Never Back Down: Revolt (2021) Review
After focusing on Michael Jai White’s character Case Walker in the second and third films, Never Back Down: Revolt takes the franchise in an entirely new direction and with a whole new female-centric cast and crew. The cynic in me says that they simply threw “Never Back Down” onto an existing script to make it marketable, but I’m willing to accept that if the film delivers.
Anya (Olivia Popica, The Devil Complex, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald) is a nursing student whose brother Aslan (Tommy Bastow, Exorcismus, EastEnders) is an aspiring MMA fighter. One night he wins a fight he was supposed to throw and brings down the wrath of Julian (James Faulkner, Repeater, Hunted), a very bad man to cross, on both of them.
Anya soon finds herself kidnapped by his goons and forced into an underground fight ring run by Janek (Michael Bisping, Triple Threat, Den of Thieves) and Mariah (Brooke Johnston, The Hurricane Heist, Dead Trigger). “They make us fight until we can’t anymore. Then they sell us to the Albanians” she’s told. If they want to avoid that fate, they’ll have to rise up and revolt.
This kind of plot has been done to death in films like Raze, Unchained, and Hellkat. Never Back Down: Revolt had a couple of things that looked like they might set it apart. Director Kellie Madison (The Tank) HellKat made the highly regarded short The Gate featuring Cecep Arif Rahman (The Raid 2, Gundala) and Amy Johnson (Deadpool, Captain America: The Winter Soldier).
That proved she certainly knew how to direct a fight scene. It’s available on YouTube, or you can see it below. Then they added fight choreographer Tim Man (Accident Man, Boyka: Undisputed) to make sure she had good looking fights to film.
Unfortunately, there’s only so much you can do with a cast that doesn’t have the right background for this kind of film. The fights look good enough but they don’t have the power or pacing you get from a cast with a background in action films and stunt work, and Never Back Down: Revolt seems to have been cast more on the basis of looks than fighting skills.
Even if they had the right background, Audrey Arkins’ (Deadly Daddy Issues) script doesn’t include nearly enough fights. It spends way too much time on Aslan running around London trying to find out what happened to Anya.
That’s not the only waste of screen time either. True to the genre’s stereotypes and clichés Mariah is a lesbian and we’re constantly teased with her interests in the girls. But nothing much comes of it in terms of the plot, it’s not even exploited for some cheap thrills, making the subplot irrelevant.
To make matters worse Never Back Down: Revolt wastes former UFC champion Bisping as well. I figured Aslan would end up fighting him but we don’t even get that. All he gets to do is rough up some of the women. Similarly, the hulking Lee Charles (Avengement, Green Street 3: Never Back Down) is basically used as set dressing, standing around glowering and looking imposing. At least Bollywood star Nitu Chandra (13B: Fear Has a New Address, Shooter), gets to show off her martial arts skills in her first Western film.
Never Back Down: Revolt is a major waste of potential capped off with a stupid epilogue. Letting your pet bird fly out the window isn’t giving it freedom. It’s condemning it to freeze in the London winter if it doesn’t starve or get eaten first. Sony will release Never Back Down: Revolt on November 16th. You can check their website for more information. Or just scroll down and watch The Gate, it packs more into ten minutes than this does into ninety.