In this sequel to the 2014 Russian dark fantasy film, Forbidden Empire, Jason Flemyng reprises his role as Jonathan Green, an English traveler and cartographer who receives orders from Peter the Great to map the Russian Far east, which sets him on a long, long, long (seriously, it feels like forever) journey full of lukewarm misadventures including badly choreographed fight scenes, distractingly terrible CGI, and a potpourri of mismatched, head-scratching subplots that eventually lead him to China. Oh, and there’s a dragon near the end but don’t get excited, it’s not worth the wait.
The story, boiled down to its essence, is during the cartographer’s travels, he comes across a boy being flogged and negotiates his release in the guise of needing an assistant. Meanwhile, Arnold Schwarzenegger as Captain James Hook has Jackie Chan and the Man in the Iron Mask (and no, I have not memorized any of the character’s names nor will I waste any more of my time going to look them up, so you’ll just have to deal with it) prisoner in the Tower of London. Iron Mask inadvertently interrupts a homing pigeon’s flight path by luring it to the cell window with breadcrumbs left over from their measly rations and begins a secret message communication between the cartographer and his love interest where the prisoners discover the the boy travelling with the cartographer is actually Chan’s daughter in disguise. Chan and Iron Mask attempt to escape the tower but Chan must do battle with Arnold to buy Iron Mask time to get away. Before they part company, Chan gives Iron Mask a “dragon seal” that must reach his daughter’s hands. Chan and Arnie have a bit of a punch up and Chan lands back in chains again. As it turns out, Chan’s daughter is actually a princess living in exile who is the rightful heir to the throne that has been usurped by some black magic woman with the ability to slip on a Mission Impossible mask to impersonate the princess. Chan’s daughter eventually gives the cartographer the slip, meets up with a handful of loyal subjects, runs into Iron Mask, gets the dragon seal that allows her to communicate with the Dragon King (an actual dragon) and she fights to get her throne back. Yes, other things happen but we’re talking essentials here.
I can’t really get too angry at this film because I knew going in it was going to be rough viewing. The biggest draw for me was getting to see two action legends go toe-to-toe, Jackie versus Arnie which turned out to be so disappointing and such a wasted opportunity. That, and I thought the film’s 2014 predecessor was visually impressive, even if the plot was a bit wonky. So, I entered this with low expectations and the film immediately let me know I set the bar waaaaay too high. It’s a complete and utter mess and not even in an it’s-so-bad-it’s-good sort of way.
So, would I recommend the 2019 Russo-Chinese fantasy adventure film, directed by Oleg Stepchenko and written by Stepchenko, Dmitry Paltsev, and Alexey A. Petrukhin, and featuring guest appearances by Charles Dance and Rutger Hauer? What do you think? I think I’ve done my civic duty for the day, so, you’re welcome. No applause, please, just throw money.
Ciao til next now.