Ironclad will not be the best movie at Actionfest. Having already seen Hobo with a Shotgun, Super, Outrage, Bellflower and Bunraku, I can tell my fellow attendees you have great treats to look forward to. Well, not Bunraku. Ironclad’s better than that but I’m hopeful for Little Big Soldier, Bangkok Knockout and Tomorrow, When the War Began too.
For an opening night film, Ironclad certainly has the caliber Paul Giamatti as the evil King John of England. Brian Cox as Baron D’Albany in kick-ass role. James Purefoy as the Templar knight Thomas Marshall delivering violent beatdowns. Kate Mara as princess Isabel. Sir Derek Jacobi as Cornhill, who lends his Rochester castle to the resistance. Even Charles Dance as Archbishop Langton in a few expository scenes.
The film is about the aftermath of the Magna Carta, where King John didn’t make good on his contract to stop raping his kingdom’s women and other political treachery. The Knights Templar have to step in and take a stand. Pretty simple premise, which is action bliss, and the political context gives it neither weight or dignity.
The action is gory and bloody with great kill shots like heads chopped in half and crushed under catapults. It’s all shaky cam and quick cuts so you only see close up flashes of action. It’s “real” with the violence and disorientation, but there’s no momentum. You don’t see any of the choreography. When John starts firing catapults, you barely see the destruction. It’s like the boulder whizzed past where the camera was pointed and some debris still flies out the corners of the frame.
The knights talk medieval enough to be a little bit hard to understand, but at least they don’t ramble on about honor and glory. You definitely get the double entendre when they talk about using protection in a brothel. Because they’re talking about their swords, get it?
In between battles there are some moments, like Isabel playing with a sword and ultimately falling for Thomas. John gets a magnificent evil freakout that Giamatii just relishes. It feels like a first time film and would be forgivable for a genuine first timer, but Johnny English has directed before and produced enough to know the business. If you get production value and an A-list cast together, you’ve got to get your act together.