Riders of Justice review: Mads Mikkelsen heads the loony Danish action thriller you didn't know you needed
Of all the things Danes indisputably do better — hygge, dried fish, industrial design — superhero movies don't tend to make the long list. And yet Anders Thomas Jensen's winningly offbeat action comedy Riders of Justice (in limited release today, going wide May 21) feels like exactly what's been missing in the grim green-screen ocean of Justice Leagues and New Mutants: actual fun.
At least one man came to set with relevant work-study experience: Erstwhile Dr. Strange villain and general Scandinavian treasure Mads Mikkelsen stars as Markus, a Danish soldier called home from deployment after a family tragedy. For reasons no one can adequately explain to him, an explosion has ripped through the Copenhagen train his wife Emma and teenage daughter Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg) had just stepped into; only the girl survives. The authorities dismiss it as a tragic accident, but can it be a coincidence that a man slated to testify against a notorious biker gang was also seated in their car?
One survivor, a bashful, bespectacled man named Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) doesn't buy it, and studying probability is actually his life's work. He's also racked with guilt that he gave up his seat to Emma out of chivalry just moments before the explosion sealed her fate, and so he comes to see the stone-faced widower, assuming he too will want to know the truth and set it right. He's wrong, at least initially — Markus would very much like everyone, including his devastated daughter, to stuff all their feelings in a small box and throw away the hide-a-key.
But Otto also comes with a posse of fellow misfit toys that includes his pathologically anxious coworker Lennart (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) and high-strung tech expert called Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro), and soon this ersatz Suicide Squad is on the move, doing the legwork the local police can't be bothered to. They're the IT-guy brains, and Markus is the muscle; a trained killing machine whose approach to tricky situations is essentially WWJWD (What Would John Wick Do).
But for all his ability to stop a fist in mid-air and snap necks like bread sticks, Markus is woefully unschooled in the emotional needs of a heartbroken teenage girl, or in what it takes to peacefully interact with the chronically woke Gen-Z boyfriend (Albert Rudbeck Lindhardt) who comes as her constant plus-one. He's also genuinely confounded by the presence of men like Otto and Lennart, whose ideas of conflict resolution so rarely end in homicide.
It's those rich character moments — and the zinging current of chemistry that runs through the cast — that make Riders (which to be fair, is as much antihero story as a superhero one) feel like such a gift: A kind of popcorn movie that doesn't just let wit and storytelling serve as the garnish for big-bang action, but makes that its actual priority. Markus aside, this crew is hardly equipped to save the world; they might just save a moribund genre instead. Grade: A–