District B13: A District movie I can endorse.

I’ve spent some air and internet time expounding my opinion that District 9, though well made, uses a real life event as a simple background detail of which to foreground a generic action movie made of spare parts borrowed from buddy cop movies and the Alien franchise. District B13 also uses real life ills and problems to prop up a film that was expressly made to show off parkour and martial arts, and I enjoyed it a hell of a lot more.

I don’t want to turn this into a versus issue(but aren’t I? Damn), but it was one of the first things that came to mind while watching District B13. The first twenty minutes do a pretty great job of establishing a crime and drug-ridden Paris, ignored by the government, betrayed and abandoned by the police. One of the heroes of the piece, Leïto, is just a guy trying to rid the area of drugs and prostitution, but he is in way over his head. It is important to note that Leïto spends most of his time evading the enemy, which leads to some spectacular chases. His eventual partner Damien is as one character says, a “supercop”. We first meet him as he fights his way out of illegal casino. It’s an amazing sequence where Damien jumps, kicks, flips, and generally whoops ass as he attempts to get himself out alive. And it’s all real, so I assume all the actors are dead now. Because you don’t walk away from some of this shit.

The plot kicks in as Leïto and Damien are forced to team up to retrieve a bomb that has fallen into the possession of Taha, the criminal drug lord who has Leïto’s sister drugged and on a leash. Taha has also seen Scarface a few times. Maybe more than a few times. As I said, this is all in service of martial arts and ass kicking, but the film makes some strong points about the ignored underclass. Leïto has seen first hand that the disenfranchised can be easily ignored, while Damien has always lived in a world where the law is upheld, for good. Think of Damien as an even more serious version of Simon Pegg’s character in Hot Fuzz. The actors who portray Leïto and Damien are clearly martial artists first and actors second, but this works to District B13‘s advantage, as Damien’s stiffness and Leïto’s deer-in-headlights gaze define their characters in important ways that some of the clumsy dialogue doesn’t always achieve.

District B13 does have an ending that feels slightly like a video game, with a showdown against a literal giant, but that leads to a great battle between the heroes. All through this, the background of poverty and crime infecting this city is never forgotten. It’s actually what the movie is about. It’s sometimes awkward and occasionally on the nose, but it has the courage of its convictions. Which brings me back to District 9. It mentions apartheid, great. But it only uses that to get to what the movie is actually about, the minority helping the white man to victory over his oppressors. If you want to use such a tragic and vicious period in the history of a country as full of unrest as South Africa, then stick to your guns. Make me uncomfortable, face some truths. Or blow up some random soldiers with your mech. Whatever.

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