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
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.
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