2004’s “District 13” not only put France on the action movie map, but also ushered in a modern-day French New Wave by launching the art of Parkour into the mainstream. With traceurs making their way into everything from “Live Free or Die Hard” to “The Tournament” and (arguably most famously) “Casino Royale”, the folks who kicked the whole trend off weren’t about to be left in the dust. Thus, the sequel “District 13: Ultimatum” made its grand debut in 2009, once again wowing audiences with its dizzying cocktail of martial arts, foot chases, and absurdly incredible stunt work. Even better, this time, it would come equipped with a twist ending that would not only outdo that of the original, but leave viewers stunned at how meticulously the rug was pulled from under them in the last five minutes!
Cyril Raffaelli and David Belle reprise their roles as the dynamic parkour duo, Parisian cop Damien Tomaso and the streetwise Leito. Philippe Torreton assumes the role of the French President, while Daniel Duval portrays Walter Gassman, the corrupt head of the Department of Internal State Security. Elodie Yung, MC Jean Gab’1, Fabrice Feltzinger, James Deano, and La Fouine also appear in the roles of the respective gang leaders of District 13, Tao, Molko, Little Montana, Karl, and Ali-K.
It’s been three years since Paris’ District 13 was saved from total destruction by the duplicitous Parisian government, along with the ghetto’s biggest crime boss, Taha, being violently removed from power by his own henchmen. However, conditions haven’t improved much in the years since, with Taha’s death resulting in a power vacuum with every gang leader in the District vying for total control.
While the one-time savior of District 13, Leito, makes a constant effort to destroy the wall separating District 13 from Paris, his old ally on the Parisian police force, Damien Tomaso, finds himself in prison after being framed for drug-running. After busting his old friend out of the big house, Leito and Damien soon discover that the latter’s framing was part of a larger plot by France’s Department of Internal State Security to wipe District 13 off the map once and for all.
Being the direct descendant of the movie that launched Parkour into the mainstream, “District 13: Ultimatum” doesn’t rest on its laurels in the slightest. The film’s stunts and action are every bit the equal of its predecessor, and one area where it arguably improves right out of the gate is in the re-introduction of Damien.
Already set up as a master of disguise in the original, he flies under the radar of his enemies in drag this time around. Once his cover gets blown, he uses a prized Van Gogh canvas as a shield to get the upper hand over his adversaries in a fight sequence that lovingly recalls Jackie Chan’s heyday.
While that influence was certainly present in the original, it actually proves to be an even greater recurring theme in “Ultimatum”, as we see again in Damien and Leito’s prison break and subsequent hallway rumble with a cadre of pursuing cops. Ditto for the set piece of Leito fleeing his pursuers in an apartment chase, which really revs the Parkour stunts into high gear. One minor nitpick to be had in this sequence is that the soundtrack just isn’t nearly as heart-pumping as was the case for the original’s opening Parkour chase. But that’s hardly enough to hold back the electrifying impact of David Belle vaulting and zip-lining past his enemies and leaping across tall buildings in a single bound.
“Ultimatum” also takes the next logical progression in the ghetto setting that was established in the original, turning the third act into an urban uprising against the government trying to blow District 13 to kingdom come.
Damien and Leito may have once had to fight their way past the gangs of District 13, but they now become allies as they effectively storm the castle. Damien lands probably the biggest laugh of the film with a punt to the family jewels of one unfortunate guard, accompanied by a salty yet casual one-liner – though even that’s still far from the cool factor of his somersault kick against an awaiting target down a staircase.
Furthermore, with the benefit of hindsight, it’s even more fun now to watch Elodie Yung kicking half a dozen guards’ butts, knowing just how much it presages her role as Elektra Natchios on “Daredevil” and “The Defenders”. However, in its aim to live up to the standards set by the original, “Ultimatum” hasn’t forgotten that its predecessor had a wild card of a twist ending up its sleeve in the last ten minutes. And it’s here that “Ultimatum” completely blows its predecessor out of the water with a resolution that will leave eyes bulging and jaws agape.
To follow up one of the 21st century’s landmarks of action was always going to be a tall order, but “District 13: Ultimatum” rises to the occasion with the craziest stunts, wildest martial arts action, and the most thrilling, death-defying Parkour chases you could ask for. And with an ending that you simply couldn’t have even telegraphed from a mile away, it seriously begs the question – why haven’t we revisited the District 13 franchise since?
- David Belle and Cyril Raffaelli cast all the movie’s stunt performers themselves.
- David Belle did not rehearse the majority of his Parkour stunts, meaning that, for the most part, the stunts you see him perform in the film he was doing for the first time.
- Cyril Raffaelli also served as fight choreographer.
- “I don’t like it when you think.” – Leito (when Damien says he’s thinking about how to escape their predicament.)
- “Respect them from the start, not when it suits you.” – Damien (when a Presidential bodyguard tells him he’s breaking the rules.)
Film Rating: 8.5/10
What are your thoughts on the nonstop, high-octane, insane and incredible action and stunts featured in “District 13: Ultimatum”? Would you be keen to see “District 13” Part 3; what would you expect from it? Let us know in the comments below; Like, share and join in the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter & Instagram.
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