Yes, Never Back Down got a sequel but does it deserve a sequel? Is it better than the original? Let’s examine the pieces!
The Beatdown is one ugly-looking movie. It’s so dull and lifeless that it actually looks like it was made for tv rather than for film. Despite how ugly it looks, the cinematography manages to showcase the action quite well. The first Never Back Down was doing too much with the cuts and edits that it was starting to get annoying. At least, with the sequel, there was some thought in how to capture the action and that’s due to the skills of the director. There are two things to know about The Beatdown: 1) it’s directed by Michael Jai White and 2) this is his directorial debut. Given how bad the acting and story are, it’s no surprise that this comes from an inexperienced director but it’s also obvious that White’s martial arts background gives him a good eye for shooting action set pieces.
The cinematography is at its best when there’s action going on. If you’re looking for cinematography that gives provides insight into the character’s thoughts and feelings, you won’t find it here, but if you want to see Michael Jai White kicking ass in some sweet wide shots, then The Beatdown is the film for you. The four leads are fine, but it’s obvious that they can’t meet White on his level so the camera plays around with various angles to hide the stunt doubles. The Beatdown is purely a showcase for White to show off his mad skills and even though he’s a supporting character, he steals this whole movie from everyone else.
Most of the performances are so bad that it makes Sean Faris’ performance in the first film look like a tour de force. The Beatdown starts by introducing us to our four leads and their backstories: Mike Stokes, Zack Gomes, Tim Newhouse, and Justin Epstein. Mike’s ashamed that his father left his mom for another man, Zack’s retina is partially detached from a previous boxing match, Tim and his stripper mother are in debt, and Justin is a social outcast who’s constantly bullied. Half of these backstories are completely bonkers, but then there’s the other half that would make for good narrative drama, but they never follow through with any of their arcs in a satisfying way. Justin’s arc had the most potential considering the fact that he’s the underdog and while the film takes the character in an unexpected direction, it’s executed so poorly that there’s no emotional resonance. Michael Jai White knows these characters suck, so he graces us with his presence as their badass sensei Case Walker.
The first time Case Walker shows up onscreen, you sit up straighter because he’s the energy this movie desperately needed. The four characters come to Walker looking for a mentor and instead of taking them in as his pupils, he insults them and tells them to leave. Of course, they eventually convince him to train them but it’s obvious he’s not going to be the mentor you expect him to be. Walker kind of just wants to be left alone and while he agrees to train these guys, he has no intention of being in the spotlight. It’s obvious that The Beatdown is more interested in Michael Jai White and if it weren’t for these four meddling kids that we have to follow around, the movie would have been all the better had it focused on Case Walker.
Now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the action! The Beatdown has no false pretenses of what it wants to be; it wants to show off some cool action and it manages to do that even if it’s at the expense of good characters. A bulk of the actual MMA fights happen during the third act, but there are a few neat little gems sprinkled throughout. There are plenty of training montages if you’re into that sort of thing and even if the music feels like the early 2000’s, the actual montages themselves are a great display of athleticism and martial arts technique. Michael Jai White doesn’t get to do all the action but he does give himself one awesome sequence involving a couple of crooked cops.
As the film progresses, we see Case Walker getting harassed group of rowdy cops just looking to give him a hard time. The first encounter ends with the cops forcing Walker to vacate his current residency due to his probation. During the second encounter, Walker has now been framed by one of his students and as the cops are cuffing him, Walker finally lets loose in an action sequence that’s exciting and rewarding! Michael Jai White was waiting for this moment to show off his moves and it’s the best sequence in the entire movie. The film has little moments of Walker performing martial arts, but the police sequence is the payoff that everyone had been waiting for.
Kick-Ass or Ass-Kicked?
The positives are far too few to outweigh the negatives so this movie is an “Ass-Kicked” movie. Michael Jai White needed to be the lead for this to even be mildly entertaining but instead, the movie focuses on four characters who are as bland as a plate of chicken, broccoli, and rice. Get rid of the teenagers, keep the Case Walker character, and show off more action and this would have been the holy trinity to making this an above average action flick. For a sequel to Never Back Down, there only a few callbacks to the first film.
There’s obviously the mention of “The Beatdown,” but the sequel also brings back Evan Peters who was probably the best part of the first one! Peters is equally as good in The Beatdown as he was in Never Back Down, but he brings some extra ham to a series that’s already hammy enough. Maybe they should have Evan Peters as the Nick Fury for this franchise so they can turn this franchise into a mix of The Avengers and Mortal Kombat. If you’re willing to brave through cheap acting from cheap actors to get to the action, you’ll find some reward, but ultimately, stay away and watch the clips on YouTube.