“Sword of Destiny” disgraces its Stellar Ancestor

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a revolution for Martial Arts films. Gone were down to earth, one-on-one brawls, now replaced with wire tricks and more elaborate choreography. But while no one was expecting (or wanted) a sequel, Netflix has decided to brings us Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny. But while offering some enjoyable fight scenes, this sequel finds itself lacking both on its own merits and anything resembling its far superior predecessor.

Set 30 years after the original, Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) returns to protect the fabled Green Destiny sword, now being sought after by Warlord Hades Dai. With the help of an old friend known as Silent Wolf (Donnie Yen), several companions, and a new student, Shu lien must prepare everyone to face the warlord Dai and his Army before they conquer all of China. Despite relatively simple plot, it moves along at a snails pace, making the audience meander through forced emotional conflicts and history between characters we are meeting for the first time and are given little reason to invest in. At its best, the story goes through the expected beats with little surprises; at its worst, however, the sequels plot offers little to hold your interest, turning its short runtime of 100 minutes into a slog to get through.

Before getting into the major problems with the film, its important to point out what the film does get right. The biggest strength that Sword of Destiny has going for it are the fight scenes, which are often well choreographed and full of energy. Traditional fights between heroes and waves of easily dispatched henchmen are broken up by more unique set-pieces, including a brawl between two assassins trying to remain quiet as they face off in a house they are stealing from. While the number of these fights felt like overkill towards the end, most are still far more engaging then the films numerous emotional moments

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One of the more well done action set pieces

Despite the number of fight scenes in the film, lacking is the best way to describe Sword of Destiny, which suffers from bloated pacing issues. As our heroes are preparing for a final showdown with Warlord Dai, much of the films second and third acts finds itself stuck in a single location with our characters either waiting or dealing with personal dramas that are quickly settled or forgotten. Several references to the original film are made, but they feel added on at the last minute, in order to make this film marketable as a sequel, and adding little to the overall story. The connections to the original film make the inclusion of things such as magic in Sword of Destiny feel all the more out of place, leaving audiences questioning the film during points where we should already be invested in the outcome.

All of these issues could have easily been remedied if our cast of characters were still enjoyable to follow. Unfortunately, all the characters are placed within standard archetypes, and given very little chance to develop unique traits or personalities. Despite being one of the highlights in the original, Michelle Yeoh seems tired in her new role as the strict Teacher, and is given very little to do in the film outside of a fun opening fight sequence. Donnie Yen does bring some life to Silent Wolf during his earlier scenes, but isn’t given anything to do for the hour he spends with our other characters as they wait for the finale. Even the villain Hades Dai lacks any real presence, as he disappears for 20 minutes at a time, only returning for a quick fight or to bark orders at his followers.

 

Generic bald bad guy number ?????

All these comes from a half-baked script. The plot is simplistic to a fault, and yet pads itself out with new characters and plotlines almost an hour into the film. Much of the dialogue leaves characters stuck reciting one-liners and fortune cookie wisdom that anyone who has seen a martial arts film before will see coming from a mile away. The consistently serious tone does the film no favors either, as its insistence on our taking such generic, sometimes cartoonish characters seriously makes the film a chore to sit through.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny lacks its own identity, even when removing it from its far better predecessor. By doing nothing with its connection to the original, and having even less of its own merits your interest, the film fails on being anything other then a mindless action flick, whose ultimate destiny is to be forgotten.

Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 4 Forgettable Side Characters Out of 10

Deadpool: Crude, Violent and Full of Heart

I’m getting tired of super hero films, a statement that may shock friends of mine. While no one can deny the amount of effort and talent on display in the marvel films, stories of larger then life heroes saving the world are growing tiresome. Making maters worse, the insistence that Super Heroes have to be for kids only puts the genre in a stranglehold. Almost as a reaction to this is Deadpool, and thankfully it breathes new life into the genre with its unique blend of brutal action, highly raunchy comedy and a surprisingly touching love story.

Ryan Reynolds stars as Wade Wilson, a former soldier who has to leave his girlfriend Vanessa (Homeland’s Morena Baccarin) to undertake a secret procedure to cure his recently discovered cancer. But after an accident leaves him horribly scared, and an old adversary threatens takes Wade’s girl, he adopts the alter ego of deadpool in order to hunt down the men responsible for his disfigurement. While this may sound typical of the genre, the plot isn’t handled seriously, saving most of the drama for the relationship between Wade and Vanessa. The plot uses a series of time jumps well, spacing out the time between the Wade Wilson and Deadpool portions of the film, giving each parts time to breath. While the ending of the film might be easy to predict, its clear this isn’t the focus, and Deadpool is served better for it.

The biggest controversy surrounding this film is the comedy, R-rated and certainly explicit. While personal tastes will come into how you view the film, and a certain level of personal discernment is advised, the comedy certain shines for the appropriate audience. While crude, it benefits from plenty of well-improvized lines from Reynolds and his co-stars. Not all of the jokes are sexual either, with a large emphasis placed on Deadpool’s brand of fourth-wall breaking humor, with constant references to the making of the film, Deadpool’s appearance in the horrendous X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and the actors themselves. The jokes are constant, and sometimes overlap upon each other to the point where you may miss some of the funniest lines, encouraging repeat viewings.

But while comedy is clearly the focus of the film, first time director Tim Miller manages to bring a lot of style to the action. Deadpool’s combination of Swords, guns and unorthodox fighting methods are both stylistic and brutal, with heads and appendages being lobed off constantly. One highlight is an opening scene on a freeway where we see our hero plan out how to take down a number of armed henchmen with exactly 12 bullets. Even better, Miller keeps plenty of comedy in these scenes, both in visual and spoken gags, keeping it from feeling separate to the comedy portions of the film.

Ouchie is selling it short.

 

But probably the films biggest surprise is the strong relationship at the core of the film. In a weird way, Deadpool is more of an oddball love story then it is a super hero film, as most of the dramatic scenes are shared between Reynolds and Baccarin, both selling the tragedy during scenes where their characters discuss Wilson’s cancer, which is given a considerable amount of weight in the film. The believable romance manages to remain the core of the films story, as Deadpool’s quest to save Vanessa adds dimensions to Deadpool himself, while smart characterization of Vanessa keeps her from becoming the type of hero’s girlfriend role that the Thor and Iron Man films have done to death. As strange as it may sound, if you missed Valentines Day with your significant other, Deadpool is a fairly appropriate film that couples can enjoy together.

As far as acting goes, nothing more can be said about Reynolds perfect turn as Wade Wilson/Deadpool, and its important to distinguish the two. As Wade Wilson he portrays a complicated anti-hero, both flawed yet also admirable. Meanwhile, He brings plenty of absurdity and energy as Deadpool, constantly moving around and bringing the characters unique brand of wackiness to each scene. Some may see the character as obnoxious, but its at such a constant level that you never feel bombarded by the character throughout the running time.

The Supporting cast, thankfully, manage to hold their own even with the extreme personalities Reynolds displays. As previously mentioned, Morena Baccarin plays a very likable female lead as Vanessa, bringing a lot of weight and pain during the opening scenes, but also holding her own in more lighthearted, comedic moments. TJ Miller has a small role as Wade’s Friend Weasel, and its brought in just enough for some Improved lines at Wade’s expense. Special mention should be made for Stefan Kapicic, who voices a more faithful version of Colossus, and plays well as as extreme version of the heroic personalities we find in your average super hero film, to much comedic effect.

Despite all the praise the film rightfully deserves, it isn’t perfect. The biggest problem comes its villain Ajax, played by Ed Skrein from the recent Transporter Reboot. Although Skrein does well with making the character memorable in certain scenes, and holds his own when playing off Reynolds, Ajax is just a bland, generic villain, being villainous for the most boring reason of making money. Whether this is due to poor characterization, or was intended as a commentary on Villains we get in more traditional super hero films now, it doesn’t quite work and makes a few scenes with just Ajax stand out as particularly uninteresting. And yes, I must admit that the comedy is extreme at points, and that will turn some audiences off; that isn’t a problem with the film, but is absolutely something that viewers should look into before they purchase a ticket.

This Fight is still cool, though.

Deadpool is not for everyone, and it doesn’t try to hide this fact. Even with the touching love story and super hero elements, this is a hard R comedy that pushes both its rating and the Comic film genre to very mature new places. But while many will use these reasons to dismiss the film as nothing but mindless schlock, it’s anything but. If you know you can handle mature content, Deadpool is one of the best comedies we’ve gotten in years, and is a testament to the importance of not toning down a character just to appease the general public.

Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 9.5 Character Revivals Out of 10.