There’s normally an advantage to writing a review for a film sequel, as there’s little chance that somebody reading it won’t already have an opinion on the original movie and temper their expectations accordingly. The same rule applies when you’re offered a chance to cover a sequel, as for many people I’m sure the first Ironclad film slipped under the radar, but for me it was an underappreciated action movie gem, so I leapt at the chance to watch a second outing for director Jonathan English’s burgeoning franchise.
Sadly it’s with a certain amount of reticence I have to report that Ironclad II isn’t a patch on the first, despite an attempt to replicate the formula. What really stands out above all other aspects of the film’s production is that it’s like watching somebody remake the original, without understanding what worked and with a tiny fraction of the budget. Since it’s the same writer/director I can only assume that it was the restrictions on raising an independent budget that have weighed so hard on the final product, but it permeates every aspect with a significant impact.
One of the strongest assets in Ironclad was the extreme levels of grisly violence that gave a real sense of graphic brutality to the siege and included all kinds of large scale weaponry to boot. This time around we get a handful of extras attacking a handful of heroes, but there doesn’t even appear to be the money for much in the way of prosthetics, as all the close quarter combat is shot so closely and with such a shaky camera, that it’s impossible to see what’s going on and there’s not so much as a single trebuchet to be seen. The lack of bow and arrow action also speaks volumes.
The use of the shaky cam actually becomes so excessive and intrusive that at times it’s frustrating and at others it’s a comic distraction – at one point nothing is happening on screen, but the camera operator appears to be freezing cold and consequently on the verge of inducing motion sickness in the viewers with the wild swinging that takes place. Combine that with the dropped frame rate and most of the action scenes become a confusing array of screaming and swords, not a concept I entirely disapprove of, but there’s no static action to level things out, so you can’t help but sympathise with the lack of choice when shooting if there was no money for decent effects.
The dramatic elements and performances help to hold the film together for the most part, with Tom Austen of The Borgias fame replacing James Purefoy as the surly lead hero and he does a fine job, though his age makes him a slightly harder sell as a grizzled ‘seen too much’ war veteran. There’s also some fine turns from the relative unknowns in the cast; Tom Rhys Harries as the young lord of the keep, Twinnie Lee Moore makes an impact as the aptly named ‘Crazy Mary’ especially in her scene of forceful seduction, while David Caves seems to be channelling the great Michael Wincott circa The Crow.
More familiar faces such as Michelle Fairley, best known as Catelyn Stark in Game Of Thrones and former Hollyoaks actress, Roxanne McKee, sadly have little to do. In Fairley’s case I suspect she wonders how she keeps getting stuck with quarrelling kids and husbands with a penchant for limb removal, while McKee is saddled with the spoilt princess role that doesn’t give her much room to grow in her transition to the big screen.
The directors’ penchant for cold, unglamorous depictions of life in medieval times still shines through at times and just as the first film had its moments of invention based in grim fact, such as the pig burning, in Battle for Blood there’s a stealth invasion via vertical toilet. English’s affinity for a grime and gore mixed with brutality and boobs are also present throughout to keep things ticking along, but they do pale when compared to his first outing.
I was predisposed to like Ironclad II, as a fan of the original, but the lack of budget really shows this time around and since that means the trademark violence suffered as a result, impeded further by being subjected to extreme shaky cam and fast editing, a lot of the fun has been stripped away. With 300: Rise Of An Empire hopefully about to dominate the box office with its epic battles and slick action, there’s little room for Battle For Blood to compete and while it gives me no pleasure to discourage people from watching an independent film, it’s probably only for one dedicated genre enthusiasts.
Ironclad II: Battle For Blood is released on 14 March.
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