RENDEL (a.k.a. Rendel: Dark Vengeance) **** Finland 2017 Dir: Jesse Haaja. 105 mins
This Finnish movie from debuting filmmaker Jesse Haaja is a superhero origin story with inevitable echoes of its Hollywood rivals (mid-credit set-up for sequel, marketable rock soundtrack featuring The Rasmus and Finnish funk band Eternal Erection) but forsakes the modern indulgence in CGI blurry things hitting each other in favour of old-school face-pummelling action scenes.
Lent considerable production value courtesy of Tero Saikkonen’s striking cinematography and Tuomas Kantelinen’s rich, stirring score (with a muscular, Elfman-esque theme), its narrative and style err closer to the hard-edged Netflix Marvel adaptations (notably, THE PUNISHER), but gets the job done in an hour and a half rather than 12 hours.
The eponymous Rendel (Kristofer Gummerus) is a dark avenger on the streets of Mikkeli, where unemployment and homelessness are rife and the slippery pin-striped bastard CEO of VALA promises to revive the local economy via a special licence to test vaccines on kids in developing countries. Guided by a mysterious, beautiful blonde, Rendel recalls the family tragedy that resulted in his existence as a super-strong figure of brutal justice in a city stifled by the immoral, rich minority.
Never po-faced in the vein of certain self-consciously “dark” modern fantasy flicks, this has playful humour, with amusing one-liners (“I sure could have had better use for the sperm that made you”) and enjoyably dopey, selfie-taking henchmen. Gummerus has an appealing Everyman screen presence as a nice family guy who lost his job and faced the common 2019 anxiety of not being able to financially support his wife and young daughter…before things got far worse. If the symbolic flashback plot about his child’s broken toy horse is undeniably sentimental in execution, it leads to one of the harshest sequences in the modern superhero cannon. Haaja doesn’t shirk from scenes of women being beaten up, murdered kids and eyeballs threatened with power drills, though the movie has heart and wit to balance the intensity of its frequent, ruthless outbreaks of lean, mean ultra-violence.
Review by Steven West