We are, for the most part, long removed from the action heyday of the 80s and 90s, where titans of derring-do such as Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Seagal would grace screens with their muscular bulk and physical prowess. The days where gruff soldierly types would assist those in need, save daughters or wives or love interests and vanquish one-dimensional bad guys in grand filmic escapades are, to us, the hallmark of a bygone age.
Or so we thought. Steven Quale looks to make audience think otherwise with this outing, an action thriller revolving around the attempts of a rather adventurous team of American military operators to locate a stash of Nazi gold - yes, that is the thrust, as the writing team take liberties with history - hidden away in the flooded ruins of an ancient town in Bosnia. Assisting the efforts of leader Matt Barnes and his assorted crew of rather forgettable hanger-ons is Mara, the resident educated civilian and philanthropist who is simply trying to do what is best for her people. They're menaced by generic run-of-the-mill villains who want that stash for themselves for equally generic reasons, and so our plain and simple story goes.
Renegades is an odd creature, born from a cycle of stunted development - indeed, at one point it had dropped off the radar almost entirely, and some doubted whether it would ever see the light of day. If nothing else, it certainly stands as a testament to the bipolar nature of Luc Besson's writing ability, with the mind-numbing insanity of Valerian having only recently hit cinemas. Still, Richard Wenk, a man whose career has been built upon the bedrock of action films that range from decent - 2014's reimagining of The Equalizer, to wit - to utterly forgettable, such as Jack Reacher: Never Go Back and Countdown. Perhaps he was a moderating influence; and if he was, perhaps this film could have done better with a dose of Besson's trademark bedlam and mayhem, something that only really comes to the fore at the climax of the opening action sequence where our merry band, having just absconded with a vital target in tow, rampage through a Bosnian town. Renegades peaks extremely early, more detrimental than beneficial.
Not to say that all action films need only be action and nothing else - we have Bay's repertoire to satisfy such mindless indulgence. But off the back of such a comparatively frenetic and frankly quite well-executed action sequence, the rest of the film transforms into a rather forgettable slog that attempts to emulate the bygone days of action movie heroism, what with its cast of burly soldiers and the one designated love interest, and a villain with only one name and the depth of a petri dish. It is competently shot, and there are a handful of scenes that one could call eye-catching or striking, especially some rather convincing underwater exploration scenes. But for an action thriller, it is ultimately too clinical, too dry, too inactive, and consequently interest wanes. Discussion after discussion passes by, and while there is nothing criminal about dialogue, if those involved have little interesting to say, the scene suffers accordingly. This lack of intrigue and excitement is something only hindered further by how painfully cliched the finished product is. Every character's thoughts and future actions can be read like a book, and sometimes roles are played so straight that the film opts to get things over with right off the bat - Hoeks' and Bewley's characters proceed to tear each others' clothes off the second they're alone, and only the second time they share the screen in the film itself. Two-fifths of the squad are so hollow that you'd be forgiven for forgetting they exist, and even Stapleton's own lead is one-note in his unyielding gruffness, stoicism and camaraderie. Bewley's Stanton and Joshua Henry's Ben are the standouts, but the lack of development or outstanding qualities on the part of the cast is suffocating and virtually inescapable, to say nothing of the wildly differing acting ability between each cast member.
It is just bland, a work that doesn't really put any additional effort into its cast - all pigeonholed and predictable, though JK Simmons genuinely delights as the group's commanding officer Levin, providing scathing zingers and earnest comedy to an otherwise rote and dull endeavor even if Simmons is being pigeonholed himself - to its unsurprising and excessively patriotic and sentimental script, to its plot beats and eventual resolution, even down to the majority of its cinematography. The events of the story predominantly revolve around a city, a military base, and a lake primarily seen at night under the cover of absolute darkness. Such a stifling selection of locations only compounds the creeping sense of ennui that gradually festers as the minutes crawl by, and even though the underwater scenes allow Quale to strut his aquatic stuff, hearkening back to his earliest days as part of the crew of Cameron's Abyss, there is little outside of the odd nicely-shot moment to break the tedium.
It is not offensive, all said, but it sorely lacks in verve, in spirit, in overall purpose, seeming to be made only to fulfil contracts and because it had to be done, nothing more. It cannot even be particularly recommended for its action, too, with sequences being so sparse, and if you're entertaining the thought of seeing this for Besson's zany charm and love of chaos, then outside of the tank sequence, that's virtually non-existent. It's all bare minimum. If you want to see JK Simmons be acerbic in full military dress, go right ahead - otherwise, this is a movie that, much like its trove of gold, is perhaps best left to slip beneath the waves.