From John Woo and Jean-Claude to Roel Reine and Scott Adkins…
On August 20, 1993, general American audiences were blown away by the release of action megastar Jean-Claude Van Damme’s newest spectacle Hard Target. Helmed by asian action maestro John Woo in his English-language debut, Hard Target was a helicopter kick to the face in terms of hardcore, ultimate action.
But after it’s success, Woo and Van Damme went their separate ways to deliver us their next ultimate action classics. Woo with Broken Arrow and Face/Off (read my ultimate review of it here) and Van Damme with Timecop and Street Fighter (it’s an ultimate action classic. Not up for discussion). And as they went further along in their careers, it seemed they would not reunite to give us the sequel we so anxiously wanted.
Then, in 2016, we were blindsided by the news that a Hard Target 2 was on the way. Immediately, my heart did a backflip. But alas, there was a catch. Hard Target 2 would not feature the epic re-teaming of Van Damme and Woo, but the combo of ultimate action legend in the making Scott Adkins, and the king of the DTV action sequel himself, Roel Reine (seriously, look at the credits on his IMDb and see how many 2s & 3s show up next to a title).
Hard Target 2 (2016)
Now, as I’ve said before, Scott Adkins is my favorite action star working right now. And Roel Reine has made some quite impressive action movies over the years (looking at you, The Marine 2). Will this team up of talents give us the same quality kick to the face that the original did? Let’s find out!
“After accidentally killing his best friend in a match, disgraced ex-mma fighter Wes Baylor finds himself in Thailand fighting on the underground circuit. But when mysterious businessman Jonah Aldrich (Robert Knepper) approaches him with a million dollar offer, he just can’t refuse. Unfortunately, he learns to his horror that he’s just agreed to participate in a prestigious hunt. And he’s the game. Now, in the fight of his life, Baylor must utilize all his skills to show the hunters why he truly is… the Hard Target.”
Now, to answer my previous question right off the bat: No. Hard Target 2 doesn’t equal up to the ultimate action awesomeness that was the original. But, that’s not to say it’s a bad movie. Truthfully speaking, Hard Target 2 provides enough awesome action moments to be a great flick on its own.
Scott Adkins Does His Van Damme Best!
Let’s start with Adkins. Adkins once again shines not only as an action performer, but as an actor as well. His portrayal of Baylor as an individual tormented by the death of his friend by his own hand really gives the movie a heart and soul amidst all the carnage. Non-stop slam bang action is cool and all from time to time, but it’s nice to have some heart once in a while. And Adkins conveys that beautifully in his performance.
Backing him up is the menacing Knepper as Aldrich. He’s perfect as the main creep who sets the hunt in motion. We also have action fave and Jango Fett himself Temuera Morrison as Madden, Aldrich’s right hand man. Morrison is as awesome and badass as usual. The camera loves him and audiences just can’t get enough of him. The man is a treasure.
Then finally, we have the intensely beautiful, beautifully intense badass Rhona Mitra as Sofia. Mitra undoubtedly walks off with the movie as the best, most badass character in it. She is the pitch perfect definition of ultimate action badassery. This woman deserves her own action franchise at this point. Somebody give her a franchise!
Roel Reine is a true UAMC workhorse
A lot of credit must go to director/cinematographer Reine for running such a tight ship. He handles the action very well and sets up some great shots too (All about that slow motion shot of Mitra walking away from an explosion). His style evokes more memories of 300 than Woo, but that’s fine with me. As long as it’s staged and choreographed well, and I can see what’s happening (looking at you, Olivier Megaton). Speaking of great shots, the movie is absolutely gorgeous to look at, especially on blu ray. Reine has a great eye and catches the beauty of the jungle well. Kudos.
And now we get down to the nitty gritty: the action. And this one has some fine action, if you ask me. Fights. Shootouts. Chases. Explosions. Really good stuff. With Adkins present, you know you’re gonna get some great fight scenes, but you also get some great stunts too. He must’ve been feeling very Jackie Chan like with this one, because you can clearly see that is Adkins himself doing a lot of his own stunts. Reine made sure the camera was right in Adkins‘ face to capture all his death defying work, and the movie is so much better for it. Also, mega points bestowed on Adkins & Co. for getting that awesomely perfect mid-air split kick. So amazingly badass!
Does it Live up to the Original Hard Target?
Are there any nitpicks? Just one major one for me. *SPOILERS* During the climax, Baylor has to take on a small group of fighters. One of them is international badass Jeeja Yanin, star of the ultimate martial arts action classic Chocolate. They put her front and center too, so I’m thinking “Aww man! This is gonna be good!” He then proceeds to destroy the group, including Yanin, within 2 mins. Really? You get Jeeja Yanin to face off against Scott Adkins at the climax of your movie, and you just have him steamroll over her like nothing?? What the hell, Reine??
But other than that setback, the movie is a pretty awesome action movie. It doesn’t quite match the ultimateness of Van Damme/Woo classic, but it does more than enough to carve its own path. I recommend it.
Let us know your thoughts on Hard Target 2 (2016) in the comments below.