What it's about: Kurt Sloane is a running who ran from his past. After defeating the champion of a Thai underground pit-fighting circuit in a fight to the death [as characterized in the 2016 film Kickboxer: Vengeance], he successfully escaped to the U.S. to become an MMA fighter. It isn't long before he is kidnapped and returned to Thailand where he is given an ultimatum by crime lord/fight promoter Mr. Moore [Christopher Lambert]: fight his new champion for one million dollars or spend the rest of his life in a violent prison. For some reason he chooses the second option and spends his time fighting a colorful rogues gallery in between lashings. But with a little urging, Sloane is eventually convinced to take the fight. He is reunited his his blind trainer [Jean-Claude Van Damme] to prepare for the impossible.
As I alluded to, Kickboxer: Retaliation is the sequel of a remake of the classic Van Damme star vehicle. You don't need to watch it. In fact, Retaliation flashes back to Vengeance when it needs to -- apparently, Dave Bautista was the final boss in the previous film, which might make it worth seeing.
Stunt man and martial artist Alain Moussi takes over the Kurt Sloane role from Jean-Claude Van Damme, which is a little confusion since JCVD is also an important supporting character in the new franchise -- it is almost like if Ralph Macchio played Miyagi in The Karate Kid remake instead of Jackie Chan. Moussi is basically a karate Ken doll, which is basically all he needs to be.
If you're coming around to Kickboxer: Retaliation, you know what you're getting, and for the most part, you'll get it. This isn't an A-list Hollywood film in terms of the writing, acting, direction, or production. There are some creative fighting setpieces but they aren't polished enough to put the film on the level of higher profile action films for which it serves as an alternative. Otherwise, it closely follows the blueprint.
I love getting DVDs from Well Go USA because the trailers are almost awesome crazy Asian action films that are usually better as 3 minute short films than in their feature length version. Kickboxer: Retaliation would almost certainly fit into this, as well. Two featured trailers worth highlighting: Triple Threat, starring the murderer's row of Scott Adkins, Michael Jai White, Tony Jaa, and Iko Uwais, and Wolf Warrior II, the most successful blockbuster in the history of Chinese cinema.
Kickboxer: Retaliation starts with a dance sequence [yes, that's true] that morphs into a crazy fight on top of a train in the pouring rain. A word isn't spoken until more than 8 minutes into the film. This is, by all accounts, a good thing.
As a fan of mixed martial arts, it was fun to see the who's who of random UFC talent who find their way into the film. Included: Frankie Edgar, Wanderlei Silva, Renato "Babalu" Sobral, Roy Nelson, Shogun Rua, and world kickboxing champion Rico Verhoeven.
Mike Tyson is also in this film. All of his dialogue is nearly unintelligible.
The music choice in the film are inspired: a blues classic to accompany a slowly paced fight through the Thai prison [probably the best scene in the movie], "Wipeout" scoring a crazy market brawl and chase.
There is a wife character that is just an awful mess of a cliche. She only serves to be put in danger to move along Sloane's motivation. One particular moment when she is directly in harm's way is so laughably sappy that it is truly offensive.
The final boss is played by Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, better known as The Mountain from Game of Thrones. He is an incredible specimen and more than fitting as the big bad challenge. You'll realize why Game of Thrones never gave him any dialogue, though. And he's a little too slow to be completely convincing, though his freakish size and strength come through.
I wish Jean-Claude Van Damme was given a bit more to do. Clearly, he can no longer take on the physical tolls but the film could have ramped him up as the kooky mentor even more. They make the character blind, but that's basically it. More than anywhere else, I feel like watching Vengeance may have shed more on his character and given me more of a connection.
Christopher Lambert, on the other hand, is having a hell of a time chewing the scenery as the insane fight promoter. There are only a few actors who could have possibly done more in the role.
The final showdown begins with just about 30 minutes left in the film and boy is it a journey. Unfortunately, like most of the inexplicably 2-hour film, it could have been easily done in half the time with about the same effect. We all know how this thing is going to end so there really isn't much reason to prolong it. Just like this review.