Never Back Down: Revolt (USA, 2021)

This latest installment of the MMA franchise does a gender reversal and has the level of another fourth installment of an action franchise.

Emigrating from Chechnya, siblings Anya and Aslan have worked hard to make ends meet. Anya is an aspiring nurse and works as a housekeeper while Aslan moonlights as a mixed martial arts fighter. However, when Aslan is forced to throw a fight for local mob boss Julian, Anya brings Aslan’s motivation up and he wins the fight. When the siblings are confronted by Julian and his men, Anya’s actions get the attention of the mysterious Mariah, who helps Anya and makes her an offer she can’t refuse.

Anya promises to pay off Aslan’s debt and learns MMA training from his mentor. When she proves herself, Mariah invites Anya to an elite competition in Rome that will help both she and Aslan. When Anya arrives, she learns something extremely shocking. Mariah is actually one of the two heads of a trafficking ring, who uses female fighters as the bait for their clients. Mariah’s partner Janek makes sure the girls better follow through or he will have no problem roughing them up. Anya has found herself in a very dangerous situation and she may not be able to stop them alone.

This is a very interesting installment of the Never Back Down franchise. In the vein of Slumber Party Massacre, this film was written by and directed by female filmmakers. In this case, Audrey Arkins wrote the script and Kellie Madison directed. Madison gained a following with her short film The Gate, which featured Amy Johnston and Cecep Ari Rahman. Speaking of Rahman, he works as an additional choreographer on this film alongside the great Tim Man, who makes the girls look good when it comes to their fights.

Olivia Popica is not too bad in the lead role of Anya, who is the younger sister who will go to great lengths to protect her brother when he ends up in debt. Her introduction is vital when it comes to learning about her expertise in nursing during the third act of the film. There are some legitimate martial arts experts in the film, with taekwondo champion turned actor Nitu Chandra as Jaya as well as stunt performers Chloe Bruce and Phoebe Robinson-Galvan as a few other fighters.

UFC legend Michael Bisping is the epitome of toxic masculinity as Janek, one of the two heads of the trafficking ring Anya, Jaya, and the others are forced into. Brooke Johnston is the more salacious and sly-witted Mariah, who uses her influence to get what she wants. She shows shades of being as ruthless as Janek when she feels the fighters are out of line. James Faulkner talks a tough game as local mob boss Julian, who only sees Mariah as someone who knows about fighters but is totally gullible about her real intentions. Tommy Bastow makes the most of his role as Aslan, Anya’s brother who finds himself worried when he doesn’t hear from her in days.

The only thing is that this installment has the feel of a Bloodsport IV: The Dark Kumite. The film relies a bit more on story than action. At times the action is not bad, and at times, the action is pretty good. It would be more interesting is Chandra herself, a legitimate martial artist, took lead role here. But that’s not knocking Popica, who holds her own.

Never Back Down: Revolt is not a completely bad installment of the franchise. Yes, it has its flaws, but for a female-centric MMA film, this makes the most of relying on story and the action done is pretty decent. It’s a one-watch and maybe another down the road.

WFG RATING: B-

Destination Films presents a Mandalay Films production. Director: Kellie Madison. Producers: David Zelon, Craig Baumgarten, and Ben Jacques. Writer: Audrey Arkins. Cinematography: Oliver Loncraine. Editing: Kellie Madison.

Cast: Olivia Popica, Brooke Johnston, Michael Bisping, Tommy Bastow, Nitu Chandra, James Faulkner, Diana Hoyos, Vanessa Campos, Cameron Jack.

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