In Hollywood, the fantasy genre has been a bit lacking in recent years, with franchises like Harry Potter and Twilight being loosely associated with the term. Of course this year we saw the release of Warcraft, but other than that and the Hobbit trilogy, fantasy epics have been largely missing from recent release schedules. That’s where Chinese epic League of Gods comes in. The trailer promised over the top action, magic, martial arts, giant monsters and for some reason a wisecracking CGI baby. Other than that last one, I was pretty excited to see all of these things on the big screen again, but was more than ready to have the baby slightly taint the experience…
Adapted from a 500 year old Chinese novel, Feng Shen Yan Yi (or The Investiture of Gods), League of Gods is the story of King Zhou (Tony Ka Fai Leung), who becomes corrupted by Daji (Bingbing Fan), an evil spirit posing as a beautiful woman. Opposing him is Jiang Ziya (Jet Li), and ancient and magical being, who assembles a team of heroes who must go on a epic journey to fight not only the king, but the supernatural powers that are controlling him.
The opening half hour of this film is incredible. To any fans of genre film making, it’s pretty much the ultimate fan service. With intense (and perfectly shot) hand to hand combat, giant effects driven set pieces, steampunk and fantasy elements blended seamlessly, and multiple action scenes taking place at once, League of Gods starts with a bang. A lot of mythology is set up in not a lot of time, and I was constantly left wanting to know more about the world this story was set it, but only because I was intrigued, and not because the film was lacking in any departments.
After that explosive half hour or so, the film does slow down a little bit. You get to know the characters a bit better, and the main adventure is set up. While the pace does drop, there’s never the feeling of boredom, but one thing you do start to feel is a little bit of confusion. There are a lot of characters, some of which are introduced more than an hour into the film, and each of them have their own back story and character arc. This does lead to a few scenes being a little muddled, but never to a point that’s detrimental to the overall film.
That being said, some of these characters are a little bit annoying, and yes, I am talking about the animated fighting baby. It was clearly meant to be the comic relief, and while it’s not too painful to watch, it can get a bit irritating. There’s also a talking plant with a squeaky voice that helps guide our main characters, who does start to grate, but again it’s never to the point that ruins the film or even any scenes.
By the time the final set piece rolls round, this film completely had me. A film with this story on this scale simply wouldn’t have been made in Hollywood, but I’m glad it got made somewhere else. There’s so much content in this film that it could’ve easily been made into two, or even three films, and anybody who’s been wanting to see epic fantasy will no doubt enjoy what’s on offer here, as long as you’re willing to read subtitles.
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