District 13: Ultimatum is the sequel to the French parkour-and-martial-arts movie District B-13 (or “Banlieue 13” in Surrender Monkey), both by Luc Besson. It pretty much follows the same formula – the French government’s gone all wrong and it takes two scrappy hunks from the wrong side of the tracks to flex some sense into it.
David Bell (Leto) is a miscreant who engages in minor vandalism and major free running, and his buddy Cyril Raffaelli (Damien) is a cop who loves him some martial arts. As usual, the government/elite cops have a plan to kill all the poor people in District 13 by killing some cops, and putting them in gangland, and provoking a mass riot, and then getting the prime minister to bomb B-13 back into the Stone Age. Damien and Leto have to evade and/or beat the snot out of 200 riot police and unite the five quite colorful gang leaders of the district to show the video of the shooting to the prime minister and stop the scheme.
The main problem is how unrealistic the plot is. I mean, since when does having cops killing innocent people, even on video, result in anything other than “the officers were later cleared in the shooting…“? Must be a European thing. No, the plot is just an excuse to have cool stunts and fights. And they’re pretty cool. This movie focuses more on Damien and his martial arts then Leto and his parkour. The fight scenes are nice and brutal, and like the previous movie they eschew CGI and wires for good old fashioned muscle-and-sinew work. I wish there was a little more variety in the fights though, they are almost exclusively against faceless uniformed cops who stream out of everywhere like ants. A couple mook fights are good in a martial arts movie, but I felt like the boss fights were lacking. The pace is pretty good and it’s not allowed to lag too much before the next explosive action scene.
Like most Besson franchises, there’s a little bit of diminishing returns at work here; the action isn’t as novel and the fact that the plot is so much the same as the first movie erodes a little of the “dumb, but WOW” calculus of the original. It is still fun, though, and listening to the French prime minister wax poetic about “liberte, egalite, fraternite” is inspiring. In the end, I’m glad I saw it, though it’s not revolutionary it’s solid.