Rise of the Footsoldier: Origins, 2021.
Directed by Nick Nevern.
Starring Vinnie Jones, Craig Fairbrass, Terry Stone, Keith Allen, Billy Murray, Michelle Collins, Roland Manookian and P.H.Moriarty.
Here’s how it all began for Tony Tucker, Craig Rolfe and Pat Tate in the prequel that you’ve all been clamouring for.
Rise of the Footsoldier: Origins is the fifth movie in this unlikely series, and also the third prequel to the 2007 original, which says a lot about how much barrel-scraping is going on as not since the glorious heights of Wrong Turn 6: Last Resort has such an achievement been reached, so make of that what you will.
If you’ve followed the series so far then you’ve had the story of the infamous real-life shooting of Tony Tucker, Pat Tate and Craig Rolfe in a Range Rover down a country lane in Rettendon, Essex in 1995. If you’re not up to speed then this event was covered in the original movie along with the rise of gangster Carlton Leach through the ranks of the London criminal underworld, with Leach’s story continuing in 2015s Rise of the Footsoldier Part II: Reign of the General as he dealt with the after effects of the murders, and both movies were po-faced in their telling of the story but at the same time unintentionally hilarious as extreme violence was dished out against totally unlikeable characters played dead straight.
However, 2017 brought us Rise of the Footsoldier: The Pat Tate Story and this is where things began to change just a bit and set the template for the next couple of movies, sort of like the Dream Warriors of the franchise (or maybe not). Turning attention from Carlton Leach to Pat Tate was an obvious move as this fictional version of Tate was a much more watchable character than the fictionalised Leach, and Craig Fairbrass clearly relished playing a tough, violent bully with no moral compass; granted, he normally plays a tough, violent bully with no moral compass but as Tate he could bounce off and react to his co-stars with more consistency and make you believe that Tate was pretty much the ultimate British thug.
As well as making super-villain Tate the focal point this movie also made heightened versions (read: cartoon characters) of Tony Tucker (Terry Stone) and Craig Rolfe (Roland Manookian), Tate’s drug-taking cohorts, which made the whole scenario a little more colourful and less dour than the first two movies so that by the time that 2019s Rise of the Footsoldier: Marbella came along we had our three ‘heroes’ fighting, snorting and shagging their way through the London underworld and the Spanish club scene, selling their drugs as the fledgling acid house trend took off and setting themselves up as the bad boys of gangland and as targets of the bigger boys, and there are always bigger boys wanting to take out the cocky young ‘uns, as the real-life Tate, Tucker and Rolfe found out to their cost.
Rise of the Footsoldier: Marbella was a very different movie to the original, turning Tate, Tucker and Rolfe into awful comic characters who did horrible things but you can’t help siding with them – think the Firefly’s in The Devil’s Rejects, only Essex versions – and by now the series had introduced a host of familiar British (i.e. mostly former EastEnders stars) actors to help sell the concept, so along with our core cast we’ve had Larry Lamb, Billy Murray, Jamie Foreman, Brian Croucher, Shaun Ryder (yes, THAT Shaun Ryder), Vicki Michelle, Frank Harper, Neil Maskell, Ricci Harnett, Josh Myers and Emily Wyatt all make appearances along the way.
Which brings us Rise of the Footsoldier: Origins, because despite this being the third prequel we apparently haven’t had the origin story of our three amigos. Opening with a flashback to a young Tony Tucker returning from fighting in the Falklands war back in 1982 this is clearly going to be a tonally very different movie from the previous two as we are given a picture of a young man with PTSD having to adjust to life away from the army and choosing a life of crime as his way of dealing with the pressures of fitting in to a changing society.
Or that is clearly what was intended but the script doesn’t see it through to any satisfactory conclusion and it isn’t long before Terry Stone appears in another bad wig to start smacking people about, and as soon as he does you are presented with this movie’s most obvious flaw – it is the third prequel to a movie made 14 years ago and Terry Stone – along with Craig Fairbrass and Roland Manookian – are not getting any younger. Fairbrass looked craggy in part three and although he is still a towering and intimidating presence you cannot get past the fact that the main cast have all aged and are playing younger versions of their characters, something that all the wigs, foundation and fake tan in Romford cannot mask.
So let’s do what the filmmakers ask and ignore the Benjamin Button effect that was apparently rife in late ‘80s Essex, which leads us to the rest of the cast. This movie has been sold heavily on the fact it has Vinnie Jones joining the regulars, and thinking about it you knew it was only a matter of time before he inevitably appeared. Jones plays Bernard O’Mahoney, a nightclub doorman/security expert who was associated with Tony Tucker in real life, and he is introduced in the movie by Jones clenching a fist, snarling and punching Tucker in the face so it’s business as usual for him.
Despite Jones still looking menacing with his 1000-yard death stare and physical presence he isn’t actually given that much to do as Bernard is set up as the big bad doorman with his initial confrontation with a local drug dealer but is ultimately just side-lined into the background once Pat Tate comes into play, and despite Jones having a few moments to give us what we came for you never get the full-on confrontation with Tate you are hoping he will get to deliver.
So with Jones and Fairbrass filling up the screen, Roland Manookian either giggling or shouting and Terry Stone trying to be serious and give Tony Tucker some depth, Rise of the Footsoldier: Origins is all over the place in terms of direction, the tone veering from melodramatic character piece to ultra-violent torture porn but with none of the sparkle or wit of the previous movie, which was really just dumb fun but you got the impression the filmmakers knew that and just ran with it. Here, we’re reaching back to the straight storytelling of the first two movies but with actors that don’t just bring their screen personas but also a lot of baggage – Vinnie Jones is great when he’s glaring threateningly and thumping people but he cannot emote when delivering a line – giving the movie an air of parody but without the confidence to go all the way with it.
All of that said, though, if you’ve been along for the ride so far then Rise of the Footsoldier: Origins is still going to tick all the boxes for you – the chemistry between Craig Fairbrass, Terry Stone and Roland Manookian is still there and the actors clearly enjoy working with each other, somebody gets a good hiding every few minutes, everyone is an effing c-word and permanently off their nut, the ‘80s dance music soundtrack is brilliant and adds a lot of energy, and Vinnie Jones does get to dish out some very painful punishment to one particularly unfortunate wrong ‘un – but thanks to inconsistent writing, tone and pacing it doesn’t quite hit the hugely enjoyable heights of Marbella.
Of course, nobody is coming to this movie for a serious character study on somebody we’ve seen as some sort of comedy gangster in the previous couple of films so if you’re going to go down that route then you’ve got to commit to it fully and give us the young Tony Tucker story – played by a different actor – rather than hint at a sympathetic backstory and then drop Terry Stone – who we’ve seen clowning about in the previous movies – in to try and add the needed gravitas. Terry Stone is also a producer on this movie so you would think that by now he would know about the character he is playing and keep it consistent but watching him try and play Tucker as the head doorman of a nightclub with no sense of self-awareness just doesn’t flow with what has gone before.
Nevertheless, despite its many flaws Rise of the Footsoldier: Origins still entertains enough and doesn’t deviate too far from the template set by its earlier predecessors, or at least not enough to matter when you fancy some knuckle-headed Brit gangster action. At 106 minutes of inconsistent writing it does feel a bit too long but the violent set pieces still hit the mark and watching Craig Fairbrass swing left and right hooks at a never-ending line of muppets who upset him never gets old, but how much longer can they try and convince us that the aging cast are still the young, brash geezers of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s? No doubt we will find out in a couple of years’ time.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★