The Last Mercenary is Jean-Claude Van Damme at his best: his comedic timing is as precise, and the movie’s action set pieces are deeply satisfying.
In many ways, the French action-comedy The Last Mercenary feels like a throwback film. It stars Jean-Claude Van Damme, an icon whose international fame peaked in the ’90s, the movie channels the same chaotic energy of past buddy cop pictures, and its soundtrack and aesthetic gesture at a deep affection for nostalgia. Yet, nothing about The Last Mercenary ever feels derivative or passé. The Netflix original film expertly balances its content, offering a fresh and original story that leans into its strengths — especially that of its talented cast. The Last Mercenary is Van Damme at his best: his comedic timing is precise (likely because he’s acting in his native tongue), and the movie’s action set pieces are deeply satisfying.
Directed by David Charhon and written by Charhon and Ismael Sy Savane, The Last Mercenary is a deliriously fun thrill ride through the streets of Paris. Van Damme plays Richard Brumère aka “The Mist” — a legendary agent-turned-mercenary who, 25 years ago, traded his silence on an infamous government assignment for his infant son Archibald to receive total government immunity and a lifelong monthly allowance. When a clueless bureaucrat’s incompetence leads him to accidentally revoke Archibald’s immunity and protection, the “lamb is out of the freezer” — forcing Brumère out of the shadows to rescue his (clueless) son from those who would do him harm.
The action begins immediately in The Last Mercenary, establishing Brumère’s prowess and reputation as a mercenary — and giving audiences Van Damme’s legendary full splits. There’s no shortage of fight choreography in this film, which helps keep the pacing steady. From frenetic car chases, to close-quarter combat and all-out brawls, there’s a variety of stunts and martial arts to keep viewers engaged. The tone is family-friendly and, apart from some naughty jokes, there’s nothing particularly graphic or obscene. This isn’t Van Damme’s best performance in terms of action — it’s hard to top something as visceral as Bloodsport or as technically impressive as Kickboxer — but it’s entertaining nonetheless.
Where The Last Mercenary really shines is the comedy. Van Damme is hilariously hammy as “The Mist,” fully embracing both his character’s overconfidence and penchant for ridiculous disguises. There’s a lack of dignity that makes Brumère relatable — despite his super-spy skillset — and it’s easy to root for him. His adult son Archibald (Samir Decazza), or “Archie,” as he prefers, plays the Chris Tucker to Van Damme’s Jackie Chan. Archie is out of his depth, panicking, flailing, even sometimes screaming in fear, as they evade danger. The cast is full of likable, funny characters: Alban Ivanov plays the foolish (but well-meaning) government official Alexandre; Patrick Timsit the cantankerous Commandant Jouard, who’s desperate to take down “The Mist” over a personal grudge; even Assa Sylla, whose character Dalila mainly plays the straight man to Van Damme’s over-the-top Brumère, gets a few laughs with well-timed sassy looks and smart comebacks.
While there’s a lot to love about The Last Mercenary, the movie also falters. Early on, there’s a particularly exciting car chase sequence that sets a very high bar for the action and comedy, but the movie never quite matches that energy again. What’s worse, there’s a second similar sequence shortly after the first that feels overly long and drawn-out by comparison. The plot itself can be hard to follow, and there are a couple of instances of jarring transitions that feel like the result of scenes being cut. Moments like characters inexplicably wearing leather jackets when they weren’t in the previous scene, or characters being in a new location without a clear explanation for why they’re there or where the location is, draw attention to the movie in a way that unfortunately takes the audience out of the experience.
Still, the awkward beats in The Last Mercenary are easily forgotten as the plot quickly moves ahead with more adrenaline-fueled mayhem. The movie is fun and the relationship dynamics are sweet. There’s a lot of heart at the core of The Last Mercenary, and the overall experience is so pleasant, one can’t help but want more. Thankfully, there’s potential for a sequel here and ample material to work with. Even if audiences never get The Last Mercenary 2, perhaps at the very least Van Damme will get more opportunities to embrace his silly side in future Hollywood productions.
The Last Mercenary will be available to stream on Netflix on July 30, 2021. It is 110 minutes long and is unrated.
- The Last Mercenary (2021)Release date: Jul 30, 2021
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