The Good: Decent-enough acting, Generally good directing
The Bad: Fairly flat characters, Dull plot
The Basics: In a world with 300 and Game Of Thrones, Dragon Blade seems entirely passe.
One of the dangers to any industry with pushing the envelope is what the works that push the envelope does to the rest of that industry. In filmmaking, as innovative directors and great storytellers push the envelope, it makes it harder for the average films to capture their audience. Dragon Blade is one of those films that might have been interesting a few years ago, but with movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (reviewed here!) and television shows like Game Of Thrones (season 1 is reviewed here!), Dragon Blade just seems dull.
A period historical drama (with enough fictitious elements to be entertaining), Dragon Blade is largely bloodless in its first half and the characterization of the protagonists and primary antagonist is done remarkably flatly. The result is a film that hits theaters with more of a splat than anything that will thrill audiences. While some aspects of the movie's mediocrity might have to do with cultural barriers (Dragon Blade is a Chinese film being imported to the U.S. based on the viability of its stars Jackie Chan, John Cusack, and Adrien Brody), mostly it underwhelms because it is hard to empathize with the characters and lacks a genuine hook. Writer-director Daniel Lee created a movie that looks good-enough, but lacks spark.
Opening in 2015, where a company discovers Roman ruins in China, satellites confirm the existence of a rumored city. Flashing back to 48 B.C., the Silk Road in Western China is in turmoil. There, thirty-six warring nations vie for control and Huo An works for the Emperor to maintain the peace. After intervening in a conflict between Lady Cold Moon and the White Indians, Huo An returns home to his wife and the school she runs. His reunion with her is cut short when Huo An and his friends are taken into custody on unsubstantiated gold smuggling charges. Condemned to the Wild Geese Gate, Huo An discovers that none of the various ethnic groups working to restore the Gate are working together. Shortly after Hou An arrives at the Wild Geese Gate, the Roman general Lucius flees with the heir to the throne to the gate.
Lucius and Hou An initially fight, but with Lucius being pursued by Tiberius - who wants to be Consul himself - Hou An offers the Roman refugees sanctuary. Together, the Romans and Chinese work together to restore the Wild Geese Gate in advance of the Tiberius arriving. Unfortunately, Lucius is attacked and imprisoned and Publius is executed. Uniting the groups, Huo An and the Chinese take a stand against Tiberius and the Roman forces.
Dragon Blade looks good and the performers do a fairly good job at portraying the characters. Unlike a b-film, the armor looks wonderful and the sets are impressive. John Cusack credibly plays Lucius and he plays off Jozef Waite impressively. Waite plays the child heir, Publius, and Cusack sets his eyes with a serious gaze in scenes they share, which instantly gives Publius appropriate credibility. Cusack sells the reality of the setting very well.
The surprising performance in Dragon Blade comes from Jackie Chan. Despite the film's early comical moment wherein Huo An sees Cold Moon naked, Chan gives a serious and grounded performance that is not based in his ability to do martial arts. Chan plays Huo An in a laid-back fashion and he and Cusack act off one another to credibly form a friendship between Lucius and Huo An.
Beyond that, though, Dragon Blade is fairly unimpressive. The plot is formulaic and not particularly original or surprising. The characters feel flat, despite a few flashback scenes wherein key backstory elements are relayed. Tiberius is a monolithic villain and the "all the disparate cultures unite together against the oppressive forces" theme is presented in Dragon Blade with simplicity and slogans reminiscent of Party propaganda.
The result is a movie unlikely to bowl over the audiences that made films like 300 (reviewed here!) and its sequel into box office hits.
For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
Lila & Eve
No Way Jose
For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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