Had Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jackie Chan made a movie together in 1998, it would have been at the height of both stars’ fame. Iron Mask may come about 20 years too late for their fairweather fans. But, those who never wavered will still be happy to see them together. Schwarzenegger also had a role in Chan’s Around the World in 80 Days but this is more of a proper collaboration.
Iron Mask is an ensemble film, so it’s still not the Chan/Schwarzenegger vehicle that might have taken advantage of all their strengths. Schwarzenegger and Chan are in a solid 50 minutes of the two hour movie, though. So it’s not a bait and switch.
Neither Jackie Chan nor Arnold Schwarzenegger are the man in the ‘Iron Mask’
In ancient times, there was a dragon whose eyelashes made the best tea. White wizards watched over the dragon, but a group of rogue wizards got greedy and took over. Hundreds of years later, Master (Chan) is one of the remaining white wizards. He’s also imprisoned in the Tower of London with a man in an iron mask (Yuriy Kolokolnkiov). The warden of the prison is James T. Hook (Schwarzenegger) himself.
When Iron Mask captures a bird for food, it turns out to be a carrier pigeon. It bears news from Jonathan Green (Jason Flemyng), who is trying to get back to his true love, Miss Dudley (Anna Churina). Cheng Lan (Yao Xingtong) is helping him by defending him from attackers on the road. Iron Mask sends a note back and plots an escape with Master.
Jackie Chan vs. Arnold Schwarzenegger
First, let’s talk about the part that’s likely the reason most people would watch Iron Mask. Schwarzenegger and Chan do fight in a sequence that takes advantage of both of their strengths. Perhaps Schwarzenegger would have been more imposing 20 years ago. Still, the film treats him like remains a Conan/Terminator type.
Schwarzenegger’s mustached, mutton chopped Hook feels like something out of Last Action Hero. It’s not that Iron Mask plays it straight, because no part of this is grounded in reality, but it’s way over the top. He also gets a prison fight ring sequence, and promotes exercise to reference Schwarzenegger’s real life fitness initiatives.
The buildup to Chan vs. Schwarzenegger is great too. Master fights guards in the cell using the chains as a weapon, and coordinating with the other prisoners he’s chained to. It’s a really dynamic escape scene with lots of elements. With that, it gives way to the rest of the film.
The rest of ‘Iron Mask’
Even though you came for Chan and Schwarzenegger, you won’t turn off Iron Mask when their part is over. This is a big budget international blockbuster that really throws in the kitchen sink. There are CGI beasts, lavish production values, historical detail even if it is CGI enhanced (what isn’t now) and it never slows down, not even for exposition, of which there is a lot.
Iron Mask is comparable to any Hollywood CGI fest, but it has some real martial arts thrown in. Yao does a lot of action and she’s good, and there are epic battles full of Kung Fu. Some of the English dialogue doesn’t quite sync up with the actors’ mouths, and Chinese language is dubbed into English. But, it appears they invested their budget in the visual spectacle rather than sound design.