A film about a time travelling, kung-fu kicking soldier does not need a musical interlude. Sadly this is only one of many things that stops Iceman: The Time Traveler from being a good film.
Following on from Iceman (released in 2014), this film tells the story of four soldiers, raised together, and how three of them turn on the other before subsequently being frozen in ice and then waking up in modern times. The lead here is Chinese General He Ying, played by martial arts legend Donnie Yen (Ip Man, Star Wars: Rogue One) who is attempting to protect the magic macguffin called a “linga” from his nefarious former brothers who want it so they can control the secret of time travel and… rule the world? Get rich? Get all the babes? Kill the emperor? Their motives are honestly seriously unclear. They want it for unspecified reasons because that’s what bad guys do and if that includes slaughtering He Ying’s family and village, and framing him for murder, then they’re perfectly willing to do it.
This movie is a mess from start to end. The running time of barely 84 minutes is, frankly, deceptive. Nearly ten minutes is given over to recapping the first film, then there are numerous flashback scenes and even a musical interlude halfway through the film which means there’s actually roughly an hour of genuine new material on offer here. This feels like a made-for-TV movie that is being shoehorned into a theatrical release.
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The story is near incoherent, with scenes passing in the blink of an eye, but the worst crime of all is that the actual combat scenes are… dull. The wire work is pedestrian, the actual fight scenes (what few of them there are) are dull. The special effects are serviceable and don’t detract too badly from the film, even when you have two people fighting on top of a steam engine that’s flying through a temporal vortex. Speaking of the fighting scenes, it was both interesting and amusing to see someone in the Ming dynasty era wielding what appeared to be a double-barrelled shotgun. Not only that, but a double-barrelled shotgun that had three shots in it. Obviously some sort of time travel magic as during that era the current technology was matchlock rifles like the arquebus and, later on, flintlocks.
Donnie Yen is utterly wasted in this film. His few fight scenes are painfully restricted, giving him no opportunity to demonstrate the flair and skills that made him famous. The other actors are mostly okay, even if their motivations seem to shift and change from scene to scene their performances are all uniformly… adequate, fine, unremarkable. Donnie Yen does try, but there’s no real time given to any attempt to build up the relationship between the characters, so for anyone coming in without knowledge of the first film there’s no real way to identify or empathise with anyone here.
This is a film that attempts to tell a meaningful story about brotherhood and family, but is utterly tone deaf, with an ending that is little more than an insulting deus-ex-machina with no explanation given. An ending that is, by all measures, a complete failure of everything the main character set out to achieve but which the film attempts to paint as some kind of triumph.