In watching DISTRICT 13: ULTIMATUM, you're subjected to the tired political subtext and also the sometimes ridiculous plot. Writer/producer Luc Besson, historically, hasn't sold heaps of movie tickets by virtue of his having been the voice of social conscience, and his attempts here are awkward. Doesn't matter, though. The first movie rocked it. This sequel rocks it equally. The two stars, David Belle and Cyril Raffaelli, are back for another bone-bruising round of no-wires, no-CG stunts and fight scenes. "C'est magnifique!" and also "Le chat est sur le tableau." And that's my French.
Three years after what went down in the first film, and the government has changed hands, and yet things remain the same. That barbed wall still stands tall and menacing, still isolates the lawless territory known as District 13 from the more civilized parts of Paris. In the dystopian near future of 2016, an uneasy sort of peace exists between law enforcement and the ruling gangs of District 13. But now corrupt cops are intent on stirring things up, on enticing riots, the end game being the razing of these bleak tenements and thus raking in the resulting rewards of suddenly available real estate.
When Leito (Belle), District 13's well-meaning rogue, ends up with evidence incriminating the police, it's only a matter of time before he joins forces again with his old friend Damien Tomasso, the formidable and baldy-domed Army Captain assigned to the police Special Forces. On his end, Damien (Raffaelli) has found himself framed and locked up by his fellow police officers. This tends to happen when you're an honest cop. Leito springs Damien, and away they go, striving to save the barricaded slums and their unsavory populace from extinction.
It's gratifying that Belle and Raffaelli obviously get along and share this sort of macho chemistry, and I really enjoy their interactions. But, really, the story is a vessel for their astounding physicality and athleticism. David Belle demonstrates his skills at parkour, and parkour, by the way, is the art of navigating from point A to point B as expeditiously as possible. And Belle's chase scenes are physically taxing and make for absolutely jaw-dropping stuff. Cyril Raffaelli, who looks like Vin Diesel chopped off at the knees, is himself versed in parkour but he's also a practitioner of Shotokan karate and several wushu styles, and he handles the brunt of the martial arts and he's dynamic. What he does here, in beating down waves of goons, hearkens back to when Jackie Chan was really tearing $#!% up in his heyday. Like Jackie, Cyril incorporates whatever props are handy into his explosive fight scenes. In one sequence, he even fends off a group of thugs with a priceless Van Gogh painting.
As mentioned, plenty of the plotlines go the preposterous route. And maybe the silliest, most "What the f---?!" moment is when Cyril Raffaelli, during an undercover ops, disguises himself as a lithe girl dancer, never mind that there's an obvious discrepancy in body types. And, speaking of body types, supporting actress Elodie Yung has got a slender bod and she is memorable as "Tao," head of the Chinese gang and sporting a murderous ponytail. Tao kicks serious behind (but only in two scenes, dammit - one in the actual film and a brief segment in the deleted scenes bonus feature).
DISTRICT 13: ULTIMATUM, like its predecessor, exhibits great energy and a pounding, hip-hop laced soundtrack. It presents a grungy, gritty atmosphere reminiscent of films like ROAD WARRIOR and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, and there's particular attention paid to depicting that mean urban sprawl. The battered-down edifices (some of which are skyscrapers) provide Belle the ideal venue to show off his crazy leaping, hurdling, scaling abilities. No trickeration, Belle really does his own stunts. As does Cyril Raffaelli. And so does that one poor guy whom Raffaelli drags thru the air one floor down and then slams viciously thru a table. I'll go ahead and speak for that poor guy and say that the pain was worth it. The action sequences are that dizzying and breathtaking.
The DVD's bonus material includes the Making Of featurette (00:26:33 minutes long, with English sub-titles); a production video diary which chronicles the many days of on-location filming (00:34:31); Alonzo's music video "Déterminé"; Deleted/Extended Scenes include: an extended jailbreak sequence as Leito searches for evidence while Damien holds off the police; even more fight scenes as Leito, Damien, and the gang lords storm the Secret Services stronghold (00:09:22, with English sub-titles); and HDNET: A Look at DISCTRICT 13: ULTIMATUM (00:04:43).