Director: Oleg Stepchenko
Script: Oleg Stepchenko, Dmitry Palceu & Alexey A. Petrukhin
Cast: Jason Flemyng, Jackie Chan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Anna Churna, Ma Li, Yao Xingteng, Yuriy Kolokolnikov, Pavel Volya, Christopher Fairbank, Li Yu, Charles Dance, Martin Klebba, Rutger Hauer
Running time: 120 minutes
Set in the 18th century, The Iron Mask follows English traveller and cartographer Jonathan Green (Jason Flemyng) as he journeys from Russia to China determined to map the far east of Russia and some of China. A princess in disguise joins up with him to try and retrieve her throne from an evil witch queen (Ma Li) who is pretending to be the princess using dark magic.
Meanwhile back in London the iron-masked Russian Czar, Peter the First (Yuriy Kolokolnikov), escapes the Tower of London, and the beefy hands of James Hook (Schwarzenegger), and gains passage on a Russian ship heading for China. Jonathan’s betrothed, Miss Dudley, joins the Russian to try and find her love, after becoming increasingly concerned for his safety from the letters that he sends her quite frequently.
Add into this mix the King of Dragons, a martial arts master (Jackie Chan) – who seems to have a special link to said dragon, a cute flying gremlin-type creature (clearly only really in the film as a merchandise opportunity), and three masters of death bodyguards (reminiscent of those in Big Trouble in Little China), who all have special powers, (later discovered to be fake), and you should have a pretty groovy kind of film, surely? Sadly, not…
Firstly, the positives: The Iron Mask is rarely dull, since the filmmakers try to pile on everything, including the kitchen sink, in the hope that people won’t notice the film’s many short comings. The film is very colourful, with an amazing array of excellent costumes, authentic-looking props and weapons and some amazing sets, particularly those set in China. There are also some unintentionally funny moments scattered throughout. Oh and there are some cool hang-gliders made out of umbrellas, and an ass-kicking dwarf, who is good fun in a weird way.
On the negative side: the script is a mess and tries to cram way too much in until the movie turns into a confusing series of drama and action set sequences, as if the writers once saw a couple of martial arts films and Pirates of the Caribbean films and tried to copy them, but had none of the talent to pull it off. The dubbing is atrocious throughout, particularly the person who dubbed poor Anna Churna, who plays Miss Dudley; the dub makes it look like Churna can’t act for toffee! The CGI (and there’s a lot) is mostly of poor to pretty average quality, with so much standing out in a bad way as being very obviously CGI and not real. And there’s even a weird sort of musical number thrown into the mix, which had me scratching my head in puzzlement.
Somewhat annoyingly Chan and Schwarzenegger seem to get top-billing but are actually in the film for only brief periods of time, especially Chan who is wasted here. There’s one short sequence where Jackie and Arnold go toe-to-toe, but it ends too quickly and makes you long for a repeat pairing where the two can hopefully work on the same team as they did seem to have a bit of chemistry together.
The sad thing is, if more time had been spent honing the script (the film doesn’t need to be two hours long), a bit more care and attention had been given to things like the dubbing and CGI, and the filmmakers had done more with some of their best acting assets (Hauer and Dance are wasted here too), then The Iron Mask could have been quite a decent action adventure film, but sadly, instead it’s decidedly average at best.
Signature Entertainment is distributing The Iron Mask online from the 10th April.