out of Five
Running time: 96
Watchable chop-socky homage enlivened by some inventive weaponry and the odd good moment, but it's never as much fun as it ought to be and is let down by dull performances, some disappointing fight scenes, a lacklustre script and a general lack of conviction.
What's it all about?
Co-written (with Eli Roth) and directed by Wu-Tang Clan founder (and chop-socky enthusiast) RZA, The Man With The Iron Fists is a homage to the martial arts movies RZA grew up watching. RZA stars as a skilled blacksmith who has made his home in Jungle Village in China, after being freed from a life of slavery in America. His weaponry-making skills put him in great demand when a fight erupts between vicious warlord Silver Lion (Byron Mann) and his usurped brother The X-Blade (Rick Yune) and soon the blacksmith is caught in the middle, so he teams up with British mercenary Jack Knife (Russell Crowe) and wily brothel madam Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu) to help The X-Blade fight his brother.
Performance-wise, The Man With The Iron Fists is something of a mixed bag: Lucy Liu is a lot of fun (though underused) as Madam Blossom and Byron Mann has a nice line in sneering villainy, but Rick Yune doesn't make much of an impression as The X-Blade, Crowe rather spoils his performance with moments of RANDOM ANGRY SHOUTING (to the point where you genuinely wonder what he's shouting for) and RZA (whose character also narrates) is disappointingly dull as Blacksmith. More successful is WWE star David Bautista as hulking adversary Brass Body, who can turn his body to metal at will, comic-book-style.
The main thing the film has going for it is its penchant for inventive weaponry, whether it's The X-Blade's retractable-spiked armour or Jack Knife's gun-knife combo weapon. There's also the occasionally amusing gory moment, such as Blacksmith literally punching someone's eye out, though these moments are unfortunately few and far between.
Given that the original films weren't exactly known for their skilful editing or witty dialogue, it seems a little unfair to complain about those things here, but the fact remains that the film feels weirdly flat throughout and none of the characters really convince. Similarly, though there are numerous fight scenes, none of them are particularly memorable or impressive, while the hip-hop soundtrack is both intrusive and distracting.
Despite the promising participation of both Tarantino (who apparently supervised some of the direction and gets a ‘Quentin Tarantino Presents’ credit) and Eli Roth, it's hard to escape the fact that The Man With The Iron Fists is essentially a vanity project for RZA and it's never quite as much fun as it should have been.
The Man With The Iron Fists (18)