Kurt Sloane (Alain Moussi), what a hero. On this train carriage in his smart suit, catching sight of an attractive woman, then launching into a dance routine with her which is only ended when a man walks by and points a gun at his head. He knows what to do: he disables the gunman and his cohort, but too late as the woman is spirited away. He follows and ends up on the roof of the speeding locomotive where he engages in combat with her kidnappers, knocking one down and managing to overcome the other - but oh dear, he has a chain around his leg and is dragged away, down, down to the water below and drowning looks like an option. How will he get out of this perilous situation now?
The answer to that is, somewhat improbably, he wakes up, as this James Bond pre-credits sequence leads into a James Bond title sequence, and then straight into what is actually happening, which is that our hero is in a choke hold during his MMA championship bout; he'd just zoned out for a few seconds there. From here, this being a Kickboxer sequel, you might expect some form of tournament to take place, but you would not be precisely correct, for no sooner has Kurt bested his oppressor than he is knocked out for real and kidnapped himself, which at least makes a change from the female lead getting that treatment in action flicks, though predictably not for long.
That said, there was a definite strain of unpredictability going on in this follow-up to 2016's Kickboxer: Vengeance, especially in comparison to what had gone immediately before it, a fairly straightforward, meat and potatoes tournament quasi-remake of the Jean-Claude Van Damme favourite that had happened to feature Monsieur Van Damme in the mentor role to relative newcomer Moussi. In Retaliation, it was evidently decided that sort of plot was old hat, and while this one did lead up to a bout that lasted a good half hour of the last act, what occurred in the one hour twenty minutes before it was a lot more eccentric, and in that way, even more enjoyable.
There had been a school of thought arising in the twenty-first century that the way to get your action movie fix was not to sit down with a Fast and Furious entry, not necessarily, anyway, but to recapture the heyday of that fulcrum of the modern-day action effort in the eighties, you had to try out the lower budget end of the scale. No, they did not have the funds for lengthy car chases with tons of extras sent flying, or huge explosions that destroyed empty warehouses belonging to big name guest star bad guys, but for dedication to getting the job done with muscular fighting sequences and the right, let's take this seriously enough tone, there was quality here to choose from.
Stars of this sort of thing included the likes of Scott Adkins and Michael Jai White; to those names you could add Moussi's. He was certainly taking this seriously in what looked like a lot of his own stunts, and that made a difference. He had the physique and grace of Van Damme in his prime and had grown into the Sloane role since his last outing, but there were those quirks throughout that crafted an unexpectedly entertaining film for a series this far into its sequels, when you might have thought the invention was going to run dry by then. With celebrity guests like Mike Tyson for Moussi to battle in the early stages and Christopher Lambert pulling the strings, Van Damme was back too, a blind mentor as if in a vintage kung fu movie, but still busting the occasional move (those kicks, naturally) between words of wisdom.
Also, as if in reply to those who lamented the fast cutting style of modern fight editing, director Dimitri Logothetis included two setpiece battles that had no cuts at all, genuinely impressive in an Old Boy tribute manner. But that grand finale where Kurt was forced to grapple with Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, The Mountain of Game of Thrones fame, was worth waiting for, a marathon bout where our protagonist even has to deal with the drawback of being unfortunately dead before carrying on. It was all pleasingly full-blooded and not a little nuts, as if the production had settled on a style that would provide the most amusement, so sure, you had to be feeling very self-indulgent to be enjoying Kickboxer: Retaliation, but hey, it was a Kickboxer sequel you were watching - of course you were feeling self-indulgent. One of the most pleasant surprises in its decade's action movie follow-ups, particularly in its class. Music by Adam Dorn.