District 13: Ultimatum Review

Damien Tomaso (Cyril Raffaelli) stands in a room holding a rare, multi-million dollar painting, surrounded by various thugs. Damien notes the painting is worthless if it gets scratched, and off we go into a massive brawl that would make Jackie Chan giddy. The painting, never scratched or hit in any way, it utilized for both offense and defense, plus a distraction.

The entire sequence seems effortless. Damien’s face is bland and stable, as if this is something he goes through on a daily basis. Foes are smashed through tables, endlessly kicked, stabbed, and and even run over by a giant lead bomb-containing bell. All of this is over heroin, a kingpin being brought to justice and the police establishing their dominance.

It’s a shame then that the entire sequence is utterly pointless to the plot. Yes, it establishes Damien as this athletic, straight-laced cop, and serves as an intro to the world of District 13 for those who may have missed the original. However, this is a solid 10-minute struggle (not even including the set-up), and for all of its flipping, dazzling choreography, and shattered bones, it only serves as a point of confusion.

Suddenly the film is about cop killings, corrupt government officials, gang violence, and a critical piece of video evidence. It doesn’t fit with anything the audience was just exposed to, getting District 13: Ultimatum off to a rough start despite the fireworks.

There is no question this is a fun, wild piece of cinema. In fact, were this not in French, it could easily be mistaken for a lower-budget Hollywood summer actioner. It carries the look of a Jerry Bruckheimer epic, and explosions that would make Michael Bay envious. Fights are frequent once the story has been set, and the stunt work jaw-dropping. Ultimatum feels disjointed, and the non-stop techno and hip-hop beats behind the action are terribly tiresome after only a few minutes.

This is film that needs the original to piece it all together. The film rapidly tosses out the idea that District 13 is a walled-in ghetto the government would like to forget, but pieces are definitely missing for newcomers. The various gang leaders exist more for their looks than personalities, and Raffaelli and David Belle just seem to be partners because they need to be for the script. No one will find the fights disappointing though, so ignoring the lack of development and plot that can disappear as soon as it appeared, Ultimatum is still a blast to watch, exactly what was intended.

Movie ★★★☆☆ 

Magnolia/Magnet offer up a VC-1 encode for this sequel, the thin grain structure barely notable in many scenes. This is a film with an American influenced look, again, Michael Bay. Harsh contrast, deep crushing blacks, blown out color, and frantic editing are all evident, but the encode does a fine job keeping the chaos under control.

Sharpness is generally firm. Picking up the smallest and most subtle skin texture is not an issue. Consistency is a strong suit of the disc, reproducing pores, beads of sweat, and any other facial markings with wonderful crispness. That is assuming of course the black levels have not crushed them. Generally, everything is rife with detail. Look at the statue at 18:45, or the detail of the long shot at 25:01. Definition is superlative.

There are dips. Softness creeps into the frame when that intense contrast is not at work. When Damien returns home around around 27:20, softness dominates, and all of that texture is lost. Scenes in the club early, with the heavily focused red lighting, suffers the same fate. Some minor grain spikes, 54:37 for example, soften the image as well. A shot of an evacuating populace from the sky at 1:03:39 looks a bit compressed, but still resolves individual people. Some chroma noise is noted only once, on a piece of furniture on the left of the frame 26:49. The encode is otherwise well-behaved.

Some of the earliest shots, including a long montage to establish the various gangs during the credits, look slightly sharpened. There are a number of effects used to bridge the camerawork, so this likely has more to do with them than the compression work. Certainly the intensity of the color and high fidelity detail is enough of a distraction.

Video ★★★★☆ 

This DTS-HD mix (French and English dub available; review based on French mix) never stops providing something for the subwoofer to work with. The constant throbbing is tiring, although appropriate to the source. Every musical number bleeds together with similar beats. Thankfully, it never overwhelms the action or dialogue.

Explosions are immediately beefy and powerful. Early at 4:20, a series of explosions is a small taste of what’s coming, an even larger rocket launcher assault at 52:20 a real highlight. Bass always extends deep into the low-end, with a powerful smoothness and clarity. Bass lovers should also enjoy the off-screen explosions late around 1:32:50, each of them generating a powerful rumble that is thoroughly satisfying.

Surround use is not as aggressive, but still notable. Gunfire is placed with excellent directionality, certainly providing enough rear speaker use to offer some immersion. Fist fights are generally confined to the front channels, the camerawork keeping it all in line of the viewer. Punches and kicks are greeted by additional bass however, as if this track needed any more.

Audio ★★★★☆ 

A making-of is up first, a fine 26-minute piece that details all aspects of the production without the usual promotional tone these tend to come with. A 34-minute collection of production diaries are extensive in their footage. Deleted/extended scenes last 9:22, followed by a shot but better-than-expected featurette from HDNet Movies. Music videos and BD-Live access that offers nothing are left.

Extras ★★★☆☆