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Wolf Warrior 2
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by Jay Seaver

"Wu Jing is getting better at the whole action star thing."
3 stars

"Wolf Warrior 2" may not exactly be a great action movie, but it's bigger and better than its predecessor in just about every way possible aside from the villain, and the deficiency there is more a matter of hand-to-hand combat skills than screen presence. Like the first, this is some clear, unvarnished Chinese nationalism, but it's at least creative enough in its action to be enjoyable if that's not your particular form of patriotism.

Though Feng Leng's headstrong ways got him assigned to China's elite "Wolf Warrior" squadron at the start of the first film, they also get him cashiered when he goes more than a little overboard dealing with a group of greedy developers trying to tear down the home of a fallen comrade; at about the same time, his former commanding officer and fiancee Long Xiaoyun (Yu Nan) is lost on a mission to the border. Three years later, he's working in the merchant marine in Africa, foiling pirates but also making friends with the locals while also trying to uncover the mystery of a distinctive bullet found at the site of Xiaoyun's last mission and linked to this portion of the world. That's a hard enough quest as it is, and then the country erupts into civil war with the insurgents also having a team of military contractors led by "Big Daddy" (Frank Grillo) on the payroll, and while China is able to evacuate many of its citizens from the capital, renowned research scientist Dr. Chen is at an isolated research hospital while forty-three Chinese citizens are at a factory. The People's Republic can't just send the army in after them, but a discharged special forces guy like Feng (Wu Jing)

The original Wolf Warrior didn't have nearly as much going on plotwise, and Feng didn't truly stick out of a cast full of best-of-the-best special forces types. Getting Wu Jing's Feng Leng out of the military frees him up to have a little more personality, and puts him in a generally more interesting group. Wu hasn't yet become a good enough actor that one can enjoy the scenes between fights like Donnie Yen or Jet Li did, but he's an amiable enough screen presence as Feng, and he's got a more interesting crew to play off: He's got more chemistry with Celina Jade's energetic Dr. Rachel Smith than he did with Xiaoyun in the first one (and, admittedly, more opportunity for it to come out), for instance, and the factory gives him a chance to play off both Wu Gang's veteran security chief and Zhang Han as a rich-kid military enthusiast. It's fun to watch him play off Nwachukwu Kennedy Chukwuebuka as an African "godson" who follows him around.

The bad guys are also, on average, a lot more fun this time. Oleg Prudius, Heidi Moneymaker, and Aaron Ly are a strong group of henchpeople for Feng to have to fight his way through, and their action scenes seldom disappoint - they all match up well against Wu and bring a little personality to a brawl on top of selling a hit extremely well. The alpha villain is a bit of a tradeoff; Frank Grillo is a better actor than the first film's Scott Adkins but more in the gun-toting tough-guy mold than someone who can trade flying kicks with Wu, which means the climactic fight winds up being the choppiest of the film's big action scenes. When it comes to doing action, the bigger budget doesn't hurt. There's actually memorable, creative action this time around, from the opening when Feng takes out a crew of African pirates underwater to a finale when they're having enough fun with tanks that some of the bad guys are actually brought down by motion sickness.

There's enough, really, that one night suggest Wu slow down a bit and give the story a little time to breathe, build up a little tension and maybe establish just how everyone knows what the stakes are. The script is kind of a massive mess, at one point waving away something that were a huge deal two scenes ago off-screen with an explanation that is big enough that it should be driving the plot, because the original issue can't be solved by punching. There's so much over-the-top violence that it becomes numbing; scenes where Feng not only fails to save someone but a whole group is slaughtered are speed bumps. Motivation for everyone is a bit of a mess, and the use of the mostly-absent Xiaoyun is downright frustrating - her "relationship" with Feng in the first (basically him acting like she's a potential girlfriend rather than his boss) was thin enough that this film's writers could have just treated her as a former comrade and not messed with the chemistry with Jade, and the so-called answer to the mystery bullet is really no answer at all, but just a way to get Feng extra special mad later. And while there was talk a year or two ago about China making less-nationalist cuts of its films for export, there's no doing that here as one late scene literally has Feng wrapping himself in the flag and others alternate between the Chinese being disrespected and untouchable.

Granted, that would be getting a bit outside Wu's skill set; he's got a bit of charm, but he's mostly an action guy who, as co-writer and director, will retreat to his comfort zone often. That doesn't mean WW2 isn't a fair amount of fun - it's willing to be silly and then jump right back into the action to see if it can top itself, and there's something to be said for movies that are willing to go flat out. Its box office success likely won't translate to being a classic action/adventure unless the promised third part stitches it into a memorable trilogy, but it's a diverting couple of hours of fists being thrown and guns being shot if that's what you're up for.

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originally posted: 08/09/17 09:57:33
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  04-Aug-2017 (15)

  27-Jul-2017 (MA)

Directed by
  Jing Wu

Written by
  Qun Dong
  Yan Gao
  Yi LIu
  Jing Wu

  Jing Wu
  Frank Grillo
  Celina Jade
  Gang Wu
  Han Zhang
  Heidi Moneymaker

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