Our last visit with the cheese-eating karate monkeys.
5) Fronsac vs Jean-Francois and co
- Fronsac, the naturalist knight and heroic beater of asses. His awesome escapades from our last entry landed him in jail, but he was unwittingly helped out of it when his favorite prostitute (and every proper gentleman has a favorite) poisoned him into a state approximating death, then revived him after he’d been removed and buried. (Out of all the crazy things about this movie, the idea that even a high-class prostitute would look as good as Monica Belluci might be the most unrealistic.) Now he’s back to make a surprise entry and finish the job of avenging Mani’s death, even wearing his pal’s old face paint. Played by Samuel Le Bihan.
- Armed with: Dual short swords, of the “broad” variety.
- Jean-Francois de Morangias, a prolific hunter and the film’s “surprise” villain. Not the leader of the Brotherhood (that’s Henri Sardis, the local priest), but he’s the one who captured & trained the Beast, and seems to be the cult’s point man for violent activities. Tall & covered with lean muscle, he’s pretty imposing, despite a rather silly-looking outfit. Oh, he also had a stalker-crush on his sister, who he raped a little while before this. Ew. Played by Vincent Cassel, who you probably remember from the second two “Ocean’s” movies.
- Armed with: An unusual whip-sword made of bones. Normally he wields it as a sword or club but with the right manipulation of the handle it transforms into a segmented whip/chain. I’ve heard that something like this is a real thing, but they’re impractical novelty items at best; it’s near impossible to get them back into their default “sword” mode in the midst of a duel.
- The gypsies, for the last time. They’re more of a prelude to the real duel, but extensive enough to be included. Fronsac kills about four but all the surviving members are there, including La Bavarde.
Hooker-spy Sylvia also plays a role, as do local magistrate Captain Duhamel and his men.
The Setup: Thinking that their last enemy is dead, the titular Brotherhood meets in a secluded space in the forest.
They discuss their plans to turn the public ever more against the King’s heresy, and Sardis closes with a prayer. But he’s cut off by the arrival of the thought-dead Gregoire de Fronsac, who had been hiding in a stone structure above. He interrupts the priest with a prayer of his own.
He proceeds to tell the Brotherhood that le jig, she ees ahp, and calls out the names of many of the (masked) members. Most are shocked, but Jean-Francois takes it in stride, proudly unmasking with a smug “amen.”
One of the gypsies tries to shoot Fronsac, but he flips out of the way and lands on the altar before the crowd. He showily draws his weapons.
The Fight: The gypsies come at Fronsac first, especially the guy who is apparently their leader (he’s wearing Mani’s Iroquois bracelet). He seems to harbor special animosity against Fronsac that’s not clear, but a deleted scene shows him bellowing with rage upon finding the final chump the hero had killed in the catacombs, implying that the two were close in some way.
The hero deals with him for a while before kicking him away, then several more rush in. Fronsac beats and kills a few of the other gypsies, including the two females that Mani had “played” with back in Fight #2, before facing off with the leader again. After some intense fighting, Fronsac is able to break the gypsy’s arm and run him through. He then seizes the thug’s head and scalps him, tossing the trophy at the assembled cultists.
They’re shocked but they still outnumber him… until Duhamel’s men arrive and open fire. As the troops swarm in, the cultists & gypsies either scatter or get shot where they stand. Elsewhere in the darkened forest, La Bavarde runs into Sylvia, apparently thinking her easy prey, but nope: as the little tramp lunges with a knife, Sylvia calmly slashes her throat with a bladed fan, putting the gypsy girl down for the count. FINALLY.
That leaves the only two who didn’t flee the meeting site: Fronsac and Jean-Francois.
The slow-motion and dramatic music definitely play up the “final boss” feel as they square off, as does some brief hostile dialogue. But they waste little time before going at it, blade against bone.
Fronsac is fast & furious, but the lithe and powerful Morangias is more than a match for him. Indeed, Cassel, himself apparently something of a martial artist in real life, is an excellent physical villain. He moves with an awkward grace that doesn’t quite match the complexity of the heroes’ kung fu-like abilities, but is still plenty deadly.
The two don’t just slash and kick in a small patch of ground but really explore the space of the impromptu arena, chasing each other about and jumping off walls. Early in the fight, Jean-Francois reveals his weapon’s nifty secondary ability, catching his foe enough by surprise with the whip’s versatility that he slashes the hero painfully across the cheek as he retracts the sword lengths back together.
In fact, it’s Jean-Francois who scores almost all the injuries throughout the fight, using his strength and unusual weapon (he goes back & forth between the two functions several times) to keep Fronsac mostly on the defensive. The hero rallies a few times and pushes back, but the battle remains Jean-Francois’ game. Halfway through the two have a brief exchange about Fronsac guessing the villain’s identity early on, uttering “you sign your crimes with a silver bullet!” It’s the type of operatic line that always sounds better in a foreign language than it does in your own.
Finally Morangias is able to briefly get the upper hand when he hooks the whip around one of Fronsac’s swords. The knight, unwilling to let go, gets spun in the air and slammed to the ground several times. But during one such trip he gets close enough to his enemy that he’s able to reach in with the other blade and cut Jean-Francois’ neck.
Knowing the end is near, the villain cries out to his (not present, since he raped her and left her for dead. Again, ew) sister, and retracts the whip once more, which somehow yanks the formerly caught blade straight into his stomach.
Convinced that he’ll see his “beloved” (ew) in death, Jean-Francois falls to the ground after Fronsac removes the sword from his gut, and with his dying effort curls his right arm underneath his back, simulating (for no apparent reason) the way he kept the arm bound & hidden in public for several years. Finally done, an exhausted Fronsac lets out a somewhat comically relieved sigh as he looks to the heavens.
Oh, and Sardis evades the authorities, but gets devoured by the local wolf pack, who were quite upset over being blamed for his shenanigans. Nice.
There’s a certain… perfunctoriness to this fight, even if it is a spirited perfunctoriness. It feels not so much inevitable as it does mandatory, the hero & villain having a showdown straight out of a video game. It’s hard to quantify what’s missing about it, since it is ambitious and technically quite excellent. Though not technically perfect: the CGI used on the whip sword and Fronsac’s final flying blade are laughably bad, standing out like a sore thumb.
Still, on the surface at least it does deliver just about everything you need in a climactic fight scene. Good music, strong (if perhaps overdone at times) choreography, brutal hits sold by great sound design (the unusual chock chock chock sound of blade on bone is a nice touch), an emotional payoff, it’s not too short but not too long, and the changing nature of the whip sword keeps things from getting too stale. It’s not quite the most fitting end to the movie, but it is an undeniably fun one.
Question: In case you couldn’t tell Ive upped my game with the pictures lately; I figured out the should-have-been-more-obvious fact that if I watch the movie on my computer’s DVD player, it’s not only easier to take notes (typing instead of writing), but very easy to get screengrabs, rather than having to hunt them down via Google image search. The only thing I’m worried about is that this leaves me with TOO many images to choose from, and I keep wanting to put all or almost all of them into the article. Has anyone found this to be unduly distracting, or does it enhance the experience? Comment below if you have an opinion.
Coming Attractions: Let’s Thai one on.