“Merry Men 3” Review: An Installment Felled By Its Own Adventure 

The Merry Men franchise primarily introduces us to the lives of four eligible bachelors, Ayo (Ramsey Nouah), Naz (Jim Iyke), Remi (Falz) and Amaju (Ayo Makun), and how they navigate a world of luxury, women, crime and foes. Part two of the franchise, which has Ireti Doyle playing arch-villain Dame Maduka, ends on a Janus-faced note, conciliatory at the same pace of being retributive, with the men and ladies reunited with their loved ones and the villain outsmarted. Zara Aminu (Ufuoma Mcdermott), an old friend of Ayo’s who is coaxed into working for Dame Maduka, reunites with her son Adrian. Remi gets entangled with Hassana (Linda Osifo). A situationship evolves between Amaju and Sophie (Nancy Isime). The relationships of Naz and Kemi,  and Ayo and Dera seem destined to sail smoothly.

Moses Inwang (Blood Vessel, Merry Men 2) returns as director on Merry Men 3: Nemesis, as he is accompanied by some of the key players in the franchise. Modifications in cast are noticeable. Chidi Mokeme plays the new antagonist Dafe, a young man on a revenge mission. Bucci Franklin joins Merry Men as Jonas, Nadia Buari steps up as Dera, Sam Dede plays Rev. Francis, Rayen Kazaz replaces Obama Oguzie as Adrian, Segun Arinze portrays Inspector Cross. Jide Kosoko plays Minister for Health, Senator Jimoh Ishola. But these changes can do little to salvage the film as it crumbles under the weight of its forced adventure.

In Merry Men 3: Nemesis, Dafe, Ayo’s old-friend-turned-foe, travels back to Nigeria after years of imprisonment abroad. On realizing the death of his mother, he blames corrupt politicians for dereliction and, later on, accuses Ayo, his childhood buddy, of abandoning him in prison and neglecting his mother. Yet Dafe’s motive for going after the rest of the Merry Men crew isn’t well defined, especially as he seems to be at loggerheads with only Ayo and their erstwhile mentor-boss Reverend Francis. Are the rest of his targets (Naz, Remi, etc.) collateral damage?

The absence of Remi and Naz, core members of the Merry Men squad, compromises the latest installment. Early on, the film puts forward a defense. Dafe’s voiceover interrupts the wedding of Ayo and Dera. A TV screen shows the footage of a car, with Naz believed to be its occupant, blown up. This larger-than-life scene raises questions. Why is there a TV set in the wedding hall? How does the explosion get televised? Perhaps another concern is Remi’s death, which is revealed in vague, fleeting circumstances. One moment, Amaju drives past his house and concludes, rather hastily, from seeing an ambulance on site, that their friend is dead. 

In Nigerian weddings, close friends to the groom and bride are considered important parties that must be on site. They often appear in one accord on such occasions. So, this makes one wonder why Johnny and Amaju did not deem it fit to check up on Naz and Remi so they could attend the occasion together as the groom’s close friends. 

Things become critical, perhaps messy, for the plot when Dafe’s quest triggers a series of actions that proceed at a rather superficially swift pace. The adventurous narrative begins to lose a grip of itself. Dafe’s decision to go after morally bankrupt politicians, using the Merry Men as pawns, materializes too soon. From accessing the secret bank account of a high-profile government official to outwitting the security of his private residence, the plot reduces what could have been a humongous task for the villain to mere walkover. So, the script writer, culpable of trivialization, misses out on the chance of using one or two extra scenes to convince us on Dafe’s security intelligence. It’s almost as if the villain has been working on the Senator’s case for a longer time than suggested in the narrative. Or does the security system of a top Nigerian politician get so easily compromised?

Chidi Mokeme’s acting is okayish, with his scarred, hairy face and impressive gait befitting of a villain. But the intelligence of his character Dafe, which the filmmaker wants us to believe, is dubitable. If not, how do we explain a supposed trained killer opting for multiple gunshots to the chest at close range whereas he could have just delivered the coup de grace with a single gunshot to the head of his victim?

A cardinal sin in Merry Men 3 is the near-messianic depiction of Zara’s actions. The Merry Men’s call for Zara’s help illustrates this. But a lady who still has a child to nurture should have known better than to leave the child behind and embark on a dangerous operation. Then, the whole enterprise of framing oneself, getting locked up in prison and orchestrating a jailbreak, all within a short period of time, beggars belief. Certainly, a jailbreak wouldn’t be that easy to pull off. While Zara’s potential may have been exaggerated, what is worth noticing about the character is how her plights, perhaps by coincidence, remotely parallels the passion of Christ. Her desperation makes her a sacrificial lamb as it offers redemption to her child and the rest of the Merry Men crew.

One thing you cannot take away from Ayo Makun as a producer is his ability to bring together the right actors and resources to fund and glamorize his projects. You can be grateful for the exotic locations and cinematography of his works. He’s arguably a box office virtuoso. This he has demonstrated with the Merry Men franchise, as he did with his Akpos series. The Akpos series, which comprises 30 Days In Atlanta, A Trip To Jamaica, Ten Days in Suncity, and Christmas in Miami, follows the rib-cracking adventures of the titular character, Akpos. In 2015, 30 Days In Atlanta was recognized as the highest grossing film of all time in the Nigerian cinemas. This record was broken by its sequel, A Trip to Jamaica, in 2016.

But Ayo Makun often does his box office jinx at the expense of storytelling, compromising plot quality for temporal hype and bucks. Merry Men 2 recorded a box office breakthrough, finishing as the highest-grossing Nollywood film in 2019— a feat that must have encouraged AY, as he is fondly called, to proceed with a sequel. Actors such as William Uchemba and AY himself have delivered no more than barely passable performances with their roles in the franchise so far, with Johnny’s mortifying puerile voice and acts often undermining the Merry Men’s perilous adventures and Amaju’s unfunny gestures detracting from the quality of the character. Yet Merry Men 3: Nemesis  proves that the franchise, now hopelessly at the mercy of a drab story, has lost its allure and fraternized with the Nigerian cinema for too long. Once a spectacle to behold, the franchise is now, like an adventurer fallen off a cliff, made a spectacle of itself.

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