Since the 1990s, French director/producer/screenwriter Luc Besson has done his part to show the world that France isn’t the milquetoast, pacifist country that the United States would have everyone believe. As the scribe of La Femme Nikita, The Fifth Element, The Transporter and Taken, Besson erased the haughty arrogance associated with the French and replaced it with raw nerve and enviable courage.
And in 2004, Besson wrote District B13, an action film starring Cyril Raffaelli (Live Free or Die Hard) and David Belle about a section of Paris overrun by crime and lawlessness in the year 2010. District B13 also showcased Parkour, a style of using agility and speed to move about an environment using any and every material at one’s disposal, of which Belle is a founder. Damien (Raffaelli) and Leito (Belle) join forces using martial arts and urban acrobatics to snuff out a power-crazed drug lord and government corruption.
In District 13: Ultimatum, the 2009 sequel, Damien and Leito reunite to extinguish a war between the crime lords of District 13 and a government-hired military contractor. The new cast of characters around the two known protagonists provides a fresh look to a story that is fairly similar to the first film. And when the main plot is that two unarmed dudes take out a bunch of guys with guns, sophisticated story changes are hardly necessary.
Still, and typical to most sequels, District 13: Ultimatum offers a slightly diminished return on the experience that the original provided. However, Besson and director Patrick Alessandrin did breathe new life into the series as Leito and Damien enlisted the help of their opposition to help the people of District 13, whom the government had neglected for years. The action also creatively built upon the original cinematic display of ‘freerunning,’ with cool new tricks that demonstrate that ‘traceurs’ (practitioners of Parkour) could be considered contemporary street ninjas. Their feats are inspiring enough to make a viewer size up streetlights and guardrails while walking down the street for potential stunts (okay, maybe it’s just me).
But on top of being a thrill ride, District 13: Ultimatum was an educational experience. I honestly didn’t know that there were any Chinese people in France. Hmph!