Jason Statham in Wrath of Man
It has been 23 years since writer-director Guy Ritchie and Jason Statham first combined forces for the wonderfully twisty take on tough-guy bravado, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Two years later they recaptured lightning in a bottle with Snatch.
A lot has changed in the two decades since.
Ritchie married Madonna and found the shine from his meteoric rise to A-list auteur slowly dull and diminish with a string of redundant wannabe-gangster films, the overwrought and exhausting Sherlock Holmes franchise and head-scratching detours like King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and Aladdin.
Statham molded himself into a bruising action star capable of laying waste to a horde of bad guys or even a giant prehistoric shark.
Now that they’re finally reteamed for Wrath of Man, a remake of a 2004 French thriller, it’s fair to say there’s a degree of expectation that they might once again deliver cinematic gold.
The problem, though, is that action movies, specifically crime-centric thrillers, also have changed significantly since the late 1990s, and Wrath of Man, no matter how hard Ritchie and Statham try, feels like a movie you’ve seen countless times before, no matter how determinedly violent the action becomes.
At its heart, Wrath of Man is a revenge thriller centered around H (Statham), a new hire at a Los Angeles armored car company, at a time when a group of thugs with military training have just pulled off a messy heist that resulted in the deaths of two guards and an innocent teen-aged boy.
Ritchie bounces back and forth in time to tell his tale, using repetition to peel away every possible angle of the opening heist to slowly show viewers exactly what happened, and why. But this gimmick grows tiresome, especially after the third or fourth time you see words appear on screen saying, ‘Five months ago,’ ‘Three days ago,’ etc.
There’s also very little mystery to keep viewers guessing. We know early on who is responsible and who will eventually pay a price in blood, which means the bulk of the film’s bloated 118-minute runtime is basically consumed with moving each character’s chess piece into position for the blistering, bullet-ridden finale.
As a rule, revenge thrillers, at least the best that the genre has to offer, chug along a twin track designed to hook viewers with bombastic set pieces and enjoin them to the protagonist or proceedings with some sort of emotional connection or investment.
There’s little to no emotion on display here, in part, because Statham says very little at all throughout the film. Yeah, you know he’s pissed off because he never loses his trademark Statham scowl, but good luck feeling any sort of sympathy for his loss or empathy toward his plight.
John W. Allman has spent more than 25 years as a professional journalist and writer, but he’s loved movies his entire life. Good movies, awful movies, movies that are so gloriously bad you can’t help but champion them. Since 2009, he has cultivated a review column and now a website dedicated to the genre films that often get overlooked and interviews with cult cinema favorites like George A. Romero, Bruce Campbell and Dee Wallace. Contact him at Blood Violence and Babes.com, on Facebook @BloodViolenceBabes or on Twitter @BVB_reviews.