Avengement seems about as close as it gets to a British version of John Wick. Both are punch-’em-up action movies where the fisticuffs count more than their motivations, both are directed by prolific stunt coordinators (Jesse V. Johnson in the case of Avengement), both placing a premium on violent retribution, and they’ve both been released within a week of each other (John Wick 3 opened last week, Avengement hits limited screens and VOD today). As such, they make for an interesting point of cultural comparison.
Here are some brief general observations about Avengement (starring English stunt performer and actor Scott Adkins) as compared with its American counterpart. Avengement has:
– More swearing, including extremely liberal use of the word “c*nt”
– More headbutting
– Less guns and gunplay
– More shit-talking
– A beloved mum in place of the dog
– Much, much more pint drinking and pint glass smashing
Avengement offers a glimpse into the psyche of a particularly English subculture with which most Americans are only tangentially familiar. We get brief exposure to these types in movies like Snatch and Lock Stock, but Avengement feels less like John Wick 3 with a Snatch angle than John Wick 3 as written by a character in Snatch. It’s the action movie Begbie from Trainspotting might’ve written, or Begbie’s English counterpart. Heads are smashed first and then justified later.
Scott Adkins, who with his rangy physique and flattened face looks a little like if Ali G had a brother who took up kickboxing, plays Cain Burgess, a silver-toothed, scar-faced hard case who escapes from a prison furlough to visit his dying mum. He winds up in a private pub full of various toughs, which becomes a framing device, the film alternating between present-day hard-case Cain holding a whole gangster pub hostage, and flashbacks to a baby-faced (relatively speaking) version of Cain as he explains how he came to be such a hardcase and why he’s holding a whole gangster pub hostage. The short answer is that he was framed for a crime and sent to prison, where he was preyed upon and — many scenes of brutal ass kickings and shots of Adkins’ taut, stubbled torso later — forced to become a Bronson-level beatdown-delivering machine.
Competent direction and excellent stunt work alone make Avengement worth it as a utilitarian actioner, and the sound design in particular is Oscar-worthy. The sheer volume and variety of bludgeoning sounds set Avengement apart. But if Avengement is compelling as an action movie, it’s fascinating as an anthropological study.
Whereas the silent, unassuming John Wick rarely says more than “…yeah,” Cain likes to tell stories before he kicks people’s ass. Often stories about how and why he’s going to kick their ass. As in John Wick, Avengement‘s adversaries always deserve their beatdowns, but rarely do they receive one without a preamble, some kind of “Oi, let me focken tew you somefin, bruv”/”Yew focken wot, mate?” tete a tete in which the opponent is briefed on the salient points of how and why he’s such a cunt.
It seems every region has their own unique flavor of working-class meathead, and Avengement is an essential watch for any connoisseur of meathead subcultures. Cain Burgess loves his mum, has a homicidal vendetta against his brother, and enjoys a foamy pint or two before he busts some heads. Like angry meatheads the world over, the reasons he’s aggrieved are far less important than the fact of his aggrievement. In fact, when Cain’s nemesis finally gets around to explaining why he’s spent the last seven years meticulously ruining Cain’s life (over another pint, natch), his explanation is comically nonsensical.
Which is better that way, isn’t it? If Limp Bizkit had had great reasons for wanting to “Break Stuff” it would cheapen the universal catharsis of the stuff breaking. Avengement is the familiar feelings routed through mildly exotic new characters, inarticulate meathead rage refracted through a foreign culture. As Jules Winnfield would say, “they got the same shit over there they got over here. …It’s the little differences.”