I AM VENGEANCE: RETALIATION Builds the Case for Stu Bennett, Action Hero

Ross Boyask writes/directs a solid sequel

The I Am Vengeance films are my type of bread and butter tough guy cinema. They’re hard hitting, unashamed action movies that aren’t out to reinvent the wheel, but rather to smash said wheel into a burning building, repeatedly. To wit, this latest teaming of former WWE star Stu Bennett and writer/director Ross Boyask really doesn’t stray too far outside of the safety net in terms of plotting, characterization, action set pieces, etc. What’s very important, though, is that it does what it’s supposed to do pretty well.

I watch and write about action movies a lot, and have done so for many years now. This comes with some great benefits, such as knowing some of what you’re in for just from the opening credits. When I saw the name Tim Man pop up as the fight choreographer, I immediately knew a couple of things. One was that the fight scenes in this movie were going to be strong. Another was that Boyask must really not be messing around when it comes to action filmmaking… because he writes and directs and ALSO knows to hire experts in the business. I was similarly very pleased to see up and comer Jean-Paul Ly who has headlined a couple of action films himself over the past few years to great result. Unfortunately he’s not given a ton of screen time in this film, but he makes the most of what he’s given.

What’s most important on screen is ultimately Stu Bennett and his character John Gold. This being a sequel, it might help to have seen the first film, but Gold is somewhat of a blank slate badass that can really be plopped into any plot and work as an action hero. I’ve now seen Bennett in precisely 3 action films and absolutely none of his WWE work (I don’t follow wrestling except where it crosses over into action cinema). The guy has what it takes, in my opinion, to be an action lead. He’s massive and somewhat lumbering, but he’s got a unique look to him. It’s clear that he does a lot of his own action and stunts, and he can crack a halfway decent one-liner. This is important because Boyask injects a fair amount of humor into his scripts for both I Am Vengeance films.

This time out, Gold has less of a Bruce Banner/Zatoichi vibe as he isn’t rolling into some small town and rooting out the bad guy there. This is actually a bit of a detriment to Retaliation. This time Gold is pulled back in to his former agency for “one last job” to take out a villain which Gold has a personal vendetta against. Of course it’s Vinnie Jones. One thing that’s great about I Am Vengeance is how unapologetically British the whole endeavor is. Bringing in Vinnie Jones just steeps this sequel even further in its own Britishness. To be honest the plotting beyond this really doesn’t matter a whole lot. There are tons of double crosses and fake outs, a surprising number of characters putting Gold into more of a team dynamic as opposed to more of a loner and rebel from the last film. This comes with strengths and weaknesses. I personally would have liked to see Gold’s further adventures as a wandering lone hero cleaning up the trash in a new city each installment. And it feels clear that Retaliation was really written around a largely single location for budget purposes. A huge portion of the film’s action all takes place at this nondescript industrial location which is the kind of place all action movies take place in. At times the plotting and momentum of the film, as well as the character work, seemed to suffer from having to just squeeze in as many fights and set pieces as possible at this one location.

But this more team-based approach also allowed Boyask to highlight some talent I really hadn’t ever seen or heard of before. There are a surprising amount of females in the main cast of this film and they do some really strong fight work that made me pay attention. Stunt professional and actress Katrina Durden plays a mysterious would-be assassin who’s kind of hard to pin down and she makes a strong impression as an onscreen fighter. The same could be said for Phoebe Robinson-Galvin, who has apparently done a fair amount of stunt work for DC films, but who I was introduced to here. Her character is one of Gold’s team and she really does some strong work. Of course Tim Man’s choreography makes the fights all very clear, and Boyask takes these capable performers, Man’s choreography, and captures it all very effectively as a director.

Ultimately I was entertained by I Am Vengeance: Retaliation, and I’d recommend it to fans of Stu Bennett or really any fans of bread and butter action cinema. I will also say that I’m writing up this review quite a few days after having seen the film, and it hasn’t really stuck with me as much as that first film did. It’s all done with a great cast and crew and squeezes a ton of action and one-liners into its wise 90 minute runtime. But while it displays a strong competence, it doesn’t stand out a whole lot either. You’ll likely be entertained and open to further John Gold adventures, but it also may very well depart from your brain as quickly as it entered.

And I’m Out.

I Am Vengeance: Retaliation is available on Digital and On Demand Friday, June 19th, 2020 from Saban Films.

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