Director: Tony Chan
Notable Cast: Xiaoming Huang, Jiang Du, Zhuo Tan, Zi Yang, Hao Ou, Yong Hou, Xiaotian Yin, Jason Gu, Zhehan Zhang, Ge Gao
As the push in the Chinese industry draws closer and closer to that of Hollywood, so does their approach to film making. The latest big-budget blockbuster-style film to make it to the US is The Bravest, a large spectacle film that attempts to find that perfect balance between action and dramatic heft. For those more familiar with Hollywood style films, the best comparison for The Bravest is combining the mass destruction and disaster films of Roland Emmerich and the “true story” action films of Peter Berg. For better or worse, depending on the scene, the film sways heavily between the two and it makes for both a highly entertaining film – occasionally from unintentional humor – and one that is perplexing in how poorly developed it is.
On its surface level, The Bravest is an entertaining film. The visuals, for the most part outside of a few substandard CGI moments, are big and polished providing the thrills and excitement that the film’s marketing promised. Some of this was to be expected, particularly with the money that was being thrown behind the film and co-producing credits for both Andrew Lau and Peggy Lee, but even then, the film surprises in how well it delivers on a visual style and presence. Director Tony Chan has a knack for visual pop and he fully embeds the film with plenty of it, even if the second and third act tend to blur together in a haze of flames, tears, and dramatic camera sweeps because it rushes to get to its main setting of an oil storage facility on the coast that catches fire.
When it comes to the big action set-pieces, The Bravest delivers there too. In all honesty, I think the film has more explosions than I’ve ever seen in one film. It’s ridiculous. The opening sequence, complete with kid rescue that features a firefighter throwing his ax through a window to draw the fire away from their escape, features an incredible building explosion that would have been enough for the third act of most firefighter films. This is just the opening though and The Bravest quickly bounds its main setting. My guess would be that the film is inspired by the horrific Tianjin fire in 2015, but instead using that as a basis for the film, this one goes for bigger and badder and the resulting oil and chemical fire of the plot is hinted to lead to outlandish circumstances – at one point a character states the resulting explosion would be similar to multiple nukes. The tension ratchets up to infinity and beyond as more and more complications arise in the plot, mostly due to an evil capitalist that keeps hiding things from the government and the film will keep a viewer’s attention for its entire 2-hour run time which is a blessing considering the major flaw it has at its center.
The flaw of The Bravest is that the script and the characters that lay the foundation are a mess. Despite some strong efforts from the ensemble cast and the previously mentioned visuals and action, the film does not have any groundwork to stand on its own – crumbling under the immense weight of its melodramatic plot and narrative. The film has to utterly sprint to fit in all of the twists and turns as it goes and at two hours, it barely has time to truly develop the characters in any real dramatic way. Subplots with a firefighter’s wife and kid during the evacuation feel like padding and splitting the rest of the time between three or four key characters thins the time and energy to develop any of them. What’s left is that the film desperately leans on its pro-Chinese government propaganda. As a person, I’m all for supporting the selfless endeavors of firefighters, but the story that’s presented here is borderline ridiculous. Outside of the evil businessman, there is only one even remotely selfish character in the film and he has a bold change of heart at the perfect time. The melodramatic moments rarely hit home and there are only a few sequences that pull on the heartstrings in any real manner. If anything, where the film should work as a human drama it is all sacrificed for the sake of the message and action and it completely cuts the legs out from the rest of the film.
The Bravest will have its fans. With its messaging and strong spectacle, I’m sure the film will do some decent box office and garner some strong backing from the industry in China, but for most western audiences it’s probably a recommended skip. It has some impressive set pieces along with some brilliantly effective unintentional humor with its use of slow motion, drama, and outlandish moments to raise tension. Still, with its incredibly thin script, perplexingly poor execution of character, and generic plotting the film is rather disappointing. If you want a film to burn a couple hours – pun intended, then The Bravest is worth a gander, but it’s a very light recommend at best.
Written By Matt Reifschneider