If you’re anticipating the lighthearted action and wacky characters of Statham’s previous martial arts flicks, guess again. War keeps the action heavy and the violence brutal with almost no pause for comedy relief. The red flows freely throughout, creating a more extreme and intense action experience, one that actually suits Statham’s demeanor more readily than the sugarcoated PG-13 of late, and the action star certainly feels at home cursing and drawing blood. Though War is relatively light on actual martial arts fighting, there are still plenty of fierce shootouts, wild car chases, and fiery explosions. The darker and more intricate storyline might lead you to believe that some real depth exists in the plot, but the seasoned genre viewer will quickly catch on to the plot holes created just to bridge one scene of action to another. But ultimately one goes to a Jet Li-versus-Jason Statham movie for anything but a poignant story, and if it’s action you crave, then War delivers.
When the partner of FBI agent Jack Crawford (Jason Statham) is viciously killed by the ghostly assassin known as Rogue (Jet Li), the desperate cop will stop at nothing to exact his revenge. Hunting down Rogue, Jack becomes caught up in the hitman’s web of deception and betrayal as he pits the Yakuza against the Triad to start an all-out war.
While it’s refreshing to see hard-hitting, blood-letting violence in a world of PG-13, dumbed-down action films, War fails to put all of its noteworthy elements to good use. Namely, Jet Li, who is a staple of adult martial arts films, is underused and underappreciated in his role as ultra-secretive assassin Rogue. Like Jackie Chan, who during his long career making American films caters toward humorous, prop-based violence, Jet Li has a specific brand of movie that fans frequent cinemas to witness. His films generally make use of plenty of blood and bone-breaking martial arts, and harsh language and nudity always seem to make an appearance. His films are of a mature action nature that most studios slink away from because of box office sales. But fans of the genre want the brutality and bloodshed, and while War undeniably includes all of the above, Jet Li doesn’t get much of a chance to showcase his uncanny prowess and physical impeccability. The film is filled with far more gunfights and car chases than martial arts action, and Li shies away from no-hold-barred hand-to-hand combat.
It seems the creators chose Li only for his name, and not because fight choreographer Cory Yuen had an abundance of unequaled martial arts stunt sequences. Jason Statham likewise doesn’t go toe-to-toe with Yakuza gangsters with bare fists for more than a couple of scenes. The inclusion of Devon Aoki is even unimpressive, as she too is snubbed the honors of unleashing Samurai swordplay. The cannonade of machinegun fire and explosions are duly noted, and appreciated in a non-stop action film like this, but we’re always left to wonder why large-scale gun-free fight sequences aren’t more readily available. Certainly no one comes to these films looking for exceptional acting or a thought-provoking story.
To fully appreciate a film like War, one must be in the right mindset. They must accept that action and violence take priority over plot, death is a necessity and can strike anyone, and the terms “good guy” and “bad guy” are almost interchangeable and rarely presented with much clarity. If ruthless violence and hard-edged action isn’t your cup of tea, then this is likely a War not to get involved in. But if the phrase “Yojimbo on acid” peaks your interest (and “deep plot” doesn’t) then prepare to enlist.
– Mike and Joel Massie (www.MoviePulse.net)