CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS
I saw the original Kickboxer in what was then the Cannon quadplex in Panton Street sometime in 1989, and even back then I was aware that it wasn't Jean-Claude Van Damme's best work: I'd much preferred Bloodsport, purely on the grounds that it was more thuddingly violent. Pleasingly, and in the manner of Sleuth, this new remake/reboot promotes JCVD from pupil to master, leading to the hope that in thirty years' time they'll remake it again with this version's young pup taking the wise old mentor role to a kid who isn't even born yet. (Maybe they'll even get JCVD back again to cameo as the doddery old goat practising his tai chi moves in the courtyard.)
Kickboxer: Vengeance sticks fairly close to the original: following the death of his martial arts champion brother Eric (the late Darren Shahlavi) in an illegal tournament, Kurt Sloane (stunt double and bit-part player Alain Moussi) journeys to Thailand to take on Tong Po, the colossal brute responsible (recent Bond henchman Dave Bautista). After several thorough pummellings, Eric hires his brother's eccentric trainer Master Durand (Jean-Claude) to get him ready for a rematch...
It's all agreeably old-fashioned knockabout with lots of crunching body blows that would leave us frail and fragile mortals in pieces, but here it's more like Robocop fighting The Terminator as they keep going despite brushing off any number of roundhouse kicks to the head and body slams to the floor. That's all part of the fun of the genre, of course, and has been since the days of all those Shaw Brothers movies. Now 55 years old, Jean-Claude is more relaxed and seems to be having fun not doing as much of the fighty stuff as usual; it's more surprising that villainess Gina Carano doesn't get any action sequences at all given her track record in Muay Thai and MMA.
If, acting-wise and script-wise, Kickboxer: Vengeance is fairly uninteresting, it does liven up enormously every time it gets down to shirtless guys lamping each other - it's as if deep down that's really what the film wants to do, and stuff like character development and exposition are just the boring bits the makers (and we) have to stodge through in order to get to the good stuff. Happily, the good stuff is meaty and nasty enough to make it a decent enough watch. A sequel (which includes Christopher Lambert and Mike Tyson) is already in post-production.