Former special-forces soldier John Gold (Stu Bennett) is given the opportunity to bring Sean Teague (Vinnie Jones) – the man who betrayed his team on their final mission in Eastern Europe several years ago – to justice. Gold would cheerfully see Teague dead, but he is convinced to help transport him to a military prison to pay for his crimes. Along the way, Gold will have to fight off Teague’s team who are attempting to extract him, as well as a sniper seemingly hell-bent on killing Teague before he can be secured.
How does one explain the joys to be had from a film like I AM VENGEANCE: RETALIATION to a film viewer not steeped in the pleasures of DTV low-budget action films? This is what was called twenty+ years ago a Friday-night-beer-and-pizza/curry/ethnic takeaway of your choice movie: something you chose off the rental shop shelves because of the sleeve art and a couple of names you recognised, and went home to have fun with it. And if there’s one thing IAV:R most definitely is, is it’s a blast.
The slim plot is simple and clear: returning action hero John Gold (wrestler Stu Bennett, back from I AM VENGEANCE, showing you what Jack Reacher would be like if he was English) is busy wreaking havoc on gangsters who messed with people he cared about when one of his old government military contacts comes with an offer and a mission that he just can’t say no to. Introduced to a much younger covert ops team (played with humour and grit by familiar TV & film faces including Sam Benjamin, Jean-Paul Ly and Phoebe Robinson-Galvin) who are fully aware of his reputation, their mission is to capture the man who destroyed Gold’s old unit: Sean Teague (played by Vinnie Jones!). The scene is set for that classic action flick plotline of “staying alive to deliver the bad guy alive into the hands of justice”, with a twist when a mysterious crack-shot biker (Katrina Durden) enters the fray….
While normally this sort of film is watched for punches, kicks, bodyslams, knives slashing and guns blazing, writer/editor/director Ross Boyask actually layers in the two most important things that make this sort of film watchable: clearly visualised action scenes and humour. The former are well-handles by performers with extensive stunt credits in bigger films, capable of acting as well as kicking butt; these include ex-boxer Joe Egan, always cast as a heavy but here allowed a handful of lines that create a character easily and provoke a big laugh at one exchange between his character and Bennett’s that is reminiscent of a gag Joss Whedon wrote for TITAN A.E. Boyask is very good at thumbnailing characters for the audience, with a look, a joke or a reaction shot telling you all you need to know about individuals, as well as creating spaces between the action to allow the incredibly tight (81 minutes!) story some much-needed breathing room. One can see hints of something developing between Lynch and Bennett, for example, while Bentley Kalu as bad guy Renner conveys cockiness and bloodthirstiness with aplomb, in addition to being able to give a good fight.
Bennett and Jones sell their lead roles with seeming ease; Bennett, in particular, delivers lines in a way very familiar to those of us old enough to have enjoyed theatrically the Austrian Oak’s earlier films. But the stand-outs are without a doubt the three female leads; Durden makes even more of an impact here than she did as Mads Mikkelson’s henchwoman in DR.STRANGE, with a role that in some ways is the emotional heart of the film, as well as making clear the moral stance of the characters without having to saddle any of them with patriotism or overt politics. “This time it’s personal” has never been truer. Jessica Jane Stafford has real fun with the “gangsters’ moll” character, but also makes it utterly believable; she has an improvised, wordless scene towards the end with Benjamin and Ly’s characters that is both funny and utterly telling as to her character’s strengths. However, for my money, the person who stole the film out from under everyone else is Phoebe Robinson-Galvin, a stunt performer on JUSTICE LEAGUE, WONDER WOMAN and Amazon’s HANNA TV series. She carries moments I would have expected Bennett to have had, she convinces as professional soldier Kate Lynch, and she has the best fight scenes, especially once she and Durden go head-to-head and then later side-by-side. I genuinely look forward to seeing all of these performers in future films – come on Ross, build a film around Durden and Robinson-Galvin vs. Stafford like those 90s HK and US actioners you so clearly adore!
A comic book film without a comic behind it, an 80s Saturday morning cartoon without a toy line, go in to watch this with that mindset and you will not only have fun, you’ll see an all-British independent low-budget feature chock full of craftspeople who you normally don’t notice while focusing on the Hollywood stars, here given a chance to have fun and show what they can do. Congrats to the Evolutionary Films team on getting this made, and we look forward to the return of John Gold in I AM VENGEANCE III.
Hugh K. David
I Am Vengeance: Retaliation is available now to watch on all good video streaming platforms. Look out for a forthcoming episode of Hustlers of Culture where Hugh and Leslie Pitt sit down for a virtual chat with the film’s director Ross Boyask.
Hugh K. David is involved in a variety of podcasts available on Bunkazilla. Join him as he dives into Reel History UK with Jenna Pateman, sit in on cultural discussions with Leslie Pitt in Hustlers of Culture or enjoy the latest TV chatter with Anna Hussey in Binges & Boxsets. All shows available wherever you get your podcasts.