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Review: The Iron Mask – “Arnie. Jackie Chan. Dragons. Endless fight scenes.”

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I’ve been in lockdown for 82 days now. (Eighty-two). That’s important context, as I’m not sure what’s real anymore.

I’ve spent time on Letterboxd forming my Top 25 of every year since I was born (weirdly… ‘81) and then collated a Top 25 of all time.

Now, Arnold Schwarzenegger just about made the all-time Top 25 cut there (have a guess which one), but more importantly, the list is shrouded with heroes past & present. I was pleased with it. Until I realised they’re heroes more of the past, not the present.

Someone casually said to me this week they hope Sir Ridley Scott gets to finish his Alien prequels as he’s now 82. 82? How did that happen?

So I got looking. How old is X? How old is Y? & more importantly how old is Z? Hey, it killed a day.

This is a long-winded way of saying that Arnie is now 73. And, as much as his social media feed suggests he’s been sat feeding his trained tiny horses for the twilight of his career — that’s not strictly true.

Just before the hugely underrated Terminator: Dark Fate, Arnie appeared with Jackie Chan (again!), in The Iron Mask.

Here is the official synopsis:

The Iron Mask sees action legends Jackie Chan and Arnold Schwarzenegger team up in a high concept fantasy historical epic featuring breath-taking fights and stunning visuals. Set in the 18th century, The Iron Mask follows English traveller Jonathan Green as he journeys from Russia to China encountering dragons, black magic wizardry and a dragon king during an incredible but deadly adventure. The action-adventure also stars Charles Dance, Jason Flemyng and Rutger Hauer.

Spotting that I was stuttering a bit on twitter, maybe even more incoherent as normal. (trying to make patterns with numbers that simply weren’t there (81, 82… 83?) that kind of thing), Phil — our Commander-in-Chief — slid into my DMs.

Sadly, it wasn’t a booty call.

It wasn’t even to meet up in London again. It was to watch said Arnie/Chan doubleheader.

And dear reader, if Phil slides into your DMs, you don’t say no. Nor would you ever want to.

Phil lets me write on this site after all of these years because I’ve got compromising photos of him and JFK, and many others. He can’t stop me. So he knows when he sends me screeners — especially when everyone else has blocked him on twitter — he’s got no choice but to let me say what I want. In many ways, that’s got me through lockdown.

If I’m feeling agitated, I can just wind up the ‘Anti-ReleaseTheSnyderCut’ on here. Maybe even write about how The Shawshank Redemption didn’t even make my 1994. Top 25, let alone my all-time list.

Now, I could write ‘The Iron Mask Is On My Top 25 Of All Time’ for example. Just to get on the cover. Christ. That might even get me a starring role in their next film.

Or: ‘WOW! ‘The Iron Mask > The Man In The Iron Mask! *****’. This time, aiming for the back cover.

Sadly, I won’t be saying either of those things.

The Iron Mask is what I like to call a “Frankenstein movie.” It’s chopped from one thing and lobbed together with another.

The dubbing is like a 2 hour commercial with Matt Berry doing joke voices. Including, and I can’t stress this enough, Arnie dubbing Arnie. It’s truly a sight to behold and I still don’t understand why they’d do that. I believe there’s a version where they’re dubbed in Chinese. If that’s an extra on the DVD, my god I’m buying it.

Now, not to soften the blow, but there’s a lot to like, too. Not the fact it cost just shy of $50M (eh?!), or the fact it’s editing made me feel like I had whiplash. Not the fact that I didn’t have a bloody clue what was going on halfway through.

No. It’s more the ambition on show that I admire. As bat shit crazy as it all is — China! Via London! And Russia! — they go all out. There’s an assured confidence in the world-building.

I guess with Arnie there would be.

Imagine waking up & thinking: they’ve given me $50M to make an Arnie film!

Clearly, they should’ve made one last Terminator, stripping it right back. But they’ve chosen to make a relentless adventure film and they don’t make any apologies for it.

The trailer suggested that Arnie and Jackie may open the film and never be seen again. I’m pleased to report that’s not the case. They’re both in it more than I expected.

That’s partly a problem for me as I’m not a Jackie Chan fan. At all. Never have been and, at this late stage, I’m unlikely to ever be. But you can see here that it’s a big deal having him here and that alone will be enough for people to get a kick out of this. Good for them.

Jason Flemyng is very much lead and a quick check of IMDb educates me that this is in fact a sequel.

Now I know I’ve been locked away, growing a Howard Hughes beard and Howard Hughes nails, but…. what? This is a sequel?! I didn’t know that until after and it explains a huge amount about why they’ve got that budget and these stars. The original – Forbidden Kingdom aka Forbidden Empire aka Viy – went straight to DVD (their words, I know it’s 2020!), but still remained the highest-grossing film of 2014 in Russia. Which just makes me want to rewatch Night Watch’ & Day Watch if I’m honest.

That said, based on the trailer, I’ll be checking Forbidden Kingdom out. Not least because I love vampire and because I’m now fascinated by the idea that Flemyng is less than 20 years younger than Arnie, albeit he’s made 58 films more.

The Iron Mask piqued my curiosity in the last 20 minutes. Helped massively by a fantastic last shot, but also the fact my 5 y/o had snuck in. It’s not exaggerating to say it might make his Top 25. (Put that on your poster!)

Dragons. Endless fight scenes. Boom, Crash & Ruin. It’s all there, in a ballistic finale.

And in the end, I caved in and just went along for the ride. Even though I kept picturing Matt Berry shouting at Clem Fandango as he tried to master Arnie doing a voice over of… um, Arnie.

In these strange times, you’ve got to make tough choices.

Could you do a lot worse than The Iron Mask? Absolutely. Could you do Top 25 of all time better….. Absolutely,

—//—

I’ve just checked and Phil first posted from me on Aug 28, 2010. What’s 28 backwards? 82. Eighty. Two… …please send help.

Ironically it was for Enemy Mine. Ironic because Jackie Chan remains an enemy of mine.

Signature Entertainment presents The Iron Mask on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital 8th June.

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