By: John M Jerva
REVIEW: I AM VENGEANCE: RETALIATION
STARRING: Stu Bennett, Katrina Durden, Phoebe Robinson-Galvin, Sam Benjamin, Mark Griffin, Bentley Kalu, Jean-Paul Ly, and Vinnie Jones
DIRECTED BY: Ross Boyask
Former special-forces soldier John Gold is given the opportunity to bring Sean Teague, the man who betrayed his team on their final mission in Eastern Europe several years ago to justice. Stu Bennett (former WWE Superstar Wade Barrett) and Vinnie Jones star in this sequel to the 2018 film I Am Vengeance.
THE REVIEW: Filmmaker Ross Boyask has taken his love for all things action and has turned that into a rather impressive resume of lower budgeted indie action thrillers that might not have a lot of backing behind them, but they still deliver the thrills and excitement. Boyask has helmed various flicks throughout the last decade such as 10 Dead Men and my personal favorite Left For Dead which was the Energizer Bunny of indie martial arts thrillers that featured non-sop fisticuffs and bloody hand to hand carnage.
Fast forward to 2018 and Boyask delivered his best film to date with the gritty revenge thriller I Am Vengeance (AKA VENGEANCE in the UK) which featured former wrestling star turned actor Stu Bennett as mercenary anti-hero John Gold who took on a small town of corruption to achieve vengeance for the slaying of a former comrade and his family. The film was a hit with its brutal action scenes which included a show stopping finale of Close Quarters Combat between Bennett and martial arts star Gary Daniels who played the villain. Even with a limited budget, Boyask brought us intense action and mayhem with a new action hero in Bennett who took the reins of the film and pile drived home a blistering and low brow performance as the classic anti-hero who wasn’t looking to be a savior but turned out to be one anyway.
Now we have the bigger and badder follow up titled I Am vengeance: Retaliation which sees Bennett return as Gold but this time instead of putting the entire film on his shoulders, Boyask has surrounded the star with a stellar cast of action professionals including Jean-Paul Ly, Phoebe Robinson-Galvin, Katrina Durden and the always up for anything Vinnie Jones who now takes on the antagonist duties as Sean Teague. The cast is more than up for the challenge and what culminates is a brisk 87 minute never ending onslaught of firepower and fisticuffs with Bennett and company in fine form.
As the film opens up, we see that Gold is still on the job and single handedly takes out a bar room full of thugs who mercilessly killed a young woman. From the get-go, Bennett is a beast as he shows extreme prejudice by taking out all of his assailants in brutal fashion with his fists, feet and a big shotgun. A fine way to open up the festivities that we are in store for.
After the altercation, Gold runs into the mysterious Frost, played once again by Mark Griffin, who informs the mercenary that his former comrade Sean Teague (Jones) is still alive. Teague and Gold used to be on the same side until Teague went rogue killing his entire team. Gold had thought that the man was dead but courtesy of government spook Frost, he now knows that he is alive, and he is given the mission of finding the traitor and bringing him in alive to pay for all that he did.
Unfortunately for Gold who is the classic loner, he is forced to unite with an elite team of operatives including Lynch (Robinson-Galvin), Shapiro (Benjamin) and the silent but lethal Kelso played by action phenom Jean-Paul Ly. Together, this newly assembled team of top tier professionals must seek out Teague and his gang of killers and bring them to justice once and for all. That won’t be easy though as a mysterious assassin is hot on their trails looking to put Teague six feet in the ground.
For my thoughts on the original I Am Vengeance, you can read my review here but essentially, I called the original film an instant classic of brutal and fierce Indie action cinema with Bennett being announced as a new breed of action hero or anti-hero to put it more correctly. Boyask crafted a smaller more personal revenge thriller that delivered everything one could hope for in a Saturday night viewing.
With the sequel Retaliation, Boyask has delivered a bigger, bolder and badder follow up that stands on its own and amps up the action to the max. There are 19 confirmed fight scenes in this movie which must be some kind of record and once again we have action maestro Tim Man taking center stage as the film’s fight choreographer. Man, who has worked on several projects including Triple Threat and Eliminators which also starred Bennett along with Scott Adkins, has done it again as he brings the action starving audience a buffet of kick ass hand to hand combat sequences where the cast is put on display executing a vast array of intricate and deadly moves that flows from one exchange to the next. The action is flashier, and adrenaline laced with Man’s stamp of approval. Bennett and company dish it out for almost the entire 87-minute running time which can only be described as a marathon of bone crunching fisticuffs that throws it back to the heyday of 80’s and 90’s VHS action. Boyask is a true lover of the genre, and it shows as he has made a high-octane love letter to the genre that has thrilled me since I was a kid.
The cast is spot on with the ladies leading the way and playing just as rough and ruthless as the men. Robinson-Galvin and Katrina Durden look to form and are all business in their many fight sequences and once enemies, they eventually team up and fight back-to-back in a grueling exchange of fists and feet. Durden especially stands out as Jen Quad who is the one looking for Vengeance this time around as Teague is the one responsible for the death of her father who was a comrade of Gold’s. Action film pro Jean-Paul Ly (Nightshooters, Jailbreak) is only in a supporting, smaller role here but he gets to showcase his nasty skills for the masses in a juggernaut bout with British bulldog Greg Burridge (Avengement). It’s swift, sweet and oh so satisfying with Ly proving once again that he has what it takes to headline action-thrillers for years to come. Other stand outs include Bentley Kalu who stars as the ruthless Renner, Sam Benjamin as Lynch’s partner Shapiro and Lee Charles of The Gangs of London as Maynard.
Now this review wouldn’t be complete until we talked about our two headlining stars in Stu Bennett and the dripping with gravitas Vinnie Jones. Like I said before, Bennett is a new breed of action anti-hero, and his character of John Gold is a classic in the making resembling the strong, silent legends like Stallone and Schwarzenegger have portrayed in the past. Bennett, who has bled and sweated for decades as a professional wrestler is a natural in these kinds of roles and I dare say that he has the look and build of The Punisher. Normally the bad guy like in Eliminators, Bennett is given the chance to take the lead with Gold and he delivers in spades.
Vinnie Jones is one of those actors that is spectacular in anything that he does, and he elevates any film that he is in. He has always been cast as the tough, unforgiving type and it doesn’t matter if he’s good or bad because he just oozes charisma and chews up the screen in any scene that he is in. You know what you’re going to get with an actor like Jones and he knows what is expected of him.
In talking with Boyask for my Action Fix podcast which will be up soon, he mentioned that the scripts have already been written for a third and fourth film in this new indie action franchise and here’s hoping that Retaliation is well received because I am looking forward to seeing what the future holds for John Gold and this new team of experts. Boyask knows what the audience wants, and he gives it to them with never ending gun battles and beatdowns that will make even the people watching from home sweat from the action drenched excitement on screen.
There will always be critics who will nitpick at these films, but I feel that they are made by fans of action for fans of action. These men and women sweat, bleed and bruise themselves relentlessly to bring home these films for us to enjoy and these indie action films are even more impressive because they have less to work with it which drives home the point that casts and crews know what they’re doing.
I Am Vengeance: Retaliation is bigger, badder and more satisfying on every level and for those who have seen a lot of these films, it manages to strive for something fresh and invigorating. Sure, the plot is simple but as well it should be because it’s all about the action here and with that in mind, Retaliation is a film that deserves multiple viewings so you can pick out very little thing you might have missed before and there’s a lot happening. This is action cinema at its most primal and with an action scene every couple of minutes, I Am Vengeance: Retaliation is a winner from start to its epic inducing finale. Bennett has arrived and I look forward to seeing what he has in store for us in the future. This is indie action cinema at its finest and it’s lean and mean and will definitely entertain on a Saturday night once again!! Job well done.