I say this without any level of exaggeration: Kidulthood and Adulthood were the Sixteen Candles or Boyz in The Hood of my generation. For council estate & inner city kids who came of age through the mid to late 2000s, raised on Playstation and Hip-Hop, Noel Clarke’s seminal 2006 feature about the lives and trials of seven teens was the first time we saw our lives on the big screen: our clothing, slang, multicultural social circle and the pre-Olympics, unrenovated London were exactly as we knew them in day to day life. We knew kids just like Sam, Trevor, Alisa, Jay, Becky, Moony and Claire, being friends with, neighbours to or even going to school with them. Clarke perfectly encapsulated our voice and fears: local gangs and crime, drugs, underage sex and pregnancy, even society’s ambivalent attitude towards us. This was the time of the great panic over hoodies and ‘Happy Slapping’, after all: we were nothing but yobs, according to the media.
The hype for Adulthood among the 2008 youth was crazy too, getting the same level of excitement and buzz as The Dark Knight or Iron Man. Once again, Clarke succeeded in capturing our voice, now a little older and more world-wearied, while also seeing Kidulthood’s antagonist, Sam, turn into protagonist as he faces up to the consequences of his actions. While this may seem like standard sequel plotting, it was also very timely, as Adulthood came out during a time when teenage stabbings and violence were making front page news on a weekly basis. Suddenly, we had gone from merely being disrespectful kids to murderers, and the suspicion that surrounds Sam in the film mirrored what many faced from their own communities.
So, eight years later, Brotherhood arrives on the scene, aiming to close the book once and for all on this noteworthy trilogy, with a story that sees the last remnants of Sam’s violent youth dragging him back into the fray, as a humiliated Curtis returns from the shadows. Of course, this is no longer wannabe gangster hardman Sam, but an older family man who works multiple jobs to provide for his two children and wife, putting him at a disadvantage.
What’s strange is how little fanfare there was leading up to the film: limited marketing, a good but somewhat lesser box office impact than Adulthood, and a critical consensus that declared a resounding, ‘just good enough’. But how can this be? How could a film in one of the most popular and influential British film series be so middling? Well, having seen the film and letting it mull over, I’ve come up with what I feel are a few reasons for its humdrum coming and going:
1. Moviemaker before storyteller:
Brotherhood feels less like the social lens of the first two, capturing the very pulse of the capital and its inhabitants, and more like Clarke paying homage to various gangster and crime films he loves. Indeed, comparisons to Carlito’s Way, Goodfellas, Heat and a plethora of the 80s and 90s titans have not been alien to a lot of the film’s reviews. Stop me if you’ve heard this one: a man tries to leave his past life but gets dragged back in by a criminal mastermind who also has a vengeful link to his past. The man says no, gets his family threatened and now, must get back at the mastermind and his organisation to save his family and redeem himself.
While I’ve no shortage of praise for the one man film industry that is Noel Clarke (the man produces, directs, writes, act and even does music), one downside is, ironically, similar to his Who alumnus, Steven Moffat: the fanboy is far less interesting than the storyteller. 18.104.22.168, Storage 24 and The Anomaly are all Clarke’s attempts to make the kind of films he likes watching and are substantially less engaging than his original, more artistically minded works like the first two Hood films. There, Clarke was capturing a moment in the life and times of London’s youth, holding up a mirror to society and saying ‘these people exist, and here’s how they get by’. It had a voice, a purpose and a sort of almost angry energy to it. That is lacking in the far more conventional Brotherhood.
2. Trying to be funnier:
Brotherhood seems to have put a considerably greater emphasis on humour compared to the more dramatic first two. Indeed, despite being nowhere near as old, Clarke seems to have a taken a page out of Hollywood’s ‘old men of action’ projects (Indy 4, Die Hard 4 & 5): we get jokes about Sam’s age and being out of touch with the current generation (including a scene where a group of kids mock the word ‘blud’), his weight, his friends no longer being street smart tough guys and now, being 20 and 30 somethings with careers and home lives. We’ve even got the goofy best friend who makes a million excuses to his wife to mask his involvement in Sam’s battle, and a wacky kebab vendor who complains about Michael Bay raping his childhood.
Yes, it did make me laugh, but it felt off for a Hood movie: most of the humour in the previous films was more situational and in the moment, like how something funny would occur in real life. It was often short and to the point, allowing both the audience ad the characters a little respite between the bigger events in the narrative. Brotherhood goes for a more conventional approach in film comedy, devoting several scenes and sequences just for the sake of laughs, and fairly regularly. This not only somewhat sags the pacing, it also takes away a little from the urgency and gravity of Sam’s peril.
3. The Characters
Clarke’s attention to his characters in the first two Hood films was one of the key ingredients to their success in latching so tightly to an entire generation: these were real kids with real problems, who had clear goals and motivations. Even if you didn’t like them, the characters were empathetic and you could see how they ticked and why they did what they did. Indeed, Clarke himself says Kidulthood helped open dialogues over the troubles facing modern British youth, such was its efficacy in humanising them.
Outside of the main returning cast, everyone else in Brotherhood is very one dimensional. The rowdy teens are rowdy teens, the women are either saints or whores and the gangsters are all cockney mock sophisticates or meatheads. They feel considerably more stock and lack the spark that Clarke’s writing had previously in making them feel more grounded. Indeed, the leftover mentality of 22.214.171.124 and The Anomaly seems to have informed Clarke’s writing here more than the Hood films, as flashy set pieces and dialogue take precedence over strong themes or arcs.
4. Retreading and misstepping
What better way to cap off than returning to the first point about Clarke as storyteller: so interested is he in doing his own take on American revenge-crime thrillers, that Clarke ends up returning to old ideas from the first two to bulk up the story, or he misses far more interesting ideas that he himself presents. In Brotherhood, one of the secondary antagonists is faced with the choice of being a killer, just like Jay was in Adulthood. There’s Sam feeling the anger and vitriol for killing Trevor both psychologically and physically, like in Adulthood. There’s even a teenage thug after Sam who gets humiliated by him in the presence of an acquaintance (his brother in Adulthood, the kebab vendor in Brotherhood).
The most glaring, though, and the one that could’ve been the focus of the film, is the daughter of Trevor. Adulthood had Sam facing up to her and her mother for what he had done, looking for forgiveness, and Brotherhood briefly flirts with that idea’s evolution with a powerful line: ‘Someday, she’s going to have to know’. Why wasn’t this the focus of Sam’s ordeal, instead of all the gang stuff? Think of the dramatic possibilities of Sam having to face up to this girl, whom he has watched over for years as penance and seen grow up, possibly about to make the same bad choices as he did. Naturally, I’m not here to rewrite the film, but it’s simply odd that Clarke alludes to such a potent idea, and then does nothing with it.
And well, there you have it, my four possible reasons why Brotherhood didn’t have the same fanfare or impact as its predecessors. Let me state, however, that this is by no means a bad film: it’s well directed, well acted and does have several strong moments of comedy and action, including a brutal and satisfying fight near the end. There are certainly worse threequels out there, and the work doesn’t want for passion. As a conclusion to such a great trilogy that transcended what could’ve gimmickry, however, Brotherhood fell short of the mark.
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