I always appreciate movies where the filmmakers know exactly what it is and don’t try to do anything more. Kickboxer: Retaliation isn’t trying to change the action movie game or shake up the martial arts sub-genre. It’s just a simple, easy to digest film with a slew of incredible fight scenes.
After an odd opening act featuring dancing and kickboxing the film settles into a comfortable groove. Retaliation benefits from the creative team from the previous installment, Kickboxer: Vengeance, returning to the franchise. Dimitri Logothetis does double duty as the director and co-screenwriter with Jim McGrath.
That continuity allows for a seamless transition for the sequel. Kurt Sloane (Alain Moussi) has become a changed man since barely surviving his encounter in Thailand a year ago. Content to indulge in the occasional MMA battle, Kurt spends most of his time with his wife Liu (Sara Malakul Lane).
But Thailand isn’t done with him yet. Thomas Moore (Christopher Lambert) forcefully brings Kurt back to compete against his new champion, the massive Mongkut (Game of Thrones‘ Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson). If Kurt survives, he wins $2 million dollars and his freedom. To ensure he stays in place, Moore sends Kurt to a Thailand prison where he meets fellow prisoner, Briggs (Mike Tyson). And when Liu investigates his disappearance, Kurt finds more incentive to fight the unstoppable beast.
Moussi isn’t the greatest actor, but he doesn’t need to be an Oscar nominated performer to get the job done. He handles the lead role fine, but he lacks the charisma to stand out next to his more accomplished co-stars. The one essential part of the role Moussi handles with ease is kicking some major tail and looking cool in the process.
Maybe the film’s biggest problem is it peaks too early. The fight scene with Tyson is amazingly fun and over delivers. For those old enough to remember, it kind of plays out like a game of Mike Tyson’s Punch Out. Tyson is in his super indestructible mode and gives Kurt a different kind of opponent — one he’s not ready to face.
It doesn’t hurt that Tyson has really become a fun performer. Tyson dutifully commits to his role and it’s that earnest focus to get the character right that makes Briggs so entertaining. Kickboxer Retaliation starts to lose some of the fun when Briggs takes more of a backseat when Sloan’s original mentor, Master Durand (Jean-Claude Van Damme), returns. Van Damme provides an extended cameo, but it was enough to have me curious about a third installment featuring Durand and Briggs.
The plot isn’t groundbreaking and at certain points it feels like Logothetis and McGrath are needlessly complicating the story for no real good reason. It’s not too challenging being patient through the more eyebrow-raising plot elements as Logothetis delivers on the action scenes.
At times, Logothetis gets indulgent on the slow motion, but that’s necessary to some extent as Moussi moves so quickly it’s hard to appreciate his kicks and punches without benefit of reduced speed. The slow-mo definitely helps showcase Moussi’s ridiculous hopes to reach the chin of the towering 6’9″ Björnsson.
Kickboxer: Retaliation shows Vengeance wasn’t a fluke and that this franchise still has plenty of punch left.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Photo Credit: Our House Films