Hey, if Sylvester Stallone can get “Creed” why can’t Jean Claude Van Damme get his own go around? “Kickboxer: Vengeance” is a remake/reboot of the “Kickboxer” series where we’re given essentially the same narrative as the original Van Damme action film, except with a few roles switched here and there. As a bid of respect, Van Damme returns to the series playing the enigmatic Master Durand, a martial arts trainer who manages to train hero Kurt for his fight to avenge his fallen brother. Van Damme’s performance is top notch in “Vengeance” and he manages to get some prime action scenes in the film, including one involving an ambush in his temple by a lone fighter.
That said, “Vengeance” is Alain Moussi’s film, and he offers a very charismatic and lively performance as Kurt Sloane. After infiltrating an underground Muay Thai temple, he fails to assassinate Master Thong Po, a vicious Muay Thai sensei who murdered his brother Eric in combat. Thrown in jail, Kurt sneaks back in to Thailand and seeks Eric’s sensei, Durand. Durand begrudgingly agrees to train the eager Kurt, and Kurt finds the art of Muay Thai is so much more grueling than he ever expected. Much of “Kickboxer: Vengeance” is simple and straight to the point, centering mainly on paying tribute to Van Damme, and wowing us with excellent martial arts fights. John Stockholm’s direction is crisp, clean and energetic and the man delivers all kinds of great fight scenes.
There’s plenty of quick cuts, slow motion battles, and yes, an in vogue rumble where Stockholm grants us a long take of Kurt kicking ass left and right in a tunnel. The latter is easily my favorite scene of the film. Thankfully Moussi and Van Damme have wonderful chemistry together and they really add an extra spark to the film, relying on one another for quick quips, ace fighting, and some fun moments, including a foot chase through a police station. As for Batista, the man looks like a brick wall with eyes, and is a great villain, despite having almost no dialogue. His turn as villainous powerhouse Thong Po really is the highlight of the movie, and he carries on the tradition of dirty but powerful enemies we saw with folks like Bolo Yeung and Shih Kien.
My one reservation is never getting to see Gina Carano throw down with some of the guys. While she is a wonderful femme fatale, I was so disappointed not being able to see her throw a few kicks. That said, “Kickboxer: Vengeance” might technically be considered a remake, but it’s more of a reboot that pays a great respect to the legacy that Van Damme set down for other action stars. Stockholm and co. have a great love for Van Damme, even including a wonderful epilogue during the credits. For purists, “Vengeance” is a dazzling action film that will work well as a companion piece to Van Damme’s original “Kickboxer.”
Coming to limited theaters, VOD and Digital HD on September 2nd.