Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: Django Unchained vs. The Man with the Iron Fists, two violent action-adventure movies with Tarantino written all over them (literally!).
PremiseSet in the south two years before the Civil War, Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained features Jamie Foxx as Django, a slave who is sought by the bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) for his knowledge of the murderous Brittle Brothers. Schultz promises to free Django upon capture of the brothers, but Django eventually chooses to partner up with Schultz as a bounty-hunting duo with hopes of finding Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), his long-lost wife. This mission ultimately brings the two men to the doorstep of the infamous plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo Dicaprio), where a skeptical slave (Samuel L. Jackson) threatens their escape.
RZA’s debut film The Man with the Iron Fists, produced by Tarantino, stars RZA himself as a village blacksmith in 19th-century China. When a traitor threatens the livelihood of the village, he must join forces with warriors and assassins alike to help defeat the newfound threat. Russell Crowe leads the international cast as Jackknife, whose pistol-bearing, western style of fighting somehow fits into this kung-fu hip-hop hybrid.Advantage: Django Unchained
Historical SettingNot that we go to the movies for a history lesson, but a proper time and place can really make or break the intrigue of a plotline. Both Django and Iron Fists occur within a 19th-century historical context, but on opposite sides of the globe. Pre-Civil War America—arguably one of the darkest times in the nation’s history—serves as the backdrop for Django. Iron Fists, too, boasts a rich historical lens, setting the scene in 19th-century feudal China, a tumultuous time period that witnessed the intersections of internal rebellions, Western imperialism, and ancient traditions.Advantage: Tie
ActionBlood, violence, and great action scenes are leading expectations of any film with Tarantino’s name on it, and these trailers suggest that audiences won’t be disappointed at either one. Iron Fists’ red-band trailer definitely gives us a good idea of what to expect: a cross between Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon elegance and Kill Bill gore, complete with popping eyeballs. Django paints the screen red, as well, but with signature Tarantino juxtaposition: for instance, a shot of white cotton fields sprayed red with blood. When a movie is dubbed a Western, you can expect a good amount of pistol-popping action, a genre trope that Django holds up.Advantage: The Man with the Iron Fists
SoundtrackThe music in the movies gives an unexpected feel to what you’re seeing on screen, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. So far, Django is said to feature funk, like the James Brown track in the trailer, as well as the likes of Johnny Cash. Those two heavyweight legends are always near to our hearts, but we’re drooling over the Iron Fists soundtrack—set to feature Kanye West, The Black Keys, and RZA’s own Wu-Tang Clan.Advantage: The Man with the Iron Fists
Big NamesIn addition to Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu, Iron Fists features an international cast that brags more fighting championship titles than acting awards. However, we are talking about films, and you really can’t beat the cast Tarantino has put together for Django. Academy Award winners Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz lead the movie, while Academy Award nominees Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson play the antagonistic roles of evil plantation owner and trusted house slave, respectively.Advantage: Django Unchained
DirectorThe work of a veteran and rookie in any field give rise to interesting comparisons, but it’s clear that with the production power Tarantino also held in The Man with the Iron Fists, his signature style will be present in both of these blockbusters set to come out post summer. The violent action, genre mixing, and dark humor characteristic of Tarantino is elemental to each film, but Iron Fists appears to be as a cheesier, less sophisticated representation. Any film that claims to put the “f-u back in kung fu” is setting itself up for skepticism. Iron Fists may be a good start for a new director, but Tarantino is the master of his self-made every-genre genre.Advantage: Django Unchained
VerdictAlthough the visuals and music in The Man with the Iron Fists will offer some awe-inspiring entertainment, the basic premise of a blacksmith saving a village doesn’t hold up to Django’s storyline. Iron Fists will undoubtedly give us action, sex (Lucy Liu herself is quoted in the trailer as saying “power belongs to no one unless it is seized through sex and violence”), and incredible martial arts in an equally incredible setting. But great movies always come down to the simplest attributes, and an intriguing plot acted out by some of the best actors in film leave us excitedly waiting for Django to finally be unchained this Christmas.Winner: Django Unchained