Updated: Sep 17, 2019
Avengement is the sixth collaboration between stuntman turned director Jesse V. Johnson and martial artist Scott Adkins. I loved this one, and I hope they continue to work together because they are so good for each other. Johnson is an incredible action director and getting to work with an actor and fighter of Adkins’ caliber has only made him better. As for Adkins, he has always been a tremendously gifted fighter, but it wasn’t until he started to work with Johnson that he truly started to test his abilities as an actor and, in my opinion, he has gotten better with every movie with Johnson. Any way you look at it, the Johnson/Adkins duo is a win-win-win. Johnson wins, Adkins wins, and the audience wins because they keep churning out great action movies like this.
In my review of Savage Dog (2017), I joked that Adkins is a bit like Jason Statham in the way he always plays the same dude. Well, I guess the joke is on me now because the best thing about the Johnson/Adkins team up is the variety of stories and characters that they bring to life. Each movie has a different feel and every character could be described as “Scott Adkins as you’ve never seen him before”, and this time I’m not joking. Accident Man (2018) is an adaptation of a comic series, so it had a humorous tone that showed off Adkins’ natural comedic ability, something we’d never seen before. The Debt Collector (2018) was a buddy cop type of movie in which Adkins played a more subdued and nuanced character than we were used to. Triple Threat (2019) was a martial arts all-star event that allowed him to let loose and have fun as the arrogant villain. That brings us to Avengement, a brilliant and unique mash-up with elements of British gangster, prison fight, drama, and revenge movies, in which Adkins gives what I would easily consider the best performance of his career.
Adkins plays Cain Burgess, a mostly good guy who asks his gang boss brother, Lincoln Burgess (Craig Fairbrass), for a loan to start a martial arts gym. Lincoln tells Cain he will give him the money, but only if Cain does a job for him. This might feel familiar if you’ve seen The Debt Collector, as Adkins’ character in that one also takes a mob job to get money for a dojo. Trust me though, that’s where the similarities to any Adkins character ends. Lincoln tells Cain that the job is a simple one; Follow a woman who just collected a package, steal that package from her, and deliver it back to Lincoln. Inevitably, since movies about good things happening to nice guys are boring, things go horribly wrong and Cain is sent to prison.
For reasons unknown to Cain at the time (and because it’s a Scott Fuckin Adkins movie so we need some fighting) pretty much every inmate in the prison wants him dead. That means, his relatively short prison stint turns into a nightmarish fight for survival. While trying to defend himself, Cain has teeth busted out and the prison medical staff gives him a metal grill instead of veneers just to fuck with him. Then his face is horribly burned in another fight. To make matters worse, the warden continues to add time to Cain’s sentence despite the fact that he is only defending himself (He’s either corrupt or inept, either way the result is the same).
Eventually, because of the continuous threats on his life, a discovery he makes (that I won’t spoil here), and the fading hope of ever getting out of prison alive, Cain breaks down. He trains his body and mind to become a savage animal willing and capable of enduring and dishing out any pain necessary to survive. This is shown through one of the best scenes in the movie, and one of my favorite action scenes of the year. We see his new life that consists of constant working out, fighting, and pain, and we see that the old Cain no longer exists. That life was taken away from him. The combination of incredible acting, great directing, and the amazing original score from regular Jesse V. Johnson collaborator Sean Murray create a montage that is a beautiful, brutal, and tragic ballet of action.
As I said before, Avengement allows Adkins to show off his acting abilities and he more than rises to the challenge. Besides the prison transformation, there are plenty of scenes that test his dramatic chops and, in my opinion, he is very effective in them. He is good during the initial incident that gets him sent to prison, but when he really shines is once he gets to prison. I already talked about the transformation he goes through, but his best bits of acting come during the visits he has with his mother. Cain is close to his mother and he knows his prison stint, as well as his changing physical appearance, is taking a toll on her. You can see the pain and helplessness on his face during these conversations, as he tries to put on a brave face for her. It’s a great performance and hopefully we get more moments like this in Adkins’ future movies.
All this talk of acting and drama and Adkins like you’ve never seen him before might have you a bit scared. Don’t worry though, it’s still Adkins and Jesse V. Johnson. You know they’re going to deliver the action, and this is as good as it’s always been with these two. The end scene in particular is an absolute joy to watch. Cain has the opportunity to get revenge on those responsible for his hellish life in prison and it’s five straight minutes of absolute badass brutality. Whereas the great prison montage used music to set the tone, this scene contrasts that with a complete lack of music. All you here are grunts, smashing objects, breaking bones, and all other sorts of violent noises. It’s a fittingly dark and gritty ending to a tragic story that is perfectly choreographed and filmed.
I think Avengement will stand out in Adkins’ filmography not only for the brilliant execution of the action scenes, but also because of its departure from the Scott Adkins norm. Not only is there more to this character than his other movies, which allows him to really dive into some great character moments, but this is a much more violent character than we’re used to seeing him play. Even his fighting style is different than his normal stuff as it is tweaked to fit the character. The action is more of a blunt force, violent style instead of his typical smooth martial arts. He clearly relishes getting to let loose as this sympathetic psychopath and it’s truly fun to watch. For anybody that loves Scott Adkins, this is a must see. If you just love action movies or revenge movies, you’ll want to see this too. Though some parts of the story might be a bit formulaic, there’s something to be said about executing the formula exceptionally.