Movie Reviews: District B13 and District 13: Ultimatum

Hey, everyone, Matt here; sorry for the absence for a little bit. Unfortunately, I just had to spend some time in the hospital with my son. Long story short, he’s been fighting a few bugs over the last couple of months that were all viruses so there was nothing to be done for them but wait it out and all of them decided to gang together last week to kick his butt. After finding he had a very high fever, his mom and I took him into urgent care, which led to the emergency room, which in turn led to Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View. He’s home now and much better and if you ever need medical care at a hospital, or for your kid, I can’t recommend Lucille Packard or El Camino enough (LP rents out a floor in one of the towers of El Camino, so they’re separate but sharing the same space).

While we were at the hospital there were long periods of holding the boy while he slept so his mom and I watched movies on her MacAir (whose picture quality is superb). While she was taking a break from kid-watching yesterday I decided to get caught up on some of the action movies I felt she might not enjoy and watched District B13 and it’s sequel, District 13: Ultimatum.

Both are foreign films, French in origin, and very good. I heard about D13 a few years ago when I learned about parkour. Parkour is the art of using various acrobatics to move in the most efficient way possible and if that means climbing up a drainage pipe and doing a back flip to cross a gap in your path, rather than going down and then up two flights of stairs, then so be it. Parkour was pretty much started by David Belle who plays one of the two leads in this movie and he does just as good of a job at action movie acting as he does his acrobatics. Here’s a taste of what I’m talking about, from the movie:

Pretty wicked, huh? And the movie is full of stuff like this. If I could get my body to look half as good as Belle’s I’d be happy (and, I suspect, so would my wife).

D13 takes place in the near future (or the past now, as it is set in 2010 which was the future when the movie came out). Parts of France have become so lawless that rather than try to clean them up any more the government has said “F this” and simply built a wall around those areas, turning them into ghettos filled with so much crime that it’s become normal to see armed men and women just strolling around carrying machine guns. Belle plays Leito, a guy who is doing what he can to make District B13 a better place. His building and turf are clean and he tries to keep some kind of order (if not the law) around his space. He runs afoul of Taha, a local drug and arms dealer, when he steals 20 million euro worth of coke and proceeds to flush it down the sink. Taha kidnaps his sister and, not to spoil the rest of the fun, Leito ends up in jail.

Sometime later (I can’t remember if it was months or a year or two), a nuclear bomb is stolen and winds up in District B13 in the hands of Taha. Enter Captain Damien Tomaso, played by Cyril Raffaelli. He’s been on camera as an actor a few times, recognizable in Kiss of the Dragon which is one of my favorite Jet Li movies, but most of his work is as a stunt double and choreographer which shows. Tomaso is a good guy, a believer in the law, and a highly celebrated, decorated, and skilled cop. He’s just as agile, tough, and smart as Leito in his own way and he gets assigned the job of deactivating the bomb and returning it to the proper authorities. He stages a prison break to get him and Leito together and the movie goes on from there.

Raffaelli and Belle have a great chemistry once they end up on screen together and watching the two of them work was a lot of fun. The two of them pull off an amazing amount of stunts and I don’t think I’ve enjoyed an action movie as much as a I did D13 in a long time.

Pretty much right away I followed up with D13:U, the sequel. I was a little apprehensive about the sequel, especially when I saw it was put out by a different production company and thought it might suffer from sequelitis. Thankfully, I didn’t have much to worry about and I enjoyed this one almost as much as the first.

Set three years after the events of the first movie, District B13 is both worse off and better than it was before. Crime, poverty, and decaying infrastructure is at an all time level of bad, made worse by the government’s failed promises to help the ghetto after the first movie. The ghetto is better in that while it has become more segregated, based off of ethnicity with Caribbean, Asian, Spanish/Hispanic, Nazi/White, and Arab/Islamic areas, the district is also at peace with each group staying in their own areas and even coordinating a little bit so that as long as all the formalities, and payment, are made then everyone stays happy. The district is even at peace, in some ways, with the outside world in that the outside world stays out of their business and the people of District B13 stay in their ghetto. Which is fine by them, they’ve formed their own little society and it works. Mostly.

Then there’s Leito, who still isn’t happy about the district being a rat hole and getting screwed by the government. His first scene in the movie is attaching bombs to the wall surrounding the district and setting them off, only to be chased by the police. We learn, after this, that Leito is kind of a district nomad, not belonging to any one group but more or less tolerated, if not welcomed, in all of them.

The conflict of the movie comes when the head of DISS, a government secret police agency accountable only to the French president, a particular general, and the head of their group, conspire with the evil corporation Harriburton (I see what you did there, French movie makers) to cause conflict in District B13 in order to have it wiped out so Harriburton can come in and build middle class housing on the ruins of the ghetto.

Tomaso is back to doing what he does best, infiltrating bad guys’ operations and beating them up with back flips and round house kicks. He gets framed by DISS in order to get him out of the action which does little more than piss him off, so he calls in his friend Leito to have some more fun and they proceed to go about acrobatically kicking ass.

D13:U is almost as good a movie as the first. Maybe it was because I watched them back to back but seeing Leito jump off of buildings from incredible heights and land with little more than a tuck and a roll wasn’t that impressive because I’d just seen him do it; there was no surprise. However, the chemistry was still there between the two leads. My only complaint is at the end when groups who should’ve hated each other worked together with more ease than I thought was realistic. But, hey, it’s a French action movie about mega-ghettos and acrobatic vigilantes, how realistic is it going to be, really?

In closing, if you want to watch an action movie with some great fighting and stunts, watch these two films.

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