Scott Adkins delivers a career-best performance in another stellar small-scale collaboration with Jesse V. Johnson.
For those in the know, the Scott Adkins actioner is a very specific, very beautiful thing, and his recent collaborations with the reliably demented Jesse V. Johnson have yielded, mostly, exquisite examples of the form. In Savage Dog, Adkins ripped out and ate a man’s still-beating heart; in Accident Man, he tackled a menagerie of colorful assassins; and in Triple Threat, he locked horns with his most talented contemporaries in the world of international action cinema. But whereas that last film was slightly undercut by its own ambition, Avengement goes in the opposite direction, paring everything down to its bare essentials and delivering a focused, nasty B-movie that coaxes a career-best performance from its star.
Silly title notwithstanding, Avengement is small-scale genre filmmaking of exactly the right proportions and with exactly the right attitude. As a punchline to the setup of what happens when Scott Adkins walks into a bar, it doesn’t yield very many surprises: Lots and lots of people die. But the film’s ability to temper that carnage with some genuine pathos and character drama is a pleasant development and testament to the fact there’s more to an Adkins vehicle than fancy kicks and comically awful Russian accents, even if there’s a lot of that too.
There aren’t any Russian accents in Avengement. Adkins plays Cain Burgess, the little brother of a big-time gangster (Craig Fairbrass) who is irrevocably changed by a stint inside. The particulars of why Cain ends up imprisoned (and why he had such a particularly unpleasant stay) are revealed gradually over the course of a taut 90 minutes, with enough reveals wedged in between the frequent fisticuffs for the whole thing to feel like it’s telling an actual story and not just excusing the action.
But blimey, what action. I say it time and time again, but all I demand from an action sequence is clarity: I want to be able to see what’s happening. But Avengement is the kind of rigorously choreographed action film that feels as though it’s actively rewarding you for your attention; it delights in you being able to see every wince-inducing moment. And you will wince, even if, thankfully, the violence never seems calibrated for pure shock value. (The squeamish, needless to say, still need not apply.)
Even if Avengement lacks the outlandish personality of earlier Adkins/Johnson collaborations, it isn’t short of heightened performances and exaggerated gangland tropes; Cain himself, with his scarred face and Jaws-style metal teeth, appears at first like a cartoon character. But his humanity is gradually unfurled through flashbacks, as is that of supporting characters who’re trapped in the underworld pub where Cain has corralled his enemies. Their personalities are still thin, but the way the supporting players (including Thomas Turgoose as, unsurprisingly, a gobby youngster who’s all bark and no bite) act and interact is as believable as it needs to be.
And what more, really, does a film like Avengement really need? All the ingredients are here, in just the right amounts, and seasoned to taste. It goes down quickly, but it doesn’t leave a funny aftertaste. And you might just ask for seconds.