Review: 'Kickboxer: Vengeance' Doubles Down On Splits, Kicks, And Dancing

Jean-Claude Van Damme's franchises had a rough go back in the day. Both Bloodsport and Kickboxer continued with straight-to-video sequels that not only did not star Van Damme, but featured completely new characters. Yet reigniting Universal Soldier decades later on video signaled a return to form for Van Damme and delivered that franchise's two best entries. So rebooting Kickboxer, primarily for VOD and limited theatrical release, is a smart proposition. It elevates the franchise from it's Van Damme-less phase and exemplifies the kind of fighting that today's martial artists can do. Kickboxer: Vengeance gets off to a good start in medias res on Kurt Sloane (Alain Moussi)'s revenge against Tong Po. He fights through some of Tong Po's underlings and we get to see some incredible moves in open fields and dark hallways. Don't worry about the shaky camera. It steadies up nicely for the rest of the film.

Of course we flash back to get all the exposition about how Kurt's brother Eric (the late Darren Shahlavi) took an underground match where he was killed in the ring by Tong Po (Dave Bautista). The corrupt fight promoter (Gina Carano) gives us exposition instead of letting the film show us all the relationships, but it also gets through the basics quickly so we can get to the fighting. And she has a glass of white wine in just about every scene, so that's magnificent. A shame Carano only plays a promoter, though, and doesn't fight.

So Kurt goes to Eric's trainer Durand (Van Damme) to train him for a revenge fight against Tong Po. Not only is this the perfect way to include the original Kurt Sloane and let Van Damme pass the torch in a mentorship capacity, but he still fights. Van Damme fights more than I ever expected him to in this role, and he's awesome. This is what we came to Kickboxer for and Van Damme has never looked this vicious.

Kickboxer Vengeance review

Durand has some new training methods for Sloane to one-up what Van Damme went through in the original, but there's still some old school bamboo tree kicking. Moussi's Sloane has a lot more fights leading up to Tong Po too. A street fight against some parkour guys is well done, and when Durand takes him to a bar to show him he's not ready, it's more of an underground fight club than a drunken brawl like in the original. That's more appropriate to this Kickboxer and the world of underground MMA, but Moussi found a way to pay homage to Van Damme's famous drunken dance scene. It's still in the movie.

While the tone of Kickboxer: Vengeance is mostly serious, it still has some fun. There's that dance scene, but also during a chase scene there is a building crew blatantly carrying a pane of glass across the street. The film celebrates the cliches of action movies, and doesn't look down on them.

Fighting has gotten much more sophisticated since 1989's Kickboxer and therefore it is in the movie. Moussi has great moves (including the splits) so I'll definitely want to watch him in other action vehicles without the Kickboxer brand, although a sequel, Kickboxer: Retaliation is next for him. Bautista is terrifying as Tong Po. As endearing as he was as Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy, he is using his strength for pure evil here.

Kickboxer: Vengeance is a treat for fans of the original who want to see a modern day kickboxing movie, and ought to set straight any haters who laugh at the Kickboxer brand. It is a great introduction to a new action hero and satisfies the itch to see Van Damme mix it up like he used to.Kickboxer: Vengeance opens in theaters, on VOD and iTunes September 2.