Dream-Matches: How TRIPLE THREAT Makes the Super-Fights You've Waited For a Reality
We live in the era of the “super-fight.” As fans, everything from our combat sports, to our movies and TV shows are now tailor-made to making your wildest dream-matches come true, from Conor McGregor facing off against Floyd Mayweather to Batman fighting Superman. On the whole, no longer do we have to simply imagine what our favorite matchups would be like, we simply have to wait and Hollywood or The UFC or WWE or Boxing will eventually just make whatever showdown we’ve been wanting happen for us. This seems especially true in Hollywood these days, as a big part of the point of films such as The Expendables Trilogy, the 9 (?!) Fast and Furious movies, or even The MCU are all somewhat about getting to see our favorite heroes either team-up or face-off. Want to see The Hulk fight Thor? We can make that happen! What about watching Sylvester Stallone battle Jean-Claude Van Damme or see The Rock brawl with Jason Statham? Nothing seems impossible now, and the latest piece of evidence to support this idea comes in the form of director Jesse V. Johnson’s newest action extravaganza, Triple Threat.
Just like The Expendables aimed to show you what it was like to get all your favorite 80s and 90s action stars together in one film, Triple Threat offers you the fantasy of throwing as many of today’s top screen martial artists at you as quickly as possible. In fact, the simple joy of just getting to watch Tony Jaa (Ong Bak) and Iko Uwais (The Raid) share screen time together is nearly overwhelming all by itself, as the two men are probably to biggest stars of the genre at the moment, but adding in the likes of Tiger Chen, Scott Adkins, Jeeja Yanin, Michael Jai White, and former UFC Champion Michael Bisping to the mix is enough to make martial arts super-fans like myself giddy with fisticuffs anticipation. Wrangling all these personalities may seem like a herculean feat, but with a veteran action director like Johnson at the helm, any fears of this movie simply devolving into aimless chaos are quickly assuaged.
To the film maker’s credit, Triple Threat is thankfully built on an clean enough premise that the movie easily gets out of its own way to make room for plenty of onscreen ferocity. The majority the film is simply a mad chase, as a team of international assassins led by a hired killer named Collins (the incredible Scott Adkins) races to eliminate Xian (Arrow’s Celina Jade), a wealthy heiress who has made it her mission to campaign against organized crime in the region. Putting Xian on the run, Collins and his team wipe out all in their path; easily blowing away security and innocent bystanders at a press conference and then destroying an entire police force Terminator-style in the name of eliminating their target. The only ones to stand in their way are two down-on-their-luck fighters (Jaa and Chen) and a mysterious stranger out for his own revenge (Uwaiis).
Now is this film Shakespeare? No, it is not. In fact, I can’t even claim that Triple Threat is able reach the heights of many of the action classics that these stars are known for, such as The Raid 2 or The Ong Bak Trilogy, but the film’s director still manages to stage a terrific amount of explosive entertainment, and manages to pull off a fairly dexterous job of showcasing some of the less obvious talents of his illustrious cast. For instance, not only do Tony Jaa and Tiger Chen get to parade their famous penchants for knee strikes and vicious elbows, but I adored the fact that the duo also got plenty of screen time to let their comedic talents shine as well. Considering that neither of the actors speak each other’s native languages and therefore had to converse in English for a lot of the film, they should each receive extra points for their breezy buddy-cop banter with each other that reminded me a lot of the hijinks from 80s and 90s Hong Kong flicks such as Police Story or Once a Thief. It was especially surprising how Jaa impressively gets to flex his comedy muscles here and comes off quite easygoing and charismatic when he’s not being shot at or kicking an opponent in the face.
Additionally, when it comes to stretching new acting muscles, Scott Adkins and Michael Jai White both get to revel in being villains this time out, which is not totally unfamiliar ground with these performers, but rarely do they get to chew scenery quite like they get to on this outing. Adkins and Jesse V Johnson have had a very fruitful relationship in the past, with the martial artist getting his best roles under Johnson outside of his collaborations with director Isaac Florentine. Entries such as The Debt Collector and Accident Man have shown Adkins and Johnson to have a terrific movie-making chemistry, and thankfully when the director needed an iconic heavy to battle the Asian heroes of this picture, he went with his usual leading man. Michael Jai White and Scott Adkins also both benefit heavily from this casting (as does fellow villain Michael Bisping), because Johnson makes them look like absolute hulking monsters onscreen, towering over all they come into contact with, especially their heroic adversaries. Johnson sells their physicality with bravura, which sets up the final showdown nicely and truly makes your heroes feel like underdogs in a way we’ve never really seen them before.
Regrettably, with a picture like this featuring such a large cast, not a huge running time, and an insanely breakneck pace, it was inevitable that some would be left without being as well showcased, and unfortunately that ends up being Iko Uwais. Uwais is arguably the best martial arts movie star in the world right now after headlining three of the genre’s premiere titles of the past decade (The Raid 1-2, The Night Comes for Us), and while you would think he would actually get one of the film’s meatiest roles as a man out for revenge on Collins’ crew, he’s largely relegated to the sidelines until the movie’s brutal finale. Even worse is the under-utilization of Chocolate’s Jeeja Yanin, who does the most with what little screen time she’s given, but should have played a larger role here to take advantage of the sizable impression she makes whenever she shows up in the film.
For those worried that movie might not live up to its action bonefides though, the film makers here manage to pack the film with plenty of onscreen combat, with tons of different combinations to make fight fans happy. While Scott Adkins vs Tony Jaa ends up stealing the show, there’s plenty of battles to go around, from Iko Uwais and Tiger Chen facing off against each other, as well as everyone else on the villains’ side of things. Chen and Michael Bisping get to throw down twice in the movie and Uwais even gets a short but explosive encounter with Yanin, which only leaves you wanting more. Basically, if they star in this movie and you want to see them fight, there’s a good chance it happens here, even if just for a moment.
Triple Threat was made to make the dreams of action and martial arts fans come true and on that level it’s a spin-kicking, flying fist of a success. While the movie does take time for some light humor and character work, for the most part it’s packed to the gills with hard-hitting combat and chases aplenty. Director Jesse V. Johnson sets out to make a rip-roaring fight-film, and pulls it off with terrific camerawork and bone-crunching choreography. With no shaky-cam or heavy editing to be found, the picture lets you enjoy the natural grace of this cast, as well as the brutality of their violent talents. In the end, Triple Threat is a battle royale that doesn’t disappoint; this is a movie that knows what it wants to be and goes for it with utter ferocity.
Triple Threat will be in theaters for One Night Only on 3/19.
It will be available for VOD on 3/22.