I am usually in favor of the person at the helm of a particular genre film loving the material they are making. You put Joss Whedon, a man who has comic book blood running through his veins, in charge of The Avengers, you get a film that is highly enjoyable to the uninitiated while still respecting and indulging the built in fan base. You put Marc Webb, who is known mostly for music videos and 500 Days Of Summer, in charge of Spider-Man, you get a Twilight-esque, tweentastic, crapfest that commits every single atrocity a superhero film critic uses to devalue the genre. So, I was very interested when I heard RZA, a man who has loved martial arts films his entire life, was actually doing one. Unfortunately, The Man With The Iron Fists turns out to be a film with good intentions but poor execution.
For those who don’t know, RZA is a founding member of the 90s rap group The Wu Tang Clan. Watching any of their videos or listening to any of their song lyrics should illustrate how much he is into martial arts films. Fellow martial arts film fan Quentin Tarantino even sought RZA’s help to pick out the proper songs for his film Kill Bill Volume 1. A friendship grew and led to many collaborations. The culmination would be RZA’s seven year dream project The Man With The Iron Fists. RZA wrote the script under the watchful eye of Tarantino and fellow friend Eli Roth, and took on directing duties himself. With all that history and love, with all those helping hands, it is a shame that the film itself turns out to be such a CONVOLUTED mess. There are so many storylines happening at once with so many vaguely explained characters, you’ll be hard pressed to follow along. This weakens any stakes the film tries to set up and creates nothing but confusion for the audience. I’m a pretty attentive guy when it comes to movies, but even I found myself muttering “Is that guy a good guy or a bad guy?” more often than not. Robert Rodriguez’s films Planet Terror and Machete stumbled into the same problem. However, those films have a tongue and cheek approach throughout that distracts you from their overly confusing plots. The Man With The Iron Fist is not light enough to excuse the clutter.
So, why bombard the audience? I believe RZA does this in a futile effort to world-build. To create a universe that he can transport us to and manipulate it’s rules. However, he is not nearly as experienced enough of a filmmaker to do that. To really pull this film off he’d have to have the scope creating skills of a Chris Nolan or an Ang Lee with the character creation understanding of a Quentin Tarantino or a Guy Ritchie. He does not. He would have been better off making this script simple. A revenge flick or an epic quest. Not a Shaw Brothers version of Snatch.
The performances are a mishmash as well. You have RZA as the lead playing everything completely straight, while Russell ‘Why The Hell Am I Here?’ Crowe clowns around like its an SNL sketch. Now, I can’t completely blame RZA for Crowe’s performance. I’m not sure how much direction a hip hop mogul can seriously give an Oscar winner before being laughed off his own set. It might have been a better idea to just have unknowns in these parts to give RZA more control over the performances. That or have producer Eli Roth direct the film outright. His lack of understanding in how to direct his talent shows.
The one positive I can give The Man With The Iron Fists is that its nice to look at. The cinematography is descent and the action scenes are very fun. How much of it was RZA and how much of it was stunt choreographer Corey Yuen and Eli Roth is debatable. The CGI feels slightly out of place at times, but not any more than the hip hop soundtrack.
The Man With The Iron Fists is the text book example of someone biting off more than they can chew. RZA is a gigantic fan of the martial arts film genre and you can see his love for it buried underneath the chaos. However, a more tempered and measured approach to the story and direction could have possibly helped make a better film. If you want to see this done right, watch Kill Bill Volume 1 or 2. If you want to see it done not so right…drink some honey nectar…watch The Man With The Iron Fists…then tell me I’m wrong.