Let’s go insane.
Iron Mask is what would happen if someone fed Neil Gaiman’s thrown out notes into one of those AI text creating softwares you see online. The movie is absolutely bananas. It is so fragmented and chaotic that you might be convinced it was trying to be some sort of postmodern pastiche of fantasy tropes. However, you’d be wrong, this is just bad writing.
We primarily follow Jonathan Green (Jason Flemyng) a mapmaker with an astonishing lack of self-awareness as he is imprisoned in Russia for recognizing that the man in charge was not the real Peter the Great. Prison seems to be a theme as we also get to meet the real Peter the Great (Yuri Kolokolnikov) and the great master (Jackie Chan) who are imprisoned by James Hook (Arnold Schwarzenegger). AND we get to meet Miss Dudley (Anna Churina) who wants to help Jonathan, so she must help Peter, but they both want to help the master, who wants to help Cheng Lan (Xingtong Yao), but they also need to watch out for the Witch (Li Ma) who has imprisoned the tea dragon (yeah, you fucking read that right) and now the dragon’s eyelashes are too long, and the tea isn’t as good or something. Oh, and there’s some Russian gremlin monster fucking thing, too. We’ll do this through a Russian ship but go to China first (??) and the ship seems to be more pirates than traders, but whatever. Oh, and by the way most this happens in the first half.
The film is a narrative disaster. None of these threads are thoroughly explored as we’re whisked away through PG stylized action sequences and new locales. I found myself somewhat mesmerized by the narrative mess. It becomes a sort of hilarious experience to see how far they are willing to push these ridiculous scenes. The treasurer (Li Hong) through painful dubbing, is given more time being an annoying prick than we are given to get to know the main villain. Why they choose to focus on certain aspects is completely bizarre. Even Arnie and Jackie are forced into the sidelines and barely in the movie.
What is perhaps the most interesting thing about the movie is how mismanaged the entire production seems to have been. We have 10+ production companies from both Russia and China backing this project. The set designs themselves look fine, but the special effects are simply atrocious. We end up with videogame graphics from ten years ago juxtaposed with fancy costuming and choreography.
We also have a slog of a running time. At two hours this becomes an endurance test. To the film’s credit, I was never bored—completely confused and uncertain about my place in the universe, sure, but never bored.
Part of the insanity is that everything is dubbed, poorly. Even the English-speaking actors are redubbed, with their own voices, back into English. None of the words match the speakers. This, and the dozens of other flaws do make this one of the more unintentionally hilarious movies I have seen.
I know a lot of people love B movies and the whole so-bad-it’s-good type of stories we sometimes get. This one does have a sort of Willow meets Big Trouble in Little China vibe that might be enough to grab some folks. Outside of that particular niche genre, I can’t suggest anyone take the time to watch this one. It is just a nonstop series of insane plot points.
This is a sequel to another Russian film, which I may or may not get around to watching (probably won’t) or the upcoming sequel.
If you’re debating this one, ask yourself if you want to watch expensive insanity. I’d skip it.