Film Review: Wolf Warrior II

Sequel to 2015's action hit finds Chinese Special Ops agent Leng Feng on a rescue mission in Africa, where he fights rebels and mercenaries.
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Wu Jing became a leading action star in Wolf Warrior, a 2015 release he also directed. Wolf Warrior II sets his Special Ops agent Leng Feng in Africa with similar results. A large-scale adventure with impressive stunt work, it's reminiscent of right-wing B-movies like Sylvester Stallone's Expendables franchise.

As a flashback explains, Leng's become a mercenary in Africa after an incident protecting rural peasants from crooked developers forced him out of the army. In an exciting if far-fetched opening, Leng almost singlehandedly rescues a freighter from pirates. Staged to look like a single take, Leng dives off the ship, upsets an armed speedboat and lassoes a half-dozen or so pirates underwater.

Then it's off to an unnamed port, where Leng haggles over goods, pals around with his adopted "godson," and drinks to forget his former lover Long Xiaoyun (Yu Nan), apparently killed by rebels during a mission somewhere in Africa.

The drinking games, soccer matches, good-natured banter and maudlin flashbacks are straight out of the Expendables playlist, slightly sanitized for Asian markets. Jackie Chan is also a big influence, especially for his string of globetrotting adventures from the 1990s.

Unfortunately, Wu Jing is a bit of a stiff as an actor, better at pummeling bad guys than breaking a convincing smile. His action moves are good for this genre, and Wolf Warrior II includes sprawling set-pieces that are the equal of Hollywood efforts. A rebel uprising that spreads out through an entire city is especially effective.

But the movie feels clunky and humorless, especially in its politics. Stallone tempered the gung-ho, anti-liberal, "Might is right" tone of The Expendables with easygoing comedy; Chan largely tried to avoid politics. But Wolf Warrior II is like a propaganda movie, with Leng even unfurling a Chinese flag at one point to assure safe passage through a war zone.

Like Chan before him, Wu has his eye on international markets. Most of the dialogue in Wolf Warrior II is in English. Frank Grillo (Captain America: Civil War) is prominently cast as head mercenary "Big Daddy." The score is by Joe Trapanese (Allegiant). Perhaps most significantly, action direction is shared by Wai-leung Wong (Operation Mekong) and Sam Hargrave (Atomic Blonde). They bring style and polish to even routine encounters.

Closing credits include a teaser for Wolf Warrior III, as well as a Chan-inspired collection of bloopers and outtakes. While it's an upgrade over the first outing, Wolf Warrior II never breaks out of its B-movie niche.

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