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District 13: Ultimatum
Director: Patrick Alessandrin
Producer and Writer: Luc Besson (yeah, the
Fifth Element guy)
Starring: David Belle, Cyril Raffaelli

Three years after stopping the destruction of Parisian slum District 13, things are still craptastic. The government has kept none of their promises and the walled off district festers with five ethnically divided gangs that vie for power, the cops and said gangs holding a tenuous truce. Outside corrupt forces, however, wish to profit from this slum and begin a campaign to break that truce and, with government backing, move in and wipe away the filth (specifically five high rise apartment towers) to build new luxury condos. Lead by a Mr. Gassman, a black ops government agency kills some cops then frames some D13 gang members for the murders, stirring the hornets’ nest and building public resentment. Super cop Damien (Raffaelli), who would normally be the first choice to handle the situation, is framed with drugs and arrested, but manages to get a call out to his friend Leito (Belle), who refuses to leave the ghetto that is his home, to save him. Together, they figure out that Gassman is behind it all and make a plan that brings together the five rival gangs to unite and lead an assault on parliament to stop their home from being destroyed.

Good Guys Things

One is a parkour running hood rat. One is a super cop. Together, they fight crime (and bromance)

The first District 13 movie was meant as a vehicle to showcase parkour to the world, put it in the spotlight instead of just as the cooler parts of other movies that people remember better than the rest (the opening chase of Casino Royale being the premiere example). It used as little wire work as possible, barring safety, and had actual traceurs (parkour practitioners) in the key roles (Belle is actually co-founder of the practice (the other co-founder was the runner in Royale)). Having done that, when they made the sequel they didn't lose any of the fun and action, but they did put more coherent thought into the story. So instead of two story lines that didn't really blend well but did the job, here there's really only one story that takes minor detours but ulimately stays on track.

Luckily, the action wasn't forgotten in that story. While not starting off with a bang like D13, D13U ups the tension and number of actual fights. Damien is much more at the forefront of this film, being much more the focus (he has the first major action scene (first appearing as a tranny of all things (it makes sense, he’s undercover, but it’s still a weird intro), his framing is a major key point, and his "rivalry" with Gassman's Dragon, Roland, is built up (Leito has no opposite, he's there to jump around)) while Leito is the thread that ties it all together, without him Damien would have no connection to District 13 (figuratively and literally).

While parkour itself was unfortunately toned down a bit, the fights that replaced them are hard hitting (relatively speaking) and well done. There is a bit of martial art flavor to them, but for the most part it's mainly a lot of hand and wrist manipulation, trading brutal strength for numerous smaller strikes... though apparently the strongest thing you can use against someone is your head, because Damien is a big fan of knocking his noggin against someone else's. He even takes on a guy wearing a helmet and wins, so... yeah. The first fight scene has Damien hampered with a Van Gogh painting, which he proceeds to use in his fight. Good thing that ancient wood is so sturdy, because it takes (and deals) quite a bit of punishment to the various mooks he takes down.

Bad Guys Things

Of course I'm the bad guy; can you not see my goatee of evil?

Okay, all that above about the action? Yeah, parkour gets a little shafted for all that.

Seriously, the first movie opened with great chase in it's first five minutes, cutting right to the chase with what it's really all about. Plot? Merely dressing. D13U, on the other hand, uses the first opening scenes to show off how higher their budget was, with a long single cam shot of all the major gangs and their areas. It's set up for later, but has little, really, overall to the actual stuff happening with Leito and Damien. The first time Leito appears, he's blowing up the wall and you'd think, "All right, police chase with Leito, this is gonna be awesome". And you'd be wrong.

The first parkour scene is extremely weak, with little actual moves and is really just Leito running. Not doing parkour, but just running. Chase scenes shouldn't be quite so literal. And when they DO finally have a decent chase scene, it doesn't happen until the freaking 48 minute mark! And this is only a 90 minute film! Damien got to show off his stuff at 15 minutes, and that's not what the movie is supposed to be about!

And really, that's the big let down of this movie; parkour was a much bigger afterthought to everything. Instead of running and jumping and moves that look impossible but really aren't, they traded it in for being a much more generic action movie. Down to the fact that they seperate the roles; Damien does all the fighting, Leito does all the parkour. And never shall the twain meet.

Oh, and what's really a let down? That "decent chase scene" I mentioned? I hate that they went so strongly against parkour principles, and the very vein of the movies themselves, which is "realistic and little wires". The first move Leito does diving out of his apartment, cannot, in any way, be done (without wires). It is physically impossible. And that was such a let down. Because while they never do it again (and never have as exciting a foot chase again), they still did it, and it's just sad that they did.

So much was forgotten for this movie, I'm not surprised it only made half its budget back. Various elements are forgotten about right after being introduced; that little tranc gun Damien has at the beginning? And how he says that some criminal made it? Does that have anything to do with anything or have any call back later in the movie? Hell no. Leito's sister, his main goal and reason in the first film? Doesn't even get a glancing mention of what happened to her or where she is. Hell, if you come in late and miss the recap at the beginning, you wouldn't even know she existed. Or that she's his sister.

I choose to ignore the fact that during Leito's chase, for as much rooftop and building hopping as he does, the police seem to have people all over all three buildings and all of them very on or very close to reaching the rooftops, as they did. Even though they later clearly state they were surprised by his agility and speed. Even though he hops between two clearly seperate buildings. And travels a good 30 or so yards, where a cop is waiting, even though there's no way or reason he'd think Leito would be there. I choose to tell myself that it's an action movie's prerogative to ramp up tension, and not a stupid forgotten chase element that makes absolute no sense when you really think it through.

Final Thoughts
Parkour and free running are similar practices, but fundamentally different; parkour is about efficentency and simplicity, while free running is about the flash and show. The first District 13 film was parkour. It was fairly simple, did what it was supposed to do with little flair, and was still exciting and entertaining. Ultimatum, on the other hand, borrowed from its flashier cousin, and had much more style over substance.

It's not that I didn't enjoy it. Once things really get going and stay that way (at the 48 minute mark of an action movie), they stay that way. It's fun, good fights, and the chases, when they happen, are well done. The ending, while cheesy and a little rushed in coherency, is still satisfying and feels deserved.

But it's forgettable. Standard. Things are here and there and forgotten before you even realize it. The five gangs running the district drop their prejudices waaaay too quickly (really strange since one is an hardcore Aryan skinhead and everyone else is basically... not white) and come together to save their homes, which they ran with violence, killing, drugs and guns.

The movie, I found out watching the extras, wanted to try to make a point (using the civil unrest of the 2005 Parisian riots as a basis, and even included some actual riot footage) about urban decay and unrest. And when you set out to make a point, fiction is rarely better for it. You can have a message you want to say, but that message shouldn't be the goal. People don't like being preached to (documentaries aside), especially not when what they want and payed for is action, excitment, and people using cities as giant jungle gyms.

Recommendation: I'll give it a tentative yes, it does its job well enough, but you're really better off with the first one


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