With the release of Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst this June, players will once more be able to enjoy a digital version of the sport known as parkour. Parkour is defined as “a physical discipline in which practitioners aim to move quickly and efficiently using only their bodies and the environment”. A similar practice, freerunning, combines parkour with flips and spins for aesthetic purposes, called “tricking.”
Faith, the protagonist of Mirror’s Edge and its sequel, uses parkour in her job as a runner. She runs across walls, jumps between buildings, and manages to do the same sorts of things Spiderman does without the use of superpowers.
Parkour and freerunning were developed by David Belle and Sébastian Foucan in France in the 1990s. They had differing ideas on the practice, with Foucan wanting to make it into an art form used for expression while Belle maintained that it was a military-style training that should be taken more seriously. Belle’s strictly-survival version was called Parkour, while Foucan’s artform took on the term “freerunning.”
Both parkour and freerunning began to gain popularity when videos of athletes performing incredible stunts started popping up on YouTube. Shortly thereafter, video games, movies, and television shows took note of the graceful and fascinating practice, implementing it into entertainment. Here are some of the best uses of parkour in pop culture, from the serious to the silly.
Note: Due to violence and possible swearing, some of these clips may be NSFW.
The 2006 relaunch of the James Bond franchise gave the mainstream action film audience a taste of some first-rate freerunning. Specific philosophical differences between freerunning and parkour aside, the chase sequence through the streets of Madagascar made the discipline look like the coolest thing in the world, primarily by making the ever classy titular MI6 operative look like a chump.
Mollaka, the bomb-making terrorist 007 has been sent to track, flows through the scene, and the choreography showcases the phenomenal skills of Sébastien Foucan, the founder of Freerunning as a distinct art, as he sails through a construction site, leaping from crane to crane in a show of remarkable acrobatics. He engages with the dusty urban landscape as if it were an elegant ballroom dance partner, pirouetting, leaping, spinning and sliding through the terrain. Sure, Daniel Craig keeps pace, and eventually bests his nemesis, but where Foucault’s Mollaka is a surgeon’s knife darting around the muscle and sinew of the architecture, Craig’s Bond is a sledgehammer smashing through bone.
He comes out looking bruised, and though he is victorious the encounter makes it clear that even away from the gambling table, the stakes for the queen’s man are extremely high. The addition of the freerunning sequence made the film feel instantly more modern than the hokey spy thrillers of the past four decades, and brought a French phenomenon onto the world stage like never before. [Robert Mitchell]
Just as Foucan showed off the incredible feat of freerunning in Casino Royale, parkour creator David Belle has also had his chance to shine in the cinema. In the 2004 French film Banlieue 13, released in English as District B13, Belle portrays one of the main characters, Leito. District B13 takes place in the “near future” of 2013, where social and economic problems have turned the poorer parts of Paris into dangerous slums. One of these slums, District B13, has been completely cordoned off from the rest of the city with massive cement walls and barbed-wire fencing. Police control the entry and exit points, and the 2 million people that live inside are forced to deal with the gangs that have taken control of everything.
The movie has a pretty straight-forward action movie plot, with Leito on a mission to rescue his sister from one of the gang leaders, Taha. He is joined by an undercover police officer, Damien, and the two of them are an incredible fighting team. District B13 is an action movie where the action is as close to real as it can be, and it’s deeply satisfying. Within the film’s first few minutes, viewers know they’re in for a violent, quick-paced ride. Parkour takes the action to another level, and the athleticism of the movie’s leads makes the action that much more believable.
An American remake, Brick Mansions, did not manage to keep up the same level of entertainment as the original. District B13 is an action movie for the ages, and the inspiration for much of the parkour usage in more mainstream films like the Bourne series, Kingsmen, and possibly even Casino Royale. [Danielle Ryan]
Parkour had become the “it” game mechanic by the time Techland’s Dying Light leapt onto the video game scene in 2013. Pair that with the well-travelled trope of a zombie apocalypse, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that the game was beating several dead corpses at once. However, the climbing and jumping scheme for the game really set it apart from the horde.
Traversing the rooftops of the Turkish city of Harran required not only holding down the left stick on the PS4 and Xbox One controller (or Shift on the PC) to sprint and activate the parkour mode, but players also had to look at what they wanted to grab onto when they jumped towards a structure. If the character didn’t look up at that ledge to where his hands should be as he sailed towards it, for instance, he would invariably end up on the ground, surrounded by the undead. This jump-and-look mechanic took some getting used to, but once players got the rhythm they could fluidly navigate rooftops and other surfaces with a very satisfying, natural-feeling grace unique to parkour-style games. [William Hunter]
22 Jump Street
Easily one of the most meta comedies in recent memory, 22 Jump Street is nothing if not self-aware, and the movie relentlessly pokes fun at the concept of sequels: same plot, bigger budget. Yet while 22 Jump Street gets much of its humor from recycling its predecessor’s jokes (with knowing winks to the audience), the previously mentioned bigger budget does allow directors Lord and Miller to include several enjoyable action sequences in the sequel. More than one of these highlights the character Jenko’s new love of parkour. Like most everything else in the movie, it is a running joke, with Jenko’s athleticism being played against Schmidt’s lack thereof.
In one of the more memorable chase scenes, Jenko quickly descends the side of a building while Schmidt is left to take the stairs. Schmidt compares his partner to Spider-Man; the camera cuts to Jenko assuming (entirely unnecessarily) one of the wall crawler’s iconic poses. Unfortunately for Jenko, his physical prowess comes to bite him at the climax, when he is forced to chase the movie’s villain on foot at the cost of fulfilling his dream of driving a Lamborghini. Jenko spends the chase showing off fury-fueled parkour tricks until he catches up to his quarry on the beach, where he is forced to manhandle the surrounding college students to fight off a pair of thugs. It is not exactly parkour, but for a discipline designed to take advantage of the environment to push forward, Jenko’s physical use of the crowd is entertaining on multiple levels. [Michael Harrison]
Prince of Persia Series
2003’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time marked the triumphant return of Jordan Mechner’s beloved action-platformer series. While paying tribute to many of the things that made the original Prince of Persia games great, the reboot also modernized the series and redefined the genre at the time, primarily through its heavy use of parkour.
The Prince explores and solves environmental puzzles using acrobatic abilities such as wall running, climbing, jumping, and swinging from poles and ropes, all while avoiding familiar series pitfalls like spike pits, arrow traps, and sawblades ready to put an abrupt end to your adventures. Fortunately, the game also introduced a unique rewind mechanic triggered by the eponymous Dagger of Time that allowed you to go back up to 10 seconds and undo any mistakes you make while navigating the trap-ridden environments.
Though it has been several years since the last major Prince of Persia game, the parkour elements of the game heavily inspired and are featured prominently in the Assassin’s Creed series. In fact, in a case of life imitating art imitating life, YouTube sensation devinsupertramp partnered with Ubisoft to create the following video featuring parkour practitioners running through the streets and across the rooftops of Paris. [Matthew Allen]
Punisher: War Zone
Punisher: War Zone is one of the most ridiculous and over the top Frank Castle movies ever made. Ray Stevenson’s work as the Punisher is one of the best takes on the character next to John Bernthal in Daredevil. The villains are insane, and the gore in the film is excessive to the extreme, but one scene, in particular, has become the stuff of legend. A trio of drug addicted urban free runners led by an Irish mafia thug with dreadlocks gets taken out in one of the best sequences of the entire film. Maginty and his boys are running around, high as kites and doing parkour when Castle steps in and stops the fun with a rocket launcher and a boot to the head. See the infamous clip above that is so violent and absurd that it almost qualifies as a fantastic example of dark comedy gold. [Andrew Hawkins]
The Office (U.S.)
While the Bourne dabbling, District B13 and general running enthusiasts had informed me of parkour before this episode aired… none of those things have surpassed it. Michael Scott (Steve Carell), Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson) and Andy Bernard (Ed Helms) are mastering the art of parkour after a long summer away from the audience. Unfortunately, an office park in Scranton isn’t the best place to practice said moves and Andy ends up falling into garbage from a high altitude. This inclusion is naturally going to annoy some of the parkour devotees, but this moment of levity helped introduce parkour to a nation of suburbanites who just thought it was called powerwalking. [Troy Anderson]