After the well-orchestrated carnage of the latest John Wick film, I thought it might be nice to take in a less hyped action film from a still reliable source of entertainment. Frequent collaborators overseas, director Jesse V. Johnson and stunt actor Scott Adkins reunite for their latest project, the action-packed but unfortunately titled Avengment. Seriously, Sterling Archer had a better go back in Season 2 with Terms of EnRAMPAGEment.
It’s a very simple, fairly intimate film, condensed to just a few tight locations, and told largely through flashbacks. A dangerous and violent prisoner named Cain Burgess (Adkins), is temporarily released from prison (under supervision of course) to visit his mother on her hospital deathbed, but unfortunately he is too late to see her alive one last time. Hours later, he turns up at a seedy bar guarded by goons, wearing completely different clothes and fully armed with an axe and a sawed off shotgun. As he waits for his brother, crime boss Lincoln Burgess (’cause his name’s Cain, you see, he has to have a violent end in mind for his brother, just in case you needed something to slap yourself in the face with), Cain regales his brother’s minions with the story of how he was betrayed, transformed, and arrived here for his revenge, all while enjoying the first beer he’s had in years.
Cain’s introduction is a damn good thesis for the film, especially because he’s able to establish dominance within moments by shooting one guy’s kneecap off and tossing the severed hand of his first victim right to the chickenshit punk (Thomas Turgoose, who played one of Eggsy’s friends in Kingsman: The Golden Circle) who scarpered after witnessing the hit and lying about it. Within moments he’s got a very testy and dangerous, yet captive, audience.
The first of many flashbacks is quite jarring, as there is a massive difference between the appearance of the Cain in the story (handsome, tight haircut, nice smile) and the Cain telling it (heavy facial scars, metal teeth, bald head, and dressed like Wade Wilson pre-Deadpool, or Adam Levine after attempting MMA). Invoking the classic Heath Ledger version of the Joker, Cain asks his crowd if they want to know how he got his scars. Whether they want to or not, Cain’s going to tell them.
The young Cain was assigned by Lincoln (Craig Fairbrass of Cliffhanger) and his underling Hyde (Nick Moran) to steal a bag from a middle-aged woman. They would give her this bag (the contents of which Cain doesn’t know), then Cain would immediately steal it back. Somehow, the mission went pear-shaped, and Cain ended up with a five-year prison sentence. Despite having no prior convictions, Cain was taken to a maximum security facility, where the inmates enjoy breaking in the new meat, and they targeted him with aplomb. Cain is an effective fighter, but even he couldn’t withstand constant gang-ups, and over the course of several incidents he gradually gained his injuries as well as information about his predicament. Truly, the makeup crew should get a TON of credit for the evolution of Cain’s visage; apart from the fights it’s the best aspect of the film. However, in a Murphy’s Law string of bad luck, every time he defended himself, he was the one punished by the parole board, and as such had his sentence more than tripled over the course of his stay. And yet, he never once betrayed his brother. Lincoln had not repaid the loyalty, and so, Cain took the opportunity of seeing his dead mother to escape his captors and exact his vengeance once and for all.
The story is very simple, and honestly it’s full of holes. For example, the barmaid, Bez (Kierston Wareing) is one of the first to figure out Cain’s intent, but she never does anything to restrain him, even though she has multiple opportunities standing behind him and behind the bar. When Lincoln arrives, she even gives him weapons. Why not just bludgeon the fucker when he turns his back on you? Problem solved. Similarly, Cain takes out two guards out the door, but not with lethal force, yet they never come in to help the others fight, nor do they reenter when Lincoln finally shows up.
Still, the action sequences are fun. It’s a testament to the working rapport shared by Johnson and Adkins that they’re able to choreograph and execute such great displays of martial arts and weapons combat. The scenes aren’t as elegant as the John Wick films, and there’s a lot more cross-cutting and confusing editing, but it’s undeniable that these guys and their cadre of stuntmen know exactly what they’re doing. It also helps that each locale is such a relatively small space. The tightly-framed sets do their job in ratcheting up the excitement ever so slightly.
Also, while the story is predictable, the twists do shake things up at just the right moment, before things can get too dull. Is it all a bit clichéd? Of course. At the same time, there’s something to be said about not fixing what’s not broken. The formula is tried and true, so who am I to argue? All of it is decently entertaining, it’s just that there’s not all that much beyond the basic framework and the action sequences, and maybe that’s enough. I’m not sure.
Adkins himself does a fine job in the lead role, and is to an extent a sympathetic character. There are moments when his plight is little too much to be believed, and you can’t escape the nagging sensation that this is a man asserting himself into center frame to almost beg mainstream audiences to take him as seriously as we do the likes of Jason Statham. As a stunt expert and combat actor, he’s certainly there. In dramatic ability though, not quite yet.
Finally, while I love accents and linguistics, there was just too much Cockney Rhyming Slang and heavy voice affectation to truly relate to any of the other characters. They’re all gangsters and crooks, so I guess that’s mostly intentional. We don’t actually want to identify with the bad guys. But if you’re trying to reach a mainstream audience, particularly in America, it’s better to speak in a way that doesn’t require subtitles even when you’re speaking plain English.
Join the conversation in the comments below! What film should I review next? What are your favorite tales of revenge? How would you rather die, shotgun exploding your head or axe in the back? Let me know!