Renegades Review

sullivan stapleton charlie bewley renegades movie
When US Navy SEALS stumble on Nazi gold at the bottom of a Bosnian lake, they embark on a rogue mission to recover it for the rightful owner, while avoiding the firepower of local militants.

by John Nugent |
Published on
Release Date:

05 Jan 2018

Original Title:

Renegades (2018)

Even Luc Besson’s most ardent fans would admit that the Bessoniverse has been a patchy place, flitting between nailed-to-wall action classics (Leon) to guilty pleasures (Lucy) to full-throated disasters (The Family). Renegades boasts a Besson script, if not his sparkly directorial hand, but the fact that this film’s release date has been pushed back by nearly two years might hint as to which end of the scale it falls.

After an elaborate pre-titles sequence set during World War II, we join our team of Navy SEAL soldiers — identikit American squarejaws, each more indistinguishable than the last — during a daring and largely improbable mission in the 1995 Bosnian War. Historical accuracy isn’t much of a concern here, but the scale and staging of the opening 15 minutes is not to be sniffed at, involving an immensely satisfying undercover double-cross op that culminates in a tank wilfully driving off a bridge.

Alas, this go-for-broke silliness is never quite sustained; after a fun first act, the film has a rethink and decides it would prefer to be a heist flick rather than an action film. Through some thinly sketched backstory and tearful dialogue about “my people”, we learn that one of the renegades’ lovers is on a mission to recover the stocks of gold stolen by Nazis, generations before. The team are only too happy to oblige — cue equipment-gathering montages, exposition-heavy planning and a David Holmes-lite soundtrack.

There's plenty of pleasingly hammy lines, but the film uncomfortably uses the horrors of World War II and the Bosnian genocide as a backdrop to goofy wisecracks and gold-rushing.

The tone never settles on something solid. Besson’s dialogue has always warmly embraced cliché, and there’s plenty of pleasingly hammy lines here (“If it’s got a trigger, I can shoot it,” is only slightly less stupid than, “The thing about gold is, it’s heavy”), but the film uncomfortably uses the horrors of World War II and the Bosnian genocide as a backdrop to goofy wisecracks and gold-rushing. In perhaps the film’s most baffling scene, our heroes engage in a fistfight with a team of SAS soldiers, set to Ini Kamoze’s 1994 reggae fusion hit Here Comes The Hotstepper.

Elsewhere, J.K. Simmons cameos for three incredibly brief scenes doing his best R. Lee Ermey impression, while Ewen Bremner — following his turn in Wonder Woman — pops up for the lesser of his two renegade soldiers. They enjoy fewer than five minutes of screentime between them, but still leave more of an impression than the actual team of renegades, who seem to merge into one beefcake entity. The issue is compounded when our heroes don scuba-diving masks during a third act set largely in a lake. The climactic underwater fight scene cannot rival Top Secret!, let alone Thunderball. It’s not a disaster, but by the time Renegades staggers towards its predictable ending, you’ll struggle to derive even a guilty sort of pleasure.

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