Cinematic Releases: Kickboxer: Retaliation (2018) - Reviewed

2016 saw the revival of the Kickboxer franchise with the release of the entertaining and action packed Kickboxer: Vengeance, ushering in a new star in Alain Moussi and bringing back Jean-Claude Van Damme in a supporting role. The story was similar to the original Kickboxer film, Kurt Sloan’s (Moussi) brother is killed in an underground Muay Thai fight in Thailand. He goes to Bangkok and trains with Master Durand (Van Damme) in order to fight his brother’s murderer Tong Po. Sloan avenges his brother’s death and kills Tong Po in the fight. 

That brings us to the new sequel Kickboxer: Retaliation. Sequels are a tricky thing, they have to improve upon and outdo its predecessor. While Retaliation isn’t going to blow you away plot-wise, it more than delivers with non-stop action and superb fight scenes, an absolutely brutal finale, the amazingly talented abilities of action star Moussi, and stand-out performances from Van Damme, Mike Tyson, and Christopher Lambert. 

Eighteen months have passed since the events of the first film, Kurt Sloane is now married and competing in MMA fights in Las Vegas. He is kidnapped and brought back to Thailand by fight promoter Thomas Moore (Christopher Lambert), who seeks revenge for the death of his fighter Tong Po. Sloane is forced to choose serving in a Thai prison or fighting Moore’s new champion Mongkut (played by Game of Thrones’ actor Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson), a 6’8” 400 pound behemoth monster that has already killed twenty men. Sloane reteams with Master Durand and a group of prison convicts to train for the epic showdown. 

The story isn’t going to blow anyone away. It’s fairly formulaic and the plot is mainly there to further drive each fight sequence. That being said, it is the most logical advancing of the franchise. Similar in some fashion to Rocky Balboa facing the Russian beast Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, Sloane must face a man that appears to be machine-like and virtually unstoppable. This forces him to learn new things and train differently for this fight, as its pure power versus the mind, speed, and dexterity. 

Retaliation is a visually stunning movie that focuses on extremely dark scenes, using limited lighting from various sources to create some interesting heavy shadows and lights being cast on the actors and their surroundings. The lighting uses both natural sunlight creeping in from windows and strong yellow, green, and blue fluorescent lights to produce some excellent colors in the scenes. The movie isn’t completely dark as there are some daytime scenes, but the darkly lit scenes are the most visually interesting. 

While there are still some questions about Moussi’s acting abilities, there is no doubt that he has the physical chops to be an action star. Retaliation more than showcases his physical abilities and talents as a stunt performer and martial artist. He definitely has more work to do on the acting end, as he was upstaged by the other actors' ability to deliver better and more believable dialogue. What really needs to be said about Van Damme? He’s a damn legend and his performance in this both physically and emotionally is outstanding. While he’s a secondary character, he has more than enough time to shine. Lambert excels at playing the bad guy and it’s great seeing him chew up some scenery. The other actor that both surprises and completely rules this movie is Mike Tyson, as one of the prison inmates that helps train Sloane. Not only does he have amazing fight scenes with both Moussi and Van Damme, his delivery of dialogue is perfect and completely believable. We need more of Tyson in our movie lives. The rest of the cast includes a slew of former UFC fighters, martial artists, and strongmen, who all get some moment to shine. 

Little Mac just got knocked out!

With eleven fight scenes packed into a 110 minute runtime, Kickboxer: Retaliation is a non-stop action thrill-ride. Despite some minor quibbles that include a strange opening fight sequence and some poorly done CGI, there is more than enough action thrown into this to entertain fans of Vengeance and the martial arts subgenre. 

In Theaters and On Demand On January 26th.

View my Flipboard Magazine.