Ah, the illustrious Kickboxer franchise. Established by Jean-Claude Van Damme, carried on by Sasha Mitchell and buried at the feet of Mark Dacascos. Kickboxer: Vengeance hopes to remake the series as the first in a new trilogy. Is Alain Moussi the Kurt Sloane we need? Or is he the Kurt Sloan we deserve?
The Film: 1.5/5
Kickboxer holds a special place in the heart of many fans of 80s martial arts flicks. Personally, I’ve always preferred Bloodsport and Lionheart. I suspect this is likely because I saw those before I saw Kickboxer. I’ve actually seen all of the Sasha Mitchell sequels as well as the Van Damme classic, but have never bothered with the Dacascos iteration. I am someone who enjoys even the fourth one as a guilty pleasure just to watch people fight with different martial arts styles. While I believe the first one is a better movie, I don’t think it is necessarily a classic. With those two qualifications, I should actually be a pretty easy viewer to satisfy for a new Kickboxer movie. Give me some good fights and some training sequences, I’m probably going to be happy. Just don’t make the plot too burdensome.
All that said, does Kickboxer: Vengeance satisfy? Does it compare to the original or the sequels? Well, the film is uneven, but good enough. The plot is pretty much lifted straight from the original. Eric Sloane is a kickboxing champion and his brother Kurt is his manager. One day, a fight promoter approaches them to arrange a fight between Eric and a Muay Thai champion, Tong Po. After training in Muay Thai, Eric Sloane fights Tong Po in an underground match. Tong Po dominates the match and snaps Eric’s neck, killing him. After an ill-conceived plan to murder Tong Po in his compound, Kurt is arrested. Now determined to beat Tong Po, Kurt trains with Eric’s trainer and challenges Tong Po to a fight.
Kickboxer: Vengeance spends a lot of its time in training scenes much like the original Kickboxer. It features a few more fights in it than the original does. I believe the final showdown runs longer than the original. At least it feels like it does. The training scenes with Jean-Claude Van Damme are pretty satisfying overall. In these, Van Damme pulls a Stallone, taking on the role of trainer in the new iteration of a movie that made him famous. However, I do think he’s not quite the best fit as a trainer in this film. He does alright with some humor, but doesn’t really add the gravitas and bring it home.
Alain is fine in the role as Kurt Sloane. His fighting is fun to watch and he proves to be a capable enough actor for the role. My biggest problem with the movie is actually with Tong Po. And this isn’t because of Dave Bautista’s performance in the role. He performs fine. The problem lies in the character itself. The underground muay thai fights are to the death. That much is known going in, so Eric’s death isn’t a shocking matter. Tong Po is simply a brutal fighter who will fight to the death in every match. There is nothing terrible about him aside from that.
In contrast, the original Tong Po was a horrendous individual. He broke Eric’s back after the towel was already thrown in and tore his belt apart to mock him. He also abducted and raped the love interest in the movie. His men abducted the crippled Eric, threatening to kill him if Kurt didn’t lose the match. In later movies, he shoots fighters when he invites them to withdraw from competition rather than fight to the death. The man has no redeeming characteristics.
This Tong Po is not the same. Physically menacing for sure, but he never seems maniacal. He never comes off as someone who is evil to the core. He runs a compound where people train. Also he seems to follow code and professes respect for Eric months after killing him. He doesn’t draw the same ire and hate that the original did. Additionally, while being physically menacing, he isn’t the most fun to watch fight. He is a power hitter for sure, but doesn’t fight very dynamically or with great speed. The final fight in the movie is less exciting than those between Kurt and Tong Po’s followers. This leaves the movie ending on a bit of a sour note. At least the in credit scene is nice with Alain mimicking the dance that Van Damme does in the original.
Also, the filmmaking isn’t all that great in Kickboxer: Vengeance. It is often too close and jumpy for the scenes it is filming. I understand the desire to make the film look a little less clean and more visceral, but it just hampers the visuals. Likewise, the editing just isn’t great. And this is a minor quibble, but even the subtitles for foreign language lines takes you out of it. They are writing in the middle of the screen in a manner that just feels awkward. In the end, there are a few fun fights, but not much else. That is aside from that throwback to a familiar dance scene…
Picture Quality: 4/5
For the most part Kickboxer: Vengeance looks pretty good. On the upside, the picture is sharp and clean throughout. There is noticeable grain, but not overwhelming. The picture looks good in light and dark settings despite the different filters applied to set tone and setting for scenes. Unfortunately the close shots and editing can’t showcase the image that well.
Audio Quality: 3.5/5
Kickboxer: Vengeance features a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio track. The audio is strong through the picture, but not fantastic. The dialog is always clear and the action has some power behind it. Directionality isn’t the best and some of the audio doesn’t sound natural everywhere. The dialog is always intelligible though, and the sounds of the fights sound good.
Special Features and Packaging: 2/5
Behind the Scenes: Kickboxer: Vengeance: At less than ten minutes, this feature does nothing special. The actors do show reverence for the original which is always nice, but this feature features no real meat.
Photo Gallery: This is pretty minimal. There are some photos you can flip through with the remote. but it didn’t seem to have a timer and there was no music accompanying it.
While the packaging is pretty standard, it does come with a slipcover if that is your thing. It has the same artwork as the cover art, so nothing new there.
In conclusion, it is hard to recommend Kickboxer: Vengeane as a purchase at release. After all this has bargain bin and Netflix written all over it. On the one hand, it features a handful of fun fights with legitimate martial artists putting their craft on display. On the other hand, the film also provides a relatively disappointing finale. While there is some humor in it to keep it alive and Van Damme entertains as the trainer, he however fails to add the gravitas of Stallone in Creed. The audio and picture quality doesn’t disappoint, but there is nothing special. The directing and editing do also hamper the picture quality a bit. In the end, it is nothing special and you should wait until you can find it for streaming or under $10.
However, if it sounds like it’s something you just have to pick up, you can do so here.