Glorious Box Office Numbers Do Not A Great Film Make
In the opening moments of Wolf Warrior 2, director and star Wu Jing’s super soldier character Leng Feng swan dives off the side of a boat being ambushed by pirates, and proceeds to foil the siege entirely underwater. It’s a bravura action set piece unlike virtually anything audiences have ever seen before. It’s also by far the best sequence of the entire movie, resulting in an action blockbuster that constantly feels like it’s not living up to its potential.
Wolf Warrior was apparently a big enough hit to warrant an even bigger sequel. That film, with Cinapse favorite Scott Adkins playing the western heavy, swung wildly from comedy to nationalism to brutal fight film. It felt manic and had a sophomoric sense of humor, as well as a reach beyond its grasp regarding visual effects and set pieces. The overall premise of a kind of Chinese Rambo is an admirable one that I’ll absolutely grant Wu Jing. I just wish he’d been able to execute the film better.
Wolf Warrior 2 is, by all accounts, a better film than its predecessor. With a more, ahem, “lone wolf” approach, Leng Feng finds himself kicked off of the special forces team and relocated to Africa. There in Africa, Feng gets embroiled in an international incident involving a small army of mercenaries led by the villainous “Big Daddy” (the indomitable Frank Grillo). There’s a plague-like disease involved, an African kid sidekick, some drone warfare, and a general reverence for the superiority of Chinese character, strength, will power, and so on.
I actually kind of like the jingoism of these films. It’s naked and right there for all to see. Rambo was no different at a certain point in time, and I don’t begrudge a whole nation enjoying a morale boost from their on-screen heroes. Leng Feng doesn’t have any superpowers… he’s just the fastest, strongest, and smartest soldier on the field. So good on China for having an ultra modern, big screen, larger-than-life hero for their very own. It clearly connected with Chinese audiences as the film earned an unprecedented $800 million and change from international markets (some $600 million or more of that being from China’s box office alone). Wolf Warrior 2 is a gargantuan box office phenomenon that most westerners will never even hear about. And I love that part of this story.
I just wish Wolf Warrior 2 were a better movie to back up that exciting box office. There is a fair amount of fun to be had. Frank Grillo is always game for looking tough and fighting even tougher. The aforementioned opening sequence was a jaw-dropper. There’s a pretty fun tank battle towards the climax that feels ripped right out of a 1980s American action film (sans some dicey CGI). There’s also a cartoonish level of gore and over the top moments like a missile being deflected by a spring-frame mattress. It’s a remarkably gleeful hard-R, especially considering so much Chinese cinema playing it so safe for state funds and to avoid censorship. Heck, even writing all that stuff out is giving me some fond memories of glimpses of fun within the film.
But ultimately, despite its outsized box office haul, the film still looks cheap fairly often. And it’s not directed with the panache that perhaps someone with more experience behind the camera could have brought which double-duty-pulling Wu Jing couldn’t quite muster. Sometimes using the screen name Jacky Wu, Wu Jing has been crushing big screen action roles for many years now. A lead in both of the SPL and/or Killzone films puts him pretty high on my list of exciting fight performers to watch. And with the outsized hit that Wolf Warrior 2 has become, I expect his star will continue to rise in the coming years. I welcome that wholeheartedly; I’d just love to see his skill as a director and his ability to realize the set pieces that his high aspirations shoot for come to a greater fruition with more experience and budgetary clout.
American audiences only contributed some $2 million to the overall global box office haul for this juggernaut of a blockbuster, so it’s quite likely that most in the US are unfamiliar with the Wolf Warrior franchise. Anyone who’s super into military action will probably get a kick out of this movie, although highly nationalistic ‘Muricans might have much more of a problem with the Chinese chest thumping than I did. Fans of the first film, or fans of Wu Jing, will almost certainly get their money’s worth checking this film out either on Blu-ray via the Well Go USA release or on a VOD service of their choice. I’ll keep an eye out for future Wu Jing projects, but my hope is that he’ll keep pushing the envelope and deliver a more consistent and cohesive package of madcap military mayhem.
Occasionally looking sleek and expensive, Wolf Warrior 2 ricochets back and forth between a visually arresting film and a janky-looking CGI slog. Blu-ray is a perfectly acceptable format on which to experience this overstuffed film, though with a light array of bonus features, checking this film out on VOD might scratch that action itch just as nicely. The disc includes a few bonus featurettes that are nothing to write to write home about.
If you’re like me, you were absolutely going to seek out and see the film no matter what. I don’t want to dissuade anyone who is in that same boat. Check it out, have fun where you’re able, and don’t expect a game changer along the lines of the recently-released Well Go title The Villainess. Just let Wu Jing take you on his unbalanced and wacky ride and take from it what you can.
And I’m Out.
Wolf Warrior 2 hits Blu-ray on Dec. 12th from Well Go USA Entertainment.