08th Nov2021

‘Never Back Down: Revolt’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Olivia Popica, Tommy Bastow, Brooke Johnston, Michael Bisping, Nitu Chandra Srivasttava, Diana Hoyos, James Faulkner, Hannah Al Rashid, Vanesaa Campos, Raffaello Degruttola, Nicole Sousa, Cameron Jack, Christopher Sciueref, Antonio Bustorff, Andrew Hollingworth, Brian Jansen, Edward Linard | Written by Audrey Arkins | Directed by Kellie Madison

Where did this come from? Some five years after the last entry in the franchise and THIRTEEN years since the original, here comes Never Back Down: Revolt, a female take on the underground fight story that sees Anya (Olivia Popica), the sister of MMA fighter Aslan (Tommy Bastow), who is forced to compete in elite underground fights after Aslan refuses to throw a his latest illegal fight for promoter Julian (James Faulkner). Now working to pay off the debt Aslan owes for NOT losing, Anya takes a trip to Rome to partake in a special fighting event (that she’s promised will clear her brothers debt) in front of a high-paying elite crowd, where she’s held captive by UFC Hall of Fame Michael Bisping’s evil fight promoter.

As if this film appearing out of nowhere wasn’t enough, it turns out Never Back Down: Revolt is actually a BRITISH fight flick, made in London this time last year and set in the capital… and Italy (well they say it’s Italy). This is also the first film in the series to be both written by and directed by a woman; with Audrey Arkins, who wrote the 2020 Anthony Hopkins film Elyse, penning the script and Kellie Madison directs this, her second feature film. Thankfully we also have Tim Man on board as the films Fight Director so we at least know we can expect some great combat!

Which makes Never Back Down: Revolt quite a departure from the previous entries in the series – so much so that, in all honesty this film could have been released under a different name, unrelated to the existing franchise. You could say this is an in-name only sequel. But that’s not to say this is a bad film. It’s not even to say it’s a massive departure from the plots of the previous movies. It’s a film about underground MMA fighting, with people forced to fight against their will. Exactly like the first two Never Back Down movies. Only there’s not as much fighting unfortunately.

What’s also different about this film is the fact it feels, at times, like a ‘women in prison’ film rather than a fight flick. We get the stereotypical girl who gives up and her friend who has to kill her to survive; we get plans to escape, which is where the “Revolt” of the title comes in; and we get the vicious woman-hating captor, in the form pot real-life MMA fighter Michael Bisping’s Janek.

I’ve not seen Olivia Popica before, despite her role in the TV series Informer and making a brief appearance in the film Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, but she makes for a fantastic protagonist. Unlike other similar characters, she’s not stupid. She takes photos of everything and everyone involved and TRIES to keep in contact with her brother… she’s suspicious but of course she’s in over her head. Yet it’s nice to see a character in a film like this not just take things at face value and actually act of their suspicions. To be honest it makes Anya feel more real and, when the times comes really gets the audience behind her and her mission to free the women held against their will in this deadly fight club.

Eventually we do get some extended scenes fo fighting, as Anya and her fellow captives decide to kick EVERYONE’S arse and make their escape… Literally not one of the crowd in attendance at the evenings event lives to talk about it. No one. It’s a fantastic flurry of fight activity but one that feels too rushed. Especially the final showdown between Anya and Mariah (Brooke Johnston), the woman who invited her to the “tournament” and the woman who seemingly took perverse pleasure in seeing other women suffer. But then this is a whole new approach to the fight film – as evidence by the epilogue, which sees Anya return home and free her pet bird from its cage… a metaphor if ever there was one!

A bit of a departure for the franchise, Never Back Down: Revolt is released on digital on November 16th.


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