Review by Daniel Lima
The 2007 British crime film Rise of the Footsoldier chronicled the life of a football hooligan-turned-gangster, spanning a decade from his entry into the Essex underworld to the murder of his close friends that convinced him to mend his ways. A complete biographical story told from beginning to end seems like a shaky foundation for a long-running film series. Yet Vengeance: Rise of the Footsoldier is the sixth film following the exploits of this particular band of brutes. So far removed from the particular charms of the original film, it’s hard to see what else the franchise has to give.
Craig Fairbrass once again steps into the role of Pat Tate, one of the aforementioned victims at the end of the first film. Set some undetermined time before his death, he leaves his South End stomping grounds for London in search of the men who killed his friend. He glowers, he threatens people, he engages in the odd bit of violence, and eventually, the movie ends.
The original film might have been a cliche-ridden crime drama more interested in reveling in the freewheeling chaos of the hedonistic, id-driven men at its center than actually communicating anything, but at least the filmmaking was freewheeling and chaotic to reflect that. The sequels, however, have largely been bland and po-faced, stripping both the setting and the characters of all the personality they once displayed.
Vengeance is the ultimate culmination of that decline. The trippy rave aesthetic has given way to staid and bland direct-to-video cinematography, only livened up by jarring shifts in aspect ratio. The colorful personalities of the characters have been largely sanded off, turning them into interchangeable tough guys who speak in very direct threats. Even the conceit of the story being rooted in real life is gone. Where previous entries contorted themselves to explore different angles of the events detailed in the first film, this one never even bothers to give a defined time frame. It signals a complete divorce from reality, yet no single aspect capitalizes on the promise of fantasy.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in Fairbrass’s portrayal of Pat. When introduced, he was a crass, volatile, thuggish rogue who indulged in every vice and whim — a tendency that led to his fateful demise. Watching him here, it’s a wonder anyone could ever take issue with him, as he is routinely the most level-headed, straight-talking head in the room. Calling him a likable presence in the original film would be a stretch. Still, there was something to Fairbrass’s commitment to playing up this loose cannon among loose cannons, where what he would do at any given moment was completely up in the air. Now, comparatively sedate and docile, there is nothing to distinguish the character from any number of brooding anti-heroes.
Without an interesting protagonist, a dynamic visual aesthetic, a sense of place, or a spark of personality, there’s nothing to hold an audience’s attention as Fairbass goes from pub to bar to club, having terse and predictable exchanges with London criminals in search of his quarry. Yet for almost two hours, he dives into a distinctly uncompelling web of contacts and connections, including some familiar yet charmless faces from past entries who nevertheless get far too much screentime. The brief flashes of action offer a momentary respite, but it’s not enough to generate any real momentum. The film just plods along until it comes to a strangely anti-climactic finale.
Vengeance: Rise of the Footsoldier is a film for no one. For the fan of the original who wants even a modicum of what made that film work for them, it offers nothing, having devolved into a generic gangster tale. For someone who wants an unfussy crime story, it’s so slow-moving and bereft of any flair (yet still marginally indebted to previous entries) that it doesn’t provide the simple thrills they’d hope for. The most that can be said about the film is that it is too rote and conventional to be a truly agonizing watch. It is a movie that is almost tailor-made to be immediately forgotten.
Vengeance: Rise of the Footsoldier is in theaters and on demand December 1.