It would have totally been better if the rest of Wu-Tang was here. Even you, ODB. Even you.
In feudal China, small village’s blacksmith (RZA) is forced by radical tribal factions to create elaborate tools of destruction. When the clans’ brewing war boils over, the stranger channels an ancient energy to transform himself into a human weapon. As he fights alongside iconic heroes and against soulless villains, one man must harness this power to become savior of his adopted people.
With Wu-Tang Clan madman RZA directing, co-writing with Eli Roth, and having Quentin Tarantino produce, The Man With the Iron Fists definitely seemed like something in my backyard. I love the old, kung-fu movies that RZA obviously loves and pay homages to here, and the story itself just seemed like the perfect fit for a mixture of those oldies, with the new, gore-tastic days of today. Sadly, all of that hype and promise lead to it being just another passion-project, that never goes it’s full-distance.
Apparently during post-production of this movie, RZA threw a huge fit because he had to cut-down a 4 and-a-half hour movie, to an hour and-a-half. To be honest, I don’t blame the guy because that is a butt-load of footage and seems like the type of job I wouldn’t want being told to do, especially if it was my own movie. However, I think that’s the problem this film hits in the first-place: it’s WAY too cut-down. What I mean by this is that certain characters will just show-up for 5 minutes, and apparently have some sort of significance to the plot, without us ever realizing it. It almost seems like there were all of these back-stories meant for these types of characters, but weren’t there for the final-cut, so instead, we get a bunch of characters that don’t really do anything for the plot other than just show-up, speak their lines, and get killed.
That element of this movie, and the fact that the story is pretty confusing is the reason as to why the cutting of this film hurts the final-product. Throughout the first hour or so, it’s never made clear as to who the villains are, who the heroes are, and just who the hell this story is going to be focused on. The Man With the Iron Fists himself, doesn’t really get much of a spot-light until the last 30 minutes or so to where he all of a sudden means a lot to the premise because of something bad that happens to him. I mean, there was an idea of who the bad guys were because of who they killed, how they did it, and what their intentions were, but after awhile, it just became a bit confusing and made me wonder just who was important to this story and who wasn’t. Once again, there was probably plenty of footage developing these characters and their story-lines a lot more, but sadly, didn’t make the final-cut and are just kind of left lost on the cutting-room floor. Poor scenes, maybe there’s a director’s cut in the future. Maybe.
Where the story fails, however, is where the action of this movie prevails and definitely made this a lot of an easier ride as it went through. Even though the whole story is filled with little bits and pieces of action here and there, the final 30 minutes is where all of it really comes into play and tears down the house and shows RZA’s true eye for fun and entertainment. The kung-fu is goofy with a lot of wire-work used to the point of where it almost seems like self-parody; the music is a mixture of hip-hop and some score music, even though it’s not entirely like the same soundtrack RZA used for Kill Bill, and gives every scene a pretty cool, retro feel while still keeping it current; and the gore/blood is pretty awesome and shows that there was a huge Roth inspiration going-on throughout this flick the whole time. All three of these factors is why I enjoyed the last 30 minutes of this flick because instead of focusing on a crappy and confusing plot, with crappy and confusing characters, we get what we came for: bloody, crazy, and fun action without any logical-reasoning as to why all of these people are flying in the air other than the fact that they are in a kung-fu movie.
Even though these action scenes are the only times the movie really comes to life, the cast does do their best to try and help-out, but end up getting over-shadowed. Lucy Liu is having the same type of fun with this role, as she had with the one in Kill Bill, and that’s all fine and dandy until you realize that the gal isn’t really trying anything new, other than working with a lesser-script, and no offense bud, but lesser-director as well. The only one who seems to be having the most fun, and brings that out onto the audience is Russell Crowe as an English mercenary, Jack Knife (gedd it?!?). Crowe is such a weird-pick for this role, but seems like the perfect-fit once you see him because he knows what movie he’s in, what role he’s playing, and what’s expected of him to make it work. Even though Crowe kicked plenty of ass in Gladiator, it still doesn’t make him any type of martial-artist master, but still shows that he can be as sinister and dangerous as he was in that classic. Yeah, it’s only been 12 years and I’m already calling that one a classic.
As a director, RZA may not be the unstoppable force to be reckoned with, but at least he still tries to maintain that credit as an actor. Sadly, his role is mainly just him keeping that one, signature, sullen-look we all know and love him for but sadly, doesn’t allow us to really stand-behind automatically, despite him being our main hero that we’re supposed to cheer for. Thankfully, though, RZA knows this and doesn’t take the center spot-light, which is pretty respectable in my opinion. Also, it was pretty neat to see former-WWE wrestler Dave Bautista show-up somewhere again as a bad-ass that can’t be stopped. I miss the hell out of that guy and it’s nice to see him doing movies now, even though a guy who turns to bricks and only has about 12 lines of dialogue isn’t the ideal role out there for a pro-wrestler. But hey, how many movies has John Cena showed-up in this year? Exactly.
Consensus: If it weren’t for the final 30 minutes of this movie where everything finally comes to head and is fun, exciting, and bloody just like we expected, The Man With the Iron Fists would have definitely been a huge-disappointment because of it’s lack of distinctive-style, sense of plot, or sense of characters. Instead, it just comes off as a minor-disappointment.