There used to be an era in the motion picture industry where any visible action requires the execution of, well, the action itself. Due to the limitation of technology at that time, CGI was as advanced as the bread toasters, and hence, many filmmakers were still approaching CGI with caution, and many were more willing to bank on hard-punching, ass-kicking stars. Then, was an era of the likes of Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, and Dolph Lundgren.
I am not painting you a picture that if you have some urge to hark back to those good ol’ days of Hollywood’s sweaty, shirtless, fist-fights, you need to set your sights on Legacy of Lies. In fact, the circumstances which had led me to Legacy of Lies are none other than the countless occasions where films fled from 2020 in a similar fashion to visitors escaping a dino-infested Isla Nublar. I was stranded. And hungry for films. I was the dinosaur, with no visitors left for me to devour.
The reference to those martial arts-focused action stars from the 90’s is vital in this review, and because that it’s such a lost lineage, it is hard to pinpoint any successor today. Except, well, our leading man for Legacy of Lies: Scott Adkins. Having worked hand-in-hand with Van Damme in villainous roles for The Expendables 2 (2012), and even crossed fists with Donnie Yen in Ip Man 4 (2019), Adkin’s status as an heir to those muscular, hard-hitting actors from the 90’s is rather undisputable.
Adkins was cast as Martin Baxter, an ex-MI6 agent who had called it quits after a tragic event left him haunted and full of guilt since then. Martin lives a low-key life with his daughter, Lisa (Honor Kneafsey) to stay out of radar and distance himself from the past, but ever since a mysterious Ukrainian journalist (Yuliia Sobol) attempts to reconnect with him, his past has been coming back after him. Legacy of Lies is written and directed by Dutch filmmaker, Adrian Bol.
For a film with an estimated budget of $4.5 million, one aspect immediately stands out; the visual color tones. They are just fantastic. Usually, the color palette of any film is the very first thing that our eyes pick up, and becomes the initial impression. For Legacy of Lies, the color tone doesn’t present itself as a $4.5 million film, but, more like a $145 million film. That is how artistic it is as far as the color selection of Adrian Bol goes.
Beyond that, I am a little lost on where to start. Color tones aside, why not we dwell into the next closest thing, which is the sound effects? Like in Extraction the gunshot sounds are loud and crisp, but certainly, there’s something that’s amiss. Perhaps I am too old to remember, but I don’t think I can recall any motion picture that has a sound-visual calibration that is as way-off as Legacy of Lies’. Imagine seeing two flashes from a gun firing in succession, but the sound effect goes “Bang! Bang! Bang!”.
Initially, I thought that it was a one-off glitch, but the reemergence of similar issue during the final act confirmed to me that this is an overlooked technical complication. However, I should have considered myself lucky if that was the only qualm that I had with Legacy of Lies. Which, was definitely not the case.
The plot, as expected, certainly capitalized on Adkins’ mastery in performing bare-handed fighting scenes for the camera, without putting too much thought into whether that chapter warrants for such scenes or otherwise. The first act’s cage fight was obviously envisioned as the highlight of Legacy of Lies, but whether it is that integral in the storyline, is still leaving much for the audience to debate.
With that said, it is a true relief to report that you will not be hauled in to witness a primitive fist fight that dictates the outcome of the final conflict in Legacy of Lies, which is still a spy-flick at its core. Make no mistake, the film still leans heavily towards body combat, and would rather pit the characters into a brawl at every available opportunity. But then, will that be exactly the action-thing that you are looking for? It depends, but I really doubt that.
Legacy of Lies made me realize one thing. There are fight scenes, and there are tension-filled scenes, but they do not necessarily overlap. Without the inclusion of elements that raise the stakes or heavily suggest that Baxter will lose an eye, limb, or his life, the sight of Adkins exchanging punches and kicks with the villains are, well, just that. It is as interesting as watching a ripped gym instructor at your gym doing Zumba.
If you intend to watch Legacy of Lies just for the sake of pure action, I believe that what has been discussed above already gave you a strong idea of what to expect, and whether it is worth it to give it a shot. But if you are a little more picky (which you should, theaters aren’t built for charity, are they?) and want to know more about other aspects of the film, you can continue reading, though I have to warn that they are not that illustrious.
Beyond everything that I could see and hear, there was a considerable feeling of being distant from the narrative; a disconnection. At first, I just could not rule out why, but as Legacy of Lies marched on towards its finale, I had gained more clarity. The culprit, was a complex mess of conflicts working against each other in the film.
Remember the fantastic visuals which I have mentioned earlier? It is fantastic because it combines meticulous location set up -which includes great lighting, sets, extras, and whatnot – with thorough post-production work to really bring out those pleasant pixels that you and I could see on-screen. What’s not that fantastic, or rather lacking, is the performance of the cast, and the way they function in the world of Legacy of Lies, according to the script.
For most of the part, the action, reaction and dialogue lines undertaken by the characters in-film are uninspiring. The extras observed along the way were often absorbed into the backdrops as they have no legitimate expression or lines to stand out, and the major characters who are supposed to be in the limelight gave a hit-and-miss performance. Adkins seems committed throughout the script, but couldn’t escape from mediocrity; whereas Sobol appears to be convincing at first, but her performance becomes erratic during the finale.
Just as I was trying to make sense of what was going on on-screen, Legacy of Lies launched wave after wave of intimidating phrases, like files, codes, vaults and secret agents, that, to be honest, best reflected away with a big, long yawn. But, never, ever, let your guard down, because Legacy of Lies has an army of capable, horrific (albeit irrelevant) jump-scares planted throughout the plot, waiting for you.
Legacy of Lies leaves behind a trail of fast punches, kicks and grapples that will leave even the brightest of moviegoers clueless on why the action is even there in the first place. Even to the most enthusiastic martial-arts film fans, Legacy of Lies will most likely remain as a documentary of Adkins’ friendly sparring, because there’s no significant story-depth, or even a sense of danger to elevate it into the status of a proper film. Even if you can withstand the onslaught of its blandness, the uninvited horror element and the film’s last attempt to look intelligent in its final few seconds will make you tap out.—The Film Addict
*Legacy of Lies is now available on Prime Video
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