01st Mar2019

‘Rendel: Dark Vengeance’ DVD Review

by Chris Thomas

Stars: Kristofer Gummerus, Rami Rusinen, Renne Korppila, Matti Onnismaa, Johnny Vivash, Bianca Bradey, Sheila Shah, Michael Majalahti, Michael Hall, Alina Tomnikov, Aake Kalliala, Reino Nordin, Tero Salenius, Sami Huhtala | Written by Pekka Lehtosaari, Miika J. Norvanto, Timo Puustinen | Directed by Jesse Haaja

Hans(el) und (G)rendel

rendel-dvd

There is something uniquely American in the unashamed virtues and patriotism wrapped up in traditional Superhero films. It is this un-ironic earnestness that I admire but find impossible to emulate personally. Superman, with his endlessly positivity is too vanilla for me. Probably more importantly I am, deep down too sneering, too cynical to fully embrace or relate to the struggles of the invincible man with the shopping list of powers.

Speaking of heroes… lots of people like to root for John McClane in the original Die Hard as the consummate underdog. Even watching as a kid, I rooted for the actual underdogs of the movie, Hans Gruber and pals who have the guts to take on the might of the American superpower in downtown LA. It is only some idiotic boob in a vest who gets unbelievably lucky and (almost accidentally) foils their plans to retire to a beach (earning 20%). You could save Nakatomi Plaza, but you couldn’t save your marriage? Could you McClane?

Something that subverts the hero / superhero genre (Watchmen) is much more my speed. Why are we dressing up in fetish outfits and beating the heck out of honest, everyday criminals trying to put food on the dinner table? Because we are incredibly damaged ourselves OK?

Speaking of which I always found the politics of Batman very troubling. The super-rich 1% jumping down into the sewers to beat up the poor and the desperate in a society that seems rigged against them, while Wayne occasionally deigns to shower those below him with poorly thought out social programs that probably cause more harm than good (and entrench the status quo). It is no surprise then that what tickles me most tends to be the jet black “heroes” of 1980s Britain, antiheroes such as Judge Dredd which I grew up with. The writers were angry, the artists were angry, and this was their outlet in expressing it. Take that Thatcher

When a (super)hero film comes from a different view point I find it fundamentally interesting. In this case – Finland (cold & dark for half the year, geographically stuck between several, historically antagonistic, powerful neighbors).

Given the special effects, set piece driven nature of the super hero genre it is fair to say that the 1.4€ million budget of Rendel: Dark Vengeance is not a vast amount. So, the fact that Rendel: Dark Vengeance is a thing at all is something to be praised. I am happy there has been the first ever Finnish Superhero Film. Having said that, when I first saw the poster I thought “Gosh, that looks just like Christopher Nolan’s Batman, minus the ears”. If you look at the poster, you can see it does. He really does.

So, is Rendel: Dark Vengeance a fresh, new voice in a well-worn genre or a B-Movie Batman knock off? And more importantly, can I go until the end of this review without mentioning Batman again?

A low budget super hero film is always going to be up against it and prone to mockery however those that found their niche and flourished are those that have an interesting angle, that can offer something unique (Darkman, anyone?). Whereas those that try to closely mimic the Hollywood juggernauts but not offer something fresh or new are likely to run into trouble. What I did learn however is that in Finland all henchmen are either bald or have long hair and beards. Those are the strict rules.

One of the joys of watching a dubbed film is some hilarious translations, like one of the henchmen saying “God dammit! You were supposed to bring pizza, not pussy”.  The bad guys then take time out from their busy schedule of “unloading illegal stuff” and “cocking guns” to do a rape. Fortunately before they do they all get murdered. Because, you know. Super hero.

Our Superhero here (Rendel) is up against a criminal organization that causes nothing but misery and destroys communities called “Amazon” (just kidding it’s called “VALA”). If we look at the character of “Rendel” there is really nothing interesting here. He is a moral blank, an emotional blank. Anger can be an interesting theme / motivation in film but anger for angers sake is lazy, boring, infantile and sociopathic. Do all the criminals deserve to be murdered? (the film actually asks this question once, but murders them anyway). Spoiler alert.. Rendel loses his job at the bank (due to that nefarious VALA). Instead of buckling down and finding another banking job he goes and gets an entry job with VALA… who then murder his family that leads to him going on a series of late night murder sprees. You know… superhero.

One of the big problems of the film is conflating “adult” and “adult”. By which I mean, infantile, childish fantasy violence that is too violent for kids while being unsuitable for adults. I must confess I could have done without the scene of his daughter getting shot in the head, prude that I am.

The bad guys plan involves some racist medical scam and the bad guys seem to randomly kill people for little or no reason. The baddie tells us that Rendel “dances around the bullets” but it does seem most of the bad guys are comically inept. There is always a flimsy reason Rendel does not just get shot by the bad guys.. there is always an pesky weapons jam. There is also always a female reporting hanging around the baddies (generally “hiding” behind a barrel, taking photos of them in their series of identical looking hideouts). The choreography and choppy editing of many of the fight sequences also makes it look cheap and sadly prompts mockery.

I believe there is a sequel in the works but I can`t see what the point is. Where is there to go with these characters? What does the film maker have to say?

There is fun to be had here, but is mostly at the films expense. Is anyone honestly going to sit through this and like it in an earnest, non ironic way? We probably need to ask an American.

Rendel: Dark Vengeance is available on DVD now from Universal Pictures UK.

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