District 13: Ultimatum Review
District 13: Ultimatum opens with the final moments of the original film only to renege on its optimistic ending and offer up the following intertitle: “Three Years Later. The Government Has Changed. Nothing Else Has.” It is tempting to apply a similar template to this sequel as a whole: “Three Years Later. The Director Has Changed. Nothing Else Has.” For whilst Pierre Morel has moved on to Taken and the forthcoming From Paris With Love, D13: Ultimatum remains very much a business-as-usual prospect. The fidgety camerawork is in place, as is the incessant techno soundtrack, as is the emphasis on spectacular ‘parkour’ stunt work with little reliance on CG enhancement and other adornments.
In terms of plot there are no great advancements either. There’s a slight opening-out inasmuch as the titular banlieue is revealed to have several sub-banlieues, if you will, separating the various ethnic factions, the neo-Nazi skinheads, etc. Plus the action is set as much outside of the district as it is in. Yet still we are dealing with corruption within the government and a finale which reconfigures the original District 13’s beat-the-bomb-before-the-deadline into a beat-the-missiles variation. Furthermore, the echoes of Escape From New York remain, albeit with the tiniest dose of social commentary, something John Carpenter never really had much time for.
One of the delights of District 13 was its purely kinetic nature. Any misgivings about its ultimately vacuous nature were comfortably hidden by a pace that never allowed the viewer to dwell on the shortcomings. The characters were one-dimensional, the dialogue of that predictable badass nature, but no need to worry as it was all about the action - and that element was more than ably delivered. Given that new director Patrick Alessandria (one time assistant director to the returning writer-producer here, Luc Besson, on his first two features Le Dernier Combat and Subway) is just as proficient with the whip pans, slo-mo and other tricks as Morel was, once again this proves not to be a massive problem. Indeed, it is almost amusing that a topic which once upon a time would have resulted purely in agitprop cinema - civil unrest in the French ghettos - is now deemed the ideal backdrop to a piece of simple genre filmmaking.
Yet it is this very simplicity that works in D13: Ultimatum’s favour. The plotting works along some exceedingly straight lines. Our hero from the banlieue (David Belle) has a big set piece from the off, as does our hero from the police force (Cyril Raffaeli), but neither to any great narrative significance thereby allowing both to work as standalone sequences until the pair (both returning from the original movie) are required to team up and save the day once more. In a nutshell, this involves Raffaeli getting framed and imprisoned by a sinister department with government connections, Belle turning up to spring him from a police cell, and the aforementioned stop-the-missiles shenanigans. Such is the basic nature of this one-scene-leads-the-other construction (an element that also figured strongly in the Besson-scripted Taken, another film driven by its sheer kineticism) that the various action sequences fit in very nicely or, if you prefer, the various moments explaining what’s going on fit in very nicely with the set pieces. In fact, it was more likely written the latter way around; time and again Besson slips the exposition in amongst one of these sequences, either adopting the usual cross-cutting method (action, action, cut to some men talking in a room, back to the action) or simply pausing for a brief plot-necessary exchange.
And so, ultimately, District 13: Ultimatum is neither better nor worse than its predecessor. It’s perfectly capable mindless entertainment and, as with the original, far brisker than the standard Hollywood offerings nowadays. Ideal rental material, in other words, as I’m not convinced it would stand up to repeated viewings.
As with Momentum’s earlier handling of the original District 13, here we find a package somewhat light on essential extras but perfectly sound in the presentation department. The film comes anamorphically enhanced in the original ration of 2.35:1 and demonstrating no immediate problems. The print is crisp and blemish-free, the colours are as pronounced as you would expect from a Besson production and it all copes ably with the assortment of visual tricks Alessandria has to offer. The soundtrack comes in either the original French or dubbed English, both in the DD5.1 format, and again no problems here. Dialogue, explosions and techno all fit nicely into the mix. I watched the film with French soundtrack (as the majority will), though a brief listen in on the dub track revealed it to be no doubt satisfactory for those who prefer things this way. English subtitles are of course also available and optional.
The extras, all ported over from the French DVD, amount to a 26-minute ‘making of’ featurette, nine deleted/extended scenes, plus the self-explanatory music video and trailers. The featurette, unfortunately, is a standard EPK. Emphasis, much like the film itself, is on the action, with talking heads mingling with the usual B-roll footage and film clips. Nothing revelatory here given that this piece is intended to promote District 13: Ultimatum and not offer any major insights once we’ve viewed the movie itself. Interestingly, the deleted and extended sequences all prove to be action scenes. No doubt cut for time reasons, they also add little to the film overall, other than a few more kicks to the head and the like. Note that both the ‘making of’ and the deleted scenes all come in the original French with optional English subtitling, whilst the latter are also presented non-anamorphically even though they retain the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio.