01st May2020

‘Kingdom of Gladiators: The Tournament’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Danielle Kamela, Greg Maness, Rikishi, Reno Anoai, Gary Shergill, Marcus Nel-Jamal Hamm, Wendell Coley, Anthony Bear Williams, Jezette Marie, Kaleti Williams, Adam Sparn | Written and Directed by Stefano Milla

Originally released in 2017, Kingdom of Gladiators: The Tournament is in fact a sequel to the little seen 2011 original (which surprisingly got a UK DVD release by Kaleidoscope that same year) also written and directed by Stefano Milla – a filmmaker who seems to specialise in low-budget peplum-style movies and historical “epics”. And if this film is anything to go by, it seems Milla is picking up where the Italians left off, at least in terms of sword and sandal adventure, in the best way possible!

Kingdom of Gladiators: The Tournament tells the story a Templar Knight who is forced to fight as a gladiator where challengers from different worlds duel in a quest for a magical sword. Then the Templar learns he is scheduled to fight his master who has become a man of greed and ambition, eventually teaming with his adversaries against the master and his disciples.

Right, lets get this out of the way first. Kingdom of Gladiators: The Tournament is not only inspired by the Italian peplum cycle but also clearly inspired by the Mortal Kombat movies,with their inter-dimensional fighters and all; AND seemingly by the bizarre Mad Max inspired post-apocalyptic stylings of Italian genre cinema in the 80s. Which all makes for an incredibly fun film. Seriously. I went into this film with no expectations and was pleasantly surprised by how much I loved the low-budget nature of the film and how writer/director Stefano Milla gets round the problem of no money with some fantastic ingenuity and a lot of imagination. For example, who would have thought that using a voice over to cover the plot holes and tie together the footage that had been filmed would actually give the film a real epic scale? I didn’t. But it does; and it does so in spades. In fact, despite the small-scale of the production, all of Kingdom of Gladiators: The Tournament feels truly epic. No doubt helped by an impressive, soaring, score by Dom Capuano.

But then you can’t really go wrong with the “tournament” template of action film storytelling can you? It works each and every time, no matter the budget and usually no matter the cast. And it certainly works here. In fact the fight scenes reminded me of another great tournament film, Bloodsport. Of course we’re no on a par with that classic here, but it does share similar ideals – insomuch that each fighter uses his or her own style of combat, which means we get to see a real variety of fighting styles. Oh and there’s some insane gore in this one too… Ever wanted to see someone’s jaw ripped off in a “finish him” style move in a film and NOT in a game? You get that here! And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the brutality of Kingdom of Gladiators: The Tournament.

Given how low-budget this film is, it was a complete surprise to see an instantly familiar face among this group of actors and actresses – WWE Hall of Famer himself, Rikishi, who appears as the winner off the last gladiatorial tournament. But then if you’re familiar with wrestling you’ll soon realise is packed with current wrestling talent, including the likes of Danielle Kamela, aka NXT Superstar Vanessa Borne; Reno Anoai – who is another member of the legendary Anoai wrestling dynasty (alongside Rikishi) and who himself wrestles on the indie circuit under the name Black Pearl; and Jezette Marie, who wrestles for KnokX Pro… a promotion where the aformentioned Vanessa Borne was trained too andwhich is owned by Rikishi and Black Pearl! Hell the film is also filled with Fatu/Anoai family members in smaller roles too – I even spotted MLW’s Jacob Fatu as one of the tournament guards. Making this film something of a family affair and they even get to show of their moves fighting each other!

Previously released in the UK as Rise of the Gladiators in 2017, Kingdom of Gladiators: The Tournament is currently scheduled for re-release on May 4th (subject to change given the current circumstances), courtesy of High Fliers Films.


Comments are closed.