Those who missed DISTRICT B-13 missed a superb filmed entertainment, but it will in no way impede an appreciation for its equally superb sequel, DISTRICT 13: ULTIMATUM. As with its predecessor, this is a social satire cleverly disguised as an action-thriller that succeeds on every level. Actually, it succeeds better than most films that confine themselves to only one of those genres. Once again we have a sharply written class struggle set in a near future that is just far enough removed from the present to allow for flexibility of situation, and just close enough to smack of urgent timeliness. And once again we have preternaturally graceful and even more preternaturally gravity-defying parkour, executed by stars Cyril Raffaelli (who also choreographed the martial arts) and David Belle (who invented parkour).
Its 2016, three years after the last film. Promises made by the French government to tear down the wall that confines the socially and ethnically undesirable residents of the eponymous district, rife with violent gangs and even more violent tattoos, have gone unfulfilled. This has left Leito (Belle), the anarchist amid anarchists, to blow up the wall a little at a time and all by himself. This does not set well with the gang leaders who still run the area along ethnic lines, and who see the wall as a fortress protecting their interests. Meanwhile, Damien (Raffaelli), the good cop in an iffy system, is taking down Paris drug lords and doing it pretty much all by himself. Certainly the SWAT team that assists him is more easily stymied despite their firepower than Damien is on his own with little more than his wits and a pertly cut disguise.
Soon, though, there is a nefarious plot that will unite them, one hatched by even more nefarious corporate types to foment a class war, destroy District 13, and make a huge profit for all concerned. All it takes is framing Damien, planting some dead cops in District 13, and convincing the President of the Republic that its in the countrys interest to flatten the real estate and make room for middle-class voters. To Bessons credit, his President, played with a surprising subtlety by Phillippe Torreton, isnt just a politician on the make, but rather a politician with a baseline moral fiber. In a piquant choice, the villain of the piece is the fancifully and not at all Gallically monikered Walter Gassman, a name whose Germanic roots cleverly conjure up images of both petroleum and Zyklon B.
If there is anything resembling a flaw in this film it is not getting the buddies together soon enough. The compensation is to give them each a chance to go through their action paces alone, the better to appreciate the nuances each brings. Raffaelli, showing a cool detachment during even the most vigorous exertions; Belle exhibiting a, you will pardon the term, joie-de-vivre in the sheer physicality of it all. Forget the slo-mo that intrudes on the action sequences as both men play fast and loose with the laws of physics. Even at 32 frames per second, these guys leave no doubt that they can fly. As with the last film, the best move is the one that is the least flashy. After leaping off buildings, barreling over walls, across ceilings, and saving a Van Gogh from oblivion while simultaneously fending off a bevy of bad buys, Rafaelli jumps into a car. Its not a convertible and the door is not open, but from a standing start, he glides into the drivers seat without so much as skimming the window frame.
The dialogue transcends the limitations of subtitling with its deft, character-driven humor. The situations are deadly, and so is the witty élan that suffuses the script by Luc Besson. Damien and Leito engage in philosophical repartee, tongue-in-cheek chiding, and dazzling moves while being followed by a camera that matches them move for move as they negotiate the district they are trying to save and the government they are trying to clean up, both of which are trying to kill them.
DISTRICT 13: ULTIMATUM is a fable from a land that elevated that genre to literature a long time ago. Its smart, irreverent, and fiendishly fun even as it pushes the limits of credulity, with such delightful tomfoolery as a flashing braid of slicing death. This is an intelligent parsing of the difficulties of multiculturalism, the failings of social welfare systems, and a new take on family values to give everyone pause.