KICKBOXER: RETALIATION is More Whimsical Than Expected

KICKBOXER Sequel Gets Right What VENGEANCE Got Wrong

A rebooted Kickboxer franchise featuring Jean-Claude Van Damme in the “wacky martial arts trainer” role was a no brainer for me. And there were elements of 2016’s Kickboxer: Vengeance that I did enjoy. Van Damme was being his newer, weirder self. Dave Bautista intimidated as the villainous Tong Po. It even featured one of the final “gone too soon” performances from action star Darren Shahlavi. Oh, Gina Carano showed up as well. It had a lot going for it, but lead actor Alain Moussi just lacked the charisma that JCVD had when he played Kurt Sloan back in the original 1989 film. It perhaps didn’t help that Moussi is forced by the script to be a youthful and ignorant upstart who’s way out of his league.

There was never really a scenario where I WASN’T going to check out the next film in the franchise, though. Come on. So when trailers started dropping and Game Of Thrones’ “The Mountain” (Hafbor Julius Bjornsson) was cast as the heavy, my curiosity was piqued. Then Mike Tyson came on, and Christopher Lambert, with JCVD returning as the weirdo trainer, and I was thrilled once again. I was willing to look past this whole “Alain Moussi is the star” thing.

Then Kickboxer: Retaliation opened with a dance number. On a speeding train. That’s… not what I expected. As it progresses, scene after scene in Retaliation are infused with this crazy little thing called “fun”, and Moussi feels much more at home than he ever did in the first movie. I’m not sure I’m totally riding the Moussi train or anything just yet, but the guy just feels more confident and casual this time out, and his physical presence is notable.

As much as I love action movies, I don’t really follow any professional sports, including UFC or MMA. But it seemed clear to me in the last film that much of the cast was littered with shredded and cauliflower-eared-looking dudes who must have been fighters. This plan to fill the cast with fighters is even more apparent here in Retaliation, with some of the featured fighters being highlighted even on the back of the Blu-ray box. This is a neat little touch that makes sense for modern day action movies. Fight fans will get a kick out of recognizing some of their champions, and action fans like me enjoy seeing people with an authentic look and feel beating up on our stars.

So between this plan of stacking the deck with fighters, a newly confident lead with the physical ability to kick ass on screen, and a deft action director in Dimitri Logothetis (who produced both Kickboxer reboots and the announced third one), Kickboxer: Retaliation becomes a swaggering good time at the movies real quick. There are multiple long take fights that feel graceful and brutal, really highlighting Moussi’s ability in a way that never came across in the first film. There’s even a long take set to that surf rock song “Wipeout”, and it had me smiling ear to ear.

Mike Tyson, who was a scene stealer in The Hangover (and who genuinely shocked me by not sucking in Ip Man 3) actually feels right at home as… wait for it… a SECOND weirdo trainer for Kurt Sloan. This chapter has Sloan kidnapped, drugged, and sent to a prison back in Thailand (where the last film took place). Forced by Lambert’s scheming fight promoter to either suffer in prison or fight new champion Mongkut (Bjornsson), Sloan goes through some pretty typical fight film motions to learn new techniques from Tyson’s prison zen master Briggs, follow the wisdom of JCVD’s Durant, save his wife from the bad guys (gotta throw that in there), and then square off against Mongkut in a truly epic final showdown that must take up 15 minutes of screen time and gets pretty mystical.

The hero’s journey of these movies could pretty much be sketched on a napkin by anyone who’s ever seen a fight film. But Retaliation adds value at every turn to make this a breezy good time that layers in an almost musical grace and sense of whimsy into the whole thing. You know… like a musical where people pound each other to death and don’t ever sing. Bring on Kickboxer: Armageddon, because I’m here for it. Good luck finding a villain bigger than The Mountain, though.

The Package

With a featurette about all the various real life fighters featured in the film, you get just a little behind the scenes taste of what producers and filmmakers were going for here. It’s an endearing little bonus feature, but not much to write home about. This film will almost certainly show up on Netflix before too long and I highly recommend action film fans seek it out. I’m thrilled to own this really nice looking Blu-ray (genuinely looks slick for a DTV film), but most fans will probably be just fine streaming this one.

And I’m Out.

Kickboxer: Retaliation hits Blu-ray March 13th, 2018 from Well Go USA Entertainment

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