Ironclad is the better 300. Which isn’t to say it’s great, because, let’s all face it, badass as it was, 300 had a shit ton of problems. And, unfortunately, a lot of those problems carry over to Ironclad. The dumbing down of real-world history into a good-vs.-evil type struggle over 21st century American values, for example, combined with dialogue cornier than an Iowa’s farmers’ festival. Still, if you’re looking for an epic action-movie about a bunch of outnumbered people trying to defend something against a giant army of baddies, and you had to choose between this or 300, this is the better choice. For one thing, at no point in time do the villains morph into orcs with saw hands, nor do they pull out grenades or samurai swords. Which means this is automatically less ridiculous than 300.
Ironclad is about a baron, played by Mad-Eye Moody, who is trying to launch a rebellion against King John of England. King John has been murdering and terrorizing the barons because they made him sign that hateful magna carta. To aid him in his endeavor, he has gathered a bunch of Danish mercenaries, who are a bunch of evil-looking blokes with black armor, celtic war paint (??) and axes. Luckily for Baron Mad-Eye Moody, he’s got a badass Templar knight who is helping him guard an important castle against the king. He also has about twenty other people on his side, some of them women without weapons or armor, and the king’s army looks at least a thousand men strong. Maybe Baron Mad-Eye should have thought that one through a little more first.
So here we go. The good and the bad. Even though I liked the movie the bad section is going to be longer than the good section. Just because I’m a negative person.
This is an action movie about a bunch of people swinging at each other with swords. So needless to say, the one thing that’s really going to make or break this movie is the action scenes. Luckily (with the exception of one lackluster fight at the very beginning) the action scenes are exceptionally well done. Ironclad uses just the right amount of shaky cam–enough so that the fight scenes feel gripping and exciting, but not so much that you either want to throw up or turn to the person watching the movie next to you and ask who just stabbed who and what is going on. The choreography is more realistic than the usual sort of bullsh** we get from action movies; we get scenes of visceral, Braveheart-style combat rather than fancy, but ultimately fake-lloking sword-ballet. The armor actually stops blows. Bad guys don’t always die in one hit. Unfortunately, more squeamish viewers may want to give this one a pass, because the gore in this movie tends to be excessive. I lost count of the number of arms and legs that got cut off throughout the length of this movie. The most obscenely, unapologetically gory moment has to be when one of our heroes grabs a severed arm off the ground and proceeds to bash another guy’s face in with it. There. You’ve been warned.
The production values are all excellent. There’s little to no uneccesary or gratuitous CGI, and costume and set design appear to be top notch, though it’s a little odd that all the bad guys wear black. I guess we need some sort of way to tell them apart, but did it have to be black? Really?
Sadly, the movie tends to drag a bit when people aren’t bashing each other’s hands in with severed arms. The dialogue in this movie is corny, there’s no other way to describe it. Apparently Hollywood writers seem to think modern American audiences are nee going to get behind a medieval war movie unless it’s crammed with good, old-fashioned, and horribly anachronistic American values.
The movie takes great paisn to remind us (again and again and again) that King John is an evil tyrant, and that our heroes have to stop him for the sake of freedom. Because if there’s one thing Ameican audiences are bound to care about, it’s freedom.
At one point, the evil king yells up at Baron Mad-Eye Moody that he needs to get out of his castle. Mad-Eye responds that the king signed a charter (the Magna Carta) giving the people of England freedom. Freedom! It’s on, now.
The problem with this (and this is a mistake Hollywood loves to make) is that Ironclad is attempting to paint the central conflict as a classic struggle between a tyrannical king and his oppressed people. It is, in other words, trying to paint the central conflict of Ironclad as the Americna Revolutionary War. Because it’s something American audiences understand. Unfortuantely, what the movie faisl to mention is that the ‘people’ the magna carta to weren’t the poor huddled masses.
The magna carta was not about freeing the oppressed peasants from the tyranny of the king. It was about freeing the oppressed rich lords from the tyranny of the king so they could then freely oppress the peasants themselves. So the ‘people’ whose rights our heroes are valiantly defending are actually a bunch of rich dudes who may or may not be just as tyrannical as the king they’re fighting against. Sort of absolutely ruins the whole freedom theme they’ve got going.
But hey, it’s a movie. Sometimes in movies, thingsh ave to be simplified for the sake of drama. I might be willing to overlook this magna carta=freedom bullshit if that was the only bullshit I was being forced to stomach. Unfortuantely, Ironclad also expects us to stomach a bullshit love story between a Templar knight and the lady of the castle. At one point ,the lady of the castle says this to our hero, who is agonizing over breaking his vows of celibacy: “stop hiding behind vows and commandments! Vows speak of loyalty and abstinence, but why never of love, Thomas?”
Well said, generic love interest woman! But this sounds like the sort of point that might come up in a 21st century religion and ethics university class. Not the sort of thing a brainwashed woman from medieval England would say. But, hey, we get it. Honoring religious vows is just not as important as having sex. Because, you know, that’s the modern attitude, and there’s no way we could ever root for medieval characters if they didn’t have values and beliefs identical to our own.
You know what? *** this shit. Game of Thrones didn’t feel the need to make every character a politically-correct demagogue who preached 21st century wisdom at us, and somehow it did all right. A character doesn’t have to believe in people’s rights, gender equality and democracy to be compelling, but apparently the people who keep churning out movies like 300, Gladiator, and Ironclad have yet to figure this out. Hopefully someday they will.
It’s violent. Very violent. There are hangings, and stabbings, and smashing. One guy gets his hands and feet chopped off and then tossed into a wall by a catapult. So, again, it’s not for everyone. But if you’re in the mood for a good last stand movie, and are willing to suspend your disbelief a bit, then Ironclad should prove entertaining.
A good movie, I said.