Van Damme’s Kickboxing Legacy Lives on with Kickboxer: Retaliation (2018)
Earlier this year, the action movie gods smiled upon us when Kickboxer: Retaliation was announced (here was our first look article back in January). Alain Moussi returns in the updated version and story of Kurt Sloane, a character Jean-Claude Van Damme (JCVD) and Cannon Films immortalized in the original Kickboxer (1989).
Now, JCVD returns as Master Durand, Sloane’s trainer. Was Kickboxer: Retaliation as good as the original Kickboxer? Was it as good as 2016’s Kickboxer: Vengeance, Moussi’s first attempt at revitalizing the franchise?
How Kickboxer: Retaliation Stacks Up
The answer to both questions: UNEQUIVOCALLY YES.
Hollywood as a whole has suffered an increasing amount of criticism from fans all over the world in recent years for its reliance upon sequels, prequels and reboots. The industry feels half of their work is complete by opting to green-light these films, because the audience for them is already established. Who among us hasn’t heard of Kickboxer or seen it multiple times? Well, then surely you know who Kurt Sloane is and care about the character!
However, the audience’s counterargument to sequels, prequels and reboots is simple: Why should I watch them when I can rewatch the original — especially if it was done well? Therein lies the dilemma for Hollywood. But for direct to video (DTV) producers with smaller budgets than the typical Hollywood behemoth (aka Marvel), they need to rely somewhat on shortcuts when releasing their product because they lack both the marketing and advertising budgets to differentiate their film from the scores of DTV movies released every month on streaming services.
Having said that, if you exclude comic book movies, there are very, very few action movie reboots (and sequels) worthy of praise, especially compared to their predecessors. For me, the list used to begin and end with Creed and Creed II.
But after recently viewing it, make room for Kickboxer: Retaliation.
Yes, it’s that good.
Kickboxer: Retaliating Vengeance
The 2016 Kickboxer: Vengeance reboot established a new canon for Kurt Sloane (albeit an updated version of the 1989 story), wherein he fights Tong Po, who had paralyzed his older brother Eric. By defeating Tong Po, Kurt hence got his vengeance for what happened to his brother. The original movie was followed by three sequels starring Sasha Mitchell as David Sloane (JCVD’s character Kurt was supposedly killed off-screen, thus making David the new Sloane protagonist, if you got all that). However, the reboot opted to keep Kurt alive, but increase the difficulty level (and decrease the viewer’s believability) of his new challenges.
I mentioned how Kickboxer: Vengeance was a reboot done very well. Part of the reason for that was not only did it manage to make Kurt Sloane’s story fresh, but it wisely used JCVD (the original actor who played Kurt Sloane) — this time in a role as Master Durand, Kurt’s trainer.
Jean Claude Van Damme Still Kickboxing
In Kickboxer: Retaliation, JCVD continues his career resurgence with a new wrinkle in Durand’s story, one which I — and I suspect many an audience member — did not see coming. In addition, the movie uses the legendary Christopher Lambert as the film’s primary villain who controls Sloane’s fate. (Oh, and by the way, he happens to have an affinity for sword fighting, an obvious homage to his role as Connor MacLeod in multiple Highlander films – read UAMC’s review of the ultimately awful Highlander 2 here!)
Casting Mike Tyson as an incarcerated former boxer was inspired; few would argue when I say he is not the world’s greatest thespian. But all in all, he moved well on-screen and didn’t hinder the movie at all; in fact, he more than helped it.
Now to quote many a late-night infomercial voice-over: “But wait! There’s more!”
I appreciated the fact the writers, director and producers involved in the creation of Kickboxer: Retaliation seemed to be fans of action movies. How do I know this? Upon one viewing, I spotted references and homages within the film to the following heavyweights of the genre:
- Kickboxer 4: The Aggressor
- American Samurai
- Rocky II
- Rocky IV
- Enter the Dragon
Talk about respecting the source material!
Where Retaliation Ranks in the Kickboxer Franchise
The three Sasha Mitchell-starring Kickboxer sequels were fine choices for rainy Saturday afternoon DTV movies, but don’t do much to add to the original JCVD movie, which I feel remains superb on its own. In my opinion, it’s an uphill battle for a reboot production to breathe new life into a well-respected franchise and succeed. But I feel Kickboxer: Retaliation not only meets the challenge, I may be so bold as to say in two movies it and 2016’s Kickboxer: Vengeance surpass the collective quality of the original four Kickboxer films.
Anyone else here see Kickboxer: Retaliation? What’d you think? Let us know in the comments or on our Facebook page!