It is a dish best served cold, so they say. It is also, at least as far as cinema is concerned, less straight-forward than you might think. Someone might be on a mission and it might seem to be revenge-like, but if it turns into a rescue, does that disqualify it?
What if there is a revenge element to an otherwise-themed film? Take Taken, if you will. He wants his daughter back and is prepared to use a particular set of skills to do so, but he clearly wants some measure of revenge on the kidnappers as well. What are we to do? We could debate such questions endlessly.
Let’s visit some of the best revenge missions that cinema has given us and try not to split hairs if a few other motives find their way in there too.
1. The Last Boy Scout
This may not seem like an obvious choice for a revenge mission, but consider the summation of the plot by Damon Wayans’ Jimmy Dix:-
I figure you gotta be the dumbest guy in the world, Joe. You’re trying the save the life of the man who ruined your career, and avenge the death of the guy that f-ed your wife.
There you have it folks, a man on a mission to avenge the death of Bruce McGill.
Method: Find the crooks, hitmen, politicians and sports teams owners responsible, by following the money trail. Kill everyone.
Motive: Bruce McGill was a friend. Who slept with Bruce Willis’ wife. And then got atomised by a car bomb outside his house. He had offered a case to Willis, which he decided to follow through on, suspecting that it was what got McGill killed. Halle Berry is in it too!
Success Rating: Pretty high. Everyone dies that ought to. Willis’ washed-up PI is an utter pig but still manages to get an apology out of his wife. Contains the finest outworking of the “touch me again I’ll kill you” line in cinema history.
2. Kill Bill
So obvious an entry it is tempting to exclude it simply to be contrary. Beatrix Kiddo and her husband to be are gunned down on her wedding day and over the course of one slick, well-shot and tightly edited film (and a further, sloppy, baggy, boring one), she works her way through the team of assassins until she reaches the eponymous antagonist.
Method: Find them. Punch and kick and stab them. Use frying pan if need be. Remove eye ball if possible. Remember training. Employ very sharp sword.
Motive: They tried to kill her. They ruined her dress. Her husband to be, sadly, didn’t make it.
Success Rating: SPOILER ALERT. Extraordinarily high. 100% really. The film title is not merely aspirational. It’s what she does.
3. Man on Fire
A revenge mission that unexpectedly (at least for Denzel Washington’s Creasy) becomes a rescue mission, Man on Fire gives us what Christopher Walken describes in one memorable scene as a masterpiece of death. Creasy is unable to prevent Dakota Fanning’s kidnapping and when he believes her to be dead, he sets out to find those within the Mexican underworld who are responsible and top to bottom, mess them up for good.
Method: Various, all highly effective. Severing of digits works well, as does the insertion of high explosives in ill-suited orifices. Close -quarters use of pump-action shotgun clears up the rest. Self-sacrifice to close the deal.
Motive: Friendship. Creasy is in many ways a well-worn cliché – washed up and out of shape. Fanning was kind to him and he grew to care for her, despite himself.
Success Rating: Debatable. As a rescue mission, 100%. As a revenge mission, he eventually gives himself to those at the top of the tree in exchange for Fanning, so perhaps that counts as a fail.