Movies about knights and medieval warfare and castles and kings and all that can be really awesome. There’s so much historical material to choose from that finding something and successfully making a movie about it can be a daunting task, especially making it in such a way that impresses an audience. One major success that comes to mind is Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven. But let’s step away from a director of that magnitude and a budget that big. Instead we’ll be looking at two movies with much smaller budgets, these being Jonathan English’s Ironclad and the sequel Ironclad: Battle for Blood. One is a gleaming example of budgeted film making. The other is an absolute waste that unfortunately is stuck existing for all eternity.
Let’s start in 2011 with the original, as I deem that to be the most appropriate place to begin.
After pissing off everyone in England, plunging the country into a civil war, and eventually signing the Magna Carta, it seemed obvious that King John (Paul Giamatti) was going to chill out. Unfortunately, he only seemed to get worse. After hiring a group of Danish mercenaries, John went on a rampage of revenge in a quest that would give him absolute control of England once again. Baron William d’Albany (Brian Cox) hires Thomas Marshal (James Purefoy), who is a member of the Knight’s Templar, and a group of other soldiers to defend Rochester Castle, an area that controls most of England. As the soldiers set up the defenses at the castle, King John and his mercenaries soon arrive, and the two sides engage in a bloody battle that lasts many months.
I’ve seen this movie described as Braveheart meets Seven Samurai, and to that I have to say slow down. It isn’t anywhere near those two movies, but I see what they’re saying as they all share similar characteristics in story. As far as Ironclad goes, however, it isn’t destined to be a classic. The movie’s fatal flaw is the absolute bottom of the barrel bullshitty camera work. Every fight scene is shot like the cameraman is having a life ending seizure. It made me sick and made the fight scenes way less awesome than I feel they were intended to be. It made some of the movie nearly unwatchable.
Although it’s shot pretty miserably, I have to give it a lot of respect. Jonathan English wasn’t working with a huge budget, so the fact that he got good costumes and sets is really impressive. Also, Paul Giamatti and Brian Cox bring their best, as usual. Paul Giamatti especially really gives an amazing performance, which is reason enough to watch this movie. Also, I found it refreshing that instead of relying too heavily on CGI blood and gore, the film makers used prosthetics and other practical effects, which made me smile from ear to ear. Ironclad isn’t an especially good movie, but it is impressive considering the budget constraints. If you’re a fan of medieval movies, I might be inclined to say check this one out.
In 2014, Jonathan English returned to the director’s chair for Ironclad: Battle for Blood. The result is something best left forgotten.
After the events of the first film, we find Celtic warriors raiding England, terrorizing and murdering its citizens. After a devastating attack on his castle, Gilbert de Vesci (David Rintoul) has his son Hubert (Tom Rhys Harris) track down his cousin Guy (Tom Austen), one of the survivors from the Battle of Rochester Castle, to enlist a group of fighters to help defend the castle. Guy, along with Hubert and other fighters, arrive at the castle and engage in bloody battles with the Celts and their vengeful leader Maddog (Predrag Bjelac).
Does this movie sound familiar to anyone? Wait… doesn’t it sound exactly like the first Ironclad? Well, that’s because it pretty much is a rehash of the first movie except without all of the cool parts. Remember the awesome gore effects? Gone. Remember the incredible acting by Giamatti and Cox? Gone. Remember the really horrendous shaky cam action sequences? Fear not! They’re still here and worse than ever. I don’t know what frame rate was used to shoot these sequences, but holy hell it made the camerawork so much worse than it already was.
The only thing I really have to say about Battle for Blood is that everything that made the first one even a little bit worthwhile is completely gone. Instead we have pretty much a shell of a movie that shouldn’t even exist. I still can’t believe Jonathan English would return to direct and mess up everything he did before. The only semi cool thing is that Michelle Fairley of Game of Thrones fame had a role, and she’s not even in it that much. This was more than disappointing, it was downright stupid. Skip this mess.
Well, there you have it. The first Ironclad movie is pretty good and well worth checking out if you like the genre. It’s sequel, however, may rank as one of the worst movies I’ve seen in a while. Stick with the first movie, and you should have a pretty fun few hours.