Kickboxer: Vengeance is a throwback. It's resuscitates the JCVD classic and acknowledges a post UFC world where the once sacred masters of any singular fighting discipline carry immortality, are made essentially redundant. There is one minor problem; the good versus bad guy match-up is like watching the Mountain versus that Red Viper a.k.a Oberyn Martell from Game of Thrones without the inevitable and completely logical outcome (eye-gouge/head-splosion). In the midst of celebrating a gold medal victory in an international karate tournament Eric Sloane (Darren Shahlavi) receives a lucrative offer from underground fight promoter Marcia (Gina Carano); a ridiculous sum of cash to travel to Thailand for a no rules fight against an undefeated Muay Thai champion. Eric's brother and trainer Kurt (Alain Moussi) is extremely sceptical of the offer but despite his warnings Eric wants the challenge. When he's killed in the ring by the ruthless beast of a man Tong Po (David Bautista) Kurt wants vengeance, and enlists the help of Master Durand (JCVD) to prepare.
Writers Dimitri Logothetis and Jim McGrath use Vengeance to essentially homage and update the original Kickboxer franchise with the added choice of hindsight. They're going Star Trek and creating an alternate timeline and if they're making future films, they'll undoubtedly not make the same mistake as the original sequel to Kickboxer, which killed off JCVD. There are other threads to the story which attempt to break up the training montages, but in the end Director John Stockwell enlists a parade of real mixed martial arts fighters throughout the film who, apart from legitimising the on screen fighting, no doubt spent time in their younger days roundhouse kicking in the mirror idolising 'the mussels from Brussels.' The very best of Vengeance are in some great fights between JCVD, Moussi and real life MMA/UFC legends Georges St-Pierre and Cain Velasquez.
The real balance in any film featuring this kind of unstoppable foe is, do we believe that our hero can take him? It's that Rocky IV conundrum; except that Rocky had enough believable montage and one pivotal rib-busting blow (we'd build three movies in the Rocky series verifying his signature devastating rip to the midsection). Bautista's Tong Po is a man mountain. He's absolutely what we call in the fitness game 'shashasharedded.' Watching him deliver a Muay Thai elbow is like watching someone swing a thick cricket bat sized bone into a skull. It's difficult to imagine that Kurt (Moussi) could have been standing after absorbing wave after wave of Bautista battering rams. Despite whatever training, stylistic authenticity the film has leading up to the final showdown; Moussi punching above his weight doesn't fly. Just as an aside, if you ever get to revisit the original Kickboxer you'll no doubt marvel at the original Tong Po (Moroccan-Belgian Michel Qissi). He was the perfect, menacing iceman with imposing dominating physique.
There's a scene where Durand (JCVD) is deadening Kurt's leg nerves by whipping his shins with wooden batons. If only the wooden performances in the film packed the same power. JCVD himself most certainly looks the part as trainer Durand, probably looking more shredded at 55 than he did in a bunch of his peak films. It's a stone-faced approach to the character in most of his interactions. While the manoeuvre is to try to play it cool it doesn't inspire the suffering Kurt to succeed. When Drago is bashing your head in, you need Duke (let's stick with the Rocky IV metaphors) screaming "hit the one in the middle!" JCVD barks orders from the corner like he's ordering drinks. There's also an unresolved feeling that (based on several contractually obligated ass kicking of his pupil) that the trainer could be doing a better job in the ring against Po (Bautista) if he could be bothered.
Kickboxer: Vengeance is a glossy update of the original Kickboxer; but gloss doesn't mean better. Give me a more realistically formidable bad guy and a drunken JVCD bar fight any day of the week.
Blake Howard- follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman
Directed by: John Stockwell
Written by: Dimitri Logothetis and Jim McGrath
Alain Moussi ... Kurt Sloane
Georges St-Pierre ... Kavi
T.J. Storm ... Storm
Jean-Claude Van Damme ... Master Durand
Matthew Ziff ... Bronco
Sam Medina ... Crawford
Dave Bautista ... Tong Po (as David Bautista)
Sue-Lynn Ansari ... Tong Po Escort
Darren Shahlavi ... Eric Sloane
Gina Carano ... Marcia
Hawn Tran ... Tran
Sara Malakul Lane ... Liu