can be said for the duplicitous shitbags he seems so keen to trust. If you’re a fictional villain from a future Steven Seagal movie and you happen to be reading this, please consider that matching wits with Steven Seagal in a game of life or death is a bad idea. Whatever your plan B is, promote it to plan A. Attempting to trick Steven Seagal to death is not in your best interests.
Another character attempts to threaten Seagal in one particularly violent scene, warning him that he’s outnumbered. A little knowledge of Seagal cinema informs us that this, too, is a poor idea. Implying to Seagal that the odds are stacked against him is how you let him know you want him to kill everyone on screen in as a brutal a manner as he can muster. If anything, it makes him even hornier for revenge. And to save you the trouble of Googling it, no, Horny For Revenge is not a Steven Seagal movie. I can’t even get him to read the script.
One of the elements that make Mercenary: Absolution stand out amongst Seagal films are the flashback scenes that show his relationship with an identified female. In some previous Seagal movies, such as A Dangerous Man, I’ve noted emotional flashback scenes often focus on romantic lap dances. Here, he is reflecting on nursing someone who is sick, and the implication is not that they recover. It’s also, subtly, linked to his character’s new found desire to do just one good deed.
Now, the flashback scenes are a bit cheesy, but I have to credit the film with giving Seagal’s character this little extra depth. It works and it’s really nice that they put some effort into this area of the film. By humanising what is essentially a superhero they manage to make this film even tougher. Because real tough guys want to make a positive difference in the world, ideally by shattering limbs and honouring the memory of their loved ones.
2. Byron Mann
Byron Mann plays Chi, Seagal’s sidekick. While Seagal is chief in charge of shooting and twisting bad guys, Mann takes the lead when it comes to spin kicks.
Some readers may recognise Mann as the actor who played Ryu in the 1994 film adaptation of Street Fighter. Other readers need to start questioning their life choices; what have you been doing that’s prevented you from recognising the cast of Street Fighter?
Here, Mann’s really good; he can film fight really well and he’s got charm. He swaggers about on screen with a smile, giving the sense of an actor who’s enjoying himself. Seagal characters being what they are, little short of supermen, we need Chi to be someone we believe could hang with him, who could contribute something to the team. I think Mann does a good job.
Mann is involved in a torture scene so tough that it puts logic in a headlock and squeezes until it slumps to ground, unconscious. After spin kicking his way into a small apartment, he spin kicks the two heavily armed goons inside to the ground. He’s after information and, as luck would have it, the two bad guys happened to pop the kettle on just before he kicked his way into their lives and our hearts. He pours boiling water on one of the bloodied toughs and demands to know who they work for. The bashed up baddie isn’t giving anything away.
As further luck would have it, though, they weren’t just boiling the kettle when he arrived. They were also heating up some soup. Before he can burn the bastard with broth (I hope so much that there’s a deleted scene where he throws croutons at them), he’s able to extract the name of the head of the crime syndicate; The Boss. You know what, Byron? A lot of people work for their boss. It doesn’t mean you tip a kettle on them.
That’s bad torturing, for sure, but can we all take a moment to question why anyone would withhold that information? The answer is simple – toughness!
4. Vinnie Jones
Vinnie Jones is a wonderful ham in Mercenary: Absolution. He puts in a very big, angry performance. He’s so London in this film that Danny Dyer spent the entire production cowering in a corner, unsure of why but knowing that he didn’t feel safe.
In truth, this isn’t the toughest role Jones has played. He tends to attack vulnerable people and is able to control people using his status. Vinnie Jones always brings a certain level of toughness to a role though, thanks in part to the fact that something about his eyes lets you know that he’s thinking about pulling your teeth out with his bare hands while laughing. I’ve no idea what it is, but I know it’s there and I know it’s why we’re never likely to see him as the lead in a romantic comedy.
His character would fit just as easily in a Hostel sequel, but he’s been plonked in this one to give Seagal someone really psychotic to punch to pieces. So, despite severely limited screen time, Vinnie Jones is still able to elevate the toughness of this already musclebound hunk of a film.
5. A lack of hand hair continuity
This film has some problems with continuity. Mercenary: Absolution is the first film I’ve ever seen that is simply too tough for hand hair continuity.
Okay, so it’s arguable. We need a full Blu-ray release to clear this hand hair issue up. It’s still concerning. It would have been better if I could have got a screen cap with Seagal’s face and hands in, but I couldn’t find a good one in this particular set up (Seagal’s hands are the notably unhairy ones). It was really just a fun way to highlight that this film suffers from some obvious Seagal stand-ins.
6. Club fight scene
There’s a night club fight scene midway through this film that features some incredible shots of extras dancing around really, really awkwardly. Maybe everyone is just tense because they sense a chaotic and bloody shootout is in the air. These people dance like me at a wedding, after someone has come up to me to badger me about getting up to dance. I hate dancing and I’m terrible at it. I’m not sat here waiting for you to ask me to join in. I have a beer and a chair – this is everything I want from a wedding. Then, you get your way, I’m up there, ruining your good time because we both feel awkward now.
What was I talking about?
Mercenary: Absolution. The club scene. Right.
A chaotic and bloody shoot out occurs. The awkward dancers were right. Aren’t we always? This scene features loads of shooting and collateral damage, while the club itself has a bright, exciting look to it. There’s no Seagal in this one, but tough work from co-star Mann ensures it’s a really cool set piece.
7. Josh Barnett
Josh Barnett plays an American enforcer, working for the bad guys. A lot of you are likely unfamiliar with Josh Barnett. I could tell you that Josh Barnett is a former UFC heavyweight champion, and that he’s been involved in MMA at the highest levels of competition for fifteen years. I could tell you that he’s 6 foot 3, 250 pounds of highly trained, heavy metal fuelled bastard. But none of that information will you give you as good an idea of Josh Barnett’s toughness as this quote from the man himself, from an appearance on the JRE podcast (episode #235).
“You don’t know anybody that knows anybody that knows anybody that knows anybody that can kick my ass. So I don’t know what you’re gonna do here.”
And he’s actually right! Could you imagine being able to say something like that to someone, not in a movie but in real life, and it doesn’t make you a dickhead because it’s true? Goodness me.
Josh Barnett is so tough that if he tried to steal my lunch money, I would not only hand it over but I would offer to make him some lunch so he could enjoy spending the money on something nice. Josh Barnett is so tough that if he told me I had to dance at a wedding, I would email the Den of Geek editors and ask them to delete a few of the paragraphs from thing 6 on this list. Then I would flail about on the dance floor, completely at odds with the music, because no matter how tough Josh Barnett is I still don’t have rhythm.
I’m really pleased to report that Barnett is a bit of a stand out in Mercenary: Absolution. He’s natural in front of the camera and can really film fight.
8. This picture
9. An arm break/throat chop combo
In Mercenary: Absolution Seagal snaps a man’s arm in half, then extends his fingers, making his hand a spear and stabs the dude in the neck with it. He actually chops into the guy’s neck.
What I’d like to do is give you a nice simile here. A ‘that’s so tough, it’s like…’ but the sad truth is that being a Den of Geek writer doesn’t give you the sort of experiences that mentally prepare you for drawing such a simile. There’s nothing I’ve ever seen or done that can help me describe to you how utterly, shirt-rippingly, bare-chested wrestlingly tough this moment is. It’s like…nah, can’t do it. Not possible.
10. The final showdown
The final showdown is great because the film actually has a bunch of characters. So, Mann and Barnett duke it out, with lots of big kicks and rib-rattling knees. Byron Mann fights like his life is on the line (and he’s fighting Josh Barnett so that may well be real terror we’re seeing) and can only be rescued by his kicking ability, even though you might think a direct punch would probably have been more effective.
Being tough isn’t about fighting effectively; it’s about looking cool as shit by throwing wild kicks. Mann’s character comes across as particularly tough in this scene as, only minutes before, he was shot through the chest and looked pretty dead. He’s able to shake the near-fatal shooting off without too much trouble.
This big finale is as tough as movie endings come. Never mind your Avengers, who have to rely on superpowers to save the world – Steven Seagal kicks Vinnie Jones through a window using only his own toughness and the spirit of Aikido vengeance. Seagal starts the scene seeing to the last of Vinnie Jones’ henchmen before the two of them get into a physical, and ultimately quite deathly, disagreement.
Then, there’s a brief wrap up, the credits roll and that’s it. There’s no post-credits scene so you can go right ahead and start doing push ups immediately.