I have to confess that I didn’t know that there was this whole IRONCLAD franchise. Well, maybe “franchise” is too strong a word yet ‘cause IRONCLAD came out in only 2011. It brought along with it some fairly big name stars, telling a story of a king protecting his castle from Celtic raiders. Anyway, it looks like it was enough of a success to bring forth a sequel – IRONCLAD: BATTLE FOR BLOOD – and that’s where I find myself this morning. For all its blemishes (and, yes, there are a few), I found myself mildly entertained with the medieval tale of family, tradition, warfare, and beheadings.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the product packaging: “Steel yourself for another brutal battle, as one of the few survivors of the Great Siege of Rochester Castle fights to protect his family’s estate from fierce Celtic raiders. With a new battleground and a new enemy, Ironclad: Battle for Blood delivers the same ferocious, adrenaline-filled action that defined Ironclad.”
I suspect that’s really all one need to know if you’re browsing titles at the corner video store. Naturally, I would suspect that if IRONCLAD caught your fancy then you’ll be thrilled to know that there’s a follow-up. Rest assured, this is a far cry from what Peter Jackson accomplished in his whole journey through Middle Earth; the battles are far more scaled back (i.e. maybe dozens of warriors go at it on-screen in any single sequence), but that does have the added weight of ratcheting up the personal side of the story.
Basically, what you have here is a king who’s on the verge of death from his collision with these marauders, and the dying king tasks his youthful son to go into the countryside and find family and/or other ‘swords for hire’ to come back and defend the castle. Much like SEVEN SAMURAI, that’s what the young man does, though he hardly suspects he’d have to pay his cousin – Guy (played by Tom Austen) – to come to the aid of his relations. Once he has coin to line his pockets, Guy does come, and he brings with him a motley assortment of would-be warriors who are more than willing (also for pay) to raise swords and shields on behalf of the king.
Otherwise, it’s a largely obligatory variation on the theme of SAMURAI, itself remade in the Americas with THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. There’s plenty of bloody confrontations, a wealth of death blows, and even more than a few side stories involving duty, honor, love, and tradition. All of this poured into the pot and mixed up makes for a pleasant enough viewing experience. There are a few editing sequences that could’ve been trimmed (the film’s 108 run-time could’ve easily come in shorter), but – all-in-all – I was never bored with any of it. In fact, most of the money-grubbing warriors were quite good in the respective roles, even a kinda/sorta quirky Twinnie Lee Moore showing up as the marginally depraved Crazy Mary.
If anything, writer/director Jonathan English could’ve used some help in the camera department. Too many sequences were shot with the shoulder-mounted camera. The battle sequences get downright difficult to watch at times due to the herky-jerky nature of the filmmaking, and there’s one sequence late in the film which deals with characters basically standing around dialoguing it up which could’ve benefitted from a camera being held perfectly still. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be, and the moment does suffer as a consequence.
IRONCLAD: BATTLE FOR BLOOD (2014) is produced by Mythic International Entertainment, International Pictures One, and Gloucester Place Films. DVD distribution is being handled by XLRator Media. As for the technical specifications? The soundwork is very good, and – for the most part – there’s some great cinematography, but the director embraced an awful lot of shaky shoulder/cam work for the various battle sequences; consequently, there are a good number of sequences that I found a bit hard to follow due to the shakiness of the camera. (Yes, I’ve seen much worse, but it was still a distraction here.) Lastly, if you want special features, then get yourselves prepared for a 15-minute behind-the-scenes short and the theatrical trailer.
RECOMMENDED. Basically what you get with IRONCLAD: BATTLE FOR BLOOD is a clever 12th century riff on SEVEN SAMURAI but with a much more existential riff, and if you’re going to borrow from the greats then there’s no better one to start with than right there. Just be prepared for some downright awful shakycam photography, and you could do far worse.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at XLRator Media provided me with a DVD copy of IRONCLAD: BATTLE FOR BLOOD by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.
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