On its surface, Riders of Justice appears to be the Danish version of Taken, the Liam Neeson franchise built entirely around fridging: the trope in which a female character dies in order to spur the lead male on to action.
International treasure Mads Mikkelsen stars as father and husband Markus, an army guy, whose wife is killed during a train accident. But when a fellow train passenger Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) shows up on his doorstep to tell him it was no accident, Markus begins a mission of revenge.
With sidekicks Lennart and Emmenthaler (like the cheese, they quip), the four men are sucked into a world of violence and retribution against the gang supposedly responsible for the 'accident': the Riders of Justice. While anyone who likes a good action film will undoubtedly feel no qualms about heading to the cinema to watch Mikkelsen kick criminal butt, we're pleased to report that Riders of Justice is far savvier than any Taken film, and most action films out there.
Tonally, Riders of Justice straddles comedy and drama sometimes masterfully, other times clumsily, making it an off-kilter, sometimes disjointed, watch. When the action comes it's quick and very bloody, and over as soon as it started, though the consequences ripple.
However, what makes Riders of Justice worthwhile is the clever way in which it subverts its own story, and at the same time the wider 'revenge drama' trope of fridging. To say how would give too much away, unfortunately.
Mikkelsen is, unsurprisingly, transfixing to watch. He and Kaas play the opposite sides of the same coin: men who have lost their bearings and will try anything to get them back. As the somewhat comical sidekicks, Lars Brygmann and Nicolas Bro are there not to provide relief so much as a foil against which Markus and Otto's grief is examined; they, too, have their own burdens.
While it is certainly a film that relies on men to carry the story forward, it never frames chest-beating machismo as the only answer. It is the moments between the action which are most powerful.
That's not to say the fighting isn't exquisite to watch, and besides a couple of unbelievable near-misses, the weight of the action feels far more real than any stunt in Taken. It could be Mikkelsen's physical screen presence that sells it, but it only works because his vulnerability, when it is eventually shown, is as raw and ravaged as his brutality.
The sole woman in the film, besides the dead wife, is Markus' teenaged daughter Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg). Like Markus, and indeed all the other men, the catalyst of her story is also her mother's death.
However, Mathilde's grief is entirely her own and has more to it than just her mother's death. She processes it in her own way, separate from her father's, but it's also part of the film's overall ethos, as well as its plot.
Though suspension of disbelief is objectively necessary, it's no more a prerequisite than in any other action blockbuster. Riders of Justice just has the added bonus of being more emotionally intuitive, intriguing, and quirky.
Riders of Justice is now playing in UK cinemas.
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