Aka: Rendel: Dark Vengeance. Directed by Jesse Haaja. Starring Kristofer Gummerus, Rami Rusinen, Renne Korppila, Johnny Vivash, Bianca Bradey, Sheila Shah, Alina Tomnikov. Finland 2017 105 mins Certificate: 15
Out now on DVD and Digital from Universal.
You could be forgiven for not being massively enthusiastic about a Finnish superhero movie following the gloomy urban adventures of a kind of downbeat Deadpool: a black leather-clad, silent vigilante. Before you ask...it’s another origin tale with a suitably grim back story for our crime-fighting hero and, yes, it does have the genre-standard, circling helicopter shot of the protagonist on top of a tall building at the end – his sombre oiceover defiantly announcing his identity, just in case we had forgotten it already. And it has a mid-credit set up for the inevitable sequel, following the current trend of no movie ever having an actual, proper ending. There probably won’t be a McDonalds tie-in, but you do also get a marketable rock soundtrack plus a marketable rock soundtrack that pivots around “Wonderman” by The Rasmus and the wonderfully named Finnish funk band Eternal Erection.
Highly familiar territory, for sure, though debuting filmmaker Jesse Haaja gives it everything he’s got, largely forsaking the modern phenomenon of CGI blurry things hitting each other in favour of old-school face-pummelling action scenes – the kind that you would enjoy with your dad on 18-rated VHS tapes back in the day. It’s beautifully shot by Tero Saikkonen so that the (inevitably) rainy, overcast / nocturnal urban backdrop has style and atmosphere rather than looking glum and underlit. Visually, it’s one of the stand-out recent superhero movies on the lower budget end; we’re guessing the whole production cost less than a week’s worth of Rocket Raccoon’s vet bills). Tuomas Kantelinen’s rich, stirring score – with its muscular, Elfman-influenced theme for Rendel – lends it further production value. The narrative and stylistic model errs much closer to the current wave of harder-edged Netflix Marvel adaptations (notably THE PUNISHER), but the best news is you don’t have to wade through around 12 hours of “character development” and backstory to get to the juicy hour or so of strategically placed head-crunching violence.
“Now listen you spineless and immoral bastards…” growls the commanding voiceover of the eponymous Rendel (Kristofer Gummerus) at the outset of the movie. Rendel has become a dark avenger on the streets of Mikkeli, where unemployment is growing, homelessness is becoming an epidemic and the ultra-shady CEO of VALA (a slippery bastard with a cane and a pin striped suit) is bragging about single handedly reviving the local economy courtesy of a special licence to test vaccines on children in developing countries. Guided by a mysterious, beautiful blonde, Rendel recalls the family tragedy that led him to his current existence as a super-strong figure of brutal justice in a city stifled by the immoral, rich minority.
Refreshingly, the film refuses to disappear up its own self-serious arse in the vein of some of the self-consciously “dark” contemporary fantasy flicks. Haaja balances it out with an appealing vein of playful and / or dark humour. Someone comments disparagingly “black leather is so last season” while dopey henchmen cleaning up the bloody mess left by VALA take selfies and misunderstand seemingly straight forward instructions to “take care” of someone. “I sure could have had better use for the sperm that made you” is probably the stand-out quote of this, or any other Finnish-made superhero movie this year. A knowing dialogue reference to “moving into Phase 2” is perhaps the most direct jokey nod to the Marvel empire.
This well paced, nicely cast picture revolves around a likeable protagonist: Kristofer Gummerus has an appealing Everyman screen presence as the nice family guy who loses his livelihood, facing the common 2019 anxiety of not being able to financially support his wife and young daughter…before things get far worse. If the symbolic sub-plot about his daughter’s broken toy horse and the tinkly piano-accompanied cuddly family moments are undeniably sentimental, the film’s ultimate depiction of why he became a masked vigilante presents one of the most shocking sequences in the modern superhero movie cannon. Haaja doesn’t flinch from scenes of women being beaten up, murdered kids and power drills troubling eyeballs, though the movie has heart and wit to even out the intensity of its impressively ruthless – and frequent – outbreaks of lean, mean ultra-violence.
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