These days, many filmmakers are so obsessed with the films they grew up with, it feels like they’re not just paying homage, but doing covers. RZA‘s The Man with the Iron Fists tries to come off as a fun-filled bloody action fest, tipping its hat to martial arts movies of the past, but in trying to incorporate so many homages it comes off as messy.

 

The Players

The Plot:

In nineteenth century China, a Blacksmith (RZA) is forced to create weapons for a vicious group of warriors. When they threaten to destroy the small village he comes from, he must team up with the village and create his most powerful weapon to save them from total destruction.

The Good:

  • Jack Knife: Whoever decided to let Russell Crowe play this character is a genius. This is easily one of the better roles that the Oscar-winner has done in the past few years – the next best is  State of Play, but this role is a little bit sillier. Crowe knows what he’s in for, and he hams it up onscreen in the best way possible. He’s also got a couple of great moments which includes how he spends his time at the Chinese brothel (where most of the movie takes place).
  • Round One, Fight!: We must admit that RZA and company was definitely doing their homework when taking out bits and pieces out of our favorite martial arts movies. They’ve got the over-the-top theatrics of these martial films down, and it’s littered with plenty of blood and absurdly wonderful deaths. The homage to the ever-famous Enter the Dragon mirror fight scene is the best shot scenes of the movie.

The Decent:

  • The Cast: Everyone’s in the movie to have a good time, and you see that. Decent to mediocre acting is kind of expected for a movie like this, and that’s what you get – excepting Russell Crowe. Most of the performances are shrug worthy, as if RZA was comfortable with getting C- acting from his leads.
  • The Story: There’s a lot for audiences to chew on: You follow the Blacksmith (RZA), the French warrior Jack Knife (Russell Crowe) and a man hell-bent on revenge (Rick Yune). Through these tales we get plenty of action and surface personality development, but that’s about it. It’s all pretty simple and all surface.
  • RZA, Director: RZA did his homework, of that there’s no doubt. You can tell that he’s got a great love for the martial arts tales of yesterday and took great pride in making the flick. But The Man with the Iron Fists feels like a directorial debut. Every once in awhile you’ll see a few shots that he felt may have been cool in theory, but just don’t work Still, we tip our hat to RZA for his directorial debut., and hope the next one’s a bit better.

The Bad:

  • How Long Is This Thing?: Walking out of the screening, we thought the film was three hours, but it turns out the film is just an hour and a half long. Odd, right? For a fairly short movie it drags considerably. The pacing is off, which is made the most apparent during the final battle. Everything feels disproportional and by the time you get to the second final battle you’re wishing this would wrap up soon.
  • Title Character Not The Lead: Wait, who decided it was a good idea to name a movie off of a supporting character? When you’ve got a film called The Man with the Iron Fists you expect to see him for a good chunk of the movie. Instead the movie shifts back and forth the most between Russell Crowe’s character Jack Knife and Zen Yi’s (Rick Yune) fight to avenge his father from Silver Lion (Byron Mann). What makes it worse is that RZA’s character doesn’t even do too much when he finally dons his iron arms. The only reason you could call him a lead is because his is the last on screen battle. But b that point you’re just looking at your watch, waiting for it to end. We know how it’s going to end. Why didn’t they just put this earlier in the film?
  • What’s Up With The Editing: Was the editor was bobbing in and out of sleep when he was putting together the film? There’s a number of scenes where there’s just random crane or tracking shots that don’t fit at all with the general editing beats that said scene has. It kind of jolts you out of the movie for a moment because you’re thinking okay, what’s going to happen outside of this group? Nothing. Wait, weren’t they going to bring more enemies in right now or something? Nope.

Overall:

The Man with the Iron Fists could have been the Black Dynamite to 70s/80s martial arts movies but tripped over its own feet during the middle of the race.

The Rating: 5/10

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Trailer: