I hate to sound uncharitable, but The Man With the Iron Fists seems obvious, derivative and played-out.
Part of the reason I hate to say these things is that I usually like to encourage people from other walks of life, such as RZA from Wu-Tang Clan, to try their hand at making movies. If they have the opportunity to do so, more power to them. I would if I had that opportunity.
But RZA's directorial debut just seems too on-the-nose. One thing that even casual fans know about the Wu-Tang Clan is that they fetishize kung fu. What more predictable way to exercise that fetish than to make a wire-work kung fu movie that also features fancy weapons, busty women, and a generous dose of badassery? And, of course, a trailer song in which RZA and fellow Wu-Tanger Rakewon are featured?
The casting of Lucy Liu gives it an overt connection to Quentin Tarantino's two Kill Bill movies. In fact, on the surface level, she appears to play almost the exact same role here as she did there: the badass female leader of a gang of skilled male fighters who are probably not as skilled as she is. There's even a moment from the trailer that directly recalls a moment from Kill Bill Vol. 1, where we see Liu from the shoulders up, moving forward at a determined pace. Reminds a person of that moment in Tarantino's movie where Liu skips down that board room table to chop off the head of a naysayer, doesn't it?
Since The Man in the Iron Fists is "presented by" Tarantino (seriously, that's his only credit related to this movie on IMDB), none of this may be much of a surprise.
And that's kind of the problem: I want a surprise here. I don't want RZA's directorial debut to be just a wet dream of the iconography he loves. Though perhaps he wouldn't be making his directorial debut at all unless that's what he were going to make. Not everyone can be twentysomething Sarah Polley directing a movie about Alzheimer's. Most people write what they know.
There is actually one surprise here: Russell Crowe. It just doesn't seem like Crowe would be making a B-level kung fu movie, or even an A-level kung fu movie, under most circumstances. Then again, these are not most circumstances. As it turns out, Crowe and RZA know each other from making American Gangster, in which RZA made one of a dozen acting appearances over the years. I guess someone even as generally brutish as Crowe is capable of doing favors.
Hey, The Man With the Iron Fists might be good. If you are lining up to see it this weekend, don't let me dissuade you.
I just think it would have been a lot cooler seven or eight years ago.