Iron Mask ended up serving a good level of comedy, lots of highly-choreographed action, and some interesting Chinese-inspired fantasy elements. However, it lacked in the narrative department.
I was provided with a free Iron Mask Blu-ray for review. The opinions I have shared are my own.
Iron Mask, for me, ended up being the kind of film that’s fun to watch, yet leaves you wanting more when it comes to certain narrative decisions and pacing. As a casual viewer, I watched the entire thing in one sitting without getting bored. But as a critic, I could see a number of issues.
The description from the press release reads:
In order to save his homeland from certain doom, a kung fu master (Jackie Chan) must escape from the maniacal James Hook (Arnold Schwarzenegger) in order to send his daughter a secret talisman that will allow her to control a massive and mythical dragon. This larger-than-life, globe-trotting tale – ranging from the impenetrable Tower of London to the fabled Silk Road and China’s Great Wall – also stars Rutger Hauer in one of the screen icon’s final performances.
For those expecting a lot of Chan and Schwarzenegger screentime, you’ll be disappointed. The two play supporting roles. However, the story did use them to display some cool and comedic fight sequences. So, at least, there’s that.
The main characters ended up being Cheng Lan (the daughter of Chan’s character), Jonathan Green, his wife Emma, and Tsar Peter the Great, with the main villain being called the Witch. While I liked following these characters around, I was left a bit confused. Why have so many random non-Asian characters in the cast, especially when depicting a China-centric story?
So, after watching Iron Mask, I did a bit of Googling. Turns out the current film’s being promoted in the U.S. as Iron Mask when, in fact, it’s supposed to be a sequel to 2014’s Russian film Viy. With Jonathan being in the first movie, Iron Mask had to follow his adventures as an English cartographer and inventor. Iron Mask did mention Jonathan’s previous trips. However, I had no idea there was already an entire movie about what he went through.
In Iron Mask, which is basically Viy 2: Journey to China, after encountering some corrupt officials in Moscow, Jonathan’s sent to China. Thinking that the kind Cheng Lan’s a boy, Jonathan takes her with him as an assistant to repay her kindness toward him in prison.
Cheng Lan’s the Dragon Princess and she’s more than happy to return to her land to save her people and free the mythical dragon that granted citizens healing tea (the movie opened with the entire backstory about the dragon and how Cheng Lan and her father were imprisoned). However, once there, she realizes how The Witch took control over and that it wouldn’t be easy to take her down. Jonathan and Cheng Lan are also traveling with a cute-little CG creature that’s supposed to be some supernatural being from Russia.
While all of that’s happening, Jonathan’s wife Emma gets a message through one of Jonathan’s carrier pigeons about the Russian Tsar Peter the Great being held captive in London. So, she takes it upon herself to free Peter and then go find her husband. Chan’s character, called The Master, is also in the same prison with Schwarzenegger playing the prison warden James Hook. The Master needs to get a medallion to her daughter, and he entrusts that job to Peter (who wears the Iron Mask).
The big finale has our main characters arriving in China and joining forces to take down The Witch and her team of superpowered minions.
I haven’t written half of what happened. So, I think you can imagine how jumbled the entire movie was narrative-wise. There’s just way too much happening, with not enough time to let each arc breathe, especially with Iron Mask also featuring a number of action sequences.
I realized very quickly that for me to enjoy this film, I would need to take off my critic hat. This movie was made to offer a fun romp with not a lot of attention given to plot and character motivations.
However, having said that, it’s not as if Iron Mask didn’t offer me content that my critic side didn’t like. The Chinese-inspired visuals were nice. I was also pleasantly surprised by how determined Cheng Lan was. The final battle had her go against The Witch without any help. She knew what she had to do and she did it. I really enjoyed that particular fight sequence.
Emma also surprised me with what she was able to do to save her husband, even though she wasn’t a trained fighter. I also liked the explanation behind how The Witch’s superpowered minions operated.
Other than that, I laughed at a good number of jokes, though I could have done without a few that involved Emma, and the height of a certain male character.
If you’re into seeing Jackie Chan and Arnold Schwarzenegger fight each other and a China-centric fantasy involving a dragon and martial arts, I think you’ll have a good time watching Iron Mask. Fair warning, the English dubbing will need some getting used to.
With a runtime of 121 minutes, Iron Mask is currently available on Digital and On Demand as well as on Blu-ray and DVD from Lionsgate.
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Farid has a Double Masters in Psychology and Biotechnology as well as an M.Phil in Molecular Genetics. He is the author of numerous books including Missing in Somerville, and The Game Master of Somerville. He gives us insight into comics, books, TV shows, anime/manga, video games, and movies.
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