Overview: A new martial faction lead by the evil Hades Dai attempts to steal the Green Destiny and take over the world. Netflix; 2016; PG-13; 103 minutes.
Different Director; Different Style: Lacking the grace and sensitivity of the first film, Sword of Destiny conforms to a different style. With a focus on action, its fight scenes feel less like well-choreographed dances characterizing each contender so much as they do large action set pieces; there is no focus on the people fighting them, only faceless and insignificant deaths (for the most part) and stylish moves. However, this is not to completely detract from its value – the moves are successfully stylish, and the story of good versus bad and heroes attempting to uphold the Iron Way in a corrupt world will always be an easy cause to root for.
Yet, despite its more rugged demeanor, nothing else feels very different. The film, which introduces Donnie Yen as Silent Wolf merely gives Yu Shu Lien, the only returning character from the first film, another love interest to ponder over. And the main premise, of another young thief sent by yet another blatantly evil mentor (this time with no real development) being thrust into the right hands for molding feels regurgitated.
Shiny But Not Much Else: Yet the film’s premise, traditionally melodramatic, lacks the moral complexity and volatility of its predecessor. Rather than blurring the morality of each individual, creating gripping and empathetic characters worth the time invested, Sword of Destiny presents us with two factions, each operating on one end of the spectrum. There is good: the defenders of the Green Destiny; there is bad: the evil gangster-esque West Lotus. The film’s dynamic characters played by Harry Shum Jr. and Natasha Liu Bordizzo, caught in the middle of this extremely flat war, are unconvincing. Its drama: predictable and untouching. The consistently amazing Michelle Yeoh makes no exceptions here, giving an extremely nuanced and grounded performance, but is generally disregarded.
However, all is not lost, even if the aforementioned makes the film seem unlike a film worth watching. Filmed in New Zealand, the film’s cinematography is predictably beautiful when not being occasionally muddled by the odd overused color filter, or unbelievable CGI. Still, it thrives on the more natural scenes, the opening forest ambush for example, which allow its vibrant colors and breathtaking landscapes to truly be captured. And the action, which it does tend to prioritize over plot, does pace itself so that there is never truly a boring moment.
Conclusion: Sword of Destiny is a hollow but polished shell of its predecessor. Adapted from the same set of novels the first film was, and intended to be a sequel, it feels less like a progression and more like thriller. The action and stunt work is improved but made meaningless, and its story, often generic and uninspired, is something that does not justify the use of the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon name. Even if it is often enjoyable, it is generally unmemorable.
Featured Image: Netflix