Review by C.J. Bunce
Taking on your next Jason Statham movie is a lot like flashing back to the 1980s and early 1990s to watch the next Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. Both almost-A list but really B list actors mastered the tough guy genre of their eras, and both have movies that can always be looked back on again and re-watched by fans. Along with those better-quality flicks are those movies that lag behind the others by way of storytelling, energy, and action. Unfortunately Guy Ritchie’s Wrath of Man falls in the latter camp–with cardboard characters and a preposterous script even for a “movie for guys who like movies” flick. It’s not among the best Statham movies nor a great Ritchie movie.
Wrath of Man fails in its effort to be clever and twisty. The movie consists of four chapters slammed together, each a different view of the same event. The first, we see an armored car hijacking that ends poorly for the guards. Next we meet Statham’s character, known first only as “H,” a man with moderate physical skills who applies for a job as security for armored cars. H is one of those frequently tapped protagonist types who steps into a situation and Isn’t Who He Seems (this one may remind you a bit of Steven Seagal in Under Siege).
H’s backstory is intended to surprise the viewer by returning to that first hijacking. In the third section of the movie, we learn H’s son was killed in that hijacking, and he also is a criminal with his own gang of thugs. He taps that gang, and with the “Wrath of Man” of the title, has them kill pretty much anyone in town who is a bad guy to find the guys who killed his son. In the end section we meet the real bad guys, who aren’t as much bad as stupid. Who cares that it turns out to be a crew of ex-Afghan war soldiers who are bored and decide to stage a heist to make some money. Obviously soldiers are well trained to… knock over banks. Or something.
Not even casting Jeffrey Donovan (Burn Notice, Law & Order) as the head of that gang can make this story recover. So look for phoned-in performances by Andy Garcia (The Untouchables, Dead Again) and Holt McCallany (Law & Order, Alien 3, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back). Eddie Marsan, Gerald Tyler, and Babs Olusanmokun inhabit characters that may have been more interesting in a different film, but Scott Eastwood and Josh Hartnett are instantly forgettable, along with a half a dozen other familiar faces–and only one woman so Statham gets a quick fling scene. It’s hard to tell if Ritchie is trying to make the next L.A. Confidential here or the next Expendables entry. It’s neither.
Ritchie, who proved he can make a good movie with films in his portfolio like Sherlock Holmes and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., can’t find much interesting to put on the screen from the script, which is also written by him. Only Donovan still seems to have the action star chops to be cast in this film. If Statham wants to capture the magic of his past that has taken him this far, he needs to find roles where he doesn’t just simmer and snap. He can be funny and engaging, as his fans have seen by way of the scripts behind The Expendables and Transporter series, Hobbs & Shaw, The Meg, The Italian Job, and his best role and movie, Terry Leather in The Bank Job.
Too bad the plot is so thin anyone can figure out what is going on–the “surprise” is actually the only way the story can turn. Ritchie couldn’t be more obvious in waiving the surprise–“inside man”–in audiences faces, so very little arrives in any scene to create actual tension or suspense. For a Statham movie it’s short on cool and badassery.
Originally released in theaters last year, count this one for Statham fans–for completists–only. Wrath of Man is now streaming on Paramount+, and in physical and digital formats here at Amazon.