Review by Darren Gaskell
*** THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS ***
Rendel opens with a shot of the main character looking out across a cityscape from the top a building while a voiceover growls about there being a line between good and evil. So far, so Dark Knight, then we’re straight into a title sequence which introduces some of the players via a series of news reports and also sketches out the growing influence of the VALA Chemical organisation, which you just know can’t be a good thing because big business in this kind of movie is always going to be involved in something criminal.
We’re also treated to stylised shots of random criminal activity on the mean streets of Mikkeli, Finland before dropping straight into an interrogation sequence over the whereabouts of a missing “two million” and then jumping across to group of guys about to indulge in nefarious pharmaceutical dealings (and a bit of sexual assault on the side, just to underline they’re really deserving of what’s coming to them). However, their activities are abruptly curtailed by a severe ass-kicking and subsequent grisly death at the hands of a masked avenger.
At this point, I’m going to venture that this is a fictionalised version of Mikkeli. I’ve never been there but I’m pretty sure the real place isn’t like this. If it is then I’m not saying Finland is off my list of places to visit but I might wait until Rendel’s cleaned it up a bit more. But I digress.
Anyway, after the thumping sesh is over and the endangered woman has been saved from the assault we switch to the home life of Rämö (Kris Gummerus), a normal guy just trying to make a living and provide for his wife and daughter. In any of these movies, things don’t usually work out well for normal guys just trying to make a living and that’s the case here, eventually.
I say eventually because the movie doesn’t take a linear route, hopping back and forth along a timeline which is free of the usual flashback gimmickry and trusting the audience to follow what’s going on without captions or visual clues, like that whole “hey, this sequence is in black and white because it happened a few weeks ago” thing which I find incredibly annoying. Early on it’s fairly easy to spot that the story isn’t being told chronologically and I had no problem with this whatsoever.
Of course, it’s obvious that something bad is going to happen which will give birth to Rendel and set him on his Punisher-style trail of revenge. This reveal is a brutal, shocking one, even more so as it dials down the on-screen violence. Although there’s a steady build to this in terms of plot structure, holding back on this until over an hour into the movie creates its own issue which is the fact that there’s no properly effective context to Rendel racking up the bodies up to that point other than a feeling that something drove him over the edge. Yes, the bad guys get what’s coming to them but you’re not really rooting for their demise until long after they’ve perished.
There are the usual touchstones here for fans of vigilante/superhero flicks – corporations involved in shady dealings, characters who shoot random people just for annoying them, comic relief in the form of two henchmen who consistently fail to interpret any kind of instruction correctly and an outside team of assassins whose help is enlisted to make sure VALA’s nemesis is a) found and b) killed.
The assassins each get their own brief, OTT, darkly amusing introductions and this does hint at an all-out final battle between Rendel and a group of killers at the peak of their profession but no, turns out they’re just there to up the corpse count, proving surprisingly useless against a guy who’s not been in the “saving the city” game that long. Still, there are still plenty of VALA-connected reprobates to massacre and they’re helpfully gathering together in one place for maximum carnage before the end titles roll.
Rendel may lack finesse in terms of plot and action – the fights are realistically, pleasingly ungainly but they’re also more a tad repetitive – but the technical side of the enterprise is impressive. The movie is cleanly shot and some of the lighting choices lend an authentic comic-book quality to certain sequences. There’s also a huge amount of location work for a movie which obviously doesn’t have a massive budget and director Jesse Haaja (who’s also the creator of the Rendel character) sets the action in various places with an interesting cinematic look.
As an origin story, Rendel is perhaps too light on detail and with a running time of 105 minutes there’s an argument to be made for some tighter editing but it’s clear that this is a movie with its heart in the right place. It doesn’t stray far from the well-worn template of other superhero movies and it’s certainly not a groundbreakingly noir alternative to what’s already out there but there’s enough here to make the proposed Rendel sequel a not entirely unenticing prospect. If the film-makers can fix what didn’t work in this first outing, Rendel 2 could be one to watch out for.
Oh, the two million? Yes, you do get to find out where it went.