At the start of what feels like the continuation of a proper B-level action franchise, director Ross Boyask does away with any serious inferences in his latest, I Am Vengeance: Retaliation. Actor Stu Bennett reprising his role as ex-soldier-turned-mercenary John Gold, paves the way for just the kind of throwback action hero for genre fanboys of the eighties and nineties and older, top-lined by a cast that’s more than ready to deliver the goods no matter how perpetual some of the absurdities are at times.
Almost immediately after laying waste to a nightclub full of baddies, Gold is confronted by handler, Frost, with a job our hero is more than reluctant to take, until he learns of the involvement of former comrade-at-arms, Teague, once thought to be dead and now back on radar as a major player of the criminal underworld, with all the intel one could need to bring down international crime once and for all.
Of course, in the spirit of keeping the plot going, this doesn’t make things any easier for Gold who nonetheless decides to take the mission, enlisting a team to help extract Teague from his latest location and turn him over to law enforcement. In a race against time, Gold and his men are suddenly forced to fight tooth and nail against enemies on all sides, including a handy squad of Teague’s colorful henchmen who come out of hiding, and a rogue assassin who is out for blood, armed with as many means and ways it takes to get it.
For the most part, I Am Vengeance: Retaliation is about as cut and dry as it gets in terms of story and vision, with little room for any further character development in large part, which otherwise keeps things simple for a film that pretty much knows its target niche. The first film does enough to lend as much back story to Gold as needed going forward and into the sequel, and so it’s no real shock that things are a little less serious here, with a story that takes neary any real gravitas and potential it has, and literally aims for the bushes in its execution.
Gold cuts loose at times with being a smartass, and you get your doses of shared banter among some of the supporting protagonists and villains, and if you can stomach it, at least one key supporting character ends up with his tactical wear and clothing missing. Vinnie Jones carries the torch through and through as a proper on-screen villain in Teague, and never disappoints as the film stays its course and keeps up in stimulating fashion.
Not to be overlooked, of course, is the usual action fanfare with Bennett dealing the hard hits with a pinch more of tenacity in the role of Gold, who gets tested every step of the way whilst begrudgingly keeping Teague alive. The script does go the extra mile in placing Street Fighter: Resurrection and Doctor Strange actress Katrina Durden front and center, delivering one of the film’s stongest performances by far in the role of Jen Quaid, which frankly deserves her own solo act after this – one with a production framework that’s amply more suited for Durden’s remarkable screen caliber and gravitas.
Packing in with the action talents, Durden joins the fray with fellow colleagues such as Phoebe Robinson-Galvin, Jean-Paul Ly and Law Plancel all getting in some fair screentime to let the fists and feet fly for onlooking fans of martial arts cinema. Fight choreographer Tim Man, directing the action in reuinion with Bennett since last working with the actor on Scott Adkins thriller, Eliminators, brings his usual A-game on a tight schedule to help construct a hearty balance of action fanservice between all the players involved.
It’s the essential gunplay moments where certain pet peeves begin to take shape that nudge at the nerves some, like pulling a gun out knowing that one is already drawn on you, or standing in a hail of bullets and not moving until a few seconds later, and it’s not that contrivances like these aren’t avoidable, at least in this critic’s view. To that end, neither was the film relegating its only two Asian actors down to one line, a death scene, and a fight scene; the fact especially that Jean-Paul Ly doesn’t have a single memorable line of dialogue, despite headlining at least two hit films since 2017, bodes as irksome, to say the least. Alas, these are the cards we’re dealt.
If you’re already generally biased when it comes to action movies, then there’s no need to dwell too much on the flaws. With full knowledge in tact on films like I Am Vengeance: Retaliation, you get a passable B-movie actioner with one goal and purpose in mind, and doesn’t try too hard in areas where it needn’t. The film is almost non-stop in its pacing, and entertains with the simplest of goals. Save for what more you might ask for in action movies post-2019, it’s another chapter in the explosive John Gold saga that nevertheless has its audience, and with any luck, it may just help the rest of its burgeoning talented cast of rising stars find theirs.
You can find both I Am Vengeance and I Am Vengeance: Retaliation on Netflix.