This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn't exist.
Craig Fairbrass is back once again in Rise of the Footsoldier: Vengeance as everyone's favourite Essex antihero, Pat Tate. But instead of snorting superhuman amounts of booger sugar and sowing his “wild oats” from Southend to Marbella, this time, Pat Tate is out for revenge. Yet Rise of the Footsoldier: Vengeance is a crime thriller that is more restrained and maybe a bit more “grown-up” than you might be expecting from the British gangster franchise.
After a robbery gone wrong, Pat Tate's partner in crime Kenny (Josh Myers) decides to pursue a side hustle with boxer-by-day/drag-queen-by-night Billy the Kid (Ben Wilson). However, the pair are double-crossed, resulting in a violent death that unleashes Pat Tate and his murderous vengeance on the streets of 1990's Soho.
Vengeance is a huge departure from the previous films. It's no longer a cartoonish exercise in sweary excess, but a crime thriller and detective story rolled into one. The mountains of cocaine and football hooliganism have been replaced by a slow-burning tale of revenge and betrayal with a salt-bae sprinkling of the ultra-violence we've come to know and love. And whilst it retains the ott swearing, shouty violence, and psychopathic rage, everything feels a little classier.
The cinematography has seen a huge upgrade with director of photography James Butler doing a great job of framing the action and capturing the seedy neon hue of old Soho. The action choreography has improved and there are some awesome set-pieces, particularly those in the final third of the film. The direction is solid and the plot does a good job taking its time to reveal itself — perhaps too much time — as the movie feels slow in parts. But with all of these changes in concert, Rise of the Footsoldier: Vengeance has the most cinematic feel of the series so far. Craig Fairbrass is his usual fantastic self, but his character feels fresher. Vengeance is closer to Get Carter than it is to any of the other Rise of the Footsoldier films, which may be a plus or negative depending on your sensibilities.
And who would've thought that the most macho franchise in British cinema would dip its toe — probably more of a toenail — into exploring queer identity and 90's drag culture? Vengeance is not a treatise on queer identity, but it's a nice inclusion amongst the shotguns, stabbings and liberal use of the c-word nonetheless.
Rise of the Footsoldier: Vengeance is a strange one. It might be the best directed, shot and acted film of the series. Despite suffering a touch from its toned-down form, for a franchise six movies deep and desperate to avoid becoming stale, it's a welcome change in direction. If you're new to the series, there's no guarantee this will convert you and you probably do need a working knowledge of Rise of the Footsoldier: Marbella and Origins to properly understand the ending. But for those who are well-versed in the king of Southend's exploits, it's a solid detective film with well crafted action sequences.
Rise of the Footsoldier: Vengeance is out in Cinemas on 15 September 2023