What happens when you have action film master Luc Besson and combine his talents with gravity defying parkour and limb snapping martial arts? The result is an action movie that seems to have been forged by the gods for the gods, high on top of Mount Olympus. District B:13 is a prime example of how action films should be made, and like many action movies, it got a sequel. District 13: Ultimatum is also a marvel because it’s a sequel that actually compliments the first film well instead of just getting pooped out in the name of money.
Let’s start in 2004 with District B:13.
In the not too distant future of 2010 (remember this movie was made in 2004), the French government constructs a wall around a particularly violent ghetto, District 13. Three years later, most government run buildings and organizations, including the police, have disappeared from the ghetto leaving the people to fend for themselves. Leïto (David Belle) is a “criminal” from the ghetto who spends his days fighting against the gangs that run the city. When he finally gets mixed up with drug lord Taha (Bibi Naceri), his sister is taken and turned into an addict. Leïto soon meets police officer Damien (Cyril Raffaelli), who has a mission to infiltrate Taha’s gang to procure a neutron bomb that belongs to the government, but is set to go off within 24 hours. Taha wants the bomb, Leïto wants his sister back, and Damien wants to complete his mission, so the two team up to bring Taha’s reign of terror to an end and save Banlieue 13 from certain destruction.
This movie is, in my definition, a perfect action film. It’s fast, over the top, and well edited and shot. The parkour scenes flow together very smoothly thanks to Pierre Morel’s direction and steady hand behind the camera. The film editing also works with the kinetic movement of the characters and the narrative, jumping from scene to scene with chaotic precision. The stunts were also all choreographed by one of the costars, Cyril Raffaelli, and his work is out of this world. Not only are the action scenes some of the most unique martial arts you’ll see, but the parkour literally seems to defy gravity at times. There’s so much to look at and laugh in amazement.
District B:13 pretty much has everything you’d want in an action movie. I’ve heard complaints that the story is pretty weak, and I’d have to agree that it does have a very weak story. Let’s be honest though, I wanted to watch this movie for the action and the stuntwork and some cool cinematography. That’s exactly what I got, and the story is passable with a pretty strong message at the end. This is a movie I’ll be sure to watch over and over again.
In 2009, District 13: Ultimatum was released, which reinforces the theory of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
After waiting three years for law and order to finally come to District 13, Leïto recognizes that it may never come and still works at bringing down corruption wherever he finds it, from police to drug lords. Leïto soon finds himself in the possession of a video that proves corruption on a massive scale stemming from the government’s sort of private secret service. Damien, who is needed out of the picture, is placed in jail and is in need of Leïto’s help. As if breaking out of jail wasn’t hard enough, they are soon faced with a much bigger problem. The leader of the the department titled DISS, Walter Gassman (Daniel Duval) is working to get the president (Philippe Torreton) to bomb sectors of District 13 to create a new section of high rise apartment buildings and businesses.
As you can probably surmise from that summary, this sequel is a lot more intricate and complex than its predecessor, which isn’t necessarily the best thing for a movie like this. What made the first film such a success was the acrobatics and well choreographed fight scenes, not an overly complex story of interdepartmental corruption. Sure, that was part of it, but it didn’t completely take over the movie. Do not get me wrong, though, this is still a superior action movie. The fight scenes are still completely off the wall, if not as skillfully shot and there is even a great use of vehicular stunt work, which was probably the most memorable part of the movie.
District 13: Ultimatum doesn’t quite match the level that the first film did, but it is a worthy sequel. The action and choreography gets a little bit bogged down with a convoluted story that sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t, and feels a bit recycled at the same time. It was still great seeing the two protagonists teaming up again to save District 13 once again. The simplicity of the story worked well in the first one by allowing it to keep up a fast pace. This one is not as fast or exciting, but still worth a watch.
District B:13 and District 13: Ultimatum are great examples of how to properly do an action movie, and even how to construct a sequel that doesn’t feel forced. This is why I consider Luc Besson to be the king of the action genre and that the best action movies do seem to mostly stem from Europe.