Kickboxer: Retaliation (2018) Review

"Kickboxer: Retaliation" Promotional Poster

“Kickboxer: Retaliation” Theatrical Poster

Director: Dimitri Logothetis
Cast: Alain Moussi, Christopher Lambert, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Mike Tyson, Sara Malakul Lane, Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, Sam Medina, Steven Swadling, Miles Strommen, Renato Sobral, Renzo Gracie
Running Time: 110 min. 

By Paul Bramhall

It’s been 2 years since the reboot of the Kickboxer franchise hit the screens with Kickboxer: Vengeance, however even before its release it had been announced that a further 2 instalments were on the way. In 2018 the first of them has arrived with Kickboxer: Retaliation, a sequel that’s existence is as much a surprise to me as it is to anyone. To say that Kickboxer: Vengeance had a rocky road to the screen is an understatement. Originally set to be directed by Stephen Fung, with a cast including Tony Jaa and Scott Adkins, all dropped out in the pre-production stages. Fung was replaced by In the Blood director John Stockwell, but after financial issues left crew members that worked on the New Orleans shoot unpaid, he never returned, and the move ended up being completed by writer and producer Dimitri Logothetis.

It’s Logothetis that remains in the director’s chair for the sequel, and unlike the original franchise, he’s at least been able to bring along key members of the cast from Kickboxer: Vengeance. Alain Moussi maintains his role as Kurt Sloane, the character Jean Claude Van Damme played in the original, with Thai model Sara Malakul Lane returning as his wife, and Van Damme himself back as Master Durand (now blind, but at least he’s not dubbed by someone else this time around). Kickboxer: Retaliation hasn’t been without its drama though, with rumours abound of embattled executive producer Bey Logan being kicked off the project, and how many movies do you see a ‘Film Completion Guarantor’ listed in the credits? It seems confidence wasn’t running high for certain backers, but despite this, the 3rd instalment (Kickboxer: Armageddon) still appears to be on track.

The plot for the sequel is remarkably simple. After killing Tong Po at the end of the previous instalment, Moussi is now a successful MMA fighter in the States, having just won his latest match (against Renato Sobral) in Las Vegas. However for reasons that are never entirely made clear, new bad guy on the block Christopher Lambert turns up, the apparent head of an underground kumite, who wants Moussi back in Thailand for another death match. His opponent comes in the form of Icelandic man mountain Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson (who’s described as “4 x Tong Po”), a bioengineered killing machine. Or so the script would have us believe, really he just has a fondness for adrenaline injections. So it is Moussi finds himself sedated, wakes up in a Thai prison, and after initially disagreeing, eventually finds a reason (hint: it involves his wife) to fight Björnsson.

All of the above is stretched over a whopping 105 minutes, of which I’m still trying to figure out exactly what they filled with. Kickboxer: Retaliation is one of those movies that pays no attention to the basic elements of filmmaking, instead expecting that if a slow motion kick is thrown every few minutes, the audiences who clock into this type of movie will be happy. Wrong. Granted, the narrative structure does manage to maintain some vague string of coherency, although admittedly there are a few head scratching moments, the real issue is that there’s nothing going on even remotely interesting. Lambert wants Moussi to fight Björnsson, that’s it. Very dull.

It’s so dull that even the head scratching doesn’t last long for lack of caring. For example when Moussi is sedated, the scene suggests his wife is taken as well, therefore giving him a reason to fight. But then she suddenly shows up in Thailand trying to find him, with no explanation as to how she’d know he was there, or what happened to her back in the US. It’s bewildering. Proceedings get more bizarre when Moussi is befriended by Mike Tyson and Ronaldinho in prison. Why they’re there we never know, but Tyson has a connection to Van Damme, so soon the 3 of them get together to train Moussi in how to take on the 6’10 Icelandic strongman. Cue Ronaldinho kicking balls at Moussi in slow motion, and Tyson teaching him how to punch a breeze block. What exactly is the goal of this training is never clearly defined, so these scenes just kind of play out like time filler montages.

Van Damme’s blindness is also treated in a bewildering fashion. Basically he’s the Belgian DareDevil, in that he’s able to “feel the air move”. However the visuals don’t follow the dialogue, instead showing that he’s able to see people’s moves before they make them, like a premonition. There seems to be no distance limitation on this air feeling either, as when he’s an audience member for the final fight, he’s able to cheer and whoop whenever Moussi lands a blow on Björnsson. Or maybe they just forgot he’s supposed to be blind. Van Damme is also followed around by his son this time, played by complete unknown Miles Strommen, who apart from having irritatingly foppish hair literally has nothing to do during the whole movie. It’d be easier to kick myself in the face than it is to ascertain what his purpose is in Kickboxer: Retaliation, and also more enjoyable.

Eventually Moussi’s wife actually does get kidnapped, which is likely what many will think happened in the first place, and as expected it puts him on track for a confrontation with Björnsson. Despite this expected turn of events, there’s an inescapable feeling that nothing is really at risk, which makes even the fight scenes a slog to get through. We already know Moussi can fight, so it’s difficult to feel that he’s getting much out of his training, and he has no personal vendetta against Björnsson, like he did against Dave Bautista in the first instalment (despite a late in the game attempt to give one).

The action itself is uninspiring. The talent in front of the camera all have the moves, it’s the reason they were cast, however the choreography is flat, relying on slow motion to the point you can probably count the number of kicks thrown at normal speed on one hand. The slow motion is likely what resulted in the bloated runtime, and is perhaps Kickboxer: Retaliation’s biggest detriment. When whole fights consist of a series of edited together money shots, the awe of some of the moves being performed is quickly lost, as fatigue sets in at seeing another chiselled torso go flying through the air. There is some initial promise, with Moussi’s stroll through prison taking out various attackers being a brief highlight, and the Thai stuntmen are particularly game at throwing themselves into various awnings, and absorbing some painful looking falls.

The rest of the fights don’t fare so well, which include a homage to Enter the Dragon, with Moussi taking on a pair of bikini clad bodyguards (complete with glow in the dark tattoos and lipstick) in a hall of mirrors, amusingly located in Lambert’s apartment. However the scene that really takes the cake is a fight on top of a train, a realization of a dream sequence from the opening scene, it features some of the most hilariously bad green screen work I’ve ever seen. I mean it makes a similar scene is Panna Rittikrai’s Vengeance of an Assassin look like it was created by Industrial Light and Magic, and I’m also pretty sure that if you perform a flying kick on top of a moving train, you wouldn’t land in the exact same spot.

It feels strange to be talking about a fight flick and have nothing to really say about the finale itself, however there’s a first for everything, and for me Kickboxer: Retaliation is it. Perhaps it’s simply because the pairing of Moussi versus Björnsson plays out exactly the way you expect it to, with zero surprise moments. Moussi spends most of it acting like he’s putting together footage for a falls demo reel, as he gets punched and thrown around like a ragdoll, before deciding to go with some blindfolded “feel the air” nonsense to gain the advantage. Who would of thought there’d come a time when it’s ok to say that Naked Weapon executed an idea better than another movie?

The fact is that while Kickboxer: Retaliation may achieve its goal of recreating the 90’s American martial arts B-movie, if that was in fact its goal, in reality we’ve all moved on from it. Guys like Scott Adkins have raised the bar, and that bar should be the standard, not the exception. Those that enjoyed Kickboxer: Vengeance will likely also enjoy its sequel, perhaps even more so, however with a lifeless script, questionable acting, and distracting cameos, it’s ultimately too throwaway to linger in the memory more than a few hours after watching. The rebooted Kurt Sloane may want to be the new Yuri Boyka, but in reality, he’s closer to the new Jake Raye.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 4.5/10

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20 Responses to Kickboxer: Retaliation (2018) Review

  1. Felix says:

    This is getting a theatrical release here in Singapore on 1st Feb. Sad to hear that the fight choreographyis bad.

  2. Vengeance was complete rubbish. So yes I was surprised to see that it would be getting a sequel. I already was very hesitant to watch it but not after reading this review I am almost considering to completely skip it. It’s times like these that I really miss watching films on VCR because you could then skip bad parts without losing too much on what’s going on.

  3. AFS says:

    Now I’m not feeling optimistic about Kickboxer 3: Reckoning, Kickboxer 4: Strike Back, Kickboxer 5: Inferno, Kickboxer 6: Blood Money, Kickboxer 7: Red Dragon, Kickboxer 8: An Eye for an Eye, Kickboxer 9: Nemesis and Kickboxer 10: To Hell and Back.

  4. Andrew Hernandez says:

    I tolerated the first movie, but it was hard to ignore the bad parts. It’s a shame that it looks like the film makers haven’t learned from their previous mistakes.

    I really hope that rape is not used as a plot device in this movie. That was one aspect of the original that shouldn’t have existed.

    • Paul Bramhall says:

      No rape in this one thankfully. Instead we get to see a naked Alain Moussi break Sam Medina’s nose. Still preferable.

      • Andrew Hernandez says:

        Ah. Considering Sara Malakul Lane’s earlier filmography, I was afraid she’d be put in that role again. Although I’m guessing she doesn’t get to fight at all.

        It is a downgrade for her to go from being an assertive cop to a kidnap victim.

        • JJ Bona says:

          “It is a downgrade for her to go from being an assertive cop to a kidnap victim.” LMAO!!!!

        • Paul Bramhall says:

          I recall you making a comment on Zach’s review for ‘Kickboxer: Vengeance’ regarding her role in ‘Jailbait’…I’m not familiar with the movie, but I assume from your comments it must be pretty bad?

          She’s also survived working alongside Steven Seagal, when she featured in his 2003 Thailand set flick ‘Belly of the Beast’.

          • Andrew Hernandez says:

            It was bad even for an Asylum film. Some of Lane’s other movies had her portrayed as abused too, and they were all directed by her boyfriend. ?!?

  5. Z Ravas says:

    I’m like a raccoon when it comes to martial arts movie, I don’t mind digging through the trash. Despite Paul’s warning, I’ll probably give this a watch. Though I should at least wait until it hits Netflix and not spend any of my hard-earned cash to watch it On Demand. Right? …right?

    • Paul Bramhall says:

      Well, you wouldn’t have to feel any guilt if you used that alternative stack of cash, you know, the one that wasn’t so “hard-earned”. 😛 Whenever you watch it dude, looking forward to the ‘Ravas Lowdown’ once you’ve checked it out. Just know that if Dante Lam ever made a ‘Kickboxer’ movie, it likely wouldn’t look like this.

  6. Zach Nix says:

    Paul,

    That’s a bummer it isn’t so good. I honestly should rewatch the first before I see this again, because I may have been too forgiving and easy on the first. I mean I knew this series wasn’t great to begin with, but we all watch these DTV/VOD action movies with a bit of a grading curve. I thought the first had solid fights, a good variety of action, and had some fun cameos and fan service to spruce it up. That’s odd that Van Damme goes blind in this sequel.

    On a separate note, and as a huge fan of Van Damme, it seems like the Van Damme popularity and flame is sort of dying. He was kind of a on a career kick/boost for awhile since 2007, but I think it’s dying down now, with how terrible Kill Em All was not helping. I also found Jean Claude Van Johnson, the entire season, to be hugely disappointing. I thought the pilot was strong, but felt the season didn’t take off from there, and Amazon has now cancelled the series despite Van Damme hoping for another season. And with Full Love being constantly delayed, this Kickboxer sequel apparently sucking, and the headlines of him confronting real life fighters in public making him look like an egotistical bully, it’s been a hard time being a JCVD fan lately.

  7. DragonClaws says:

    Another solid review Paul.

    It’s a shame you are not feeling any love for the latest Kickboxer movie. I’ll still purchasing this and showing my support, and I didnt mind the first movie, felt it got ripped apart harshley in some cases. It turned out to be entertianing, despite all its many production problems.

    • Paul Bramhall says:

      Cheers DragonClaws. As I mentioned, I think for those that enjoyed the original, there’ll be a lot to enjoy here. At the end of the day reviews are just someones opinion, so it’d be great to hear the thoughts from someone who enjoyed it more than I did. The fact is it does capture the look and feel of a 90’s American martial arts B-movie, which is great, but the fact that the action scenes were also choreographed on the same level of a 90’s American martial arts B-movie was a negative. Moussi has the skills (and it’s also fair for me to say his acting has improved a lot since ‘Vengeance’), so I’d like to see him pushed to perform more intricate choreography, rather than just a series of (albeit impressive) kicks.

  8. Andrew Hernandez says:

    Even though the previous film wasn’t that good, I tolerated it. But this was just bad, and no matter how much of an open mind I kept, Retaliation’s blandness and stupidity was the main focus.

    The opening scene was bizarre with Moussi and Lane doing the tango and turning into a train fight scene, only for it all to be something Moussi was imagining while getting his face bashed in during an MMA fight? And for some reason it was a premonition for what would happen later? The film makers were just making shit up at that point.

    Bjornsson sucked. I don’t know if he trained in any martial arts, but his character showed zero fighting skill, and for all the talk about him being this unstoppable monster, all Moussi had to do was use his momentum against him. Instead, he just stood there and took his stupid punches that could be seen coming a mile away.

    Van Damme’s story arc was pretty idiotic. The movie broke the rule of “show, don’t tell” by just having him be blind out of the blue. The next movie might as well have him legless with a lame explanation.

    The action was pretty dull. Even the tracking shots of Moussi beating up guys was unimpressive. He was doing moves he can do in his sleep. It was like watching a Tony Jaa fight where he’s not allowed to do anything cool.

    It’s like Moussi’s character learned nothing from the first movie with how much he got his ass kicked, and the fact that he needed Bjornsson’s steroids at one point was pathetic.

    One would think the film makers learned from their mistakes and would improve on this movie, but it seems like the sequels are going to be just a lame as this one.

    • Dude, your comment made me laugh out loud! All the points you raise are on the mark. I actually ranted about a lot of the same stuff in the initial draft of my review, but there was so much I realized it was beginning to look like more of an essay, so trimmed it down.

      “The opening scene was bizarre with Moussi and Lane doing the tango and turning into a train fight scene, only for it all to be something Moussi was imagining while getting his face bashed in during an MMA fight? And for some reason it was a premonition for what would happen later?”

      Exactly. It’s never good when a movie is less than 5 minutes in and you’re already questioning what the filmmakers were thinking. The funniest part about this is that the train top fight which takes place in the dream sequence, looks 100 times more realistic than the one that happens for real.

      “Van Damme’s story arc was pretty idiotic. The movie broke the rule of “show, don’t tell” by just having him be blind out of the blue. The next movie might as well have him legless with a lame explanation.”

      This was one of the dumbest revelations I’ve ever seen committed to film. Van Damme basically says (and I’m para-phrasing here, but not by much), “Oh by the way, I’m blind.” I’m still trying to figure out what his characters son was doing there, I mean he has absolutely no purpose or bearing on the plot whatsoever, he’s just kind of…..there.

      “It was like watching a Tony Jaa fight where he’s not allowed to do anything cool.”

      So you’ve watched ‘Tom Yum Goong 2’ then? 😛

      • Andrew Hernandez says:

        I’m glad it gave you a good laugh. I find it therapeutic to share these thoughts. 🙂

        I did see TYG 2, and those fights were bad for different reasons. Lol

        I’m sure other people would try to defend this movie and say it’s trying to be like the Blood Fist movies, but that doesn’t work. A movie released for 2017 should look like a movie for 2017. The Blood Fist film makers weren’t trying to make bad movies, they were just working with limited film making know-how. To deliberately copy that formula is just a failure though.

        The nicest thing I can say about Retaliation is that it was unintentionally funny to see Christopher Lambert ham it up. It’s too bad he ended up being useless in the end though.

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